When we read Bible stories about Esau, there’s a lot to recommend about him. He is skillful with the bow and an able hunter. The accounts in Genesis describe him as a “cunning” man of the field. The venison culled from his exploits became a favorite meal for Isaac, his father.
Earlier in Genesis, we can read of another hunter. His name, Nimrod, a man seen as mighty and one others were willing to follow. Esau’s cunning was mostly self-serving; Nimrod also was a self-server, but his ways were rooted in the exercise of power and authority. He took his advantage and began the disastrous Tower of Babel project.
These were men who got results and to a lot of people this is something significant and meaningful.
Esau really was a man of the moment without spirituality. His appetites ruled him to the point of defining his identity. In Genesis 25, he came home from a vigorous day of hunting and smelled food. Red lentil stew was the soup of the day, and Jacob, his twin brother, was doing the cooking.
Jacob possessed a cunning of a different sort. His smooth and plain manners hid the real designs he had in his mind and heart. With his brother begging for food, Jacob took his shot and made Esau an offer: “Sell me your birthright, and I’ll let you eat.” Esau, proclaiming himself to be at death’s door with hunger, more than took the deal, he swore an oath to seal it.
This wound up being one expensive bowl of lentils.
Numb and Frivolous
How did this happen? Was Esau really that numb to the importance of his birthright?
Genesis 25:34 says Esau “despised” his birthright. This seems like a strong word. Brothers play tricks on each other all the time, don’t they? Couldn’t it have been that Esau thought the whole thing was another of Jacob’s jokes?
Maybe, but the frivolous way Esau swore away something so precious provided an indication of what was — and what was not — in his heart. The birthright mattered very little to Esau, whereas it seems Jacob was quite aware of what he was poaching from his brother.Esau didn't realize how little it would take for him to sell something precious Click To Tweet
The episode revealed the difference in the value systems of Jacob and Esau.
Jacob was a conniver and a trickster. He knew how to manipulate situations for his advantage. The pages of Genesis show us that this was something of a family trait, for Jacob’s mother, Rebekah, and his uncle Laban also contrived to rig things according to their designs.
However, Jacob also possessed a sensitivity to what truly mattered. When Jacob wrestled with God in Genesis 32, he stayed in the fight all night. He went face-to-face with the Lord and he would not let go. Something real was happening and Jacob knew it.
This was going to change his life and it did. Jacob was far, far from a perfect person, but God touched him and gave him a new name.
What’s for Sale?
Esau didn’t stop to calculate the price for his meal. Seemingly, the thought about his birthright didn’t even occur to him.
What’s for sale? We should take time to ask ourselves this question. This has to become a habit, I think. Could we swear and forfeit away something precious? Our marriage, for an affair? Our integrity, for a promotion?
It’s very possible. We are fragile, so ready to crack at any moment.
Esau shows us how weak we can be, even when it seems that we have so much going for us. Something really, really small — a bowl of soup even — presented to us at a vulnerable moment could shift our lives in a major way.
Esau didn’t realize how little it would take for him to sell something precious. He, perhaps, never spent time thinking about the value of his place as Isaac’s oldest son. There were dinners and celebrations, I am sure; probably birthday parties were thrown where it was made clear who came first.
Esau didn’t understand. The birthright meant something big and he sold it away. He never would get it back.
Cruel and unusual punishment for a petty offense, you think? God sees not as a man sees; God looks upon the heart (see 1 Samuel 16:7). Esau’s despite for his birthright was a heart issue to the Lord.
What heart issues do I have? This is another question I must ask myself.
I thought of this as I took communion this past Sunday. Here, I was holding a cracker and a cup of juice. It could have been such a moment of familiarity.
Then, it came time to consider and reflect. Jesus gave us this practice. He told the disciples, who then told the rest of us, to do this and remember.
Remember, His body on the Cross. Remember, His Blood that was shed.May God teach us ever to think with the mind of Christ. Like our birthright, this mind is also ours. Click To Tweet
I heard the words and focused in prayer and communion came alive — again. I purposed not to sell the moment. I remembered and rejoiced in the blessing of God.
We are children of God, believers in Christ, receivers of such a costly finished work. We have a birthright, an eternal and sacred salvation. Jesus took upon Himself the justice due upon our sins and transgressions. The Holy Spirit now lives our new hearts.
May God teach us ever to think with the mind of Christ. Like our birthright, this mind is also ours.
It is a mind that sees hope and healing in the thread of a garment.
It sees buckets of rain in a cloud the size of a hand.
It sees salvation and deliverance in the face of a swaddled Baby.
Want to hear more about Jacob, Esau, and our birthright? Watch this message entitled “Your Birthright, Not For Sale” from Thomas Schaller of Greater Grace Church in Baltimore.