Saturday, November 22, 2008

Remembering Esau

I have a bad habit of trying to read too many books at one time. I then compound this problem by constantly picking up other books to re-read while I am reading new ones.

Part of this is simply my job. As a school librarian I make it a point to read some juvenile literature just to keep up with what the kids at the school are reading. This semester I've been reading Tamora Peirce and Erin Hunter because I have whole giggles of middle school girls begging for them. But, these books can be blown through rather fast and seldom have anything in them that makes me think. I also manage the textbook inventory for the school that employs me and for some reason known to neither me or anybody else I will at times will pick up a textbook for History, Economics, Psychology or French and just browse it for a while.

I do find it somewhat disconcerting that in the past several years my pleasure reading has been non-fiction. I don't know what that says about me except perhaps my avocational interest (Philosophy & Theology) and recreational interest has merged; or I need to get a life. Of late I've been working my way through "The Everlasting Man" by G.K. Chesterton and "Art as Experience" by John Dewey" But in my bag that I carry back and forth to work I have another personal favorite by John Dewey, "Experience and Nature" I also regularly revisit "Being and Time" and the works of Karl Popper, Henri Bergson, and Richard Rorty. When not reading these I am often thinking about them; especially since my new bionic eyes make it harder to read on the bus so I contemplate rather than read in the mornings and evening. These times of contemplation have become the high-light of my days. I try to leave work and catch the last bus home before 5:00PM everyday or will wait until nearer to 7:00 PM because the buses are much less crowded at that time and I can have a seat to my self and just plug into the MP3 and think about stuff. Of late I've been thinking of Esau.

My personal devotions had been in the Gospel of Matthew for nearly two years until this fall. I was reading through it slowly, just sort of taking it patiently. At some point that changed and I've found myself back in Genesis. I think the reason for this is actually a statement made by G.K Chesterton in "The Everlasting Man" He talks about how historians often divide humanity into the "Civilized" farming and "Barbarian" nomads and how it is presumed that at one point all humans were nomads and that over time most of them settled down. However, where is the evidence of this? Chesterton claims that it seems that for as long people have been people we find that some were nomadic and some more settled so why do we call one type of society more advanced than the other? This made me think of the stories of Cain and Able but also of Jacob and Esau. Esau caught my attention. We do not know a lot about Esau and his name is not generally one that parents give their sons. Jacob is a common name but I do not think I have ever met anybody named Esau. We even use elements of the story of Jacob and Esau as a pejorative phrase when we say "He sold it for a bowl of pottage"

Yet, what do we see when we look at Esau? We see a man who was concerned with his work and living as much as the future. He was essentially right when he said "What good will an inheritance do me if I starve?" Was he angry that Jacob had tricked him? Yes, and he had a right to be. Jacob did not wait to obtain the blessing God had promised him in the way God intended but instead stole it. Jacob then, rather wisely fled to Haran so as not to face the wrath of his brother. Jacob then carried on with his career of larceny and deceit and effectively cheated his uncle Laben out of flock and herds as well as two daughters. At that point Jacob had to flee again. This time back towards his brother.

Notice something. Esau never went to Haran. Is it really feasible to believe that he didn't know where Jacob had gone? Is it feasible to believe that Esau couldn't have followed our had someone follow Jacob and kill him? All we know is that he didn't Indeed, Esau isn't mentioned again until Jacob returns to Palestine. At that time Jacob, assuming his brother is still angry with him attempts to buy off his brother by making restitution payments. When he arrives he finds that Esau has forgiven him and refuses to take even the gifts offered by Jacob.

When I look at Esau I see a man who is able to let go of past wrongs, to forgive and forget. I see a man who enjoys life and recognizes what God has given him and is thankful for it. A man who is content and does not blame others or hold a grudge. This must have been some experience for Jacob. While the other episodes in his life are the ones we are taught in Sunday School I can't help but think this was the one that really made an impression upon him. Did Jacob learn to be content by seeing that Esau was content? Did he learn to forgive by being forgiven? Did he cease striving with God because of what he saw in his brother? I don't know, but I can make a guess.

Yet, Esau was a nomad, a herdsman, a barbarian on a horse. The supposedly less civilized side of the human family. May I live to be as barbaric as Esau.

Until Next Time
Fai Mao
The blogger who should probably read an adventure novel

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