Everything seems up for grabs. In sports, loyalty to a team, a city, or a player means nothing. If a team doesn’t produce trophies, sell it. If a city can’t afford a billion-dollar stadium, abandon it. Find another! Life is about making deals and winning, and it’s all centered around self as we’ve progressed, or digressed, from what was once the “used car mentality” to a “let’s make a deal” society where some are willing to sacrifice or sell their birthright to satisfy a bellyache, as did Esau (Gen. 25:27-34).
He’s one of Scripture’s saddest figures: firstborn son of Isaac and Rebekah, twin brother of Jacob, beloved of his father and admired by his people as a skillful hunter. Yet he traded the riches of his birthright for a bowl of pottage he felt would bring him immediate satisfaction. Bible writers, preachers, and teachers of the Word almost always mention Esau unflatteringly.
One of the saddest figures in Scripture is that of the firstborn son of Isaac and Rebekah.
But when we study his character it’s distressingly clear how very much like him we are: at times worthy of appreciation for natural qualities such as courage, frankness, good humor; and at other times selfish and lacking self-control when it comes to wants and desires. Esau was a typical horseman of his day: hot-blooded, passionate, bold and free, with no intricacies of character. He was impulsive, even reckless, but also capable of nobility, the very opposite of his prudent, conniving, nimble man-of-affairs-twin, Jacob, who manipulated him, not once, but twice: first out of his birthright and second out of his father’s blessing.
Being a creature of intense yearnings, Esau was in a crisis when he came home from the field that day. It was as if he became a mere plaything of animal passion as he felt the pangs of hunger. He decided to satisfy his desire without thought of the consequences. This deep lack of self-control caused disastrous repercussions in terms of his birthright and earned him the designation as an immoral or godless person (Heb. 12:16).
The birthright (Hebrew: bekorah), belonged to the son born first and included legal claim to a double portion of the inheritance of a father’s legacy. The firstborn male was automatically entitled to his father’s blessing that included rule and authority over other members of his family. The birthright had spiritual rewards such as being anointed as patriarch and priest of the family, and the threefold blessing of Abraham (Gen. 12:2, 3).
The spiritual blessing of the birthright was bestowed upon the Christian Church, also known as spiritual Israel and the church of the firstborn, Jesus Christ our Lord (Col. 1:15, 18; Rom. 8:14-18). Our birthright includes, but is not limited to, salvation by grace through faith; the power and presence of the Holy Spirit; all of the rights and responsibilities of citizenship in the kingdom of God; being caught up to meet the Lord in the air at His second coming; an invitation to the marriage supper of the Lamb; and a seat at the table with Prince Emmanuel.
Whatever our temptation, hunger, or thirst, Esau’s story is written for us (1 Cor. 10:11). Why sell an eternal inheritance for the sake of a momentary bellyache?
Hyveth Williams is a professor at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University.