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Esau Sold His Birthright

June 23rd, 2014

Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.” “Look, I am about to die,” Esau said, “What good is the birth right to me?” But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob.

Genesis 25:31-33

After Abraham’s death, Isaac became head of the clan and prospered. He increased in wealth and influence, facing his challenges and their potential for conflict wisely and patiently. In terms of his life, from the outside, it appeared everything was going well – better than well. Excellently!

But the two sons, Esau and Jacob, brought trouble. We should learn this lesson well, that no amount of financial or professional success will mean as much to any person of integrity as peace in his home, and the faith of his children. We are told that the parents were divided in their affections – Isaac loving Esau, and Rebekah loving Jacob. This is never a good arrangement, and it laid the ground work for conflict, jealousy, competition, and in the end tragedy. No matter how many children we have in a home, we parents should love them equally, and teach them to love one another as well. Parents must grasp that their children have a sinful nature, and that we cannot educate this out of them. It is not a weakness alone, but a fundamental flaw in who they are, and in who we are. They and us need the forgiveness of God but also the change of heart brought by a relationship with Him. We each, even our children, need the radical work of God’s grace in our innermost persons.

Esau’s weakness in his character was his willingness to serve his own appetites. He was a man of the outdoors, loved hunting and became skillful in it. Jacob stayed around the tents. There is nothing wrong with either choice of lifestyle. It was his character that was faulty, not his avocation. Esau as the first born of the twins would inherit the bulk of the estate, but not only that. He would also have the obligation of leadership and responsibility. Hebrews 12:16 says: “See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son.” The sin of Esau was like sexual immorality, that seeks the pleasure of the moment, as fleeting as it is, and rejects the responsibility of family leadership, or of raising children, and also forfeits the blessings attached. Later Esau regretted his decision, but again it seems that he only saw the advantages of the birthright, not the obligations.

As the passage from Hebrews tells us, we act in a similar way to Esau whenever we put out lusts ahead of our responsibilities. For the virtual whole of human history it has been largely recognized that sexual relations with another person carries with it an obligation to raise the children that might come from it. But in recent generations, people now assume that the sexual experience is now our birthright as a race, and that children are an inconvenience. So abortions, readily available, rip children from the wombs of their mothers, and cast them on garbage heaps – all in the name of sexual lust and our presumed right to engage in sexual acts. Many have, largely, in this generation sold their birthrights as parents, for the bowl of stew called sexual pleasure.

We should contrast Esau with Naboth who, when offered a good profit for his land, said to Ahab the king, “The LORD forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my fathers” (1 Kings 21:3). That refusal to sell to the king eventually cost him his life, but he retained his integrity and kept the faith. If a man has no integrity and will not keep his faith, will not be true to the things entrusted to him by God, what is the purpose of his life? Paul said that he was a steward of the mysteries of God (1 Cor. 4:1), and all Christians have an obligation to protect the Word of God. This is part of our birthright as the new born into the kingdom of God.

Was there any piety in Jacob’s act? Was there anything good here, or was he entirely devious? God had told Rebekah at the birth of the twins, that the older one would serve the younger, against the normal custom of the day (Gen 25:23), so there was the knowledge that God had elected Jacob. Some scholars, such as John Calvin and Matthew Henry, see Jacob as acting righteously here, simply fulfilling his prophesied role. He did not rob his brother, but only offered him a trade, which his brother, as Jacob had suspected, was all too willing to make. The clearer fault is with Esau, who when given the choice sold his birthright, and no scripture condemns Jacob for his action here.

Yet I cannot help but be impressed, as many scholars are, that this was Jacob trying to gain the right thing in the wrong way. It was faith that could claim that it was his to have, but he pressed the issue, and took advantage of his brother’s hunger. Jacob’s life long lesson was to be a man of faith and of patience. Faith must wait on God for the right moments, and not take matters into its own hands.

These are the lessons we teach our children are home, the ones we gain by living life in faith and regularly studying the Word, and enjoying Christian fellowship along the journey of life.

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