1 Abraham took another wife, whose name was Keturah. 2 She bore him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah. 3 Jokshan fathered Sheba and Dedan. The sons of Dedan were Asshurim, Letushim, and Leummim. 4 The sons of Midian were Ephah, Epher, Hanoch, Abida, and Eldaah. All these were the children of Keturah. 5 Abraham gave all he had to Isaac. 6 But to the sons of his concubines Abraham gave gifts, and while he was still living he sent them away from his son Isaac, eastward to the east country. 7 These are the days of the years of Abraham’s life, 175 years. 8 Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people. 9 Isaac and Ishmael his sons buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, east of Mamre, 10 the field that Abraham purchased from the Hittites. There Abraham was buried, with Sarah his wife. 11 After the death of Abraham, God blessed Isaac his son. And Isaac settled at Beer-lahai-roi. 12 These are the generations of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah’s servant, bore to Abraham. 13 These are the names of the sons of Ishmael, named in the order of their birth: Nebaioth, the firstborn of Ishmael; and Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, 14 Mishma, Dumah, Massa, 15 Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah. 16 These are the sons of Ishmael and these are their names, by their villages and by their encampments, twelve princes according to their tribes. 17 (These are the years of the life of Ishmael: 137 years. He breathed his last and died, and was gathered to his people.) 18 They settled from Havilah to Shur, which is opposite Egypt in the direction of Assyria. He settled over against all his kinsmen. 19 These are the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham fathered Isaac, 20 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. 21 And Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren. And the Lord granted his prayer, and Rebekah his wife conceived. 22 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. 23 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.” 24 When her days to give birth were completed, behold, there were twins in her womb. 25 The first came out red, all his body like a hairy cloak, so they called his name Esau. 26 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. 27 When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents. 28 Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob. 29 Once when Jacob was cooking stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was exhausted. 30 And Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stew, for I am exhausted!” (Therefore his name was called Edom.) 31 Jacob said, “Sell me your birthright now.” 32 Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” 33 Jacob said, “Swear to me now.” So he swore to him and sold his birthright to Jacob. 34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.
As we consider Genesis 25 and Esau’s selling of his birthright to Jacob, I would like to consider two meals: one of shame and compromise and the other of obedience and salvation. One meal led to the loss of a birthright. The other meal leads to the restoration of a birthright previously abandoned. One meal is the meal of man. The other is the meal of the Savior.
To unpack what is happening in this amazing and troubling exchange between Isaac’s sons, we need to understand the concept of birthright. The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery offers a helpful summary of this idea:
The concept of birthright is expressed in the OT by the noun bekor/bekora…The concept of birthright alludes to the privileges and expectations of primogeniture. The noun always occurs in the singular with the special meaning of the legal claims of the eldest son to a double portion of the inheritance and the right to bear the family’s name and other privileges.
Esau, as the firstborn, therefore had a birthright. His was a privileged position of both blessing and responsibility. Yet he sells his birthright for a meal.
Esau’s meal represents all the ways we sell our birthright for lesser things.
The genealogical elements of Genesis 25:1-28 set the stage for this famous episode of fraternal friction. We see, in the first part of the chapter, the continued lineage and death of Abraham (v.1-10), the blessing and settling of Isaac (v.11), the lineage and death of Ishmael (v.12-18), and then the story of the birth of Isaac and Rebekah’s sons Jacob (the younger) and Esau (v.19-28). When we come to our text, then, we have seen the spotlight fall with focus on Isaac and his line, that is, with the covenant line of Abraham. The spotlight falls on the continued unfolding of God’s plan of salvation. And, perhaps predictably, conflict enters the picture. The conflict is set up by the favoritism shown by Isaac and Rebekah:
28 Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.
This is, of course, most unfortunate. It soon manifests itself in the boys’ relationship.
29 Once when Jacob was cooking stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was exhausted. 30 And Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stew, for I am exhausted!” (Therefore his name was called Edom.) 31 Jacob said, “Sell me your birthright now.” 32 Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” 33 Jacob said, “Swear to me now.” So he swore to him and sold his birthright to Jacob. 34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.
The details of the story are clear enough. Esau is hungry. Jacob is a good cook. Esau wants some of Jacob’s food. Jacob says he can have the bowl of “red stew” in exchange for his birthright. Esau, greatly hungered and trafficking in hyperbole (“I am about to die!”) agrees. In this way. Jacob takes possession of Esau’s rightful birthright.
I am struck by this exchange. Was there duplicity on Jacob’s part? I do not know that it can be called that. He stated plainly what he wanted. There is certainly opportunism here, however, and, behind this, plotting with the encouragement of his mother. But my concern here is Esau.
