Esau’s Birthright

by Glenn Conjurske

“Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.” (Heb. 12:16-17).

Esau is here called a profane person—-not profane in the modern sense of the word, as a user of profane language—-but a secular person, a person with a purely secular point of view. This is evident in the profane act to which this scripture refers: he “for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.” He bartered away the future for the sake of the present moment. He bartered away the spiritual for the mundane. He attached little value to the spiritual, to the eternal, to the inheritance, to the blessing. “Esau despised his birthright,” Moses tells us (Gen. 25:34). To despise anything is to esteem it lightly, to attach no proper value to it. “One morsel of meat” was more to him than the birthright and all the blessing it entailed.

Esau was, as Delitzsch says, “so profane…, so low-minded, so utterly lost to a sense of higher things, that for one poor dish he gave up or sold…the rights of the first-born to a double portion of the inheritance of his father (Deut. xxi.17), and what to the mind of faith was the most precious privilege of all, the continuation of that patriarchal line in which were enshrined the promises. For the inheritance and pastoral wealth of his father he cared not, being wildly devoted to the chase, and still less for the promise made to Abraham and Isaac, having no eye or heart but for the immediate present.” His viewpoint was earthly, temporal, mundane, with no eye (because no heart) for the spiritual and eternal. The same is seen in the parable of the great supper (Luke 14:16ff.), in the men who despised the gospel feast, caring only for the things of this life—-the piece of ground, the wife, and the five yoke of oxen. The same is seen in the contemporaries of Noah (Luke 17:26-27), who were given up to eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, all unconcerned about the judgement of God which hung heavy over their heads. The same is seen in the men of Sodom (Luke 17:28), who were wholly taken up with eating and drinking, buying and selling, building and planting, and cared nothing about the judgement which was about to overtake them. The same is seen in the rich fool (Luke 12:16ff.), who had much goods laid up for many years on this earth, but had nothing provided for the vast eternity into which his naked soul was about to enter. All these are “profane persons,” as Esau was.

We see the opposite of this in the men of faith of all ages, whose eye was always fixed upon the future blessing—-the things hoped for—-the things not seen—-the inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that fadeth not away—-the city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God—-the better country—-the recompense of the reward—-and who lived in accordance with those hopes. Their course has always been therefore just the opposite of Esau’s. As profane persons lightly esteem the spiritual and the eternal, men of faith lightly esteem the temporal and the mundane. As profane persons give up the future good in order to secure the present, men of faith give up the present good in order to secure the future. Abraham gave up his country and his kindred in order to secure the promised blessing. (Gen. 12:1; Heb.11:8). Moses gave up the pleasures and treasures of Egypt in order to secure the recompense of the reward. (Heb. 11:25-26). Paul suffered the loss of all things, and counted them but dung, that he might win Christ. (Phil. 3:8). “Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection.” (Heb. 11:35). This is the invariable way of faith, and those who know nothing of this, but hold to and pursue after the present gain and good, and are not rich toward God, are in reality as profane as Esau, whatever faith they may profess.

Esau was utterly devoid of that faith which sets a proper value upon the future inheritance, and which therefore seeks first the kingdom of God. All his thoughts were for the present, and he bartered away the inheritance for the gratification of the present moment. He had none of that faith which, while it seeks first the kingdom of God, expects that God will add to it the necessities of the present moment. All his course was dictated by unbelief. By faith “we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (II Cor. 4:18). Esau had none of this, but regarded only the present, and, after the usual way of unbelief, magnified the present difficulty—-for we can hardly suppose he was actually “at the point to die,” as he claimed (Gen. 25:32). If he had strength enough to come in from the field, he was not likely to die when he arrived. His whole viewpoint, and all of his actions, were the opposite of the way of faith. Paul, too, had difficulties. “We were pressed,” he says, “out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life.” (II Cor. 1:8). Yet Paul had faith, and his reckoning was just the reverse of Esau’s. He minimized the present trouble, calling it, “our light affliction, which is but for a moment.” (II Cor. 4:17).

