What is the birthright that Esau despised? In Hebrew families, the oldest son of the family had responsibilities to the family beyond those of his siblings, and received privileges beyond those of his siblings in order to carry out those responsibilities. The oldest son became the patriarch of the family when the father died. He inherited his father’s responsibility to ensure that the family was cared for; was protected; and that the household learned and walked in the Lord’s ways (Gen 18:19). He was responsible to render judgments and settle disputes among the family. His brothers were the fathers of their own households, so the oldest son did not micro manage his brothers’ affairs, but if his brothers were failing in their responsibility to their families in some way, it was the oldest son’s responsibility to call them to account.
The oldest son received privileges to help him carry out his responsibilities. He received a double portion of the inheritance from his father. This material wealth helped him care for the widows, orphans, and unmarried sisters of the clan. Also, he received the father’s authority. Everyone in the clan recognized that he was the one in charge, that his decisions settled matters. These responsibilities and privileges were the birthright.
In Abraham’s family, the birthright carried an extra benefit: as we saw with Isaac and Ishmael (Gen 17:18-21), the son who received the birthright received God’s promise to Abraham that through their seed Abraham’s descendants would be called; through their seed the Promised Seed would come; that God would establish His covenant with their seed.
Esau despised his birthright, as it did not mean more to him than filling his belly momentarily. Esau shows us that perhaps he was a man ruled by his passions, who made decisions based on what would get Esau what Esau wanted at the time. Also, we see that Esau’s Hittite (pagan) wives were a grief of mind to Isaac and Rebekah (Gen 26:34-35) – however, they were not a grief of mind to Esau!
The whole picture of Esau that the Scripture paints in these few verses is one who couldn’t care less about the family or the Lord! Knowing this about Esau makes it hard to believe that he would be like his grandfather Abraham, of whom the Lord said, “I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they may keep the way of the LORD,” (Gen 18:19)! This is perhaps one reason why God said, that Jacob He loved, but Esau He hated (Mal 1:2-3).
For further study: The word that is repeated often in these two chapters is bless and blessing! “Bless” is in the ancient Hebrew pictographs, bet – resh – kaph; the house or family + the head of a man + the open palm. Bet – resh together mean family of heads, i.e. ripened grain; so by extension to fill, to make fat, and also to slaughter (as cattle were fattened for slaughter by taking them off grass and feeding them on grain). To bless is to fill the palm – the blessing fills the palm, the upturned hands, of the one being blessed with good things; and also, the father filled his palm with his sons’ heads when conferring the blessing!
What are the characteristics of the blessings encountered thus far in Scripture? Who pronounced the first Father’s Blessing? Can those who have been blessed be cursed at a later date? Look again at Esau’s reaction and his father’s response to him when Esau discovered he missed the blessing. What does this teach us about the weight the father’s words to his children carry in the spiritual and natural world? Was Isaac’s family perfect? Does that give you hope? (LOL – it does me!)
Finding Messiah: Jesus Himself pointed out that He can be found in the passage about Jacob’s dream, when He said to Nathaniel,
And He said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” Joh 1:51
Mankind can try to build a tower whose top reaches into the heavens, but the Ladder which God has provided is the Way into heaven, who is Jesus Christ our Lord!
For further reading:
Jacob – Hebrew word study (Brad Scott)
The Father’s Blessing (Broken link, active January 15, 2011)