The story of two brothers, Esau and Jacob, in Genesis 25 is a sad one. One can read through the theater of the pages and feel sympathy for one brother over the other, or even shake one’s head at the actions of one over the other. Yet, let’s not be so quick to feel sympathy or judge before we ask the question of ourselves: am I selling my birthright?
Let’s take a brief look at the events. The story unfolds in Genesis 25:21-34.
“Isaac entreated the Lord on behalf of his wife, since she was sterile. The Lord heard his entreaty, and Rebekah became pregnant. But the children in her womb jostled each other so much that she exclaimed, ‘If this is to be so, what good will it do me!’ She went to consult the Lord, and he answered her: Two nations are in your womb, two peoples are quarreling while still within you; but one shall surpass the other, and the older shall serve the younger.’ When the time of her delivery came, there were twins in her womb. The first to emerge was reddish and his whole body was like a hairy mantle; so they named him Esau. His brother came out next, gripping Esau’s heel; so they named him Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when they were born. As the boys grew up, Esau became a skillful hunter, a man who lived in the open; whereas Jacob was a simple man, who kept to his tents. Isaac preferred Esau, because he was fond of game; but Rebekah preferred Jacob. Once, when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the open, famished. He said to Jacob, ‘Let me gulp down some of that red stuff, I’m starving’. (That is why he was called Edom) But Jacob replied, ‘First give me your birthright in exchange for it.’ ‘Look’, said Esau, ‘I’m on the point of dying, what good will any birthright do me?’ But Jacob insisted, ‘swear to me first!’ So he sold Jacob his birthright under oath. Jacob then gave him some bread and the lentil stew; and Esau ate, drank, got up, and went his way. Esau cared little for his birthright”
The birthright was a privilege provided to the first-born son in a family. It was an honor. It gave the first-born son a position of honor and authority in the family but also granted him a double share in the inheritance of his father. Just like a family inheritance, it was not something that provided instant gratification, but could take years to receive the full benefits of the entitlement. A child today may enjoy the home, property, money and resources of his family while his parents are still living. However, he will not receive the full weight of that inheritance and privilege until years down the road when his parents are deceased.
Imagine a man cooking a pot of soup and his brother comes in the kitchen and asks for a bowl of soup because he had been working all day and had not eaten. He is tired, hungry, sweaty, and filthy. Imagine the man telling his brother that he could have soup if he signed legal papers forfeiting all his inheritance to the man. Imagine, for a moment, the brother agrees because he’s hungry and he wants a bowl of soup. This is essentially what happened.
Esau got caught up in the moment, the need for instant gratification and satisfaction, and could not see the long-term view because of the short-term struggle. The devil is good at illusions. He’s good at making us believe something that is less important is actually the most important at the time.
Although the brothers were twins, Esau was born first so he would be the recipient of the birth-right. Jacob would still get his share of inheritance, but not nearly what Esau was entitled to as the first-born son. However, Jacob exploits his brother’s weakness. Esau was hungry…very hungry. Jacob capitalized. He offered his brother a bowl of lentil soup in exchange for his birthright. Esau agreed. He believed that a bowl of food was more important than his birthright. He believed that dinner was more important than his inheritance. Jacob saw the value of the birthright whereas Esau did not.
We often find ourselves in that same situation. Perhaps it does not have to do with an actual inheritance from our family, but it certainly has to do with our eternal inheritance. Each time we sin we sell a portion of our eternal reward and inheritance in heaven.
“See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God.” (I John 3:1)
Satan tempts us just as Jacob did with Esau. He finds us when we are vulnerable to wanting an immediate gratification. He sees us fight with our spouse and then he dangles the loving, attentive, and successful co-worker in front of us. We bite. We want the immediate gratification of feeling loved and needed over the long-term gratification of remaining faithful and receiving God’s graces. In that moment, we value sin over sainthood.
He dangles the desire to “ just relax after a stressful week” and convinces us that going to the lake with family, to a football game, or movies on Sunday is more important and beneficial than going to Mass and receiving eternal graces.
Slowly he chips away at our inheritance, and we readily sell it. Perhaps its finding ourselves in a financial corner and he convinces us cheating on taxes or stealing from our employer “just this once” is justifiable and more important than not committing a sin. He convinces us that we “have not done anything really that bad” and for the sake of what the priest might think of us then we do not go to Confession. He lets the sweet-smelling aroma of a “good name” and not being ashamed rise to our nose and we take the bait. We choose to not go to Confession because we are convinced it’s not that important.
Little by little we sell our birthright. We may not sell the entire thing at once as Esau did, but we sell it just the same. However, the birthright we have as children of God far surpasses even that which Esau sold.
In order to protect our birthright, remain holy, and look to the eternal rather than temporal, we must make a habit of asking ourselves if the decisions we are making are for our temporary satisfaction or our eternal inheritance.
Satan sees the value of our eternal birthright as children of God and seeks to take that from us. Do we see its value?