In Genesis 25, the Bible tells the story of when Esau sold his birthright to his brother Jacob.
This was no ordinary transaction, like we think of transactions. It had wide-ranging implications for both Jacob and Esau and for all their descendants. It would shift the balance of power in a family and cause a brotherly rift that lasted for years.
And even though we don’t have birthrights today to cash in on, there is a valuable lesson for us to learn from this story. In a way, we all have a little Esau inside of us that we need to watch out for.
Esau was the firstborn son of Isaac and Rebekah. The birthright entitled Esau to a double portion of Isaac’s entire estate when he passed away. So there were financial implications here that would make Esau a very wealthy man.
But there were spiritual implications as well. To understand this, you have to go back to God’s covenant with Isaac’s father Abraham. In Genesis 12, God established his covenant with Abraham by saying:
“…I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:2-3).
These blessings would be transferred to Abraham’s descendants after he died. So Isaac, his firstborn son, would inherit the covenant with God. Likewise, the covenant promises would also pass to Isaac’s first born son and his first born son and so on down the line.
So, when Esau sold his birthright, he was giving up more than the physical inheritance. He was relinquishing the rights to an everlasting covenant with God. Jacob would be the recipient of those blessings now.
How Esau Sold His Birthright
Now, you would think the cost for something this important and game changing would be high. Jacob must have given up everything he owned for this transaction to happen. Esau would not have sold his birthright unless he was getting something of great value in return, right?
But it didn’t quite happen that way. Here is how the story unfolds:
“Now Jacob cooked a stew; and Esau came in from the field, and he was weary. And Esau said to Jacob, ‘Please feed me with that same red stew, for I am weary.’…But Jacob said, ‘Sell me your birthright as of this day.’ And Esau said, ‘Look, I am about to die; so what is this birthright to me?’ Then Jacob said, ‘Swear to me as of this day.’ So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. And Jacob gave Esau bread and stew of lentils; then he ate and drank, arose, and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.” (Gen. 25:29-34)
You read that right. Esau sold his birthright for food – not for money, not for flocks of sheep or herds of cattle, and not for land. He gave it all up because he was hungry. He mortgaged his future to feed his stomach.
The Immediate vs. the Future
Esau sold his birthright for an immediate need. He thought he would die of hunger. That was probably an exaggeration and a man creating emotional drama where none really existed.
Esau wasn’t going to die of hunger. But he did want to satisfy an immediate need. To do that, he sold out his future.
It is sad that he couldn’t see beyond his present circumstances. There was so much more that awaited him had he held on to what was rightfully his. No amount of food or anything else offered in the present was equal to what was coming his way one day. His birthright was priceless.
But before we come down too hard on him, we need to look in the mirror. Don’t we all have a little bit of Esau inside of us? Don’t we often demonstrate this same kind of attitude in our daily lives also?
“Selling” Our Birthright Like Esau
We’ve probably never sold a birthright exactly like Esau. But we do often sacrifice our future just to meet our present needs. We fail to look past our immediate circumstances to see how our decisions impact the future.
Feelings, emotions, and desires drive us all the time. We don’t think about the situation and what we are giving up. All we know is that we want what we want and we want it now. The future? Well, that’s to think about another day.
When we exhibit this attitude, it’s as if we are giving up our birthright – that being that our lives have the chance to become better than they are in the present. They won’t ever become better however, if we are constantly acting on impulse.
Additionally, we don’t think about the spiritual implications of our actions. God is a loving Father who longs to bless his children. Too often though, our short-sided, in-the-moment decisions impact our relationship with God and his blessing in our lives.
Would God be pleased when we hurt other people? Why would God bless us when we refuse to repent of our sin? How could God honor us when we teach things contrary to his word? None of these actions would result in us growing closer to God and deepening that relationship.
We are taught that the Holy Spirit resides in our heart. He wants to be and should be the sole owner and occupant. But every time we choose to gratify some worldly, ungodly pleasure, we give away a little space in our heart. It’s as if we are like Esau who sold his birthright.
Our Decisions Matter
Esau sold his birthright for a fleeting pleasure. How history would have been changed if he had seen and appreciated the bigger picture.
We have a future in store for us. The first part is in this physical world. Let us not mortgage the future to satisfy the cravings of the moment.
Our second future awaits us in heaven. What we do on earth has echoes into eternity. There will be rewards for us there for the work we accomplished for the Lord. Those rewards are priceless.
Let’s not forfeit them either by doing things on earth that don’t matter.
Leave a Comment or Answer a Question Below: What other lessons do you draw from the Esau/Jacob interaction? Do you focus more on the present or the future? Do you have a problem with acting too impulsively? If so, how do you manage that?
Photo courtesy of Frank Holleman on Unsplash
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