November 3, 2014

Commentary on the Book of Genesis

By: Tom Lowe

 

PART III: HISTORY OF ISAAC AND JACOB. (Genesis 25:19-36:43)

Topic #A:ISAAC'S FAMILY AND SOME TROUBLES. (Genesis 25:19-26:35)                                                                                           

 

 


Lesson III.A.2: Esau Sells His Birthright. (Gen. 25:27-34).                                                                  

 

 

Gen. 25:27-34 (KJV)

 

27 And the boys grew: and Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field; and Jacob was a plain man, dwelling in tents.

28 And Isaac loved Esau, because he did eat of his venison: but Rebekah loved Jacob.

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.

 

Introduction

 

Isaac and Rebekah had two sons, Jacob and Esau. One was the father’s darling, and the other the mother’s. We have in this passage the bargain made between Jacob and Esau concerning the birthright, which was Esau’s by birth, but Jacob’s by promise. It was for a spiritual privilege; and we see Jacob’s desire for the birthright, but he sought to obtain it by crooked means. Jacob was right to earnestly covet the best gifts, but he was wrong in taking advantage of his brother’s need. The inheritance of his father’s worldly goods did not go to Jacob, and was not included in this proposal. But it includes the future position of the land of Canaan by his children’s children, and the covenant made with Abraham concerning Christ the promised Seed. Jacob was a believer and he valued these things above everything else; unbelieving Esau despised them. It is pure foolishness to give away our interest in God, and Christ, and heaven, for the riches, honors, and pleasures of this world; it is as bad a bargain as the one made by Esau, who sold his birthright for a bowl of pottage. Esau ate and drank, pleased his palate, satisfied his appetite, and then hastily got up and went his way, without any serious thought, or any regret, about the bad bargain he made.

 

 

Commentary

 

27 And the boys grew: and Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field; and Jacob was a plain man, dwelling in tents.

 

“The boys grew.” Now we are going to look at these two boys as they grow up in the home. Here they are, twins, but no two boys were ever more different than these two. They not only struggled in the womb, but they are against each other from here on out. They have absolutely different viewpoints, and different philosophies of life. Their thinking is different, and their attitudes are different. At the beginning, I must confess, Esau is more attractive than Jacob. But we learn that one cannot always judge another by the outward appearance or signs. We must judge by what takes place on the inside. We learn that in this particular case.

 

Jacob and Esau developed in accordance with their initial characteristics. Esau, “the red man,” was overcome by his physical appetite for “red stew (v. 30) and sold his birthright. And Jacob, “the heel-grabber,” cunningly overtook his brother and gained the “birthright.”

 

“Esau” probably means “hairy.” He also had the nickname “Edom,” which means “red,” referring to his red hair and the red lentil soup Jacob sold him (vs. 25, 30). The twin boys not only looked different, but their personalities were also different. Esau was a rugged outdoorsman, the athletic type, and a successful hunter. He is the one we would call the all-American boy today. He went in for sports. He went in for everything that was physical, but he had no understanding or capacity or desire for spiritual things. He was only interested in that which was physical. He represents the “flesh.”

 

As the first-born, Esau was entitled to a double portion of his father’s possessions—that is, twice as much as any other son might inherit. He also became the tribal or family head. This is what was called the “birthright.” In Esau’s case, it would also have included being the ancestor of the Messiah. The prophesy of verse 23 is partially fulfilled in verses 29-34.

 

“Jacob” was a “homeboy.” He was also “a plain (quiet) man, dwelling in tents.” He was mama’s boy and was tied to her apron strings. You may notice that he did what she told him to do. Jacob is really a mama’s boy. You would think that Isaac would have favored Jacob, since both of them preferred domestic pursuits, but Jacob was Rebekah’s favorite. Rebekah was a hands-on mother who knew what was going on in the home and could contrive ways to get what she thought was best. And this boy Esau is papa’s boy.

 

 

28 And Isaac loved Esau, because he did eat of his venison: but Rebekah loved Jacob.

 

“And Isaac loved Esau”—Esau was rough, but he was virile, and his old father Isaac turned to him instinctively because he knew that if there was anything he wanted done, Esau could do it; and as he grew old his dependence on Esau increased. Esau loved his father, as his father loved him. When Isaac was old and blind, the rough Esau was gentle with him and quick to respond to everything he wanted. If Isaac had a desire for something special to eat, it was Esau who would go and get it. We shall see in a future lesson that though Esau cared little for the birthright, he highly prized his father’s blessing.

