A Pot of Stew (Genesis 25:19-34)
The Pot of Stew
When I was a youth minister, in my early 20s, there was a man in the congregation and his wife who became close to Rachel and me. He name was “Charles.” Charles was in his 50s. But Charles had an alcohol problem. Right before we left to go to Romania, we got news from his wife that Charles died on his kitchen floor from cirrhosis of the liver. You know, if Charles had never taken that first drink - if he had never taken that first drink - he would have never died an alcoholic and he would have probably lived much longer and he would not have left his wife as a young widow.
Sin seems so enticing at the time. But, more often than not, we engage in sin without considering the long-term consequences of that choice. Then, we get stuck into a rut, a cycle, even an addiction and it is hard to pull out of it.
Just as we did last Sunday, when we saw in Hebrews 13:2 the reference to someone entertaining angels without knowing, so we went back to Genesis 18; and just like we did this morning, when we saw in Romans 12:19 that we should not seek revenge but leave vengeance up to God, so we went back to Judges 9, this evening, we will look at practically the only reference to Esau in the NT (Heb. 12:15-17) and then go back to Genesis 25 and see the story that provides the background to that statement.
I said this is practically the only reference to Esau because Esau is actually mentioned three times in the NT. The first is in Romans 9:13 but Paul is actually simply quoting Malachi 1:2-3 in that text. The second reference is here in Hebrews (11:20) but the text is concentrating on Isaac who blessed Jacob and Esau. So, Hebrews 12:15-17 is the only text in the NT that is actually about Esau…
“See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled; that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal.For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears.”
We are going to return to the Hebrew writer’s use of Esau to make his point, but let’s study the original text first…
THE BIRTH OF ESAU - Genesis 25:19-26:
“Father” Abraham dies at the beginning of chapter 25. He had had his “only unique son,” Isaac, the son of promise, back in chapter 21. Now, Abraham dies, having lived to be one hundred and seventy-five years old (25:7). Isaac and Ishmael come together to bury their father, in the cave of Machpelah, near Mamre where Abraham lived most of his later years (25:9). Moses writes in 25:11 that after the death of his dad, God blessed Isaac.
Chapter 24 is the longest chapter in the book of Genesis and it is about Abraham’s servant finding the right wife for his son, Isaac. Isaac was 40 years old when he and Rebekah married (25:20). But, Rebekah, like her mother-in-law Sarah, was barren and was unable to get pregnant for quite some time. Down in verse 26, we are told that Isaac was 60 years old when the twins were born so this couple went twenty years in their marriage before they had children! But, Isaac prayed to Jehovah God on behalf of Rebekah and she got pregnant (25:21).
But, Rebekah had some serious issues going on inside her and it wasn’t from eating greasy food! The feeling of having a baby grow inside you is a feeling that men will never have. We can never experience what it is like to feel a baby kick from the inside. Rebekah, of course, had twins and things weren’t going exactly right inside! When Rachel was pregnant with Ana, because she carried Ana differently than she did Jewell, Rachel thought Ana must be a boy. No; she just turned out to be a very active little girl!
Rebekah wanted to know why things weren’t right and she went to Jehovah God and talked to Him personally (vs 22). Don’t think that the patriarchal age minimized the importance of women and don’t allow feminists to lead you to believe that the Bible writers hated women (were misogynists). If Moses were a misogynist, he would not have allowed Rebekah to talk to God on her own - he would have made her go through her husband, Isaac. But, God has never required women to come to Him in prayer through her husband or another man. Nor have the Bible writers.
So, Rebekah prayed to God: “What’s going on?!?”
So, God tells her in 25:23 - “Honey,” God says, “You’ve got two whole nations going at it with each other in that womb of yours!” “OH!” Rebekah says, “now I know why I can’t sleep at night!”
“Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples will be separated from your body; and one people shall be stronger than the other; and the older shall serve the younger.” It’s that last statement that seems to have caused problems: the older shall serve the younger. God was not causing or forcing the older to serve the younger. Just because God predicted something does not mean that God caused what He predicted / foresaw.
Well, the nine months, the ten weeks, were up (vs 24) and Rebekah gets ready to give birth to her twins. Rebekah is on the birthing stool and out pops the first little booger, a little hairy one, red hair at that! So, they named him “red” - Esau. Jewell and Ana were both bald as they could be until they were about two years old. I’ve got a picture of Jewell with this huge forehead where I photoshopped the words: “Bald is beautiful!” Esau was the oldest.
The second one was the trouble maker. Even at birth, the text says that Jacob was born holding on to the heel of his older brother. So, they named him “heel grabber” or, Jacob. The idea conveys someone who will take something out from under your nose!
