If a Hall of Fame existed for stupid decisions, Esau’s decision to sell his birthright would surely be inducted. We read about the story in Genesis 25:
Once when Jacob was cooking stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was exhausted. And Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stew, for I am exhausted!” (Therefore his name was called Edom.) Jacob said, “Sell me your birthright now.” Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” Jacob said, “Swear to me now.” So he swore to him and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.
It’s a moment of stunning shortsightedness on Esau’s part, and crass opportunism on Jacob’s part. It’s hard to be impressed with either of them. Esau showed contempt to all that God had promised through Abraham’s line, all for the sake of dinner.
Esau’s decision wasn’t made in a moment. Decisions like this never are. It’s a story that repeats itself all around us, and one we can avoid.
A Repeating Story
Esau’s story repeats itself. We know this because we read this warning later in Scripture:
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. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears. (Hebrews 12:15-17)
Esau’s story isn’t a one-off. It’s repeated every day.
The writer to the Hebrews encourages us to look out for each other. The warning: we could be like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. Esau’s decision stands as a template for every short-sighted decision in which we exchange what’s eternal significant to gratify our immediate appetites. It happens every time we allow our uncontrolled appetites to pull us away from what’s right.
Kent Hughes writes:
Sexual and physical appetites, given free rein, will ruin our race. Sure, we can repent of any sin, but Esau-like sins will leave deficiencies that can never be regained. How tragic, then, that so many today are selling a glorious finish for a cheap meal!
It only takes a few minutes to trade something of eternal value for what will only provide a moment’s pleasure. It’s like the man in Washington State who sold a rare coin collection, worth over $100,000, at face value. He paid for a pizza with a Liberty quarter that’s worth up to $18,500.
Stupid, but no more so than the man who trades in decades of marriage for a dalliance, or a fruitful ministry for a moment’s pleasure.
Be on guard, Hebrews tells us, because Esau’s story is one that repeats itself today.
But There’s Hope
It sounds scary, and it is, but there’s a note of hope in Hebrews.
We’ve been warned. I remember seeing someone run into a clothesline. It flattened him. He ran right into it because it was invisible. Not so with this temptation. We see it plainly in ourselves and others. We’re aware of our own vulnerability, and so we should be able to take appropriate action.
We can avoid Esau’s mistake. We probably won’t avoid the temptation to sell out, but the warning in Hebrews implies that we can avoid defeat. We can, by God’s grace, resist sin. God has given us everything we need to recognize the temptation and to stand against it.
We’re not alone. I’m grateful that the warning in Hebrews isn’t to fight alone. It’s to look out for each other. I need others to watch out for me. I need to watch out for them too. We’re in too much danger to try to handle things ourselves.
We’re all in danger of losing something of eternal value for what will provide a moment’s pleasure. Let’s look out for each other. Let’s avoid Esau’s repeating story.