For the week of November 29, 2008 / 2 Kislev 5769
Torah reading: Bereshit / Genesis 25:19 - 28:9
Haftarah: Malachi 1:1 - 2:7
Jacob said, "Sell me your birthright now." 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. Thus Esau despised his birthright. (Bereshit / Genesis 25:31-34; ESV)
The story of Isaac and Rebecca`s twin sons is one of providence over human decisions. God had determined contrary to custom, that Jacob, the younger of the two, would have precedence. He would be the one to whom the promises first given to his grandfather, Abraham, and then to his father, Isaac, would be passed. But as we see throughout the Scriptures, God works through the decisions and actions of people. The incident I quoted was key in the outworking of God`s determination.
By all rights Esau as the older of the two stood to receive a special inheritance. This was his birthright. It is not clear whether or not he or his brother fully understood the details of his birthright, but certainly they had some awareness of it - at least enough to swing a deal for it. We don't know if Esau's despising his birthright was due to his lack of understanding or personal preferences, but as we shall see, either one could lead to the same result.
What we read of Jacob reveals that he was a real go-getter. From birth he strove for place and position, grasping after those things that he wanted. It is interesting that he wanted the very things God had in store for him. Perhaps he would have received them anyway, even without his striving, since God had determined that he would. We don't know for sure. What we do know is that he placed a high value on those things, while his brother did not.
By all rights Esau had first claim on the greater inheritance, but at a point of weakness, he was more than willing to trade off his future to satisfy his immediate hunger. The comment following is "Thus Esau despised his birthright." In other words, he couldn't care less about it. All Esau cared about was himself and his hunger. Was he really at the point of starvation that he was better off trading his birthright for a bowl of stew? One would hope that if he really was dying Jacob would share some of his food with him or that there would be some available somewhere. And if he was really at the point of death? Was his life truly of greater value than his birthright? The fact is that Esau had no ability or desire to see beyond his immediate situation, which was his current felt need. Nothing else mattered. As long as he satisfied his hunger at that moment, he was okay as far as he was concerned.
Esau is a symbol of much of today`s world. All that matters to many of us is ourselves and our immediate satisfaction. Obviously this kind of selfishness has been around for a long time or else we would not have this story to discuss. But this life approach has risen to a level that perhaps has never been seen in history. The "gotta -have-it-now mentality is one of the main contributors to the current world economic crisis. We are willing to jeopardize our future for unprecedented accumulation of possessions.
We are obsessed about self because we have despised our birthright. In fact, most of us aren't even aware that we have one. We have been told that life is just a cosmic accident and that our lives have no real meaning. Why should we care about the future if there is no meaning? Like Esau, the only thing that really matters is satisfying our appetites right now.
Thankfully the story of Jacob and Esau reminds us that there is more to life than self and its desires. There exists a greater purpose beyond ourselves waiting to be grasped. Each human being is made in the image of God and has a birthright to be discovered and cherished. Let us take care not to sell our birthright for momentary satisfaction only to discover later how much we really gave up by doing so.
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