Here, then is the difference between a profane person, who lives in the realm of unbelief, and a holy man, who reckons and walks by faith. The profane despise the eternal verities, attaching but little weight to either the promised blessings or the threatened judgements of God. Their thoughts are engrossed with things temporal and earthly, and in those they live and move and have their being. They eat and drink, buy and sell, and build and plant, and care no more for the fire and brimstone which is about to fall from heaven than they do for heaven itself. All of this is exactly reversed in the men of faith. Their faith gives substance to the unseen things which are so lightly esteemed by the profane. They live and move and have their being in those unseen and eternal realities. Their whole course is determined with reference to them. They despise both the good and the evil of this present life, in just the same sense in which the profane despise the things of the life to come. They are not controlled by them. Their course is not determined by them. At the call of better and higher things, they “forsake all” that pertains to this life. Yea, at the call of those eternal realities they can suffer the loss of all things, and count them but dung, take joyfully the spoiling of their goods, and love not their lives unto death. They neither pursue the goods of this world, nor shun the cross of Christ. They follow Christ, who emptied himself, made himself poor, and “for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame.”

But “when the Son of man cometh, will he find faith on the earth?” The world is one vast assemblage of Esaus, and what is worse, most of the churches are filled with them also, though they are not likely to suppose themselves to be profane persons as Esau was. Esau made a conscious and deliberate choice to barter the future inheritance for the necessities of the present moment. Most profane persons never make such a conscious choice, though there can be but little doubt as to which side their choice would be on if they were forced to a decision. It is evident enough which side their heart is on, from the choices which they make every day of their lives. They profess to value the eternal inheritance (and no man who has any sense of God at all can totally despise it), but their lives give the lie to their lips. See how they spend their time. See how they spend their money. See how they spend their energies. See what things engross their thoughts and plans and studies. See how much they play, and how little they pray. See how they lay up treasures on the earth. See how quickly they will compromise to avoid the reproach of Christ. See how they shrink from the offence of the cross. See how they nurse and pamper and paint and adorn the perishing body, while they scarcely deign to feed the immortal soul. See how they let the opportunities for eternity slip away from them, while they grasp with unerring hand the opportunities for time.

‘Tis true, they have never made a conscious decision to relinquish the eternal blessing for the mess of pottage, but neither have they ever made the contrary choice. There is nothing in them of the Abraham, who gave up country and kindred to secure the promised blessing. There is nothing in them of the Moses, who gave up the pleasures and treasures of Egypt for the reproach of Christ and the afflictions of his people, in order that he might secure the recompense of the reward. There is nothing in them of the Noah, who toiled for one hundred and twenty years amidst the reproaches of the world in order to secure the salvation of God. There is nothing in them of the Paul, who suffered the loss of all things and counted them but dung, that he might win Christ. They profess indeed to value the birthright, but the life which they live every day indicates only too plainly that they attach more value to the mess of pottage. The fact is, they really expect to possess both—-the mess of pottage here and now, and the blessings of the birthright hereafter. Supposing themselves to have faith, they have never made those choices which faith invariably makes, nor lived the life which men of faith have always lived. They have never seriously reckoned with the solemn pronouncement of the Son of God, “But woe unto you that are rich! for YE HAVE RECEIVED YOUR CONSOLATION. Woe unto you that are full! for ye shall hunger. Woe unto you that laugh now! for ye shall mourn and weep.” (Luke 6:24-25). They have never seriously reckoned with the solemn words which Abraham spoke from Paradise, “Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.” (Luke 16:25).

But in all of this they are in reality nothing different from Esau, for though he deliberately sold his birthright for a mess of pottage, yet when the time came to receive the blessing, he expected to receive that also. He did not utterly despise the blessing; he only despised it comparatively. And so when he heard that his brother had received the blessing, “he cried with a great and exceeding bitter cry, and said unto his father, Bless me, even me also, O my father.” (Gen. 27:34). But God held him to the choice which he had made. “He found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.” He found, too late, that he could not barter away the blessing and possess it too. And so every man will find who lives his life in actual and practical disregard (whatever he may profess) of the eternal verities, while the perishing things of the present life engross his thoughts and plans and energies. He is a “profane person, as Esau,” who every day of his life barters the enduring substance of eternity for the perishing things of time, and in the end he will find that God will hold him to the choices which he has made.

Glenn Conjurske

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