So, we’ve got Isaac, the dad who goes out to work every morning and we’ve got momma, Rebekah, who works around the house. And we’ve got the twin boys - Esau and Jacob. But Rebekah, perhaps, remembers the promise that God made to her when the boys were not yet born: “the older shall serve the younger.” And maybe, just maybe, that helps motivate Rebekah to favor Jacob over Esau. We don’t know that, but I suspect that is the case. Which tells me that it’s probably not good for us to know the future because we can’t act as if we don’t know what will happen in the future and then we would likely mess things up! I suspect that Rebekah shared God’s message with Jacob as he was growing up and it helped motivate Jacob to do what he does with the birthright and the blessing…
THE BIRTHRIGHT IS STOLEN BY THE “HEEL GRABBER” - 25:27-34:
A considerable amount of time passes between verses 26 & 27. Esau and Jacob are now grown up; they are men. Jacob will live through to the end of the book of Genesis and dies at the age of 147 years. As the twins grow up, they show differences in their personalities.
Esau becomes a skillful hunter. A man of the field. A man who liked to sleep out under the stars. We might say he was a “man’s man.” He probably enjoyed cars and watching football. He probably enjoyed playing football.
Jacob was the exact opposite. He was a peaceful man. He liked to stay inside. In the tent. Probably a reader. He was a “momma’s boy.” He might have even liked poetry. Incidentally, the Hebrew text says, for the word “peaceful,” Jacob was a “complete” man. For what that’s worth.
But verse 28 tells us that Isaac loved Esau - he was “daddy’s boy.” Isaac had a love for wild animals - I mean grilled wild animals, maybe smoked wild hog on the spit. Rebekah loved her “momma’s boy.” She loved Jacob. Now, it could be that it was his nature, his interests that motivated Rebekah to favor Jacob. It could also be, at least partially motivated by the fact that God had told Rebekah that Esau would serve Jacob and, if we were to study the life and personality of Rebekah (and I’ve got a sermon on Rebekah), she was a go-getter. She took the initiative. She was a decisive woman who made plans and worked to fulfill those plans. So, her little baby’s reputation as a leader might have motivated how she behaved toward him and his older brother. Regardless of the reason, the know the outcome was a divided house!
One day… Jacob cooked some stew. It was some type of red stew so many scholars guess it was red lentils (cf. 25:34). Esau came in from the field and was hungry! The text actually says he was “exhausted.” He was probably more tired from being very hungry. Clearly, it is his hunger that compels Esau in this text.
Esau practically begs his brother for just a “swallow” of that “red stuff.” Translators don’t know how to translate this phrase. The original word, which is said twice, is: “Adom, adom.” It is clearly a play on the name “Edom” with the first vowel being different, an “a” versus an “e” and “Edom” means “red.” So, it was some type of red stew. Who knows, it may have been chili!
But, Esau is exhausted, exacerbated by being hungry, and he’s willing to do anything, give anything for a bite of something to eat.
Jacob, though, is the “heel grabber.” Jacob is shrewd and conniving, much like his mom. I wonder if Rebekah ever wished she could have “disciplined the ‘Rebekah’ out of Jacob”! “Sell right now your birthright to me.” Jacob gets right to the point.
The birthright - the title to the family estate! It carried with it, practically the headship of the family. All Jacob would have to do was wait until daddy died and Jacob would be in control. Ambitious! Ruthless! Heartless! If he did, indeed, know about God’s statement to Rebekah before he and Esau were born, Jacob is trying his best to help fulfill God’s plan, but in Jacob’s way, not God’s way.
But this lesson is not about Jacob. It’s about Esau… Literally Esau says, “Look! I, myself, am moving toward death! What is this birthright to me?” You and I want to step into the scene right there and slap Esau in the face and say, “Are you serious!? Do you know what you are doing? Do you understand the consequences of the choice you are about to make? Stop and think for just a moment!” But Esau is not thinking. When you and I sin, it’s because we have stopped thinking. We’re not thinking about the long-term ramifications, even the eternal consequences of what we are about to do, what we are about to say. Too often, we are like Esau and we just “shoot from the hip” and then we end up having to clean up the mess afterwards.
Jesus said the sons of this age are more shrewd than the sons of light (Luke 16:8) and here is a good illustration of that. Jacob was shrewd. That’s why he’s the “heel-grabber.” That’s why God could foresee that the older was going to serve the younger. Jacob made plans. Jacob worked those plans. Jacob anticipated the future. Jacob was resourceful. Jacob responds: “Swear to me right now!” In this whole thing, Jacob has said only eight words!
