The Story of Patriarchs and Prophets
by Ellen G. White
Chapter 16: Jacob and Esau
< Prev T. of C.
... Next >
Jacob and Esau, the twin sons of Isaac, present a striking
contrast, both in character and in life. This unlikeness was
foretold by the angel of God before their birth. When in answer
to Rebekah's troubled prayer he declared that two sons would be
given her, he opened to her their future history, that each would
become the head of a mighty nation, but that one would be
greater than the other, and that the younger would have the
Esau grew up loving self-gratification and centering all his
interest in the present. Impatient of restraint, he delighted in the
wild freedom of the chase, and early chose the life of a hunter.
Yet he was the father's favorite. The quiet, peace-loving shepherd
was attracted by the daring and vigor of this elder son, who
fearlessly ranged over mountain and desert, returning home with
game for his father and with exciting accounts of his adventurous
life. Jacob, thoughtful, diligent, and care-taking, ever thinking
more of the future than the present, was content to dwell at
home, occupied in the care of the flocks and the tillage of the
soil. His patient perseverance, thrift, and foresight were valued
by the mother. His affections were deep and strong, and his
gentle, unremitting attentions added far more to her happiness
than did the boisterous and occasional kindnesses of Esau. To
Rebekah, Jacob was the dearer son.
The promises made to Abraham and confirmed to his son
were held by Isaac and Rebekah as the great object of their desires
and hopes. With these promises Esau and Jacob were familiar.
They were taught to regard the birthright as a matter of great
importance, for it included not only an inheritance of worldly
wealth but spiritual pre-eminence. He who received it was to
be the priest of his family, and in the line of his posterity the
Redeemer of the world would come. On the other hand, there
were obligations resting upon the possessor of the birthright. He [p. 178] who should inherit its blessings must devote his life to the service
of God. Like Abraham, he must be obedient to the divine requirements.
In marriage, in his family relations, in public life, he
must consult the will of God.
Isaac made known to his sons these privileges and conditions,
and plainly stated that Esau, as the eldest, was the one entitled to
the birthright. But Esau had no love for devotion, no inclination
to a religious life. The requirements that accompanied the spiritual
birthright were an unwelcome and even hateful restraint to
him. The law of God, which was the condition of the divine
covenant with Abraham, was regarded by Esau as a yoke of bondage.
Bent on self-indulgence, he desired nothing so much as liberty
to do as he pleased. To him power and riches, feasting and
reveling, were happiness. He gloried in the unrestrained freedom
of his wild, roving life. Rebekah remembered the words of the
angel, and she read with clearer insight than did her husband the
character of their sons. She was convinced that the heritage of
divine promise was intended for Jacob. She repeated to Isaac the
angel's words; but the father's affections were centered upon the
elder son, and he was unshaken in his purpose.
Jacob had learned from his mother of the divine intimation
that the birthright should fall to him, and he was filled with an
unspeakable desire for the privileges which it would confer. It
was not the possession of his father's wealth that he craved; the
spiritual birthright was the object of his longing. To commune
with God as did righteous Abraham, to offer the sacrifice of
atonement for his family, to be the progenitor of the chosen people
and of the promised Messiah, and to inherit the immortal
possessions embraced in the blessings of the covenant-here were
the privileges and honors that kindled his most ardent desires.
His mind was ever reaching forward to the future, and seeking
to grasp its unseen blessings.
With secret longing he listened to all that his father told
concerning the spiritual birthright; he carefully treasured what he
had learned from his mother. Day and night the subject occupied
his thoughts, until it became the absorbing interest of his life.
But while he thus esteemed eternal above temporal blessings,
Jacob had not an experimental knowledge of the God whom
he revered. His heart had not been renewed by divine grace. He
believed that the promise concerning himself could not be fulfilled [p. 179] so long as Esau retained the rights of the first-born, and he
constantly studied to devise some way whereby he might secure
the blessing which his brother held so lightly, but which was so
precious to himself.
When Esau, coming home one day faint and weary from the
chase, asked for the food that Jacob was preparing, the latter,
with whom one thought was ever uppermost, seized upon his
advantage, and offered to satisfy his brother's hunger at the price
of the birthright. "Behold, I am at the point to die," cried the
reckless, self-indulgent hunter, "and what profit shall this
birthright do to me?" And for a dish of red pottage he parted with
his birthright, and confirmed the transaction by an oath. A short
time at most would have secured him food in his father's tents,
but to satisfy the desire of the moment he carelessly bartered the
glorious heritage that God Himself had promised to his fathers.
His whole interest was in the present. He was ready to sacrifice
the heavenly to the earthly, to exchange a future good for a
"Thus Esau despised his birthright." In disposing of it he felt
a sense of relief. Now his way was unobstructed; he could do as
he liked. For this wild pleasure, miscalled freedom, how many
are still selling their birthright to an inheritance pure and
undefiled, eternal in the heavens!
Ever subject to mere outward and earthly attractions, Esau
took two wives of the daughters of Heth. They were worshipers
of false gods, and their idolatry was a bitter grief to Isaac
and Rebekah. Esau had violated one of the conditions of the
covenant, which forbade intermarriage between the chosen people
and the heathen; yet Isaac was still unshaken in his determination
to bestow upon him the birthright. The reasoning of Rebekah,
Jacob's strong desire for the blessing, and Esau's indifference to
its obligations had no effect to change the father's purpose.
< Prev T. of C.
... Next >