in the Christian Library
ESAU – Knowing What Matters Most
1. Our lives are guided by the priorities we set. A multimillion dollar business has sprung up in our culture with the advent of “The Day-timer” log book. It operates from a simple point – set the priorities of each day and follow them and you will find success. The Bible clearly speaks about mankind setting the right priorities. ASK – What are some of the priorities the Bible stresses? Possible responses will include: seeking God and His Kingdom (Mt 6:33); loyalty to God above all others (Mt 10:34-39); loving God before all others and then loving others as you love self (Mt 22:36, 38; Mk 7:8).
The number one problem that mankind has faced, from Genesis through Revelation, is the failure to guide earthly life and choice by the right priorities!
Setting priorities is critical to spiritual success (Josh 1:7ff). If we fail to set the right priorities we will never please God (Mt 6:2, 6). It is urgent that Christians constantly review their lives to make sure they are following the priorities of God and not Self (2 Co 13:5). There often comes times when each Christian must “rededicate” himself/herself to God’s priorities (1 Jn 1:6-10).
Satan’s subtle strategy is to deceive us into following the wrong priorities in life. If we believe we are following God’s priorities then we can easily be led away from God and into error. This is a great danger and Christians need to guard against it (Hb 2:1-3). The man Esau offers an amazing lesson on setting the right priorities in life.
The sale of his birthright (Gn 25:29-34) illustrates how one can lose sight of the right priorities in life. “In this transaction Esau is the marked man – the warning example to all ages. His conduct has given rise to the established expression which denotes the barter of honour and fame for some passing pleasure, some present satisfaction of gross appetite; and in a higher application it denotes that worldly temper by which a man parts with eternal treasures for the sake of the fleeting treasures of this present world. Esau may be regarded as the founder of the Epicurean sort, of all whose motto and philosophy of life is ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.’” (Joseph S. Exell, The Preacher’s Complete Homiletic Commentary, Vol 1, 532).
2. Discuss the general history of this incident (Gn 25:29-34).
Jacob had developed a cunning scheme in order to secure the family’s birthright which would give him the supremacy for which he was destined. Esau returns to the home place. He is famished. 25:32 uses a Hebrew phrase that literally has Esau saying, “I’m at the point of expiring through hunger.” This term is used to describe one who is exhausted (cf Job 22:7; Ps 63:2; Pr 25:25). Esau was not really dying but this remark helps illustrate the character who will follow the wrong priorities. The one thing foremost on his mind was a good hot supper. The first thing that his senses perceived was a meal cooked by Jacob. The meal was perceived of as a “feast” by the hungry Esau but it was only a bowl of bean soup! “Lentiles” (v. 29, 30, 34) were dried beans that were boiled and made a reddish brown soup. Obviously lentile soup was far from the “feast” Esau saw but it was what he wanted that very instant. So insistent were Esau’s demands that he could not even call it by its right name and stuttered “That red, that red!” (v. 30). Esau saw nothing of value in the future; he lived only for the moment. Nothing in the future would offer him the satisfaction that the bowl of bean soup could offer now. So he traded his birthright for a bowl of bean soup. “Thus Esau despised his birthright” (v. 34b). He decided that all the blessings of the birthright were less valuable than a bowl of bean soup! Esau ate and left. He never expressed any regret nor attempted to induce his brother to cancel the bargain.
Esau’s attitude is too common today. Far too many cry out, “Give me what I want. I want it NOW. I want it regardless of its cost. Give me my indulgences I do not care about the consequences!” They look only at the here and not at the hereafter! This is the focus on this lesson.
3. PRIORITIES MISPLACED
a. The WRONG priorities in his CONDUCT.
This placed him on the level with animals (cf Ro 1:18-32).
This is the problem with our current society. Immediate gratification of appetites without guiding their satisfaction by God’s Word (i.e. violence in the streets; sexual immorality; destructive behaviors; etc.). Choices in life are decided by impulsive feelings. Whatever the “appetite” it is immediately fed!
The Scripture cautions us to guide all conduct by God’s Word (Ep 5:1-21; Col 3:16; 1 Ti 5:20-24; etc.).
2) He ignored those things that were truly valuable.
Such is typical of many today. “He does nothing evil, but neither does he do anything much worthwhile. He is too ready – as Esau was when he smelled Jacob’s cooking – to feel that when anything agreeable is at hand he must certainly have it” (Boice, 6).
b. The WRONG priorities in his VALUES.
Failure to recognize life’s true values has led many to sacrifice God’s priorities for the moment. Governments have been corrupted because people are guided by the priority that says, “Take any advantage you can, just win!” They view “winning” as more important than principle and following Truth. Society has become corrupted because people at large want some special thing so much and they want it instantly, so they seek gratification without stopping to think of the eventual price they will have to pay.
