Don't Despise Your Birthright (Genesis 25:29-34)
Topic: One Truth: Walk in Truth Passage: Genesis 25:29–34
I. The Specifics of Your Birth
If someone asked you for the specifics of your birth, what would you share? What information would you include? When you were born? Where you were born? To whom you were born? Maybe how much you weighed, or your birthday? As you think about those specifics, also thinking about this: which specifics of your birth would you be less likely to share, for whatever reason? This morning, we have the incredible privilege of coming once again to God's word. So let's bring this conversation to him as we open his word. If you haven't done so already, turn with me to Genesis 25. We'll be thinking together this morning about verses 29-34.
II. The Passage: “Sell Me Your Birthright” (22:1-14)
Before we read this short account, let me remind you that the men depicted in this story are the grandsons of Abraham. Our previous study focused on Abraham's faith, and how it was demonstrated so powerfully when God called him to sacrifice his son Isaac. Well, as you probably remember from your time in the word this past week, Isaac became the father of Esau and Jacob, the two men we're going to read about in this story. Listen to 25:29-34...
Once when Jacob was cooking stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was exhausted.  And Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stew, for I am exhausted!” (Therefore his name was called Edom.)[since Edom sounds like the Hebrew word for “red”]
Let's stop for just a minute. Esau coming “in from the field” shouldn't be strange to us, since the verses right before this revealed this about Esau (this is vs. 27–28):
When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents.  Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.
So after what was probably a long day of hunting, Esau, the older brother, is exhausted and hungry. It's important to point out that the writer here connects this red stew with Esau's nickname, Edom. This origin story would have been significant for the first readers of Genesis (the descendants of Jacob) because it was a reminder to them the Edomites were actually part of their larger family, the family of Abraham. So look at how Jacob responds to Esau's request...
[verse 31] Jacob said, “Sell me your birthright now.” [to be clear, Jacob wants his brother to trade his birthright as the firstborn son for a bowl of stew. Yikes. But surprisingly, look at the next verse] [verse 32] Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?”  Jacob said, “Swear to me now.” So he swore to him and sold his birthright to Jacob.  Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank and rose and went his way. [now please don't miss the commentary added by the original writer] Thus Esau despised his birthright.
Now, if you had to explain this story to someone who was unfamiliar with the Bible, how would you describe its significance? One thing you would want to consider is how this short account fits into the context, both its immediate context, as well as the broader context of Scripture. If you were to do that, you may do a word search and look for all the place Esau is mentioned in the Bible. Interestingly, that name appears 97 times in the Old Testament, and 3 times in the New Testament. Outside of Genesis, almost every OT reference to Esau is usually a reference to his land or the people descended from him. In the NT, the three instances of his name appear in Romans 9, Hebrews 11, and Hebrews 12. Listen to what we read in Hebrews 12 about Isaac's firstborn son. This is Hebrews 12:15–17...
See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; [See to it] that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal.  For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.
So you may recognize that last incident as the story recorded in Genesis 27, when Jacob also takes Esau's blessing by pretending to be his brother in the presence of his almost-blind father Isaac. But I simply want you to notice that the author of Hebrews emphasizes here the same thing that the writer in Genesis points out: (Genesis 25) “Esau despised his birthright”, therefore, (Hebrews 12) don't be “unholy like Esau”. Do you see that?
But what exactly does that mean, “See to it... that no one is... unholy like Esau”? Is this just a warning to firstborn children in cultures where birth order affords you certain benefits; a warning to safeguard your birthright from those who might want to take advantage of you? Let's be honest, Jacob was taking advantage of his brother, wasn't he? He lied in order to steal Esau's blessing in chapter 27, but that was preceded by this troubling incident in chapter 25. Both are revealing when it comes to Jacob's character.
But Esau isn't simply the victim here, is he? Did you notice his flair for the dramatic? Look back at verse 32. When Jacob asks for his birthright, Esau replies, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” Okay. I'm pretty sure Esau was not actually about to die. But his temporary discomfort was tempting him to exaggeration. And even worse, it tempted him to elevate the pains of his stomach over the blessings of his birthright. Now, that should be troubling to us. But can you imagine how ancient readers, those much more familiar with the birthright privileges of that culture, can you imagine how they would have reacted to Esau's words? How could they not arrive at the same conclusion as the writer here: “Thus Esau despised his birthright.”
In light of the broader context, let me suggest a broader diagnosis of Esau's actions here; a diagnosis that helps us understand why the author of Hebrews labels him, “unholy”. I think we could say that Esau neglected the fact that God was sovereign over the specifics of his birth. It's absolutely critical that God be part of the discussion here. Why? Because what is true about God and about every family is especially true about this family. What have we learned from our readings? We've learned that the one, true God not only revealed himself to Abraham, but that he also promised incomparable blessing, covenant blessing, to him and through his family line for all the earth.
Does that stunning fact factor into Esau's thinking here as the firstborn son? Does faith in God's promise seem to inform how Esau lives his life? Does he rebuke Jacob for even suggesting that he sell his birthright... let alone for a bowl of stew? Sadly, the answer is a resounding “no”.
If Esau had simply asked, “Why was I born into this family? Why was I born first? Why here? Why now?”, he may have treasured his birthright, instead of seeing God's blessing as just a notch above worthless; an attitude proven by this simple story.
