The God of the Old Testament, the God of the nation of Israel, is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Abraham who was called God’s friend, Isaac his son, and his son Jacob whose name God changed to Israel, were the Patriarchs. God’s covenant promises were made to Abraham and his descendants forever. And those promises were renewed to Isaac. Isaac would be blessed, because of Abraham’s faith.
When Abraham died, we read in Genesis 25:5 “Abraham left everything he owned to Isaac.” So Isaac was a very important and wealthy man. But more than that, he was the heir to all the wonderful promises God had made to Abraham
Genesis 26:1 Now there was a famine in the land—besides the previous famine in Abraham’s time—and Isaac went to Abimelek king of the Philistines in Gerar. 2 The LORD appeared to Isaac and said, ‘Do not go down to Egypt; live in the land where I tell you to live. 3 Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you. For to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham. 4 I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, 5 because Abraham obeyed me and did everything I required of him, keeping my commands, my decrees and my instructions.’
Descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky. A land to possess. And all the nations of the earth would be blessed through Isaac’s offspring. So God’s promises were renewed to Isaac, and not just once but twice.
Genesis 26 23 From there (Isaac) went up to Beersheba. 24 That night the LORD appeared to him and said, ‘I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bless you and will increase the number of your descendants for the sake of my servant Abraham.’
Isaac the son of Abraham was very important and very rich. On top of that, Isaac was the heir to all of God’s promises. He gets mentioned 140 times in the Bible. Which may seem a lot until you realise that Abraham features 267 times and Jacob 415 times. Because the reality is that Isaac plays very little part in God’s wonderful masterplan of salvation. Isaac really only gets into the Bible for two reasons. He was the son of Abraham. And Isaac had two sons – one called Jacob and the other called Esau.
19 This is the account of the family line of Abraham’s son Isaac.
Abraham became the father of Isaac, 20 and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah daughter of Bethuel the Aramean from Paddan Aram and sister of Laban the Aramean.
21 Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was childless. The LORD answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant. 22 The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, ‘Why is this happening to me?’ So she went to enquire of the LORD.
23 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 elder will serve the younger.’
24 When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. 25 The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau. 26 After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when Rebekah gave birth to them.
So Isaac had two sons. And that is pretty much all that he did. These two sons were very different characters.
27 The boys grew up, and Esau became a skilful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was content to stay at home among the tents. 28 Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob.
As parents we shouldn’t have favourites between our children. But Isaac and Rebekah did, and maybe that was part of the problem. The boys grew up to be very different and there were obviously tensions between them. But one issue particularly would have caused jealousy and division. Although they were twins and born minutes apart, Esau was the older son. He was Isaac’s first-born. And that gave him a special advantage. When Issac died, Esau would inherit a double portion of everything their father had. Esau would inherit twice as much as Jacob of Isaac’s possessions and wealth and land. But more than that, Esau would inherit all the blessings God had promised to Abraham and then to Isaac. All God’s blessings would be channeled through Esau, and not through Jacob. That was Esau’s birthright. The double portion of the inheritance.
And Esau through all of that away for a bowl of lentil stew.
29 Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. 30 He said to Jacob, ‘Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!’ (That is why he was also called Edom.)
31 Jacob replied, ‘First sell me your birthright.’
32 ‘Look, I am about to die,’ Esau said. ‘What good is the birthright to me?’
33 But Jacob said, ‘Swear to me first.’ So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob.
34 Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left.
So Esau despised his birthright.
Neither Esau nor Jacob come out of this story well. The name Jacob originally meant, “he grasps the heel” but that came also to mean “the deceiver” or “the supplanter”. Jacob was certainly scheming and devious and sly. But Esau (his name probably just means “hairy”) was foolish and shortsighted. To trade his double inheritance for one bowl of stew. His values were completely upside-down! “So Esau despised his birthright.” He showed contempt for his rights. The Message: “That’s how Esau shrugged off his rights as the firstborn.”
But in this action Esau gives us a vivid warning of very many people, and even some Christians, who despise our birthright and throw away their inheritance.
The greatest blessing Esau would inherit of course was not the possessions or the wealth or the land. He would be the heir of all the promises God had made to Abraham and repeated to Isaac, guaranteed by God’s covenants. So Esau wasn’t just throwing away human riches. He was throwing away the infinitely greater spiritual riches of innumerable descendants and the promised land. He was throwing away his relationship with God and a unique place in God’s wonderful plan of salvation. All sold for the price of a bowl of stew! How could Esau have been so blind? How could he have thrown away such a fantastic inheritance?
