Way Back When
There was a steamy stew brewing for Esau.
To understand what was at stake, we have to go all the way back to Esau’s grandpa Abraham, one of the most famous dudes in the whole Bible. His nickname is the Father of Faith or just Father Abraham. Ironically, for someone who went down in history as a dad, old Abram (as his name was at the beginning of the story) and his wife, Sarai, had a really difficult time having kids. To make matters worse, the name Abram meant “exalted father.” Imagine his embarrassment when introducing himself, as people constantly asked how many kids he had, only to learn he had none — in a culture that equated a barren womb with the judgment of God! That would be like having the unfortunate name Anthony Weiner and then being caught up in a sexting scandal.
Abram and Sarai grew old and eventually gave up on the idea of having a family. He accepted that his servant Eliezer was going to be the beneficiary of his considerable estate. Then God showed up with an amazing, ridiculous promise: “Abram, you and Sarai are going to have so many descendants that they will be more in number than the stars in the night sky. Out of your family will come great nations. Through those nations, kings will be born who will bless the whole world” (Genesis 15:2-5, Genesis 17:4-6, author’s paraphrase).
Eventually a messiah would come from Abraham’s descendants, crush the head of the devil, and destroy death.
As insanely, improbably bizarre as it was to hear such a thing, Abram believed God on the spot, and God “accounted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). In other words, God opened an umbrella called grace over Abram’s life, and from that moment forward, not one drop of wrath would ever splash onto his skin. That’s faith, by the way: triggering grace by taking God at His word. Latching onto the words that come from His mouth — no ifs, ands, or buts.
In this ancient story, Abraham modeled for us what God has asked of us from the beginning: faith.
We mistakenly think that going to Heaven is based on doing something, but it’s based on believing something: God’s promises. Author and pastor Jentezen Franklin put it this way: “You don’t get good to get God, you get God to get good.”1 So it’s not about what you can do; it’s about you believing what God did and will do. Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us that “salvation is by grace through faith” (author’s paraphrase). Abram’s experience became the prototype for how we are saved today — by putting our faith and trust in Jesus.
I like to imagine that Abram went home, put on a little Drake in the tent, chilled a bottle of champagne, and surprised Sarai with some roses. As you do.
But they didn’t have a baby.
Years went by. It seemed as if God had completely forgotten about them and failed to keep his word, but God again reminded Abram of his promise. God even went so far as to change Abram’s name to Abraham, which means “father of many nations,” and Sarai’s name to Sarah.
At this point, Abraham was ninety-nine years old, and Sarah was about ninety. Speaking about it afterward, the book of Hebrews says God waited until Abraham’s body was “as good as dead” (Hebrews 11:12). In case you are wondering, that’s not a compliment. I don’t imagine many Tinder profiles have that as a description:
My name is Tim. I am in banking. I like cooking and playing soccer, and my body is as good as dead. Swipe right for a good time…
But once the sitch was several levels beyond impossible, God intervened. Sidenote: it ain’t over till it’s over, but even when it is over, God can add time to the clock.
Hairy and Heel-Catcher
The stork finally showed up. It wasn’t clean and tidy by any means; there was a lapse of faith when Abraham and Sarah had a baby with a surrogate, thinking God needed help. But he didn’t. In God’s perfect, impossible time, Abraham and Sarah conceived and named their baby boy Isaac, which is fitting because it means “laughter.” I’m sure this geriatric couple got plenty of laughs as they pushed the stroller around when they weren’t far from needing wheelchairs themselves.
Isaac grew up and married Rebekah, a wonderful girl with a nose ring. After Rebekah struggled with infertility for twenty years herself, she and Isaac finally got pregnant — only it was a buy-one-get-one-free deal, because she had twins. This is where it gets tricky and murky. There was a forked branch in the family tree. God’s promise to Abraham was that through his seed all the people of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 12:3). After God made it clear his blessing was to go to Isaac and not Ishmael, it was easy to identify His chosen people. But now that Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger were candidates for God’s blessing, there was some question as to who would inherit it.
From an ancient historical perspective, the mantle should have gone to the firstborn. Whichever twin came out first would take the lion’s share of Grandfather Abraham’s promise into the future.
The due date finally arrived. First out was a hairy baby whom they named Esau (a creative name that, in the original Hebrew, means “hairy”). The second baby was born holding onto Chewbacca’s foot, so they called him Heel-Catcher. We know him today as Jacob.
The two couldn’t possibly have been more different:
Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field; but Jacob was a mild man, dwelling in tents. — Genesis 25:27
They were like Bass Pro Shop and Williams-Sonoma. Esau liked to cover himself in elk urine and go bow hunting. Jacob sat around customizing his Blue Apron orders and drinking espresso with his mom. They didn’t have a whole lot in common — except that they were vying for their father’s attention.
You won’t believe what happened next.
Genesis 25:29-30 says,
Now Jacob cooked a stew; and Esau came in from the field, and he was weary. And Esau said to Jacob, ‘Please feed me with that same red stew, for I am weary.’
The men had spent the afternoon each doing what each liked best — Esau had tried to kill wild animals, and Jacob had loafed around the house, tweeting and trying out a new recipe for bean soup that he had found on Pinterest. When Esau arrived in the tent exhausted and starving, the whole place smelled amazing because of this big, bubbling pot of stew his homebody brother was cooking. The scene was like one from Looney Tunes: the aroma from the stove reached out to grab Esau by the nostrils, and he floated across the room absolutely intoxicated by the smell.
