"For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God, and the LORD hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself, above all the nations that are upon the earth." ~ Deuteronomy14:2

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Raising The Standard: Flexibility Is Remaining Free To Accept The Best Course Of Action

The reality of God and the value of spiritual objectives seem hollow in a family that experiences continual conflict. In such a family it is all too easy for a son or a daughter to despise their family and spiritual heritage, and temptations may be strong to sacrifice future potential on the altar of momentary pleasure. Scripture records the tragic account of a young man who despised the opportunities that were his by birth and disclaimed a priceless heritage. Too late he realized the value of what he had lost and discovered that he was no longer in a position to pursue the best course of action.
How Does Scripture Illustrate The Need To Remain Free To Accept The Best Course Of Action? The secret wish of many adults is expressed in the statement, "If only I had to do it over again." They are usually referring to a decision or an event that cannot be undone which has continuing consequences. Who in Scripture wept bitter tears when he realized a decision---one which seemed unimportant when he made it---was unchangeable?
Only hunters understand the compelling drive that forces them to stay on the trail, and no one but this particular hunter could understand why a kill was so important on this occasion. He had been stalking his prey for several days without success. Every trick he had learned in years of hunting had failed, but the excitement of the hunt urged him on. He had not been conscious of the great amount of energy he had used. Over each hill and beyond each thicket lay the possibility of the game he prized. That prize would replenish his strength and fulfill his real purpose. The unspoken objective that relentlessly drove him on was the goal of maintaining his reputation as a skilled hunter in the eyes of his father. He desired his approval more than the father realized. More painful than hot days, cold nights, an empty stomach, and an exhausted body was the prospect of returning home empty-handed. But on this occasion he had long since passed the point of caring about game. The skilled hunter of venison had become a victim of exhaustion, hunger, and a burning sun. He desired only to return for food and rest. When he finally reached his destination, he was met by the tantalizing aroma of red pottage. The memory of his brother's specialty made his mouth water. He came in, dropped to the ground and said, "Please give me some of that red pottage." His brother seized on this moment of weakness. He had been waiting for an opportunity and quickly demanded, "Sell me this day your birthright." As the oldest son, this hunter had received certain spiritual opportunities and responsibilities in the family. This was his spiritual birthright, but where had God been when he needed Him on the hunt? His failure in the field would bring his father's disappointment and disapproval. What did a birthright matter now? "I am at the point to die and what profit shall this birthright do me?" So he sold it to his brother. He was given a meal of bread and pottage of lentils in return. After eating the meal he went away, despising the birthright he had sold. Years later he realized the great value of that birthright, and he wept bitter tears in front of his father, hoping to regain what he had lost. But his decision was irreversible. He had exchanged his rich heritage for a bowl of red pottage. Why had it been easy for him to sell cheaply what was priceless? The reasons may be found in relationships within his own family. His father loved him for his hunting abilities, not his spiritual achievements. His approval and fellowship centered around tasting his son's venison rather than delighting in his son's spiritual refreshment. His mother showed favoritism toward his younger brother. Thus he was not especially close to her and he missed the benefit of her spiritual insight. His brother cheapened the birthright by equating its value to a mess of pottage. By selling his birthright Esau violated the very secret of what make him successful as a hunter---maintaining a position that would allow him to choose the best course of action. (From Genesis 25:27-34)
How Did Esau Disqualify Himself For The Position Of Blessing?
The son who received the blessing would be heir to the promises given to Abraham. Not only would his descendants be "as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the seashore" (Genesis 22:17), but they would also inherit the land of Canaan (Genesis 15:8). In the tradition of Abraham, Rebekah was concerned that these promised descendants would have God-fearing parents to teach them (Genesis 24:3-4). Esau had no regard for the promises of God. He had sold his birthright for a meal. He thought he had nothing to lose since his father was only a stranger in a foreign land. Jacob, on the other hand, believed the promises and knew that some day the Lord would give all of the land in which they lived to their descendants. Esau was not spiritually fit to become the family's spiritual heir.
Why Didn't Rebekah Go To Her Husband With Her Concern?
The most likely explanation is that she did not feel it would do any good. It is possible that Rebekah had lost respect for her husband's spiritual leadership. This may have begun when Isaac lied to the Philistines, claiming that she was his sister rather than his wife (Genesis 26:7). She was no doubt disappointed with his leadership when he allowed Esau to marry the ungodly Hittite women who would teach their children their abominable religious beliefs and practices. And even thought the faithless Esau had despised his birthright, he remained Isaac's favorite son. The reason for this preference was based not on Esau's character, but on Esau's ability to supply him with his favorite food (Genesis 25:28). She forgot that the Lord had not appointed her to be priest of the family, and she wrongfully decided to usurp her husband's role as spiritual leader. Her lack of respect for Isaac's role may have cheapened its important in Esau's eyes as well.
