I recently read about an interesting “experiment” by the U.S. government, executed during the prohibition era. While it was illegal to buy, sell or manufacture drinking alcohol, the bootlegger’s black market made sure that massive quantities of beer and liquor continued to flow without much hinderance. Law enforcement just couldn’t keep up with the back-alley alcohol consumption and production.
While all sorts of tactics were used by the feds to stop alcohol production, one lesser-known experiment had catastrophic effects. Known as the “Chemist’s war of prohibition,” the U.S. government ordered the poisoning of industrial alcohols sold throughout the country. These products were frequently stolen by bootleggers and used in the production of their illegal spirits. The belief was that poisoning the alcohol would scare people into sobriety.
The belief was wrong, and the results were disastrous. By one record, when prohibition ended in 1933, over 10,000 deaths were directly linked to the poison strategy. Yet despite all these deaths, alcohol consumption didn’t slow down.
Would you have risked death over a swig of alcohol during that era? Seriously, if you knew that alcohol was being poisoned, and possibly even by the government itself, would have risked a drink knowing it could cost you, your life? For millions of people, the answer was yes and for at least 10,000 people the poison was deadly.
Last week I was reading in Genesis and I came across the story of Jacob and Esau. These guys were brothers, sons of Isaac, who lived life through two different lenses. Jacob was a momma’s boy, while Esau was a man’s man. Jacob was manipulator, Esau was a bully.
One day, when Isaac was getting to the end of his life, he told Esau, the first born, to prepare a meal and to be ready to receive the blessing Isaac had reserved for his oldest child. Rebekah, Isaac’s wife, helped Jacob totally deceive his dad and steal the blessing that actually belonged to his brother. When Esau figured out what had happened, there was nothing left for him but frustration and anger.
And poison. Lots of poison.
To protect her son, Rebekah sent him away to find a wife in another country instead of marrying a Canaanite woman. Isaac agreed with the idea and sent Jacob back to the land of their family in order for him to find a proper woman to marry. In this part of the story, we find Esau drinking the poison:
“Esau then realized how displeasing the Canaanite women were to his father Isaac; so he went to Ishmael [a city] and married Mahalath...in addition to the wives he already had” (Genesis 28:8-9).
Esau was so angry about having his blessing stolen by his brother. Esau had been cheated by his brother and betrayed by his own mother! There is nothing you can find in the text that would justify Jacob or Rebekah’s actions, and humanly speaking, Esau had every right to be angry and seek revenge. He took action and ultimately, he suffered.
That’s the strange conundrum that many of us find ourselves in: when we’re wronged, when we have a right to strike back, we find that revenge becomes a poison that wounds us! As Nelson Mandela put it, “Resentment [Revenge] is a poison we drink, while waiting for our enemies to die.”
Esau took another wife, a foreigner, in order to spite his parents. But who suffered from that? Certainly Esau did as he introduced this woman into his family. Certainly his new wife did. Certainly his other wives did. As all married men know, when your wife is unhappy or struggling, you’re unhappy and struggling (the same is true for women with their husbands!). Nobody in Esau’s family won with this decision, but Esau drank the poison anyway.
You and I drink from the same poison every time we hold a grudge, harbor hatred, seek revenge or wish evil on others. I’m not talking about seeking true justice, I’m talking about pursuing punishment or revenge based on our feelings of right and wrong. Every time we chase after those things, it’s as if we’ve taken our beer mug, held it under a keg of government tainted alcohol, and decided to take a chance with a little drink. Like Esau, the only person being poisoned is the one drinking.
Contrast this with Easu’s nephew, Joseph. He was hated by his brothers. Then, they sold him into slavery and told his dad that he had been killed by a wild animal. After that, he was imprisoned for NOT having sex with his boss’s wife. He was forgotten in prison, even after he miraculously revealed God’s divine plan for two other prisoners. For a total of 13 years, he was a slave and prisoner and when he finally met with his brothers again, with a chance to “get even” he says, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, Don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children” (Genesis 50:20-21).
Joseph chose to NOT drink the poison, and the outcome of his life was radically different.
Are you drinking the poison of bitterness, anger, revenge or resentment? Here are a few ideas about how to put down the cup and release the need for revenge.
- Remember Colossians 3:13 and forgive others, as the Lord has forgiven you. It’s not easy when the pain is deep, but we must recall that what Jesus forgave in you and me, is exponentially deeper than what you and I will ever forgive in someone else. Your sin -- my sin -- cost Jesus His life, and yet He willingly paid that price in order to cover our sin. If He forgave us with His life, with His help, we can forgive others, too.
- Remember Genesis 50:20, and the truth that God can use your worst pain and darkest circumstances, to accomplish His great plan. Did Joseph know God’s plan while he was a slave or prisoner? I doubt it. But when God’s plan became clear, he was in a position to receive it.
- Remember Hebrews 12:3 that tells us that Jesus endured opposition at the hands of sinful men in order to see God’s work finished. Take courage, the writer of Hebrews says, “...so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
Learning to take poison out of your diet can be a painful experience, but like most healthy changes, you will be glad you did when the change is finished. Don’t let anger, bitterness, resentment or revenge ruin another day. Choose the path of Joseph and find real freedom in Christ.
Go ahead and take the plunge, life is always better on the water!