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The Tale of Two Brothers (Genesis 25:17-34)
The Story of Jacob
A Tale of Two Brothers
Genesis 25:17-34
Some of you may be familiar with a well-known Christian psychologist and author named Dr. Kevin Leman. Some years ago he wrote a book called "The Birth Order Book". The thesis of The Birth Order Book is very simple: When you are dealing with your children, it is important to understand that their personality, their temperament and their outlook on life is greatly shaped by where they appear in the birth order.
For example, first-born children tend to be leaders. He points out that a disproportionate number of presidents have been first-borns. The same is true for most of the great leaders of the military and for many of the leaders of American industry. They usually have a strong sense of personal responsibility.
First-borns tend also to be rule-keepers, obsessed with concepts like fairness and justice. They normally have a strong sense of rightness and wrongness and are often very black and white in their thinking. They also are usually the keepers of the family traditions. Many of them are perfectionists, highly demanding—both of themselves and of those around them. Very often first-borns accomplish a great deal in life because their parents have put so much pressure on them to excel.
By contrast, middle-borns tend to be much more relaxed and laid back. Often they make friends very easily. Because they are caught in the middle of the family crossfire, middle-borns learn how to stay out of trouble, how to compromise and how to negotiate. For them, all of life is a trade-off. They learn how to go along to get along.
Finally, you come to the last-born children. These Dr. Leman calls the “bear cubs.” They often are the court jesters who know how to defuse tension by making a joke. They know how to laugh and make people feel good.
What makes the difference? Dr. Leman believes one critical factor is not the fundamental differences in the kids, but the way the parents change over the years.
We start out being strict with our first-borns because we don’t want to mess things up. Then we normally loosen up on the second and third child. And by the time you get down to numbers four, five and six, your parenting becomes very relaxed indeed. Which is why the first-born’s lament really is true: “Mom and Dad let you do stuff I couldn’t even dream about.”
By personal observation, I know there really is something to this birth order business. Children are very different. If you have more than one child, then you know you are dealing with multiple personalities and all the dynamics that produces in your home.
While one child is into athletics, another loves music. One will read books, another will play games for hours.
One will be good with his hands, another will love to write. One will be outgoing, another will be shy. One will make friends easily, another will have trouble all his life with relationships. Kids really are different.
And even though the kids may siblings through multiple births, the same thing is true. A the parents can attest, even identical twins can be very different.
That's interesting, isn't it? Two kids that can't be any more closely related than they, raised by the same family, raised under the same roof and yet they can grow up to be very different people.
Exhibit A of that truth is the story of Jacob and Esau. Two boys, twins, raised in an identical environment, yet they grew up to be polar opposites. Coming out in a dead heat, with one grabbing hold of the other, they wind up going in two different directions in life. It would be hard to find twins who started out so equally and yet differed so greatly in the course of life.
We pick up the story in Genesis 25:27. The writer of Genesis has skipped over many years to focus on an incident that happens when the boys are in their late teens or early 20s. All those differences which were barely seen at birth now become evident with the passing of youth into adulthood. Jacob and Esau were two very different people, with very different values, and those differences now become manifest.
verse 27
1. The Relationships
Their story begins with the two brothers and their parents.
First we are reintroduced to the boys, Jacob and Esau. We picture Esau as an outgoing, friendly kind of guy who is good with his hands, much more at home out in the fields than staying around the tents. In modern terms, he was a man’s man. I would guess he was strong and athletic .
On the other hand, Jacob is described as a mild man. The Hebrew word is tam, which in some contexts means “perfect.” Here, I think it means like “complete” or “competent” or “self-controlled.” He is introspective, a thinker, a man of intellect and insight. Jacob is everything Esau is not; Esau is everything Jacob is not. More opposite brothers could hardly be imagined.
Next we meet the parents, and they are introduced by their relationships with the boys.
verse 28
This is the beginning of a family dysfunction which will eventually pass down to the second and third generations. How much damage has been done done through the years because of parents who show favoritism?
Sometimes it happens so subtly that the parents never realize they are favoring one child over the other. Sometimes it is nothing more than a glance in one direction, the trace of a smile, a casual pat on the head, or a frown or an angry look. But children know instinctively if they are loved and accepted, and they naturally move toward the parent who gives them the outward signs of love.
And when Moses tells us that Isaac loved Esau because he had a taste for wild game, he’s telling us more than what kind of food he liked. What we're discovering is that the way to Isaac’s heart was through his stomach.
In other words, he was a man ruled by his physical appetites. He was given over to brute sense appeal. The thing that brought father and son together was the son’s skillful ability to satisfy his father’s appetite.
