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Bible Dictionaries

Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters

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ESAU lost his birthright with all its blessings largely through his lack of imagination. The things that are unseen and eternal had neither substance nor evidence to Esau compared with the things that are seen and temporal. Jacob, his brother, had many faults, but Jacob inherited the blessing because after all is said he had eyes and a heart for the unseen and the spiritual. But Esau had no such speculation in his eyes. The covenant promises made to his fathers had no interest, they had no existence even, to Esau. They can take the promises who care for them; as for Esau, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. At the same time, Esau had many not wholly ignoble things about him. Esau was full of the manliest interests and occupations and pursuits. He was a very proverb of courage and endurance and success in the chase. He was the ruggedest, the brawniest, and the shaggiest of all the rugged, brawny, and shaggy creatures of the field and of the forest, among whom he lived and died. Esau had an eye like an eagle. His ear never slept. His foot took the firmest hold of the ground. And his hand was always full both of skill, and strength, and success. Esau's arrow never missed its mark. He was the pride of all the encampment as he came home at night with his traps, and his snares, and his bows, and his arrows, and laden to the earth with venison for his father's supper. Burned black with the sun; beaten hard and dry with the wind; a prince of men; a prime favourite both with men, and women, and children, and with a good word and a good gift from the field for them all. But, all the time, a heathen. All the time, an animal more than a man. All the time, all body and no soul. All the time a profane person, who failed of the grace of God.

In that extraordinary solidity of style, in which Moses sometimes surpasses Dante himself, we have Isaac and Esau and Jacob set before us to the life in six or seven verses. 'And Jacob sod pottage; and Esau came from the field, and he was faint. And Esau said to Jacob, Feed me, I pray thee, with that same red pottage; for I am faint. And Jacob said, Sell me this day thy birthright. And Esau said, Behold, I am at the point to die; and what profit shall this birthright do to me? And Jacob said, Swear to me this day; and he sware unto him; and he sold his birthright unto Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentils, and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.' This was not the first time that Esau and Jacob had exchanged words about that birthright. No man sells his birthright on the spot. He who sells his birthright, sells it many times in his heart before he takes it so openly as that to the market. He belittles it, and despises it, and cheapens it, at any rate to himself, long before he sells it so cheaply to another. No man, and no woman, falls in that fatal way without having prepared their fall for themselves in their hearts. Esau had showed his contempt for his birthright a thousand times, and in a thousand ways, before now. Everybody knew that Esau's birthright was for sale, if anybody cared to bid for it. Isaac knew, Rebekah knew, and Jacob knew; and Jacob had for long been eyeing his brother for a fit opportunity. It had for a long time back been marrow to Jacob's bones to hear Esau jesting so openly about his birthright over his venison and his wine; jesting and being jested about the covenant blessing. 'As much as you are able to eat, Esau! and anything else you like to name, to boot; only, say that you toss me today your worthless birthright,' said Jacob. 'Take it, and welcome!' said Esau. 'And much good may it do you! It has never been worth a haunch of good venison to me. You may have it, and my oath on it on the spot, for a good dish at once, and be quick, of your smoking pottage. Take it, and let me be done with it. Take it, and let me hear no more about it.' And Esau did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way.