III. Flesh and Promise
So as we think about what God might be saying to us through this brief account, let's go back to the question I asked a few minutes ago: “Is this just a warning to firstborn children in cultures where birth order affords you certain benefits; a warning to safeguard your birthright from those who might want to take advantage of you?” Well, on one level, it could be applied that way. But remember our broader indictment of Esau: Esau neglected the fact that God was sovereign over the specifics of his birth. And so you took what God counted as precious and treated it as worthless. Brothers and sisters, friends, that's something we should consider as well.
Now to do that, I think we should let the Apostle Paul guide us when it comes to thinking about our 'birthright... your birthright, my ''birthright'. What's fascinating is that I believe Paul does that very thing one of those three NT passages that mentions Esau. Turn with me to Romans 9. In describing his heart for his people, and his anguish over their rejection of Jesus as Messiah, Paul wants to make it clear that he treasures his Jewish roots. Look at verses 4 and 5...
They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises.  To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.
So for Paul, he has a physical birthright of which he is not ashamed. Though he regularly ran into Jews who despised him and his so-called Messiah, Paul never despised his heritage. He was sensitive to and grateful for the fact that God was sovereign over the specifics of his birth.
Are you like Paul in that way? Sure, your family identity or cultural identity may be very important to you, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. I was talking with my dad the other day, and he mentioned that on his mother's side, there was a distant relative named Casper Glattfelder. When I looked up that name, I found a Casper Glattfelder association that hosts regular family reunions in Pennsylvania. Now, I'm not planning on traveling to the East coast anytime soon, but that kind of family or cultural identity is just one aspect of what I have in mind. There's more regarding the specifics of your birth, right?
I think what's even more relevant is to ask, “Why was I born into this or that family? Why God?” or, “Why this mom... or dad... or brother... or sister?” or, “Why was I born in that town or city?” or, “Why was I born speaking this language? Why God?... (or) Why with this physical disability... (or) in this generation... (or) with this privilege or advantage... (or) into this dysfunctional situ... (or) with this skin color... (or) as fast or slow, average or above average, or male, or female?” But where should such questions lead us? To an acknowledgment that God was sovereign over the specifics of your birth. You are not an accident; neither are the specifics of your birth.
But there's another birthright Paul touches on in Romans 9. Let's continue reading, picking up in verse 6. Remember, Paul is reflecting on why so many Jews rejected Jesus. He writes in v. 6...
But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel,  and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.”  This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.  For this is what the promise said: [this is from Genesis 18] “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.”  And not only so, but [and this is from Genesis 25] also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac,  though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— she was told, “The older will serve the younger.”  As it is written, [Mal. 1:2] “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
So what does this have to do with our conversation about birthright? Well, obviously there's an explicit reference here to Genesis 25 and the story of Esau and Jacob's birth. But notice what Paul is emphasizing in these verses. There are “children of the flesh” and there are “children of the promise”, and each has a kind of birthright. If you believe God was sovereign over the specifics of your birth (which he was), then you should also trust that He was sovereign over the specifics of your new birth; by grace, through faith. Though Paul is talking about Sarah, and Isaac, and Rebekah, and Esau, and Jacob here, he's leading up to (v. 11) “God's purpose of election” in terms of every Christian. As Paul will put in verse 24, “even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles”.
Paul could glory in his ethnic, ancestral glory as an Israelite, but that birthright didn't dominate his thinking. No. It always was viewed in light of his new birth according to God's choice, not Paul's. If there is glory in the specifics of verse 4 and 5, how much more glory is there in “the covenants” fulfilled, in “the adoption” fulfilled, and in “the law” fulfilled by “the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.”?
Thus, like Paul, this idea of birthright should point you back to God's sovereign purposes in the specifics of your births (plural!); your “of the flesh” birth, and your “of the promise” birth. But also like Paul, we need to always view the former in light of the latter.
For some of us, the specifics of our earthly birth are simply taken for granted. For others, those specifics are painful and better forgotten (at least that's what we might be tempted to believe). But God's call to each one of us who confesses Jesus as Lord is this: “See to it... that no one is... unholy like Esau”; that is, don't neglect the fact that God was sovereign over the specifics of either of your births. Here's what I mean practically...
You may have inherited wealth from your earthly family, but will you use it in light of the riches of your Father's glory? You may have been hurt by your earthly family, but will you forgive them in light of the forgiveness you've received; from the One, who by grace, made you part of his forever family? You may have been born into hard circumstance, in a hard neighborhood, but does that drive you to prayer for your old community? There may be tension and discord in your family and extended family, or maybe you've drifted apart, but are you thinking about and praying about how God might use you as a peacemaker? To share about the Prince of Peace? What congenital struggle might God want you to reconsider in light of his sovereignty? What suffering in light of his purposes? What advantage or privilege in light of his mission?
Brothers and sisters, friends, don't be like Esau. In light of your spiritual birth, don't treat as worthless or insignificant the specifics of your physical birth, especially the blessings. As in all things, let us count our blessings, and let us look for the blessings in disguise. Above all, let us do all for the sake of Jesus, “the seed of Abraham”, who alone makes us children of promise, & can bring healing, not only to our hearts, but to our homes; to all those we've known from birth.
More in Our Bible Reading Plan (2022-2023)
September 24, 2023Speak the Word with Boldness (Acts 4:23-31)
August 27, 2023Praying for God's People (Daniel 9:17-19)
August 20, 2023Daniel's 'Not of This World' Example (Daniel 1:8-17)