On the other hand, Rebekah loved Jacob. And why not? He was always hanging around the tents while Esau was out hunting game. He was a momma's boy in the pruest sense of the word.
Now don't miss what's happening here. We've all heard it said that opposites attract. But that's true, not only with marriage partners, but with parents and children also. And here we have the relatively quiet father named Isaac teaming up with his athletic son, Esau, while the dominant mother Rebekah loves her quiet son Jacob.
So with that introduction, we come to the first great turning point in Jacob's life. And it comes through the details regarding
2. The Birthright
Genesis 25:29-34
We need to understand the historical background of the birthright to fully appreciate the story. To an oldest son, the birthright was his most prized possession in the world.
In those times the oldest son was accorded two distinct honors by virtue of his being the first-born: First,
- He was given a double inheritance, and
- He was considered the head of the family after the death of the parents.
Now the birthright could be transferred or sold, but only for something of great value. Normally a first-born son would never consider selling the birthright because it guaranteed both his future security and his future leadership of the family.
So what we have here is one of those defining moments in Esau's life. When it happened, it seems trivial, but I wonder how many times Esau reflected on what happened in that brief moment of time. In fact, so significant is this event, both Esau and Jacob are forever changed because of a simple bowl of soup.
Now watch what happens, and keep in mind, nobody looks good in how this plays out. There are no heroes or winners in what happens. There are moral problems on every hand. And we talk a lot about Esau and the worldly decision he makes to sell his birthright, but what kind of guy would withhold food from his hungry brother, and on top of that, cheat him out of what was rightfully his?
Notice what happens. It begins with
- An Uncontrolled Appetite
We see that in verses 29-30. Now what happened took place so quickly that Esau gave very little thought to what was happening. He comes in from being out in the field, either hunting or working, and he's starving to death, or so he thought.
Either way, his hunger was genuine and this red stew Jacob was cooking looked and smelled delicious. But the text also tips us off about his basic nature by the words it uses.
Literally, it reads “Quick, give me some of that red stuff!” The verbs line up boom, boom, boom. In other places the word means “to gulp.” The word was also used of forcing food down the throat of a reluctant animal. Esau is here revealing the truth about himself.
He cares for nothing but filling his stomach, cramming the food in, gulping it down as fast as he can. It’s a picture of his basic animalistic nature. On the outside he seems like a wonderful fellow, but when you get to the inside, there’s not much there. He looks good but he’s empty and shallow and totally controlled by his physical desires.
Next comes
- An Unbrotherly Offer
verse 31
I think we have to assume at least one fact that the text doesn’t specifically spell out.
I think we have to assume that Jacob had been scheming in his mind, looking for an opportunity to outsmart his brother out of the birthright. I may be wrong, but I don't think this is the first time he thought about how he could acquire the birthright.
It appears to be a premeditated idea, and Jacob is just waiting for the right opportunity to come.
And one day, Esau comes blowing into the kitchen. Jacob has been slaving away. He's using heirloom tomatoes that were freshly gathered. He has home-grown basil and thyme that is fully matured. He has seasoned and tempered and basted an tasted, and all of a sudden, Mr. Stinks like the Great Outdoors comes rushing in, sniffs the air and says, "Give me some of that red stuff!"
  1. little Chef Jacob seizes the moment, and in a most unbrotherly way, takes advantage of Esau.
He took advantage of Esau’s weakness to get from him something he couldn’t have obtained any other way.
But, you say, did not God promise to bless the younger over the older? Yes, and God had told Rebekah that before the boys were born. And that makes what Jacob did even that much more sinister.
If God had promised it, then Jacob didn’t need to trick Esau out of it. God doesn’t need that kind of help. He can find a way to give the birthright and the blessing to Jacob in his own time. So even though Jacob got what God wanted him to have, he did it in an unbrotherly fashion.
Well, poor old Esau is up a creek. He's hungry, so he makes
- A Short-Sighted Decision
verse 32
I think that's a bit over exaggerated, don't you? "I’m so hungry I'm about to die.” He’s been out hunting all day and now he wants something to eat. Give the boy his food or else he’ll die. After all, he hasn’t eaten in eight hours.
So Esau said, “What good is the birthright to me?” Here’s a man whose sensual desires so control him that when he sees the red stew, that’s all he can think of. Nothing else matters. Not even the sacred birthright. He’s ready to trade the most important possession in his life for a bowl of stew.
