So let’s read the story – in Genesis 25:19. I’m going to kind of summarize this a little bit. Abraham fathered Isaac. Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah to be his wife.
Genesis 25:21-23 – Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren. And the Lord granted his prayer, and Rebekah, his wife, conceived. And she was to have twins And it says: The children struggled together within her, and she said, “If this is thus, why is this happening to me?” So she went to enquire of the LORD. So she had faith in God. And the LORD said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger.” So this was all part of the birthright promise that God made to Abraham. And then, that passed to Isaac.
V-24-34 – When her days to give birth were completed, behold, there were twins in her womb. The first came out red, all his body like a hairy cloak, so they called his name Esau. Afterward, his brother came out with his hand holding Esau’s heel, so his name was called Jacob. When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents. Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob. So there’s a sad dynamic that’s developed. The parents had favorites. 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 later called Edom.) Jacob said, “Sell me your birthright now.” Esau said, “I am about to die. Of what use is a birthright to me?” Of course, if he had had faith, he might not have said that. 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. It’s quite likely Esau felt, at first, like he got the better of the deal – giving away something that was of no value for something that he wanted in the moment. But later, it wasn’t that way at all.
So what did Esau give up? Well, as the firstborn, Esau was in line to receive all of his father’s property. The promise that was made to Abraham was from Egypt all the way to the Euphrates River. Isaac didn’t have all that land at that time, but that was to be promised to him. But way more than that, he would have also inherited the blessing that God originally gave to this grandfather, Abraham. And that blessing has come down to all of us, as the Israel of God – the church. So this was a huge, encompassing blessing that was going to last for all eternity. It didn’t only include physical possessions, and property, and land, but also a promise of a type – a special type – of spiritual connectedness to God down through the ages to the end of the world, and then, into eternity. And Esau sold all of that for a pot of beans.
Winston Churchill, as World War II was ramping up, was battling with the politicians of his day to man up, so to speak – to take a stand, to quite equivocating, and start preparing for the war that was clearly seen on the horizon. He told some of them something to the effect: “So, we do not have to hear those two terrible words: too late. It wasn’t until much later that Esau spoke those same words in his own mind to himself, related to his birthright – forever lost, because he realized its value too late.
The apostle Paul refers to this story in his writings. Let’s look in on it in Hebrews 12:16 – we’re breaking into the middle of one of Paul’s famously long sentences:
Hebrews 12:16-17 – …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.
So he’s called an unholy person. Today we kind of think of that as somebody that is a sinner or does wrong. Here’s what the actual word means in the context: pertaining to being profane in the sense of worldly or godless – “…having nothing do with worldly and foolish legends,” Paul told Timothy, in 1 Timothy 4:17. So it just meant that he was like somebody that was unconverted – that didn’t value God, that didn’t think about God, that wasn’t involved in any way with what God was doing. So the word unholy, there in the Greek, is pertaining to being profane, in the sense of worldly or godless – “…having nothing to do with worldly and foolish legends,” Paul told Timothy. So that’s a direct quote from Louw and Nida. So the word means to consider something that’s holy unimportant – of no regard. And that’s exactly what Esau did, didn’t he?
Jesus told His disciples not to cast their pearls before swine. A pig has no regard for the value of a pearl whatsoever. Esau had no regard for his birthright either. He did later, but by then, it was too late. Too late he realized the value of his inheritance. Too late he saw that he put his want for food ahead of a spiritual lineage of inestimable value. Paul tells us that he and everyone else then knew that, once Esau realized what he had done, that he went to God and wept. But it was too late.
I think there are two reasons that humans tend to make that mistake. We can see one of them in the context of what Paul said in Hebrews 12:3.
Hebrews 12:3-4 – Consider Him, who endured from sinners such hostility against Himself…. Who is he talking about? Well, he’s talking about Jesus Christ. Consider Him, who endured from sinners such hostility against Himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.
So, if you’re tired, if you’re tired of fighting the battle of trying to live a good life, just think about Jesus and the hostility that He endured. And, if you think you’re tired, you haven’t even shed blood yet for God compared to Christ. So here Paul is telling them that Jesus suffered more than they had.
All this is offered as encouragement to endure the suffering that comes from persecution. You know, they lived under the Roman government at that time. And by this time, in the Bible chronology, the Romans had zeroed in on the Christians. They had stopped worshipping Saturn – the god of the seventh day of week – and started worshipping Mithra, who was the sun god worshipped on Sunday. So Jews and Christians were definitely more obvious than they were before. They couldn’t hide as easily. And it was very dangerous to be a Christian in those days. To be a Christian, you had to want it.
