And Jacob sod pottage: and Esau came from the field, and he was faint: And Esau said to Jacob, Feed me, I pray thee, with that same Ted pottage; for I am faint: therefore was his name called Edom. And Jacob said, Sell me this day thy birthright. And Esau said, Behold, I am at the point to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me? And Jacob said, Swear to me this day; and he sware unto him: and he sold his birthright unto Jacob. 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.
He ate, and he drank, and he rose up, and he went his way, and Esau despised his birthright. In other words, he despised his birthright as easily as he wiped his mouth and rose up and walked away. How sad!
For we must remember that the sad picture of Esau’s fornication is drawn for us in Scripture with a purpose. That purpose concerns the people of God. There is here a word of God, of the God of our salvation. The question is: what is the nature of that lesson?
Indeed, Esau is the typical reprobate in Scripture. For it had been sovereignly determined by the Lord that not Esau should have the blessing, but Jacob. Thus it is written: “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.”
But the reprobate appear on the scene of history for apurpose. That is especially the case with Esau. For the striking thing about Esau was that he was the firstborn, and as the firstborn he had the birthright. He had it so very really that he was able to sell it and exchange it for Jacob’s bean-soup. Jacob knew that he had it, and Esau himself was well aware of the fact. The question is: why? Why did Esau have the birthright if it was determined from before the foundation of the world that he should after all not have it? God gave Esau a chance, say some; and thus Esau serves as a warning example to the reprobate, or, perhaps, to men in general not to become reprobate. But seeing that according to Scripture the matter was determined from before the foundation of the world, and therefore was not at all a matter of free will, this is impossible. Esau serves not as a warning example to the reprobate, but to God’s people. The pointed lesson of Esau’s conduct, viewed from the practical point of view, is that it teaches the people of God how not to act and how not to live.
. . . . . Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright! (Hebrews 12:16).
. . . . . And he ate, and he drank, and he rose up, and he went his way: and Esau despised his birthright!
Tragic picture! Pointed lesson!
These things are written for our ensample!
Not merely the double portion, but the title to all the blessings of God’s covenant was implied in the birthright.
In later days, as the seed of the covenant developed and embraced a multitude, the blessing of the birthright was naturally limited. That one had the birthright in those later days did not mean that all the other children were excluded from salvation and from the blessings of the covenant. Rather did the birthright in later times imply the right to the double portion for the eldest son. Yet in the case of Esau and Jacob there was far more at stake. God’s counsel had been once more that but one of the children should inherit the promise. Even as to Abraham the Word of God had been, “In Isaac shall thy seed be called,” so to Rebekah (and Isaac) His Word was: “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.”
Thus, as we know, while Esau was from a natural point of view the firstborn, nevertheless Jacob was the heir of the promise and of the blessings of God’s everlasting covenant of grace. The birthright was for the one, to the exclusion of the other.
Very much was involved in that birthright. It included rule over the brethren: a symbol and type of Christ’s royal dominion as the first-born of every creature and the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover, it included all the blessings of the promise. To these belonged the possession of the land of Canaan, the type of heaven, and therefore the promise of the eternal inheritance. To these blessings belonged the promised Great Seed, Christ, in Whom all the promises of God converged and upon Whom, centrally, all the blessings of the covenant were bestowed. To these belonged also the assurance of Jehovah’s covenant fellowship: the promise, “I will be thy God and the God of thy seed.”
For our place in the church in the midst of the world is like unto the position of him who had the birthright. The church has the title to all the blessings of the covenant, all the blessings of salvation, all the spiritual blessings that are in Christ Jesus. Such is the birthright of the church and her children!
Esau’s was the birthright: for he was firstborn.
Whether any special reason may be assigned for this right of the firstborn, and whether, in view of the fact that our Lord Jesus Christ as the firstborn from the dead leads His brethren into life eternal, we may find a symbolical-typical significance in this peculiar position of the firstborn and his birthright—this we may pass over at this time. The fact is that the birthright belonged to the firstborn. And in the family of Isaac and Rebekah Esau was that firstborn. Before his twin brother Jacob he had been born although Jacob already at birth had struggled for the position of firstborn and had his brother by the heel.
Hence, as far as his natural birth was concerned, as far as his’ outward position was concerned, as far as his position according to the flesh was concerned, Esau, being the firstborn, was born with the title to the inheritance of all the blessings of God’s covenant!
Moreover, in that respect we all are like Esau. Outwardly, we are born in the church, born of believing parents. We are of the generations of God’s covenant. In infancy we are baptized in the name of the covenant God. We are from earliest childhood in contact with that birthright. We are under the preaching of the Word. We are catechized. We are under the training and discipline of covenant parents. As far as our natural, outward position is concerned, our title and place is that of the firstborn. The title and place of the firstborn, who has the birthright, is certainly ours!
