Perhaps never in all man's history has something so valuable been purchased for so little! The major flaw in Esau's character reveals itself in his careless disregard of the high value of his birthright in favor of an immediate, sensual satisfaction. Unfortunately, far too many of us are like him. Esau was a man, so to speak, who could not see two blocks down a straight road on a crystal-clear day. Because immediate concerns dominated his life, living by faith was extremely difficult for him.
Either he had no vision, or his personality demanded instant gratification. The things that he valued were those he could have right away. Notice verses 32 and 34. To paraphrase he says, "What good is the birthright if I have to wait for it?" Apparently, he either did not consider making a sacrifice to retain it at all or quickly passed over the thought. Therefore, he hungrily gratified his appetite and went his way, much like the harlot who, after plying her trade, unconcernedly says, "I have done no harm."
However, Moses writes, "Esau despised his birthright"! Despise is a strong word, meaning "to be scornful" or "to treat with contempt." Notice Paul's remarks about this in Hebrews 12:16: ". . . lest there be any fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright." Paul judges him as "profane," which marks a person as irreverent toward what is sacred. The Greek word literally describes one standing in front of a temple (where God dwells) rather than within it, suggesting one not admitted into the body of true knowledge. Esau displays his profanity by treating something hallowed—his birthright—as if it were common.
Esau further demonstrates this perversity in his thinking in his choice of wives (Genesis 26:34-35). He is unconcerned about God, the things of God, and the future. His mind is elsewhere; he is worldly. The Christian must live in the present dealing with life's problems as they come to him, but always with the future, the Kingdom of God, in mind.
God's Word depicts Esau's worldliness through the medium of eating. Eating something he desired at the moment meant more to him than a tremendously valuable gift of God. Though he became very wealthy, the Bible ignores his death, which oftentimes indicates something ominous. It is worth meditating upon how much satisfying immediate cravings and yearnings, perhaps even for food, presents a stumblingblock to our pleasing God.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Eating: How Good It Is! (Part Two)
So, what is our particular "bowl of lentils"? For what would we give up everything God has offered us? For what are we giving up our fabulous birthright? What sinful pattern of living could be keeping us from inheriting all things? Is it worth it?
We would like to say, "Nothing," but actions speak louder than words. Our behavior reveals our beliefs. If we are acting in a way that despises our birthright, we are showing that our beliefs are no different from Esau's. In fact, if we are participating in behavior contrary to God's standards, that behavior has become our bowl of lentils.
Again, what have we been putting ahead of the promises we could inherit? Our answer identifies our present bowl of lentils.
Esau wanted to be satisfied immediately; he did not want to wait. He wanted the pleasures and satisfactions of the flesh fulfilled instantly. What good was a birthright if it did not satisfy his incredible hunger and thirst right now?
Anything, any sin, any behavior, any thought pattern, any god we place before the Holy One—anything that would keep us from receiving our birthright—is our bowl of lentils. For most of us, these are ingrained patterns of life that we must overcome. Some have been able to hide and camouflage these bowls of lentils from others. It does not matter. God sees all (Hebrews 4:13).
We could be working so hard laboring for the meat that perishes that we ignore and neglect the spiritual food and promises God has offered us. We could be working so hard at building a relationship with a boss that we do not spend the time building our relationship with the real Master. Perhaps it is sinful worry, the cares of this life, that have pulled us off center. Or, it could be the pleasures of this life, the vanities of this age, or unconquered sins. Any of these could be our bowl of lentil stew that could lead God to conclude we are despising our birthright too.
What are some typical bowls of lentils? Galatians 5:19-21, Paul's list of the "works of the flesh" is a good place to start. He concludes by saying, "[T]hose who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God" (verse 21).
Are we letting covetousness become a bowl of lentils? Have we chosen the god of "success" in place of the true God (Mark 4:18-19)?
Does anything each day come ahead of seeking Him and walking with Him? Are there sins of the flesh, of sex, of hate, of worry, of envy that keep us from seeking our birthright diligently?
How about the Sabbath and holydays? Are we keeping them holy?
The point is clear. Each of us knows what our bowl of lentils is.
We can learn from Esau. He should have gone hungry instead of selling out a fabulous future for literal beans. There will be many times when we will have that same decision: despise the birthright—or sacrifice, wait, endure, overcome, and put up with hardship. We have to make sure we choose properly: life (Deuteronomy 30:15-20).
