Birthright, Inheritance; Genesis 25:27-32, and Hebrews 12:15-17
After the birth of the twins the boys grow up and develop certain traits and they are clearly distinct from one another. Genesis 25:27, "And the boys grew: and Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field." His name, Esau, is an interesting study. It says that when he was born he was "red, all over like an hairy garment." There is a play on words here, this is a pun. The word "red" or "ruddy" is the Hebrew word adom or adam. The word for Edom which describes the descendants of Esau is a slightly different word. The consonants are the same and there is a play on words here that Esau is red or ruddy, and this begins to give the explanation of the origin of the term for Edomites. He is also said to be hairy. The word for hairy is sair, and the consonants in that word are the same consonants that are found in the name of Mount Seir, and seir becomes a synonym for the Edomites. Mount Seir is located in the territory of the Edmomites. So there is a foreshadowing that goes on here with regard to his name and the description of him at birth that plays on the meanings of these similar words. This also has an indication of certain negative traits. There is some debate as to whether the redness attaches to the hair or his complexion. Was he a red-headed baby with red hair all over, or did he have a ruddy complexion? We can't really decide, but in the ancient world there was a prejudice against a red-headed person. This, in fact, extended up to and through the middle ages. In the middle ages they frequently depicted Judas Iscariot as a red-head. There is a hint here that Esau, being a red-head, is the villain. On the other hand, someone with a ruddy complexion, like David, is thought to be a hero.
Esau is presented as a skillful hunter. Literally in the Hebrew it says that he is a "knowing hunter." That means that he has learned all the skills related to hunting. It is the idea of knowledge and experience that has made him a productive hunter. He is further described as a man of the field. This is a use of the field that means that he is an outdoor man, is rugged, a man's man who focuses on the outdoors. But: "and Jacob was a mild man, dwelling in tents." That translation of "mild" is somewhat questionable. No one can be sure what the emphasis on this particular word is. The word in the Hebrew is tam, and this word is predominantly translated with the idea of moral perfection. But that doesn't make sense in this passage. There is no contrast of morality here. So the meaning of tam also has the sense of complete. What does that mean? Many Hebrew scholars think that what this means is that he was complete in himself; he was a retiring sort of individual, quiet. It may be that he kept to himself, he kept his own counsel, especially in relationship to what we are going to see here in the underlying current, that he is the conniver, the heel-grabber, the supplanted. He is biding his time and keeping his own counsel about his plans to usurp the birthright and the inheritance right from his brother. What we see in these next few chapters is that rather than Isaac and Rebekah teaching the boys that they just need to relax and trust God for His provision, and that He will being about the results of that prophecy, they seem to get the boys involved in competition with one another. So Jacob is the one who is pictured here as waiting back and biding his time, making his plans and laying a trap. He is the one who is manipulating, the one who ids the conniver, and we see this element of his character all the way through the next few chapters. It is not until he is older and he wrestles with God at Penuel that his character is transformed and you don't see this element any more.
Genesis 25:28, we learn that there is parental favoritism. "And Isaac loved Esau, because he did eat of his venison: but Rebekah loved Jacob." What we learn here is a little insight into Isaac's character. He loves good food, especially food that is made with wild game. We also learn that Esau was a good cook and Isaac loved to eat what Esau cooked for him. That forms the background for what we are going to see in the 27th chapter. When it says that Rebekah loved Jacob, it doesn't mean she hates Esau, or that because Isaac loved Esau he therefore hated Jacob. This is just a point of their choice, their favorites. So She dotes on Jacob and she remembers that prophecy that God made, that Jacob is the one that would receive the inheritance and the blessing, and that the older would serve the younger.
That sets the stage for building into the lives of these two boys this sense of competition and who is really going top come out on top. None of what we see in the next chapters is positive towards anybody. Rebekah is clearly out of line, Isaac is out of line, Jacob is out of line, and we see this picture of everybody manipulating to see who is going to get God's blessing rather than trusting God. What we learn in this is that despite the carnality, the manipulations and the machinations of believers God still overrides human history and works out His plan. The issue for us is, are we going to be in line with God and His plan, and therefore participate in the process, and enjoy being used by God in blessing the world, or are we just going to be out there operating on carnality where God uses us despite ourselves and there is no eventual reward or inheritance?
