************ Sermon on Genesis 25:29-34 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on August 4, 2013
"Don't Despise Your Birthright"
"The Pursuit of Happiness" is the title of a recent cover-story of TIME Magazine. The picture on the cover shows what most Americans think they need to be happy: a horn of plenty, cell phone, iPhone, lots of friends on Facebook, lots of followers on Twitter, laptop, iPad, a bag of money/gold, All Terrain Vehicle, car/truck, movies, airplanes, skyscrapers, great ideas. I couldn't help but notice what is missing from the picture: religion, church, family, relationships, marriage, and – of course – bicycles.
Now, here are some of the conclusions of the cover-story:
-Panama, of all places, reports the highest levels of happiness although almost a third of the population lives below the poverty line.
-Botswana is the saddest county in the world, with low levels of well-being and life expectancy.
-Marriage does contribute to bliss; it's a better predictor of happiness than having money or children.
-About 80% of young people who say they have a good relationship with their parents are also happier with life in general.
-People who dwell on the past and future are less likely to be happy than people who concentrate on the present.
-People who care about other people's incomes are typically less happy with their lives.
-Republicans are happier than Democrats; Republicans are also more likely to be married and religious.
-Women in developed countries are happier than men.
-An advertisement indicates bald people are happy. It's incredibly efficient. It can get out the door lickety-split in the morning. It's economical. No pesky barber bills. Or the need to buy gels. Or fancy shampoos. Furthermore, the bald head never has to worry about hat hair, helmet hair, just-got-out-of-bed hair, or bad hair days. Ever.
Do you want to be happy? Move to Panama, get married, enjoy your parents, think about the present, don't pay any attention to the money other people make, be a female Republican, and shave off all your hair.
Do you think Esau was a happy man? Our Scripture reading depicts a man who lives only for the moment. He lurches from one physical need to another. He has two wives and then marries a third wife (Gen 26:34-35; Gen 28:9). He knows his parents are unhappy with his choice in women (Gen 26:35; 28:8). For many years he lives with a grudge against his brother Jacob (Gen 28:41). Does this even sound like a happy man? I can only imagine the field-day psychiatrists and therapists today would have with him!
I A Birthright Bought and Sold
A Our text says "Esau despised his birthright" (Gen 25:34).
What is a birthright? The birthright is the inheritance of the eldest son. For Isaac's sons it has both a physical and a spiritual dimension.
Physically, the birthright means its possessor inherits the family name, title, and a double share of his father's possessions. And, it also means he becomes the head or ruler of the entire family or clan.
Spiritually, the birthright means the covenant and the covenant line of the seed of the woman is carried on through its possessor. The covenant blessings, the covenant fellowship with Yahweh, the future possession of the covenant land, and salvation are all part of the spiritual inheritance of he who has the birthright in this family. To possess the divine birthright and to be part of the chosen seed is the greatest blessing any one can ever hope to receive.
B One day Esau came in famished from a full day of hunting. He was as hungry as a bear. As he entered the tent he smelled one of his favorite meals: a lentil stew his brother had been simmering over a fire all afternoon. The aroma floating through the place made his stomach growl with hunger. "I've got to have some of that stew, Jacob," he said. He added that he was about to die of starvation (Gen 25:32). Now, of course, that was not true; he was not going to die if he didn't get the soup.
C Jacob was no dummy. For all his years he put up with Esau being his father's favorite (Gen 25:28). For all his years he had been playing second fiddle because he was the younger of the two by a few seconds. For all his years he'd known that his brother had the birthright.
Jacob wanted the birthright for himself. So when he saw his chance, he boldly took it. Esau was roaring about his hunger. "Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I'm famished!" (Gen 25:30). Jacob replied, "First sell me your birthright" (Gen 25:31).
Esau was so hungry he consented to this. "Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left" (Gen 25:34). Esau didn't even linger over his food. The text makes plain that he gulped it down. Then he got up and left without a thought.
II Esau Despised His Birthright
A The Old Testament reserves itself to one comment on this whole incident: "So Esau despised his birthright" (vs 34b). In saying this our Scripture reading means that Esau treated with contempt the physical and spiritual aspect of his birthright. He despised the covenant. The covenant blessings, the covenant fellowship with Yahweh, the future possession of the covenant land, and salvation meant nothing to him. What it comes down to is that Esau despised God and the things of God.
Esau was willing to sell his birthright. A birthright like Esau's is worth dying for; it is something to be defended whatever the cost. But Esau was too hungry to wait so he sold it. That's how little God and God's covenant promises meant to Esau. Esau's birthright was the most valuable thing in the world but he sold it.
Do you realize what Esau was doing here? Esau made a decision right then and there to reject his spiritual heritage. He made a decision right then and there to reject the faith of his parents. He made a decision right then and there that the faith of those before him was not important to him.
B "Esau despised his birthright" (Gen 25:34). Why? Esau was a man driven by his appetites. He was willing to exchange what was of eternal value for a brief moment of pleasure and happiness. Esau gave up his spiritual birthright as a child of the covenant for a pot of lentil stew. The material and physical aspect of life was more important to him than the spiritual. He squandered for a single meal, for a brief moment of physical gratification, his entire religious heritage. The lusts and desires of the flesh came first in Esau's life. What was a holy trust from God was carelessly thrown away. And the Bible tells us that Esau did not regret what he did after his stomach was filled: "he ate and drank, and then got up and left." He satisfied himself and went on his way.
Let me tell you what Esau should have done. Esau should not have agreed to any deal with Jacob. He should have preferred a dry crust of bread to giving up his birthright. He should have clung to being in the line of the promised Messiah. But he counted that privilege of less value than a bowl of soup.
C "Esau despised his birthright" (Gen 25:34). The book of Hebrews has more to say about this:
(Heb 12:16) See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son.Wow. Esau was both sexually immoral and godless. We know that sexual immorality and godlessness usually go hand-in-hand with the former being a sign of the latter. In telling us this our text is telling us that Esau lacked any sense of spiritual values. He profanely and arrogantly trampled underfoot that which is sacred.
D We, too, have a birthright. You have all received the sign of this birthright on your foreheads in baptism.
Do you know what your birthright is? It is the blessing of being in a Christian home. It is the faith of the martyrs who died for the Lord, it is the faith of the fathers and mothers of the Reformation, it is the faith of your grandparents who sacrificed for our Christian school. It is the faith that says I am a sinner in need of salvation. It is the faith that says Jesus alone, out of grace, can save me and help me. It is the faith that says the proper response to God's grace in Christ is to lead a life of holiness and thankfulness. You have a duty, congregation, to keep that faith, to guard that faith that has been entrusted to you.
Like Esau, your birthright is covenant blessings, covenant fellowship with God, the future possession of the promised land, salvation. Like Esau, you are God's covenant children.
Now I need to ask: do you despise or do you keep your birthright? Are you sexually immoral and godless like Esau or do you cling to the covenant promises of the covenant God?
Satan and the world dangles endless enticements, allurements, and attractions in front of your eyes in the hope that you can be persuaded to despise your birthright. For instance, it provides many opportunities for pre-marital and extra-marital sex, drugs, alcohol, sinful parties, rowdy night-life, and the like. It urges you to leave your marriage partner if you are in any way unhappy. It tells you there is nothing wrong with shacking up before marriage. It tells you there is nothing wrong with homosexual or lesbian practice. It says you are old-fashioned if you strive to keep the Ten Commandments. It mocks faith in God and attendance at worship as something needed by foolish women and little children.
The gratifying of the sensual appetite for momentary happiness ruins thousands of souls in our day, our land, even our church. If we claim to be in Christ, we must be on guard lest the lusts and desires of the flesh become settled in our hearts and give birth to death (James 1:14-15).
When you are faced with all these temptations do you go the way of Esau who sold his birthright for a pot of stew? Do you throw away the covenant for a few sensual and physical pleasures? Do you squander for a single and fleeting pleasure of the flesh all of your religious heritage? Do you bow to the pressures and attractions of the world and go the way of Esau? Do you consider the material and physical to be more important than the spiritual?
"Don't despise your birthright." Generally, pastors speak these words to the young. But these words apply to every person here. So permit me to say a few words to those who are older. I want to know if you keep the faith?
Let me tell you something I have noticed over the years. I have noticed that once the kids are grown up many parents become influenced by their kids' behavior. For instance, a son or daughter goes through a divorce and parents who were always opposed to divorce suddenly are in favor. A son or daughter comes out of the closet as a gay or lesbian and their parents talk about love and acceptance. The children go shopping on Sunday and keep away from worship and their parents defend them and excuse them. A son or daughter comes home with an unbeliever and the parents tell you how nice and friendly and smart the boyfriend or girlfriend are. I want to tell you this morning that parents who do this are being like Esau.
Let me mention something else I have noticed over the years. I have noticed that older people rarely leave their church for the sake of truth – no matter how unfaithful it may be. It is the younger ones who take the bull by the horns and are willing to leave. It is the younger ones who fight to keep the faith.
Jacob Tries a Shortcut
A But, now, let us also take a look at Jacob. Esau comes in from the open country after a day of hunting and maybe farming. The smell of cooking food is too much for him to resist. He says to Jacob, "Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I'm famished!" (Gen 25:30).
How should Jacob have responded? I hope everyone here knows what a brother should not have done in this situation. Jacob should not have taken advantage of Esau. Jacob should not have used Esau's appetite against him. Jacob should have said, "Here, brother, pull up a chair and help yourself." Instead, Jacob said, "First sell me your birthright" (Gen 25:31).
B Notice what Jacob does next. It was not enough that Esau basically said "Yes. Yes, you can have the birthright if you give me the stew." Jacob was not content with that. He demanded that Esau swear an oath. In the name of God. He dragged the name of the Lord into his shoddy behavior.
C What would you say if I showed up at your home and offered to sell you the White House or the Golden Gate Bridge or the Tower of London? You should be highly skeptical because it is not mine to sell any of these. Likewise, the birthright was not Jacob's to buy and sell like a piece of land or jewelry. This reminds me of Simon the Sorcerer in the book of Acts. He, too, tried to buy and sell the blessings of the Kingdom of God (Acts 8:9-25). These blessings are not for sale. You cannot buy the gift of God with money or service or good deeds or a pot of soup.
D What was Jacob doing? Jacob became Satan's instrument to tempt his brother. He was taking Satan's shortcut. He was not willing to wait for God to fulfill the promise that "the older will serve the younger" (Gen 25:23). Unlike Isaac and Rebekah who prayed and waited twenty years for God's promise to be fulfilled, Jacob was not willing to wait. He was not willing to wait for God's time. When we look at it this way, we see that Jacob was as impatient as Esau. He had to have it now. What a life of misery he brought upon himself because of this.
Perhaps you know Jacob's temptation. Perhaps you have wanted something really, really bad. You desire to see God's healing, or you want God to give you a spouse, or you are praying for a child, or you want God to deliver you from a tough situation in today's economy, or you want a happy marriage. There is nothing wrong with having these longings. But if you have to have it now, beware. You are in danger of wanting the blessings more than you want God. When that happens it is too easy for Satan to dangle a shortcut in front of you.
What is God to do with such a pair? One of them regards his birthright as less valuable than a bowl of soup. And, the other regards it as a commodity to be bought and sold. Which of these two should God choose to save?
Neither one deserves God's work in his heart. Neither one is worthy of salvation. Neither one is worthy of the birthright.
How can God save such sinners? There is only one hope. He must send a Savior Who is better and greater than Esau or Jacob. He must send a Savior Who fulfills the birthright with the shedding of His precious blood. Such is the Savior needed by Esau and Jacob. Such is the Savior we need. In such a Savior we find true happiness.
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