Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
1. Gracious interposition.
2. Supernatural assistance of human infirmity.
3. Prophetic announcements.
The atmosphere is that of the covenant. The children in the womb are two nations. The history of great peoples is anticipated. - R.
I. THE TWO KINGDOMS, that of material force and that of moral power, are thus represented in contrast and rivalry.
II. GOD'S WAYS AND MAN'S WAYS CONTRASTED. The partialities of the parents foster the special faults of the children. Esau is more the man of fleshly impulse because Isaac loved him for his venison. Jacob is more the crafty supplanter because Rebekah by her favoritism encouraged him to take advantage of his brother.
III. THE IMPORTANCE OF HOME LIFE IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF CHARACTER. The sins of parents are generally in some form transmitted to children. Esau's new name was Edom, memento of his selfish succumbing to appetite. Jacob's new name was Israel, memento of the victory which by the grace of God he obtained. "Esau despised his birthright." It was the natural working of a sensual nature. We begin by yielding to the lower impulses without thinking how they bind their cords round us. At last we lose the power of distinguishing a mere passing evil from an overwhelming danger, and when we ought to fight, cry, I am at the point to die; then in wretched collapse all goes. What is this birthright, what profit?
1. The loss of the sense of responsibility.
2. The absorbing hunger after present gratification.
3. The blindness to all proportion in life.
4. The dullness and stupidity of the animalism which does not even care for the very birthright itself, though it is an earthly advantage.
These are the fearful payments which they have to render who, like Esau, give themselves up to a mere life of the flesh. - R.
I. THE UNRENEWED HEART ALWAYS UNDERVALUES MATERIAL, NATURAL, AND SPIRITUAL BLESSINGS. We may enjoy all the blessings God may shower upon us and not think of them as coming from God. We undervalue the gift of life, and the various means by which God has arranged that life shall be sustained. Then we forget that God preserves to us reason and the power of acquiring knowledge. But there are spiritual advantages analogous to those which Esau despised which we may treat indifferently.
1. Authority and honor as the firstborn.
2. A double portion of his father's possessions.
3. The privilege of the priesthood. Evidently the eldest son acted as the priest of the family in offering the sacrifices, and the priestly garb was kept for him. It was this that Rebekah had by her, and which she put on Jacob to deceive Isaac.
4. The peculiar blessing of his father, which was bestowed with solemnity. A covenant was ratified by eating, and hence Isaac sent out Esau to prepare venison; but Rebekah forestalled him.
5. Included in that blessing of Isaac was the promise made by God to Abraham, and which was to be handed on from one generation to another. It was for this Jacob longed. He rightly appraised the spiritual advantages connected with it. Though there was much that was mean in his character at first, he had these spiritual desires and faith in God not possessed by his brother. These brothers were twins, yet how diverse their character. It may have been that Jacob, knowing he was of equal age, felt he had an equal right to be accounted the firstborn. This may be said by way of excuse for that which otherwise would appear outrageous and mean. Probably when Esau said he was "at the point of death" he only meant it in the same way that we say "we are dying of hunger." Jacob asked the transfer because he knew his brother cared little about it, and because he may have heard him express his indifference to it. Jacob could not have taken it by violence, and Esau should have refused the suggestion with an emphatic "no;" say, "I will rather die than part with that." Esau may have even smiled at Jacob for caring so much about that which was of such little worth to him A depraved heart made him profane, indifferent, ungrateful, and rash.