Genesis 25:29, "And Jacob had cooked stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was famished." We are not told any background to this. Why was he cooking a stew? It is not really a stew. Literally it is the idea that he boiled a boiled meal. So he is boiling something. The text doesn't make it clear but it seems like this is a set-up. The picture we get as we go through the rest of Jacob's life is that he is certainly not beyond planning, conniving, setting a trap, and trying to get his brother into a situation where he can take advantage of him and make a deal with him over his birthright. Esau returns from his hunting and is physically exhausted. He finds that Jacob is there cooking, waiting for him, just like a bait in a trap. The word for "cook" here is the hiphil imperfect, with a waw consecutive indicating continuing narrative, of the Hebrew word zud, which means to boil. What is interesting is that this is the only place on the Old Testament where it has the meaning of boil. When it is applied to people it emphasizes arrogance. So if we are reading this in the original and come across this word you wouldn't help but also associate with this concept arrogance. And here we have Jacob as the heel-grabber acting presumptuously towards God's plan, and he is trying to manipulate the situation in order to get the blessing for himself. He is clearly acting arrogantly in his actions. Later on we learn that all he is boiling is lentil soup, but the picture that is presented at the beginning is that this is something that is quite attractive.
Genesis 25:30, "And Esau said to Jacob, Feed me, I pray thee, with that same red pottage; for I am weary: therefore was his name called Edom." Esau comes in tired and weary. This is a great opportunity for the sin nature to take advantage, and when we can easily give in to temptation to all kinds of sins. When we are tired and hungry we know that it is really easy to give in to whatever that our favorite sin pattern is because our defenses are down. We just don't have the physical end mental energy to necessarily apply doctrine. Here is where the test comes. Often the Lord allows us to be tested at those times when we are weak. Esau, however, just doesn't care about spiritual things, and that is the overriding point in this episode and which we come to in the last verse of the chapter, that Esau despised his birthright. That is the theological point of this episode because we just get this little snapshot of this competition between Esau and Jacob, and immediately after this our attention is shifted to Isaac moving up to Gerar in Philistia and we have a 35-verse interlude between this episode and the episode that relates to the deception in Jacob going after the second aspect of this, the blessing.
Literally in the Hebrew Esau does say please. There is a formal, polite request here. He is worn out and yet he is respectful. "Please let me gulp down that red stuff." It reads very abrupt in the Hebrew. The picture of this red stuff is a picture that we get at this point of a rich, hearty stew, something that looks really good. We have another paronomasia here on his name, on Edom and red. This becomes a nickname for him because he makes such a fool of himself at this point.
In contrast to his polite request Jacob just dispenses with all the niceties and cuts to the quick. Genesis 25:31, "And Jacob said, Sell me this day thy birthright." The word that is translated "birthright" is the Hebrew word bekorah, and the Hebrew word for "blessing," berakah, is a similar make-up, meaning blessing. The words may even be etymologically related. The birthright is that which belongs by right of birth to the eldest son. So the picture here is that he baited the trap, Esau has walked right into it, and now he begins to develop that reputation as the chiseler, the conniver, and driving a hard bargain. The way he structures this sentence is to put the "me" up front: "To me, sell."
The principal privileges which go to the firstborn in the ancient world
1) The firstborn is stated to be given by God and to be consecrated to God. Exodus 22:29, "You shall not delay to offer the first of your ripe fruits, and of your liquors: the firstborn of your sons shall thou give unto me."
2) They stood in honor next to their parents. In other words, all the other children had to respect that firstborn almost as much as they respected their parents. Genesis 49:3, "Reuben, you are my firstborn, my might, and the beginning of my strength, the excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power." So the firstborn had a special place of privilege and respect over all the other offspring.
3) The firstborn had a double portion in the paternal inheritance. They received twice as much simply because they were the firstborn. Deuteronomy 21:17, "But he shall acknowledge the son of the hated for the firstborn, by giving him a double portion of all that he hath: for he is the beginning of his strength; the right of the firstborn is his." So the firstborn had a double inheritance. This is important to understand what goes on when we get into the New Testament and start talking about the two different kinds of inheritance that goes to the believer. We are heirs of God under one category and joint heirs with Christ under another category. All believers are heirs of God, but not all believers are joint heirs of Christ.
4) The firstborn succeeded in the government of the family or the kingdom. They follow the father's footsteps. 2 Chronicles 21:3, "And their father gave them great gifts of silver, and of gold, and of precious things, with fenced cities in Judah: but the kingdom gave he to Jehoram; because he was the firstborn."
5) The firstborn were honored with the office of priesthood and the administration of the public worship of God. So that the priesthood passed also to the firstborn.
So the firstborn has a special position within the family, and with that special position goes certain privileges and certain responsibilities. And the firstborn should live as if they are the firstborn, recognizing that is their birthright. This plays the backdrop to how the New Testament is going to deal with this particular episode.
Genesis 25:32, Esau starts to bargain a little but with the conniver. "And Esau said, Behold, I am at the point to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me?" He is being very dramatic. He is not close to death but is thinking he is close to death. At this point he just doesn't care, he is focusing more on satisfying his immediate needs, taking care of his immediate physical needs, rather than that which has a long-range, long-term benefit to him. One of the keys to any kind of maturity is that a person is able to postpone gratification. So even if Esau is passed his teenage years he is not able to postpone gratification. There is a lack of maturity here, he can't focus on that which has a long-range benefit because he is more concerned about satisfying the immediate need of his flesh. He thinks that this bowl of lentil soup is more valuable than the double portion of his inheritance.
Genesis 25:33, Jacob hasn't given up just yet. "And Jacob said, Swear to me this day; and he swore unto him: and he sold his birthright unto Jacob." In their culture this was just like signing a contract. If Esau swears he can't go back on it. At this point he sells his birthright to Jacob. Jacob has swindled him into giving him the double portion of the inheritance. This seems to be a private transaction at this point because Isaac and Rebekah aren't around, it is just the two boys. There has to be a more formal passing of this inheritance and the blessing that goes with it, and that is what occurs in chapter twenty-seven.
Genesis 25:34, the divine commentary. "Then Jacob gave Esau bread and stew of lentils; and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way: thus Esau despised his birthright." Watch the verbs here: he ate, he drank, he arose, he went his way. He doesn't stop, he doesn't talk about it, he doesn't get refreshed and just stay and talk to his brother, he just gets up and leaves. After his talking about everything earlier, his silence at this point stands out as a stark contrast. Does he care about the birthright? Does he have any regrets now that his stomach is full? Or is bitterness already starting to spring up? Is he already starting to resent what just happened? The Hebrew word translated "despise" is the word bazah which means to treat with contempt or to despise. He treated it lightly, it had no value for him, and he is going to reap the consequences for that, both in terms of his relationship with his brother and in terms of his relationship with his father.
As God had prophesied back in verse 23, these two represented two nations, and we see the outworking of this conflict between Jacob and Esau as we go down through history. Edom's traditional home is south-east of the Dead Sea. When Israel was returning from Egypt as they went through the wilderness for forty years, and then God began to lead the conquest generation to Canaan, they had to go around the land of Edom because the Edomites refused to let Israel pass through their territory, even though God told them that they were not to take any of that territory because He had given that to Edom. Numbers 20:14-21. Later on in the period of the monarchy, the period of Saul and David and subsequent rulers, there is periodic conflict and war between Edom and Israel. It was later predicted that Edom would be destroyed once and for all and incorporated into the kingdom of Israel, and that is found in Obadiah and Malachi 1:4. But the lesson that we get from Esau is found in Hebrews chapter twelve.
Hebrews 12:14, "Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord." This begins with a present active imperative which indicates a primary command emphasizing a standard operating procedure or characteristic of the Christian life. The verb there is DIOKO [diwkw] which means to pursue a course of action, to be earnest and diligent in the pursuit of a goal or objective, to move rapidly and decisively towards that objective. It is a strong word for aggressive pursuit of an objective. Wee are to pursue the objective of peace with all men. We are not to seek to be involved in an antagonistic relationship, we are not supposed to be viewed with enmity with other men, but we are to pursue peace with all men. After that objective it is linked by the conjunction KAI [kai] to the second objective which is to pursue sanctification, "without which no man shall see the Lord." So it is an emphasis here on the believer advancing in sanctification so that they will have a more intimate relationship with the Lord in the future.
