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Selling Your Birthright

Now Isaac pleaded with the LORD for his wife,
because she was barren;
and the LORD granted his plea,
and Rebekah his wife conceived.

But the children struggled together within her;
and she said, "If all is well, why am I like this?"

So she went to inquire of the LORD.
And the LORD said to her:
"Two nations are in your womb,
Two peoples shall be separated from your body;
One people shall be stronger than the other,
And the older shall serve the younger."

So when her days were fulfilled for her to give birth,
indeed there were twins in her womb.

And the first came out red.
He was like a hairy garment all over;
so they called his name Esau.

Afterward his brother came out,
and his hand took hold of Esau's heel;
so his name was called Jacob.

Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them.

So the boys grew.
And Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field;
but Jacob was a mild man, dwelling in tents.

And Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game,
but Rebekah loved Jacob.

Now Jacob cooked a stew;
and Esau came in from the field,
and he was weary.

And Esau said to Jacob,
"Please feed me with that same red stew, for I am weary."
Therefore his name was called Edom.

But Jacob said, "Sell me your birthright as of this day."
And Esau said, "Look, I am about to die;
so what is this birthright to me?"

Then Jacob said, "Swear to me as of this day."
So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob.
And Jacob gave Esau bread and stew of lentils;
then he ate and drank, arose, and went his way.
Thus Esau despised his birthright. (Genesis 25:21-34)

A birthright is a right, privilege or possession to which a person, especially the firstborn son, was entitled by birth in ancient times. The firstborn son would enjoy a favored position. His birthright would entitle him to a double portion of his father's estates and assets (Deuteronomy 21:17). He would also receive a special blessing from his father in addition to the privilege of leading of the family (Genesis 43:33).

These inheritance rights of the firstborn were protected by law. The father could not give his benefits to a younger son due to favoritism:

If a man has two wives,
one loved and the other unloved,
and they have borne him children,
both the loved and the unloved,
and if the firstborn son is of her who is unloved,
then it shall be,
on the day he bequeaths his possessions to his sons,
that he must not bestow firstborn status
on the son of the loved wife
in preference to the son of the unloved, the true firstborn.

But he shall acknowledge the son of the unloved wife
as the firstborn by giving him
a double portion of all that he has,
for he is the beginning of his strength;
the right of the firstborn is his. (Deuteronomy 21:15-17)

The firstborn himself, however, could lose the birthright. As Reuben had committed incest with his father's concubine (Genesis 35:22), he lost his favored position:

Now the sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel--
he was indeed the firstborn,
but because he defiled his father's bed,
his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph,
the son of Israel,
so that the genealogy is not listed
according to the birthright; (1 Chronicles 5:1)

The firstborn could also lose his birthright if he sold it away. Esau sold his birthright to his younger brother Jacob for one morsel of food (Hebrews 12:16).

Herein is the story of Esau and Jacob. They were twins. They fought while they were in their mother's womb. They struggled against each other even before Rebekah gave birth to them. Though they were twins, they were very different when they came out of her womb. Their conflicts continued as they grew up. Their personality traits were also diversely different. Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field; but Jacob was a mild man, dwelling in tents.

Being a skillful hunter, Esau was an expert in chasing after his preys, and hunting them down. He was aggressive and violent, and at times, brutally cruel and merciless towards those little animals of the forest. Just as he was covered with red blood at his birth, his hands were also often full of blood. He was obsessive in killing. Even today his descendents carry the same traits, always fighting, warring and killing innocent blood.

Esau was also aggressive in pursuing his own goals and obtaining them. He even married three wives without the approval of his parents.

When Esau was forty years old,
he took as wives Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite,
and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite.
And they were a grief of mind to Isaac and Rebekah. (Genesis 26:34-35)

Also Esau saw that the daughters of Canaan
did not please his father Isaac.
So Esau went to Ishmael and
took Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael,
Abraham's son, the sister of Nebajoth,
to be his wife in addition to the wives he had. (Genesis 28:8-9)

In Hebrews 12:16-17, Esau was described as a fornicator or a profane person. He was an immoral or godless person. After selling his birthright, he wanted it back again. But it was too late, even though he wept bitter tears of repentance.

In contrast, Jacob was a mild man. He was a shepherd tending sheep. He was willing to work for Laban, and wait patiently for 7 years in order to marry his sweetheart, Rachel, as his wife.

So Jacob served seven years for Rachel,
and they seemed only a few days to him
because of the love he had for her. (Genesis 29:20)

Jacob was a loving man, wholesome, peaceful and simple. He was a man with good moral and integrity despite his name, which means "heel-catcher or supplanter."

"Dwelling in tents" is often the idiom for one person who studies the Word of God diligently.

