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Evangelist, Baptist, Husband, Father, Mid-30's.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

I'd Sell my Soul for a Bowl of Soup

Original Context

The birthright during the patriarchal period was something important; it brought its holder honor, authority, and inheritance within a family. The firstborn was guaranteed a double-honor in the inheritance of his father; that is, when the estate was split up, the one with the birthright was given twice what his brothers received.[1]

This is considering a normal birthright which it is not to be despised, not to be sold for any small price. But, an infinitely bigger birthright is at stake in Genesis 25:29-34 with Esau and Jacob, of the line of Abraham. Abraham was specially promised by God to be a blessing on all the world, given a name called great among nations, and given dwelling in the promised land. (Genesis 12:1-3) This is the birthright which Esau despised and Jacob inherited.

A brief background of the event is set some years after Abraham died. Before he died he blessed his son, Isaac, by giving him great amounts of riches and real-estate (Genesis 25:5), and the Bible is specific to say that the promise of the covenant was passed onto him by God himself. (Genesis 25:11) Isaac prayed for children, and God gave him twin sons. While the babes were yet in the womb, God revealed to Rebekah, Isaac’s wife, that in her belly were two nations, and that the younger would rule over the elder. God knew before they were born that the elder would not receive the blessing but that events would transpire to lead to the younger receiving the blessing. God, before Esau or Jacob had been born, had set his face against Esau, declaring his hatred for those whom he has not chosen; a long running theme throughout the Bible. (cf. Psalm 5:5, 11:5, 73:20, Romans 9:10-13, Hebrews 1:8-9, et al.)

Esau became a huntsman, and his father’s favorite; Jacob apparently had no great mental or physical abilities of which the narrator sees fit to tell, but he was his mother’s favorite. One day, Jacob made a pot of stew, Esau came in from hunting without having captured any game, and by his language, likely literal but possibly only figurative, claimed that he was starving. Seeing a pot of red stuff (Holman Translation) he asked his brother for some. Jacob, seeking the firstborn’s blessing, set the price for the stew as his brother’s birthright. Esau, seeing only his temporal survival, had no problem selling his birthright to his brother.

Later, Esau claimed the birthright was stolen from him, and he sought the blessing of his father with tears, but the damage to his eternity had been done, and there was no way he could inherit his birthright.[2]

Bridging the Context to You

"The birthright was Esau's by providence but Jacob's by promise."[3] Consider how God could have arranged this transfer of blessing from Isaac to Jacob. Jacob could have come out first, been the rightful heir to the promise, and lived a life of peace with his brother. Was this within the sovereign ability of God to perform? Of course, but where is the lesson in that?

Here we see one of the earliest denials of the Resurrection and everlasting life.[4] Esau had an eternal promise from God, yet spurned it by asking what good would it be if he died? But what did he spurn? John Gill puts it this way,
"The birthright was reckoned sacred; it was typical of the primogeniture of Christ; of the adoption of saints, and of the heavenly inheritance belonging thereunto; all which were despised by Esau..."[5]
Esau sold his eternity for the fleeting pleasures of sin. The meal which he paid so dearly for only sustained him for a matter of hours before he was hungry again, and soon provided him no solace. The Psalmist Asaph says that the earthly delights of the wicked are like dreams after one awakes (Psalm 73:5), and no sentiment captures Esau's loss better than Zophar's declaration that everything will be lost, "This is the wicked man's portion from God, the heritage decreed for him by God." (Job 20:8) Once the stew was gone, any pleasure Esau had derived from it was quickly fading to a mere memory embittered by the cost he had paid.

Esau sold eternity for a single meal (Hebrews 12:16), so do so many condemn their souls for holding onto a single sin. A person who has kept the law in many points yet who will not repent of a favorite sin will not see the kingdom of Heaven. Towards this end John Owen said,
"He who hath once smitten a serpent, if he follow not on his blow until he be slain, may repent that ever he began the quarrel. And so will he who undertakes to deal with sin, and pursues it not constantly to death. Sin will after a while revive, and the man must die. It is a great and fatal mistake if we suppose this work will admit of any remissness or intermission."[6]
The Christian must repent of all sin, not desiring the things of this world, but set their affections on heavenly things, namely the Resurrected Christ who ransomed them from the domain of darkness. A single sin was enough to lose Esau his birthright, since he did not esteem God as worth more than satisfying his appetite. Even when he received more for his bargain than he expected, namely a piece of bread, even the bigger portion was infinitesimally small in comparison to the grandeur, joy, and peace found in the Lord of Glory.

Life Application

Why did Jacob make that pot of stew? Was it solely for the purpose of tricking his brother out of his birthright? Of course not, Jacob planned to eat it, but when he was presented with the choice of a temporal tasty fleeting delight or the eternal blessing of the Lord God Almighty, he gave up the temporary to inherit the eternal.

Beloved, if there is any sin in this world to which you are clinging, be sure that it will be your downfall. To those sins which are not pleasing to the eye, we have little trouble repenting of, but it is those tasty bowls of soup that can so easily tempt and be our undoing. Owen says, "Lusts that pretend to be useful to the state and condition of men, that are pleasant and satisfactory to the flesh, will not be mortified without such a violence as the whole soul shall be deeply sensible of."[7]

Woe to you who justify your sins, for what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God. (Luke 16:15) Think to yourself quietly, which sin was it that you originally sold your soul into sin for? Which sin is it that keeps it in bondage there?

Conversely, which sin is worth so much as to reject Heaven? Any riches or pleasures which you are able to accumulate on this side of eternity will be consumed by moth, rust, time, or fire; for whatever is not eternally useful is entirely useless. Jesus asks, "What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and yet lose his soul?" (Matthew 16:26) Most of us have sold our souls for so much less than the world; a bowl of soup, perhaps? A uncontrollable appetite for the opposite sex? A self-esteem, pride, being able to speak and act how you want to satisfy the desires of the flesh? Beloved, whatever you are holding onto is not worth it. I implore you, store up your treasure in Heaven, set your affections on Christ, seek the glory of the Father, and the Son will set you free and you shall be free indeed.

No matter how long your sin lasts, it will perish in the end, it will bring you no solace, just as a dream brings no solace after you awake, and what you have sold and despised will haunt you forever. Beloved, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, make no provision for the flesh, to satisfy its desires. Mortify your flesh, flee from sinful desires, hold fast to what is good, be not tempted by temporary satisfaction. Truly it is as John Owen said,
"Be killing sin, or it will be killing you."[8]


[1] John Walton, The NIV Application Commentary: Genesis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 551.
[2] Charles Spurgeon, Jacob and Esau (London: New Park Street Chapel, 1859). Available from http://www.biblebb.com/files/spurgeon/0239.HTM
[3] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry's Commentary (Hendrickson Publishing, 1991), 1:125.
[4] John Gill. Exposition of the Old & New Testament (London: 1809; repr., Paris, AR: The Baptist Standard Bearer, Inc: 2006), 9:477.
[5] Ibid.
[6] John Owen, The Works of John Owen (London, 1826), 546-547.
[7] Ibid, 547.
[8] Ibid, 336.