What Would Esau Do?

The New Testament book of Hebrews is well known for chapter 11, which holds up for imitation the examples of many great biblical saints. In chapter 12, Hebrews offers just one counter-example. “See to it that no one is… godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance….” (Hebrews 12:16)

It seems incredibly hard on Esau, a hapless field-and-stream kind of guy who got used and abused by his tricky younger brother Jacob. Of all the evil characters of the Old Testament, why single out Esau?

The story is told in Genesis 25. Esau comes in famished from a hunting trip. Jacob is cooking a stew that makes Esau ravenous. Jacob won’t give him some unless he swears by solemn oath to give up his birthright. Esau says, “Look, I am about to die. What good is the birthright to me?” (Genesis 25:32) So he swears.

Our generation looks kindly on such an impulsive, sensual and uncalculating nature. But Hebrews nails it as exactly opposite from the long-distance runner we are called to be. (Hebrews 12:1-3) Discipline comes to those who put a high value on the finish line; not to those (like Esau) who are driven by appetite. He is “godless” not because he doesn’t believe in God, but because he does not love God with his whole soul, mind and strength. He is not willing or able to rein in his appetite in order to retain something far more substantial than his hunger.

This obviously applies to modern western culture, where desire and pleasure are the ultimate arbiters of everything. But is it any less true of the modern western church? Is any complaint more common than, “I’m not being fed?”

Should we answer: “You mean, like Esau?”

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2 Responses to “What Would Esau Do?”

  1. Coli Cole-French Says:

    Ouch!

  2. James Says:

    Maybe I’m missing your point. Are you casting the churchgoer as Esau? If so, I guess the Church (or maybe just the church) is playing the Jacob role, but I don’t quite see it.

    If anything, Jacob is a televangelist. He doesn’t show any sign of love for Esau; he’s interested only in how much he can take his brother for, ideally at his moment of maximum weakness.

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