Then Jacob Gave Esau Some Lentil Stew
and Esau Despised His Birthright

25: 27-34

DIG: What kind of a man was Esau? What is God’s opinion about Ya’akov? How do we know that? What do you think of Jacob and Rebekah each picking a favorite son? In what sense did the LORD love Ya’akov and hate Esau? What did Esau really think of his birthright as the elder son? Why did Esav fail the supreme test of his life? Were there consequences? What was Jacob’s sin?

REFLECT: Jacob didn’t have to bargain for the birthright. ADONAI had already given it to him. How often do we manipulate others to get what we want, instead of letting the LORD work things out in His timing and in His way? Is your faith ready for the supreme test in your life? Have you ever disparaged the promises of God in exchange for some worldly privilege?

Sadly, things of great spiritual value are often handled in profane or crafty ways. Some people treat spiritual and eternal things with contempt, for they see them as of no value. And others, though regarding such things highly, make the things of God serve themselves through craftiness and manipulation. Esau and Jacob are examples of both types.409

The boys grew up, and Esav became a skillful hunter just like Nimrod (10:8-12). In the context of Genesis, being a skillful hunter has a negative connotation, just as it was with Nimrod. And he was a man of the open country, a man of the world. He decided to do his own thing and not work within the family unit. He was very streetwise and worldly.

In contrast to his brother, however, Jacob was a righteous man. The NIV says Jacob was a quiet man, and the NKJ says he was a mild man. But the Hebrew word tam is always translated elsewhere as righteous, perfect (KJ), or upright, whole, complete, blameless or without blemish. For example, when speaking of Noah, the Bible says: Noah was a righteous (tam) man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God (6:9). ADONAI puts Jacob in the same company as Noah. And again, when the LORD was speaking to Satan He said: Have you considered my servant Job. There is no one like him; he is blameless and upright (tam), a man who fears God and shuns evil (Job 1:8). Again, ADONAI puts Ya’akov in the same company as Job. It does not mean sinless perfection, but it has the sense of righteousness, or a man whose heart is right towards God. As a result, the word tam is never translated quiet or mild anywhere else in the TaNaKh. Then why is it translated thus here? Not because it doesn’t make sense in the context, but because it does not fit people’s preconceived notions about Jacob. Here is the beginning of this trend that the way Ya’akov is portrayed by Scripture is the opposite of the way he has been portrayed by many pastors, commentators and even some Bible translators. This is a very dangerous proposition (Revelation 22:18-19).

Therefore, because Jacob was a righteous man, he stayed among the tents of his father (25:27). Regrettably, Ya’akov is often portrayed as a mama’s boy, but this is not what it means at all. Jacob chose the same occupation as his father, that of a shepherd and shepherds lived in tents. This was true of Abraham and it was true of his father Isaac. Being a shepherd was not the job of a sissy. Later on we will see how much suffering Jacob had to endure as a result of being a shepherd. David would be a shepherd, and it was no easy task, protecting his flock from both the lion and the bear (First Samuel 17:34-37). Ya’akov chose to be a shepherd, and work within the family unit and within the covenant, in contrast to being a hunter and a man of the worldlike his brother Esau. Unfortunately, the parents mirrored the conflict between the twin boys.

Two unwise parents only added fuel to the fire of any potential problems that Esav and Jacob might have had with each other. Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau. Literally, the Hebrew reads that Yitz’chak had game in his mouth. Because Isaac had a preference for wild game, he had a preference for Esau. Not exactly a spiritual outlook, but then again Abraham wasn’t sinless and neither was his son. With the understanding that Rebekah told her husband the prophecy of the LORD when she was pregnant, Isaac basically ignored the choice of God. At some point it seems as though Rebekah had also told Ya’akov of his destiny. ADONAI said: Yet I have loved, or chosen, Jacob, but Esav I have hated, or not chosen (Malachi 1:2b-3a). She initially favored Ya’akov because she wanted to follow the LORD’s will. And because she believed ADONAI, she knew that Jacob was the son of promise and not Esau. As a result, she and Jacob became kindred spirits, and Rebekah loved Jacob because God loved Jacob (25:28).

Jacob was a righteous man and wanted to see the will of God accomplished. He also wanted to serve ADONAI and valued the covenant that the LORD had made with his father Abraham. The material blessings were immaterial to him. His mother had told him that he was the one through which the Messiah would come. In addition, having grown up with Esau, he knew the only aspect of the birthright appealing to Esau was the material benefits. He didn’t want or value the spiritual aspects at all. In fact, the Bible says that Esav despised his birthright (25:34). Jacob had thought about these things for years as he grew up. But instead of letting God work it out, he, like his grandfather Abraham before him, thought he would take matters into his own hands, and one day the opportunity presented itself.