 

Isaac did NOT have a happy home and the fault was partly his. Here is the problem with the home. You may feel as I do that under these circumstances they are going to have trouble, and they are. When one parent is partial to one child and the other parent is partial to the other child, you have trouble. That is exactly what took place here. “Isaac loved Esau” because he ate his venison. Esau went out hunting, and he always got something when he went hunting. He brought the venison to share with Isaac. Isaac liked that, and he liked this outdoor type of boy. “Rebekah loved Jacob” partly because he was a mama’s boy and partly because of the prophecy: “The LORD said to her, "Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger" (Genesis 25:23)—which she probably mentioned often. Jacob derived his inspiration from Rebekah, who stopped at nothing to gain her ends. Isaac was too feeble to keep abreast of underhanded doings or to deal with the combination of Rebekah and Jacob. Esau seemed to be concerned with material matters only. To him, the birthright, which involved both material and spiritual blessings seemed of little value until he had bargained it away.

 

It’s unfortunate when a home is divided because parents and children put their own personal desires ahead of the will of God. Isaac enjoyed eating the tasty game that Esau brought home, a fact that will be important later on (chapter 27). Isaac, the quiet (plain) man, fulfilled his dreams through Esau, the courageous man, and apparently ignored the fact that his oldest son was also a worldly man[1]. Did Isaac know that Esau had forfeited his birthright? The record doesn’t tell us. But he did know God had chosen the younger son over the elder son.

 

As I have said before, at this juncture the boy Esau is much more attractive than Jacob. He seems to be a wholesome boy. The Boy Jacob is cunning; he tries to be clever. The fact of the matter is that he doesn’t mind stooping to do things that are absolutely wrong (And God will deal with him for this.). The interesting thing is that although Esau was very attractive on the outside, down underneath he had NO capacity for God whatever. If ever there was a man of the world, he is that man. He is just a physical man and that is all. That is all he lived for.

 

Down underneath in Jacob there was a desire for the things that are spiritual. It took God a long time to rub off all the debris that was on top and to remove all the coverings in order to get down to where the spiritual desire was, but He finally did it. Before we are through with our study of Jacob (and his story goes almost all the way through the Book of Genesis), we will see that he was God’s man all along, although he didn’t demonstrate it until late in life.

 

Now we are told of an incident which took place in the home. You can well understand that the partiality shown by both father and mother would cause difficulty and conflict. It could not be called a happy home.

 

 

29 And Jacob sod[2] pottage: and Esau came from the field, and he was faint:

 

Jacob may have been the craftier hunter, baiting his trap for the hungry “animal.” One day he was cooking (literally, boiling) some stew (vegetable soup) made of lintels (small beans, v. 34).

 

This incident reveals the character of both of these men. Esau came from the field. He had been outdoors, and he was tired. He was not starving to death as some would imply. No one who had been brought up in the home of Abraham would starve to death. There would always be something for him to eat. The thing was that there was nothing prepared right at that moment but this pottage, this stew that Jacob had made. Jacob was the indoor boy. Evidently he was a good chef.

 

 

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.

 

“Feed me, I pray thee, with that same red pottage; for I am faint; therefore was his name called Edom.”  Edom means red or earthly just as Esau does. This man asks for some of the stew, and Jacob saw his chance.

 

 

31 And Jacob said, Sell me this day thy birthright.

 

He is a trickster and a traitor, and he wanted the birthright. He said, “Sell me this day thy birthright.” I read about a man who always carried a card with him that read: “Faith is living without scheming.” Jacob could have used that card. Before his birth, he had been divinely chosen to receive the birthright and the blessing, thus there was no need for him to scheme and take advantage of his brother. It’s likely that Jacob had already seen plenty of evidence that Esau did not care about spiritual things, an attitude that made Esau unfit to receive the blessing and accomplish God’s will. Perhaps Jacob and his mother had even discussed the matter.

 

Let’s stop and look for a minute at the value of the birthright and what it means. It means that the one who had it was the head of the house. It also means that the one who had it was also the priest of the family. In this particular family, it means that the one who had it would be the one who would be in the line that would lead to Christ. Do you think Esau had valued it at all? Jacob knew that he didn’t. He attached no importance to it, and he didn’t want to be the priest of the family. In fact, that is the last thing he wanted to be.

 

In our day, sometimes when a Christian is asked to do something for the cause of Christ, he replies, “Oh, I’m not a preacher, I can’t do that!” There are too many people today who do NOT want to do that which is spiritual. They don’t even want to give the impression that they are interested in spiritual things.