I can just imagine Jacob pulling a tray of steaming biscuits out of the oven in front of a drooling Esau and saying matter-of-factly,
Sell me your birthright as of this day. — Genesis 25:31
I should pause right here and acknowledge that “birthright” doesn’t exactly ring a bell in our day, but four thousand years ago, it was a huge deal. As the name suggests, the birthright belonged to the firstborn male, and it gave him three things:
- A double portion of the inheritance. It caused the firstborn to be seen in the will as though he were two people. So if there were two sons, the firstborn would get two-thirds of the estate and the sibling would get one-third.
- A leadership role. The firstborn became the chief executive officer of the family business. In the event of a disagreement in how things should be run or done, he had the deciding vote, and his brothers and sisters had to defer to him.
- Last, and most significantly, a spiritual blessing. He acted as the priest of the home. In Abraham’s family, this would also mean receiving the promise from God and propagating His chosen people and ultimately the Messiah.
In other words, having the birthright was a really, really big deal. And because he was born first, it was Esau’s. No one could pry it from his fingers.
Keep that in mind as you picture Jacob saying, “If you give me your birthright, I’ll totally let you have some of my stew.” I’m sure his proposition seems as ridiculous to you as it seems to me. It’s obviously not a good deal. (By the way, it’s always easy to know how other people should respond to their temptations because we aren’t the ones standing there light-headed and with low blood sugar, smelling the stew on the fire.)
Esau should have been outraged by this offer. He ought to have swiped left so fast it would have made Jacob’s head spin. He should have thrown his hands up in the air and said, “Are you kidding me? You want me to trade all that God wants to do in my life, and all that He has promised to do through me generations from now, for a bowl of stew?”
I heard pastor Andy Stanley preach on this text once. He said that if he could have called a time-out, he would have sat Esau down and explained to him that from that moment forward, God would introduce himself to ultra-significant people, such as Moses, as “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Esau” — but if Esau made this deal with his brother, the saying would become “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”2
God always gives us a way of escape when we are tempted. The key is to slow down. You can’t see the escape route as well when you are hauling.
But Esau took no time to think about introductions or chosen people or double portions. All he could think about was how delicious that stew would taste as it passed briefly through his mouth:
And Esau said, ‘Look, I am about to die; so what is this birthright to me?’ — Genesis 25:32
Translation: “I’m starving now and will probably die if I don’t eat this food, so what good is a promise of what I might get someday?”
Let’s be clear about something: Esau wasn’t starving to death. Maybe he was really, really hungry, but he had walked in there, hadn’t he? He’d said “please.” Esau’s response is hyperbole at its finest. But in that moment, nothing mattered to him more than having a full stomach.
The Point of No Return
Red pill, blue pill. Swipe left, swipe right. Two options were on the table: Would you like this meal right now, or would you like to see God do great things through your life down the road? Genesis 25:33-34 says,
Then Jacob said, “Swear to me as of this day.” So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. And Jacob gave Esau bread and stew of lentils; then he ate and drank, arose, and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.
Just like that.
Esau chose the stew. He traded his calling for a can of Campbell’s. He gave up his inheritance for something that made him feel good for an evening. He could have been a part of a chain of events that led to Christ coming to the world, but he wrote himself out of the story.
It seems that Esau was a man of intense physical desires. He did whatever he felt like doing, no matter what, and it kept him from reaching his potential. Like Paul warned the church at Philippi, Esau’s god was his belly, and it led to destruction (Philippians 3:19). His highest good was to feel good.
But the next morning, he was hungry again. Within twenty-four hours he had digested and eliminated the meal he just had to have. In the end, he lost everything.
Because hindsight is twenty-twenty, and the fog has cleared and the dust has settled, you and I can sit here shaking our heads at Esau for being so shortsighted. A better use of our time would be for me to tell you that somewhere, in some kitchen, there is a big, simmering pot of stew that the devil will serve up to you at just the right time — and it will be just as tempting to you as Esau’s was to him. When that day comes, whatever is being asked of you in return for a taste will seem so far off and uncertain that all you’ll be able to think of is how delicious and happy the stew will make you in that moment. If you’re not careful, and if you don’t keep a cool head, you’ll be tempted to take a bite.
- Jentezen Franklin’s Facebook page, accessed October 4, 2016, https://www.facebook.com/JentezenFranklin /posts/681872325209209.
- Andy Stanley, “Andy Stanley—A Bowl of Stew . . . ,” YouTube video, 42:10, from an address at the Passion Conference in Atlanta, GA, on January 3, 2011, posted by “All Passion Sermons,” September 26, 2016, https://www .youtube.com/watch?v=6DcSjabCY1l.
Excerpted with permission from Swipe Right by Levi Lusko, copyright Levi Lusko.
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Don’t get tricked! Be very careful when you’re hungry, tired, or uncomfortable. Be careful when you’re vulnerable because the enemy will use your fatigue and thirst to sucker you into foolishness. Come share your thoughts on temptation and what happens when we choose poorly on our blog. We want to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily