29 And Jacob sod pottage: and Esau came from the field, and he was faint:
30 And Esau said to Jacob, Feed me, I pray thee, with that same red pottage; for I am faint: therefore was his name called Edom.
31 And Jacob said, Sell me this day thy birthright.
32 And Esau said, Behold, I am at the point to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me?
33 And Jacob said, Swear to me this day; and he sware unto him: and he sold his birthright unto Jacob.
34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentiles; and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way: thus Esau despised his birthright.
Esau's name in Hebrew means "hairy", and, according to Genesis 25:25, it is a reference to his hairiness at birth. He is also called "Edom", which means red in Hebrew. Genesis relates this directly to the selling of his birthright. What he said literally was: “Give me some of that ‘red stuff’." However, earlier in the chapter, we are told that he was red when he emerged from the womb (v25).
Red and hairy Esau was a hunter who preferred the outdoor life. We have an image of a rough-looking guy who is strong and tough, but not very smart, and when it came to things of the spirit, he was without clue.
Genesis shows him willingly and foolishly selling his birthright to Jacob in exchange for a pottage of lentils, that is a lentil soup. First question: Was Esau in actual danger of starving to death, and Did Jacob take advantage of his vulnerablility? That is two questions but they go together.
Certainly, Jacob is not the good guy here. Every notion of love and hospitality says that he should have given Esau the soup. But Jacob is always a sharp trader and more than a little bit of a scam artist, so he takes advantage of Esau. But again we ask, was Esau really starving and on the verge of collapse? I suspect not. Esau was one of those people who over-dramatizes his situation.
Many people suffer from Esau’s fault. If it’s about them, it is of world-shaking importance and everything needs to come to a halt until their needs are addressed. Many Americans are like Esau. We are so used to having so much that any slight delay in achieving our wishes is a calamity. If we miss a meal, we say we are starving to death. In fact, we are not. No one ever starved by missing one meal But Esau had that same attitude. He was tired and hungry, and he wanted what he wanted right now
So he says give me some of that red stuff you are cooking. The KJV says that “Jacob sod pottage”; that is Jacob was boiling Lentil soup. Lentils are not a vegetable that we use much. They are a cousin of the bean. They were one of the first crops to be domesticated when farming began in the Middle East eleven thousand years ago; so lentils have been around a long time, and it is not surprising that Jacob, who was apparently something of a farmer, would be making a lentil or bean soup.
I remember a couple of years ago, we had lentil soup for lunch during the community Holy Week services. I liked it well enough, but I don’t think most folks liked it very much. It is odd to think that Jacob sold his birthright for a soup that many of the good people of York turned their noses up at. I guess it all depends upon what we expect and how we feel at the time.
We are having soup today for our “Souper Bowl Sabbath” and the fellowship hall smells great. I don’t know if anyone bought lentil soup today. If so, I look forward to it. Anything that smells that good has got to be delicious. I imagine Jacob’s soup smelled great to a hungry Esau, and he just had to have it.
And Jacob, the sharp trader, said, Would you trade me your birthright for it?
We need to say a word about the birthright. Jacob and Esau were twins, but Esau was born minutes before Jacob. That accident of birth made Esau the first born son and entitled him to the birthright. In ancient times, the birthright was an important and sacred thing. The family name and titles were to pass along to the eldest son. He would also receive a double portion of the inheritance, but more importantly the birthright made the bearer the spiritual head of the family who spoke directly to God. Moreover, in the special case of Esau and Jacob, the bearer of the birthright was the one through whom the covenant promise made to their grandfather, Abraham, would be realized. Ultimately, the Messiah would come through the holder of the birthright and bless the nations of the earth. Esau was the firstborn, and the birthright was his. But he failed to appreciate its value and sacredness. Genesis 25 concludes with the words, “Esau despised his birthright."
He sold it for a bowl of bean soup. That is like selling your wedding ring for a hamburger because you missed lunch. Actually it is worse than that. Esau’s action shows a careless attitude toward the things of God. It shows a lack of reverence and respect. And yes, Esau is still very much with us. Many people have Esau’s carelessness and lack of reverence when it comes to God.
Today when we hear the word “Profanity,” we immediately think of coarse, suggestive, lewd, vulgar language. Well, those things are profanities, but the definition of profane as used in scripture is much wider than that. It means a lack of holiness. If you take something holy and good, and treat it with contempt, then you have profaned it. To treat the things of God as ordinary is to profane or despise them. Esau displays his profanity by treating something sacred as about the same value as a bowl of bean soup.