What does that tell us about Esau? He is impulsive, he lives for the moment, and he demands immediate gratification
He is the modern mindset that says, “I see it, I want it, and I want it right now.” That's why they offer you credit cards. We live in a world that encourages us to think that way. That’s basically what American advertising is built upon. “You need this and you need it now. In fact, you deserve it! And you know you can't be happy unless you have it, so go ahead. "Don’t have the money? Don’t worry about it! Charge it, and pay for it later.”
All of us are susceptible to that lie, aren’t we? We buy whatever it is, and then we’re happy for awhile. But pretty soon it breaks, or it wears out, or (as in Esau’s case) we’re hungry again. To me the most bizarre thing about this story is that after Esau sold his birthright for the bowl of stew, in a few hours, he was hungry all over again!
That’s the way the world works. “Do this, try this, buy this, and it will make you happy.” So we do it or try it or buy it and it works … for awhile. Then we have to buy something else to keep ourselves happy.
Often you’ll be watching an ad on TV when that credit card in your wallet starts talking to you. “Use me. Use me. Don’t leave me alone back here. Pull me out and use me.” So like zombies we go out to the car and the credit card says, “Turn left here. Go straight now. Stop here. Wy, they're going out of business! You'll get a good deal! After all, you’re already over your limit. What difference does it make?” That’s exactly how most of us get into so much financial trouble.
By the way, that's why affairs happen and marriages end. Men and women get into certain situations where they begin to feel intense desire so they say, “I want this person now.” So they trade their morality for a few moments of gratification.
When someone hurts us, a little voice says, “Get even. Don’t let them get away with that. Don’t just sit there. Don’t let them walk all over you. Stand up for your rights. You better get even, and you better do it right now.”
The world says to us, “Live for today and forget tomorrow.” That was Esau’s problem. But God says, “Use today to get ready for tomorrow.” The problem is we’ve got time and eternity all mixed up. Most of us live as if time is going to last forever and eternity is going to be very short. That’s backwards. Time is very short, but eternity lasts forever. The only purpose of time is to get ready for where you’re going to be and what you’re going to do for all eternity.
But the world says, “Go for the gusto. You only go around once. You’re going to die anyway. Eat, drink and be merry. Go ahead, sell that birthright, for tomorrow you may die.” That’s exactly what Esau did.
Next we see
- The Sacred Oath
verse 33
Before Jacob will give Esau some stew, he makes him swear an oath to actually sell him the birthright. Jacob, like any shrewd businessman, is closing the deal. He’s getting Esau’s signature on the dotted line before he delivers the goods.
All Esau could see was that bowl of soup, that red stuff, that “mess of pottage.” Nothing else mattered to him. So he swore an oath, thus giving away his birthright.
That reveals his
- Flippant Unconcern
verse 34
You can just hear old Jacob saying, “Here, brother, eat all you want, take your time, I have plenty of stew.”
Again, in the Hebrew text the verbs are piled up on top of one another as if to imply that it happened very quickly. He ate, he drank and he got up and left.
Boom … Boom … Boom … Boom. And it’s all over. I would guess the entire episode didn't last more than ten to fifteen minutes. And the point of the story is that Esau is so stupid that he goes off, not even realizing what just happened. That’s a sweet deal for Jacob. He’s gotten the birthright, he’s now replaced his brother in the family, and Esau doesn’t even know what hit him.
He’s been taken to the cleaners, but all he can think about is how good that stew tasted.
Now, that phrase at the end of verse 34 needs some explanation. We read that word and we could get the idea that he got to thinking about what he did and got angry, but that's not what the phrase means.
To despise means “to count as nothing or to treat with contempt.” Esau despised his birthright in that he treated with contempt his most important possession.
Now think about this:
When the story began, Jacob had the soup and Esau had the birthright; in the end Esau had the soup and Jacob had the birthright. Who would you say got the better part of that deal?
Some of you may remember Bishop Desmond Tutu. He is a noted black clergyman from South Africa. He was the Bishop of Johannesburg from 1985 to 1986 and then the Archbishop of Cape Town from 1986 to 1996.
Several years ago, while speaking to a Christian workers conference, he made the following statement: “When the white man came to Africa, he had the Bible and we had the land. Now the white man has the land, but we have the Bible. We shall see who got the better part of that deal.”
There are some things in life that are more important than other things. So many of us spend our days trading away the things that really matter for things that amount to nothing more than a bowl of “red stuff.”
Let me close with
3. The Moral
We’re not left to wonder about what this story means. In a single verse of Scripture, Hebrews 12 tells us in no uncertain terms what this story is all about.
Hebrews 12:16
That is God’s divine judgment on what Esau did. By the way, the word "profane" simply means "godless".
Now I want you to think aout something. I challenge you to read what we just studied in Genesis 25 and see if you can find a single place where Esau acts like a godless or profane man. He never curses. He doesn’t blaspheme God. He doesn't show any anger or bitterness. All he did was make a deal for a bowl of soup. He ate it, then he went on his way.
And yet, here in Hebrews, he's identified as a godless, profane man. How in the world can you call Esau “godless"? Where’s the godlessness? What’s so profane about a bowl of soup?
Here's what that means: In the Bible, profanity is not an action or a word, but an attitude. Profanity is treating lightly that which God says should be taken seriously. You are godless when you treat lightly the most important things of life. And when you sell the things that matter for the things that don’t matter, you are not only a fool, you are also godless and profane.
You don’t have to swear to be profane. You don’t have to be an atheist to be godless. You can be godless and come to church every Sunday morning.
Esau sold it all for a “single meal.” The King James calls it a “single morsel.” Matthew Henry called this “the most important meal since Eve ate the forbidden fruit.” This profane and godless man—who is really just like us—threw it all away for the price of a bowl of soup.
Why is this story in the Bible? Because all of us are like Esau. Is this story not the flip side of the words of Jesus: “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36) All of us stand in the place of Esau every single day. We face repeated temptations to sell that which means the most to us for that which is worth so little.
Every day we are faced with decisions that seem trivial to us. What to wear, who to call, what to eat, how much money to spend, where to go after work, what books to read, what shows to watch, what jokes to tell. Each day we make hundreds of tiny decisions. Each one leads us in one of two directions—either toward God or away from him.
If you had been there that day, you would hardly have dreamed that something momentous was happening. But from this tiny event, the course of the world changed. After this day, Esau went one way and Jacob another. Just as a tiny rivulet becomes a mighty, rushing torrent, even so from the smallest decisions of life great consequences flow. Esau just didn’t know it.
4. The Questions
Let me end this study by asking a couple of penetrating questions:
1. What are you willing to trade in order to get what you want in life?
What kind of deal are you willing to make to get where you really want to go in life? How much are you wil-ling to give up? Your family? Your friends? Your marriage? Your integrity? Your purity? Your Christian testimony?
  1. Have you ever felt that somehow the best things in life have slipped away from you because you were so busy grabbing for something else?
You may feel like that right now. Perhaps you went so hard for what you wanted that somehow you lost the things that matter the most to you. And one day you looked around and your family was gone, your marriage was over, your career in ruins, your integrity destroyed, your purity vanished and your friends nowhere to be found.
When you got to the top of the mountain, you discovered to your horror that you had made a deal with the devil to get there. You sold what was most important for a bowl of red stuff. You cry out to the devil, “Is that all there is?” He laughs and says, “That’s it, kid. That’s all you get.” You say, “Can I get it back?” “Sorry. No refunds.”
What If
This story stands as a solemn warning to the people of God. “Don't be like Esau” who in a moment of weakness sold that which was priceless for that which satisfied him only for a moment. We’re all in danger of doing it. It happens so quickly, in the small decisions, when we live for today instead of for tomorrow.
Esau stands forever as a man who threw it all away and never got another chance. Don’t let it happen to you.
One final question. Have you despised God’s gift of salvation? Maybe you’ve said, “Later, Jesus. I’ve got my own life to live.” “Later, Jesus, later. I’m busy climbing the ladder.” “Later, Jesus, later. It’s not convenient right now.” What will you do when the day comes and the invitation is over and the moment is past? What if “later” never comes?
Wanted: A New Contract
Thank God, for those of us who have made bad decisions in the past, it is possible to make a new beginning.
Jesus Carrillo lived in the city that used to be Homestead, Florida. Hurricane Andrew destroyed most of the city in August. You saw the pictures. Where once there were nice homes on quiet streets, the rampaging winds and the torrential rains left only rubble and twisted metal. When Governor Lawton Chiles toured Homestead’s Aquarius Mobile Home Park, he surveyed the scene and said, “You can’t tell there was ever anything here.”
Standing in the rubble of what used to be his home, Jesus Carrillo said, “I am actually two days old. We are all only two days old. God gave us a new contract two days ago, and we must make the best of it.” (USA Today, August 26, 1992, p. 5A)
That is the one note of the grace of God at the end of this story. If you, like Esau, have sold your soul for a bowl of red stuff, ask God to give you a new contract. Ask him for a new beginning. Ask him for a new start. He will be glad to give it to you.
One final question to ponder, and then we are through. What will it take … What will God have to do … to wake you up to the most important things in life?
Let's pray.
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