No matter how temporarily enjoyable and satisfying any sin is in that moment, it cannot begin to measure up to the eternal rewards of God's birthright promises. Inheriting our birthright will not be easy. God wants to know beyond any doubt that we value it. That means we will be tested on this point repeatedly. It will take endurance, sacrifice, and keeping our focus on what is eternal and truly valuable (II Corinthians 4:17-18).
What is Your Bowl of Lentil Stew?
We all shake our heads in disbelief when we think about the well-known story of Esau selling his birthright for a measly bowl of lentil stew. How could he do such a thing? But are we any better today? Paul reminds us that the stories God includes in the Old Testament are there to help us avoid making the same mistakes (I Corinthians 10:11-12).
We have another advantage: Esau was not converted, and we are. Through the indwelling of God's Holy Spirit, we have help he never had. We can use this godly insight and power to learn and grow in the way of living that will please God.
What did Esau give up? Of course, we understand that God had prophesied that the older would serve the younger. Perhaps Jacob was aware of this and was trying to "help God" work out His foreordained providence. Whatever the case, until this point the birthright was Esau's. Albert Barnes comments: "In after times the right of primogeniture consisted in a double portion of the father's goods [Deuteronomy 21:17], and a certain rank as the patriarch and priest of the house on the death of the father." God had already promised vast lands and wealth to the descendants of Abraham who came through the birthright son (Genesis 26:1-5).
Imagine for a second that Esau could have foreseen all of North America, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, vast sections of Europe, and parts of the Middle East. Would he have had a greater appreciation for the birthright then? Possibly.
However, Esau could not imagine the unimaginable wealth, power, military might, political impact, and world leadership his descendants could have. This is not even considering the potential for a far greater spiritual inheritance—the blessing (see Genesis 27:1-29)—that accompanies the birthright. These benefits were not real to him; he could not touch them. They were too far in the future; they were not present at the moment. The only thing that was real to him was his need to eat some lentil stew. Right now.
Esau's impulsive, unholy, live-in-the-now lifestyle was about to cost him and his descendants dearly. As God says, he despised his birthright.
God has called us to a fabulous, unfathomable birthright. Our birthright, as firstfruits of God, makes Esau's birthright seem trivial. If we cannot or will not realize what God has offered us, we can let such great a prize slip away as tragically as Esau spurned his birthright (Hebrews 2:1; 12:14-17). If we do not value our birthright more than anything in this universe, we can sell it for our own equivalent of a bowl of lentil stew.
What is Your Bowl of Lentil Stew?
How did Esau come to be of a mind that he could sell his birthright so easily? Can we follow the same path but in a spiritual sense? What must we do to cherish rather than despise our far more glorious inheritance?
What Esau despised was no small thing. Even if we disregard the earlier promises given to Abraham and Isaac of descendants as numerous as the sand of the seashore, the Promised Land of Canaan, royal dynasties, and the gates of their enemies, Esau stood to inherit a literal fortune. As we have learned over the years, the birthright contained a two-fold promise: physical promises and spiritual promises. We can see this in summary in Genesis 12:1-3:
Now the LORD had said to Abram: "Get out of your country, from your family and from your father's house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."
What a wonderful inheritance for Abraham's descendants! God promises a national homeland, national greatness (power and prosperity), and national prestige. Abraham's descendants would ultimately be a force for good on the planet, especially because from Israel would come the Messiah.
If we consider just what Esau would inherit when Isaac died, it still was quite a huge amount of wealth. In Genesis 24:35, Abraham's servant says to Rebekah's family, "The LORD has blessed my master greatly, and he has become great; and He has given him flocks and herds, silver and gold, male and female servants, and camels and donkeys." Just a chapter later, Moses records, "And Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac," except for "gifts" that he bestowed on his other sons by his concubines (Genesis 25:5-6).
The birthright was customarily passed down from father to eldest son. Being Isaac's eldest son (verse 25), Esau would have stood to gain quite a lot, at least in the way of wealth. A bowl of lentils hardly compares to "flocks and herds, silver and gold, male and female servants, and camels and donkeys"! How could he have despised his awesome inheritance so easily?
