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Essay/Term paper: Religious meaning of the birthright story

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Religion

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Religious Meaning of the Birthright Story

Genesis Ch 25:27-34

As the boys grew up, Esau became a skillful hunter, a man who lived in the
open; whereas Jacob was a simple man, who kept to his tents. Isaac preferred
Esau, because he was fond of game; but Rebekah preferred Jacob. Once, when
Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the open, famished. He said to
Jacob, "Let me gulp down some of that red stuff; I'm starving." (That is why he
was called Edom.) But Jacob replied, "First give me your birthright in exchange
for it." "Look," Esau said, "I'm on the point of dying, what good will any
birthright do me?" But Jacob insisted, "Swear to me first!" So he sold Jacob
his birthright under oath. Jacob then gave him some bread and the lentil stew;
and Esau cared little for his birthright.
This Old Testament story holds significant meaning for all of us. There is
the obvious conflict within the family of two brothers who are very different
personality types, parents who show partiality toward each of their favorite
sons and the way that God allows events to happen as He relates to each of the
characters involved. Exploring both the surface story and the deeper
implications it has as it relates to our own lives, we can hopefully derive some
deeper meaning which God working through the author intends.
On the surface, we see a story of rivalry that is typical even in modern
times, yet we can also look to some valuable truths that are revealed about how
God sees our personal motives and actions through the characters of Jacob and
Esau. Gaining an understanding of the characters, their motives and the overall
big picture of God's plan, we can better find some spiritual lessons of our own
Jacob was the third link in God's plan of the patriarchs. In Gn 25:23, the
Lord tells Jacob's mother, Rebekah, that she has twins. The Lord tells her that
the younger one will overtake the second. The favoritism of the children shows
weakness on the part of the parents that can contribute in a large part to the
discord between Jacob and Esau. It is no surprise that when parents are in
conflict, the entire peace of the family is in jeopardy.
Jacob's name means "Grabber." Possibly this shows how he and Esau were in
competition from the start. This seems appropriate for two brothers in a small
family and their sibling rivalry is understandable in light of the benefits
derived from being born first. Jacob's personality was so different from Esau's
that they seem like natural opposites who would likely be in constant
competition even if they weren't in the same family. Jacob is a thoughtful
homebody who carefully schemes to get what he wants, while his older brother
Esau is know to be a practical man of action, a hunter who provided the family
with food and thought more of the present than the future. Esau was loved and
praised for his ability to bring dinner home often. Maybe he did not think
beyond the daily routine and the thanks he received from his father.
Because Esau was hungry, he wasn't willing to think about anything else
but fulfilling his immediate need, even if it meant changing the events of his
future. The here and now was much more important to him. He saw only the small
window of the present and lacked the focus and energy to see the big picture.
Jacob knew this about his brother and probably looked for the opportunity to
catch him at a weak moment. When the time came, Jacob used his brother's
weakness for immediate gratification to grab for himself something which would
secure his own future. Here we see the significance of his name.
Jacob accomplished many great things in his life. He was the father of the
twelve tribes of Israel, the third patriarch, hard-working, and died very
wealthy. Unfortunately, Jacob relied on his own instincts when trouble came his
way, rather than going to God. He also had a large attachment to material
possessions as evidenced by the amount of property he owned and gave to his sons.
Jacob married Leah and Rachel. Soon after growing up, he went to live with
his Uncle Laban. He immediately fell in love with Laban's daughter, Rachel. He
worked seven years to have her. The next morning, after the wedding, Jacob
awoke to find not Rachel, but her older sister Leah next to him. He was
outraged, but Laban consented to let him marry Rachel at the end of the week if
he promised to work seven more years.
This shows how Jacob lived up to his name, "Grabber." Once he had his mind
fixed on something, whether it be his brother's birthright, the love of his life,
or most importantly, God, he grabbed hold and would not let go. If only we
could have the same zeal he had, maybe then there wouldn't be some many people
in the world content with second best. If a kid does not make the basketball
team at school, he should not go home discouraged, he should be out practicing
every single day so that when the next chance comes around he will not only be
on the team, but the best on the team. What have we done today to make
ourselves the very best at whatever we do grabbing hold of our future?
Esau was the classic dumb jock. He was excellent in hunting and is known
for his skill in archery. Unfortunately, he did not necessarily think through
every decision. He traded the head of the clan, and twice his brother's share
of property for a single meal. The meal wasn't even the hearty stew he expected.
It was a piece of bread and a bowl of lentils that gave him about ten minutes
The most amazing thing that Esau was able to do was to forgive after being
angry and holding a grudge. It is fine to be angry. Our Lord Jesus got very
angry in the Temple. But, anger does not have to constitute sin. Esau forgave
Jacob when he returned from Laban, and even threw his arms around him and kissed
him. This is the attitude God wants us to have toward those to whom we have a
grudge. Life is too short to have grudges. How many times have we missed out
on fantastic friendships because we refused to speak or deal with that person.
If we can change, can't others as well?
God allows certain things to happen for different reasons, but we still
have free will. Our God is so loving that he lets us learn the hard way. We
are responsible for the choices we make and we are held accountable for them.
The last word on Esau is that we must consider the consequences of our actions
before we act on them. The old saying, "look before you leap" is a lesson that
Esau just never seemed to quite grasp.
The entire birthright story and the lives of Jacob and Esau can hold many
life lessons for us. We have learned that deception merits nothing but pain and
that decisions should be thought through before acted upon. Our security does
not lie in the accumulation of goods. I believe that the Jewish people
especially appreciated this story because it showed ordinary people doing
extraordinary things with God's assistance. St. Paul refers to this story in
Hebrews 12:16 "Watch out that no one becomes involved in sexual sin or becomes
careless about God as Esau did: he traded his rights as the oldest son for a
single meal. And afterwards, when he wanted those rights back again, it was too
late, even though he wept bitter tears of repentance. So remember, and be
"Lord God, your chosen people have left us some important life lessons.
These lessons do not have to be learned the hard way, because we have the
examples of those who have gone before us. Let us learn from their experience
and use it to make a difference in our own lives. We ask this in Jesus' name,


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