Esau is the man whose vision is overwhelmed by the temporal, the sensual, the immediate need for gratification. Esau is, in other words, humanity in a microcosm. He is you and me. He is lost humanity.
I am not trying to traffic in cheap allegory in saying this. I am simply saying that Esau’s constitution in this moment and the actions that arise from it have great explanatory force for the story of human history as a whole. There is indeed something emblematic about a man selling his birthright of blessing and opportunity for a bowl of stew without regard for the consequences.
We eat the meal of Esau every time we allow the temporal to eclipse the eternal and the profane to eclipse the sacred. We eat the meal of Esau every time we shut our eyes to the great matters of God and His will for our lives and divulge in a fit of frenzy concerning our own felt needs.
A man sells his birthright for a bowl of stew. People routinely sell their very souls for much less.
The analogy between Esau and us works even moreso when we consider that Christ is depicted as reclaiming our birthright for us through His finished work on the cross and in the empty tomb. We can see this in two ways.
Jesus is “the firstborn”
First, the New Testament applies the image of “the firstborn” to Jesus in divers ways. In Romans 8:29 Paul writes that Jesus is to be “the firstborn among many brothers” as He redeems all who come to Him. In Colossians 1:15 Jesus is called “the firstborn of all creation.” In Colossians 1:18 and Revelation 1:5 Jesus is called “the firstborn from the dead.” In Hebrews 1:6 Jesus is called “the firstborn” that God “brings…into the world.”
This application of firstborn imagery to Jesus is significant. It means that Jesus has the birthright that eclipses all others. As God’s Son, His birthright is one of unparalleled blessing and responsibility. The New Testament writers appear to be taking great pains, then, to set up this firstborn/birthright imagery in relation to Christ Himself.
We are heirs with Jesus through His position and finished work.
Then the New Testament writers take it one step further. It is not only that Jesus has the birthright. It is also that, by grace through faith in Him we can have our birthright restored. We, Esau’s all, have had that which we lost reclaimed, repurchased by Christ. If our birthright is lost through our own disobedience, it is restored by Christ’s obedience. This is made clear, for instance, in Romans 8. Consider:
16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
We are children.
We are heirs.
We are “fellow heirs with Christ.”
In other words, we receive a birthright inheritance by virtue of our redemption in and through Christ Jesus our Lord. As we are joined to Him, our birthright is restored and our blessing and responsibility is reclaimed.
This is most amazing! But it establishes, for our purposes at this point, a tragic fact: our birthright has indeed been lost through our own Esau-like foolishness.
Jesus’ meal represents the way in which He buys our birthright back.
That note of tragedy is part of the gospel. We need to grieve over what we have lost before we can celebrate what has been found. So I ask you: for what have you sold your birthright? For what have you traded it? What was the price of your soul?
Feel the weight of those questions…then watch the glory of the lovingkindness of God. It is demonstrated in another meal, the meal that both contrasts with and undoes the effects of Esau’s meal of shame. We read of this meal in Matthew 26:
26 Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
Esau’s was a meal of loss. Jesus’ is a meal of finding.
Esau’s was a meal of disobedience. Jesus’ is a meal of obedience.
Esau ate foolishly and was shamed. Jesus serves obediently and conquers sin, death, and hell.
The one meal condemns. The other meal saves.
The one meal is a meal of condemnation. The other meal is a meal of salvation.
We must turn from the meal of Esau! We must turn to the meal of Christ!
Why? Because the meal of Christ is a signpost pointing to a person and an act: Jesus and His finished work on the cross.
The meal of Esau reminds us of our distance from Christ. The meal of Jesus reminds us that Christ has brought us near by grace through faith.
The meal of Esau reminds us that we are lost in our sins! The meal of Jesus reminds us that our sins have been forgive by grace through faith!
Church, I ask you: at which table are you sitting? What meal are you eating? The meal of frenzied temporal need and cheap appetite appeasement? Or the meal of obedience and transformation, the meal that points our hearts to Christ Jesus!
On the one table is the lentil stew of our own short-sighted disobedience…and it leaves a bitter taste in the soul.
On the other table are the emblems of Christ on the cross…and it points us to the sweetness of the Savior’s love.
Turn from the table of Esau! Turn to the Christ to whom His table points! Turn and take and live!
 Lelan Ryken, James C. Wilhoit, and Tremper Longman III. Gen. Eds., “Leaven, Leavening.” Dictionary of Biblical Imagery. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998), p.97.