How much for that?
On my previous post, I described the background and how we arrived at this point. On this post, we will be focusing on Esau and Jacob and the birthright.
one who lacks nothing in physical strength, beauty, etc
an ordinary, quiet sort of person
complete, morally innocent, having integrity
one who is morally and ethically pure
You can read various translations of Genesis 25:27 here. We get a picture of Jacob being a quiet man who prefers to stay at home. We see Jacob as being less physical and more intellectual.
Genesis 25:29 Introduces us to Jacob cooking a stew. This is what we would expect of Jacob, Rebekah’s favorite (Genesis 25:28). He stays home and hangs out with mom, cooking, talking, etc. Jacob really seems like the kind of kid that would have been picked on, at least back when I was in school. There is nothing wrong with him. He seems like a good young man, who stays out of trouble and likes to help around the house or tent.
By contrast, we have Esau coming in from the field. This does not surprise us, after all, Esau is “a skillful hunter, a man of the field.” (Genesis 25:27) However, Esau had had a rough time and came back weary, faint, exhausted. We get the idea that Esau is impulsive and perhaps careless. He seems to barely make it back home. Esau is exhausted and perhaps desperate. Jacob in the other hand seems to have been carefully planning this.
“And Esau said to Jacob, “Please feed me with that same red stew, for I am weary.” Therefore his name was called Edom.”
- Genesis 25:30 NKJV
Esau asks his twin brother for food because he was exhausted, faint, weary. Esau had just come back from being in the field, and though we do not have any details, anyone who has ever been out in the woods, out in the wild, out in the desert, knows that it can be pretty exhausting. Esau is currently weak. The strong, hairy, adventurous brother is weak and begging for food.
Jacob has an opportunity to help. Jacob has an opportunity to bless his brother. Jacob could be the answer to his brother’s problems. When his brother is weak, Jacob has the opportunity to lift him up. Jacob has a choice to make.
“Therefore his name was called Edom.”
- Genesis 25:30b
I am not sure who else was present at the moment and witnessed this event taking place, but Esau receives a nickname. Edom (אֱדֹם), Red! Considering his name means hairy, maybe being called Red is not too bad. I can imagine Esau explaining to others why people call him red.
“I hunt often, I am a great hunter, but do they call me Esau the hunter? No!”
“I am a great tracker, I can track prey anywhere in these lands, nothing escapes my eyes for detail, but do they call me Esau the great tracker? No!”
“I am a great explorer, I have been climbed all these mountains, I know all the caves in our region, but do they call me Esau the explorer? No!”
“But one time I asked for some red stew from my brother…”
The nickname really stuck. Esau’s descendants were referred to as Edomites (Genesis 36:9). And now you know their origin story.
No Such Thing As a Free Lunch
You might be familiar with the phrase: “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” It was the first line my microeconomics professor spoke to us in college. It means that there is a cost to everything.
Jacob demonstrates his firm grasp of economics. Jacob understood supply and demand, Jacob understood value theory (helpful video here) and used it to his advantage.
“But Jacob said, “Sell me your birthright as of this day.”
- Genesis 25:31 NKJV
Personally, I see this as a ruthless move on Jacob’s part. Also, as a side note, I did not do very well in my microeconomics class, maybe I am just unfit for the “dog eat dog” world of business. This should also cause us to ponder the meaning of Jacob’s name, supplanter, deceitful. Jacob is taking advantage of his brother’s moment of weakness to supplant (replace, displace, undermine, overthrow) him.
Esau is desperate, weak, hungry. Jacob has food, he planned ahead, he is prepared, he only lacks the birthright, since he came out of the womb second.
Honestly, I half-expected Esau to just push Jacob aside with a laugh and eat. I mean they are brothers, it’s understandable for them to take jabs at each other. But it’s not like Jacob would really let Esau starve to death in front of him no? Plus is Jacob hangs out at the tent food should not be too far away. Rebekah should have been close by, as well as other servants. How far could Esau possibly from food at this point? Maybe there were no bags of chips or granola bars or even apples easily accessible. Perhaps it would take a while to procure the food. It is clear that Jacob’s lentil stew was ready to be eaten and probably smelled delicious.
What good is the birthright when I am hungry?
And Esau said, “Look, I am about to die; so what is this birthright to me?”
- Genesis 25:32 NKJV
Esau fails to appreciate the spiritual importance of the birthright. The decisions made around this meal will determine the destinies of Esau and Jacob. Esau’s life will be significantly impacted by his decision when he is hungry and tired.
Most of us have no idea what the birthright means, I confess I had to look it up to make sure I understood it. The birthright here goes beyond who will inherit the larger portion of Isaac’s wealth, as would be the case in any other situation. But because we are dealing with Isaac’s firstborn, this means that the prophecies and promises follow the birthright. Remember the beginning of the chapter (discussed on this post)? Remember how Abraham had many sons but only one counted? Only Isaac is described as being the son of Abraham? This is a similar situation. Though Isaac has two sons, only one gets to continue the lineage that will ultimately bring the world the Messiah. Sure, Abraham’s other sons did well, they prospered, they received gifts, but that was it. The promise made to Eve after the fall (discussed in more detail here) would ultimately come true in the lineage of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of whoever has the birthright.
Also keep in mind that there is no temple, no sanctuary on earth at this point, there are no Levites. It is the head of the household who had the role of the priest of the family. The birthright was connected to spiritual preeminence.
We catch a glimpse of how this worked in the life of Job
So it was, when the days of feasting had run their course, that Job would send and sanctify them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, “It may be that my sons have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did regularly.
