What motivated Esau to give up his birthright?

First of two parts on Esau’s disregard for the birthright

31 And Jacob said, Sell me this day thy birthright. 32 And Esau said, Behold, I am at the point to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me? 33 And Jacob said, Swear to me this day; and he sware unto him: and he sold his birthright unto Jacob. 34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentiles; and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way: thus Esau despised his birthright. Genesis 25:31-34

The scene of Esau’s contempt for his birthright is a sensitive case, very delicate when it comes to establishing interpretation about his deed, since an incorrect appreciation of his intention and act can lead us to build a distorted, and dangerous, spiritual platform of execution, if we want to elaborate on it.

Who hasn’t read about this fact before? This is a somewhat classic story within the Christian realm, and in many cases, even a “moral” story proposed from the pulpits to warn us of the care we should take about our salvation.

However, it seems to me that we have not done justice to this fact, and although we do not intend to change the course of history or the interpretation of it, the fact of entering with a “prejudice” into the analysis of the story constitutes us as constructors of injustice, and separates us from the teaching wisdom that the stories contain, in order to make the reader aware of the existence of a sovereign, righteous and perfect God, who chooses —and discards— people according to the wisdom with which they execute their actions,

Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: Proverbs 6:6

Hear instruction, and be wise, and refuse it not. Proverbs 8:33

This fact led the prophet to establish as a principle of righteousness and wisdom that God had loved Jacob and rejected Esau,

2 I have loved you, saith the Lord. Yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us? Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? saith the Lord: yet I loved Jacob, 3 and I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness. Malachi 1:2-3

The story of the scene of Esau’s contempt for his birthright is not intended to make us bow down to one and discredit the other, that is not the purpose; the story is intended to make the reader understand precisely how a prejudiced and capricious attitude can eventually lead us to say things just to get out of the way, without having a real awareness of what we have just said.

How hungry could Esau have been that he could not wait to prepare his own food? Was Esau really too tired to give up his birthright in return? The story presents a misconception -the reader gets a misconception, rather- about why Esau desired to eat of the pottage which Jacob had prepared. The idea which the reader gets is that Esau was so faint from the hunger which he suffered that his desire to subsist outweighed, at that time, the value of the birthright.

This “false” idea arises because in the dialogue the expression that Esau returned from the field “tired” is presented together with his reflection on what use the birthright would be to him if he was going to die in the end; because of this, the reader thinks that Esau’s need to eat was so great that he felt that he would die if he did not eat something soon; which is not what is really described in the dialogue.

The writer is very careful in presenting this part of the story, and if we notice carefully, we will realize that although the writer concludes the story by saying that Esau despised the birthright, this story is presented as a continuity to the story of the birth of both; which, for interpretation purposes, the scene of Esau’s act of despising his birthright is actually a consequence of the “rivalry” that existed between the two even from their mother’s womb.

By the way the writer presents this part of the story of the two brothers, Jacob and Esau, twin sons of Isaac and Rebekah, Esau’s renunciation of his birthright does not appear as a total disregard of it, nor that he did not really believe that it would be of no use to him; the scene of the renunciation of it is presented as one more argument, of the many, which both used to take advantage of each other; in this case, to show Esau’s intention to deceive and take advantage of his brother Jacob.

Both recognized from childhood the value of the birthright, not so much for the material inheritance that it entailed, but more for the character of Revelation that both parents carried and that at some point they had transferred to their children, along with the presence of Abraham when he still lived among them.

Both carried the knowledge that they were Abraham’s grandchildren and that through them God would do great things among the nations. Abraham was one hundred years old when Isaac was born,[1] Isaac was sixty years old when both children were born,[2] Abraham died at the age of one hundred seventy five,[3] which means that Jacob and Esau were fifteen years old when Abraham died. They both knew first-hand the work of God among them, and they knew perfectly what God had set out to do with them.

Esau was his father’s favorite: Isaac loved Esau, because he did eat of his venison;[4] so Esau had a greater vow of trust before his father than Jacob did, did Esau need a birthright having his father on his side?

Esau had a craving to eat of the pottage which Jacob was preparing, that was all, a craving of Esau; What Esau did not expect was the way in which Jacob answered him. Esau entered into a dangerous game, did not measure the weight of the words and went on with his craving to take advantage of his brother, and though he interposed with an oath, he never believed that Jacob was capable of taking it.

The evidence of this is the way Esau reacts after learning that Isaac had blessed Jacob as the firstborn,

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. Genesis 27:38

The story confirms this. Let’s look at the scene in detail. First, let us look at the reflection that Esau elaborates at Jacob’s request: And Esau said, Behold, I am at the point to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me? In the first place. Esau is not saying, Behold, I am dying, Esau is admitting that at some point he is going to die, which shows the origin of the contempt of his birthright.

Esau’s reflection is elaborated by including his brother Jacob: Esau is also thinking, if it does not have more meaning for me, what value it will have for him.

Did Esau really disdain his birthright, or did he disdain Jacob?

The origin of the contempt for his birthright was based on the contempt for his brother. This story cannot be seen in isolation, it is necessary to understand that this story was part of a series of incidents of rivalry between them, each wanting to take advantage of the other, but in Esau it was based on contempt for his brother.

Therefore, the scene of the reunion of the two, twenty years after Jacob had left after receiving his father’s blessing, is a scene of reconciliation between the two, mainly of restoration for Esau, because for the first time in their lives, Esau did not want to take advantage of his brother,

And Esau said, I have enough, my brother; keep that thou hast unto thyself. Genesis 33:9

The contempt for God’s work and purposes, the contempt for Revelation, the contempt for being the protagonist of the spiritual operations of taking over territory, of the divine executions, does not begin with a direct contempt for them, it begins with the contempt for the people that God sent us to notify us of their existence.

Disdain for God and his work begins when we disdain those around us, particularly those who seem to have nothing to contribute. How can we love God’s work and hate God’s image and likeness at the same time? We rightly read in the writings of the apostle John,

If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? 1st. John 4:20

Of man’s most impious intentions, contempt for a person is one of the most serious. The apostle John classifies it in the same rank as a homicide,

Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him. 1st. John 3:15

Hating another person arouses in him who hates the intention of discrediting, and even insulting, the one he hates. Jesus presented in his doctrine that this kind of passionism can lead a person to hell itself,

but I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. Matthew 5:22

We’re all potential Esau. We are Esau when we despise the person because of his nationality, when we despise the one who has no studies, the one who only seeks us out to ask; we are Esau when we do not see the purpose in God in the one who insists on helping us, correcting us, guiding and instructing us; we are Esau when we do not see the need to have someone around. We are Esau only when we turn to someone as a resource and not as a guide.

Many pastors have given up access to Revelation because of the contempt they have had for receiving teaching from others…

Esau corrected his attitude… Can we do it?

Would you like to collaborate with this ministry by helping us translate it into other languages?

All biblical quotations are taken from the King James Version.

Pastor Pedro Montoya

Twitter: @pastormontoya

WhatsApp 1 407 764 2699


[1] Genesis 21:5

[2] Idem 25:26

[3] Idem 25:7

[4] Ídem 25:28