Once when Jacob was cooking stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was exhausted. And Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stew, for I am exhausted!”…Jacob said, “Sell me your birthright now.” Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” Jacob said, “Swear to me now.” So he swore to him and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank and rose and went on his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.
Recently I was watching a cartoon about Jacob and Esau with my children as part of our Bible Time together. Watching the animated depiction of Jacob manipulating his older brother Esau to give up his birthright for some food stirred a wish within me to revisit the biblical account of this episode within the lives of the sons of Isaac, which is why I’m dedicating this article to it.
By possessing his birthright, Esau would basically be the leader of the family upon Isaac’s death, as implied by the blessing Isaac later was duped into giving Jacob (Genesis 27:29). The promise God gave to Abraham and his descendants would likewise have been imparted to him, as also implied by what Isaac said to Jacob after making him the benefactor of the blessing that should have gone to Esau (Genesis 28:3). If the Law of Moses which came into being years later is any indication, Esau should not have given up his birthright simply because by possessing it he would receive a double portion of his father’s inheritance (Deuteronomy 21:15-17). This would mean that Esau would have become even richer than he eventually became in addition to having authority over the rest of the family (Genesis 36:6-7).
So we can more easily understand just how great a mistake Esau made by willingly giving over his birthright in exchange for a simple meal! Only a very foolish person would give up the spiritual blessing of carrying on God’s promise to Abraham to his descendants and all the authority and riches the birthright would give him, simply because he valued more the temporary satisfaction found in one meal. By thinking so little of the birthright that would set him apart in such a fashion, Esau proved himself to be the unholy man which the writer of Hebrews later said he was (Hebrews 12:16-17).
What is written in the Old Testament is designed to instruct us and serve as an example to us today (Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 10:6, 11; 2 Timothy 3:16-17). One of the greatest blessings given to Christians is that they are made inheritors to that same promise made to Esau’s grandfather, Abraham (Galatians 3:29), that same promise he gave up when he sold his birthright! Peter wrote that all Christians have an inheritance waiting for them in heaven, an birthright that is eternal, incorruptible and undefiled (1 Peter 1:3-5), the hope of eternal life (Titus 3:7).
Yet we all can very easily make the same mistake made by Esau and give up our spiritual birthright and all the eternal benefits which come with it because we foolishly desire something that provides only momentary, temporary satisfaction at best! Many refuse to become a Christian in the first place because they refuse to acknowledge the evidence of God’s existence and the Bible’s validity which is so plain. Others refuse to obey God’s plan to save them out of stubborn insistence that what God so clearly said is necessary in His Word – such as repentance and baptism into the one body of Christ – is not necessary to them, and thus fail to truly become Christ’s followers and inheritors of His birthright. Perhaps most tragically of all are those who at some point did truly submit to God’s will and become Christians, only to later fall back into the world by putting the things of the world and the flesh on a higher priority than the spiritual (Colossians 3:1-2; 1 John 2:15-17; Galatians 5:16-26).
This is why the Hebrew writer brought up Esau (Hebrews 12:16-17). He had been talking about the need for Christians to pursue holiness and not fall short of God’s grace (vs. 14-15). That’s what all who would desire the spiritual inheritance of heaven need to do.