Esau's roving habits of life; his increasing distaste for the life and the religion of his father's house; and, now that he had cut himself so completely adrift by openly selling his birthright, with all its privileges, and obligations, and responsibilities-all that combined to throw Esau more and more into the company of the old Canaanite communities that lay all around the patriarchal settlements. Esau, alas! was all the time himself a true Canaanite at heart. Son of Isaac and Rebekah, and grandson of Abraham and Sarah, as he was, Esau had nothing of his forefathers or his foremothers in him, unless it was some of the dregs of their remaining vices; and, as the apostle has it, some of their springing up roots of bitterness. All that Abraham and Sarah, and Isaac and Rebekah, had passed through; all their trials, and all their triumphs, and all their attainments of faith and of obedience, had left no mark at all on Esau, their so profane descendant. And everything that Esau did, every step that he took in life, every choice that he made in life, and every bargain that he struck, only made that more and more manifest. A man's choice in his marriage, more than anything else in this life, makes it manifest what that man is, and where his heart is. Now, Esau's marriage, fatal step as it also was, was not the passionate impulse of a moment, any more than his sale of his birthright had been. Esau had hunted for years with the brothers of Judith and Bashemath. He had eaten and drunken and danced with the Hittite inhabitants of the land. He had sacrificed and sworn and vowed to their false gods of the fields, and of the streams, and of the unclean groves. Like every reprobate from a better life, Esau had far outdone the sons of Beeri and Elon in their impieties and debaucheries. Till, at last, and in open defiance of all decency and religion, he brought home two Canaanite wives to his father's covenanted camp. 'Now, all these things happened unto them for examples, and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.' And thus it is that we see the same things in the end of the world that has come upon ourselves. A child is born and baptized in a God-fearing house; and yet, by some fatality, or what shall we call it, he grows up as much outside the best life of his father's house as Esau all his days was outside the best life of Isaac's house. He is a little heathen among his brothers and sisters and school-fellows. His birthright is the Sabbath-day, and the Lord's table, and the society of the best people in the city, and, first a youthhood, and then a manhood, of purity and piety and the service of Christ in His church. But his first act of free and independent life is to sell all that, sometimes for a better salary; sometimes for the smile and the patronage of the open enemies of his father's faith; and sometimes for a coarser mess than even that. Years pass on till Esau sets up an openly heathen household in defiance of father and mother and all, which is ever after a grief of mind to Isaac and Rebekah. The tragedy is not so patent to us because we do not have Moses to write out our household histories, and Paul to comment on the writing, as in Esau's case; but to those who train themselves and accustom themselves to look on the world around them in this one single view as God's world, there is plenty of such profanity and self-reprobation going on among us everyday.

What with the purpose of God according to election, and that purpose communicated to Rebekah when she went to inquire of the Lord; what with Isaac's love for Esau because he did eat of his venison; what with Rebekah's retaliatory love for Jacob; what with Esau's increasing levity and profanity, and Jacob's increasing subtlety; what with Esau's defiant Canaanite marriage; and now, to crown all, Isaac's old age, blindness, and fast-approaching end-what with all that, that was as unhappy a house as was at that moment on the face of this unhappy earth. So full is that house, covenant promises and all, of guilty secrets, guilty memories, guilty wrongs, guilty remorses, guilty intentions, and guilty hopes and fears. It has often been pointed out what a mercy it is that God keeps our own future, and the future of our families, to Himself; and does not burden, and entangle, and tempt us with a knowledge that we are not able to bear. Rebekah would have children; and then she would know the secret things that belonged to Him who was forming her children in her womb; and, then, not able to wade into, and to keep her feet in the deep places of God, she fell into a life-long snare and sea of trouble, and laboured all her days under a life-long cross. It would take a Shakespeare, as deep in grace as in nature, to put upon the stage that hell upon earth that opened its mouth day and night in Isaac's covenant tent. A more powerful and a more fruitful chapter for the sacred ends of tragedy was never written than the tragical chapter of Isaac's deathbed. The decayed life, and the still more decayed faith, of Abraham's only son Isaac; the cunning and treachery of Rebekah, the bride he had brought into his mother Sarah's tent in love; Jacob, the too willing tool of his cunning mother's chicanery and lies; the pitiful imposition perpetrated upon the blind old epicure; and, then, reprobate Esau's unavailing cry of remorse and revenge. Yes, verily. The ways of transgressors are hard! The wages of sin is death!