II. A TIME IS SURE TO COME WHEN THE GOOD WE UNDERVALUED BECOMES OF GREATEST WORTH, AND WHEN IT MAY BE BEYOND OUR REACH. It was probably about twenty years after Esau had parted with his birthright that Isaac felt one day that his end was approaching, and desired to bless his son before he died. He was ignorant of the transfer which had been made. Esau deceived his father. He ignored a solemn compact. He would now rob his brother. He comes back perspiring and exhausted from the field, thinking that anyhow he has earned his father's blessing. He finds that Jacob has acted in his right and obtained the blessing. His own mother frustrates him, believing that she was acting rightly for her son Jacob. We can see how questionable were her doings, but we must not measure' her nor Jacob by present moral standards. Esau weeps, "What, no blessing for thy firstborn?" He gets a blessing, but not the best. Deep his regret. He sees now his folly in its true light. "No place for repentance," &c. means no chance of repairing the mischief. Thus things done thoughtlessly in youth may have fearful after-consequences. Neglect of educational advantages, incurring of debt, acquirement of habits, rejection of appeals, and withstanding religious impressions. As the icicle freezes one drop at a time, so character is gradually formed. It depends on the water as to what the icicle will be. If muddy and tinged, the frozen mass will not be transparent; clear or thick, it is frozen and fixed, and will never be altered until dissolved altogether. Where are the warm rays that are to change our character? Esau sought to change his father's mind, but it was useless. Our heavenly Father is always willing to forgive if there be true repentance, but his forgiveness may not conquer the fixed evil habit. So long as there is life none should despair. See how David sinned, but he repented too. Esau lacked contrition. His sorrow was only remorse. What if we are risking the loss of some great spiritual advantage like to Esau's! We shall discover it on the death-bed or at the judgment bar. There is then a serious warning -
1. To those who are trifling with religion. Can you push the cross aside, and laugh on Calvary's mount?
2. To those hardening their hearts in neglect. An old man once said to me, "It is no use talking of religion to me now; I am past it. There was a time once when I felt, but now I cannot."
3. To those who think it will be easier to repent and do the right later in life. God promises pardon when we repent, but he does not promise to prolong life. Probably there is not one present who has not heard this warning before, therefore it is to be feared it will he as unavailing at the preceding. Oh, Holy Spirit, forbid that it should. - H.
Ezekiel 33:32). How many live, content to know truth, forgetting that all our daily life tells for good or ill on our eternal life, and that opportunities are passing away. How many, believing that in every being there is a soul to be saved or lost, can yet see multitudes living in ungodliness without effort or even prayer for their recovery (cf. Luke 19:41). Is not the spirit of Esau in these? He is called (Hebrews 12:16) a "profane person." Yet no crime or great fault is laid to his charge. There is an attractiveness in his character. We see in him an impulsive, thoughtless man; not what would be called a bad son; his father's favorite; having some regard to his parent's wishes (Genesis 28:8, 9); but swayed by passing things, and without self-denial. Hungry and weary with the chase, he craved the food he saw (cf. Matthew 4:3). But the price? His birthright, the claim to a special benediction, the domestic priesthood (cf. Exodus 22:29), were as nothing. He did not realize their value (cf. Hebrews 11:1). The present was everything (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:32). The pleasant, genial, headlong man is pronounced "profane." Observe -
I. THE GRADUAL EFFECT OF SELF-INDULGENCE (cf. Matthew 19:24). The birthright despised not through sudden temptation or any marked step of sin, but by worldly interests taking up the thoughts. Customs and maxims of the world tend to neglecting the birthright (cf. Matthew 6:83). This is no ideal danger. No sharp line to tell when danger begins. Things perfectly allowable, even laudable, may choke spiritual life. Even in good work the mind may be so engrossed in the work itself that communion with God fades. There is need of habitual self-denial (John 6:38); of keeping guard over the tendencies of daily life; of definite aims, not passing wishes; of making personal communion with God an essential part of each day's work.
II. THE DEADENING EFFECT IN RELATION TO REPENTANCE. "Time enough, is a fatal mistake (Acts 24:25; 2 Corinthians 6:2). So far as we know Esau never repented. Even when Jacob received the blessing he was sorry, but there was no real change, no confession of error. Self was still the ruling power.
III. THE CALL TO CONSIDER OUR BIRTHRIGHT (Romans 8:17; 1 John 3:2). Not merely a future blessing. Thinking of it thus leads to its being left out of view. Now there is reconciliation, peace, spirit of adoption, the Spirit's witness in our hearts, freedom of access in prayer, and promises to be realized in growing likeness to Christ and communion with him. Few would deliberately postpone to the end of life the claiming their birthright and making sure of it, the work of repentance and faith, and the casting away what has hindered. But many without set purpose do delay. Each time the call is put away is a victory for the tempter. - M.