There are two basic ways to learn.
First, knowledge can be learned objectively through academic pursuit. Much time and effort are given to imparting knowledge into young people so that one generation can benefit from the collective knowledge of the previous generation and move society forward.
Second, knowledge can be learned subjectively by personal experience. There is an old expression about learning something in the “school of hard knocks”.
One of the lessons learned in life, often the hard way, is that there are situations in which being sorry is not enough. Regretting a word spoken, a deed done, or a thought embrace is sometimes, not enough.
The Word of God records the experience of a man who learned this truth in the “school of hard knocks.” There is the story of Esau.
The Bible tells us that Esau was a hunter. He was a man’s man. As a rugged individualist, Esau enjoyed the hunt, until the game he pursued became elusive. Then, Esau knew what it was to be hungry.
The Bible also tells us that Esau was a profane man. Because he lived for the moment, because he had no appreciation of spiritual matters, because he rarely considered the future, and the consequences of his beliefs and behavior, the day came when, in his hunger, and for a quick meal to satisfy his immediate need for food, Esau sold his birthright to his clever, and ruthless, younger brother, Jacob. The sad narrative is recorded in Scripture.
“And the boys grew: and Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field; and Jacob was a plain man, dwelling in tents. 28 And Isaac loved Esau, because he did eat of his venison: but Rebekah loved Jacob. 29 And Jacob sod pottage: and Esau came from the field, and he was faint: 30 And Esau said to Jacob, Feed me, I pray thee, with that same red pottage; for I am faint: therefore was his name called Edom. 31 And Jacob said, Sell me this day thy birthright. 32 And Esau said, Behold, I am at the point to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me? 33 And Jacob said, Swear to me this day; and he sware unto him: and he sold his birthright unto Jacob. 34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentiles; and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way: thus Esau despised his birthright” (Gen. 25:27-34).
The word “despise” is a strong word in Hebrew (bazah). It means “to disesteem”, and is translated disdain, to scorn, despise. Well does the Scripture warn people to guard the heart, for out of it are the issues, or well spring, of life (Prov. 4:23). Our heart guides our words and thoughts, which, in turn, guide our beliefs and behavior. Esau did not guard his heart. Esau did not think through the consequences of his words and deeds. Whatever fleeting ideas came to his mind were embraced, and whatever terrible emotions resulted from his thoughts were justified. In the end, it was easy for Esau to give up everything of real value in his world, his birthright.
After his hunger was satisfied, after the moment of foolishness passed, Esau rested and reflected. Suddenly, with growing horror he realized what he had done, and how foolishly, how irrationally he had acted.
Esau returned to Jacob and sought for a return of his birthright. That was not going to happen. Esau appealed to their father Isaac, but, “when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected” (Heb. 12:17). What Esau had done was so egregious, even tears of desperation were to no avail. Esau “found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears” (Heb. 12:16).
Esau was truly sorry for what he had done, but his sorrow was not enough. He had to live with the consequences of his decision. In his anger and rage, Esau initially shifted the blame for what he had done from himself to his brother. It was all Jacob’s fault. Jacob took advantage of him. Jacob tricked him. Jacob was cunning, after all his very name means, “chiseler”, “supplanter.”
All such thoughts did was to confirm that Esau was a “profane” person, and dull of learning the true lessons of life. Initially, Esau accepted no personal responsibility, he was a victim. He was righteous in his anger, and he was justified in his behavior. Had he not tried to say he was sorry? Had he not wept bitter tears of regret? Indeed he had, but it was not enough. It was all too little, too late to change the fundamental problem, his relationship with God and man was not right.
Had Esau loved God, had Esau valued his spiritual responsibilities associated with his birthright, he would have received the favor of heaven, and a double portion of the family wealth. But, Esau gave it up “for one morsel of meat”. He sold his birthright.
Many a person has given their heart to the world, the flesh, and the devil, for something as cheap as “one morsel of meat.” Many a person has learned that being sorry, and weeping bitterly over past behavior, is not enough to change self, or the situation. There is a price to pay.
For the Christian who finds themself in a terrible situation, the good news is that the narrative does not have to end in ultimate tragedy. Where sin abounds, grace does much more abound. But the divine solution must be embraced.
First, any expression of repentance must be authentic. Biblical repentance means to turn around. It means to walk in a new direction. It means to be fundamentally different. That difference is manifested in change. There is change in the emotions expressed. There is a holy hush that guards the lips. There is change in the words used. Kind words replace cruel and accusatory words. There is a difference in behavior. Self-pity is renounced. Retaliation and vengeance are not practiced. The works of the flesh are replaced by the fruit of the Spirit, which is “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance,” which is self-control.
Second, the consequences of one’s behavior must be accepted. There is a time to die. When a person has contributed to their own demise, it is time to stretch out spiritual arms, lay down, and die to self, so that control of one’s life is given back to God. Instead of trying to make things happen, life in lived by faith to see what God will do.
Third, there is to be as much restitution as possible. New words must replace words of hatred and hostility. New emotions must be cultivated. New ideas must replace dark and unworthy thoughts. “Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Phil. 4:8).
It is not easy to live out the ethics of the Christian life. In fact, it is impossible to be a Christian apart from the power of the Holy Spirit. However, the quest to be like Jesus, to love the unlovely, to be fundamentally and forever different, to have noble thoughts, and an honorable reaction to evil, is preferable to a life lived in the moment. Esau would agree.