Now personally I like soup, but it is not even in the same ballpark as my spiritual inheritance that I have through Jesus Christ.
Esau represents all those who just don’t care about spiritual things. Spiritual blessings mean nothing to them. In the NT book of Hebrews, the writer warns us ". . . lest there be any fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright" (12:16).
All Christians are people of the birthright. Esau and Jacob lived in a different time and culture. Our laws of inheritance are very different from theirs. No longer does the firstborn become spiritual head of the family. In Jesus Christ, God has made a covenant with each of us. Through Jesus, we are born again into a new life as a child of God. This is our birthright. We are not OT people. We are NT people. Even so, however, Esau has a vital lesson for us.
If we neglect or despise the things of the spirit because we are too concerned about the things of the flesh, we are Esau. For Esau having that bowl of soup was literally the most important thing in the world. The lesson to us is that nothing in this world is as important as the inheritance that we have from God.
Consider the rhetorical question Hebrews asks in 2:3 “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?”. The salvation of our soul is the most important thing that is ever going to happen in our lives. Nothing else even remotely compares to that. Your salvation, your relationship to God, is the most important thing you have or will ever have.
That is the whole point of the cross. Crucifixion was the most horrible death anyone could imagine. Why did Jesus have to die that way? To show us the depths of our sins, to show us how far God would go to save us from those sins and give us an eternal inheritance, a birthright.
We read in Romans, chapter 8,
16 The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:
17 And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.
18 For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
Knowing that, how could we not treasure this birthright? How could we ever despise it? But many people do, and they regard any excuse as sufficient.
Esau’s plea was that he was hungry. Others would say that we are stressed out, we don’t have time. Or we are guilty of wanting stuff just as Esau wanted that red stuff. May it is a car or a coat or whatever. We have just got to have it, and so we forget our eternal blessings in Christ.
If we would only take the time to think about it a moment we would never make such a stupid decision. Think about Esau. Jacob’s pottage was not the only food in camp. Isaac was a wealthy man, by the standards of that time. He probably had provisions to feed several hundred people. But Jacob’s pottage was the first food that Esau noticed and so he just had to have that.
So this story of the selling of the birthright is not just a matter of preferring physical things to spiritual things. It is choosing the very first physical thing you come across and preferring that. It is not setting any value at all on spiritual things. Esau does not care about God at all. He says, in effect, Give me the soup and you can have anything that has to do with God.
Perhaps never in all human history has something so valuable been purchased for so little! You have to ask yourself, what was wrong with this guy? In verses 32 and 34, he says, "What good is the birthright if I have to wait for it?" Apparently, he did not value the birthright enough to walk on over to another tent and ask for food there. Thus the scripture rightly says, "Esau despised his birthright.”
Despise is a strong word. He scorned it , he treated it with contempt." Jesus tells us in His Sermon on the Mount, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:21). People usually only sell something when they value something else more. Esau did not place any value at all on the birthright, so he sold it for a pittance.
But are we any better today? Our birthright, as children of God, makes Esau's birthright seem trivial. But many people are willing to sell it for the modern equivalent of a bowl of lentils
So, the last question is: What is your particular "bowl of lentils"? what would cause you to give up everything God has offered you? You have a spiritual birthright. What is it worth to you? What would you give it up for? That is many versions of the same question.
If there is anything that you would put first in your life and make God second, that is your bowl of lentils. Anything, any sin, any behavior, any thought pattern, we place before God—anything that would keep us from receiving our birthright—is our bowl of lentils.
We could be working so hard for things here and now, things that perish, that we ignore and neglect the spiritual food God has offered us. We could be working so hard at building a relationship with a boss that we do not spend the time building our relationship with the real Master. Or, Perhaps it is sinful worry, the cares of this life, that have pulled us off center. Or, it could be the pleasures of this life, the vanities of this age. Any of these could be our bowl of lentil soup.
What Esau did, the horrible thing, the idiotic thing, that Esau did, challenges us to look at what we are doing. Are we despising our real treasure?
I remember a young man who had gone off to the big city to make his mark, so to speak. He was working doing his thing, trying to get ahead, then his beloved grandfather died, and he came back home for the funeral. I was talking with him a little bit, and he said, “You know something like this [that is something like his grandfather passing on] reminds you of what it is really all about.”
He meant that most of the stuff that we spend our time on is like Esau’s bowl of beans. We need to focus on the real stuff. Focus on Jesus, think about God.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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