May God enlarge Japheth,
And may he dwell in the tents of Shem;
And may Canaan be his servant. (Genesis 9:27)

How lovely are your tents, O Jacob!
Your dwellings, O Israel!
Like valleys that stretch out,
Like gardens by the riverside,
Like aloes planted by the LORD,
Like cedars beside the waters.
He shall pour water from his buckets,
And his seed shall be in many waters. (Numbers 24:5-7)

LORD, who may abide in Your tabernacle?
Who may dwell in Your holy hill?
He who walks uprightly,
And works righteousness,
And speaks the truth in his heart; (Psalm 15:1-2)

The commandments and laws of God were written in the hearts of men from the very beginning. The patriarchs would study and share them with their children and grandchildren. Their tents were the places of education and schooling in the Word of God! The actual documents were not written on pages or stones, but taught by life examples with clear explanations from the parents to their children and children's children.

Abraham dwelt in tents also, and he studied the Word of God. He knew and obeyed the voice of God, kept His charge, His commandments, statutes and laws!

By faith Abraham obeyed
when he was called to go out to the place
which he would receive as an inheritance.
And he went out, not knowing where he was going.
By faith he dwelt in the land of promise
as in a foreign country,
dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob,
the heirs with him of the same promise;
for he waited for the city which has foundations,
whose builder and maker is God. (Hebrews 11:8-10)

…because Abraham obeyed My voice and
kept My charge, My commandments,
My statutes, and My laws. (Genesis 26:5)

Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation,
and all nations on earth will be blessed through him.
For I have chosen him,
so that he will direct his children and his household
after him to keep the way of the LORD
by doing what is right and just,
so that the LORD will bring about for Abraham
what He has promised him. (Genesis 18:18-19)

A tent-dweller will put more value on spiritual things than his earthly possessions as he has to often pack and unpack them, moving from place to place, as God leads him. He is not tied down to one location with many strings attached but he is able to move when God moves. An excellent example of dwelling in tents was that of the Israelites when they were in the wilderness for 40 years! God was leading them, and dwelling with them all the way and all the days!

So it was always: the cloud covered it by day,
and the appearance of fire by night.
Whenever the cloud was taken up
from above the tabernacle,
after that the children of Israel would journey;
and in the place where the cloud settled,
there the children of Israel would pitch their tents. (Numbers 9:16-17)

Tent-dwellers do not depend on hunting for their livelihoods. They raise their own flocks. Abraham was a tent-dweller, and he had flocks and herds, silver and gold, male and female servants, and camels and donkeys (Genesis 24:34-35).

Jacob dwelt in tents, and Esau was a man of the field. One enjoyed rest, while the other was restless, always busy chasing after something, catching this and that.

With all these in mind, it was easy to see why God chose Jacob instead of Esau.

And not only this,
but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man,
even by our father Isaac
(for the children not yet being born,
nor having done any good or evil,
that the purpose of God according to election might stand,
not of works but of Him Who calls),
it was said to her, "The older shall serve the younger."
As it is written,
"Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated."

What shall we say then?
Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not!
For He says to Moses,
"I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy,
and I will have compassion
on whomever I will have compassion." (Romans 9:10-15)

One day, Jacob was cooking stew. Esau came in from the field, and he was exhausted. And Esau said to Jacob, "Please feed me with that same red stew, for I am weary." Therefore his name was called Edom, which meant “red, earthy, and of blood.” In other words, Esau was a red hot-tempered man, easily provoked.

As Esau was a skillful hunter, he should have brought back some game from the fields. He should have cooked his own game for his own consumption. But being very impatient, he demanded for the stew that his brother was cooking. He couldn't wait for his own food to be cooked. Being a demanding man, he did not ask his younger brother politely for the stew. He was truly a man of the flesh. But his younger brother, Jacob, desired spiritual things. He knew the birthright of the firstborn would include spiritual blessings besides the physical ones.

While Esau was craving for Jacob's food, Jacob was eyeing on Esau's birthright. When Esau demanded for the stew, Jacob told him, “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.

Esau was a strong and skilful hunter. He would obviously not die because he missed a meal. He was just throwing tantrums, demanding his ways. He sought instant gratification of his physical urges rather than exercising some self-control. Because he was overwhelmed by his fleshly desires, he felt as if he was going to die without eating his brother's stew. He treasured the physical more than the spiritual. He despised his birthright for some bread and some stew of lentils.

Though Jacob bought the birthright, it was not easy for him to get hold of this birthright. To sell away a birthright for some stew and bread is easy, but to buy a birthright for some stew and bread is not that easy. The deal must be approved by the father! In this case, by God, our Father in heaven!

If an Olympic gold medallist decides to sell away his gold medal to his younger brother, does it mean that his brother automatically becomes the Olympic champion? Obviously not! Until the younger brother proves himself on the Olympic fields or the Olympic Committee approves him, his gold medal is only an item without the title. His older brother is still the champion by name.

Jacob was later named Israel. And Israel went through a fiery furnace to obtain the birthright legally.

Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver;
I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.
For My own sake, for My own sake, I will do it;
For how should My name be profaned?
And I will not give My glory to another.
Listen to Me, O Jacob,
And Israel, My called:
I am He, I am the First,
I am also the Last. (Isaiah 48:10-12)

It was a few hundred years later that God first declared and called Israel His firstborn, just before the whole nation of Israel was delivered out of slavery and bondage from the land of Egypt.

