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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : STUDY VI THE POWER OF AMBITION.

The Making Of A Nation by Charles Foster Kent

STUDY VI THE POWER OF AMBITION.

JACOB, THE PERSISTENT. -- Gen.28, 10-33, 20.

Parallel Readings.

Hist. Bible I, 101-21.
Hastings, Dict. Bible II, 526-535.
Prin. of Politics Ch. II.

Now as the boys grew Esau became a skilful hunter, but Jacob was a quiet man, a dweller in tents. And Isaac loved Esau -- for he had a taste for game -- and Rebekah loved Jacob.

Once when Jacob was preparing a stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was faint; therefore Esau said to Jacob, Let me eat quickly, I pray, some of that red food, for I am faint. (Therefore his name was called Edom, Red.) But Jacob said, Sell me first of all your birthright. And Esau replied, Alas! I am nearly dead, therefore of what use is this birthright to me? And Jacob said, Swear to me first; so he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and stewed lentils, and when he had eaten and drank, he rose up and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright. -- Hist. Bible.

Charles Darwin when asked for the secret of his success said, |It's dogged as does it.|

Oh well for him whose will is strong!
He suffers, but he will not suffer long;
He suffers, but he cannot suffer wrong:
For him nor moves the loud world's random mock,
Nor all Calamity's hugest waves confound,
Who seems a promontory of rock,
That, compasst round with turbulent sound
In middle ocean meets the surging shock,
Tempest-buffetted but citadel-crowned.
-- Tennyson.

Life is comic or pitiful, as soon as the high ends of being fade out of sight and man becomes near-sighted and can only attend to what addresses the senses -- Emerson.

Who rises every time he falls
Will sometime rise to stay.

I.

THE TWO BROTHERS, JACOB AND ESAU.

South of the Dead Sea, bounded by the rocky desert on the east and the hot barren Arabah on the west, extends the wild picturesque range of Mount Seir. It is a land of lofty heights and deep, almost inaccessible valleys, the home of the hunter and the nomad. From a few copious springs there issue clear, refreshing brooks, which run rippling through the deep ravines, but soon lose themselves in their hot, gravelly beds. A few miles further on they emerge and again disappear, as they approach the borders of the hot, thirsty wilderness that surrounds Mount Seir on every side. Here in early times lived the Edomites, a nomadic people who established themselves in this borderland of Palestine long before the Hebrews gained a permanent foothold in the land of Canaan. The name, Edom, is found in an inscription of a king of the eighth Egyptian Dynasty,

In the Biblical narrative, Esau evidently is the traditional ancestor of the Edomites, even as Jacob figures as the father of the twelve tribes. One of the aims of these narratives, it seems to many scholars, is to explain why the Israelites, the younger people, who settled latest in Palestine, ultimately possessed the land and conquered the Edomites.

The portraits of Esau and Jacob are remarkably true to the characteristics of these two rival nations. They are also faithful to human nature as we find it to-day. Of these two brothers which, on the whole, is the more attractive? Which resembles his father and which his mother? (Read the accounts of their lives, Gen.24-27.) What noble virtues does Esau possess? What was his great fault? Reckless men or drifters with generous impulses but with no definite purpose, of whom gypsies and hoboes are extreme types, are found in every age and society. Why is it that men of the type of Esau so often in time become criminals?

II.

THE MAN WITH A WRONG AMBITION.

The modern tendency to idealize the character of Jacob, simply because he was one of the famous patriarchs, is both unfortunate and misleading. Although he vividly typifies certain characteristics of his race, the Jacob of these early prophetic accounts is portrayed with absolute fidelity and realism. His faults are revealed even more clearly than his virtues. The dominant motive in his life is ambition, but it is a thoroughly selfish ambition. In the light of the stories, state in your own words what was the exact nature of Jacob's ambition. How did it differ from that of Abraham? What methods did he use to achieve his ambition? Were these methods justifiable? What is your view of the statement, |The end justifies the means|? Try to define exactly the method of determining justifiable means. May Jacob's action be excused because he was acting under the direction of his mother?

Does a man with a selfish ambition always injure others? Does he in the end injure himself most of all? How? Every type of selfishness is directly opposed to a man's highest self-interest. Jesus continually had this large truth in mind when he declared, |He that findeth his life shall lose it, but he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.| Jesus himself illustrated this principle. Cite other illustrations from history. From your own observation or experience.

Was Jacob, even with his wrong ambition, a stronger and more promising character than his brother Esau? Why?