- Job 1:5 NKJV
There was a spiritual responsibility that fell to the head of the household. Whoever had the birthright would not only continue the line of Abraham but would also be the spiritual leader of the family and be responsible for the spiritual well-being of the family. But, as Esau rightly states, the birthright offered no immediate wealth or visible profit presently. This is where it becomes even more evident how Esau focused on the present, while Jacob took time to ponder the future. Jacob invested in the long-term. Jacob knew he would be hungry, so he took time to make food. Or perhaps he knew his brother would be starving and he prepared an offer that Esau would have difficulty passing up. Either way, we clearly see that Jacob was a man who thought ahead, while Esau was a man who lived for the present. He went into the field but seems to have made no plans beyond that.
Spiritual Dimension of Life
How often do we look at life like Esau?
We look for immediate gratification. Have you ever heard of the marshmallow experiment (video here)? The ability to delay gratification can often lead to greater gains in the future. Our spiritual life has this quality as well. God asks us to say no to certain things now in order to gain better things in the future.
I was taught by my mother to finish my homework before I could go out and play. I had to eat my vegetables before I could have sweets. I was taught to say no to sex before marriage because it would be so much better after marriage. As a married man, I refrain from having sex outside of marriage because though it might seem enticing at the moment it would not lead to lasting happiness. I believe that faithfulness to God today leads to peace and comfort tomorrow.
Some of the benefits are in the near future, some will take place in the distant future, but the idea remains that I need to take future repercussions into account when making a decision today. How I treat my children and my wife will impact future generations in my family. How I treat others around me also reflect on my relationship with God and my relationship with God will be manifested in my interactions with those around me.
My spiritual health may not seem to make much of an immediate difference. Like Esau, I might feel hungry and my spiritual life will seem to have little to no value. I can look at my spiritual life like Esau looked at his birthright. I might fail to see the true value of my relationship with God.
It would be similar to walking away from God because life was difficult, and the burden of living a moral life did not provide enough “rewards.” I might be tempted to believe that a life focused on self where I cheat those around me for my personal gain would be happier. Maybe if I cheated at work, maybe if I was unfaithful to my spouse, maybe if I walked away from God, then I would be happier. Perhaps my birthright is not so valuable if giving it up will satisfy my immediate hunger.
I believe it could be compared to the person who has so much trouble in their life that they decide to drown it out with alcohol and/or drugs. Only to sober up later and find out that not only are the previous problems still present, but new problems exist because of the substance abuse.
Give it up
Then Jacob said, “Swear to me as of this day.”
So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob.
- Genesis 25:33 NKJV
In one moment. In a moment of weakness, of hunger, Esau gave up what had incredible value, for something that would but satiate him for a few hours. Esau did not give this enough though. He acted rashly. Esau behaved like a fool. I wonder how many of us reject God because we feel like its a life or death situation, and I wonder how often it is not more closely connected to comfort and convenience. Would Esau really have died? Would we really have died if we had remained faithful?
I am comparing our personal walk with God with Esau’s birthright. I recognize the two are not the same, but I believe Esau’s relationship with his birthright help illustrate how quickly we sell our relationship with God.
Allow me to ask you, what feeds your soul? What causes you to grow spiritually? and how easily do you sell that? What do you sell it for? Oftentimes, its mere entertainment and distraction. You were not going to die, nobody put a gun to your head. It’s just that the red lentil stew just smelled so good, and it was right there and I was so hungry. I didn’t mean to neglect prayer and the study of the word, it was just my phone was right there and there were these messages, and this article, and that funny cat video… I meant to get more involved in ministry, I meant to have a family devotional with my kids, I mean to pray more, I meant to spend more time with God in the study of his word…
You fill in the blank, what feeds you spiritually? I know I get a big blessing from personal devotion as well we prayer meetings, Sabbath School, studying with others.
Maybe your situation is worse, maybe you’re contemplating infidelity, maybe you’ve been developing dishonest habits. After all, I’m hungry now, what good is that birthright to me? Right?
and just like that,
it was over
And Jacob gave Esau bread and stew of lentils; then he ate and drank, arose, and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.
- Genesis 25:34 NKJV
Notice the quick succession of the actions in the text above. Ate, drank, arose, left. In a moment it was all gone. The food. Esau ate it all. There was nothing left. He was full, a least until the next meal time.
Maybe you’re thinking I am making way too big a deal of this. But notice Paul’s words
Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled; lest there be any fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright. For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears.
- Hebrews 12:14-17 NKJV
I will not at this point go into a deep analysis of this challenging text but suffice it to say that Paul saw this as a big deal, as a word of caution to the rest of us. Therefore, I do not believe I am out of place emphasizing the value of our personal walk with God. Perhaps the value of our faith, of our trust in God, of our relation to Him as children, is not always clear. Perhaps we struggle with the value of what we have with God at times. The best way to handle that is to take time to ponder eternity and the spiritual dimension of life and compare it to the fleeting pleasure of a bowl of soup, or a 12 pack, or a carton of cigarettes, or cheating (academically, financially, or relationally).
When we stop to think and pray about it, it is so clear that nothing in this world compares to what God has in store for us. Not only that, life in this world, right now is better when we have a close walk with God. That’s why Satan wants to keep up distracted, busy, exhausted, focused on our hunger and our weariness, we are exhausted, and when we feel this way, the birthright may seem to have little value. But we must not be fooled, it is worth everything.
“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?”
- Mark 8:36 NKJV