Like Esau, Today’s Terrorists Live Only in the Present
There is so much going on in the world today that makes absolutely no sense. The security camera footage that emerged this week of two Arab girls, aged 14 and 16, attempting to stab an old Israeli man (who turned out to be an Arab!) with scissors makes no sense. What would killing or wounding of this innocent old man achieve for the Palestinian cause? Why are these girls wandering around the streets of Jerusalem looking for someone to stab?
Then there is the summary justice meted out in areas controlled by ISIS, with innocent people being executed in the most horrifying ways. It just makes no sense. How can the perpetrators believe that their rule will endure if they are indiscriminately murdering the people who fall under their jurisdiction? And what about the ISIS murderers in Paris and Brussels, or the Boko Haram murderers in Nigeria? What do these homicidal fanatics believe they are achieving when they kill and maim in ever more hair-raising atrocities? None of it makes any sense.
But what makes the least sense is that many of the terrorists know full well that they will probably die while carrying out their attacks. Whether it is instant death by suicide vest or as a result of fatal retaliation, the fact that their certain death is not a deterrent is staggering. Why would young people elect to end their lives in violence rather than find a path for themselves that allows them to live out their lives to old age?
The usual answer one hears from tiresome apologists is that these youngsters lead dead-end, hopeless lives, and that going out in a blaze of glory is more attractive than facing a bleak, long life of misery. This also makes no sense. It is is yet another example of the endless dreadful lies that surround us in the information age. Millions of oppressed young people in the poorest corners of the world live hopeless lives, but don’t consequently shoot up rock concerts, or blow themselves up in restaurants, or stab innocent old men with scissors.
And let me add this. There was a time when terrorism, as ugly as it was, had a cause. Today it has no cause. The violence, it seems, is not a means to an end, but an end in and of itself. World leaders and so-called opinion-formers just look clumsy and awkward when they try to apply tired causes to terrorists who just revel in killing and destruction. But how does it make sense for these killers to behave this way?
The answer is that these acts only make sense when you understand the dynamics of Jacob and Esau.
One of the puzzles about the interchange between Jacob and Esau is Jacob’s insistence that he has not benefited from Isaac’s blessings. Isaac had blessed him with agricultural success — “the fat of the land” — but he informs Esau that his wealth is not land based, but rather made up of domestic animals. In other words, although Jacob may have been successful in tricking his father into giving him the blessings, his ruse was ultimately pointless, because nothing in the blessings had materialized into reality.
But what kind of fool did Jacob take Esau for? Those blessings were never meant for immediate effect. They were long-term blessings, a legacy that would stretch beyond the lives of Esau and Jacob for thousands of years. Even if Jacob was not yet the landowner that the blessings indicated he would be, that was never the point. His children and his descendants would inherit the land in the future, crystallizing the blessings as time unfolded.
The reality was, however, that in the world of Esau, only instant results matter. Unless something is real right now, it is not real at all. Jacob understood his brother perfectly. He wished to pacify him by reassuring him that his life in the present did not reflect the promise of the blessings. But this was only half the story. It pacified Esau, who could see that Isaac’s blessings had thus far not materialized. In that time and place, Jacob remained devoid of any of the promises specified in those blessings. As to the future — Esau was never concerned with the future, only with the here and now.
Today’s terrorists are the epitome of Esau. They are not concerned with a future. They only care about the here and now. Tomorrow doesn’t matter, as long as today they have killed, and maimed, and injured, and harmed. It appears as if they have been gripped by the curse of Esau, who lives in the present with no thought for the future. Our only hope against such ultimate evil is to be descendants of Jacob, whose focus is never on the gratification of the present, and only on the promise of a better tomorrow.