If only Ya’akov had been willing to wait on God’s timing, what a difference it would have made. The birthright would have been his anyway, but he was unwilling to allow God to give it to him. But we do the same thing! We take the LORD at his word, but we will not wait for His timing. The result is that we bring untold trouble upon others and ourselves. It is not enough to believe what ADONAI has said, we must wait patiently for Him (Psalm 37:7).410

Nevertheless, once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in tired from the open country. The Hebrew word means nothing more than to be tired. He said to Jacob his brother: Quick, let me have some of that red lentil stew! The Hebrew literally reads: Let me gulp down some of that red, red. The word, gulp down, implies an animal like ferociousness. Ironically, this skillful hunter came home empty handed and said: I am famished! That is why he was also called red or Edom (25:29-30).

Esau would face a supreme test in the next few minutes that would change his life. The real proof of life is our personal faith, and what happens next will reveal who Esav really was. He never made a decision in his life to choose to believe in the promises of God. He never had any faith. Faith is continually growing, and when a crisis comes we act, not solely according to what we want at the moment, but according to who we really are, for our actions are the expression of our real faith. The real us comes out instinctively. This was true of Abraham. When the supreme test in his life came he had sixty years of preparation for that one moment, and he passed with flying colors. He was willing to sacrifice Isaac because of his faith in ADONAI. It was faith in action. Now Esau is staring his supreme test in the face, and because faith in the LORD had never been built into his life, he failed.

Ya’akov made Esav a proposition, perhaps initially only joking, not really expecting Esau to accept it. He said: First sell me today your birthright (25:31). The birthright was the right of the firstborn to take precedence over his brothers. The firstborn had the ability to sell his birthright, and as far as Jacob was concerned, it contained four elements. First, it included physical benefits because at the father’s death, the firstborn received a double portion of the father’s estate (Deuteronomy 21:17); secondly, it included spiritual benefits because he was to be the head and priest of the family (First Chronicles 5:1-2). Therefore, the eldest son had some somber responsibilities. He was to preside over the household and provide materially and spiritually for it. These spiritual responsibilities were particularly important (18:19). Specifically, he was supposed to build and officiate at the altar, as well as to preach God’s Word and his promises (22:9; 26:25). Thirdly, it included being in the messianic line because this was the birthright of the LORD’s Covenant with Abraham; and fourthly, it included the possession of the land of Canaan. The loss of the birthright could occur if a grave offense was committed. Ruben committed incest (35:22, 49:4) and forfeited his right as the firstborn of the twelve tribes.

All this was formalized at one point in time when the father blessed the firstborn. Just as we write a will today, there was an occasion in the family where the father, once and for all, sanctioned the confirmation of the birthright by blessing one particular son. In that sense, the ultimate decision of the birthright was with the father. So theoretically, Isaac could have overridden Esau’s foolish decision here and still given him the blessing. That is why we see Jacob’s deception in Chapter 27. And that may be one of the reasons for Esav’s seemingly flippant attitude toward the birthright at this point. He thought, “Dad loves me more and will certainly bless me no matter what I do here.”

Esau always lived for the sensual enjoyment of the moment and said to his brother: Look, I am about to die. This is another instance where people have maligned Jacob because they take Esau’s words a bit too literally. But actually Esav is exaggerating, just as someone who comes home after work and says, “I am starving to death.” That person may be hungry, but is surely not starving. The same is true here with Esau. Abraham was a very wealthy man and all Esav had to do was to go to the next tent and he could have been given all the food he could have possibly wanted. Then he rationalized: What good is the birthright to me (25:32). Well, there were a lot of spiritual benefits, but he wasn’t concerned about those.

But Jacob said to him, “Swear to me first.” This swearing is what would make this sale legal and binding. So Esau swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob (25:33). Some people will compromise and sell what God really has for them for some instant gratification. But the Bible says: Seek first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added to you (Matthew 6:33). Just as Ishmael was excluded from the promised blessing because he was born according to the flesh, Esau lost the promised blessing because his disposition was likewise according to the flesh.411

Then Ya’akov gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left. There is nothing in this passage to imply that Jacob took unfair advantage of Esav. God’s evaluation of the situation is that Esav despised, or treated his birthright as worthless (25:34). So far as we can see, God had no place in his life. The Bible says: 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). But this did not justify Jacob’s conduct in the matter. He did the wrong thing for the right reason. However, the end doesn’t justify the means.

Jacob, of course, should have been willing to let ADONAI work out this problem. The LORD would certainly have overruled the situation even if Yitz’chak had not been willing to give Ya’akov the birthright as God had instructed him. However, Jacob’s sin was not a sin of greed or blackmail, but rather a lack of faith. He so strongly wanted to see His purposes advanced that he felt he must help them along by his own actions. This sin, of course, is one of which we also are guilty. Abraham and Isaac themselves both suffered far greater lapses of faith than this.412


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