What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
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?
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?
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?
Once Isaac had given his - really God's - blessing, there was nothing left for Esau. The blessing was an "all or nothing" addition to the inheritance; it could not be portioned between Isaac's two sons. In reality, the subsequent "blessing" Esau receives is tantamount to a curse. In the New King James Version, it reads as if Isaac blesses Esau in Genesis 27:39-40, yet it is not a blessing but a prophecy.
As shown here, the two uses of "of" in verse 39 have been mistranslated; in this context, the Hebrew word implies, not "belonging to," but "from" or "away from." On this verse, the Keil and Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament observes, "By a play upon the words Isaac uses the same expression as in v. 28, 'from the fat fields of the earth, and from the dew,' but in the opposite sense, min being partitive [imparting] there, and privative [depriving] here, 'from = away from.'" Thus, Isaac prophesies that Esau's descendants would live in an infertile, arid area.
One consequence of this is prophesied in verse 40: There will be continual strife between the "have," Jacob, and the "have-not," Esau; they would engage in a constant, internecine quarrel over "the fatness of the earth, and of the dew of heaven." More often than not, Jacob would be dominant - until Esau would rebel in frustration and anger. Isaac predicts that they will frequently come to blows, and occasionally, Esau's descendants will enjoy the upper hand for a time.
Esau's utterly human reaction upon hearing Isaac's words is consistent with what we know of his personality: "So Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father blessed him, and Esau said in his heart, "The days of mourning for my father are at hand; then I will kill my brother Jacob" (Genesis 27:41). Too late, he realized the value of the blessing, and now his entire attention was focused in hatred against his brother. Hebrews 12:15-16 describes his attitude toward Jacob as a "root of bitterness," a profound and deep-set animosity that ultimately corrupts and defiles one who maintains it.
This reveals the mindset of Esau and his descendants, the Edomites. Everything that should have been theirs was now Jacob's, and they will fight until the bitter end of days to get it back! Yet God says it is not to be. His prophecy in the "blessing" allows Esau only occasional supremacy. Since Jacob's seed possessed both the birthright and the blessing, they would normally prevail and ultimately have the ascendancy.
The birthright made Jacob the recipient of a double portion of the inheritance, and the blessing was a gift of God by which the patriarch passed on the promised family blessings. These blessings included the patriarchy - "Be master over your brethren" (Genesis 27:29) - which was now Jacob's! This meant that, upon Isaac's death, the leadership position in Abraham's family passed not to the elder, Esau, but to the younger, Jacob. Esau was left to form his own house, but without the power, position, and wealth inherent within the birthright and the blessing.
In these prophecies, the Bible shows that dominant family traits are passed down to succeeding generations. Therefore, even today, Israelites generally think and behave much like their father Jacob, while Edomites still retain the attitudes and drives of Esau. Though not every Israelite or Edomite will imitate his ancestor's personality to the letter, these traits will surface as national characteristics, allowing perceptive observers to identify their origins and fit them into Bible prophecy.
For Jacob's thefts of the birthright and blessing, Esau hated his brother enough to begin to plot his death! This burning hatred has been passed on from generation to generation ever since that time, for approximately 3,700 years. This, then, provides us with a basic understanding of the contentious relationship between these two peoples.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
All About Edom (Part One)
The people of Joseph are a productive lot. To produce goods and services requires a vast amount of energy—call it zeal, enthusiasm, or drive. They live in a well-watered land that enhances agriculture and industry. The people are so driven that they extend their influence and zeal beyond the boundaries of their countries.
Historically, the people of Joseph have moved into other countries, taken the raw materials to make their products, built manufacturing plants, and influenced the native culture. When the British or Americans colonized, they brought their way of life and imposed it on the natives. Americans continue to introduce movies, television, rock music, household appliances, big cars, etc., to impoverished nations around the globe.
These things just typify the inherent drive of the people of Joseph, a proclivity to expand beyond the frontiers in every endeavor. They are an aggressive and innovative people in science, industry, education, government, and religion. This is generally beneficial and productive, but in one area, religion, it has profound repercussions. Satan has taken advantage of this characteristic, producing a religion that allows Israelites to think that they are Christian and yet still be free to explore the frontiers of religious thought.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Christmas, Syncretism, and Presumption
In Genesis 49:22, within the chapter that records Jacob's final words to his sons, God prophesies that Joseph will be growth-oriented, restive, not content with the status quo.
