Bible Topics
in the Christian Library
Personalities Of The Old Testament
ESAU – Knowing What Matters Most
Hebrews 12:16

 1. Our lives are guided by the priorities we set. A multimillion dollar business has sprung up in our culture with the advent of “The Day-timer” log book. It operates from a simple point – set the priorities of each day and follow them and you will find success. The Bible clearly speaks about mankind setting the right priorities. ASK – What are some of the priorities the Bible stresses? Possible responses will include: seeking God and His Kingdom (Mt 6:33); loyalty to God above all others (Mt 10:34-39);  loving God before all others and then loving others as you love self (Mt 22:36, 38; Mk 7:8).

 The number one problem that mankind has faced, from Genesis through Revelation, is the failure to guide earthly life and choice by the right priorities!

 Setting priorities is critical to spiritual success (Josh 1:7ff). If we fail to set the right priorities we will never please God (Mt 6:2, 6). It is urgent that Christians constantly review their lives to make sure they are following the priorities of God and not Self (2 Co 13:5). There often comes times when each Christian must “rededicate” himself/herself to God’s priorities (1 Jn 1:6-10).

 Satan’s subtle strategy is to deceive us into following the wrong priorities in life. If we believe we are following God’s priorities then we can easily be led away from God and into error. This is a great danger and Christians need to guard against it (Hb 2:1-3). The man Esau offers an amazing lesson on setting the right priorities in life.

 The sale of his birthright (Gn 25:29-34) illustrates how one can lose sight of the right priorities in life. “In this transaction Esau is the marked man – the warning example to all ages. His conduct has given rise to the established expression which denotes the barter of honour and fame for some passing pleasure, some present satisfaction of gross appetite; and in a higher application it denotes that worldly temper by which a man parts with eternal treasures for the sake of the fleeting treasures of this present world. Esau may be regarded as the founder of the Epicurean sort, of all whose motto and philosophy of life is ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.’” (Joseph S. Exell, The Preacher’s Complete Homiletic Commentary, Vol 1, 532).

2. Discuss the general history of this incident (Gn 25:29-34).
 In this brief narrative we are shown the true characters of the twin brothers. Jacob, the youngest, was cunning. He crafted the situation to his advantage. Esau, the eldest, was impetuous and spontaneously turned to the quickest “feel-good” solution. As the elder brother, Esau was to receive the “birthright” of the family. This was a significant blessing that would place him as chief of the family. The birthright was very special. The birthright conferred the highest dignity possible in this time. 

 Jacob had developed a cunning scheme in order to secure the family’s birthright which would give him the supremacy for which he was destined. Esau  returns to the home place. He is famished. 25:32 uses a Hebrew phrase that literally has Esau saying, “I’m at the point of expiring through hunger.” This term is used to describe one who is exhausted (cf Job 22:7; Ps 63:2; Pr 25:25). Esau was not really dying but this remark helps illustrate the character who will follow the wrong priorities. The one thing foremost on his mind was a good hot supper. The first thing that his senses perceived was a meal cooked by Jacob. The meal was perceived of as a “feast” by the hungry Esau but it was only a bowl of bean soup! “Lentiles” (v. 29, 30, 34) were dried beans that were boiled and made a reddish brown soup. Obviously lentile soup was far from the “feast” Esau saw but it was what he wanted that very instant. So insistent were Esau’s demands that he could not even call it by its right name and stuttered “That red, that red!” (v. 30). Esau saw nothing of value in the future; he lived only for the moment. Nothing in the future would offer him the satisfaction that the bowl of bean soup could offer now. So he traded his birthright for a bowl of bean soup. “Thus Esau despised his birthright” (v. 34b). He decided that all the blessings of the birthright were less valuable than a bowl of bean soup! Esau ate and left. He never expressed any regret nor attempted to induce his brother to cancel the bargain. 

 Esau’s attitude is too common today. Far too many cry out, “Give me what I want. I want it NOW. I want it regardless of its cost. Give me my indulgences I do not care about the consequences!” They look only at the here and not at the hereafter! This is the focus on this lesson.

 Esau’s priorities were misplaced and consequently his life was lived for the wrong thing. Study these three areas where priorities should direct us toward God and observe how Esau (and those like him today) was directed away from God.

 a. The WRONG priorities in his CONDUCT.
  1) He allowed his life to be ruled by appetites. 
   Whatever he desired at the moment was what he sought. He saw the bean soup and his eager request indicates how dominate his appetites were. The immediate satisfaction of appetite was all that mattered to Esau. 

   This placed him on the level with animals (cf Ro 1:18-32). 

   This is the problem with our current society. Immediate gratification of appetites without guiding their satisfaction by God’s Word (i.e. violence in the streets; sexual immorality; destructive behaviors; etc.). Choices in life are decided by impulsive feelings. Whatever the “appetite” it is immediately fed!