Present-day Believers are constantly confronted with the Devil’s bargaining plea – “Will you exchange your birthright for . . . ?” The Devil’s representative in the bargain will seem thoroughly likeable, absolutely trustworthy. S/He will win the heart before winning the soul of the unsuspecting. S/He will present themselves as winsome and generous and emotional. Such a person will not ever think s/he is in partnership with Satan and will say s/he is doing nothing wrong. However, such a person has sold-out the truly valuable for a bowl of bean soup!
A SERIOUS QUESTION – Who is there that may not be inclined, as Esau, to seize some immediate satisfaction at the cost of long-term good and imagine that the consequences of our actions will not matter much?
The Scripture is very clear that Christians must courageously stand up for godly principles and never “barter” them away (cf Ro 3:4; 1 Co 15:58; Josh 1:7-9; etc.). There are things in life that are nonnegotiable! We must not sell such for a bowl of bean soup!
2) He was unwilling to guard the valuable.
The Scripture counsels us on guarding the true valuables in life (cf 1 Ti 1:3-7; 6:20-21).
c. The WRONG priorities in his RELIGION.
The great tragedy of Esau is highlighted by Hebrews 12:16b, “For ONE mess of meat sold his own birthright.” He traded an eternity of blessings and dignity for ONE thing. That bowl of bean soup appeared desirable; it would stop the hunger pains and revive his energy, BUT it was only “ONE morsel of meat.” Its satisfaction was only for the moment. It forgot the eternal future. After that bowl of soup was consumed, Esau’s hunger returned and his tragedy was unavoidable.
How tragic it has always been when a person bargains away the lasting blessings for ONE event. The boy whose name was on everyone’s lips in college sports, is forgotten just ten years later. He had sacrificed everything for the ONE moment in the grandstand’s spotlight. He had devoted himself to sports, neglecting classes. He played hard and won acclaim but found emptiness and isolation. In reaching for quick satisfaction, he let slip the priority for which he attended college. Like Esau, he “sold his birthright for one mess of meat.”
How many today sacrifice the future blessings for the momentary. It may be a momentary pleasure in one’s “besetting sin,” but it is trading a bowl of bean soup for the eternal. One knows better, but the appetite is uncontrolled and Self feeds on eternity’s blessings. This tragedy is repeated in the Lord’s Church:
a) The moment of “spotlight” consumes eternity’s happiness (2 Jn 9ff).
b) The moment of worldliness is purchased with the treasures laid up for eternity (2 Ti 4:10).
c) The moment of neglecting godly priorities brings a never-ending regret (Hb 3:7-14).
4. PRIORITIES DISPARAGED
a. He lived with “freedom” to pamper Self (v. 27).
This misplaced priority led Esau to tragedy and will do so in the lives of anyone who tries to practice life without rules.
b. He lived as a victim to personal appetites (v. 29-30).
Many today live by misguided priorities and are consumed by greed (cf Gal 5:15).
c. He relinquished the eternal for the worldly (v. 31-33).
Many today have imitated Esau’s folly (cf 2 Ti 4:10). How tragic are those who cannot look beyond this earth to the heavenly paradise! (Cf Col 3:1-2).
d. He had no regard for the things of God (v. 34).
This misplaced priority is evident in lives and lifestyles of
modern Christians (cf Hb 10:29). It is seen in the disregard of God’s priorities
for the satisfaction of physical appetites! Such is often seen in a number
of practices. What are some of the more common ways this is seen?
5. PRIORITIES CONTRASTED
a. Jacob realized that feeding Self’s desires is not the most important act in life. Those things in life that touch the physical senses tend to take supremacy in our thoughts. So, we stress the “feelings” and the “emotions” but lose the truly valuable.
“To get what smelled good and tasted good, to satisfy his appetite, pushed other considerations out of his mind. He would get what he had wanted when he wanted it, and to curb that impulse of his would take self-control which he did not choose to bother with. But Jacob, inferior to Esau in many ways though he was, had begun to subject his body to his mind ... he had a purpose in his mind that was more important than his appetite” (Boice, 7).
b. Jacob realized the prestige of the valuable birthright. He understood that such meant an awareness of God. This spiritual connection would make him more responsible for honoring God.
c. Jacob was committed to a purpose and refused to give up. He did not allow difficulties to prevent him from seeking God. His determination is illustrated throughout his history – the working for 14 years for his beloved Rachel, the wresting with the angel, etc. Jacob was steadfast in his devotion.
6. PRIORITIES THREATENED
a. Through the desires of the flesh.
b. Through the desires of the eye.
c. Through the pride of life.
7. What priorities do you follow in life? Have you “profaned” God’s priorities by taking that which divine and ignoring it or relegating it to a common thing that can be avoided without serious thought?
The folly of all who fail to set and follow proper priorities
is stated in the words of v. 34 – “And he ... went HIS way.” Let us avoid
this tragedy. Instead of going OUR way, let us follow GOD’S way!
Copyright 1999 by John
L. Kachelman, Jr. may be reproducted for non-commercial purposes at no
cost to others.