Genesis 25: 27 - 34
The Birth Order Book - With your children, it is important to understand that their personality, temperament and their outlook on life is greatly shaped by where they appear in the birth order. For example, first-born children tend to be leaders. They usually have a strong sense of personal responsibility. They also are usually the keepers of the family traditions.
By contrast, middle-borns tend to be much more relaxed and laid back. Often they make friends very easily. Because they are caught in the middle of the family crossfire, middle-borns learn how to stay out of trouble, how to compromise and how to negotiate.
The last-born children often know how to defuse tension by making a joke. They know how to laugh and make people feel good.
What makes such a difference? Parents change over the years. We start out being strict with our first-borns because we don’t want to mess things up. Then we normally loosen up on the 2nd and 3rd child. Your parenting becomes very relaxed indeed. Which is why the first-born’s lament really is true: “Mom and Dad let you do stuff I couldn’t even dream about.”
Children are very different. One child will be into sport, another into music. One will read books, another will play PlayStation for hours. One will be good with his hands, another will love to write. One will be outgoing, another will be shy. One will make friends easily, another will have trouble all his life with relationships.
Even identical twins can be very different. Example is the story of Jacob and Esau. 2 boys, twins, raised in an identical environment, yet they grew up to be polar opposites. Coming out in a dead heat—one grabbing hold of the other—they went 2 different directions in life. It would be hard to find twins who started out so equally and yet differed so greatly in the course of life.
The writer has skipped over many years to focus on an incident that happens when the boys are in their late teens or early 20s. All those differences now become evident with the passing of youth into adulthood. Jacob and Esau were 2 very different people, with very different values, and those differences now become clear.
1. Two Brothers and Their Parents v. 27
Esau was an outgoing, gregarious man. He was good with his hands—more at home out in the fields than staying around the tents. He was a man’s man. He was strong, athletic and agile.
On the other hand, Jacob was a quiet man - introspective, a thinker, a man of intellect and insight. Jacob is everything Esau is not; Esau is everything Jacob is not.
It’s no wonder that the parents chose sides – v. 28. This is the beginning of a family dysfunction which will eventually pass down to the 2nd and 3rd generations. Often it happens so subtly that the parents never realise they are favouring one child over the other. Sometimes it is nothing more than a glance in one direction, the trace of a smile, a casual pat on the head, or a frown or an angry look. But children know instinctively if they are loved and accepted, and they naturally move toward the parent who gives them the outward signs of love.
Isaac had a taste for wild game - the way to Isaac’s heart was through his stomach. He was a man ruled by his physical appetites. The thing that brought father and son together was the son’s skillful ability to satisfy his father’s appetite.
Rebekah loved Jacob - why not? He was always hanging around the tents while Esau was out hunting. Do you see what’s happening here? Opposites attract - here we have the relatively quiet father (Isaac) teaming up with his athletic son (Esau) while the dominant mother (Rebekah) loves her quiet son (Jacob).
2. Two Brothers and the Birthright v. 29 - 34
Now we come to the first great turning point in Jacob’s life. It happened so suddenly. To an oldest son, the birthright was his most prized possession. The oldest son was accorded 2 distinct honours - He was given a double inheritance and he became the head of the family after the death of the parents. Normally a first-born son would never consider selling the birthright because it guaranteed both his future security and his future leadership of the family.
Both Esau and Jacob would be changed forever because of a bowl of stew. Esau was the hunter, but the hunter becomes the hunted as Jacob springs the trap on his unsuspecting brother. There are no heroes in this episode. No one looks very good. There are moral problems on every hand. The Bible puts the emphasis on Esau’s worldly decision, but that doesn’t make Jacob look any better.
Step # 1: Uncontrolled Appetite v. 29, 30
It happened so quickly that Esau hardly thought about what he was doing. One day he came home from the hunt, famished after a long day of stalking game. His hunger was genuine and his request for the red stew was sincere.
Esau is revealing the truth about himself. He cares for nothing but filling his stomach. It’s a picture of his basic nature. He looks good but he’s shallow and totally controlled by his physical desires.
Step # 2: Unbrotherly Offer v. 31
We have to assume that Jacob had been scheming, looking for an opportunity to trick his brother out of the birthright. I don’t think the thought just popped into his mind when he saw Esau coming. Jacob is far too clever for that. This was a premeditated idea, waiting to come to fruition at just the right moment.
You have to give Jacob credit—at least the thing he desired was worth having. But the way he got it was unbrotherly. He took advantage of Esau’s weakness to get from him something he couldn’t have obtained any other way.
But didn’t God promise to bless the younger over the older? Yes, and God had told Rebekah that before the boys were born. If God had promised it, then Jacob didn’t need to trick Esau out of it. God doesn’t need that kind of help. He can find a way to give the birthright and the blessing to Jacob in his own time.
Step # 3: A Short-Sighted Decision v. 32
Oh, poor baby, he’s so hungry. He’s been out hunting all day and now he wants something to eat. So Esau said, “What good is the birthright to me?” Here’s a man whose sensual desires so control him that when he sees the red stew, that’s all he can think of. Nothing else matters. He’s ready to trade the most important possession in his life for a bowl of stew. What can we say about Esau? He is impulsive - He lives for the moment - He demands immediate gratification. “I see it, I want it, and I want it right now.” We live in a world that encourages us to think that way. All of us are susceptible. The most bizarre thing is that after Esau sold his birthright for the bowl of stew, in 6 hours he was hungry all over again! That’s the way the world works. “Do this, try this, buy this, and it will make you happy.” So we do it, try it, buy it and it works … for a while. Then we have to buy something else to keep ourselves happy. That’s how most of us get into financial trouble.
