Genesis 37 relates the story of Esau. In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul comments about the tale in his letter to the Roman church. There, he quotes Malachi 1:2-3 that God loved Jacob but hated his brother Esau. Does that mean that God set out to rain on Esau’s parade? To kick him when he was down? To laugh in his face? Or does it describe more what Esau felt about his fate? Is there perhaps a touch of sarcasm or irony in God’s words about Esau? A throwing back in his face the words Esau spat at God?
When God spoke those harsh sounding words through the prophet in Malachi, he was describing how Esau’s descendants–now a nation living in the hill country on the other side of the Jordan River from Israel–would suffer his judgment–due to their mistreatment of their brothers, the people of Israel, as they were taken captive by the Babylonians. But as is the case with judgment, God’s judgment on Esau had a purpose: a positive goal, a desire to correct or to redirect–as a father disciplining his children, or a coach yelling in the face of an athlete.
God will not protect us from the fate we insist on choosing, despite his warnings or the warnings of common sense. Jacob and Esau demonstrate that sometimes you simply can’t just make it all better. Not every mistake is fixable, not because God wants us to be miserable, but because all you can do with spilled milk is mop it up. You’re not going to squeeze the milk back into the jug and the pour it on your cornflakes. While God forgives us, the world may not–and if something’s broken, it might stay that way: there are always consequences to our actions. Esau had sold his birthright to his brother Jacob simply because he came home hungry one day and wanted some of the stew that his brother was making. Unconcerned about the value of what he was giving up, all he saw was the immediate satisfaction of having a nice bowl of stew.
Later, his brother by stealth steals the blessing of the firstborn by impersonating Esau. When he discovers how he’s been ripped off, Esau complains bitterly about what Jacob has taken from him: his birthright and his blessing. But for all his complaining, for all his regrets, his choices lead him down paths that are one way only. People make choices all the time; some can be fixed, others can’t. The teenager who was texting while driving and then plowed into an oncoming car cannot turn back time and make her mistake go away. If you run a stop sign and a police officer catches you and writes you a ticket–all you can do is pay the fine.
When you suffer the consequences of your bad choice, no matter how often you cry out to God–the consequences are likely to remain: you’re paralyzed, you’re out a few hundred dollars, or you lose your birthright and blessing. Cry all you want: it doesn’t change reality. What can change is how you face your reality: what are you going to do with your next choice? And will you choose to be bitter and angry, or will you choose to rely on God and trust him to see you through whatever your consequences might be–and allow him to take the evil that has become of your life, and pervert that evil for good. God is in the business of transforming us, of taking the ugly and making it beautiful, of taking the broken and sweeping it away to build something new. God will walk with us through the thickets and swamps of our mistakes and problems. He’s focused on fixing our hearts and minds–not so much our spilled milk.