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Esau sells his birthright
Genesis 25: 19 – 34.
Rev. Charmaine Braatvedt      
13th July 2008

The story of Esau selling his birthright to Jacob can be understood on a number of levels.

  • It is a story of sibling rivalry and parental favouritism.
  • about the dangers of  being overly ambitious
  • It is a story that reveals to us that God uses flawed people to progress his plans and that he frequently reverses human rules to suit his plans.
  • It is a story about the mean spiritedness that is part of the human condition but
  • it is also a story about values and about the need to hold on to good and right God given values in life.

Esau and Jacob were non identical twins born to Rebekah, Isaac’s wife. They were born within seconds of each other, but Esau was the first born and as such was entitled to certain privileges.

The eldest son customarily received

·        a double portion in the division of the inheritance;

·        the right to lead the household and

·        the obligation to take on certain spiritual responsibilities on behalf of the family.

This was still the time before the advent of priests and so the spiritual responsibilities that the eldest son had were that he had:


·        to do temple service,

·        build the family’s altar and

·        officiate at its worship and sacrifice.

·        The eldest son also had to transmit God’s word and his promises to the family.


So it was that the firstborn’s inheritance had a strong spiritual component to it.

Now Esau was a hunter while Jacob was a farmer.

One day Esau suddenly appeared from one of his hunting excursions, hungry as, and asked Jacob for some of the red lentil stew/soup that Jacob was cooking up.

Jacob, ever the opportunist and uncooperative younger brother, played hard to get and demanded that Esau sell him his birthright first before he would hand over any of the delicious stew.

So far this will be quite familiar to most of you here, there is nothing particularly unusual in these family dynamics but,

then that the story takes a shocking turn as Esau makes a rash judgement and utters those outrageous words:

“What good is the birthright to me?”

With that he hands over his inheritance as first born to his younger twin brother, all for a bowl of lentil stew!!

I wonder whether any one of you has ever given up something that was rightfully yours?

Perhaps you did so for the common good.

 Perhaps you did so unselfishly for the good of someone else.

Whichever, I’m sure it was a very painful thing to do.

Esau’s decision to give up his birthright was made doubly more heart wrenching because he gave up something so very valuable, for a miserable bowl of stew.

He ripped himself off and he would live to regret it all the days of his life. And he seemed to do so without an ounce of remorse

The bible tells us that ‘he ate and drank and then got up and left’.

The passage concludes with the terse statement of judgement  that:

 “Esau despised his  birthright”.

And so the text focuses our attention on the unworthiness of what Esau has done and we are free to conclude that


  • was a short sighted man who had no insight into what he was giving away.
  • had flawed judgment in that he gives away something so valuable in exchange for so little.
  • Did not understand the spiritual value of his  birth right .
  • could not see beyond  his physical needs and thus he bartered away his unspeakably holy and precious privileges.
  • clearly had no respect for his inheritance. He had done nothing to earn it and consequently did not appreciate it.
  • Was a man who dashed through the needs of the moment and rejected the future for the present.
  • Had limited spiritual insight and so could give up the unseen for the seen.  
  • Had low emotional intelligence for he could not delay gratification in the interests of a more worthy cause.

“What good is a birthright if I have to wait for it?”

Some times we are too much like Esau in the choices we make, where we place our  priorities and what we value.

Sometimes we need to be reminded of what is really important in life lest like Esau we sell our souls for a figurative bowl of soup.

In Hebrews 9:15 we read:

 “For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance –”

Like Esau we who are followers of Christ are heirs to a spiritual inheritance that we have not earned.

It is has been given to us by grace and it is precious and it has eternal value.

And yet how easily we take for granted:

The faith we share through Christ and   which is the basis of our relationship with God,

our Christian tradition within the community of Christ’s Church

and the word of God which has been given to us through the Scriptures?

These three: Faith, the Church and the Scriptures are an inheritance that will ensure the wellbeing of our very souls.

Yet we so easily take it all for granted, or fail to value it or exchange it for a life style that is not nearly as worthy.  

In a book called Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul I read a story about a young man who turned 21.

He had asked his father for a motor car and when the day arrived his dad gave him a bible. He was so angry that he stormed out of the house.

He left the Bible unopened for years at the back of his cupboard. Neither he nor his father made mention of the bible again.

At some point many years later, after his dad had died, he had had a conversion experience and became a Christian. One day he was browsing through his stuff when he came across the Bible his dad had given him for his 21st. It was still unopened. Now he was ready to open it and as he did so, a cheque fell out of the pages of the bible, from his father, made out to him to cover the cost of a small car.

His father had understood something he had not understood that the spiritual inheritance we have as Christians far outweighs any material assets that the world can offer us.

“Seek ye first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added to you” The Bible teaches.

“For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?”

Now Esau’s behaviour and his choices are not that unusual. We have all been there, done that at some point in our lives. Esau sold his birthright . He should have gone hungry instead of selling out a fabulous future for a bowl of beans. We know that.

Yet we are as capable of following the same path in terms of what we value and hold dear.

It is good to remind ourselves that some of our most precious inheritances have come to us by grace and yet from time to time we exchange them for a miserable bowl of lentils.

What is your bowl of lentils today?

Each of us knows what our bowl of lentils is.

It is anything that each day comes ahead of seeking God’s will and walking with Him.

Our behaviour reveals our values.

What have you exchanged in your lives for something far less worthy?

For some it is tempting to exchange a stable home and a faithful partner for a liaison and infidelity.

For some the opportunity to live a Christian lifestyle is exchanged for pleasures of a life of worldly pleasure .

For some performing tasks at work takes precedence over time spent building relationships with the children or grandchildren.

For some we exchange the rich heritage and solid upbringing and good values we received from our parents for the cheap thrills the world can offer.

It is all too easy to get seduced by and become preoccupied by

·        the demands of work ,

·        by worldly pleasures like drugs , alcohol, consumerism ,

·        by feelings of envy, hate ,

·        by  our worries and fears,

than to focus on the things that are of true value.

In South Africa you can find something called fool’s gold. It is traces of gold coloured material in rocks and stones that lie near the surface, Fools Gold Iron Pyrite. used in the manufacture of sulphuric acid and sulphur dioxide; pellets of pressed pyrite dust have been used to recover iron, gold, copper, cobalt, nickel, etc.; used to make inexpensive jewellery. It can be confused with the real thing for a short time but very soon it becomes apparent that it is not real gold and is worthless.

Our human nature makes us susceptible to fool’s gold. We are not always able to discern what is truly valuable and so all too often we exchange our souls for something paltry as Esau did.

Yet we must learn to choose well. We must learn to recognise when to sacrifice, wait, endure, overcome, put up with hardship so that we might keep the better more worthy prize.

No matter how temporarily enjoyable and satisfying a choice may seem at any given moment we must learn to measure all our choices up against the eternal rewards God’s birthright promises to us.

So it is good from time to time to take stock of our lives, to prayerfully review where we are spending our time, our money and our resources and to ask the holy Spirit to guide us and enlighten us and to protect us from making rash and ill thought out choices which offer a quick fix to our problems and yet will cause us to despise the spiritual inheritance we receive

through faith in Jesus Christ;

through journeying in his Church and

through living our lives in accordance with the Word of God.

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