Time is Short – Eternity is Forever
It happens in the sexual arena. Men and women get into situations where they begin to feel intense desire so they say, “I want this now.” So they trade their morality for a few moments of gratification. The world says, “Live for today and forget tomorrow.” That was Esau’s problem. God says, “Use today to get ready for tomorrow.” But the world says, “Go for it! You only live once. You’re going to die anyway. Eat, drink and be merry. Go ahead, sell that birthright, for tomorrow you may die.”
Step # 4: The Sacred Oath v. 33
Before Jacob will give Esau some stew, he makes him swear an oath to sell him the birthright. Jacob, like any shrewd businessman, is closing the deal. He’s getting Esau’s signature on the dotted line before he delivers the goods.
Step # 5: Flippant Unconcern v. 34
“Here, brother, eat all you want, take your time, I have plenty of stew.” It happened very quickly. He ate … drank … got up … and left. Boom … Boom … Boom - And it’s over. The point of the story is that Esau is so stupid that he goes off, not realising what he has done. That’s a sweet deal for Jacob. He got the birthright, he cheated his brother, and Esau doesn’t even know what hit him. All he can think about is how good that stew tasted.
“So Esau despised his birthright.” When the story began, Jacob had the soup and Esau had the birthright; in the end Esau had the soup and Jacob had the birthright. Who got the better part of that deal?
There are some things in life that are more important than others. So many of us spend our days trading away the things that really matter for things that amount to nothing more than a bowl of stew.
3. The Moral of the Story Hebrews 12: 16
Here is God’s divine judgment on what Esau did. Where did Esau act like a godless man? He never curses. He doesn’t blaspheme God. All he did was make a deal for a bowl of soup. He ate it, then he went on his way. What’s the big deal? Where’s the godlessness?
Answer: Godlessness is an attitude, not just an action. It is treating lightly what God says should be taken seriously. You are godless when you treat lightly the most important things of life. And when you sell the things that matter for the things that don’t matter, you are not only a fool, you are also godless.
You don’t have to swear and you don’t have to be an atheist to be godless. You can be godless and come to church every Sunday morning. Esau sold it all for a “single meal.” This godless man—who is really just like us—threw it all away for of a bowl of soup.
Why is this story in the Bible? Because all of us are like Esau. This story is flip side of the words of Jesus: “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36) All of us face repeated temptations to sell that which means the most to us for that which is worth so little.
Every day we are faced with decisions that seem trivial to us. What to wear, who to call, what to eat, how much money to spend, where to go after work, what books to read, what shows to watch, what jokes to tell. Each day we make hundreds of decisions. Each one leads us in 1 of 2 directions—either toward God or away from him.
If you had been there that day, you would hardly have dreamed that something momentous was happening. But from this tiny event, the course of the world changed. Esau went one way and Jacob another. Just as a tiny stream becomes a mighty river, even so from the smallest decisions of life great consequences flow.
Two Penetrating Questions
1. What are you willing to trade in order to get what you want in life? What kind of deal are you willing to make to get where you really want to go in life? How much are you willing to give up? Your family? Your friends? Your marriage? Your integrity? Your purity? Your Christian testimony?
2. Have you ever felt that the best things in life have slipped away from you because you were so busy grabbing for something else? You may feel like that right now. Perhaps you went so hard for what you wanted that somehow you lost the things that matter the most to you. One day you looked around and your family was gone, your marriage was over, your career in ruins, your integrity destroyed, your purity vanished and your friends nowhere to be found.
When you got to the top of the mountain, you discovered to your horror that you had made a deal with the devil to get there. You sold what was most important for a bowl of stew.
This story stands as a solemn warning to the people of God. “Be not like Esau” who in a moment of weakness sold that which was priceless for that which satisfied him only for a moment. We’re all in danger of doing it. It happens so quickly, in the small decisions, when we live for today instead of for tomorrow. Esau stands forever as a man who threw it all away and never got another chance. Don’t let it happen to you.
One final question. Have you despised God’s gift of salvation? Maybe you’ve said, “Later, Jesus. I’ve got my own life to live.” “Later, Jesus, later. I’m busy climbing the ladder.” “Later, Jesus, later. It’s not convenient right now.” What will you do when the day comes and the invitation is over and the moment is past? What if “later” never comes?
Wanted: A New Contract
Thank God, for those of us who have made bad decisions in the past, it is possible to make a new beginning. That is the note of the grace of God at the end of this story. If you, like Esau, have sold your soul for a bowl of stew, ask God to give you a new contract. Ask him for a new beginning. Ask him for a new start. He will be glad to give it to you.
One final question - What will it take … What will God have to do … to wake you up to the most important things in life?
Prayer - Father, we need the work of the Holy Spirit to go deep into our hearts. Some of us have done exactly what Esau did. Show us where we have sold our souls for a bowl of stew. Give us a new contract so that from this day forward we can live for you, putting first things first. We pray these things in Jesus’ name, Amen.