ESAU DESPISES THE BIRTHRIGHT. BY REV. W. THISTLETHWAITE, M.A.

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Genesis xxv. 34. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentiles ; and he did eat and drink, and rose upy and went his wag : thus Esau despised his birthright. In the last Sennon we endeavoured to shew the pious regard which Ahraham had to the promises which God had given to him, and his anxious solicitude that his family might remain with fidl expectation of their fulfilment in the country which had been so promised to him and his seed ; and we saw the measures which he took, under these views and feelings, for the marriage of his son. We have now an accouQt of the children of that marriage ; and while we shall see in them, as in the case of Ishmael and Isaac, another instance

354 KSAU DESPISEilS of God's own appointment of the line in which these promises should descend^ we may also, I hope, discover much that may be useful for our own private and individual instruction. I. Before I enter upon the particular incident recorded in the text it will be necessary, in the first, place, to give some previous account of the birth of Esau and Jacob. Isaac and Rebekah had been married twenty years before they had any child, so long a time were they required to wait for any appearance of the fulfilment of the promise that their posterity should be numerous as the stars of heaven. At length in answer to the prayer of Isaac Rebekah conceived, and the future condition of the children and their

descendants was made the subject of prophecy before they were bom. We read, ^'the children struggled within her ; and she said, if it be so, why am I thus ? And she went to inquire of the Lord. And the Lord said, two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated fi*om thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people, and the elder shall serve the

THE BIRtHRIGHt. ^55 younger." The progress of the Scripture history shews us how accurately this prophecy was accomplished. The Israelites and Edomites, who were respectively the nations descended from Jacob and Esau, were contmually strusrgSng for «,periori^ oyer «u* .tier, tal tlie Israelites at length prevailed, and the Edomites were brought into absolute subjec* tion to them ; and the history of every nation that has been in any way the subject of prophetic notice, if that history were perfectly known, would be found to confirm the truth of divine revelation, even to the most minute particulars. But it has often been observed that this drcumstance forms a striking representation of the struggle which has always been in the world between reKgion and irreUgion. Piety and holiness have ever had to strive against vice andiniqmty; and the apparent circnmstances of the contest have often been such as to fill the nunds of the pious with astonishment and doubting enquiry. They have been i^dy to say, if reUgion be indeed true, and if God be the dig^oser of all things and

266 ESAU DESPISES judge in the earth, " why is it ibxm ?" why does his cause make so little progress ? why

do idolatries, superstitions, and wickedness seem, like a flood, to carry all before them ? why are the righteous so oppressed, the wickqd so triumphant ? The answer is, that it has pleased God to appoint such a state of things at present, apparently to exercise the faith and trust of those who bejieve his word, and direct their views and hopes more simply to a future world, wherein righteousness shall wholly prevail, and sin and evil be for ever destroyed. It has also been often observed that this circumstance forms a resemblance of the conflict in the christian's mind between the flesh and the spirit, which is spoken of somewhat at large by St. Paul in the seventh chapter of Romans, and more briefly, but very emphatically in Galatians, v. 17. "The flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh : and these are contrary the one to the other; so that ye cannot do the things that ye would." How true is that text, and how painful that struggle, every

THE BIRTHRIGHT. 257 beUever knows by his own experience; and it often makes him to stand in amazement and doubt of himself. " If it be so/' he says, *^ why am I thus ?" ' If I be a child of God, why am I thus harassed, perplexed, and tempted ? Can I possibly partake of his Spirit, and yet find so much of sin still dweUing in me ? If I be restored to his fayour, why this darkness, these doubts, distresses, and fears ? Surely it could not be thus, if I were truly in a state of grace, and accepted through Christ ?' The christian must be informed that such is his present warfare ; and that so long as he continues a member of the church militant on earth, he win have to maintain a conflict. Let him only take care to war a good warfare, to fight a good fight, and in the present life he will

find increaaing strength and holiness; he will go on conquering, and \o conquer ; and at last he will be made, in the powerful language of the Apostle, " more than conqueror through him that loreth him." But you will remember, no doubt, that the Spirit of God himself makes use of this

