For the week of November 6, 2010 / 29 Heshvan 5771
Torah: Bereshit / Genesis 25:19 - 28:9
Haftarah: 1 Samuel 20:18-42

Long-Term Picture

Once when Jacob was cooking stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was exhausted. And Esau said to Jacob, "Let me eat some of that red stew, for I am exhausted!" (Therefore his name was called Edom.) Jacob said, "Sell me your birthright now." Esau said, "I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?" Jacob said, "Swear to me now." So he swore to him and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright. (Bereshit / Genesis 25:29-34; ESV).

I was struck the other day as I was reading from the book of Mishlei (English: Proverbs), of one of the many times it warns the reader to keep away from the lure of sexual sin. What caught my attention wasn't just the fact that it was saying that such activity is bad; it was that its consequences are not immediately felt:

and at the end of your life you groan, when your flesh and body are consumed (Mishlei / Proverbs 5:11; ESV)

One of the reasons for the writing of Mishlei was to instruct us in wisdom, so that we could live life the way God intended. Throughout the Bible God instructs us in his ways, so that we can be the people he designed us to be. But many of us determine whether or not our actions are good or bad, right or wrong, by their immediate results rather than by taking a long-term view.

We live in a day like never before where we expect our actions to have immediate results. It is difficult to remember that being in a push-button culture is fairly new. It took about three times as long to dial a 7-digit phone number on a rotary dial phone than it does to enter a 10-digit number on a key pad today. When I was a teenager it was a thrill to write a letter to a friend and receive a reply in as little as a week. While today if my text message isn't responded to in seconds I freak out (I am exaggerating for effect, but you get the idea).

Whether or not our push-button society is making it harder for us to realize that we need to have a long-term view of our actions, our shortsightedness - that is our failure to realize that the consequence of our actions may not be fully realized for many years - is not a new problem. This week's Torah portion includes a vivid illustration of this.

Abraham's son and daughter-in-law, Isaac and Rebekah, had twin sons, Esau and Jacob. Esau, as the first born, by rights had a special position in the family. The earthly benefits of this would not be realized until Isaac's death and the greater blessings of God's promises would not be realized at all in his own lifetime. Esau lacked a long-term view. The only thing he cared about was the here and now. He gave no consideration to the long-term benefits of retaining his birthright. All he knew was that he was very hungry now and all he could think about was his immediate need to satisfy his hunger.

Let's be fair to Esau. He was not in good shape when he came home that day. The word used for "exhausted" signifies being very weak. Whether or not his statement about going to die was real or imagined, we know how desperate and unreasonable we can be when we are overly depleted. However, this makes this lesson all the more important. Having a long-term view of the consequences or benefits of our actions is so crucial in the living of a godly life, even when we think we are about to die.

The only way to keep a long-term view of life is to fix our sights on the One who sees the end from the beginning. God in his wisdom has revealed his ways through the Scriptures. His wisdom often contradicts the popular courses of action we are often tempted to take. The lure to do the thing that brings the quickest satisfaction can be so strong. Yet, it is only when we are willing to resist the temptation to give in to our desires, but instead see the long-term picture that God paints for us in his written Word, that our lives will become part of that glorious picture.

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