Esau: The Flesh is Weak
by Kyle Pope
statement, in Matthew 26:41 aptly describes the character demonstrated by the
Old Testament patriarch Esau: indeed, his flesh was weak. Let us consider how Esau’s tragic carnality was
shown in the choices he made in life.
man of the field.” Genesis 25:27
tells us that Esau was “a skillful hunter, a man of the field”
(NKJV). While this “outdoorsman” lifestyle endeared him to his
father (25:26), it also left him unmindful of his parents wishes (28:8) and
unprepared to attend to his own domestic needs (25:29,30). Many a Christian man
has found enjoyment in wholesome outdoor recreation. There is nothing wrong with
spending time outdoors fishing, hunting or camping. Yet, sadly far too many
men, like Esau, have allowed their love of “the field” to lead them
to neglect their relationship with their wife, their responsibilities in the home
or their duty to God.
is this birthright to me?” Esau’s
neglect of his own domestic provision led to one of the most flagrant
demonstrations of his temporal and carnal view of life. Scripture tells us that
Esau, on one occasion after coming in from the field was weary and pleaded with
Jacob to give him some lentil stew which he had cooked (25:29-30). Jacob took
advantage of the situation and told Esau that he would give him of the stew if
he would sell him his birthright for it (25:31). Esau responded, “Look, I
am about to die; so what is this birthright to me?” (25:32).
In ancient times, the birthright of the firstborn was very
significant. Tablets from the Mesopotamian city of Nuzi, contemporary with the patriarchs,
record that the firstborn was entitled to a double portion of the inheritance (The
Ancient Near East, James B.Pritchard, Vol.
1, pg. 168). The same practice was in place when the Law was given (Deut.
21:17). Esau was willing to surrender his greater portion of the inheritance
for a bowl of stew! The Hebrew writer calls Esau a “profane person”
(Heb. 12:16) for making such a choice, using the Greek word bebelos, which refers to the “unhallowed” and
“common” (Thayer). How many people, like Esau, have allowed their
own unwillingness to delay gratification to lead them to fornication, lust and
immorality? How many have sold away an eternal inheritance to fulfill the fleeting
desires of the flesh?
took as wives Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath the daughter
of Elon the Hittite.” Although the
distinction and segregation of Jews from Gentiles did not exist until after the
giving of the Law, the character of Canaanite women led Abraham’s
offspring to return to Haran to find wives from their Mesopotamian countrymen
(24:3-4; 28:1-2). Esau disregarded this practice and married Hittite women in
Canaan (26:34). This was “a grief of mind to Isaac and Rebekah”
Scripture makes it clear that Canaanites throughout
history were immoral and idolatrous. When the Israelites conquered Canaan they
were not to intermarry with Canaanite women lest their hearts be turned to
idolatry (Deut. 7:3-4). Esau’s interests were shortsighted and carnal.
His choices set the stage that would produce the idolatrous Edomite nation
which descended from him (2 Chron. 25:14). Few choices influence our spiritual
life more than our choice of mate. This choice can unite us with an encouraging
partner on our journey to heaven, or bind us to an ever present source of
temptation to turn from the Lord.
will kill my brother Jacob.” Although
Esau had already surrendered his birthright, he still hoped to receive a good
blessing from his father. The blessings given by a patriarch to their children
were more than just statements of best wishes, they were binding declarations
of the child’s status in the family. Cyrus Gordon called them
“irrevocable last wills and testaments” (“Biblical Customs
and the Nuzu Tablets”, Biblical Archaeologist, III.1 (Feb. 1940), 1-12).
In addition to this they were also prophetic in nature.
The inspired patriarch declared what God revealed to him about his offspring
(e.g. Gen. 49). Before birth God had told Rebekah “the older [Esau] shall
serve the younger [Jacob]” (25:23). This knowledge may have motivated her,
as Isaac succumbed to age, to instruct Jacob to deceive his father into
thinking he was Esau in order to receive the better blessing (27:6-10). Jacob
did as his mother instructed, Isaac gave Jacob the better blessing and Esau received
the lesser (27:11-40). When Esau learned of this, “Esau hated Jacob
because of the blessing with which his father blessed him, and Esau said in his
heart, ‘The days of mourning for my father are at hand; then I will kill
my brother Jacob.’” (27:41). It is a carnal soul indeed that will
allow jealousy of a brother to lead to murder! Although his attitude softened
as the years passed (33:8- 16), his hatred was but another example of a weak
heart that was controlled by the flesh.