Esau Sells His Birthright

"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. And Jacob said, Sell me this day thy birthright." (Genesis 25:30-31)

In Genesis 25:23, the Lord tells Rebekah that the reason that the twins in her womb are struggling against one another is because they are “two nations”, and “two manner of people.” They are different in every way. We do not read much farther before we see exactly what He means.

Esau was a hunter: a man of the field. Jacob was a quiet man and spent his days indoors. Esau was brawny, muscular, and athletic; Jacob was fair-skinned and soft. Because of this, the boys’ father preferred manly Esau, while Rebekah doted on Jacob, the “Mama’s boy.” But while these are the initial distinctions between the two young men given to us in Genesis 25:27-28, we learn that there is much more to it than that when we come to Verses 29-34:

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!” (Therefore his name was called Edom.) 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 his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.” (Genesis 25:29-34 ESV)

At first glance, it seems that Jacob is blackmailing Esau by threatening to let him die if he does not surrender his birthright immediately. But let us consider for a moment what is actually going on here. First of all, Esau comes in from hunting and is exhausted. I am certain that he was very hungry at this point and it seems that he hadn’t had any luck in his hunt — coming home empty-handed. So, he smells the stew that Jacob is making and asks him for some of it. Jacob tells him the price that he requires for giving him some, to which Esau replies that he is about to die, so what good is his birthright anyway? We should bear in mind that the two boys were living in the house of their father, Isaac, who had inherited all that his own father, Abraham, had (Gen. 25:5). This house was without a doubt filled with food and servants who could have happily brought Esau something to eat. Jacob is not holding Esau captive; he is not the only one who can provide him with something to eat. It is doubtful that Esau was actually in any danger of starving to death at this moment (these were his words, not the writer of Genesis), but even if he had been, he certainly had other options.

So what made Esau surrender something so valuable for such a trivial price? The text says: “Thus Esau despised his birthright” (V. 34). It was of no value to him whatsoever. Why not at least get a bowl of hot soup out of the deal since it was something he didn’t really care about anyway? So we have here a further distinction between the two boys that went beyond their occupations and physical prowess. Jacob valued the birthright while Esau did not. What exactly, then, did the birthright entail? In the days before the Law of Moses was given, the firstborn son in each family would not only inherit a larger portion of their father’s possessions, he would also serve as the priest of the family. God would set apart unto Himself the Levites under the Mosaic Law (Numbers 3:12), but before this the position of priest within each household fell to the firstborn son as part of their birthright. It seems that Esau really had no interest in taking on this role and placed no value in serving God at all. After eating the stew, Esau does not so much as pause a moment to reconsider his oath, but heads off on his way.

Both men were in error that day, but at least Jacob had his eye on receiving the blessing of God. His methods were clearly improper, but his objectives were at least commendable. As his grandfather Abraham had done so long ago when he sought to take matters into his own hands and conceive a son through Hagar (Genesis 16), Jacob sought to circumvent the timing and methods of God by resorting to trusting in his own ingenuity to bring about the promise of God. Never is it necessary to rely on our own strength in order to bring about the promises of God in our lives, especially when it involves dishonesty, trickery, and taking advantage of those who are unspiritual. God had promised that Jacob would obtain the birthright when He assured his mother that “The elder shall serve the younger” (Genesis 25:23). We can be certain that this maneuver on Jacob’s part was not God’s intended manner for the birthright to be transferred.

Esau, on the other hand, was guilty of being a faithless and carnal man; placing no worth on the things of God. By man’s standards, it might seem that he was the nobler of the two brothers at this point in time, but God knows the heart of man. Lest we are too rash to pass judgment on Esau, however, we must ask ourselves at what price we have been willing to sacrifice our own relationship with God? Our position with God in Christ is secured and upheld by Him alone, that is without question, but have we not at times behaved much like Esau: preferring the momentary pleasures of this world to our eternal “birthright” in Christ Jesus? We smell the stew of sin’s gratification and are so often willing in that moment to forsake the precious priesthood to which God has called us (1 Peter 2:9) that we might partake of it. Esau sold his position with God for the price of a bowl of soup, what are we willing to take for it?

*English Standard Version (ESV)The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.

