Jacob Series: Missing God's Best (Gen 25:29-34)

March 24, 2018

 

Missing God’s Best

 

Now Jacob cooked some stew, and when Esau came in from the open fields, he was famished. So Esau said to Jacob, “Feed me some of the red stuff—yes, this red stuff—because I’m starving!” (That is why he was also called Edom.)  But Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.” “Look,” said Esau, “I’m about to die! What use is the birthright to me?” But Jacob said, “Swear an oath to me now.” So Esau swore an oath to him and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and lentil stew; Esau ate and drank, then got up and went out. So Esau despised his birthright.

Genesis 25:29-34 (NET)

 

 

Why do so many Christians miss God’s best—God’s plans for their lives?

 

Scripture is full of stories of those who, for whatever reason, missed God’s calling on their lives. God’s plan for Israel for was for them to enter the promised land; however, the majority died in the wilderness. It was also God’s plan for Moses to lead them into the promised land; however, he was only allowed to look into it before he died. Ephesians 2:10 says, “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which he prepared beforehand that we should walk in” (paraphrase). God prepared a spiritual blueprint for each of our lives—people we were called to minister to and works we were called to accomplish; however, many, if not most, miss God’s best.

 

In Genesis 11, at the tower of Babel, the people rebelled against God by deciding to no longer spread throughout the earth, and to instead stay in one place and make a monument to themselves. In God’s anger, he confused their languages, so they would spread to the corners of the globe. After this rebellion, God called a man named Abraham to begin a work of reconciliation—to draw people back to himself. Most worshiped many gods instead of worshiping the true God. God promised to bless Abraham and that he would be a blessing to many. Through Abraham’s descendants a messiah would come who would save the world. That blessing had passed from Abraham to Isaac and then to Isaac’s seed.

 

In the previous narrative, Isaac had twins. Esau was the oldest and therefore would receive the birthright—this included a double-portion of Isaac’s goods, becoming the chief of the family, but it also included becoming the family’s priest or spiritual leader. The spiritual leader would also carry on the blessing of Abraham. Before the children were born, Rebekah, Isaac’s wife, received a prophecy that the oldest would serve the youngest (Gen 25:23). The blessing would instead go to Jacob.

 

However, though God sovereignly chose Jacob; Scripture puts the blame for losing the birthright on Esau. Consider Hebrews 12:16-17:

 

And see to it that no one becomes an immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal. For you know that later when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no opportunity for repentance, although he sought the blessing with tears.

 

Though God is sovereign over all things, including salvation, his sovereignty does not remove human responsibility. Jacob did receive the blessing, but Esau rejected it, though he later wished he had received it.

 

Therefore, as we look at this narrative we learn principles about missing God’s best. We learn them not only from Esau but also from Jacob, who also misses God’s best, in this narrative, in how he manipulated Esau to receive it. As we consider this story, we must ask ourselves, “What is holding us back from receiving God’s best—our heavenly birth-right?

 

Big Question: What principles can be discerned from this narrative about why people often miss God’s best?

 

Lack of Faith Can Lead to Missing God’s Best

 

Now Jacob cooked some stew, and when Esau came in from the open fields, he was famished. So Esau said to Jacob, “Feed me some of the red stuff—yes, this red stuff—because I’m starving!” (That is why he was also called Edom.) But Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.”

Genesis 25:29 -31

 

Hebrews 11:6 says, “Now without faith it is impossible to please him, for the one who approaches God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” Faith is the doorway to all of God’s promises. It is the way that we receive salvation (cf. Rom 10:9-10). It is the way that we have peace in the midst of chaos (cf. Phil 4:6-7). It is the way we access God’s power for service (cf. Eph 1:19). Jacob is to be commended for wanting the blessing, as it showed that he cared for spiritual things. The birth-right was more than Isaac’s inheritance; more importantly, it was to take part in God’s promise to Abraham of being a blessing to the world. However, Jacob’s problem was that though he had faith, it was little faith. God had promised him the blessing, even before he was born. But Jacob believed he needed to manipulate others in order to receive it. Kent Hughes said it this way:

 

At the very heart of Esau’s demise is the sad reality that he did not believe the word of God. God’s promise was, to him, intangible and unreal. In contrast, Jacob believed the promise and cherished it with all his being. Ironically, the stumbling in Jacob’s life came because though he believed in the promise, he did not believe that God’s promise could be his apart from his own sinful manipulation of Esau. Nevertheless, despite his faults and ungodly manipulation, Jacob stands as a man of faith.[1]

 

Many today also miss God’s best or delay it because of a lack of faith. Israel didn’t believe God, and therefore, the promise of entering Canaan was delayed for forty years. Faith is necessary to receive God’s promises. We must remember that Christ said, “anything is possible if you believe” (Mk 9:23) and “If you have faith as a mustard you seed, you can move mountains” (Matt 17:20).

