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.) 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.
When I was younger, I used to wonder why Esau seems to be the bad guy here. Isn't the 'bad guy' that scheming Jacob would takes advantage of others? I mean come on Esau was dying of hunger if you're dying most things are unimportant so of course he would do that. Jacob on the other hand was quite an ass.
Now that I have come to understand this short exchange more though, I start to see the message in it. Jacob was probably still an ass. God didn't commend him for it and Jacob did face many consequences in his life as a result of this incident. The more relevant thing for me to look at this point though, is Esau.
Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary
We have here the bargain made between Jacob and Esau about the right, which was Esau's by birth, but Jacob's by promise. It was for a spiritual privilege; and we see Jacob's desire of the birth-right, but he sought to obtain it by crooked courses, not like his character as a plain man. He was right, that he coveted earnestly the best gifts; he was wrong, that he took advantage of his brother's need. The inheritance of their father's worldly goods did not descend to Jacob, and was not meant in this proposal. But it includeth the future possession of the land of Canaan by his children's children, and the covenant made with Abraham as to Christ the promised Seed. Believing Jacob valued these above all things; unbelieving Esau despised them. Yet although we must be of Jacob's judgment in seeking the birth-right, we ought carefully to avoid all guile, in seeking to obtain even the greatest advantages. Jacob's pottage pleased Esau's eye. Give me some of that red; for this he was called Edom, or Red. Gratifying the sensual appetite ruins thousands of precious souls. When men's hearts walk after their own eyes, Job 31:7, and when they serve their own bellies, they are sure to be punished. If we use ourselves to deny ourselves, we break the force of most temptations. It cannot be supposed that Esau was dying of hunger in Isaac's house. The words signify, I am going towards death; he seems to mean, I shall never live to inherit Canaan, or any of those future supposed blessings; and what signifies it who has them when I am dead and gone. This would be the language of profaneness, with which the apostle brands him, Heb 12:16; and this contempt of the birth-right is blamed, ver. 34. It is the greatest folly to part with our interest in God, and Christ, and heaven, for the riches, honours, and pleasures of this world; it is as bad a bargain as his who sold a birth-right for a dish of pottage. Esau ate and drank, pleased his palate, satisfied his appetite, and then carelessly rose up and went his way, without any serious thought, or any regret, about the bad bargain he had made. Thus Esau despised his birth-right. By his neglect and contempt afterwards, and by justifying himself in what he had done, he put the bargain past recall. People are ruined, not so much by doing what is amiss, as by doing it and not repenting of it.
Esau's birthright wasn't some first son benefits which are eroding away in these modern times. It was something of such great importance. The birthright puts you as the head of the household, effectively second-in-command, taking over the father's authority and responsibility in the father's absence. It makes him the son who gains the inheritance of the father upon the father's death. The birthright was a great honour and privilege which not many had. Yet, for so little, Esau gave it away. Red stew? It was just a bean soup. Birthright to satisfy some hunger pangs, that is ridiculous.
And when we understand that, sometimes we think to ourselves 'I would never do that'. I mean, I would never give away my rights to my parents inheritance just for a plate of chicken rice that sounds absurd. Why would he even do that? Esau must be crazy.
But...what is our birthright? And in that context, what is a pottage?
Our birthright is in Christ. We are born of God and inherited this position in His kingdom. What a glorious birthright to be called the sons of God!
Yet, we do exchange our birthright for bowls of pottage. When we choose to feed our unholy desires instead of running the race with perseverance, we have exchanged our birthright for bowls of pottage. When we prioritise the things of this world over the things of God, we have exchanged our birthright for bowls of pottage.
Seeking to gratify our immediate worldly pleasures over long term fulfillment in Christ. That is the essence of it.
Daily, as we live our lives, we are confronted with so many tempting choices, and sometimes we do not choose wisely. And so daily we need to ask ourselves and consider our ways carefully.
Esau must be crazy to exchange his birthright for a bowl of pottage.
So are we.