Hebrews 12:15, "Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled." What is the relationship of looking diligently [carefully] with the main verb which appears in the previous verse. This is an adverbial participle of means, and any participle that comes along after an imperative verb is going to tell us something about how to achieve, to implement the mandate in the imperative verb. One way we pursue peace with all is by looking carefully at our own lives, to give close examination to what is going on inside of our own soul. Because what happens when there are people tests, when people don't treat us the way we should be treated, we have a tendency to react with anger, with resentment, with bitterness, with hostility. When we react, we fall short of grace orientation, we fall short of applying the grace of God in that situation. The "root of bitterness" is a root that sinks down in the soil of mental attitude sins that then bears fruit in many other mental attitude sins. The word "defiled" is the Greek word MIAINO [miainw]. The primary sense of this word is to stain. It had the idea of staining a garment a particular color. It is used in the Scripture the same way it is used in extra-biblical religious literature where it has to do with being involved in any activity that separates a person from their god. The word is used in the Septuagint in Leviticus to refer to anything that makes a person ceremonially unclean. Unclean is the opposite of clean or being cleansed and, of course, 1 John 1:9 talks abut the fact that if we confess our sins God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse or purify us from all unrighteousness. That word is the word KATHARIZO [kaqarizw], and that word group is used in the Septuagint in Leviticus to talk about a person being ceremoniously cleansed so that they can in turn go into the tabernacle or the temple and worship God. You had to be cleansed before you could go and worship God. In Leviticus this terminology was used especially in relation to the priesthood and the function of the ceremony and ritual in the tabernacle and the temple. And what is going on in Hebrews? Who is the writer of Hebrews addressing? It is a community of former priests that had become believers and are now being tested under adversity, and many of them are wanting to go back into the Levitical system. That is why the major theme of Hebrews is the superiority of Christ's priesthood to the Aaronic priesthood, and the sacrifice of Christ is superior to the sacrifices of the Old Testament. So when the writer of Hebrews uses this word MIAINO to a group of former Levitical priests, what they are hearing is that bitterness and anger and mental attitude sins that spring from bitterness destroy the relationship of the believer with God. So it is a very clear warning that the way you pursue peace with others is not by going to them, and not by compromising and not by working out certain things that may be involved, but it is by looking at our own soul and not letting ourselves give in to anger, resentment and bitterness, and focus on the hurt, but deal with people on the basis of grace.
The illustration of the person who responds in bitterness is Esau. Hebrews 12:16, "Lest there be any fornicator, or godless person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright." There is nothing in the Scripture that indicates Esau's justification status. It is just not there. So the word "fornicator" is the Greek word PORNOS [pornoj], generally translated "immoral" but it is a word that relates to a male or female that has prostituted themselves for personal gain, and this is exactly what Esau does by selling his birthright. He is more concerned about his own immediately pleasure and selling his birthright for personal gain than he is for the long-range value of his birthright. The second word "godless" is the Greek word BEBELOS [bebhloj], a word that is used in contrast to HAGIOS [a(gioj] or holy, which means to be set apart for the service of God and thus is holy. Something that is not set apart for the purpose of God but was for everyday use, that people used in any situation, is something that would be called profane of common. Thus the word BIBELOS means something that is used in a common or profane manner. That is, either pointless or worthless, in other case that which is worldly, that lacks eternal values or lacks God's values.
So what Hebrews 12:16 is saying is, Lest there be anyone among you who is prostituting or selling their birthright for personal gain and the immediate present, or a person who has values inconsistent with their position in God's royal family, like Esau who for a morsel of food sold his birthright. As believers in the Lord Jesus Christ we are members of the royal family of God and we have a royal identity, and God has given us a destiny to rule and reign with the Lord Jesus Christ. When we get involved in mental attitude sin and sins of the tongue, in any kind of carnality, what we are doing is we are prostituting our future position with Christ for satisfying present fleshly [i.e. sin nature] satisfaction. That is the picture of Esau.
Hebrews 12:17, "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." He has entered into a contract by swearing to Jacob that he would give him the birthright, and that is what it means that he found no place for repentance [change]. There could not be a reversal of the deal. Afterward he understood what he had done, what he had lost, but he couldn't reverse it. And this is a picture of what is going to happen with a vast number of believers who, according to 1 John 2:28, are going to have shame and embarrassment at the judgment seat of Christ, they are going to have all of their works burned up, and they are going to enter heaven "yet as through fire," and it is because they were more concerned with satisfying the immediate trends of their sin nature, the lust patterns of their sin nature, rather than focusing on eternal priorities and postponing gratification for the Millennial kingdom.