PATRIARCHS AND PROPHETS # 16
Jacob And Esau
Esau, the twin sons of Isaac, present a striking contrast, both in character
and in life. This unlikeness was foretold by the angel of God before their
birth. When in answer to Rebekah's troubled prayer he declared that two sons
would be given her, he opened to her their future history, that each would
become the head of a mighty nation, but that one would be greater than the
other, and that the younger would have the pre-eminence.
Esau grew up loving
self-gratification and centering all his interest in the present. Impatient of
restraint, he delighted in the wild freedom of the chase, and early chose the
life of a hunter. Yet he was the father's favorite. The quiet, peace-loving
shepherd was attracted by the daring and vigor of this elder son, who
fearlessly ranged over mountain and desert, returning home with game for his
father and with exciting accounts of his adventurous life.
diligent, and care-taking, ever thinking more of the future than the present,
was content to dwell at home, occupied in the care of the flocks and the
tillage of the soil. His patient perseverance, thrift, and foresight were
valued by the mother. His affections were deep and strong, and his gentle,
unremitting attentions added far more to her happiness than did the boisterous
and occasional kindnesses of Esau. To Rebekah, Jacob was the dearer son.
The promises made to
Abraham and confirmed to his son were held by Isaac and Rebekah as the great
object of their desires and hopes. With these promises Esau and Jacob were
familiar. They were taught to regard the birthright as a matter of great
importance, for it included not only an inheritance of worldly wealth but
spiritual pre-eminence. He who received it was to be the priest of his family,
and in the line of his posterity the Redeemer of the world would come.
On the other hand,
there were obligations resting upon the possessor of the birthright. He who
should inherit its blessings must devote his life to the service of God. Like
Abraham, he must be obedient to the divine requirements. In marriage, in his
family relations, in public life, he must consult the will of God. Isaac made
known to his sons these privileges and conditions, and plainly stated that
Esau, as the eldest, was the one entitled to the birthright. But Esau had no
love for devotion, no inclination to a religious life.
The requirements that
accompanied the spiritual birthright were an unwelcome and even hateful
restraint to him. The law of God, which was the condition of the divine
covenant with Abraham, was regarded by Esau as a yoke of bondage. Bent on
self-indulgence, he desired nothing so much as liberty to do as he pleased. To
him power and riches, feasting and reveling, were happiness. He gloried in the
unrestrained freedom of his wild, roving life.
Rebekah remembered the
words of the angel, and she read with clearer insight than did her husband the
character of their sons. She was convinced that the heritage of divine promise
was intended for Jacob. She repeated to Isaac the angel's words; but the
father's affections were centered upon the elder son, and he was unshaken in
his purpose. Jacob had learned from his mother of the divine intimation that
the birthright should fall to him, and he was filled with an unspeakable
desire for the privileges which it would confer.
It was not the
possession of his father's wealth that he craved; the spiritual birthright was
the object of his longing. To commune with God as did righteous Abraham, to
offer the sacrifice of atonement for his family, to be the progenitor of the
chosen people and of the promised Messiah, and to inherit the immortal
possessions embraced in the blessings of the covenant--here were the
privileges and honors that kindled his most ardent desires. His mind was ever
reaching forward to the future, and seeking to grasp its unseen blessings.
With secret longing he
listened to all that his father told concerning the spiritual birthright; he
carefully treasured what he had learned from his mother. Day and night the
subject occupied his thoughts, until it became the absorbing interest of his
life. But while he thus esteemed eternal above temporal blessings, Jacob had
not an experimental knowledge of the God whom he revered. His heart had not
been renewed by divine grace.
He believed that the
promise concerning himself could not be fulfilled
so long as Esau retained the rights of the first-born, and he constantly
studied to devise some way whereby he might secure the blessing which his
brother held so lightly, but which was so precious to himself. When
Esau, coming home one day faint and weary from the chase, asked for the food
that Jacob was preparing, the latter, with whom one thought was ever
uppermost, seized upon his advantage, and offered to satisfy his brother's
hunger at the price of the birthright.
"Behold, I am at the
point to die," cried the reckless, self-indulgent hunter, "and what profit
shall this birthright do to me?" And for a dish of red pottage he parted with
his birthright, and confirmed the transaction by an oath. A short time at most
would have secured him food in his father's tents, but to satisfy the desire
of the moment he carelessly bartered the glorious heritage that God Himself
had promised to his fathers. His whole interest was in the present. He was
ready to sacrifice the heavenly to the earthly, to exchange a future good for
a momentary indulgence.
"Thus Esau despised
his birthright." In disposing of it he felt a sense of relief. Now his way was
unobstructed; he could do as he liked. For this wild pleasure, miscalled
freedom, how many are still selling their birthright to an inheritance pure
and undefiled, eternal in the heavens! Ever subject to mere outward and
earthly attractions, Esau took two wives of the daughters of Heth. They were
worshipers of false gods, and their idolatry was a bitter grief to Isaac and
Esau had violated one
of the conditions of the covenant, which forbade intermarriage between the
chosen people and the heathen; yet Isaac was still unshaken in his
determination to bestow upon him the birthright. The reasoning of Rebekah,
Jacob's strong desire for the blessing, and Esau's indifference to its
obligations had no effect to change the father's purpose.