What was Esau's problem? He did not treasure his inheritance! Jesus tells us in His Sermon on the Mount, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:21). People usually only sell something when they value something else more. Esau did not place a high-enough value on the birthright, so he sold it for a pittance.
What Is Your Lentil Soup?
In our culture, because we do not deal with patriarchal inheritances, it is difficult to understand "birthright." Since we live in an individual-oriented society, perhaps we can grasp the concept of "opportunity" more readily.
Advertisers inundate us with offers to learn about a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity." It usually ends up in a meeting where a motivational speaker tries to recruit us for another network-marketing "opportunity." Or, it may be a chance to buy a franchise of a promising new chain of restaurants or stores. After a few of such pitches, we can become jaded to the fact that God truly offers us an incredible "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" to end all others.
Indeed, most of humanity from the days of Adam will never be given the opportunities God offers us. Our birthright is a once-in-eternity opportunity, offered by One who cannot lie!
What is our fantastic opportunity? Not many will rise in the first resurrection, the small first harvest of God's children. Yet, those who attain to this resurrection will receive promises never again to be offered or repeated. We could be the very Bride of Christ, if we do not despise our calling. We could work intimately with the King of Kings as a leader and ruler of several cities of our own in a glorious Millennial world, if we do not sell out for our "bowl of lentils." We could be crowned with a diadem designed by the Master Designer with our new name inscribed on it, if we do not become blotted out of the Book of Life because of rebellion against God. God has called us to eternal life full of joyful, pleasurable experiences for all eternity (Psalm 16:11).
God says, "The meek inherit the whole earth" (Psalm 37:11; Matthew 5:5), but He does not stop there. He has already told us that we are not to inherit just some land here on earth, but we are co-heirs with Jesus, slated to inherit and rule over everything (Hebrews 2:8)! Drive out into the country one clear night and get far away from city lights. Now look at the starry expanse above. Those stars, nebulae, and galaxies could be ours—or we could give them up for the temporary pleasure of sin that lasts for a moment now.
We could hear our Master announce, "Well done, good and faithful servant," or we could hear, "Depart from Me, I have never known you." The choice is largely ours at this point. God calls us His children, and therefore we are heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ of everything God has and everything God is (Romans 8:16-17)!
So how are we doing with God's once-in-an-eternity offer? Are we showing by our actions that we are treasuring it or despising it?
When people recognize a true opportunity, they give up everything else to be sure they get it. Jesus says a man would give up everything he has to obtain a pearl of great price (Matthew 13:45-46). Paul says many run the race, but most are not doing what it takes to win. He says he is racing after an incorruptible crown, keeping his passions well controlled, lest in the end, he be just another castaway and lose out (I Corinthians 9:24-27).
Inheriting birthrights sometimes means having to sacrifice profoundly and give up the pleasures and desires of the here and now, as Moses did (Hebrews 11:24-27). Moses took the long view, "for he endured as seeing Him who is invisible" (verse 27). We have to see God in all this and recognize what He is handing to us. Then, we humbly accept it and hang on to it for all its worth!
What is Your Bowl of Lentil Stew?
As the two became young men, their talents and personalities became evident, and it is here that another dimension enters into their rivalry. It seems that their parents played favorites, as unfortunately occurs too often in families. Such favoritism only heightens the competition between siblings.
This is the account of their first significant conflict, and the differences in their personalities come to the fore. Jacob had a nose for opportunity, and once he recognized that Esau was in a position of weakness, he started negotiating. He was very much a businessman and a wheeler-dealer, trying to get the advantage of his rival, but especially in the areas that really matter. Thus, he made a bold stroke, reaching for the birthright, that is, the double portion of inheritance that came to the firstborn.
By his reply, Esau showed that he had little grasp of the worth of the birthright. In fact, he valued his life far above his inheritance. He said to Jacob, in effect, "Look, if I survive, this birthright may be of some profit, but right now I will trade anything to live." In essence, he counted his birthright as worth no more than a meal! Esau's major problem was that he could not properly discern what was truly important. The Bible's portrait of him suggests that his complete attention fell on whatever was before him at the time, and thus he took no thought of the future, whether of blessings or problems or consequences. In wits, then, he was no match for cunning Jacob.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
All About Edom (Part One)
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Genesis 25:34: