Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!”…Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.” “Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?” But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left. So Esau despised his birthright. Genesis 25:29-34
I am Esau, and so are you.
How often do we make this trade…something that is a quick pleasure, a fleeting indulgence, in exchange for the eternal inheritance we have in Christ. Did I lose you at “eternal inheritance”? Let’s unpack this in real life:
Do I get up early to spend time in prayer (eternal value), or hit the snooze and enjoy the comfort of my bed (quick pleasure)? Do I stop at Starbucks and go for that white chocolate mocha “because it’s Monday,” or do I make black coffee at home because #stewardship and to teach myself to find comfort in the Lord instead of sugar?
Esau had his mind set on the flesh, and he was seeking to satisfy his most base and immediate desires. Isn’t this the struggle? Every day we fight against these pulls on our flesh, these things that will give immediate comfort, pleasure, or ease. Maybe it’s that chocolate ice cream or a glass of wine that we just “need” at the end of a long day of self-discipline. Maybe it’s pulling out our phones to check Instagram or Facebook for some quick idolatry of what others might be thinking of our posts. Just me? I am so quick to look for little things in which to find bits of comfort, and I am quick to justify them as “balance.” A little for God, a little for me.
We can minimize and justify a great many sins in the name of ‘self-care’ and ‘moderation’ or whatever word for entitlement you want to use; but underneath our refusal to let go of these things is a belief—a belief that God is not enough to truly satisfy.
There are a few things that stand out to me about Esau in this narrative. First, he has put himself in a vulnerable spot. He is hungry, exhausted, and discontent with his circumstances. He comes in the door with one thought: feed my flesh. He has evidently been starving his spirit as well as his flesh.
Compare this with Jesus’s response when Satan came to him after fasting for 40 days in the desert. Satan tempts him by saying, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” And Jesus answers, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Jesus was hungry too, but He was content. He was filled by something else: “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” (John 4:34)
As with so many of the Bible’s lessons, this narrative is more about the heart than about the actions themselves. Is it wrong to be hungry and to eat food in response to said hunger? Of course not. But when the food comes at the cost of our inheritance that Jesus died on the cross to give us…the heart behind that exchange is wrought with sin.
There is one more thing I find interesting about this account. After Esau sells his birthright, he eats, drinks, and gets up and leaves. And then it says “he despised his birthright.” I can relate to this. We think we need that thing…that one thing that, if we can just acquire it, would make us happy and satisfy our hearts. And then we get it. God says, here, beloved, have it. Have the thing you think will bring you more happiness than Me. And we do. We take it in both hands and we drink deep and we delight in it, for a moment. But as we wash it down, it leaves a bitter aftertaste of emptiness and of the knowledge that it is not enough. We eat, we drink, we get up and leave.
But here’s where we can be different than Esau…we can be ready. Before the hunger and fatigue set in, we can be armed with contentment, fully satisfied in what God has already given us. We can make our choices based on our belief that God really—really!—IS enough. When we start to see our smallest choices as an opportunity to choose God over ourselves, it is truly liberating to realize we actually don’t need all of these things we think we need. It’s so simple, it just might be the answer we’ve all been looking for. God alone. Nothing else. Give it all, keep nothing, gain everything. “You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” Psalm 16:11