Esau and Jacob: The Lesson We Can Learn from Esau
I was asked, why do people dislike/hate Esau? This ‘From the Pulpit’ lesson teaches us a very important lesson that we can all learn from Esau.
QUESTION I WAS ASKED: Why do people hate Esau?
Esau and Jacob: the twin brothers born to Isaac and Rebekah (Genesis 25:24-26). The story of both Esau and Jacob is one that most of us are familiar with because we have either heard it in church or somebody has shared the story with us at some point of time in our life. Recently I was asked a question, by a young woman, why do people hate (dislike) Esau? For me, this was very intriguing because she made the argument that Esau was a man who had been wronged by his brother. She made the argument that Jacob was not a good person, and that he could not be trusted due to being deceitful and manipulative.
Honestly, I have never really looked at the story from Esau’s point of view – not when I have read or studied their story. So, after talking with her, I played the story over and over in my head, opened up my Bible, and also read and studied. I came to the conclusion that there is a very good lesson for us to learn from Esau and that I must share such a lesson. My initial response to the young woman was that Esau was simply a fool – my response has not changed. However, I feel I need to go into greater detail to explain Esau’s foolish ways and teach about the lesson we can take away from him.
We are all very familiar with the fact that Esau gave up his birthright (over a bowl of red pottage). We are also familiar with the fact that Jacob “stole” the blessing that “belonged” to Esau. I used the quotation marks for a very specific reason when referencing the blessing. This was a point of contention for the young woman because she viewed the birthright and the blessing as two separate things. In both acts she felt that Jacob was in the wrong and that he was the one that was being the “bad guy”. Let’s look at the story and find the very important lesson that we must learn.
To start off, we need to understand what the birthright represents. The birthright belonged to the oldest son and included important rights, responsibilities, honors, and the inheritance one would receive by being their father’s oldest son. In the case of Esau and Jacob, we must remember the promise that the Lord had made to his grandfather, Abraham, and the promise that was passed down to his father, Isaac. The Lord promised Abraham that he would bless him, multiply his seed as the stars of heaven, and the sand on the beach. Also included in this covenant that the Lord made with Abraham was the promise that all the nations of the earth would be blessed (read Genesis 22:16-18). This covenant between the Lord and Abraham would have been passed on to Esau.
One of the first points of contention in the young woman’s thought was that she felt it was wrong of Jacob to manipulate and deceive his brother over the birthright. If you’re not familiar with how Jacob took the birthright from Esau, you can read Genesis 25:29-34. Esau had been out in the fields when he came to Jacob, who had made some red pottage. Esau asked for some of the pottage – this is when Jacob saw the opportunity to get what he wanted – the birthright. Jacob was unashamed about his want of the birthright. Why did he want the birthright so badly?
Let’s understand what the birthright truly was
Isaac was a wealthy man. Isaac’s father, Abraham, was also a man of wealth. I believe Jacob wanted that inheritance. Whether or not Esau or Jacob knew of God’s covenant with their father, and grandfather, is not shown prior to Esau selling his birthright. Personally, I believe the twins would have been told by Isaac about the covenant that God had made with him. I feel that Jacob wanted everything that came with the birthright, but Esau did not care much for his birthright – in fact, it is said that he despised the birthright (Genesis 25:34). This much is made clear when he opted to sell his birthright over a bowl of pottage instead of seeking other means to feed his stomach. Was Jacob wrong for bartering for the birthright?
When you see something you want, do you go for it? Jacob saw the greater blessing of the birthright and he went for it. Jacob looked at his brother, seen that his brother did not want his birthright, and decided to go for it. Esau could have easily told his brother, “no deal!” Esau could have gone to Rebekah, his mother, to see if she would prepare something for him – he did not. Esau sold his inheritance, sold the responsibilities, sold the honor, and he sold God’s covenant – he didn’t think much of God’s covenant?
The biggest error that Esau could have made was the fact that he did not think much of the fullness of the birthright. Tied into the birthright would have been the rights, the responsibilities, the honor, the inheritance, and it would have also included God’s covenant (the greater blessing). Esau, for whatever reason, thought of the birthright as being unimportant. I ask, would you have given up this birthright?
The next thing that bothered the young woman was how Jacob deceived an elderly Isaac into giving him the blessing. Again, she felt that Jacob was the “bad guy” for this deception and taking what belonged to Esau. I will not argue against the fact that Jacob was manipulative and a deceiver – he was certainly a manipulator and a deceiver. However, in the case of the blessing, it was not his idea to ‘steal’ the blessing.
Rebekah came up with the plan for Jacob to obtain his father’s blessing. What is often missed in the story about the twins is that the Lord told Rebekah what was to come of her twin sons when they were in her womb. While in her womb, Esau and Jacob wrestled one another – this is confirmed by the Lord in Genesis 25:22-23. The Lord tells Rebekah, “two nations are in your womb; and the one people will be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger.”
When Rebekah heard that Isaac was going to give the blessing to Esau, she knew that the blessing was promised, by the Lord, to go to the younger son (Genesis 27:5-13). The Lord spoke with Rebekah about this, not with Isaac. Rebekah made the plan, Jacob certainly did not argue against the plan, and carried out the plan to obtain his father’s blessing. It is often described that Jacob ‘stole’ the blessing, but I don’t feel he stole the blessing. Why? Esau gave up the right of receiving the blessing when he decided to give up his birthright. While the selling of his birthright and the obtaining of the blessing were two separate events, the one ties to the other. Esau lost the right, the honor, to receive the blessing by selling his birthright. Esau was no longer the rightful heir to receive the blessing – Jacob was the rightful heir and Esau would have known this. This is not the only time that the younger brother supplanted the older brother’s birthright in the bible.