What Were The Consequences of Esau's Failure To Choose The Best Course Of Action?
Because Esau was not interested in inheriting the land which the Lord had promised to Abraham and then to Isaac, the Lord allowed him to lose the blessing which accompanied it (cf. Genesis 26:3-4). Esau forfeited any claim to the land of Canaan and had to settle in the nearby land of Edom, located to the Southeast. Edom is a rugged, inhospitable, and mountainous country with only a few cultivable areas. The Lord said concerning Esau that he "laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the jackals of the wilderness." (Malachi 1:3) His descendants were destined to live by the sword and serve the descendants of Jacob. The only consolation was that they would have periods of freedom (Genesis 27:40). And so it was; the historical relation of Edom to Israel assumed the form of a continual cycle of servitude, revolt, and reconquest. After a long period of independence, the Edomites were defeated by Saul and enslaved by David. They revolted under Solomon and again under Joram and were later subdued by Amaziah. Not until the reign of Ahaz did they shake their yoke off completely. But the Edomites were eventually conquered again, compelled to submit to circumcision, and incorporated into the Jewish state. The American bittern joins with the heron family to form the Ciconiiformes order. In the days of Henry VII, the bittern native to Europe was highly esteemed for the flavor of its meat. Typical of other members of this family, the American bittern lives near both fresh and saltwater marshes. Because it is a solitary bird and rarely seen, many thought that it was a nocturnal feeder, but probably the only nocturnal habit is that it has is its migratory flight. The bird migrates in the spring between mid=March and April and in the fall between September and October.
How Does The Bittern Illustrate Flexibility By Being Free To Accept The Best Course of Action? It was a perfect spring day. All the senses verified it. The dampness of the recently melted snow intensified the pleasant aroma of budding cottonwoods. Frogs proclaimed spring as their noisy croaking called to potential mates. The voice of a male red-winged blackbird competed for a hearing as it announced to the world the boundaries of newly-established territory.
Tender new shoots had popped up among the weathered remnants of last year's cattails. Excitement filled the air. Nature was preparing to bring forth new life. This was the spot that a female bittern had chosen to build her nest. Last year she had raised her young in the swamp, and she was once again anticipating the same success. She had already gathered an assortment of dried reeds and constructed a well concealed nest one foot in diameter and a few inches high. In addition to the secluded site of the nest, she had taken another precaution to ensure secrecy. She had constructed two paths---one for entering and the other for exiting. The parent birds would never fly directly to the nest itself. Instead they landed at the end of the entrance path and walked in. Similarly, the birds left the nest by walking out to then end of the exit path and then flying away. A feeling of contentment rushed over the bittern on that beautiful spring morning. There, in the center of her nest, lay a single egg. This was the first; she would probably lay four more. But as she stood there, her contentment suddenly turned to fear and anxiety. Her preoccupation with the nest had allowed the approach of a red fox to go unnoticed. The fox was drawing dangerously close as it prowled the marsh in hope of securing an easy meal. Any course of action would have to be executed quickly. The bittern had three choices. She could slip down the exit path and fly away. She could stand her ground and try to fight off the intruder. Her bill was a lethal weapon, extremely sharp, and could be wielded with deadly accuracy. There was a third option. Although it would seem unlikely to succeed, this was the course she chose. Pointing her bill upward, she froze. In an amazing camouflage, the light and dark stripes which cloaked her throat and breast allowed the bird to blend perfectly against the reeds. Then the breeze stirred, and the reeds slowly began to sway in the wind. The bittern played its role to the fullest. Gently, she too, began to sway. Her whole body participated in the disguise. From the bill to the legs, each part moved to produce a sway that defied detection from the movement of the surrounding cattails. The prowler looked in the direction of the bittern. The wind was blowing the wrong way for the fox to detect the scent of the bird and because the bittern had executed the part so well, it remained undetected. The predator moved on. By taking a few preliminary steps, the bittern was flexible and free to choose the best course of action to protect her nest from the fox.
Scriptural References To The Bittern "I will also make it [Babylon] a possession for the bittern, and pools of water..." ~ Isaiah 14:23
The bittern is a very shy bird which lives in quiet and solitude away from civilization. This prophecy was made when Babylon was a thriving metropolis at the height of its glory. God's judgment fell upon the city and it became a lonely desolation. Its wreckage covered an area of over one hundred and fifty square miles. The ruins contained many pools of water which provided an ideal nesting place for the bittern. Spiritually, Babylon symbolizes the corruption of those who oppose God's ways (Revelation 17:5-6). Like Babylon, the ways of immorality appear to prosper, but the pleasures of sin last only for a season. Afterward, they are replaced by the loneliness of separation from vital human relationships and from God. Other references are Isaiah 34:11 and Zephaniah 2:14. NOTE: Some authorities translate the word "kippod" as an hedgehog or porcupine rather than "bittern"; however the characteristics of all three fit the prophecy.

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