10 responses

  1. Wow, Loren! Thank you for explaining about Esau and Jacob, especially since I have been going through Genesis. You always help me understand scripture on a deeper level and I need that. I have a question, if you don’t mind me asking? It’s about Esau becoming Edom. I looked up Edom, to try to gain some insight into this, but just got more confused. Who or what are Edom? And . . .as I finish up Genesis, I’m going on to read Revelation. ( I alternate between and Old Testament book, then New Testament book, and this was the next book) I’m kind of intimidated . . .don’t know how I’m going to pull encouraging devotions and poems ( the light weight kind I do! ha!) out of this. So much I don’t understand myself. Could you pray for me? Thank you sooo much! And if you get a chance to read any, please feel free to step in and correct or add the depth and understanding that’s needed! :) God bless you and yours! deb

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  2. Hi, Deb, thanks for sharing your feedback :)

    Edom was an alternate name by which Esau came to be known after this incident. In the Hebrew, it literally means red and was symbolic of this “red stew” that he sold his birthright for (v. 30). The name was even more appropriate based on his ruddy complexion (v. 25). Additionally, as with so many of the people we meet in Genesis, Esau’s descendants came to be known by this name (Edomites) and their country was also called Edom. The nation of Edom occupied a stretch of land that went from the Gulf of Aqabah to the South and the Dead Sea to the North.

    The Edomites would serve as a thorn in the side of Israel repeatedly throughout Scripture. A very notable confrontation between the two occurred when the Israelites were entering the Promised Land after departing from Egypt under the leadership of Moses. The most direct route to their destination went right through the heart of Edom. So, they sought permission to travel via the “King’s Highway” through the land but were denied by the king of Edom (Numbers 20:14-22). The little Book of Obadiah tells us of their ultimate fate and the judgment of God that they brought upon themselves through their pride (Ob. 3) and their violence against Israel (Ob. 10).

    That’s great that you’re going into Revelation next. Revelation can certainly be a daunting book to cover, but don’t be intimidated. You have my prayers and I know you will do just fine :) I look forward to reading what you write about it. I believe that you really can pull a lot of encouragement from it (of course I do interpret Scripture from the “pre-Tribulation Rapture” viewpoint and do not believe that the Church will be here through the Great Tribulation). Even so, just remember that the Book of Revelation is really all about the Lord Jesus Christ and His glory. He is the main Personality throughout it. I think it becomes so easy for us to get caught up in all of the imagery and begin to focus on the horrific events depicted, the antichrist, the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, etc. that we often lose sight of Who this book is really about. When we look at it that way, what else could be more encouraging and uplifting?

    God bless you, Deb, and thanks again for the comments!

    Your friend in Christ,

    Loren

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  3. Thank you AGAIN! For explaining about Edom(ites) and the way you shared about Revelation! I have two little devotions/poems written already ( not posted yet) and both are about Jesus. So that was very confirming Loren! God bless! deb

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  4. Hi Loren
    This was a wonderful treat of a message to read from the OT. Like Debbie, I’m sometimes concerned about being able to understand and interpret the Bible right but then I’m reminded by the Holy Spirit that we are not serving God with our abilities but He is working through us and has given us the needed abilities to bring glory to His name. Thank you for for helping me understand Esau, Jacob and the plot around the stew in the right perspective. Like many, I misunderstood and am now better informed. This study also made me ask myself what all I’ve sacrificed God for and the list is endless. I hope to remember this the next time I’m faced with a choice such as the stew for my salvation!
    Blessings,
    Vineet

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  5. Very well said, Vineet, thank you!

    Thanks for reading and sharing your comments :)

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  6. Every time I think of Esau, my heart is convicted. I think of the times that I placed little value on the things of God even though they were right in front of me. Great job on explaining this passage!

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  7. I think we are all guilty of doing this so many times. It is so easy to get our focus on other things and forget what we have in Christ.

    Thanks for the comments, Ben, and thanks for reading this.

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  8. [...] Genesis 25:28 tells us plainly that Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his son’s venison. As Esau had been willing to sacrifice the blessing of his father in order to satisfy his own fleshly appetites, so is Isaac willing to “sell” the [...]

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  9. Hy,im vry blesed after reading about a birthright and i now understand what is it.may God bles u nd multiply the the understanding you giving 2 people.i also belive that God called me to preach the gospel and i now lov preaching the gospel bt my problem is that i lack understanding in some thing,can for me to receave wisdom,understanding and knowledge so that i can preach the gospel in spirit and truth.GOD bles u thank u

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  10. Thank you so much for sharing your kind words of encouragement!

    “[May] the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory,… give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power” (Ephesians 1:16-19)

    I pray that the Lord will richly bless you with all wisdom and understanding in your study of His Word. May God bless your ministry as you preach the Gospel :)

    In Christ,

    Loren

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