Joseph, one of the sons of Jacob, would later supplant Reuben by birthright (Genesis 49:3-4, 1 Chronicles 5:1-2). Another great birthright supplanting would later come between Adonijah and Solomon – David’s sons. King David’s three oldest sons had perished and the birthright had fallen down to Adonijah. Adonijah was the older brother of Solomon and by birthright he had a rightful claim to be David’s successor as king of Israel. However, the promise from the Lord was that Solomon would succeed David as king of Israel. While Adonijah had the birthright, David ended up blessing the younger son – Solomon – and named him as his successor.
Isaac gave the blessing to Jacob. Even when he found out that he had been deceived, he did not take away that blessing. What was this blessing? We need to understand what this blessing was. The blessing was a prayer that tied into the birthright. Isaac prayed (Genesis 27:28) that the Lord give Jacob the dew of heaven, the fatness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine. Isaac prayed (Genesis 27:29) that the Lord would let people serve Jacob, and that nations would bow down to him. His prayer also included that his brothers, and mother’s sons, would bow to him.
Again, this tied in with the promise of the birthright because it is a prayer about what one would receive through the birthright. As I said before, Esau would have received a great inheritance along with the covenant that God had made with Abraham and Isaac. The problem is that Esau gave up that birthright, so it would have made no sense for him to receive such a blessing/prayer from Isaac – it was no longer rightfully his to receive.
So, what is the take away from all of this? The young woman concluded her thought by saying that Esau was not as bad as people make him out to be, “because he was still blessed”. Esau would end up being married to two women of the land of Canaan – while this was not forbidden at the time, his father and grandfather was against marriage to the women of Canaan. Esau did go on to be the father of the Edomites. However, Esau missed out on the greater blessing because he viewed the greater blessing, which came from God, as being unimportant and he sold it.
Lesson – Do not think it unimportant what God has for you. Don’t give up what God has for you!
We should never take lightly what the Lord has for us. Let me repeat this again – never take lightly what the Lord has for you. By being the oldest son, Esau was guaranteed to be in line to receive a great inheritance and the promise. Esau, on the other hand, sold his birthright and even swore to Jacob when he gave up his birthright over a bowl of pottage.
The young woman argued that it was wrong of Jacob to take advantage of Esau when he was in a weakened state. A lesson we often learn in this life is that nobody cares whether or not you are in a weakened state. People, like predators, are always looking for an advantage. If people do it, you better believe the great deceiver, Satan, and his minions are always looking to try and take advantage of you. Satan, like a roaring lion (1 Peter 5:8), waits until you’re at your weakest to try and attack. Remember this: Satan tempted Jesus (Matthew 4:1-11) after Jesus had been fasting for forty days!
You cannot give up on the Lord or what He has for you – even when you feel weak! When Satan went to try Job, he went to beg the Lord to take the hedges, the shield, down (Job 1:10-12). The Apostle Paul cried out three times about the thorn in his flesh. The Lord answered and told Paul (2 Corinthians 12:9), “my grace is sufficient for you: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” What God has for you is of great importance – you should take it to be important. We cannot be like Esau and think nothing of what God has promised us.
What has God promised us? God has promised us a heavenly home where evil does not exist, the problems and worries of today do not exist. God has promised us a heavenly home where we will be able to dwell in His glory for all of eternity. While we are here in this world, God tells us that He will dwell in us and be with us at all times. God promises to give us the desires of our heart and to supply us all of our needs. God promises to forgive us and wash us clean of all iniquities, unrighteousness, and sin. We should not view these promises as being unimportant.
History does not look back on Esau too kindly because we realize what it was that he gave up – a greater blessing. In Hebrews 12:16, the writer calls Esau a profane person for selling his birthright for a morsel of meat. Esau traded the Lord, something sacred, for something to put into his stomach – that’s how unimportant the greater blessing was to him. We as Christians, as believers in the heavenly promise, must be aware of how we treat the promise of the Lord – do not treat it as if it is not significant or important. The nonbeliever does not find the promise of the Lord to be important or significant; they actually feel it is either a lie or a joke – they have become a profane person.
I explained to the young woman that Esau had sinned against the Lord – she did not see how or where in the Bible he had sinned against God. She felt that because he had received a blessing, and had become a nation of people as well, that he had done no wrong – she felt that the Lord had still blessed Esau. It is not my place to say what the final judgment of Esau was from the Lord, but there is something to say about who the Lord chooses to bless.
Solomon, in his studies of trying to live without God, saw that all things come to both the righteous and to the wicked (Ecclesiastes 9:2) – that’s life, right? Jesus said (Luke 6:35), “[the Lord] is kind to the unthankful and evil.” We must understand that the Lord gives to both the believer and the nonbeliever – He blesses us all. However, there is a greater blessing that only those that believe can receive – eternal life in His house.
So, let’s stop right here. Here’s the lesson, again, do not think the Lord’s greater blessing to be unimportant – especially because you think yourself to be doing well in this life. Do not ignore the lesson of Esau. Esau missed out on the greater blessing, let us not miss out on the greater blessing of God.