(17) Let not thine heart envy sinners: but be thou in the fear of the LORD all the day long.
(18) For surely there is an end; and thine expectation shall not be cut off.
The conflict that existed between Jacob and his brother Esau is a classic case of sibling rivalry. Esau was an outdoorsman who loved to hunt and was favored by his father. Jacob was more of a momma’s boy who stayed close to home and was favored by his mother. Esau was a man who lived in the moment. Jacob was more of a strategist who was always playing the long game.
Pragmatist v. Strategist
In Genesis 25:29, we see Jacob and Esau in characteristic roles. Jacob is home, making soup and Esau is coming in from the field, either after a failed hunt or a long day of working the family farm. Whatever the case, we can tell from the exchange between the two brothers that Esau was “hangry,” and where Esau was just looking for a meal, Jacob saw an opportunity and took advantage of his brother’s tired and hungry state.
Dude, Are You Serious Right Now?
And Esau said to Jacob, Feed me, I pray thee, with that same red pottage; for I am faint: therefore was his name called Edom. (Genesis 25:30)
As a result of this seemingly insignificant exchange, Esau’s nickname was reaffirmed. People who knew him called him “Red.” They say you earn a nickname. In Esau’s case, it cost him everything. Knowing his brother wanted something to eat and that he was a man driven by his passions, Jacob put a price tag on what should have been a free meal:
And Jacob said, Sell me this day thy birthright. (Genesis 25:31)
Driven by his passions, Esau could only see his immediate need and exaggerated his state:
And Esau said, Behold, I am at the point to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me? (Genesis 25:32)
To put this whole conversation in more current terms, we could see it this way:
Esau: “Sell you my birthright? Dude, are you serious right now? I’m starving! Sure. Whatever. You have the birthright. What good is that to me now. Just give me some soup!”
Jacob: “Swear it to me. Give me your word that your birthright is mine now.”
Esau: [Angry and frustrated] “Ya! Sure! The birthright is yours. Soup! NOW!”
I can imagine that when Jacob finally held out that bowl of red soup that Esau snatched it from him and ate the soup like a ravenous animal, completely unaware of the consequences of that brief exchange. Scripture sums it up for him: “Esau despised his birthright.”
What’s the Big Deal? What’s in a Birthright?
While it seems a minor concern to modern readers, in Jacob’s day the birthright meant everything. From it, he gained his father’s superior blessing. That blessing, coming from a patriarch chosen by God Himself had prophetic power and consequences. The blessing was not just a bunch of well-wishes. What was pronounced in those blessings had the power of God behind them, meaning these things were actually carried out. The birthright also gave Jacob the leadership position over the family after their father Isaac died. To put it another way, with the birthright in his possession, Jacob inherited the bulk of the family estate along with all the promises of God attached.
Esau failed to see the value in the birthright that was literally his right by birth. He threw it away to fill his belly because one time he was really hungry just for something to eat.
We’re All Just One Dumb Decision Away from Messing up the Rest of Our Lives
In a moment of hunger, Esau changed the trajectory not only of his own life but the lives of generations that would follow after him. After blessing Jacob, Isaac could only promise Esau a life that was subordinate to his younger brother. It was not an entirely bad life, but it would be one forever branded by the phrase: “What could have been.”
Jacob was not innocent. He conned his brother out of his birthright and later, with the aid of his mother, he would deceive Isaac into giving him his blessing. (Genesis 27) That action would force him into twenty-years of self-exile away from his family and in servitude to an equally conniving uncle. Or he could have just trusted his circumstances to God. Eventually, he would learn that, but not without suffering.
So, What’s the Big “So what?”
The troubles that both Jacob and Esau suffered were avoidable had they simply both feared God and continued on His path for them.
“…Be thou in the fear of the LORD all the day long. For surely there is an end, and thine expectation shall not be cut off.”
Jacob was playing the long game, but even he was caught up in the moment in that argument over a bowl of soup. He understood the importance of God’s blessing, but he took that moment with Esau to try to “help” God by orchestrating events in his favor.
We’re all prone to trying to “help” God work out His plans for us because of a lack of faith in Him. We have to remember that God already has the long view of our lives in His sight. We need to trust that God knows what He’s doing when it comes to our lives and all of its details. All we can see is what is in front of us and life consists of more than just what’s in front of us.