Would you rather have your son a boy of strong character with vicious tendency or a weakling with harmless, virtuous inclinations?

III.

JACOB'S TRAINING IN THE SCHOOL OF EXPERIENCE.

Jacob's experiences as a fugitive well illustrate the homely proverb, |The way of the transgressor is hard.| He who deceived and cheated his brother soon became the victim of deception and fraud. Most painful of all was the ever-haunting sense of fear because of the consequences of his wrong acts that followed him even in his life as an exile and, like a spectre, confronted him as he returned again to the scenes of his boyhood. These painful experiences were probably essential to the development of Jacob's character. Are there any other ways in which men of this type can be led to appreciate that their ambitions are wrong? Was Laban any more unjust or tricky in his dealing with Jacob than Jacob had been with Esau, or than Jacob was with Laban? Note the grim humor running through these stories. They are the type of stories that would be especially appreciated when told by shepherds beside the camp fire.

The most significant point in these stories is that they declare that Jehovah's care and guidance followed the selfish deceiver even as he fled the consequences of his own misdeeds. Why should that divine care shield him from the consequences of his misdeeds? Do we find such instances to-day? How do you explain them? What is the meaning of the story of Jacob's vision at Bethel? What promising elements did Jehovah find in Jacob's character? What practical lessons did Jacob learn during his sojourn in Aram?

Was Jacob really a hypocrite, or did he in fact fail to see any inconsistency between, his trickery and meanness and his worship of Jehovah? A man may be sincere in his religious worship on Sunday and yet cheat a neighbor on Monday. Analyze carefully the nature of his religion.

IV.

THE INVINCIBLE POWER OP AMBITION AND PERSEVERANCE.

History and modern life abound in illustrations of what can be accomplished by the combination of ambition and perseverance. Cyrus, the king of a little upland province, through a remarkable series of victories became the undisputed master of south-western Asia and laid the foundations of the great Persian Empire. Julius Caesar, who transformed Rome from a republic into an empire, and Napoleon the Corsican, are the classic illustrations of the power of great ambition and dauntless persistency. Far nobler is that quiet, courageous perseverance which led Livingston through the trackless swamps and forests of Africa and blazed the way for the conquest of the dark continent. Equally significant is that noble ambition, coupled with heroic perseverance, that has enabled settlement workers to bring light to the darkest parts of our great cities.

Ambition without persistency is but a dream or hope. Observe Jacob's persistency in the Biblical stories. Does persistency, which has always been a marked characteristic of the Hebrew race, largely explain the achievements of the Jews throughout the world? Note the apparently scientific knowledge regarding breeding of lambs by Jacob in his dealings with Laban. Is it a fact recognized by science to-day? If he knew this and Laban did not, can you justify his acts? Can you justify the act of the director of a corporation who uses his prior knowledge of the business of his corporation to make profit from buying or selling its stocks? Who loses? Is he a trustee for their interests?

What is the meaning of the strange story of Jacob's midnight struggle with the angel? (Hist. Bible I, 119-20.) What lessons did Jacob learn from this struggle? Would you call Jacob a truly religious man, according to his light and training, or were his religious professions only hypocritical? May he have been sincere, but have had a wrong conception of religion? What is hypocrisy? Did Jacob's faith in Jehovah, in the end prove the strongest force in his life? Is there any trace in his later years, of the selfish ambition which earlier dominated him? What are his chief interests in the latter part of his life? Did he become the strong and noble character that he might have been had he from the first been guided by a worthy ambition? Were the misfortunes that came to him in his old age due largely to his own faults reappearing in the characters of his sons?

V.

THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF AMBITION.

In the ultimate analysis it is the man's motive which determines his character as well as his acts.

|As he thinketh within himself, so is he.| -- Prov.23:7.

|Man looketh on the outward appearance, but Jehovah on the heart.| -- I Sam.16:7.

With many men the strongest motive is the desire to surpass others. It not only leads them to perform certain acts, but in so doing shapes their habits; and character is largely the result of man's habitual way of acting. Jacob grew up narrow and crafty because of the selfish, dwarfing nature of his ambition, At first his ambition was of a low type, that of the child which desires to acquire possessions and power simply for himself. In the child this impulse is perfectly natural. In the normally developed individual, during the years of early adolescence (the years of 14 to 16) the social and altruistic impulses begin to develop and to take the place of those which are purely egoistic or selfish. When the fully developed man fails, as did Jacob, to leave behind childish things and retains the ambitions and impulses of the child, his condition is pitiable.