Thus says the LORD:
"Israel is My son, My firstborn.
So I say to you,
let My son go that he may serve Me.
But if you refuse to let him go,
indeed I will kill your son, your firstborn." (Exodus 4:22-23)

Israel went through another 40 years of humbling and testing by God to see whether they would obey Him or not.

Every commandment which I command you today
you must be careful to observe,
that you may live and multiply,
and go in and possess the land
of which the LORD swore to your fathers.
And you shall remember that the LORD your God
led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness,
to humble you and test you,
to know what was in your heart,
whether you would keep His commandments or not.

So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger,
and fed you with manna which you did not know
nor did your fathers know,
that He might make you know that
man shall not live by bread alone;
but man lives by every word that proceeds
from the mouth of the LORD.

Your garments did not wear out on you,
nor did your foot swell these forty years.

You should know in your heart that
as a man chastens his son,
so the LORD your God chastens you.

Therefore you shall keep
the commandments of the LORD your God,
to walk in His ways and to fear Him. (Deuteronomy 8:1-6)

Only God could determine who the firstborn was! God would chasten His firstborn just as a man would chasten his son. Why did God take so long to put His stamp of approval on a deal made between two brothers so long ago? The answer is simple. To despise one's birthright and throw away one's holy heritage is easy; but to claim it may take years of training and testing before approval is granted.

Now I say that the heir,
as long as he is a child,
does not differ at all from a slave,
though he is master of all,
but is under guardians and stewards
until the time appointed by the father. (Galatians 4:1-2)

To be called God's firstborn is an awesome calling! To bear His name is not easy. It means to be a holy people as He is holy!

For you are a holy people to the LORD your God;
the LORD your God has chosen you
to be a people for Himself,
a special treasure above all the peoples
on the face of the earth.

The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you
because you were more in number than any other people,
for you were the least of all peoples;
but because the LORD loves you,
and because He would keep the oath
which He swore to your fathers,
the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand,
and redeemed you from the house of bondage,
from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.

Therefore know that the LORD your God,
He is God, the faithful God
Who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations
with those who love Him and keep His commandments;
and He repays those who hate Him to their face,
to destroy them.
He will not be slack with him who hates Him;
He will repay him to his face.
Therefore you shall keep the commandment,
the statutes, and the judgments
which I command you today, to observe them. (Deuteronomy 7:6-11)

This birthright is very important. God keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments. God loved and chose Israel, but that's only one-sided. Israel must love and choose God!

Hear, O Israel:
The LORD our God, the LORD is one!
You shall love the LORD your God
with all your heart, with all your soul,
and with all your strength.

And these words which I command you today
shall be in your heart.

You shall teach them diligently to your children,
and shall talk of them when you sit in your house,
when you walk by the way,
when you lie down, and when you rise up.

You shall bind them as a sign on your hand,
and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.
You shall write them on the doorposts of your house
and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)

Christians are called and chosen too.

But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood,
a holy nation, His own special people,
that you may proclaim the praises of Him
Who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;
who once were not a people but are now the people of God,
who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.

Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims,
abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul,
having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles,
that when they speak against you as evildoers,
they may, by your good works which they observe,
glorify God in the day of visitation. (1 Peter 2:9-12)

We are born of God, and are called the children of God. Let's love Him and keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.

Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God,
and everyone who loves Him Who begot
also loves him who is begotten of Him.
By this we know that we love the children of God,
when we love God and keep His commandments.
For this is the love of God,
that we keep His commandments.
And His commandments are not burdensome. (1 John 5:1-3)

Let's not sell away our birthrights by yielding to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life.

Let's seek first His kingdom and His righteousness rather than temporary gains and satisfactions.

Let's also learn how to dwell with Him in His tents, resting in Him and studying His Word diligently! We are sojourners and pilgrims, journeying with Him!

Our body or earthly house is the tent:

For we know that if our earthly house,
this tent, is destroyed,
we have a building from God,
a house not made with hands,
eternal in the heavens.

For in this we groan,
earnestly desiring to be clothed
with our habitation which is from heaven,
if indeed, having been clothed,
we shall not be found naked.

For we who are in this tent groan,
being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed,
but further clothed,
that mortality may be swallowed up by life. (2 Corinthians 5:1-4)

Our body is the temple of God:

Do you not know that you are the temple of God and
that the Spirit of God dwells in you?
If anyone defiles the temple of God,
God will destroy him.
For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are. (1 Corinthians 3:16-17)

In this dwelling place, temple and tent, we will have the School of the Holy Spirit. And He will teach us how to obey the commandments of God:

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit,
Whom the Father will send in My name,
He will teach you all things,
and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you. (John 14:26)

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you;
I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and
give you a heart of flesh.
I will put My Spirit within you and
cause you to walk in My statutes,
and you will keep My judgments and do them.
Then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers;
you shall be My people, and I will be your God. (Ezekiel 36:26-28)

Please also read: The Reconciliation Of Isaac & Ishmael

Nelson's Bible Dictionary

Written on:
25 May 2006