 

Are you trusting God or doubting him in your situation? He has given you many promises, even as he did with Jacob. He promises he will meet your needs, guide you in the paths of righteousness, and protect you (Ps 23). Doubting God can lead to missing God’s best. Believing him despite your circumstances or negative thoughts, opens the door to his blessings.

 

Application Question: How can we increase our faith, so we can have God’s best? How can we discern when we should be active in pursuing God’s promises and blessings and when we should wait in faith? How have you struggled at times with the tension between faith and activity? How is God calling you to increase your faith?

 

Selfish Ambition Can Lead to Missing God’s Best

 

Now Jacob cooked some stew, and when Esau came in from the open fields, he was famished. So Esau said to Jacob, “Feed me some of the red stuff—yes, this red stuff—because I’m starving!” (That is why he was also called Edom.) But Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.”

Genesis 25:29-31

 

As mentioned, the fact that Jacob desired the birthright was a good thing. However, it is possible to pursue the right thing in a wrong way. Abraham desired a seed to fulfill God’s promise, so he married another woman—Hagar—causing discord in his family and future generations. Jacob desired God’s blessing, and the Lord had already told him he would have it. But instead of waiting on God, he manipulated his brother to secure the blessing.

 

There was nothing inherently wrong with Jacob’s bargaining. Most likely, they had talked about the birth-right previously, and it was clear Esau cared nothing for it. Ancient evidence shows us that birth-rights were transferable. In one ancient contract, a brother paid three sheep for part of the inheritance.[2] The fact that Esau swore made this bargain official—most likely there was a witness watching.

 

What was wrong with Jacob’s bargain? As mentioned, it demonstrated a lack of faith, but also the motivation was purely selfish. He took advantage of his brother. Though it was God’s will for Jacob to receive the promise, it would not be given to him through selfish means. James said that when jealousy and selfish ambition are in our hearts—it is earthly, natural, and demonic in origin (cf. Jam 3:14-15). The future fruit of Jacob’s manipulations was that Esau eventually planned to kill him.

 

People often miss God’s best when they try to secure it through worldly ways. Philippians 2:3 says, “Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself.” The world seeks greatness through selfish-ambition, but in the kingdom, greatness comes through humbling ourselves. In Matthew 23:11-12, Jesus said, “The greatest among you will be your servant. And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

 

A great example of this humility is seen in Abraham’s response to Lot. In Genesis 13, when there was discord between Abraham’s workers and Lot’s workers, even though God had promised Abraham the land, Abraham offered Lot the first pick of the land (v. 8-9). In that scenario, Abraham was a Christ-like figure, giving up what was rightfully his to serve another. In response to Abraham’s gesture, God calls Abraham to lift his eyes and see the land and that every part of the land would be his (v. 14-17)—God blessed him for his selfless humility.

 

Thousands of years later, Christ did something similar; instead of holding onto his rights as deity, he gave them up to become a servant of mankind. He humbled himself. Philippians 2:6-11 describes this:

 

who though he existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature. He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross! As a result God exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow —in heaven and on earth and under the earth—and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

 

Because Christ humbled himself, God exalted him. God gave him a name above all names. In the same way, those who humble themselves like Abraham and Christ will be exalted—they will receive God’s best. However, those who, like the world, selfishly exalt themselves, shall be humbled. Christ said this in Matthew 5:5, “Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth.” Those who fight, cheat, and manipulate others to gain the world, shall lose it, but those who willingly given up the world and its esteem, will be blessed by the Lord.

 

We miss God’s best when we live selfishly—the selfish person wants his own name glorified and honored before others. But the selfless person in humility seeks to bless God and others before himself. That person will be exalted. He will receive God’s best, instead of missing it like the selfish.

 

Application Question: How can we practice selflessness instead of selfishness?

 

1. To practice selflessness, we must put others and their desires before our own.

 

Again, Philippians 2:3-4 says, “Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself. Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well.”  Similarly, Hebrews 10:24 says, “And let us take thought of how to spur one another on to love and good works.”  Are you taking thought of others and putting them first or primarily thinking about your needs and wants? We must ask ourselves questions like: “How can I bless them? What might help them grow in Christ? What might make their life easier and more comfortable?”

