We have here a bargain made between Jacob and Esau about the birthright, which was Esau’s by providence but Jacob’s by promise. It was a spiritual privilege, including the excellency of dignity and the excellency of power, as well as the double portion, Gen. 49:3. It seemed to be such a birthright as had then the blessing annexed to it, and the entail of the promise. Now see,
I. Jacob’s pious desire of the birthright, which yet he sought to obtain by indirect courses, not agreeable to his character as a plain man. It was not out of pride or ambition that he coveted the birthright, but with an eye to spiritual blessings, which he had got well acquainted with in his tents, while Esau had lost the scent of them in the field. For this he is to be commended, that he coveted earnestly the best gifts; yet in this he cannot be justified, that he took advantage of his brother’s necessity to make him a very hard bargain (Gen. 25:31): Sell me this day thy birthright. Probably there had formerly been some communication between them about this matter, and then it was not so great a surprise upon Esau as here it seems to be; and, it may be, Esau had sometimes spoken slightly of the birthright and its appurtenances, which encouraged Jacob to make this proposal to him. And, if so, Jacob is, in some measure, excusable in what he did to gain his point. Note, Plain men that have their conversation in simplicity and godly sincerity, and without worldly wisdom, are often found wisest of all for their souls and eternity. Those are wise indeed that are wise for another world. Jacob’s wisdom appeared in two things:—1. He chose the fittest time, took the opportunity when it offered itself, and did not let it slip. 2. Having made the bargain, he made it sure, and got it confirmed by Esau’s oath: Swear to methis day, Gen. 25:33. He took Esau when he was in the mind, and would not leave him a power of revocation. In a case of this nature, it is good to be sure.
II. Esau’s profane contempt of the birthright, and the foolish sale he made of it. He is called profane Esau for it (Heb. 12:16), because for one morsel of meat he sold his birthright, as dear a morsel as ever was eaten since the forbidden fruit; and he lived to regret it when it was too late. Never was there such a foolish bargain as this which Esau now made; and yet he valued himself upon his policy, and had the reputation of a cunning man, and perhaps had often bantered his brother Jacob as a weak and simple man. Note, There are those that are penny-wise and pound-foolish, cunning hunters that can out-wit others and draw them into their snares, and yet are themselves imposed upon by Satan’s wiles and led captive by him at his will. Again, God often chooses the foolish things of the world, by them to confound the wise. Plain Jacob makes a fool of cunning Esau. Observe the instances of Esau’s folly.
1. His appetite was very strong, Gen. 25:29, 30. Poor Jacob had got some bread and pottage (Gen. 25:29) for his dinner, and was sitting down to it contentedly enough, without venison, when Esau came from hunting, hungry and weary, and perhaps had caught nothing. And now Jacob’s pottage pleased his eye better than ever his game had done. Give me (says he) some of that red, that red, as it is in the original; it suited his own colour (Gen. 25:25), and, in reproach to him for this, he was ever afterwards called Edom, red. Nay, it should seem, he was so faint that he could not feed himself, nor had he a servant at hand to help him, but entreats his brother to feed him. Note, (1.) Those that addict themselves to sport weary themselves for very vanity, Hab. 2:13. They might do the most needful business, and gain the greatest advantages, with half the pains they take, and half the perils they run into, in pursuit of their foolish pleasures. (2.) Those that work with quietness are more constantly and comfortably provided for than those that hunt with noise: bread is not always to the wise, but those that trust in the Lord and do good, verily they shall be fed, fed with daily bread; not as Esau, sometimes feasting and sometimes fainting. (3.) The gratifying of the sensual appetite is that which ruins thousands of precious souls: surely, if Esau was hungry and faint, he might have got a meal’s meat cheaper than at the expense of his birthright; but he was unaccountably fond of the colour of this pottage, and could not deny himself the satisfaction of a mess of it, whatever it cost him. Never better can come of it, when men’s hearts walk after their eyes (Job 31:7), and when they serve their own bellies: therefore look not thou upon the wine, or, as Esau, upon the pottage, when it is red, when it gives that colour in the cup, in the dish, which is most inviting, Prov. 23:31. If we use ourselves to deny ourselves, we break the forces of most temptations.
2. His reasoning was very weak (Gen. 25:32): Behold, I am at the point to die; and, if he were, would nothing serve to keep him alive but this pottage? If the famine were now in the land (Gen. 26:1), as Dr. Lightfoot conjectures, we cannot suppose Isaac so poor, or Rebekah so bad a house-keeper, but that he might have been supplied with food convenient, other ways, and might have saved his birthright: but his appetite has the mastery of him; he is in a longing condition, nothing will please him but this red this red pottage, and, to palliate his desire, he pretends he is at the point to die. If it had been so, was it not better for him to die in honour than to live in disgrace, to die under a blessing than to live under a curse? The birthright was typical of spiritual privileges, those of the church of the first-born. Esau was now tried how he would value them, and he shows himself sensible only of present grievances; may he but get relief against them, he cares not for his birthright. Better principled was Naboth, who would lose his life rather than sell his vineyard, because his part in the earthly Canaan signified his part in the heavenly, 1 Kgs. 21:3. (1.) If we look on Esau’s birthright as only a temporal advantage, what he said had something of truth in it, namely, that our worldly enjoyments, even those we are most fond of, will stand us in no stead in a dying hour (Ps. 49:6-8); they will not put by the stroke of death, nor ease the pangs nor remove the sting: yet Esau, who set up for a gentleman, should have had a greater and more noble spirit than to sell even such an honour so cheaply. (2.) But, being of a spiritual nature, his undervaluing it was the greatest profaneness imaginable. Note, It is egregious folly to part with our interest in God, and Christ, and heaven, for the riches, honours, and pleasures, of this world, as bad a bargain as his that sold a birthright for a dish of broth.
3. Repentance was hidden from his eyes (Gen. 25:34): He did eat and drink, pleased his palate, satisfied his cravings, congratulated himself on the good meal’s meat he had had, and then carelessly rose up and went his way, without any serious reflections upon the bad bargain he had made, or any show of regret. Thus Esau despised his birthright; he used no means at all to get the bargain revoked, made no appeal to his father about it, nor proposed to his brother to compound the matter; but the bargain which his necessity had made (supposing it were so) his profaneness confirmed ex post facto—after the deed; and by his subsequent neglect and contempt he did, as it were, acknowledge a fine, and by justifying himself in what he had done he put the bargain past recall. Note, People are ruined, not so much by doing what is amiss, as by doing it and not repenting of it, doing it and standing to it.