Summary: What can we learn of our own character and of God's grace when we study Esau selling his birthright?

“These are the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham fathered Isaac, and Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, the sister of Laban the Aramean, to be his wife. And Isaac prayed to the LORD for his wife, because she was barren. And the LORD granted his prayer, and Rebekah his wife conceived. The children struggled together within her, and she said, ‘If it is thus, why is this happening to me?’ So she went to inquire of the LORD. And the LORD said to her,

‘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.’

“When her days to give birth were completed, behold, there were twins in her womb. The first came out red, all his body like a hairy cloak, so they called his name Esau. Afterward his brother came out with his hand holding Esau’s heel, so his name was called Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them.

“When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents. Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.

“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.” [1]

Esau’s name lives on in infamy in the pages of the New Testament. This is in spite of the fact that almost any parent would be pleased to have a son like Esau. Nevertheless, Esau does not receive accolades in the New Testament passages when he is mentioned. Writing the Roman saints, Paul speaks of Jacob and Esau. “It is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’ This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. For this is what the promise said: ‘About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.’ And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated’” [ROMANS 9:6-13].

Esau is again mentioned in the Letter to Hebrew Christians. Again, the reference is not in the least flattering. “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears” [HEBREWS 12:15-17].

These two New Testament references have led many to question Esau’s salvation. Admittedly, it is not ours to question God’s choice or to attempt to second-guess the Lord God. However, Esau’s life and his choices mirror lifestyles and choices witnessed among contemporary Christians. Often, the manner in which we live and the choices we make can raise questions concerning our grasp of faith and the transformation salvation brings. Therefore, it is appropriate for us to ask the question of whether Esau was saved or lost. In seeking the answer to this question we may well encourage our own hearts to pursue the Master, honouring Him through the choices we make and the manner in which we live.

THE PROPHECY — Rebekah was pregnant. She had married Isaac when he was forty years of age, and they had been married twenty years at this point. Marriage had not resulted in a pregnancy as she had hoped; so she prayed, asking God to grant her a child. The LORD graciously granted her request. I can hardly mention this without noting the contrast with so many women in this day. In the Word of God, women find joy in bringing children into the home; they experience fulfilment as the happy mother of children. Today—not so much!

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