This is a difficult passage, so many of its words having more than one meaning. Young, in his literal translation, renders the Hebrew this way: "Joseph [is] a fruitful son, a fruitful son by a fountain: daughters overstep the wall." Here certainly is a description of the fecundity of Joseph: both his immense population and his material abundance. Here too, however, is almost certainly a description of the inclination of Joseph's daughters—the modern nations of Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States—to overclimb walls. Like an ivy plant not content to remain in its place, Joseph grows up wall and chimney, invading walkway and gazebo, re-rooting itself all over lawn and garden.
Globalism (Part Three): America Runs Over the Wall
Numbers 23:9—God's vision of Israel as spoken by the mouth of Balaam—sets us on the right path to finding Joseph's walls, the bounds of his habitations. God describes Israel as "a people dwelling alone, not reckoning itself among the nations." Clearly, God does not envision Israel integrated into the world. Rather, He has always wanted Israel to be separated from it. This vision has a number of applications, one certainly pertaining to the moral sanctification God intends Israel to display in the Millennium. God's vision for Israel is a people distinct from all others—His people, not partaking of the curses of this world's international intrigues, imbroglios, poverty, disease, etc. As we know, those days are yet to come.
Relevant to national Israel today, however, the passage likely has geographic significance. God fulfilled His vision of an isolated Israel by situating some Israelites in England, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand—on islands. (Australia is a continent-sized island.) He located America and Canada in the New World, effectively isolating them from other major nations by vast oceans. By doing so, God insulated Israel from the world.
In other scriptures, God is more specific about modern-day Israel's boundaries. When he addresses Israel in prophecies that have clear, latter-day application, He refers to Israel as residing at the coasts (or coastlands) and in the isles. Additionally, Israel dwells in the north and west. Taking Jerusalem as the geographic starting point, Israel will reside to the north and west of the Middle East in the time of the end. Here are a few passages.
» Hosea 11:10: In context, God is prophesying about Ephraim's return—from the west—to his inheritance. (Often God uses Ephraim as an emblem for all Israel, much as the word Washington often refers to the United States as a whole.)
» Isaiah 49:1, 8-13: Again, God is describing His re-gathering of Israel. The "coastlands" and "people from afar" (verse 1) may refer to the lands of Israelites living in the southern hemisphere (see also Isaiah 41:1). Others will return "from the north and the west" (verse 12).
» Jeremiah 3:12: God tells Jeremiah to "Go and proclaim these words toward the north and say,
'Return, backsliding Israel. . . .'" This cannot refer to the ancient Kingdom of Israel, north of Judah, for it was already in captivity long before Jeremiah's day. God is telling Jeremiah to go further north and warn His apostate people.
» Jeremiah 31:7-10: God promises He will save His people residing in the north (verse 8). Those of His people in the "isles afar off" (verse 10) are probably those of New Zealand and Australia.
Joseph runs "over the wall" when he attempts to extend his influence beyond the isolated lands God gave him. This extension of influence can be cultural, economic, and even military. From a modern policy perspective, America stays within her walls as long as she follows a national policy of isolationism—remaining isolated from foreign nations as much as possible. When America follows a course of internationalism—the doctrine that it is proper to intervene (passively or even militarily) in other nations' affairs—she usually starts to overclimb the walls God established for her.
It is fair to see American history as a slow march from isolationism to internationalism. That is, America started out isolated, purposefully distinct from other nations. Ever so slowly, though, she began to take an internationalist stance, overclimbing the wall, until she finally became deeply entangled in the military and economic affairs of the world's nations.
Globalism (Part Three): America Runs Over the Wall
Genesis 49:22 predicts regarding Joseph, Jacob's son through Rachel, "Joseph is a fruitful bough, a fruitful bough by a well; his branches run over the wall." Joseph, modern Britain and America, is prophesied to be an unusually prosperous people whose influence spreads far and wide beyond their home locations. At the end time, they have been at the forefront of spreading the "wine of the wrath of her fornication" by means of their cultural influences.
Meanwhile in their homelands, Satan has convinced most Britons and Americans that everybody, regardless of personal beliefs and conduct, is worshipping the same God, the God of true Christianity! What mass confusion and a horrific influence this has been. In doing this, they make God to be a sovereign over mass confusion, unconcerned about what people believe about Him or how they worship Him. They make Him into a God with no purpose for His human creation except a vague concept of somehow "saving" them, whatever that means!