 

2. To practice selflessness, we must remember that the way down is the way up.

 

Again, in God’s economy the first will be last and the last will be first (Matt 20:16). If you want to become the greatest, you must become the servant of all. It is the meek who will inherit the earth. Those who give shall receive (Lk 6:38). Those who refresh others shall themselves be refreshed (Prov 11:25). Those who humble themselves shall be exalted (Matt 23:12). Remembering this kingdom reality will keep us from worldly selfishness that misses God’s best.

 

Are you missing God’s because of selfishness?

 

Application Question: Why is it so hard to practice humility and selflessness? In what ways is God calling you to humble yourself and seek what’s best for others?

 

Being Undisciplined Can Lead to Missing God’s Best

 

Now Jacob cooked some stew, and when Esau came in from the open fields, he was famished. So Esau said to Jacob, “Feed me some of the red stuff—yes, this red stuff—because I’m starving!” (That is why he was also called Edom.) But Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.” “Look,” said Esau, “I’m about to die! What use is the birthright to me?”

Genesis 25:29-32

 

It seems that Esau was an athlete. He enjoyed the sport of hunting and his father gave him freedom apart from any real responsibilities. Esau therefore became an undisciplined man driven by his desires. Like a spoiled child, when he wanted something, he had to have it then and couldn’t wait. The fact that he was without discipline led to his desires controlling him. Hebrews 12:16-17 says this about him:

 

And see to it that no one becomes an immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal. For you know that later when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no opportunity for repentance, although he sought the blessing with tears.

 

The writer of Hebrews said that he was not only godless—not caring about spiritual things—but also immoral, which can also be translated sexually immoral. His lust dominated, controlled, and eventually destroyed him. This led him to miss God’s best, including salvation.

 

It is good to remember that how we train our children can either help them know God or reject him. Being spoiled by his father, Isaac, helped Esau choose a life full of pride and self, instead of a life of humility and discipline in serving God.

 

It must be noted that there was nothing wrong with Esau having a bowl of soup—food is good. It’s a gift from God. However, when our desire for food, sleep, or any other pleasure, keeps us from doing God’s will, it has become an idol. Work, family, entertainment—all gifts from God in their own right—can become evil when we pursue them over God. First Corinthians 6:12 says, “‘All things are lawful for me’—but not everything is beneficial. ‘All things are lawful for me’—but I will not be controlled by anything.” When something starts to control us—other than God—it is sin. Esau was an addict. He was dominated by his desires, which caused him to lose his birthright. Uncontrolled passions, whether sinful ones or not, often do the same for believers—causing them to miss God’s best.

 

How many miss God’s best because they are addicted to TV, social media, video games, food, career, money, or sleep? The church is full of people that sell their heavenly birth right for some passing pleasure.

 

Therefore, in order to receive God’s best, we must be disciplined with our desires. In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Paul said it this way:

 

Do you not know that all the runners in a stadium compete, but only one receives the prize? So run to win. Each competitor must exercise self-control in everything. They do it to receive a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run uncertainly or box like one who hits only air. Instead I subdue my body and make it my slave, so that after preaching to others I myself will not be disqualified.

 

Because of a lack of discipline with his desires, Esau was disqualified from God’s blessing.

 

Application Question: How can we protect ourselves from being controlled by our passions?

 

1. To protect ourselves from being controlled by our passions, we must practice the discipline of moderation.

 

As mentioned, even God’s blessings can become our idols, if we don’t practice discipline. Food, clothes, cars, and even houses, can become stumbling blocks. In order to protect ourselves from idolatry, we must practice moderation. In Matthew 6:19-21, Christ said to not store up riches on this earth, for where our riches are our hearts will be also. (1) Sometimes in order to protect our hearts from idolatry, we give our treasures away, like Christ told the rich man. (2) Sometimes, we need to not get them in the first place. (3) Other times, we practice moderation with them by not being consumed with them.

 

2. To protect ourselves from being controlled by our passions, we must cultivate our spiritual desires.

 

When talking about the war between our sinful desires and the Spirit, Paul simply said, “Live in the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Gal 5:16). When we are living in God’s Word, prayer, fellowship, and serving, we will find our fleshly desires weaker or non-existent. Because Esau was a godless man, who had no real time for spiritual things, his flesh ruled him, and if we do the same, our flesh will rule us as well. If we neglect spiritual disciplines, we will find ourselves controlled by pride, anger, discord, unforgiveness, lust, etc., as our flesh becomes stronger than our Spirit. Live in the Spirit and the flesh will not control you and keep you from God’s best.

 

Application Question: What are areas you lack or struggle with having discipline over? How do you try to discipline yourself in those areas? How is God calling you to practice discipline, so you won’t miss God’s best?

