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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Dictionary of Texts

Genesis 25

Verses 1-34

Genesis 25:32

Esau's weakness and fall in the presence of his overmastering temptation.

I. Esau's good qualities are very evident, being of the kind easily recognized and easily popular among men, the typical sportsman who is only a sportsman, bold and frank and free and generous, with no intricacies of character, impulsive and capable of magnanimity. The very opposite of the prudent, dexterous, nimble man of affairs, rather reckless indeed and hotheaded and passionate. His virtues are, we see, dangerously near to being vices. Without self-control, without spiritual insight, without capacity even to know what spiritual issues were, judging things by immediate profit and material advantage, there was not in him depth of nature out of which a really noble character could be cut. This damning lack of self-control comes out in the passage of our text, the transaction of the birthright. Coming from the hunt hungry and faint, he finds Jacob cooking porridge of lentils and asks for it. The sting of ungovernable appetite makes him feel as if he would die if he did not get it. Jacob takes advantage of his brother's appetite and offers to barter his dish of pottage for Esau's birthright. Esau was hungry, and before his fierce desire for food actually before him such a thing as a prospective right of birth seemed an ethereal thing of no real value. He feels he is going to die, as a man of his type is always sure he will die if he does not get what he wants when the passion is on him; and supposing he does die, it will be poor consolation that he did not barter this intangible and shadowy blessing of his birthright. 'Behold I am at the point to die: and what profit shall this birth right do to me?'

II. This scene where he surrendered his birthright did not settle the destiny of the two brothers a compact like this could not stand good for ever, and in some magical way substitute Jacob for Esau in the line of God's great religious purpose. But this scene, though it did not settle their destiny in that sense, revealed the character, the one essential thing which was necessary for the spiritual succession to Abraham; and Esau failed here in this test as he would fail anywhere. His question to reassure himself, 'What profit shall this birthright do to me?' reveals the bent of his life, and explains his failure. True self-control means willingness to resign the small for the sake of the great, the present for the sake of the future, the material for the sake of the spiritual, and that is what faith makes possible. He had no patience to wait, no faith to believe in the real value of anything that was not material, no self-restraint to keep him from instant surrender to the demand for present gratification. This is the power of all appeal to passion, that it is present with us now, to be had at once. It is clamant, imperious, insistent, demanding to be satiated with what is actually present. It has no use for a far-off good. It wants immediate profit.

III. But it is not merely lack of self-control which Esau displays by the question of our text. It is also lack of appreciation of spiritual values. In a vague way he knew that the birthright meant a religious blessing, and in the grip of his temptation that looked to him as purely a sentiment not to be seriously considered as on a par with a material advantage. How easy it is for all of us to drift into the class of the profane, the secular persons as Esau; to have our spiritual sensibility blunted; to lose our appreciation of things unseen; to be so taken up with the means of living that we forget life itself and the things that alone give it security and dignity. We have our birthright as sons of God born to an inheritance as joint heirs with Christ. We belong by essential nature not to the animal kingdom, but to the Kingdom of Heaven; and when we forget it and live only with reference to the things of sense and time, we are disinheriting ourselves as Esau did.

Hugh Black, University Sermons, p. 121.

Reference. XXV. 32. J. C. M. Bellew, Sermons, vol. iii. p. 139.

Esau Despised His Birthright

Genesis 25:34

Dr. Marcus Dods says: 'It is perhaps worth noticing that the birthright in Ishmael's line, the guardianship of the temple at Mecca, passed from one branch of the family to another in a precisely similar way. We read that when the guardianship of the temple and the governorship of the town fell into the hands of Abu Gabshan a weak and silly man, Cosa, one of Mohammed's ancestors, circumvented him while in a drunken humour, and bought of him the keys of the temple, and with them the presidency of it, for a bottle of wine. But Abu Gabshan being gotten out of his drunken fit, sufficiently repented of his foolish bargain, from whence grew these proverbs among the Arabs: More vexed with late repentance than Abu Gabshan; and more silly than Abu Gabshan which are usually said of those who part with a thing of great moment for a small matter.'

References. XXV. 34. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Genesis, p. 198. J. Keble, Sermons for Lent to Passiontide, p. 104. C. C. Bartholomew, Sermons Chiefly Practical, p. 183. W. Bull, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxii. p. 100. Archbishop Benson, Sundays in Wellington College, p. 190. G. Brooks, Outlines of Sermons, p. 77. J. Keble, Sermons for Lent to Passiontide, p. 104. XXV. F. W. Robertson, Notes on Genesis, p. 71.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Genesis 25". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/edt/genesis-25.html. 1910.