In the Office: Despising the Birthright

Today’s Old Testament lesson (Genesis 25:19-34) serves up one of those Sunday School stories that I remember learning as a child, but which — to my loss — I haven’t reflected on in a while. Perhaps you remember it, too. We’re introduced the Isaac’s twin sons, Esau and Jacob. We’re told that Esau is an outdoorsman and the favorite of his father, while Jacob is more of a homebody and the favorite of his mother. And then we come to the part of the story that captures my attention this morning…

Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!”

Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.”

“Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?”

But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob.

Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left.

So Esau despised his birthright.

In the OfficeOf course, we need to bear in mind that this story is set within a culture where birthright meant everything. The firstborn son was given a position of prominence and leadership in the family, and he inherited a double portion of his father’s estate. And yet, because of a momentary craving, Esau gave that all away. He was destined for abundance, but he despised the birthright.

We, too, are given an incredible birthright. Scripture says, “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ…” (Romans 8:16-17) Through God’s grace, we’ve been given “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade.” (1 Peter 1:4) But how often do we lose sight of that inheritance while we go rushing after things that, at best, will satisfy our momentary cravings. How easily do we despise our birthright?

In one of his letters, the Apostle Paul prays for God’s people and asks “that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” (Ephesians 1:18-19) May we cherish our birthright today — and live as sons and daughters who are destined for the abundance of our Father.

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