For of Esau it may be said in a sense that he was “so near, and yet so far.” For when Esau despised his birthright and chose rather Jacob’s bean-soup, that meant essentially that he despised God and His covenant, that he despised Christ and His salvation, that he despised all the unseen things of the heavenly inheritance and eternal life. For ally these he cared not. All these he contemned. So near was he, near to the kingdom and covenant of God,—that from a natural point of view, as far as his birth was concerned, as far as his outward position was concerned, he had the birthright, the title, to the blessings of God’s covenant. All the more serious was his calling, therefore, with respect to that covenant of God.
But he despised that covenant! A fornicator was he! So very far from the kingdom of God!
Yes; but how earnest a warning! Take heed!
A fine man was Esau,—that is, from a natural point of view.
For twenty years the faith of Isaac and Rebekah was tried. The Lord taught them to expect the heir of the promise from Him! It had to be evident that the promised seed was a gift of grace. When Rebekah was barren, Isaac entreated the Lord: by faith he had done this, with a view to the continuation of God’s covenant, of course. For if Isaac had no heir, what could it ever mean that Abraham’s seed was to be called in Isaac? At last, when that prayer was heard, and when Rebekah expected to become mother in the covenant, she could not understand her own condition and she inquired of the Lord. The Lord’s answer had been, in effect, that she was the mother of election and reprobation, even as the church would be ever after. The elder of the twins in her womb, though he were the stronger, would serve the younger. Thus, in process of time she had become the mother of twins: Esau, the hairy one, and Jacob, the heel-holder. And struggling for the birthright they had come into the world.
Physically strong and robust was Esau: tall, muscular, a man of the woods, a hunter, brave, accustomed to face dangers. And as far as his character was concerned, he must have been an open-hearted man: probably a man of whom you would say, “You can read him like a book.” He was not a mean and sneaky kind, not the kind who would bear a grudge. According to the standards of this world, Esau was the sort whom you would like. He was the type who would make a fine hero for a novel; and, in fact, it just exactly Esau’s kind who is the hero in many a modern novel.
He was a quiet man, dwelling in tents. Evidently he was a stay-at-home. Still more, he would be classified, I suppose, as a sissy: for not only did he stay at home, but he stayed close to his mother, and he seems to have busied himself with the culinary arts. Plainly he was the weaker physically. But also as far as his character was concerned, he was in the natural sense the weaker. True, he was not lacking in mental ability: on the contrary, he was shrewd and intelligent. But even from a mere natural point of view, he was morally unattractive. Whether it was incidental or intentional that he was cooking this red bean soup at this propitious moment, his action is certainly to be condemned: for he tempted Esau when he was ravenously hungry. And the same kind of deceit Jacob practiced later, as we know, when he wanted the blessing from father Isaac.
But now look at these sons from the spiritual point of view.
While we would certainly have chosen Esau, God had chosen Jacob. For does He not choose that which is nought in order that He may put to shame that which is ought? (I Cor. 1:26-31)
And thus grace made distinction between these sons.
Esau was wicked!
If he had lived in our day, he would be the man who is always ready for a fishing trip, for a hunting party, for an outing, for the enjoyments of this present time. But for church, for catechism, for Sunday school, for all spiritual things, for anything connected with the service of God,—for such things Esau could spare no time or effort. Nor was this incident of the birthright the only occasion when he had revealed this attitude.
Say what you will about Jacob and about his dishonest dealing,—and there is an altogether unattractive element in Jacob,—but the fundamental thing is that Jacob had an eye for God’s covenant and for the things above. That was the main passion of his life! As much as Esau held the birthright in contempt so much did Jacob earnestly desire it. We should beware lest we lose this from view when considering Jacob. After all, God’s Word had assigned the birthright to Jacob; and it was a shame that such a man as Esau should have the birthright!
But Esau, however attractive naturally, would not make a fit life’s traveling companion! He was an example not to be imitated!
“Feed me some of that red!”
“Sell me this day thy birthright!”
It makes little difference whether Jacob’s cooking of that pottage was incidental or intentional. Nor is the point of the text to emphasize the method whereby Jacob obtained the birthright and made Esau swear to “a deal.”
The point is that Jacob was cooking pottage of lentiles, a brownish red in color. And when Esau came home faint from hunger and was confronted by the choice of birthright or bean soup, he chose the latter.
Birthright for bean soup! For the flesh over against the spirit, for the moment over against eternity, for the world and its lusts over against the covenant of God,—such was Esau’s choice!
And such is the choice of any Esau today! For what, after all, is the very best of the world in comparison with the riches of Christ but a mess of pottage? And every time we choose the former we conduct ourselves as Esau did!
For Esau had no eye for unseen things, only for the things seen. He lived for this present world. His attitude was: “What is my birthright tome? The heavenly inheritance? Nonsense! I am going to die after a while, and that will end it all.”
He knew better, and he had been taught differently.
But he was a fornicator,—careless and profane!
And thus you have the end: he ate, and he drank, he arose and went his way.
His birthright he despised; and he kept on despising it and never came to repentance.
And he perished!
My brethren, be not fornicators like Esau!