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. (ESV Genesis 25:29-34)
It may be hard to fully appreciate this scene and the shocking nature of Esau’s “despising” of his birthright because our culture doesn’t think this way. The birthright was a big deal. According to Mosaic tradition the firstborn received a double portion of the inheritance and patriarchal status of the family. Given the wealth of Isaac, this was a fortune that Esau was despising. He was selling his future for a bowl of soup! This was foolish even according to worldly standards. And yet, how often do we make choices to feed our appetites at the cost of our future? How many marriages have broken up because one or the other has given in to the temptations of the present? How many futures have been squandered because students chose to play video games instead of do their homework? How many iPods have been given up to buy vending machine toys today? It is so foolish when you look at it from a bird’s eye perspective, like we get to do with Esau. Our lesson is, of course, to see this foolishness but also to consider the strength of our appetites. We must not underestimate our weakness for the temptations right in front of us.
And yet, this was not even the real tragedy of Esau’s act. It wasn’t just that he was giving up a double portion of his father’s wealth. He was giving up on the promises given to Abraham. As one commentator put it,
The right of primogeniture in the family of Abraham implied (1) succession to the earthly inheritance of Canaan; (2) possession of the covenant blessing transmitted through the paternal benediction; and (3) progenitorship of the promised seed. (Genesis. 1909 (H. D. M. Spence-Jones, Ed.). The Pulpit Commentary (320). London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.)
Esau and Jacob were aware of these promises. They were passed down from Abraham to Isaac. Both Isaac and Abraham would have likely trained Esau and Jacob in these promises. This was what Esau was despising. In this it also shows us that no matter how much training and how wonderful the hope that we seek to instill in our children, it is ultimately up to God to awaken their hearts. Unfortunately for Esau, it was not to be. Paul explains in Romans,
when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. (Ro 9:10-16)
So then, we learn as parents that training is important, but it cannot save our children. God must do that. So we must give them to God in prayer as well as train them up in the faith. The good news is that God’s promise to Abraham extends through his children. Jacob’s children are all included in the promise. Thus, we have reason to believe that God will bless our children too!
Lord, help us to live for what is eternal rather than what is temporal. Help us to live in light of your promises rather than in the light of a decaying world. Help us too to train our children well and pray for their salvation expectantly, believing in your ancient promises. In Christ, Amen.