Continuing on, he says:
V-5-9 – And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. So he saw this persecution as training – discipline – that God is giving to them so that they can be perfected and be in God’s Kingdom. For the Lord disciplines – we’re in verse 6 now – the one He loves, and chastens every son whom He receives. It is for discipline that you have to endure. That’s the reason. God is treating you as sons. So when hard times come, realize that God’s taking care of you. He’s putting you and me, and all of us, through tests and trials so that we can be what He wants us to be. For what son is there whom a father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Behold this: we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? And then down in verse 12, he says:
V-12-17 – Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet – you know, weak knees implies a fear – and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone – even though, in a state of persecution, that’s very difficult – and for the holiness – that means to value what’s spiritual – without which no one will see the Lord. 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.
So that’s why he talked about Esau – because these people were under extreme trial and persecution. And Esau gave up his birthright because he was in a state of trial, too – he was hungry. So he’s making a comparison here.
So don’t give up! Keep going! Don’t throw away what…you started down the road to receive a goal from God. Don’t give up on that. Keep going. Don’t be like Esau who threw away his birthright. Hang on to it. Value it.
You know, the pressure of persecution can make us forgetful. In one of my favorite movies, The Kingdom of Heaven, as the Saracens, who were Turks and Muslims, had surrounded Jerusalem. The fall of the city was appearing imminent. The bishop – the holy man in the movie – tells the city’s commander, “Convert now, repent later.” Well, that was the same position Esau found himself in. He gave up his birthright, which was a promise of salvation from God, and he exchanged that for his physical well-being. And then, when he tried to repent – you know, “Convert now, repent later” – he couldn’t find a way to do it. Because it’s really hard to bitterly regret something that we have calculated to do – something we’ve done, when all the time we were planning do what we want and then later repent. I don’t know if Esau actually did that, but I wonder why he couldn’t find repentance, even though he sought it with tears. Maybe they were crocodile tears. But God never lets us have it both ways. He values single-mindedness.
So I think the second reason we find ourselves in that too late place is due to a lack of vision – of thinking ahead. Just think about all the warning in the Bible – in and out, actually – about the propensity for humans to think in the moment and neglect preparation for the future.
Jesus told us that anything that could keep us from our birthright has to go, whether it be possessions, sins, habits, relationships – anything that can drag us down, preoccupy us, take our eye off the goal. There are many places where He mentions that.
The Proverbs tell us to be like ants, who work all summer so they can survive in the winter. Get ready for what’s coming.
In Jesus’ parable of the ten virgins, five were unprepared for what happened next. They didn’t think it was going to be long, so they weren’t prepared. They didn’t take enough oil. Jesus told the disciples to read the signs of the time and to be on the lookout, ready for Christ’s return – instead of sitting back and thinking, “All things continue as they have from the creation.” That’s a direct quote from Paul.
Or, Jesus’ proverb about the servants who slept while their master was away and were not ready for his return. Paul tells us – and this is a quote using the New King James language – “Do not neglect so great salvation.” We are warned to work while it’s day – while there is time. We are told over and over again, in a hundred different ways, to be ready at all times.
If you look with me in Hebrews 12, Paul says:
Hebrews 12:1-2 – Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses…. And in the previous chapter, which is called the Faith Chapter, he very beautifully lays out a history of the people of God, through the Old Testament times, who had faith – who put their trust in God rather than in circumstance, and on riches, and on position. …let’s us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of God.
Now we don’t know the day of our death. And we don’t know when Christ will return. They all thought He was going to return in their lifetime. But that was good for them. That was a notion that God never disabused them of. It wasn’t an abuse. It was good for them to believe that they should be ready at all times. If you’re ready at all times, and He doesn’t come yet, you haven’t lost anything. But, if you’re not ready, and He comes, they everything is lost.
Jesus, Paul, all the other apostles, Moses and all the prophets, all warn us. There’s a place in the New Testament that puts, in one sentence, Jesus’ message. Do you know where it is and what it says? Well, let’s look at it in Matthew 4:12.
Matthew 4:12 – Now He – Jesus – when heard that John – his cousin – had been arrested, He withdrew into Galilee. And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: …the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” Here it comes: From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Like I said, “We don’t know the day of our death. And we don’t know when Christ will return.” So Christians are to live in a state of preparedness and readiness, waiting for the imminent return of Jesus Christ, so that we don’t have to find ourselves realizing what Esau realized – “It’s too late.”