 

That was Esau. He didn’t want to give that impression. If anyone would have called him “deacon” or “preacher,” it would have insulted him. He didn’t want the birthright. He didn’t care about being in the line that led to Christ. No one could have cared less about being in that line. Jacob sees this, and he says to him, “I’ll tell you what I’ll do, if you’ll give me your birthright, I’ll give you a bowl of stew.” Esau was very happy with the bargain. He said, “I’ll be very happy to do it; what good is the birthright to me? What do I care about the birthright? I’d rather have a bowl of stew.” That is the value that he attached to spiritual things.

 

Let us remember that Jacob was also wrong in what he did. God had promised, “The elder shall serve the younger.” The birthright is coming to Jacob in God’s own time. Jacob can’t wait; so he reaches out to take that which God had promised him. He takes it in a clever sneaky fashion. He should have waited for God to give it to him.

 

This man operated on the principle that he would do what he could for himself. He thought that as long as he could help himself there was no need to look to God to perform it. He felt perfectly capable of taking care of his business. At the beginning he really did rather well as far as the world would measure him. But there came a day when God sent this man off to college. It was known the college of hard knocks. But here he is still operating on the principle that he is clever enough to get what is coming to him.

 

 

32 And Esau said, Behold, I am at the point to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me?

 

Neither Esau nor Jacob showed any commendable interest in the spiritual treasures. Each was basically selfish and lacked understanding of what behavior would suit a man who was to be a prince in Israel. Jacob is listed as a prince in Israel, and the father of the twelve tribes of the chosen people of God: but the Edomites, whom the Jews hated, were called sons of Esau. Yet, in spite of all that, if you had to choose between Jacob and Esau for a companion almost anyone would pick Esau. Jacob was ambitious to gather in for himself everything that would give him the pre-eminence. Rebekah supplied the spark and scheming that secured advantages for her favorite son. He had a long way to go to become the spiritual leader of those who would worship Jehovah. But God was patient; He was not in a hurry, he would train His leader.

 

“Esau said . . . I am at the point to die,” which means, “I daily risk losing my life”; and of what use will my birthright be to me, so he despised and cared little about it.

 

 

33 And Jacob said, Swear to me this day; and he sware unto him: and he sold his birthright unto Jacob.

 

Though Jacob was not righteous, he was in this instance NOT deceptive. He was open and obvious, but he was unscrupulous. He must be given credit for knowing what was of value and going after it. Esau, however, was totally “godless.”

 

The fact that God had already determined to give the covenant blessing to Jacob didn’t absolve anybody in the family of their obligations to the Lord. They were all responsible for their actions, because divine sovereignty doesn’t destroy human responsibility. In fact, knowing that we are chosen by God means that we have a greater responsibility to do His will.

 

God does not condone Jacob’s wheeling and dealing, but one thing is apparent—Jacob valued the birthright and a place in the godly line, while Esau preferred the gratification of his physical appetite to spiritual blessings. Possibly he thought the whole transaction did not amount to anything, since who could ever get Isaac to consent to it.

 

 

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.

 

The statement that “Esau despised his birthright” evidences the final evaluation of the verbal tussle and bartering which took place between the twins, all of which was indicative of prior discussions and arguments sufficient for Jacob to conclude how little Esau valued it. He became, therefore, known as irreligious, that is, “a profane person”—See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son” (Hebrews 12:16).

 

“Esau despised his birthright” is an important thing to see at this juncture. So Esau sat down and ate his stew. He had surrendered his birthright because it meant nothing to him. “Jacob,” the second-born then had the “birthright.” The calculating, quiet man who recognized the spiritual value in the birthright manipulated his profane brother into giving it up. He probably knew about the prophesy and had been waiting for this opportunity. God later made Jacob realize that his promises are not acquired in this way. Unfortunately, I am afraid we have church members like Esau. They have no spiritual capacity and no understanding of spiritual truths. I believe the mark of a true Christian is one who the Spirit of God can teach and guide. It is like a man today who had a very valuable heirloom, let’s say an old family Bible which had belonged to his grandfather. Another grandson wants it and offers to give him a quarter for it. So the owner says, “Give me the twenty-five cents because I was going to throw the old thing away anyway.” That is exactly what Esau would have done. But Jacob is wrong also, and we’ll see more of his cleverness and trickery in chapter 27.

 

 

 

 


[1] The writer of Hebrews 12:16 called Esau “a profane person (KJV),” which the NIV translates “godless.” Esau had no godly desires or standards; he was accessible to anyone and anything. A successful man of the world he ignored God’s will and “did his own thing. The fact that he married two Hittite women is proof that he wasn’t interested in the things of God (Genesis 26:34, 35).

[2] To cook; boil.

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