Men of this type of ambition often achieve great things from the economic or political point of view. Economically they are of greater value to society than the drifter. Sometimes, however, they bring ruin and disaster to society, as well as to themselves. Despots like Herod the Great and Napoleon, corrupt political bosses, who play into the hands of certain classes at the expense of the general public, and men who employ grafting methods in business or politics, belong to this class.

VI.

THE DEVELOPMENT OF RIGHT AMBITIONS.

The desire to spare one's energies is natural to man. To gain wealth with the least expenditure of energy is said to be the chief economic motive. Most men are by nature lazy. This law of inertia applies not only in the physical world, but also in the intellectual, moral and spiritual fields. The great majority of men follow the line of least resistance. In politics and morals they accept the standards of their associates. Unconsciously they join the great army of the drifters, or followers, who preserve the traditions of the past, but contribute little to the future progress of the race. To deliver man from the control of his natural inertia he must be touched by some strong compelling power. Ambition is one great force that enables most men to overcome this inertia. The influences, therefore, which kindle ambition are among the most important which enter the life of man.

In the Orient the mother stands in especially close relation to the son. How far was Jacob's desire to surpass his brother inspired by his mother? Many of the world's greatest leaders trace the impulse which has led them to achieve directly to their parents and especially to their mothers. The mother of Charles and John Wesley is but one of the many mothers to whom the human race owes an inestimable debt. Of all the heritages which parents can leave their children none is greater than a worthy ambition. Sometimes it is the personality of a great teacher which inspires the youthful ambition and directs it in lines of worthy achievement. How much of England's greatness may be traced to the quiet influence of Arnold of Rugby! Consider the unparalleled influence of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle -- all primarily teachers.

The true pastor with the spirit of a prophet is often able to guide those with whom he comes into intimate contact to great fields of service. In encouraging Sophia Smith to found Smith College that quiet New England pastor, the Reverend John M. Greene, won a high place among those in America who first appreciated the importance of education of woman. Equally great opportunities may lie before every pastor and teacher and citizen. Frequently it is the contact through literature or in life with men or women who have done heroic deeds or have won success in the face of great obstacles that kindles the youthful ambition and stirs the latent motives which in turn develop strong and noble characters. Therein lies the perennial value of the Biblical narratives.

For many men that which arouses their ambitions is the call of a great opportunity or responsibility. Note the change in General Grant's life with the outbreak of the Civil War. The unambitious tanner becomes the untiring, rigid, unconquerable soldier. Striking illustrations of this fact are many men, whose character, as well as conduct after they have been called to positions of political or judicial trust, is in marked contrast to their previous record. A corrupt lawyer has sometimes become an upright judge. The pride of office, the traditions of the bench have sustained him. It is the privilege and duty of each man, by thoughtful deliberation and study to shape and develop his own individual ambitions that they may conform to the highest ideals and thus guide him to the noblest and most worthy achievement. Of what value to a man is biography in forming his ambitions? Mention some biographies that you consider of the greatest help. In what ways are the life and teachings of Jesus of practical service in developing the ambitions of a man to-day?

Questions for Further Consideration.

Is it possible for a man without ambition to develop or to achieve anything really significant?

In your judgment, what percentage of the men in your community really think out and carefully plan their lives? What proportion drift or take the way shown them by others?

Some people consider mental or moral inertia the chief force that sustains the corrupt political boss. Is this true?

What proportion of the voters in your voting district actually study and appreciate the issues in each election?

What proportion of church members drift into their church membership, and what proportion join only after a careful study of the relative merits of the different churches?

What are the chief ambitions that stir men to action?

What was Jesus' ambition? Paul's? Florence Nightingale's? Abraham Lincoln's? Peter Cooper's? Garibaldi's? Dwight L. Moody's? Was there a common element in the ambition of each of these leaders of men?

Is the realization of the ambition to serve one's fellow-men limited to those who possess unique powers or opportunities?

Subjects for Further Study.

(1) The Law of Inheritance among the Early Semites. Hastings, Diet. Bib. II, 470-473; Kent, Student's O. T., III; Johns, Bab. and Assyr. Laws, Contracts and Letters, 161-167.

(2) The Arameans. Hastings, Dict. Bible I, 138-139; Encyc. Bib. I, 276-280; Peters, Early Heb. Story, 45-47, 115-116; 133-134; Maspero, Struggle of the Nations, 126.

(3) The Psychological Connection between Ambition, Habits, Character and Public Life. Prin. of Politics Ch. II and III. James, Talks to Teachers Ch. II.

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