Isaac: 21. The Sons, Esau and Jacob

Genesis 25:27‑34  •  6 min. read  •  grade level: 7
Now the difference in life and manners in the two sons was an issue of deep moment for each, and a warning for every reader who needs God's grace.
“And the boys grew; and Esau became a man skillful in hunting, a man of the field, and Jacob an upright man dwelling in tents. And Isaac loved Esau because venison was to his taste (or, in his mouth), and Rebekah loved Jacob. And Jacob boiled a dish (or, boiling), and Esau came in from the field, and he [was] faint. And Esau said to Jacob, Feed me, pray, with the red—the red thing there, for I [am] faint. Therefore they called his name Edom. And Jacob said, Sell to-day thy birthright to me? And Esau said, Behold, I am going to die, and what [is] this birthright to me? And Jacob said, Swear to me to-day, and he swore to him; and sold his birthright to Jacob. And Jacob gave to Esau bread and the dish of lentiles; and he ate and drank and rose up and went away: thus Esau despised the birthright” (vers. 27-34).
As the boys grew, it became plain that Esau had no faith, and that Jacob had. The life, far more truly than the lips, indicated where the heart turned and where the treasure lay. Of those from whom they sprang, it is written that “all of these died in faith,” or according to faith. They had not received the things prescribed; from afar they saw and saluted them, confessing thereby that they were strangers and sojourners on the earth (or, land), of which dwelling in tents was an express token (Heb. 11:9, 139By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: (Hebrews 11:9)
13These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. (Hebrews 11:13)
). It was not so with Esau. He had no relish for the believing and expectant posture of the patriarchs. He threw off all the lessons inculcated by the life and confession of his father and his grandfather. Nimrod was his prototype, not Abraham; still less was He the Object, Who shone before the eyes of all the elders that obtained testimony in the power of faith. He chose and gave himself up to the exciting pursuits of the chase; he became a man skilled in hunting, a man of the field. He was bent on visible and present gratification, finding his pleasure in its vicissitudes, in its demand on craft and resources of every kind, and even in its occasional dangers as well as its successes. As with that rebel whom he thus far emulated, God was not in any of his thoughts. What cared he for that bright expectation of victory over the power of evil, through One more than man Who should nevertheless come of woman and taste of the sharpest suffering though triumphant? The unseen was nothing to Esau, whose heart was filled with his own things of every day, catching and killing the animals without reason.
Jacob, on the other hand, could be described as an upright man dwelling in tents. He was an heir, with Isaac and with Abraham, of the same promise. The like faith produced like fruit. He waited for the city that has the foundations, beyond all that earth can furnish, of which God is artificer and master-maker, or demiurge. He had not a little to watch and contend against in his natural ways; but he looked beyond present scenes and so was kept from living according to motives of self-will with no object above the earth. His walk was feeble compared with Abraham, and checkered compared with Isaac. Still he could say ere he departed that God tended him all his life long, and that His Angel redeemed him from all evil. Esau could not and did not speak of any such shepherd care, of which he never felt the need and would have been ashamed. The earth as it is was his one field of enjoyment, and its wild creatures the object of his skilled toils. The future of divine glory was no more to his heart than a dream that is told. But Jacob, faulty as he was, did prove the watchful and gracious care of God now, and wait for “that day.” It is this only which gives integrity before God, without which “dwelling in tents” had been no more than to the Bedouin; but with him it was the mark of his pilgrim character and hopes.
Alas! the faults of children often betray the carelessness or worse of their parents. Partialities, as in ver. 29, may be natural; but they bring inevitable chastening. A parent on the one hand may like a character the most distant from his own, as we see here Isaac did; or there may be preference given to one that resembles, as appears in Rebecca. They had been more blessed and more a blessing, if they had commanded their children with vigilant love in faith, as Jehovah said of Abraham in Gen. 18:1919For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment; that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him. (Genesis 18:19). Here the inspiring Spirit had a humbling tale to tell, as we learn the retribution in God's moral government.
Passing hunger led to the gravest results. Jacob sod a pottage of lentiles the day when Esau returned faint and famished (ver. 29). This gave the occasion. Jacob earnestly sought that title which to his forefathers and his descendants was bound up with blessing; and he knew that his brother had no such value for it. He therefore availed himself of Esau's need to strike the bargain. “Feed me, pray, with the red, that there,” said the spent hunter. “Sell me to-day thy birthright,” eagerly replied the unbelieving believer.
Thus Esau, ever open to the present, agreed and swore to it (30-33).
“And Jacob gave Esau bread and the pottage (or, dish) of lentiles; and he ate and drank and rose up and went his way,” with the simple and solemn comment, “thus Esau despised his birthright.”
No doubt, the edge of his appetite was keen, and the dish before his eyes was tempting to the hungry hunter. But had he no father that loved him, no mother to pity and provide? Blame Jacob as you will for seizing the opportunity for what he valued if Esau did not. And this was now evident: no hunger and thirst for him an hour longer. “That red there” he must have at once, cost what it might. Let others be for Christ's sake “in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings, in cold and nakedness.” What was that to one who lived only to please himself? He could not fast another hour. “Behold, I am going to die, and what is this birthright to me?”
Ishmael, the bond-servant's son, was evil enough. Born of the flesh only, he persecuted him that was born after the Spirit; he mocked the son and heir of Abraham born under circumstances which pointed to God's intervention for all who believe. But Esau was all the more guilty because according to prayer and prophecy he was born of the heir of promise, with whatever of advantage over Jacob that an earlier birth could give. Was not he equally with Jacob brought up in the familiar sound of God's word and ways as far as this is known? But tried in a way which to a hunter should have been comparatively light, and with resources at hand which never had failed, and which it would be monstrous to conceive could fail his urgent need, he deliberately sold his own birthright “for one meal” (Heb. 12:1616Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. (Hebrews 12:16)), and thus incurred from the Holy Spirit the awful stigma of a “profane person.”