On the principle, then, that all these things about Esau are written for our admonition, how shall we be best admonished against Esau's profane and disastrous mind? To know the truth about him, and about ourselves, is the first thing for us all to set about tonight. Well, to begin with, we are all more or less like Esau in our birth, and in our birthright, and in our profane and brutish mind about our birthright. Like Esau, we have all been born inside the covenant. We have all been sealed with the seal of the covenant. We have all been baptized for a future far greater, and far more full of blessing, than that future which fell either to Esau or to Jacob. But we have all Esau's profane mind and hard heart in us also. And, if any one would but teach us; if any great writer or great preacher, if any wise father or loving mother could and would but take us early in hand, and tell us, and let us see, that all this life is not to make what is called money, or to attain what is called success, or to fill our belly with what is called pleasure, but that God Himself has set us here so to live, and so to choose, and so to act as to put off every day this profane mind, and to put on a sacred, a spiritual, a divine, a heavenly mind-if any one with authority and with influence would but tell and teach us that! For, like Esau, to begin with, we have no imagination. We have no eyes, neither of body nor of mind, for God, or for Jesus Christ, or for heaven, or for hell, or for holiness, or for eternal life. Before we are out of our boyhood we are become vain in our imaginations, and our foolish hearts are darkened, and we worship and serve the creature more than the Creator. And for this cause God gives us over to vile affections, and to a reprobate mind. That was Esau's early history; and that is the early and life-long history of multitudes among ourselves. There is an intellectual, and with it a spiritual stupidity-there is no other name for it-that has already taken possession of one out of every two children that are born in our most covenanted households. They soon declare and show themselves to be utterly insensible to everything intellectual, spiritual, moral, noble, and above the world that knows not God. If they are rich and idle, they spend their days, like Esau, hunting down creatures of God that have more of God's image in them than their hunters have. They eat, and drink, and dress, and dance like Esau, with any Canaanite household which has sons and daughters like themselves. But they never read a good book. They never attend a good teacher. They have neither time nor taste for anything that pertains to the mind or the heart. Philo calls Esau a 'wooden' man; and the number of wooden men and women who sit at our dinner tables eating venison and drinking wine, and who are then driven all the noisy night after to our city assemblies, for outnumber those people who are made of any finer or more spiritual material. Put off the wood and the earth, put off the insensibility and the profanity that are still in you all, my brethren. And put on mind, and heart, and understanding, and consideration, and imagination. Choose your reading. Choose your company. Choose your husband and your wife. Choose your birthright. Choose life, and not death; blessing, and not cursing; heaven, and not hell. You can, if you choose. You can, if you like. Only, lay this to heart with all holy fear, that there is insensibility, and stupidity, and profanity enough in you by nature, and up to this day, to make you, amid all your covenant surroundings, a reprobate of a far worse kind than ever Esau was, unless, with tears, you seek a place of repentance. And it will take all your tears, and all your time, and all the repentance, and all the remission of sins, that Christ can give you out of His place of exaltation, to enable you to escape his end at last who ate and drank, and despised his birthright.

Young men! come, come, and I will tell you! All of you who have not up to this night quite sold the whole of your birthright. Oh! never, never do it. Die, and we shall bury you with honour, and with assurance; but, oh! my son, my brother, never, never, till the day of your death, sell to man or woman or devil your divine birthright. Your birthright of truth, and honesty, and honour, and, especially, of chastity. Sell everything but that! There must be some men here tonight just at the crisis, and just in the temper, in which Esau came home so hungry from the hunt. There are men in this house who are saying this to themselves: 'I am alone. I have nobody to care for me. If I had, it would be different, and I would be a better man. But in all this big city, in all broad Scotland, there is no one for whose sake I need keep my head above water. Though I go out of this house, and sell myself to hell tonight, no one will lament me. What profit shall it do to me to make any more stand against the gambling-table, or the dram-shop, or anything else!' My own son! ring my bell tonight, and I will talk with you and will tell you the rest. I have not lived to grey hairs in a city, and been a minister of city families, and city young men, without learning things about birthrights and their sale and their redemption too-things that cannot be told on the housetop. No minister in Edinburgh knows more or can speak better about these things than I can do. If you have no minister who can and will tell you about Esau, and about himself, and about yourself, and about Jesus Christ, ring my bell! It will be late that I do not open the door! I will be busy that we do not have another hour over Esau-you and I.

But what is to be said to those who are long past all that? What is to be said to those whose birthright has been sold past all redemption long ago? To those who have sold, not their birthright only, but their very selves, soul and body, so long ago, and so often since then? All this about Esau is agony to them. They are beside themselves with remorse and with misery. They are tired to death seeking for a place of repentance. They are beginning to seek for a field of blood, and some Sabbath night, unless God himself prevent them, they will go out like Judas. But God will prevent. He will come, and He will prevent all that from this time henceforth. 'Save from going down to the pit, I have found a ransom. O Esau, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in Me is thine help. Ye have sold yourselves for nought, but ye shall be redeemed without money. What fruit had ye then in those things of which ye are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life. Who is a God like unto Thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He retaineth not His anger for ever, because He delighteth in mercy. He will turn again, He will have compassion upon us, He will subdue our iniquities; and Thou wilt cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, according to His abundant mercy, hath begotten us again to a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead; to an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation, ready to be revealed in the last time.'

Bibliography Information
Whyte, Alexander. Entry for 'Esau'. Alexander Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​wbc/​e/esau.html. 1901.
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