By David Faust
Sellouts come in many forms. Judas betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. Benedict Arnold defected to the British army. No one admires the ballplayer who takes money to throw a game, the politician who steals from public coffers, or the businessman who cheats shareholders to benefit himself.
Satan is a bargainer who tempts us to sell out. He whispers, “Go ahead, a little pornography won’t hurt you,” or “Keep your faith to yourself; you don’t want anyone to think you’re weird.”
The book of Genesis focuses on notable families led by individuals renowned for their faith: Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. Woven through these stories of faith, however, are accounts of human failure, such as Noah’s drunkenness, Abraham’s deceit, Sodom and Gomorrah’s immorality, and the treachery of Joseph’s brothers. Genesis 25 tells about a notorious sellout: the fateful deal Esau made with Jacob.
A Treasured Possession
Jacob and Esau were rivals from birth. Esau emerged from the womb first, “red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment.” Then Jacob followed “with his hand grasping Esau’s heel” as if he were trying to trip his brother (Genesis 25:25, 26).
The brothers were twins, but they certainly weren’t identical. Rough-cut Esau was an outdoorsman and a skilled hunter. Shrewd Jacob stayed home and helped run the family business, tending sheep. Complicating matters further, their parents showed favoritism. Their father, Isaac, liked to eat wild game, so he favored the hunter, Esau. Their mother, Rebekah, preferred her quieter son, Jacob.
Esau was entitled to certain benefits because he was the firstborn, including the right to succeed his father as head of the family and receive a double portion of the inheritance. Where two brothers were involved, upon the father’s death the firstborn would receive two-thirds of the estate and the younger brother would receive one-third.
One day Esau came home exhausted and hungry and found his brother stirring some delicious-looking red stew. Jacob agreed to give him some stew, but at a high price: “First sell me your birthright,” he said. Esau’s appetite overpowered his common sense. “Look, I am about to die,” he answered impatiently (in all probability exaggerating the seriousness of his hunger). “What good is the birthright to me?” (vv. 29-32).
A Short-Sighted Decision
The entire transaction took only a few minutes. Esau took an oath and sold his birthright to Jacob in exchange for some bread and lentil stew.
Esau has gone down in history as a tragic figure. He was so undisciplined and short-sighted that he traded his birthright for a bowl of chili. The Bible bluntly states, “He ate and drank, and then got up and left. So Esau despised his birthright” (v. 34). The meal didn’t take long to eat, but it had long-lasting repercussions. Esau enjoyed a few moments of immediate gratification, but in the process he forfeited his future.
Unfortunately most of us can relate to his story. Have your physical appetites ever gotten you into trouble? Have you ever made an impulsive decision that felt good in the short term but cost you dearly in the long run?
Christians are “heirs of God” (Romans 8:16, 17). Our family birthright is something to treasure and protect. Why would we ever sell it for a bowl of stew?
David Faust serves as the Associate Minister at East 91st Street Christian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana.
The Lookout’s Bible Reading Plan for January 11, 2015
Use this guide to read through the Bible in 12 months. Follow David Faust’s comments on the highlighted text in every issue of The Lookout.
Genesis 25, 26
Genesis 27, 28
Genesis 29, 30