Genesis 25:24-34 24When the time came for her to give birth, she had twins. 25 The first one born was red. His whole body was covered with hair, so they named him Esau [Hairy]. 26 Afterwards, his brother was born with his hand holding on to Esau’s heel, and so he was named Jacob [Heel]. Isaac was 60 years old when they were born. 27 They grew up. Esau became an expert hunter, an outdoorsman. Jacob remained a quiet man, staying around the tents. 28 Because Isaac liked to eat the meat of wild animals, he loved Esau. However, Rebekah loved Jacob.
29 Once, Jacob was preparing a meal when Esau, exhausted, came in from outdoors. 30 So Esau said to Jacob, “Let me have the whole pot of red stuff to eat–that red stuff–I’m exhausted.” This is why he was called Edom. 31 Jacob responded, “First, sell me your rights as firstborn.” 32 “I’m about to die.” Esau said. “What good is my inheritance to me?” 33 “First, swear an oath,” Jacob said. So Esau swore an oath to him and sold him his rights as firstborn. 34 Then Jacob gave Esau a meal of bread and lentils. He ate and drank, and then he got up and left. This is how Esau showed his contempt for his rights as firstborn.
Food is at the center of this story between Jacob and Esau. Esau is depicted as a brutish sort of man. He’s just a big hairy oaf who lives by the whims of his gut. His dad loves him because he hunts and brings home the kind of game he likes to eat. He’s also the firstborn, which gives him all sorts of privileges in that culture. Jacob is kind of a homebody. Maybe he was the bookish sort who never was good with a hammer and nail. So, he’s hanging around the house making the meal. Not to be sexist, but at that time that was woman’s work.
Esau bursts on the scene and out of breath pants, “Hey gimme that red stuff!” Esau’s descendants would be called Edomites, which means “red” in Hebrew. The dirt in the land that they lived was red clay. Red also is connected to blood. So the color red is connected to life, the dirt and soil and the blood in our veins. So, Esau says, “That red stuff must be full of life and I’m exhausted!” Jacob attempts to make a deal and Esau responds with what sounds like an exaggeration. At first he was just exhausted, but now he is on death’s door. What a drama queen!!
What does Esau get in the end after giving away his inheritance, his future? A meal of bread and lentils. Not exactly what you’d call gourmet. Don’t get me wrong. Lentils are great, but Esau is expecting something a little more substantial. The text says Esau ate, drank and got up and left. Maybe he was ticked off about the deal. Maybe he’s continuing this pattern of being led by his gut, not thinking only acting.
Esau was led by his hungers and base desires. How often do we say “I’m starving!” when we skip a meal or miss breakfast? How many of us could honestly say that we have experienced actual starvation? Probably, not many. Even those who have everything (their birthright, inheritance and future) abandon it all for the momentary impulse or desire.
We live in the land of plenty, but we constantly abandon our future and inheritance for the momentary fix of a strong economy or convenient meal. Unlike Esau who only acts, we need to be willing to delay our gratification long enough to think critically about the food choices we make.
Some of the biblical background in this post comes from a series Rob Bell did on Food in the Bible.