Welcome Valley Media                                                                                                                                                                      

Grown-Up Bible Stories

The Man Who Sold His Rights

He was an outdoorsman. Rugged and self-reliant, he was the kind of guy a lot of men choose as a role model. He was a hunter, used to getting what he wanted by his own strength and skill. It is no surprise that he became his father’s pet.

On top of it all, he held the privilege of being his parents’ firstborn son. In the ancient Middle Eastern culture in which he lived, being the firstborn son was sort of like being born with a silver spoon in one’s mouth. His people talked in terms of birthrights. A birthright was just that, a special set of rights held strictly by virtue of being male and first. When his father died, he would receive the largest share of the inheritance. As part of a nomadic clan in which the father was essentially a small king, he would also inherit the leader’s role. He had a lot going for him, and he knew it.

As it was, he’d barely gained his privileged position. He was a twin. Esau had been a little ahead of his brother, and the midwife kept track of which baby was actually born first. Of course, his brother’s first act had been to reach out a tiny hand and grab Esau’s heel. Whether the action was instinctive, accidental, or something else, it seemed like an omen to the family. They took this omen so seriously as to name the younger brother "Supplanter" because he was seen as trying to take his older brother’s rightful place. Oh, just to cut down on confusion, you remember Supplanter by a transliterated form of his Hebrew name—Jacob.

In any event, the twins grew to manhood. Jacob never quite measured up to his brother. Esau was the hairy, adventurous outdoorsman. He loved to hunt. He went out and did things for himself. Jacob seems to have been better at hanging around the family encampment and working the system.

Long before Jacob was married, Esau went out and took two local girls for brides. Yes, that’s right, two. Polygamy was viewed as morally acceptable in that culture. What was less acceptable was the nationality of the new wives. The family were, after all, nomads. They didn’t quite fit in with local customs, and Dad and Mom weren’t real wild about having a couple young pagans in the family. But Esau had done what he wanted, got what he wanted, and life went on.

In the meantime, his bachelor brother continued minding business matters. They were an agricultural family specializing in livestock. Jacob hadn’t gone out and married just anybody, and the wife he didn’t have wasn’t a continual irritation to the parents. Jacob lacked Esau’s rugged outdoorsman charm, but he was shrewd.

How shrewd he was becomes apparent with one of the pivotal incidents in the brother’s relationship. Esau had been out hunting again. Jacob, closer to home, was cooking his own dinner. Esau’s hunt had gone poorly. Not only was he failing to bring home the bacon, (ok, venison) but he hadn’t even found enough for a decent meal. He was hungry, very hungry, when he stumbled into his brother’s camp and smelled the lentil soup boiling over the fire.

"Give me some of your soup," he said. [In this story, Scriptural quotations are in bold print. All other quotes are not necessarily exact.]

The supplanter held off. In effect he said, "I’ll sell it to you." Not exactly the brotherly thing, but as we said, Jacob was shrewd. He was shrewd, and his price was high. In fact, it seems reasonable to speculate that the whole transaction might have been a bit of a gamble on his part. There was no way that a kettle of soup was worth the fabled birthright. But that was the price he asked.

Esau was used to having his way when he wanted it. His logic ran like this. "If I starve to death, he’ll get the birthright anyway." Whether he was really that close to collapse is in doubt, but he agreed to the terms. He had his meal. His brother was now the heir to a lion’s share of the family fortune—and they were rich. What’s more, Jacob was now his future boss.

Strengthened by the soup, Esau went on his way. Dad was still alive, and everything must have seemed much as it had always been. Esau had gotten what he wanted, and gotten it now.

But time brought its usual sad results. Their father aged. His eyesight failed—likely from then untreatable cataracts. He began to think in terms of impending death. It was time for the next step in the birthright. Whether he knew of the soup sale isn’t clear. But in addition to being the leader of his family, he was also its spiritual head. As one of the pioneers of the Jewish faith, Isaac (that was the father’s name) had managed to continue the unusual relationship with God his father had enjoyed. He seems to have been a prophet, one with a Heaven-given ability to discern and communicate the will of God. Perhaps, the crowning point of his prophetic experience was calling in his first-born son, and, as part of a blessing, telling him how generous God intended to be with him. The blessing was also a way of putting his last will and testament into effect.

Isaac called for Esau. "I want you to go hunting. Get some venison, season it, and cook it. Then bring it so I can eat it, and my soul will bless you." In those early days of humanity’s pilgrimage, outward events sometimes seemed to help trigger a prophet’s ability to hear the voice of God. Whether that was Isaac’s motive isn’t clear, but he did want a meal before pronouncing the blessing.

Esau the hunter took his weapons—likely bow and arrows, but other ancient means of hunting included snares, rock-throwing slings, spears, and darts—and went out into the countryside.

Unlike his father and some of his descendants, Isaac seems to have limited himself to one wife. While this would have spared him some of the family troubles that came with polygamy, he still hadn’t mastered family relationships. He and his wife Rebekah each had a favorite son, and she was willing to be less than honest in promoting Jacob’s welfare.