But that’s very human isn’t it. To grab at things which are immediate and visible and throw away what is spiritual and eternal.
Our human birthright.
Remember Adam and Eve. Placed in Garden of Eden, in the middle of perfection. Walking with God in the Garden! And they threw all of that away, just for a bite of the fruit from the forbidden tree. Despising their inheritance. Their relationship with God spoiled forever by one moment of disobedience.
And that is how human beings have acted ever since. We are created in the image of God. Made to enjoy a relationship with God. But people still prefer to chase after this world’s passing pleasures rather than to discover the blessings God created us to enjoy. Time and again human beings trade in their spiritual birthright for bowls of stew. In Romans chapter 1 the apostle Paul chronicles this continual rejection of God.
Romans 1 18 But God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness.
21 Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused.
25 They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise! Amen.
28 Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done. 29 Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip. 30 … They invent new ways of sinning, … 32 … Worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too.
Human beings, made in the image of God, but have rejected that birthright every time they have rejected God. When we think about Esau it is so obvious to us that he was stupid and shortsighted. He was nothing short of crazy to throw away all the blessings he would would inherit just for a bowl of stew. But that is just a picture of every human being who throws away the invitation of a relationship with the loving heavenly Father God and instead chases after the empty pleasures this world offers. All the riches of this world are worth absolutely nothing compared to all the spiritual blessings God offers to all human beings through His son Jesus Christ. As Jesus said,
Matthew 16 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?
What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for? (Message)
But so many people are still following Esau’s example by throwing away what is so very precious. Rejecting and despising and showing contempt for God’s blessing and choosing instead the devil’s bowls of stew. Crazy!
But let us not as Christians start feeling smug and self-satisfied and judgmental. Because Christians too can throw away our birthrights.
1 Peter 1 3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you.
As Christians we have received forgiveness of all our sins. God has given us new life in Christ, life in all its fulness which not even death can take away. God has made us his beloved children and He has put His Holy Spirit inside us as the first instalment and the guarantee of our glorious inheritance. All these fantastic blessings are just part of our birthright as Christians. Even more than that, Paul writes to the Ephesians.
Ephesians 1 3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.
EVERY spiritual blessing. Not just one or two. EVERY spiritual blessing in Christ. So the letter to the Hebrews spells out what we can learn from Esau’s dreadful mistake.
Hebrews 12 15 See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. 16 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. 17 Afterwards, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. Even though he sought the blessing with tears, he could not change what he had done.
The history of Israel could have been very different. Generations could have spoken of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Esau. But Esau threw all that away.
There are all kinds of ways Christians can fall into Esau’s sin and despise our birthright. We can show contempt for God’s blessings through disobedience or neglect or willful sin. God has forgiven our sins. But we through that back in his face when we deliberately and willfully continue in sin now we are Christians.
God has given us a new life in Jesus. But Christians have an obligation to live out that new life and not just carry on in sin as we did before we were saved.
Ephesians 4 17 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.
22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
Our old life is like a set of old filthy shabby clothes. Our new life is a spotless clean suit. We should throw away the old clothes and put on the new suit and live a new life, which is our birthright in Christ.
5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 … you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.
God has given us a new life to live. This is our birthright in Christ. We are obliged to live that new life, not throw it away for a bowl of stew.
Christians have the enormous privilege of prayer. We can bring all our concerns to our loving heavenly Father. We show contempt for our birthright when we can’t be bothered to pray.
God reveals himself and speaks to us through his word the Bible. We despise our birthright when we can’t be bothered to read our Bibles.
We have the glorious inheritance of heaven, but we really do trade that in for the devil’s bowls of stew when we put all our time and energy into collecting wealth on earth instead of treasures in heaven.
We despise our birthright when God gives us opportunities to talk about Jesus and instead we stay silent.
God has put his Holy Spirit inside us. But we quench the Spirit when we try to serve God in our own strength or neglect the spiritual gifts He has given us.
God has given Christians so many blessings. Let us make sure we don’t just throw them all away.
The missionary Jim Elliott was martyred in 1956 by the South American tribe he was trying to evangelise. Before he became a missionary, he wrote in his diary, “he is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”
Esau threw away all the riches which were his birthright, and his place in God’s masterplan of salvation, for just one bowl of something he could not keep. None of us should make the same mistake. That would just be crazy!