 

Undervaluing God’s Blessings Can Lead to Missing God’s Best

 

“Look,” said Esau, “I’m about to die! What use is the birthright to me?”

Genesis 25:32

 

One of the reasons that Esau missed God’s best was because he undervalued it. He thought to himself, “Living is more important than God!” Now of course, Esau was not about to die, but he was so hungry he might have felt that way. The problem was food and life had more value to him than God and his blessing.

 

It’s very interesting to consider that Christ faced a similar temptation. In the wilderness, Satan tempted Christ to turn a rock into bread. In Matthew 4:4, Christ replied, “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Christ essentially said, “Obeying God is more important than eating!” If it was God’s will for him to fast and not use his power to eat, then he would fast. Life did not matter; obeying God did. This was the attitude of the apostles who sacrificed their lives instead of denying Christ. To them obedience to God was more important than living. In Luke 14:27, Christ said that anyone who followed him must be willing to hate his own life and even take up his cross—be willing to die.

 

Esau’s problem was he undervalued God and his blessing. He was the kind of person that didn’t mind a little God on the side, as long as it was convenient, but as soon as following God had a cost to it, God would be cast to the side or neglected. If following Christ meant getting up early to read the Bible or go to church—not really interested. If following Christ meant taking a stand against something wrong at school or work—that’s too much. If following Christ meant giving up something he enjoyed, probably not. Esau undervalued God’s blessings. He undervalued the fact that he was raised in a family that believed in and worshiped the Lord. He undervalued the calling to be a blessing to world. Ultimately, this means he overvalued the temporary—like a bowl of soup.

 

Be careful of undervaluing God’s blessing: Don’t undervalue the privilege of reading and listening to God’s Word. Don’t undervalue the privilege of church and Christian fellowship. Don’t undervalue the privilege of serving God. When you undervalue God’s blessings, you will overvalue something else and miss God’s best.

 

Application Question: How can we properly appreciate the blessings of God?

 

1. To appreciate God’s blessings, we must take advantage of them often.

 

God has given us many blessings: worship, his Word, prayer, fellowship, the ability to serve, etc. The more that we take advantage of them, the more we will typically enjoy and appreciate them. When we neglect them, we will appreciate them less.

 

2. To appreciate God’s blessings, practice giving thanks for them.

 

Thank God for the opportunity to worship him. Thank him for your church—though it is imperfect. Thank him for your job—though it at times causes you pain. Give thanks in all situations for this is God’s will for your life (1 Thess 5:17). This will help you appreciate his blessings.

 

3. To appreciate God’s blessings, practice remembering them.

 

When God provided Israel with manna in the wilderness, he had them place some manna in the Ark of the Covenant, so they would always remember. When God split the Jordan river, so Israel could walk across dry land, they were called to take twelve stones, so they, and their children, would always remember. Often the Patriarchs would build altars as memorials of ways God blessed them. We are forgetful, and so we need to do the same. We’re prone to forget how God delivered us from a trial, how he provided for us in a dry season, how he healed us, and because of that, we often complain instead of giving thanks. We fear instead of living in faith.

 

Practice remembering your blessing. Do this by not only giving thanks, but also writing them down in journals, so you can rejoice over them in times of difficulty. Sometimes, it might also be beneficial to take a keep-sake or build a memorial to help you remember what God has done.

 

Application Question: Why are we so prone to forget the blessings and victories God has given us? How have you benefited from disciplines like journaling or taking memorials? What blessings from God are you most thankful for? How is God calling you to grow in appreciation of his blessings?

 

Conclusion

 

Though God, in his sovereignty, had promised Jacob the blessing, Scripture says Esau despised and rejected it (Heb 12:16-17). He gave up his birthright, and the spiritual blessing that came with it, for a bowl of soup. Sadly, many choose the temporary over the eternal, the flesh over the Spirit, the earthly over the heavenly. Why do so many miss God’s best—their heavenly birth-right as children of God?

 

  1. Lack of Faith Can Lead to Missing God’s Best

  2. Selfish Ambition Can Lead to Missing God’s Best

  3. Being Undisciplined Can Lead to Missing God’s Best

  4. Undervaluing God’s Blessings Can Lead to Missing God’s Best

 

Application Question: What are some other reasons people miss God’s best? In what ways have you been missing God’s best? How is God calling you to begin to redeem what was lost (cf. Joel 2:25)?

 

 

 

 

[1] Hughes, R. K. (2004). Genesis: beginning and blessing (p. 337). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

 

[2] Kidner, D. (1967). Genesis: An Introduction and Commentary (Vol. 1, p. 162). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

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