   The Scripture cautions us to guide all conduct by God’s Word (Ep 5:1-21; Col 3:16; 1 Ti 5:20-24; etc.).

  2) He ignored those things that were truly valuable.
   Esau did nothing deliberately bad. He simply ignored the value of his birthright! He placed the insignificant as more important than the valuable. 

   Such is typical of many today. “He does nothing evil, but neither does he do anything much worthwhile. He is too ready – as Esau was when he smelled Jacob’s cooking – to feel that when anything agreeable is at hand he must certainly have it” (Boice, 6).

 b. The WRONG priorities in his VALUES.
  1) He failed to recognize the true values in life.
   He did not recognize how important the family “birthright” really was. If he had considered how important the birthright was he would have been more concerned and would not have yielded to the moment’s urging. 

   Failure to recognize life’s true values has led many to sacrifice God’s priorities for the moment. Governments have been corrupted because people are guided by the priority that says, “Take any advantage you can, just win!” They view “winning” as more important than principle and following Truth. Society has become corrupted because people at large want some special thing so much and they want it instantly, so they seek gratification without stopping to think of the eventual price they will have to pay.

   Present-day Believers are constantly confronted with the Devil’s bargaining plea – “Will you exchange your birthright for  . . . ?” The Devil’s representative in the bargain will seem thoroughly likeable, absolutely trustworthy. S/He will win the heart before winning the soul of the unsuspecting. S/He will present themselves as winsome and generous and emotional. Such a person will not ever think s/he is in partnership with Satan and will say s/he is doing nothing wrong. However, such a person has sold-out the truly valuable for a bowl of bean soup!

   A SERIOUS QUESTION – Who is there that may not be inclined, as Esau, to seize some immediate satisfaction at the cost of long-term good and imagine that the consequences of our actions will not matter much?

   The Scripture is very clear that Christians must courageously stand up for godly principles and never “barter” them away (cf Ro 3:4; 1 Co 15:58; Josh 1:7-9; etc.). There are things in life that are nonnegotiable! We must not sell such for a bowl of bean soup!

  2) He was unwilling to guard the valuable.
   He surrendered the valuable for the insignificant; the eternal for the momentary. He wanted the easy way. This is a great temptation today because our society frowns upon anyone committed to “guarding” the eternal valuables.

   The Scripture counsels us on guarding the true valuables in life (cf 1 Ti 1:3-7; 6:20-21).

 c. The WRONG priorities in his RELIGION.
  1) He traded the future for the moment.
   All of this life’s activities are leading us into the future. All of this life’s choices are directing us toward our future destiny. This simple fact is repeatedly stressed throughout the entire Bible. Esau’s foolish choice is a tragic illustration of how many make the wrong choices in this life and forget about their future lives!

   The great tragedy of Esau is highlighted by Hebrews 12:16b, “For ONE mess of meat sold his own birthright.” He traded an eternity of blessings and dignity for ONE thing.  That bowl of bean soup appeared desirable; it would stop the hunger pains and revive his energy, BUT it was only “ONE morsel of meat.” Its satisfaction was only for the moment. It forgot the eternal future. After that bowl of soup was consumed, Esau’s hunger returned and his tragedy was unavoidable.

   How tragic it has always been when a person bargains away the lasting blessings for ONE event. The boy whose name was on everyone’s lips in college sports, is forgotten just ten years later. He had sacrificed everything for the ONE moment in the grandstand’s spotlight. He had devoted himself to sports, neglecting classes. He played hard and won acclaim but found emptiness and isolation. In reaching for quick satisfaction, he let slip the priority for which he attended college. Like Esau, he “sold his birthright for one mess of meat.”

   How many today sacrifice the future blessings for the momentary. It may be a momentary pleasure in one’s “besetting sin,” but it is trading a bowl of bean soup for the eternal. One knows better, but the appetite is uncontrolled and Self feeds on eternity’s blessings. This tragedy is repeated in the Lord’s Church:

    a) The moment of “spotlight” consumes eternity’s happiness (2 Jn 9ff).

    b) The moment of worldliness is purchased with the treasures laid up for eternity (2 Ti 4:10).

    c) The moment of neglecting godly priorities brings a never-ending regret (Hb 3:7-14).

 Because Esau failed to follow the right priorities in his conduct, values, and religion, he faced great tragedy. His life was lived foolishly. Studying his act of selling his birthright for a bowl of bean soup reveals these ways in which  led him to live with misplaced priorities.

 a. He lived with “freedom” to pamper Self (v. 27).
  The contrast between Jacob and Esau is highlighted by the use of the term “even-tempered.” The term usually means “blameless” but here it seems to indicate one who was civilized and lived honorably. If so this indicates that Esau was not “even-tempered” but one who controlled his life by his personal laws and not the laws of accepted society. As an uncivil man, Esau lived with total freedom to do whatever he desired. He lived without any consideration for others – only for himself. 