Knowing that Isaac had sent Esau out to prepare a meal prior to blessing him, Rebekah called for Jacob. She had a plan. Rebekah had some of Esau’s clothing in her tent. (Why a guy with two wives needed Mom to do his mending is an interesting question.) Rebekah urged Jacob to put on Esau’s clothes. She cooked up some well-seasoned goat meat. Now all he had to do was go in and tell old blind Dad that he’d hunted down a deer, then feed him, and get the blessing his brother expected. Maybe Jacob had learned shrewdness from his mother.

But Jacob was shrewd. If he was going to deceive, he’d better be thorough. With Dad speaking for God, the last thing he needed was for him to get mad and pronounce a curse instead of a blessing. Feeding a blind man is close-up work. All that would have to happen was for Isaac to brush his arm and realize it wasn’t hairy. Then, he’d be in real trouble.

But Rebekah was ready. "I’ll take the curse on myself," she told him. Then, she took some goatskins, apparently tanned with the hair still on. Turning them hair side out, she tied them to his arms. It sounds risky, but Isaac was old, couldn’t see, and probably didn’t have a lot of reason to suspect anything.

Jacob submitted, and soon with homegrown meat instead of wild game, with meat cooked by an old woman rather than a young huntsman, with garments smelling like his brother’s rather than his own, and with goat’s hair instead of his own smooth skin, he carried the meal to his father. There was one catch that he had to work around. He still had Jacob’s voice.

That voice almost got him in trouble. Isaac asked, "Who are you?"

The lie was unavoidable. "I’m Esau, your oldest son."

"How have you come so quickly?" After all, hunting isn’t the fastest way to procure a well-cooked meal.

"The LORD your God blessed me." Now he was lying and evoking God’s name in the process.

"Come here and let me feel you."

Jacob drew near. It’s a wonder that Isaac couldn’t hear his pounding heart. After all, an arm with a goatskin wrapped around it isn’t the easiest way to deceive even a blind man.

But Isaac felt hair and smelled Esau’s clothes. Again, he had little reason to be suspicious. He admitted that the voice sounded like Jacob’s, but convinced by the rest of the "evidence" he ate the meat. Perhaps hoping to help his case, Jacob also made sure that his father had wine with the meal.

Jacob called him near and asked him to kiss him. With the kiss, he smelled the clothing of Esau again and proceeded with the blessing:

See, the smell of my son is as the smell of a field which the LORD hath blessed: Therefore God give thee of the dew of heaven, and the fatness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine: Let people serve thee, and nations bow down to thee: be lord over thy brethren, and let thy mother’s sons bow down to thee: cursed be every one that curseth thee, and blessed be he that blesseth thee (from Genesis 27:27-29).

It is interesting to note that the old Hebrew language had two words that the King James Bible translates as wine. One, the word used to describe what Jacob gave his father, could include what you and I think of as wine. The other, the word Isaac used in blessing Jacob, referred, not to what we call wine, but to unfermented grape juice. That the trickster used the intoxicant and the blesser called for fruit juice is enough to make a person think.

Jacob received his blessing, and made good his escape.

Just after he left, Esau came in. God had allowed him quick and successful hunting. He had the venison, and not only the appropriate smell and hair, but Esau’s voice.

Isaac had to ask. "Who are you?"

"I am your son, your firstborn Esau."

Isaac began to shake. The Bible says that he "trembled very exceedingly" (from Genesis 27:33). He realized at once that he’d been duped. But the blessing had been more than just a blessing. It had been a prophecy, and it wasn’t retractable.

Esau cried out, "Bless me, even me also, O my father" (from Genesis 27:34).

But all the father could say was "Your brother has been deceitful and taken away your blessing."

All the bitterness of the years came to the front. Esau who had gotten what he wanted when he wanted it could see it all now. His brother had taken what was rightfully his and done it twice. First he’d bought his birthright for a bowl of soup. Now, he’d taken his blessing with a plate of meat. He was mad at Jacob. Yet, had he thought, he would have realized that on the day he chose to gratify the desires of the moment rather than living by his values, he had set himself up for this disaster.

"And Isaac answered and said unto Esau, Behold, I have made him thy lord, and all his brethren have I given to him for servants; and with corn and wine have I sustained him: and what shall I do now unto thee, my son?" (Genesis 27:37)

We can’t describe Esau’s reaction any better than is found in the words of Genesis 27:38: "And Esau said unto his father, Hast thou but one blessing, my father? bless me, even me also, O my father. And Esau lifted up his voice, and wept."

It is true that Isaac did manage a blessing for Esau, but it wasn’t the blessing of Jacob. It was, in fact a prophecy of a hard, troubled life. It was too late for Esau to gain the rights to which he had been born. He’d traded them for what he wanted when he wanted it.

Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled; Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears. (Hebrews 12:15-17)

We all want what we want, when we want it. Eternity and God’s long-term blessings can seem very far away. What bowl of soup is tempting you today?

This work is in the pubic domain and may be copied and distributed freely.


How to Have a Relationship with God

Home    Bible Studies    Easy English    Essays    Grown-Up Bible Stories   Multimedia    Stories from the Book Itself

About this Site    Copyright Release    Links    Contact: mail@welcomevalley.com