Genesis 25:31-34

Blaine Robison, M.A.

Delivered 18 November 2017

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The Birthright Bargain

31 And Jacob said, "Sell now your birthright to me." 32 Esau said, "Behold, I am at the point to die and what is this birthright to me?" 33 Jacob said, "Swear to me now." And he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. 34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and stew of lentils, and he ate and drank, and got up and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright." (mine)


In order to understand the significance of the birthright bargaining we need to consider the description Moses provides in verse 27 of the two adult men. This is my translation. "And the boys grew up, and Esau was a man, a skillful hunter, a man of the field, and Jacob was a complete man, dwelling in tents." In other words, Esau was "a man's man," the rugged outdoor type who spent his time in the boonies and became a skillful hunter. Esau apparently hunted for sport and his prowess along with the game he brought home appealed to his father. Yet, with their extensive flocks there was no need to kill wild game for food. Esau is later described in Scripture as an immoral and godless man who became a grief to his parents because of his ungodly associations.

On the other hand Moses describes Jacob as a "complete" man. The Hebrew adjective tam means "perfect, complete, morally innocent, or having integrity." This is the same word used to describe Noah (Gen 6:9) and Job (Job 1:1, 8; 2:3) and the character expectation God had of Abraham (Gen 17:1). However, Bible scholars do not want to accord Jacob the same status as Noah and Job and inexplicably render tam in the case of Jacob as "quiet," "peaceful," "plain," or "mild." Check your own version. The translation may be influenced by the fact that Jacob stayed home with his family, thus occupying most of his time caring for the flocks and herds of his father. Some interpreters have demeaned Jacob by calling him as a "mama's boy." But, the description of Moses affirms that Jacob was a reliable, "mature" godly person, not a carnal playboy like his brother.

In ancient times "birthright" referred to the rights of the firstborn son and included two important rights. First, the firstborn gained leadership authority over the clan. Second, the firstborn would inherit a double portion of the father's property. With two sons the father's goods would be divided into three parts, and the firstborn took two parts, and the second son the rest.

In this family birthright also included important responsibilities inherent in the covenant God made with Abraham. Most important of these was maintaining the Messianic line that would produce the Seed of Salvation, first promised to Chavah (Gen 3:15), then to Abraham (Gen 22:17-18). Esau did not possess the character worthy of these great privileges and responsibilities. By God's decree the birthright belonged to Jacob (verse 23). God's choice is not so unusual. In the Messianic line only Abraham and Yeshua were firstborn sons in lists where brothers are mentioned!

Many Bible readers are understandably uncomfortable with the tactic employed by Jacob. He should have simply trusted God to accomplish His sovereign choice. However, Jacob could not be sure that the other two key parties would carry out God's will. Isaac had been co-opted by his stomach, so his obedience to the divine will was not a sure thing. Jacob also knew the character of his brother. The bargain he offered, then, was actually a spiritual test. He wanted to establish just how much interest Esau had in the birthright and being a godly leader. There was nothing unfair about the contract. Esau could have said no. So, we should not fault Jacob because Esau agreed to the terms.

Of course, later Esau complained to his father that Jacob had taken his birthright, but that was a lie. Esau's willingness to sell his birthright for so little is truly shocking, but in doing so revealed his rejection of the weightier responsibilities of those in the Messianic line. In reality Esau had nothing to complain about. He eventually gained everything he could hope for in terms of wealth and power. As Yeshua said of the hypocrites, Esau had his reward in this life. Jacob gained an everlasting reward. The names of his twelve sons are engraved on the gates of the New Jerusalem.

Esau developed a root of bitterness that was passed on to his descendants. Divine judgments were later pronounced on Edom for their wickedness. Just as the line of the Messiah came from Jacob we could also say the spirit of anti-Messiah was manifested in the line of Esau. The descendants of his son Amalek opposed Israel during the exodus. Moreover Haman, the descendant of the Amalek tried to destroy the Jewish people in the time of Esther. Then Herod the Great who ordered the slaughter of babies to kill Yeshua was of Edom.

The bargain of Jacob served the will of God. God's plan from the beginning was to bless the world through Jacob and make him a company of nations. You could say that settling the matter of birthright assured a place in the Messianic kingdom for Gentiles. Jacob may not have realized it at the time, but what he did, he did for me and for you.


Barukh Hashem.


Copyright 2017 by Blaine Robison. All rights reserved.