  This misplaced priority led Esau to tragedy and will do so in the lives of anyone who tries to practice life without rules.

 b. He lived as a victim to personal appetites (v. 29-30).
  This is the tragic irony of all who boast that they live in total freedom – in reality they are slaves to their appetites (cf 2 Pt 2:12-19). The great hunter Esau was the unsuspecting prey of Satan because Esau lived by misguided priorities (1 Pt 5:8-9). Esau’s demands to be fed is the same word used to denote one who greedily gulps down food. It is used by Rabbis to describe the act of cramming food down the throat.  The whole word portrait is that of a wild, blustery person pointing and gasping, “Red stuff! Red stuff!!”  Esau was consumed by his own appetites.

  Many today live by misguided priorities and are consumed by greed (cf Gal 5:15).

 c. He relinquished the eternal for the worldly (v. 31-33).
  Esau had no concern what the bowl of soup would cost him. His feelings were his gods. He saw no real value in the birthright. 

  Many today have imitated Esau’s folly (cf 2 Ti 4:10). How tragic are those who cannot look beyond this earth to the heavenly paradise! (Cf Col 3:1-2).

 d. He had no regard for the things of God (v. 34).
  Whenever it came to a contest between what God wanted and valued and what Esau wanted and valued, there was no contest. Esau was quick to “despise” the holy things of God. In the Hebrew text there is a rapid series of verbs that show how Esau “despised” God. By eating, drinking, and rushing out Esau showed that he had no interest in the birthright (which was God’s blessings). Esau was more interested in himself than God! To “despise” means to treat something as worthless or to hold it in contempt. “The word often describes an attitude of contempt for the things of God, such as the law, the sacrifices, or the temple. In this passage the object is the birthright. Not only did Esau consider it worthless – a fair trade for lentile soup – but afterward he came to despise it, perhaps looking back in angry remorse over his foolish act” (Allen P. Ross, Creation & Blessing: A Guide To The Study And Exposition Of Genesis, 451).

  This misplaced priority is evident in lives and lifestyles of modern Christians (cf Hb 10:29). It is seen in the disregard of God’s priorities for the satisfaction of physical appetites! Such is often seen in a number of practices. What are some of the more common ways this is seen?

 The brief narrative actually presents a contrast between the twin’s priorities. While we do not condone the cunning deceit of Jacob, we do observe how his priorities help Christians see what should direct our lives.

  a. Jacob realized that feeding Self’s desires is not the most important act in life. Those things in life that touch the physical senses tend to take supremacy in our thoughts. So, we stress the “feelings” and the “emotions” but lose the truly valuable.

  “To get what smelled good and tasted good, to satisfy his appetite, pushed other considerations out of his mind. He would get what he had wanted when he wanted it, and to curb that impulse of his would take self-control which he did not choose to bother with. But Jacob, inferior to Esau in many ways though he was, had begun to subject his body to his mind ... he had a purpose in his mind that was more important than his appetite” (Boice, 7).

  b. Jacob realized the prestige of the valuable birthright. He understood that such meant an awareness of God. This spiritual connection would make him more responsible for honoring God. 

  c. Jacob was committed to a purpose and refused to give up. He did not allow difficulties to prevent him from seeking God. His determination is illustrated throughout his history – the working for 14 years for his beloved Rachel, the wresting with the angel, etc. Jacob was steadfast in his devotion.

 The greatest threat to spiritual priorities today remains the same as those Esau faced (cf 1 Jn 2:15). The Devil will offer subtle temptations by which we will be asked to trade the valuable birthright as a child of God for the worthless bowl of bean soup. These temptations will appear desirable, useful, even necessary but they will be deadly. These temptations may be advanced by one trusted and winsome, but they will be deadly. These temptations will come in one of three ways:

 a. Through the desires of the flesh.
  This is the gratification of the senses without regard to God’s Laws. By using God’s Laws we keep our birthright as higher than the brute in the field. If we do not set our priorities for the flesh according to God’s priorities, then we lose dignity and honor!

 b. Through the desires of the eye.
  This is doing that which appears pleasing; that which looks good. We trust in the outward. If it looks good then we follow it.

 c. Through the pride of life.
  This is pursuing the applause, honor, and praise of men as the top priority in life. “It is parting with the pleasures of the saint or angel, but for the miseries of a devil.” 

 7. What priorities do you follow in life? Have you “profaned” God’s priorities by taking that which divine and ignoring it or relegating it to a common thing that can be avoided without serious thought?

 The folly of all who fail to set and follow proper priorities is stated in the words of v. 34 – “And he ... went HIS way.” Let us avoid this tragedy. Instead of going OUR way, let us follow GOD’S way!

Copyright 1999 by John L. Kachelman, Jr. may be reproducted for non-commercial purposes at no cost to others.

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