You may know the story of Jacob and Esau – they were twin brothers of Issac and Rebekah. Esau was the older twin and so under the inheritance rules of the day was entitled to a birthright and a special blessing from his father. He was set to have a great inheritance and be part of God’s promise to his grandfather Abraham to make him into a great nation.
But then he went out hunting and got hungry. Jacob was more of a stay at home mummy’s boy, and he was busy making stew. Esau turns up at home totally starving and asks Jacob for some of his stew. This is how it goes down:
“Esau said to Jacob, “I’m starved! Give me some of that red stew!” (This is how Esau got his other name, Edom, which means “red.”)
“All right,” Jacob replied, “but trade me your rights as the firstborn son.”
“Look, I’m dying of starvation!” said Esau. “What good is my birthright to me now?”
But Jacob said, “First you must swear that your birthright is mine.” So Esau swore an oath, thereby selling all his rights as the firstborn to his brother, Jacob.
Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and lentil stew. Esau ate the meal, then got up and left. He showed contempt for his rights as the firstborn.” Genesis 25:30-34
Esau trades his position as firstborn son for a bowl of stew. And because we have the benefit of the next few chapters of Genesis to show us how things play out we can see what a dumb trade that was. Jacob goes on to become the father of the nation of Israel (you may have heard of it, it has a pretty major role in the Old Testament) and gets blessed by God himself. And it could have been Esau, but he chose stew. He traded the promise of everlasting future glory for a moment of present pleasure.
And I wonder if we are at risk of doing the same? Society is all about instant satisfaction. Spotify lets us listen to what we want, right now. TV catch-up sites let us watch whatever, whenever. Shops are full of books on how to have a better life right now. Magazines publish ten step guides to the perfect relationship. The internet beckons us to get titillation at the click of a button. Fast-food restaurants are doing a roaring trade as people rush to get their food as quickly as possible. We don’t like to wait – just thing about how frustrated you can get if a YouTube video takes more than a few seconds to buffer!
And yet, God tells us to wait. He tells us there are better things in store ahead. Satan offers us all sorts of tempting dishes of stew, trying to get us to trade our eternal glory for a moment of sinful gratification. He tries to get us to trade our heavenly inheritance for something small, tempting us with lust, with power, with material goods, trying to get us to choose something that will soon fade away when God has promised us an inheritance in heaven that will never end. There is a quote I found online (possibly by Jonathan Alexander) that really hits the nail on the head:
We sin because in that moment we desire, treasure, delight in, long for,fear, worship, glorify or want something more than we desire God
God promises great things to us – Jesus says he came to give us “a rich and satisfying life.” (John 10:10) – or as the ESV puts it “that they may have life and have it abundantly.” That should be what we desire above all, not the momentary satisfaction of an illicit embrace.
Esau could have had it all, but he chose stew. Let’s not be guilty of that same mistake. Let’s not trade what God has promised us for something temporary that is soon gone, but let’s cling firmly to His promise of eternal life.