Scripture: And Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stew, for I am exhausted!” (Therefore, his name was called Edom.) Jacob said, “Sell me your birthright now.” Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” Genesis 25:30-32 ESV
Observation: With the union of Isaac and Rebekah, the author of Genesis then brings closure to the account of Abraham’s life: telling us of his death and his descendants. He then returns to the adult life of Abraham’s son, Isaac, who at age 60 fathered twins with Rebekah. The birth story is brief, but the author wants us to take note of their names and appearances:
- Esau (the firstborn who arrived into the world ruddy and hairy) is thus aptly named Esau, which means “hairy.”
- Jacob (smooth-skinned and grasping at his brother’s heal upon delivery) is also aptly named since Jacob means “to grasp” or “to supplant,” the latter of which comes into play later in this story)
The author also tells us that Esau was a skillful hunter, a “man of the field,” while Jacob was a quiet man, “dwelling in tents.” And while Isaac loved Esau because he “ate of his game,” Rebekah loved Jacob because he was a homebody. This dynamic would play out in controversy when the boys were young men. On one particular occasion, Esau, returning home from an unsuccessful hunt, catches a waft of Jacob’s delicious stew. Exhausted, Esau asks Jacob to share his meal, but Jacob shrewdly bargains for Esau’s birthright (above verses). Acting impetuously, Esau reasons that his birthright is of no value if he dies of hunger and agrees to the terms. Thus, Jacob proves to be the supplanter.
Takeaway: The first three generations of God’s chosen people exhibit a character flaw of deceit. Abraham and Isaac misrepresented their wives as sisters to avoid conflict with a host tribal king. Now Jacob tricks his brother out of his birthright. Still, it is all under our Lord’s sovereign control. For he foretold Rebekah during her labor pains that: “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger” (25:23). Thus, Jacob sinfully fulfills the first step of the promise and confirms the second meaning of his name by supplanting his brother’s birthright.
So how do we make sense of this story? Does our good and gracious God condone sinful behavior if it accomplishes his will? Of course not. Jacob would later taste his own medicine when Uncle Laban would deceive Jacob regarding his promised bride and wages (chapter 29). So even if we accomplish God’s purposes through our sinful actions, there are always consequences. Still, it is comforting to know that we worship a sovereign God who always fulfills his promises, even when utilizing sinners like you and me.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you that no one nor anything can thwart your good and righteous promises and purposes. Indeed, you are sovereign over all your creation. Would you please help us to rest in this truth and not succumb to the enemy’s seeds of doubt or words of condemnation when we miss the mark in accomplishing your will? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling