ESAU: THE GOD OF SECOND CHANCES
These next two times that I preach, I want to look at one of my favourite themes in Scriptures. It’s the wonderful theme of ‘second chances’. The God of the Bible doesn’t write us off even when we muck things up badly. He is willing to redeems us when we turn to him in trust.
This morning I want to look at the character of Esau. He is someone who fails badly. But he is also someone who, I believe, has a change of heart. And so, he’s redeemed by God.
So let’s listen to the story of Esau.
THE BIRTH OF TWINS
Esau’s father, Isaac, is 40-years-old when he marries Esau’s mother, Rebekah. The Bible tells us that for the first 20 years of their marriage, Isaac and Esau are unable to have any children. But, after prayer, Rebekah becomes pregnant with twins.
Let me read the portion of Scripture that tells us a bit of that story:
Genesis 25.23-27: 23 And the LORD told her, “The sons in your womb will become two nations. From the very beginning, the two nations will be rivals. One nation will be stronger than the other; and your older son will serve your younger son.”
24 And when the time came to give birth, Rebekah discovered that she did indeed have twins! 25 The first one was very red at birth and covered with thick hair like a fur coat. So they named him Esau. 26 Then the other twin was born with his hand grasping Esau’s heel. So they named him Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when the twins were born.
One of things that the story of Esau teaches us is that we can easily take our blessings for granted. We can take the privileges that God gives us and even squander them.
Esau is born with advantage. He is the firstborn of Isaac’s children. He is the oldest of the twins born to Rebekah. He has the birthright of the firstborn. We don’t fully appreciate what that means in the 21st century.
If you were the firstborn male living in an ancient biblical culture, you’d have special rights of primogeniture (which simply means the rights of being born first). So, for example, you’d have the right to your father’s office. So, if he was the chief of the tribe, that was yours by right. You’d have the right to your father’s property. What this often meant was that you’d get twice the inheritance that your siblings got. Pretty good, really!
But being first born wasn’t the only advantage Esau had. He had physical qualities that would have been considered extremely valuable in the ancient world. Listen to how the Bible describes Esau:
Genesis 25.27: When the boys grew up, Esau was a skilful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, living in tents
Esau is a picture of ‘manliness’. He’s good at hunting. He’s good at working the field. Esau was the sort of man that could put meat and grain on the table for food. Esau was the sort of man who could physically protect his family and his clan. And these were important qualities in the ancient world where food was scarce, and life was constantly threatened. That’s the kind of advantage Esau had.
In contrast, Esau’s younger twin, Jacob, wasn’t so lucky. Jacob’s not built for speed and strength. He’s built for comfort, for life ‘in the tents’.
THE DANGER OF TAKING OUR BLESSING FOR GRANTED
So, Esau has these advantages that ought to really set him for life. If he doesn’t take these blessings for granted, he can prosper. He can gain God’s best for himself and for those who are dependent on him.
But instead what we see Esau doing is squandering his advantages.
There’s an important lesson there for all of us. Let’s not take the blessings God gives us for granted. Let’s not take God’s gifts to us for granted. Let’s not take the opportunities God gives us for granted.
I was recently reading an interesting statistic. Did you know that about 70% of families that enjoy great prosperity, lose that wealth by the second generation? Did you know that 90% of those families lose that prosperity by the 3rd generation? That is a sobering statistic.
It gets me thinking. We humans have the tendency of taking our privilege for granted. And as we take them for granted, we are in danger of squandering it.
ESAU SQUANDERS HIS BLESSING
Now Esau does exactly that. He squanders his blessing.
There are 2 incidents that tell us how Esau does that.
THE RED LENTIL STEW
Here’s the first. Let me read it from the Bible:
Genesis 25.29-34: 29 Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was famished. 30 Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stuff, for I am famished!” (Therefore he was called Edom.)
31 Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.”
32 Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?”
33 Jacob said, “Swear to me first.”
So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. 34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.
So, Esau returns from a day’s work at the field absolutely starving. He thinks to himself, ‘If I don’t get food, I’ll die’. You might think he is exaggerating. But he’s not. He really does think he’s going die of starvation. What does he do for a bit stew? He gives up his right as the firstborn.
Remember, why being firstborn is such a big deal for Esau. It’s not just that he inherits the bulk of his father’s estate. It’s not just that he gets to be chief of the clan and tribe.
You see, to be the firstborn of Isaac’s sons means Esau inherits the blessings promised by God to Isaac. As the firstborn, he inherits the blessings promised to his grandfather Abraham. Well what was Abraham promised? He was promised land large enough to hold a mighty nation. He was promised descendants who will become that mighty nation. He was promised blessings that are so abundant, so comprehensive that even the nations of the earth would be blessed through Abraham.
Esau would have heard all about these promises sitting on his father Isaac’s knee as a young lad. And, instead, what does he do? He exchanges all that birthright for bowl of cereal!
Esau squanders his blessings. He despises his birthright.
ESAU’S CANAANITE WIVES
But there’s something else that Esau does that gives you a sense of how little he regards the great heritage he has received from his father Isaac and his grandfather Abraham.
Let me read once again from Scriptures:
Genesis 26.34-35: 34 When Esau was forty years old, he married Judith daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath daughter of Elon the Hittite; 35 and they made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah.
So, what’s the problem here? Well, apart from the fact he’s married two women and that his marriage is making his parent’s lives miserable.
Here’s the problem. You see, he marries Hittite women, or Canaanites. The Canaanites were under the curse of God from the time of Noah (Gen 9.25-27). The Canaanites represented everything that God abhorred. They represented evil. They represented everything that was the opposite of what Esau’s family valued.
In other words, Esau, shows a total disregard for the blessings of God. He shows a total disregard for everything that his father Isaac and his grandfather, Abraham stood for. His priorities are skewed. And so once again, through his marriages, he despises his privilege. He squanders his advantage.
Now Esau’s bad choices are not all his fault. In some ways Esau is also a victim of the injustice of others. He is wronged by others. There are a couple things that happen to Esau that he has no control over.
FAVOURITISM IN THE HOME
Here’s the first. Esau grows up in a home where the parents show favouritism.
Genesis 25.28: Isaac loved Esau, because he was fond of game; but Rebekah loved Jacob
You see, the brothers grow up in a home where one parent prefers one child over another.
I am glad to say that I haven’t often seen favouritism in the home (where one parent prefers one child to an other). But when it happens, there is a lot of hurt. There’s a lot of sadness. There’s sometimes aggression. Favouritism in families crushes the sense of worth children have of themselves.
Esau (like his brother) experienced favouritism in the home.
DECEPTION IN THE FAMILY
For Esau, this favouritism in the family expresses itself in deception. And let me read again. Now, Isaac, at this point, is old. He thinks that before he dies, he really should bless his favourite son. So, he calls Esau and says to him:
Genesis 27.4-8: 4 Then prepare for me savoury food, such as I like, and bring it to me to eat, so that I may bless you before I die.”
5 Now Rebekah was listening when Isaac spoke to his son Esau. So when Esau went to the field to hunt for game and bring it, 6 Rebekah said to her son Jacob, “I heard your father say to your brother Esau, 7 ‘Bring me game, and prepare for me savoury food to eat, that I may bless you before the LORD before I die.’ 8 Now therefore, my son, obey my word as I command you.
While Esau is hunting for game, Rebekah gives Jacob some instruction. She says to him, ‘I’m going to make your father his favourite meal. This is what I want you to do. While your brother Esau is out hunting, you, go and disguise yourself as your brother, Esau.’
Now Esau happens to be a hairy man, so Jacob puts the fur of an animal on himself. Jacob also puts on Esau’s clothes because they have the smell of the open field on them. So when his old and blind father feels his arms, he is fooled into thinking Jacob is Esau. When he smells Esau’s clothes, he has no doubt that this is, in fact, his favourite son Esau (although for some reason Esau’s voice sounds a bit like his brother today).
But, the plan works. Jacob takes the food to his father. The old man blesses Jacob.
27.28-29: 28 May God give you of the dew of heaven, and of the fatness of the earth, and plenty of grain and wine. 29 Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may your mother’s sons bow down to you. Cursed be everyone who curses you, and blessed be everyone who blesses you!”
Jacob is blessed with God’s prosperity, with international significance and with authority over his brother.
Esau returns, expecting a blessing. Listen to what happens next:
27.32-33: 32 His father Isaac said to him, “Who are you?”
He answered, “I am your firstborn son, Esau.”
33 Then Isaac trembled violently, and said, “Who was it then that hunted game and brought it to me, and I ate it all before you came, and I have blessed him?– yes, and blessed he shall be!”
The blessing is final. A binding legal transaction has taken place. It can’t be revoked. The meal is served, the blessing is received. The deception is complete. Esau despairs. Let me pick the story up once again:
27:34-38: 34 When Esau heard his father’s words, he cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry, and said to his father, “Bless me, me also, father!” . . . Then he said, “Have you not reserved a blessing for me?” . . . “Have you only one blessing, father? Bless me, me also, father!” And Esau lifted up his voice and wept.
When I hear these words of Scripture, I can hear poor Esau’s heart break. He is looking at the life he thought he had but, now, has lost. He’s looking at the life he took for granted and, now, has been nicked from him because he was snoozing.
What do you do when you feel like the life that you could have lived has now slipped through your fingers? You thought you had it in the bag, but you became complacent, took your blessings for granted. What do you do when you feel that because your priorities were wrong, you lost the opportunities God had placed for you? What do you do when you feel you missed out on God’s best for your life because you were caught snoozing?
Esau’s response is resentment and vengeance (at first). Listen again to the Word:
27.41: 41 Now Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him, and Esau said to himself, “The days of mourning for my father are approaching; then I will kill my brother Jacob.”
I suppose one way you might respond at the catastrophic mistakes of life is by becoming vengeful, bitter and resentful. But that isn’t the way of God. But that isn’t the way of hope.
I think it was Confucius who said, ‘Before you embark on a journey of revenge, remember to dig two graves’. Revenge hurts you as much as the person you’re hoping to wound.
Vengeance and resentment won’t make a way for you. God will.
Anyway, Rebekah hears of Esau’s desire for revenge. So she instructs Jacob to flee and find safety with her brother, Laban. She says to Jacob that while he is with Uncle Laban, he should find himself a good wife.
Jacob flees for his life.
A CHANGE OF HEART
Esau’s initial response is vengeance. But Esau does have a change of heart.
Now, if you read the Book of Genesis, you’ll notice that the story of Jacob figures more prominently than the story of Esau. And so, when Jacob flees his home, the story follows Jacob and not Esau.
But there are 2 incidents involving Esau that seem to suggest that something has changed for the good in Esau. He’s had a change of heart.
ESAU’S THIRD WIFE
Here’s the first incident. Esau marries once again. This is his 3rd wife. But this time he marries, not from self-interest, but out of interest for his parents. He marries someone who will be in line with the values that his family has inherited from their grandfather Abraham. Listen to Scriptures again:
28.8: So when Esau saw that the Canaanite women did not please his father Isaac, 9 Esau went to Ishmael and took Mahalath daughter of Abraham’s son Ishmael, and sister of Nebaioth, to be his wife in addition to the wives he had.
Esau brings someone into his tent that would remember the promises made to his grandfather Abraham. He marries someone who would cherish those things that ought to be cherished.
Something has changed in Esau.
But here’s the real test of whether Esau has changed or not. Years pass. Esau meets Jacob once again. Let me lay out what happens. You’ll find the account in Genesis chapters 32 and 33.
So, Jacob, who has been away from home for 20 years, is now returning. He is, now, very prosperous. He is married and now has a large family. He has livestock. He has enough wealth to pass as a prince.
As Jacob nears home, he hears that his brother Esau is coming to meet him along with 400 men. This doesn’t sound like the kind of ‘meeting’ Jacob wants. So, he thinks to himself, let me appease my brother by making a present to him. He selects 30 camels, 40 cows, 10 bulls and 30 donkeys. He sends them ahead of himself to Esau as a gift.
Jacob is terrified. Now it’s the night before Jacob will meet his brother. So what does Jacob do? He wrestles with God in prayer. He pleads with God to protect him and his family from the rage of his brother Esau. God assures him.
Next morning, Jacob looks over the horizon and notices his very-manly brother approaching with 400 men. This doesn’t look good at all. So, Jacob splits up his family. His concubines and their children go first, behind them are Leah, his wife, and her children. Finally bringing up the rear is his favourite wife, Rachel and his favourite son, Joseph.
Jacob leads his family as he approaches Esau. He is in total horror. He walks a bit and then bows 7 times on the ground, walks a bit, bows 7 times on the ground until he nears Esau. Jacob is in tears at this point. He sees the beast of his brother running to him. Jacob cowers to be knocked over. Instead he is met with a bear hug by his burly, hairy, manly, red haired brother. He looks up to see Esau, weeping. These aren’t the angry tears that Esau cried 20 years ago. They are tears of joy. Something has changed in Esau.
Let me read what Esau says next:
Gen 33.8-9: 8 Esau said, “What do you mean by all this company that I met?”
Jacob answered, “To find favour with my lord.”
9 But Esau said, “I have enough, my brother; keep what you have for yourself.”
Esau says, ‘I’m blessed. I’ve got enough. The God of our father Isaac, the God of our grandfather has prospered me all these years while you were away. True, I felt cheated by you. True, I felt I had nothing left because you’d stolen everything from me. But I have more than enough. God has blessed me.
Jacob presses Esau. I want you listen to what he says next:
Gen 33.10: 10 Jacob said, “No, please; if I find favour with you, then accept my present from my hand; for truly to see your face is like seeing the face of God– since you have received me with such favour
Jacob says, ‘to see you is like seeing God. To see you, is like seeing someone with the grace of God written all over the face. Jacob is not simply expressing thanks to Esau for sparing him his life. Jacob is actually seeing God in Esau. Jacob is seeing a man who has been touched by God, a man who has been changed by God, a man who has been forgiven by God. A man who, for all his wrong choices, has been restored by God.
Let me finish here.
Esau starts out by taking his privilege for granted. And so, he forfeits the blessings that are his by right. It nearly destroys him. But something along the way changes his heart. He begins to value those things once again that God values. And at the end of the story you get the sense that God has restored Esau to a place of blessing.
You come to the closing scene in Genesis 35. What do you see? You see two brothers, who had once been estranged from each other by their deception and wrong priorities. Now, they are standing reconciled together to bury their old father.
That’s what God is able to do for those who turn to him. God rewrites their stories so that what they feel they lost, God redeems. God restores.
Well, Esau’s story doesn’t quite end there. You go to the next chapter, Genesis 36. And you find these words there in verse 1:
Gen 36.1: ‘These are the descendants of Esau (that is, Edom)’
Esau’s descendants become the nation of Edom at borders of Israel.
In fact, centuries later, around the time Jesus is born in Palestine, there are going to be kings named, Herod. And do you know where they come from? They are Idumeans, from Edom, the line of Esau. Because at some point Edom (as a nation) embraces the faith of Israel.
You see, God can redeem our mistakes when we turn to him in repentance.