Living in a world filled with confusion, we are often easily consumed by noises dictated by our needs and desires. Even to the same information we are given or same situation we go through together, different people see, feel, and translate it differently. There were a few incidents that occurred over the last two busy weekends and I felt as if my eyes were opened again, I knew that we were naked and I heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, I hid myself from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.
It was a dinner-table-talk but somehow evolved into a theological discussion on Esau selling his birthright. The confusion being, if, Esau knew the importance of his birthright. Does that mean if he did not know or did not know better, he is not or less responsible for selling his birthright to his younger brother, Jacob? As such, does it matter that Esau knew or not knew when he sold his birthright?
I am reminded of a poem:
To each his suff’rings: all are men,
Condemn’d alike to groan,
The tender for another’s pain;
Th’ unfeeling for his own.
Yet ah! why should they know their fate?
Since sorrow never comes too late,
And happiness too swiftly flies.
Thought would destroy their paradise.
No more; where ignorance is bliss,
‘Tis folly to be wise.
~ Thomas Gray, an extract from poem-Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College
What are the implications to living out our Christian faith if we take on the approach of the above poem written by the poet of the eighteenth century? Thomas Gray seems to favor a certain way of not knowing, having an end in mind, which deems to be a more pleasurable outcome that would otherwise be destroyed with knowledge. Ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise? Is this approach of life consistent with the message of the Gospel?
Where I am, I cannot help but to assume that we are first, guilty, that we err not because we are ignorant, we do not know or we do not know better. This is not to say that I know and know everything to its fullest extent of God’s intent. In my view, there is very little or even no value-add to identify ignorance if at the end of the day, we are still agreeing that there will be accountability and responsibilities for the consequences that is to come. In Genesis 3:12-13, the man’s immediate response was to push the blame to the woman and even to God and the woman’s response was to push the blame to the serpent. We carry the origins of sin of our fore-fathers even when we were created in the image of God, to be good. We give in to our flesh. Thank God for the redemption by the blood of Jesus but we are in the times of post-millennial-here but not yet-we are redeemed, yet struggling with the free-will given us, to live life on earth as it is in heaven but constantly fighting this battle with our flesh, until the second coming of Christ. Something that leaves me totally appalled-we are no longer shy to live out in our flesh to feed our growing needs and desires. We have become skilled sewists of fig leaves and so proud of the loincloths we can make for ourselves, maybe until we hear His footsteps, if, we even can or want to hear it anymore.
Google says, to know is to be aware of through observation, inquiry, or information. Knowing is showing or suggesting that one has knowledge or awareness that is secret or known to only a few people and ignorance is a lack of knowledge or information.
We look at the text in Genesis 25:19-28, recording the birth of Esau and Jacob, we may say although it was a fact that Esau was the firstborn, as it was written, he may not know better the significance of his birthright because there was no specific mention that he was informed. However, I would like to infer from the same passage that sufficient emphasis was placed to show the significance of a firstborn and the birthright with the recording of the sequence of the birth of Esau and Jacob, given that it might have been mixed up and forgotten for they are twins. We may need to study long and deep into the culture and traditions of the Hebrews and Judaism to understand the fullness of what it means to be a firstborn and its birthright. Here we have, a reference that I am taking from Genesis 4:3-5, “In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard.” This may help us to see the informed significance that should be practiced as a common belief of especially the Hebrews. There should be no reason for Esau to not know or know less.
Genesis 25:29-34 “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.
Google says to despise is to feel contempt or a deep repugnance for. I believe if Esau had not known or known less of the significance of his birthright, it would not have bothered him to even feel for the lost, his lost. He responded to Jacob’s offer to quench the thirst of his flesh, to meet his needs and desires. He was exhausted! That does not mean he did not know better what he already had, his birthright. He was claiming his right when he brought his game that Issac may bless him “I am your son, your firstborn, Esau.” (Genesis 27:32). He made a rational choice to weigh between what he knew was good and given to him as a promise of an inheritance as a firstborn and the red stew that was right in front of him to satisfy his immediate need. He could not care less because he was going to die and what use was the birthright to him. In my view, we can say Esau was ignorant and foolish but not because he know not or know less of his birthright but because he knew to the fullest of its intent but succumbed to the weaknesses of his flesh and rejected his birthright.
All said, do we now need to question if the Israelites were ignorant when they turned against God and did King David knew not or knew less when he committed adultery?
I see the foolishness of Esau as the fall of Adam and Eve and as of present, how we make dumb decisions while trying to keep our faith, challenged to burn strong and stronger for the hope-a promise of eternal life given. The birthright was not exercised and Esau was shortsighted. Instead of feeling remorse and respond in humility and repentance, his heart was hardened and he despised his birthright. Just as for Adam and Eve, the Israelites, King David and many of our forefathers then and just as for many of us, who have responded to God in the weaknesses of our flesh now.
I supposed God has a place for ignorance when it is involuntary-when the lack of knowledge is due to a certain inert physical, emotional and mental condition whom God calls innocent. Exodus 23:7 “Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent and righteous, for I will not acquit the wicked.” However, “Who can discern his errors?” as King David prayed,”Declare me innocent from hidden faults. Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.” (Psalm 19:12-13) Ignorance is not for us to claim for the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9)
Yet let no one contend,
and let none accuse,
for with you is my contention, O priest.
You shall stumble by day;
the prophet also shall stumble with you by night;
and I will destroy your mother.
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge;
because you have rejected knowledge,
I reject you from being a priest to me.
And since you have forgotten the law of your God,
I also will forget your children.
As such, ignorance is bliss but for a blink. Does it still matter that Esau was ignorant or knew less of the significance of his birthright that he can sell it away for some red stew? Should it make a difference to us in our walk with God when we know that we are eventually still accountable to God and responsible for what and who we have become or not become? Ignorance, other than in the case of involuntary conditions, now seems to me like the loincloths we skillfully sewed with fig leaves and we have gotten used and loving it, to cover our nakedness to hide away from God. What more contention can there be than one already with God?
(Featured image: MBS Singapore, March 2016)
His beautiful & relentless love makes a soul relentlessly beautiful.