A Tale of Two Sons

This week’s taste of Torah begins a section in the annual cycle of readings known in Hebrew as toledot or generations. This word toledot is often translated as “these are the generations of.” It occurs ten times in Genesis. And in each case it introduces a new section of the book. This reoccurrence of the term toledot makes the structure of Genesis very clear. And while the person named at the beginning of each toledot section is not necessarily the main character of that section, the death of that individual closes the section which bears his name. The idea here is that these toledot sections give an account or record and tells what became of a particular person. And the big –picture theme in today’s toledot concerning Isaac is the acquisition of blessing and the corresponding development and protection of that blessing by the Lord. In short, we see here that Isaac’s son Jacob is selected to receive covenant promise.

Now the focus of our portion within this portion is a tale of two sons. And those two sons are Jacob and Esau. The text is Genesis 25:29-34. It reads, 29 Now Jacob cooked some stew, and when Esau came in from the open fields, he was famished. 30 So Esau said to Jacob, “Feed me some of the red stuff– yes, this red stuff– because I’m starving!” (That is why he was also called Edom.) 31 But Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.” 32 “Look,” said Esau, “I’m about to die! What use is the birthright to me?” 33 But Jacob said, “Swear an oath to me now.” So Esau swore an oath to him and sold his birthright to Jacob. 34 Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and lentil stew; Esau ate and drank, then got up and went out. So Esau despised his birthright (NET).

What we have here are two sons with two very different sets of priorities. Esau cared only for physical and material things. Jacob on the other hand valued the spiritual aspects of life. Esau was focused on the immediate satisfaction of his bodily needs and desires. Jacob was willing to wait for something better that God had promised in the future. And even though Jacob is often portrayed as the bad guy in this event, in verse 34 Moses puts the blame on Esau not Jacob.

Now why was this business with the birthright such a big deal? Well, let’s unpack that concept just a bit. The birthright was the privilege of being chief of the tribe and head of the family (Gen. 27:29). In Isaac’s family it entitled the bearer to the blessing of Yahweh’s promise (Gen. 27:4, 27-29), which included the possession of Canaan and covenant fellowship with God (Gen. 28:4). It included a double portion of the inheritance (Deut. 21:17) and the privilege of being the priest (spiritual leader) of the family. Also, with regard to spiritual benefits, possessing the birthright spoken of here included being in the Messianic line, because this is the birthright of the Abrahamic Covenant.

Now there are two New Covenant passages which shed critical light on this incident. First, Romans 9:10–12 states that the choice of Jacob to be the recipient of this birthright blessing was based solely upon God’s election. In other words God chose Jacob for reasons that were in God Himself. He chose Jacob before he had done anything good or bad; before he manifested a character worthy or unworthy of God’s special blessing. Plus, the fact that Jacob actually became a less admirable person, in some respects, than Esau, shows that God’s choice was not due to Jacob but to Himself. This was not about the superior merit of Jacob but rather the sovereign prerogative of Yahweh.

Secondly, in Hebrews 12:16–17, Esau is described as a profane person who despised his birthright inheritance and willingly threw it all away to quickly satisfy his bodily desires. He was “godless” in that he relinquished his covenant rights for the sake of immediate gratification.

When and how does the legacy of Esau show up in our lives? What are we susceptible to that left unchecked results in spiritual compromise? What pushes our buttons in that way? We all have our own list. But as Messiah followers God has given us the promise of His presence, strength, provisions, fruitfulness, glorification, and rewards. Yet when we chose to live primarily for the present rather than for the future we express an Esau like disdain for these precious spiritual realities.

Profane secularism is a dead end street. There’s no future in it. The mere satisfying of fleshly appetites tragically results in the loss of more valuable things of lasting spiritual worth. And as believers, if we chose to live for ourselves and basically treat God like a utilitarian genie, while we will certainly NOT lose our salvation, according 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 we can definitely lose some of our spiritual reward. May this tale of two sons help us keep our eyes on that prize. Because it’s not about the stew, it’s about the ultimate Jew; not Jackie Mason, but Jesus!

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