Let’s dig into the life of Esau and the temptation of immediate gratification.
The microwave is a great invention, it takes 3 minutes and 30 seconds to boil a cup of water. It can warm up a leftover slice of pizza in about 40 seconds. A cinnamon roll can feel and taste like it is fresh out of the oven in about 15 seconds. A microwave can give us a meal warmed up almost instantly. We can be immediately gratified, our hunger fulfilled, our taste buds excited faster than any other generation in history.
What does this have to do with Esau? A lot! At the beginning of our reading this week, we see Esau come in from the field. He was a hunter and apparently he was out hunting for a while. Esau comes back empty handed. He is hungry and says, “Give me some of that red.” This is where Esau gains the nickname Edom. Edom is the word for red in Hebrew. Esau wanted some of that red stuff Jacob was fixing and so Esau was given the nickname Red.
Jacob sees that his brother is distraught, hungry and takes advantage of the situation. Though this is not the right thing to do, God does use it for His glory. Jacob takes advantage of Esau and gets Esau to sell his birthright for a bowl of red porridge. A birthright gives the heir the right to become chieftain, to a double portion of the inheritance, and, in this case, the covenant blessing and promises given to Abraham will continue through this heir.
Esau knew exactly what his birthright was. But, he held it in little esteem and he sold it for a bowl of porridge. Esau made a huge mistake and instead of looking at the long term, he sold out for immediate gratification. He forsook the promise of God to be heir for a bowl of Quaker Oats. You might think this is harsh. Esau was starving, he was about to die, etc. First, Esau was able to walk out of the woods from his hunting trip. Second, Esau was able to argue with Jacob. Third, if Esau was truly starving, he could have just taken what he wanted from Jacob, more than likely. Esau was a man of the woods whereas Jacob was essentially a mamma’s boy. Finally, what we must not miss in this testimony is how strongly God’s word counts Esau’s sin in this flippant act of self-indulgence.
Hebrews 12:15-16 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal.
The first lesson we learn from Esau is the need for patience. Esau chose the bowl of porridge over the eternal blessing of God. Now, we must not forget that in God’s sovereignty He has already decreed that Esau will serve Jacob (the prophecy of two nations struggling). Even so, Esau is responsible for his actions. Selling his birthright was more than selling his riches and standing. He was passing up on the covenantal promises made to Abraham. This was the most valued thing in this family. In essence, he was forsaking the mighty promises of God for a quick fill me up. Impulsively, Esau traded an immediate and sensual gratification at the forfeit of a future glory. Oh, how valuable patience is. This is one of the great ways sin works in our lives.
Sin takes a practical immediate want or need, which is placed in us by God to help us to benefit us, and over prioritizes it by placing that item or need above God. Sin took the need for food and ramped it up in Esau to make it more desirable to him than the lasting promises of God.
How often do we do this? How often do we allow a necessity of something to usurp the place of God or our relationship with God? When we blatantly choose to sin, we are choosing immediate gratification over our relationship with a sovereign Creator who knows what is best for us. In this, we don’t value the promises of God or the importance of holiness.
The promise of the gospel is that of faith. Remember Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Esau lacked faith and hope in the promises of God. Esau trusted in momentary things. Esau would rather not suffer. He did not want to suffer for the hope that was laid upon him in his birthright. When we have faith in the promises of God, we hope in the promise of eternal salvation, glorification, and God restoring everything to a sinless, perfect state in the new heavens and new earth.
We have to be leery of the lessons taught to us by the microwave. We need to be cautious not get used to or expect immediate gratification. The microwave is a great invention, but sometimes we need to remember that the promises of God are not always as fast as a ready-made bowl of porridge. We remember that God was laying the foundation of the cross for over four thousand years. We see the promise in Genesis 3:15. The expectation of the long awaited Messiah is built and then Jesus comes on the scene. The promise is fulfilled on the cross. As we meditate on the cross, we must understand that we are to look forward to the glorious “appearing … of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). So that we will not be “unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal” (Hebrews 12:16).
The second lesson we can learn from Esau is that God’s purposes will be carried through. God’s sovereign plan is continually at work.
The oracle of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi. “I have loved you,” says the LORD. But you say, “How have you loved us?” “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the LORD. “Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.” If Edom says, “We are shattered but we will rebuild the ruins,” the LORD of hosts says, “They may build, but I will tear down, and they will be called ‘the wicked country’, and ‘the people with whom the LORD is angry forever.'”
It would be impossible to not speak to God’s sovereignty over all things in the life of Esau as the Scriptures continue to point to the differences of Esau and Jacob. One points us to the promises of God, the other of fallen man that has no hope outside of the decrees and election of God.
In the book of Malachi, we see that the LORD (YHWH- the covenantal name of God) lifts up Jacob and Esau and points to His love for one and His hate for the other. Malachi is a prophet and he is writing to the people of Israel. They have returned to the land, but they are not doing as they are supposed to. They are not glorifying or giving God his due, they are not treating their parents with respect, and they are not being a testimony to the nations.
Here we see that God is stating how he has kept His people over the years. He has brought them back into the land, He has kept them as a nation. The people of Edom (the descendants of Esau) God has broken down. They are destroyed and they will not be rebuilt.
We see in this the promises of God being fulfilled. God is sustaining and keeping His people because of His elective love for them. God chose Israel not by any merit of their own:
“For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, and repays to their face those who hate him, by destroying them. He will not be slack with one who hates him. He will repay him to his face.” Deuteronomy 7:6-10
Understand that this choosing of Israel does not mean that all of Israel would be saved (Romans 9:6-7). This love did give them special revelation. They were given the law, and how to know God, how to live before Him in a clear way. God showed His sovereignty in choosing them, then also in breaking down the nations around them and leaving these nations destroyed.
Notice in the Malachi text that God hates Esau. We know from the Hebrew text that Esau was unholy–not set apart unto God. This coupled with Romans 9, shows us that God’s sovereign purposes are supreme over all things such as human will, plans, etc. (Romans 9:14-16). God often works through these things but He is not bound by them. As Paul states in Romans 11:36, “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” Esau was a creature made by a sovereign God to glorify God.
This is hard for many of us to understand. We often think how can a “loving God” do this or say these things? Oftentimes, we want to skip these portions of Scripture because they go against our natural thought. First, we are corrupt and we have a sin nature that has darkened our minds. Second, we live in a culture that champions their definition of love over all things. All of God’s attributes are in all of His actions so every act of God is 100% holy, just, right, wrathful, loving, etc. Because of God’s character we can take comfort in His action because God will never deny Himself, and He is not like a man that He would lie. God has declared His character in Scripture. Because we know His character we know that His elective love is good, just, and right. We know that His wrath and hate, is good, just, and right.
As last week’s devotion on Jacob showed us, we should be surprised that God would love any sinful person, we all deserve eternal judgment, and unless God chooses some, we would all be rightly and justly consigned to hell. God gave His holy, beautiful, Son (who was God and was with God from eternity past) to take on flesh and redeem a people from their sin. As these truths settle into our souls, we can confidently and joyfully say with Paul, “For from him and through him and to him are all things.”
By His grace and for His glory,
Pastor Joshua Kirstine
*Special thanks to J. Taylor for his work and partnership to write this week’s devotional