R4686-299 Was Jacob’s Course With Esau Dishonorable?

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THE question has been asked, Why did Jacob take from his brother Esau the birthright and blessing? Why did he not give him the pottage when he was hungry, instead of selling it to him? We think it fair to infer that both Esau and Jacob were hungry. The proof that Jacob was hungry was that he had prepared the pottage. We also have proof that Esau was hungry; but we have no evidence as to which was the more hungry. We will suppose that they were about alike hungry and that there was not enough for two to get a meal. Esau made it known that he wanted something to eat and Jacob thought this a proper time for him to secure something which Esau had, but which Esau did not really want.

It is also reasonable to suppose that the whole life of Esau was careless of religious matters and interests. He married into families of surrounding heathen people, entirely in disregard of the promise made to Abraham, getting several worthless wives, according to his mother’s statement. This being true, it seems quite likely that he and Jacob had many talks about God’s promise to their grandfather Abraham, and how the fulfillment of the promise would come about, and that Esau had all along been an unbeliever; and now, when the opportune time came and they were both hungry and the food was there, Jacob said, “You don’t care for your birthright, Esau, and you do not appreciate this promise made to Abraham; it does not count for anything to you; I will tell you what we will do. You may have the supper and I the birthright. Is it a bargain?” Esau said, “It is a bargain, for I am more desirous of the supper than the birthright.”

It was a fair transaction. If one buys a house at a bargain and both buyer and seller are satisfied with the transaction, we would not say that it was cheating or robbery; and so with Jacob. The Abrahamic promise, so far as Esau’s expectation was concerned, was not worth anything. He had no confidence in the promise. The Apostle Paul calls our attention to the matter and says that Esau was profane; that is, he did not count the promise of God as worth anything; he was willing to sell it for a mess of pottage, as though he was getting the better of the bargain, probably saying to himself, “That poor brother of mine does not know what life is; if he would only take a few lessons from me he would begin to live. Here he is believing something that God said to grandfather Abraham, and he thinks he will get something wonderful out of it some day. I do not think it worth considering.” And so Esau doubtless thought he was the gainer over Jacob in getting the supper.

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It has also been asked, “Why did Jacob attempt to deceive his father?” Jacob was trying to obtain that which he had bought and which he saw the seller would not deliver. Jacob knew his brother was a dishonest man to start with. All the arrangements were made for Esau to receive the blessing that he had sold, and now he was about to steal it. Jacob must have reasoned, “I will try to prevent his stealing it; I have bought the birthright; I have a right to represent Esau in this matter; I shall merely try to have justice done, to get my father to do that which is right and proper, that which I know is God’s will, because God told our mother about the matter at the time of our birth—that the blessing was to come to me; and here in God’s providence it has come to me in a legitimate way by my brother’s not caring for it and my caring a great deal for it. Now it is only a question as to how I shall get it. As a matter of fact, Esau does not value the birthright except from the earthly standpoint. I know he does not care a whit for the promise made to father; he has no confidence in it. All he thinks about is the property that will go to me if I am recognized as the elder son.”

Jacob knew that he would be in trouble if he would try to get the blessing, and yet he was so in love with the promise that a great blessing would come out of it, that he was willing to forego everything. He was willing to become an outcast from his home if he might only have the spiritual part of the promise, and so he left his home with the distinct understanding that he was losing his father’s earthly possessions and getting only the spiritual blessing which Esau did not desire. He did not attempt to take from Esau the portion that Esau wanted.

Some one might query, if Jacob knew that the Lord promised him this blessing through his mother, was it not a lack of faith for him not to recognize that the Lord would give it to him without any deceit or misrepresentation? We suppose that if Jacob had lived in our day and had all the advantages that we have, the instructions of the Old and New Testaments and the begetting of the holy Spirit, he might have learned to exercise his faith, which was already a strong faith as respects God’s promise; he might have learned to wait on the Lord. We have many advantages over him in all these respects. He had very few examples before him respecting the waiting on the Lord or anything of that kind, and he did at least show his zeal and energy and confidence in God in the course that he took; and for a person not begotten of the holy Spirit we think he did wonderfully well.


We think it well for us to remember in this connection that we should measure all of our ideas according to the Divine standard, and if we do not do so we make a mistake. The Divine standard rules. Now, according to the record, there was not a word said by the Lord against Jacob in this whole procedure, and if God had nothing to say against him, who are we that we should have?

When Jacob fled to Padan-aram for fear of his brother, forsaking his home and all the property that was his according to his purchase, willing to let it remain permanently in the hands of Esau, as he had intended to do anyway—when he fled from home and had nothing but a stone for his pillow, that very night the Lord appeared to him in a dream; a vision or picture was given him of the blessing that was his. This indicated that God’s favor was with him. Now to think that God could and would conspire with an evil person is not our way of reasoning on the matter. We do not object to others reasoning differently. We will reason according to the standard the Lord raised, and say, “Thus it is written.”

It may be that there was something not written in the record that might give a different view of the matter, one more easy to comprehend. The Apostle Paul commends Jacob’s faith, but counts Esau’s selling the birthright as reprehensible, and tells us that we should not be like the “profane person who sold his birthright.” (Heb. 12:16.) In this Paul seems to intimate that there may be some who wish to sell their birthright and others who may wish to buy the birthright.

The Jews in our Lord’s day who failed to accept the invitation of the Lord and who were not Israelites indeed, these sold, for the “mess of pottage” of earthly blessings and earthly favor, their heavenly, their spiritual rights; and we who are Gentiles and to whom this right did not appertain by nature, have been invited in to see if we will appreciate the privileges and win the prize—and we will win the prize; we will get the birthright of Esau and the Esau class will not get it.


— September 15, 1910 —