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Esau sold his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of "lentil stew." Jacob then, with his mother’s help, also stole Esau's blessing as well. What value could Esau’s story have for us today?
In Genesis 25:29-34, we read of one of the steepest bargains ever made. Esau, the firstborn son of Isaac and Rebekah, had just come in from hunting and was enticed by the stew that his brother Jacob had prepared. Exhausted, he asked Jacob to give him some of the stew. Jacob, seizing an opportunity, replied, "Sell me your birthright."
Now, in those times, the birthright was extremely important. It conferred a great deal of status on the firstborn son, as well as a double portion of the inheritance that would be left to the sons when their father died. This was all due the one who by simple happenstance was born first.
We're not told whether Esau took any time to think this deal over. What we read is his next statement: “Look, I am about to die; so what is this birthright to me?” Jacob caught him at a weak moment, and Esau apparently failed to attach to his birthright the value he should have. Esau seems to have thought only of the current moment: he was hungry, he was worn out, and the soup was right there in front of him. The birthright wasn't doing anything for him at the moment, so he bargained it away for a bowl of soup that was quickly consumed.
This story resonates very much with another account found in Matthew 4. Here we read the account of Satan's temptation of Jesus Christ in the wilderness. Jesus, having just fasted for forty days (Matthew 4:2), must have been far more tired and hungry than Esau had been, and the devil began his temptation of the Christ by suggesting He perform a miracle of turning stones into bread. Christ refused, quoting from the scriptures. Satan, however, was unabashed. He simply raised the stakes higher, culminating in an offer of glory and wealth:
“Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, ‘All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me’” (Matthew 4:8-9).
Satan offered fame, power, glory, and wealth. These were certainly more tempting than a simple bowl of soup. Would this firstborn Son fall into denying His far-off inheritance for the riches of the right-now? We know that He did not. He replied,“Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve’” (Matthew 4:10).
Christ held His ground and refused to bow down to the god of this world. He treasured His inheritance enough to forsake every other offer, even knowing that He would have to suffer a great deal to come into that inheritance. Consider also the intriguing way that one minister summed up the scenario:
“How long,” he pointed out, “would Christ get to enjoy an earthly kingdom, even if Satan actually delivered on his promise? 30 years? 35? 40? But it is, after all, appointed for all men to die, and then it would all be over for Jesus. Jesus Christ, however, knew that if He ignored Satan's schemes and held onto that future inheritance, He would have trouble immediately...but glory for eternity. The real option: sell His birthright for a temporary kingdom, or suffer temporary loss for eternal glory. Christ couldn't be bought. He didn't have a price tag.”
Can we be bought? The world offers us all kinds of tempting things. We can have all we ever wanted, it seems, if we just sell out a little bit. Is it really that important to do right all the time? Is bending rules really all that wrong? Why bother doing without when we could so easily buy into promises of fame and popularity and trendiness?
We have to keep in mind that nothing the world can offer will last. Money, fame, and fortune all come and go. Once won, they do not guarantee continued success or even fleeting happiness. Like the high of an expensive illegal drug, the inevitable crash comes frighteningly quickly. And if we choose that route – if we forsake our values for the world's glitter--it will all be over once our physical life is gone.
We face the same choice that Esau and Christ faced. What is our price tag? What is impressive enough that we would give up our future inheritance to possess it? Will we choose temporary loss for eternal gain, or will we sell out for a bowl of soup?
For more information on seeking God’s help to resist temptation, read the Bible study aid You Can Have Living Faith.