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beast and Babylon (Part Six): The Woman's Character
Probably the easiest peoples to identify are those descended from the tribe of Joseph, that is, the peoples of Ephraim and Manasseh. The reason is their wealth. Remember, God chose Ephraim and Manasseh to be the recipients of the birthright blessing, as recorded in Genesis 48. As the "birthright" tribes, Ephraim and Manasseh eventually received the great physical blessings God mentions through Jacob in Genesis 49:22-26 and through Moses in Deuteronomy 33:13-17.
Ephraim, basically the Angles and Saxons, roamed around in Northern Europe, eventually invading England in AD 449. In the course of time, some Ephraimites migrated to Canada, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, and other nations of the now-defunct British Empire. Ephraim grew to become that "company of nations" God promised would descend from Jacob (Genesis 35:11); more particularly, the British peoples became that "multitude of nations" Jacob prophesied would descend from Ephraim (Genesis 48:19). The peoples of the British Empire (and, later, the Commonwealth) are the "ten thousands of Ephraim" who Moses, speaking of Ephraim and Manasseh together, said would "push the peoples to the ends of the earth" (Deuteronomy 33:17).
Britain grew slowly, protected by her geography and by the hand of God, who, more than once miraculously saved her from destruction. Her power grew slowly, as if by fits and starts. All that changed, however, in the early 1800s, when the 2,520-year punishment had reached its term. God was now prepared to bestow the birthright blessings on Ephraim. After defeating the French dictator Napoleon at Waterloo in AD 1815, Britain virtually redrew the boundaries of Europe. Never before had a European nation wielded such unquestioned control over the Continent as a whole—and got away with it for so long.
Moses prophesied that Joseph would "push the peoples to the ends of the earth" (Deuteronomy 33:17). Push is exactly what England did, for the birthright blessings included far more than domination over Europe. They included economic (and in some cases, political and military) dominance over much of the world. Answering the call of the "white man's burden," the British, through its maritime supremacy, created a worldwide Empire an order of magnitude larger than that of Rome. Her folk pushed to India, Africa, North (and, to a lesser degree, South) America, China, Australia, New Zealand, and various islands around the globe.
Britain's Empire came to include a number of African nations, some South American ones, many Caribbean islands, as well as many of the islands of Oceania—and, of course, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and India! Moreover, Britain maintained a heavy economic influence over China for years. It was a fact—the sun never set on the British Empire.
As time went by, Britain assumed control of a large number of "gates" located in or near her enemies' territories, this in fulfillment of Genesis 22:17 and 24:60. These strategic positions placed her, geopolitically, on the "top of the world," ensuring her of military and commercial hegemony. Here is a partial list of these valuable gates:
» The Suez Canal
» The Straits of Hormuz (below Iran)
» The Straits of Gibraltar
» The Straits of Malacca and the Singapore Strait (off the Malay Peninsula)
» The Falkland Islands (off Argentina)
» The Cape of Good Hope (at the southern tip of Africa)
» The Kabul Pass (a land gate in Afghanistan)
» The island nation of Malta (in the Mediterranean Sea)
Finally, Britain is ruled by a descendant of the Davidic monarchy. The throne of David, according to the prophet Jeremiah, would rule over the "house of Israel" (Jeremiah 33:17), not over some Gentile peoples. David's throne—overthrown (Ezekiel 21:27) from Jerusalem to Ireland and later to Scotland—now resides in England. Since God states that "the scepter shall not depart from Judah" (Genesis 49:10), sitting on that throne is a monarch who is of the lineage of David. That monarch rules over Israelites, not Gentiles.
Searching for Israel (Part Ten): Clues and Answers
Why did God choose to bestow the birthright blessing to Joseph? Deuteronomy 33:16 provides the key to the answer. Moses writes, "Let the blessing come on the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of him who was separate from his brothers."
God honored Joseph because he "was separate from his brothers." He was separate in that he alone remained faithful to his God. Conspicuous by their absence are the names of Joseph's brothers from the Faith Chapter. Hebrews 11 does not mention Reuben, Judah, Dan, Gad, or any other of Jacob's sons. Verse 22 emphasizes Joseph's faithfulness: "By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the departure of the children of Israel, and gave instructions concerning his bones" (Genesis 50:22-26)
Allaying his brothers' fears of retribution and revenge, Joseph explained his understanding that God had placed him in power in Egypt "to preserve a posterity for you in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance" (Genesis 45:7). To his dying day, he never broke faith with his brothers: As recorded in Genesis 50:20-21, he reassures them of their well-being after their father's death:
But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. Now therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.
Nor did he ever break faith with his God. Dying, he reminded his brothers that God would bring their posterity out of Egypt, restoring them "to the land of which He swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob" (Genesis 50:24).
The two sons of Joseph received the birthright blessings because their father was separate, ethically and morally, from his perfidious, scheming brothers. His brothers exhibited few scruples concerning killing Joseph, forswearing murder only when they saw the opportunity to profit from selling him into slavery. Compounding their despicable and abject turpitude, they darkened their father's days by sustaining the ruse of Joseph's death for more than a decade. See Genesis 34 for a fine example of cunning deception, ruthless murder, and rapacious greed on the part of Simeon and Levi in the affair of their sister Dinah with Shechem, a Hivite prince living in Canaan at that time.
What a paradox! Today, Ephraim and Manasseh have used the wealth and influence God gave them because of Joseph's faithfulness to push on Gentile nations a way of life totally contrary to God's way. Rather than separating from the ways of this world, as their father Joseph did, modern-day Ephraim and Manasseh push globalism, another term for the Babylonian system of "get," on the whole world. Sifted among the nations, Joseph subverts those around him rather than serving as an example of godliness to the Gentiles.
Searching for Israel (Part Eleven): Manasseh Found
2 Samuel 7:11-16
Here is an unconditional promise: "Your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you. Your throne shall be established forever" (verse 16). Speaking of Solomon, David's son who was later to build the Temple his father had proposed (verses 12-13), God says that His "mercy shall not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I removed from before you" (verse 15).
The prophet Jeremiah reaffirms that David's throne will rule Israel, and will do so forever: "For thus says the LORD: 'David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel'" (Jeremiah 33:17). Jeremiah's prophecy, which in context is part of a prophecy about Israel in the Millennium, emphasizes that there will always be a monarch ruling "the house of Israel." David's throne, the authority of his dynasty, is not limited to the tribe of Judah, whence David himself sprang, but extends over the entire house of Israel (see also II Chronicles 5:2). We should not expect, therefore, to find David's dynasty in a Gentile nation; God says it will rule Israel.
The promise of an eternal throne—an everlasting dynasty—is a reaffirmation of what Jacob by faith had come to understand centuries before. Speaking of Judah's descendents in the "last days," he prophesied that "the scepter shall not depart from Judah" (Genesis 49:10). There would be a period of time when Judah would not bear rule. However, once God placed the scepter in Judah's hand, we can expect that the house of David would rule ever after. Clearly, God placed the scepter in David's hand. We can therefore count on David's dynasty to rule over Israel in perpetuity.
The same faith that worked in Jacob was at work in David when he speaks confidently of God's steadfast love to his posterity. In Psalm 89:35-37, David says that God has "sworn by My holiness; I will not lie to David: His seed shall endure forever, and His throne as the sun before Me; it shall be established forever like the moon, even like the faithful witness in the sky. Selah."
God's promise of power to David and His promise of wealth to Joseph are not contradictory, for there is an important distinction between the birthright and the scepter. As we saw in the previous issue, God chose Joseph—specifically, Ephraim and Manasseh—to be the recipients of the great physical blessings associated with the birthright. We see this specifically in Jacob's blessing of Joseph's boys, recorded in Genesis 48:12-20, as well as the blessings listed in Deuteronomy 33:13-17. To use Jacob's words, the birthright blessing would be "up to the utmost bound of the everlasting hills" (Genesis 49:26). This is a promise of great wealth and prosperity.
God chose Judah, however, to serve as the scepter tribe, that is, the tribe that would bear rule over the descendants of Abraham. The psalmist Asaph writes that God "rejected the tent of Joseph, and did not choose the tribe of Ephraim, but chose the tribe of Judah, Mount Zion which He loved" (Psalm 78:67-68).
Asaph pinpoints David as the first king to come out of Judah: "He also chose David His servant, and took him from the sheepfolds; from following the ewes that had young He brought him, to shepherd Jacob His people, and Israel His inheritance" (verses 70-71).
Searching for Israel (Part Four): The Kingdom and the Key
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