Esau was the eldest of the twin sons of Isaac and Rebecca. Jacob was the other twin, who later became Israel. Although Esau was the first of the twins born, Jacob grabbed his heel while he was still in the womb. Symbolically, this meant he would always seek to have the rights that were traditionally given to his firstborn brother.
The name Esau means “hairy.” His story reveals that he was a man of the world, a hunter. He might have been a very handsome man but it is never stated that he ever prayed. He was the original Marlboro macho man: one who had no room in his life for God. Some men are like Esau today—they expect to receive benefits from God without serving Him. Hebrews 12:16 describes Esau as a “profane” man. The term refers to “that which may be trodden down.” It is an ancient reference to the sacred ground around the temple that was public and commonly trampled down underfoot. It was not holy ground. “Profane” describes a person of bad character.
When we read the story of Esau and how he sold his birthright, it should be a wake-up call. The birthright in Israel was determined by primogenitor, the right of the firstborn son to the father’s inheritance. The firstborn male was entitled to inherit twice as much as any sons born later. This patriarchal blessing included a plea to God to confer wealth, honor and respect (Gen. 27:28-29). But to Esau, the only value of his birthright was what he could trade it for. No one sells their birthright by accident. It must be done deliberately. Esau sold cheap what should have been his special treasure: the promise of all the future blessings of God.
For Believers, our spiritual birthright is our right to inherit the kingdom of God by accepting Christ. Because our birthright is so precious, it must never be treated cheaply. When you sell out to Satan, you’ve sold everything. Many men feel their godly ancestry will save them. Esau had godly parents and godly grandparents as well. But such relatives guarantee nothing spiritually. Knowing and serving God is an individual choice and cannot be passed down as an heirloom from generation to generation.
The Hittites had adopted Egyptian gods and goddesses, therefore the Hebrews were forbidden by God to associate with them. The false Hittite god named Artemis is believed to have later become the goddess Diana of Ephesus. But the Hittites had other false gods: gods of the sun, gods of war and gods of the mountains. They were saturated and enamored by nature worship. When Esau was about forty, he married two Hittite women. To marry ungodly women was to marry outside the covenant God had established. Esau knew better, for his parents disapproved of these marriages (Genesis 26:35). Some see it as a small thing to date unsaved persons. But God doesn’t view it as insignificant, for when you date the unsaved you open yourself to their warped theology. It is always spiritually detrimental.
Since Esau had already been disobedient to God’s commands, it was easy for him to make a bad trade with his brother. He deliberately “despised” his birthright. Esau said, “Of what value is this birthright to me? Let me gulp down some of this soup right now.” He had more regard for temporal food than for eternal sustenance (v. 32). Jacob did not cheat him, Esau simply traded it as something that was worthless.
For Esau, immediate gratification of his carnal desires was all that mattered and he sold his priceless birthright for a bowl of bean soup. Yet how many folks today sell out to Satan for even less? Many girls are attracted to a handsome man like Esau but overlook his irresponsible attitude toward God. Such girls live to regret their decision when he is unfaithful and leaves her with children he was too irresponsible to raise. A girl like this has posted her birthright on E-Bay.
Some overlook the sale of a birthright by saying, “It was an impulsive sin.” But does God see it that way? Esau should have known better. He had 37 years to repent of this trade before the time came for him to actually receive his inheritance. But he never did. If you treat the things of God cheap today, you won’t care about them tomorrow.
No one can really steal your spiritual birthright from you. You must sell it. And people can usually tell if it is for sale. Many years earlier, Jacob came to his aging father pretending to be Esau – and his father bestowed the blessing on Jacob instead. Though Jacob received the blessing by deception, his brother had fairly sold it to him. When he found out he had been deceived, Isaac trembled when he saw God at work in this situation. In the end, Jacob received the birthright and blessing instead of his brother. It is true that Jacob deceived his father, but the one who perseveres for the blessing of God usually receives it – one way or another. God always honors perseverance. This is what Jesus meant when He said “the violent take heaven by force” (Matthew 11:12). Though Esau begged to receive a blessing also (27:34), the damage had been done four decades ago (Genesis 26-27). Sinners always feel they deserve a blessing, regardless of how they view the things of God.
Had Esau valued what God values, he would not have lost his birthright. It was promised to him originally and perhaps that is what hurt. There are millions today in hell who could have had the birthright, but they sold it for a a few moments of pleasure. Never in the entire Word of God is anyone ever rewarded for treating spiritual things cheaply. Some sell out by ignoring the priceless things of God. They despise the only thing of any eternal value by giving God second place in their lives – which is no place at all.
We are told that Esau’s disappointment did not bring repentance—only anger. He sought for many years to kill Jacob for this. He seems to have forgotten it was his own fault. He was sorry he had made a bad trade years before, but we don’t know that Esau ever saw it as a personal sin against God. He complains he was victimized and seems to overlook the fact he brought it all on himself.
And many people today, having sold their birthright for little or nothing, complain to the Father that somehow they have been treated unfairly. If you go back to Genesis 25:33, you will find that it was a fair trade. Esau cheated himself and that is what really hurt. He had no one else to blame. When you pawn your birthright for a few bucks at Satan’s hock shop, life only gets worse.
One might argue that this is an Old Testament story and has little significance four thousand years later. But for us in the New Testament, our birthright is to receive and to serve Christ as our Savior. This right carries with it all the blessings of eternity. Never sell it. Value and treasure Jesus far above anything else. He is the Pearl of Great Price (Matthew 13:46).
What are the lessons in this story?
- Esau was sorry, but it was too late. (Hebrews 12:16)
- Though it is easy to trade off your birthright, it may be impossible to regain it.
- It is too late to really understand the true value of your birthright once you sell it.
- Esau had many years to repent of his sin, but he never did.
- It was his own fault that his brother received what he could have received.
- There are many macho men in hell today.
- Esau felt he had to blame someone—but he never blamed himself.
- You can learn from this story….. or sell your birthright also.
The good news is that we can gain valuable insight from Esau’s sin. We can cherish our birthright above anything else. We can choose to serve the Lord with all our hearts. When we do, all the dynamic blessings of our priceless inheritance in heaven await us.
Points to Ponder
1. Using Biblical resources, list all the blessings included in a Jewish birthright.
2. Did Jacob deceive Esau….or was it Esau’s idea to make the trade (Gen. 25:30-33)?
3. How many years did Esau have to repent concerning selling his birthright?
4. How is Esau’s attitude toward his brother described (Gen. 25:34)?
5. What did Esau vow to do (Gen. 27:41)?
6. The word “profane” is used when referring to Esau. Define this word (Heb. 12:16).
7. In what ways can a Believer “sell” his or her birthright? What small compromises can lead to big mistakes?