Esau swore to Jacob and sold him his birthright for a pot of lentil stew. For his birthright! His father’s estate! The headship of his family! What a stupid move! What a short-sighted decision! In that society, the birthright was everything. You’re the oldest son! That position demands respect. It’s a position of honor and responsibility. You would be expected to sit at the city gate and help judge law cases. Why? Because you are the oldest son. You’re the landowner. The aristocrat. The head. And Esau threw it all away. Gave it all away. For lentil stew.
Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew and this word “lentil” is the word for “lentils” and it is not the same word we have earlier in the text. The word is found three other times (2 Sam. 17:28; 23:11; Ezra 4:9) where it is found in a list of grains and seeds.
Esau ate and drank and got up and left. Then, Moses apparently is making this comment at the end of verse 34: “Esau despised his birthright.” That is, he treated his birthright with contempt. Esau behaved as if his birthright was not important. At least at this point. But later, at the end of chapter 27, Esau brings up this episode (27:36). We won’t study chapter 27 tonight but that’s where Jacob steals, finagles, the family blessing from their dad, Isaac. Esau vows to kill his brother. Rebekah finds out about Esau’s statement, believes that he can and will do it, and sends Jacob away to his uncle Laban. That’s when Jacob eventually marries Leah and Rachel but, Rebekah will never see her favorite boy again. During the twenty years Jacob is gone from home, Rebekah dies. You might say that she got what was coming to her.
THE CHRISTIAN USE OF ESAU’S STORY - Hebrews 12:15-17:
Now let’s turn back and spend some time in the Hebrew writer’s context. This context actually begins in verse 14. Verse 15 begins with a participle (“seeing to it”) and as I said last week, a participle cannot contain the main idea in a sentence. The main idea is the command, the imperative, in verse 14: “Pursue peace.” Among the ways Christians are to pursue peace is:
Seeing to it that no one comes short of the grace of God. That is a challenge for each of us Christians, those of us who are strong Christians. We pursue peace by helping our fellow Christians, our weak Christians, those who have succumbed to some short-sighted sin in their life. We help them so they don’t come short of receiving the grace of God and lose their salvation.
Seeing to it that no root of bitterness comes up that it may annoy a weak Christian and from that root of bitterness, many become defiled by sin. What causes bitterness in a Christian? When they see other Christians as if they don’t have any trouble in their lives, as if they were born with a silver spoon in their mouth and they don’t have any fight with sin; they’ve never had struggles with sin. Weak Christians sometimes look at themselves and all they see is their sin and temptations and they look at strong Christians and all they see is holiness, spiritual strength - someone who prays all the time and reads their Bible daily and those “strong Christians” never have any struggles. And they feel sorry for themselves because they’re not living a “Cinderella” life and they get bitter.
The Hebrew writer here says, “Do what you can to keep that from happening.” Because if the root of bitterness gets ahold in the heart of a weak Christian, it can motivate them to fall back into sin, turn their back on Jesus Christ, and become defiled with the stain of sin all over again.
Pursue peace, seeing to it that no one falls prey to being an evil person or totally worldly (godless, irreligious) person, short-sighted, living only for the present moment, like Esau. Then the Hebrew writer, inspired by the Holy Spirit, gives us insight into the heart of Esau. He sold his birthright for a single meal, which we have just studied. But, notice in verse 17… “You have known [they knew well the story of Esau because they knew their Bibles] that afterward, desiring to inherit the blessing, Esau was rejected. Rejected!” The consequence was that Esau could not obtain a reversal of his poor decision. “He found no place for repentance.” In other words, Esau could not turn things around! He set the ship into motion and he could not get it turned around. Even though he tried with tears. Esau cried over his predicament. But, one bad decision was all it took for a lifetime of regret.
The whole purpose of the book of Hebrews is to encourage us to stay faithful and dedicated to Jesus Christ. But to do that, we’ve got to stay away from sin! One poor choice is all it can take to get us headed down the wrong path. One drink of beer can turn you into an alcoholic. One minute at the slot machine can turn you into poverty. One weak moment with your boyfriend or girlfriend in the passion of the moment can make you a parent immediately. One click to an XXX website can turn you into a sex addict for the rest of your life.
We thank God that there is always hope, there is always forgiveness, there is always a chance to turn things around. But the longer we play in sin and the dirtier we get, the harder it becomes to turn our hearts around and submit them to Jehovah God in order to find that forgiveness.
Take home message: Let’s learn from Esau’s example and not give up a lifetime of divine blessings for the momentary indulgence of sin. Keep the long-term goal in view!