Learning from Esau's Mistake
Genesis 25:27-34 The boys grew up, and Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was content to stay at home among the tents. Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob. Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” (That is why he was also called Edom.) Jacob replied, “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.
In this week's reflection, we revisit the infamous story of how Esau had traded up his birthright for a bowl of stew. As some commentators point out, either Esau was extremely famished (see verse 32) or Jacob's cooking skills were divine and Esau simply had to have some of this lovely red lentil stew.
In today's lingo: Uncle Roger would have approved of Jacob's skills. Fui Yoh!
There's a wonderful article with historical and cultural references written by Tori Avey in her post here: What the Ancient Israelites Ate - Jacob’s Lentil Stew (toriavey.com). Not only does Tori share the recipe of her take, but also some key ideas of what the stew had culturally been identified by Jewish Rabbis to be. According to Rabbi Louis Ginzberg, the lentils symbolized "a traditional mourner's meals for Jews." Tori points to the stew originally being prepared for Isaac who was mourning Abraham's passing away which was referenced just a few verses earlier.
Not to be distracted by how good the lentil stew must have been, there are three things we can learn from Esau's actions and reflect on how we can avoid his folly in selling his inheritance for a bowl of stew.
1. Esau Allowed His Hunger to Control His Life
Let's take a step back and try to understand: are humans driven by hunger and food? What makes zombie movies very scary is the idea that the zombies are driven by uncontrolled hunger for brains, leading to their animalistic assault on other humans. As scary as it is, it is actually that loss of control that creates this divide on how a zombie is no longer human. Philosophically, humanity has shown a stark difference from animals in that we have the capacity for self-control. We have the capacity to be in control of our behaviors, decisions, and actions while having the cravings and temptations present.
A dangerous philosophy of modern food indulgence has so permeated our society today.
(A note of grace: This however does not excuse us as a society to just ask the poor and needy to have more control over their actions so as to feed themselves properly or morally. We are also called by God to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and tend to the sick and imprisoned.)
However, in our consumerism-driven life today, how have products whether food, drink, media, entertainment, distraction, vacations, or things so consumed controlled our lives?
One of the most common answers I hear from youth when asked why they were studying hard was so that they can have a better job, of which was also because they wanted a better life, and even more consumption. We adults fare no better, as some change jobs and seek for 'upward mobility', in hopes for more consumption of what the world has to offer: more cars, more houses, more vacations and luxuries.
As much as we may laugh at Esau's example of giving up something precious for something so temporal (it wasn't a life-long supply of stew, it was really just one sit-down meal), we must also look at our lives with humility and honesty: have we also traded important things like spiritual growth, family time, building God-honoring legacies for our own 'lentil stews'? What is controlling our lives and our decisions today?
2. Esau Traded His Future for the Present
Esau's decision to trade his birthright for a bowl of stew at that very moment was indeed very unwise of him as he decided to trade a good future for a temporarily better present. Delayed gratification was a concept that was far from Esau, as his impatience lead him to think that his future birthright was useless if he were to die of hunger. He did not bargain for a better deal, but simply gave up on his birthright because he was too focused on the now.
Some of us are stuck living in the past, where we allow our past to define us, and we still relish in the past success and glories, as if our story has already ended then and we are living museums of such. Others also get stuck in their past mistakes and tragedies, allowing these to shape themselves as eternal victims of their past.
There are those that are stuck living in the present, racking up credit card bills thinking "let us eat and be merry, for tomorrow we shall die!" Everything is exhausted in the now and this person forsakes planting seeds for the future, living as a modern day nomad and scavenger, only to retire in an inflated and unsustainable lifestyle in their old age.
There are also those of us who are stuck living the future, where we become workaholics that amass wealth in great quantities for our future security, tearing down barns to build bigger barns for future returns. Sacrifices are made for our family, our relationships, and often our health, in order to secure a good life in the last quarter of our time on earth.
Esau himself was more like the second category of people who live only in the present. However, the solution isn't that we should simply also live in the future. A necessary balance is needed where we learn from the past, live in the present, and build towards the future. Acknowledge where you can do better, but be fully present with what God has given you now, and also spend time to build towards the future.
This balance will allow us a lot more wisdom in making critical decisions in our life as we follow God - should we study and work abroad? Should we take further studies? Should we be environmentally friendly in our approach to business and our own consumer choices? The problem comes when we get stuck only in one of the time periods: past, present, or future. How can we live a balanced life that reflects a redeemed past, a fully lived present, and a faithful building of a Godly future?
3. Esau Despised His Birth Right
It is interesting that the Bible records down Esau's actions as Esau despising his birthright. It wasn't a case that he didn't know the value of the birthright he had so he could feign ignorance. It wasn't the case that he was tricked into selling it over a bowl of stew as if scammed by his younger brother. It wasn't stolen from him, it was despised by Esau.
Esau's birthright was more than just the material riches accumulated by Abraham and Isaac, but it also included the spiritual inheritance of God's promise that through Abraham's line, all the nations of the world will be blessed.
In Malachi 1:1-3a, we get a glimpse of how God felt in Esau's act of rejecting the birthright. Esau through selling up his birthright was also rejecting God's plan (for more discussion on this, read Jacob I Loved, Esau I Hated - Hebrew Word for Hate — FIRM Israel).
The question then for us is, are we also despising our spiritual birthright in Jesus Christ? Have we taken time to understand its true value that we are Sons of the Most High God? Have we traded our spiritual identity in Christ and the coming inheritance of glory in Jesus for the seemingly temporal things today?
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, let us not be like Esau who even when he knew what God's eternal blessing was had chosen to trade it for a meal on earth. If we had ever lost our identity in Christ by trading it up, my dear friends, let us not also be like Esau who did not seek to have it back in his lifetime. Let us come before God who is faithful and just to forgive us and reinstate us as we return to him, much like the son who returned to his father in Jesus' parable. God can restore us, we need not be defined forever by our mistakes unless we so choose.
Having these three reflections, do take time in this season of Lent to fast from the hungers and lusts that seek to control us in the world today. We are not a pleasure driven priesthood of believers, but a holy nation called to be holy as God is holy. Let us live lives that are balanced in the past, present, and future that we may honor God with all of our life and not just a part of it. Let us find time to
Prayer for the week:
Dear God, grant us grace indeed not to allow our hunger for earthly things control our lives. Help us to be lead by your Holy Spirit in wisdom for how we should see our past, live our present, and prepare for the future. Give us the faith to know that we can come back to you whenever we stumble and fall, and redeem and restore us through the blood of Your Son Jesus Christ, Amen!
Updates for Hungry Chaplain:
Post-Surgery recovery is going well! Next big update in 2 months time!
Let's continue to keep Ukraine in prayer, very encouraged by testimonies of Christian folk and churches who have opened themselves up to minister to the refugees and even the Russian soldiers in Ukraine. In these trying times, let the light of Christ indeed shine. We need not be driven by a narrative of power and of threat, but by the grace of Christ this world shall be redeemed!
Managed to eat in Dumplings.Ru in Singapore in the past week. The owner has family in Kyiv. The Ukrainian Borscht and Salted Fish Salad were phenomenal. Do pay them a visit if you happen to be in town!