258 ESAU DESPISES prophecy to iUustrate the sovereignty of God in the disposal of his grace, as we read in the ninth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans. In the beginning of that chapter the Apostle laments over the unbelief of the great body of his countrymen^ and their rejection of the gospel of Christ. Then he adds, ^' not as though the word of God had taken none effect :" there werfe some of them who believed, and this was sufficient to justify the faithfiilness of God to his promise; and in fact it was in accordance with all his former proceedings ; " For" he says, *' they are not aU Israel, which are of Israel; neither because they are the seed of Abraham, are they aU children." Then he illustrates this by the scripture which had restricted the promise to Isaac alone of all the sons of Abraham, saying, ^'But in Isaac shall thy seed be called." And then from the case now before us he adds this further confirmation of his point, ^'And not only this; but when Rebekah had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac, (lor the children being not yet bom, neither having done

THE BIRTHRIGHT. 269 any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth ;) it was said nnto her, the elder shall serve the younger.

As it is written, " Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated." It is thus that the Spirit, in the age of the gospel, makes use of this ancient prophecy to shew that it has always been God's will to bestow his spiritual blessings upon some out of others, so that at that present time also there was '* a remnant according to the election of grace." And in whatever point of view we contemplate this election^ whether to the call of nations into an outward and visible Church of Christ, or to the appointment of particular persons to special offices and duties, or to the choice of those who are ordained to eternal life, (for the term is occasionally i^lied in scripture to every one of these cases,) it must ever be humbly and piously resolved into the righteous determination^ the wise purpose and sovereign pleasure of God, << Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight."

258 ESAU DESPISES prophecy to illustrate the sovereignty of God in the disposal of his grace, as we read in the ninth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans. In the beginning of thd.t chapter the Apostle laments over the ttobelief of the great body of his countrymen, and their rejection of the gospel of Christ. Then he adds, " not as though the word of God had taken none effect :" there werfe some of them who believed, and this was sufficient to justify the faithfulness of God to his promise j and in fact it was in accordance with all his former proceedings ; " For" he says, " they are not aU Israel, which are of Israel; neither because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children." Then he illustrates this by the scripture which had restricted the promise to Isaac alone of all the sons of Abraham, saying, ^'But in Isaac shall thy seed be called." And then from the case now before us he adds this further confir-

mation of his point, **And not only thisj but when Rebekah had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac, (for the children being not yet bom, neither having done

THE BIRTHRIGHT. 259 any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth ;) it was said unto her, the elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, " Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated." It is thus that the Spirit, in the age of the gospel, makes use of this ancient prophecy to shew that it has always been God's will to bestow his spiritual blessings upon some out of others, so that at that present time also there was ^^ a remnant according to the election of grace." And in whatever point of view we contemplate this dection^ whether to the call of nations into m outward and visible Church of Christ, or to the appointment of particular persons to special offices and duties, or to the choice of tiiose who are ordained to eternal life, (for the term is occasionally applied in scriptu:re to every one of these cases,) it must ever be humbly and piously resolved into the righteous determination^ the wise purpose and sovereign pleasure of God, ^' Even SO5 Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight."

260 ESAU DESPISES II. I proceed now, in the second place, to the consideration of the particular incident recorded in the text, namely, the manner in which Esan despised his birthright. The brothers were twins, of whom Esau was the first-bom, yet so that Jacob's hand took hold of his heel. As the boys grew

up they shewed different dispositions, and followed very different pursuits. ^' Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field ; and Jacob was a plain man, dwelling in tents." They separately obtained the divided affections of their parents; for '^ Isaac loved Esau, because he did eat of his venison ; but Rebekah loved Jacob." The reason of the mother's preference is not assigned : perhaps it might be only on account of his more quiet and domestic habits, or perhaps because she had treasured up and pondered in her heart the declaration of heaven which had beefi made respecting them. On one occasion Esau returned fron^ his hunting, wearied with toil and faint through hunger, and found that his brother had made ready some potti^e, of which he was probably preparing to eat.

THE BIRTHRIGHT. 261 When Esau saw it he said^ ^'Feed me, I pray thee, with that same red pottage, for I am faint." The scripture adds, '^Therefore was his name called Edom," that is, red^ and this was traBsioitted through future ages to his descendants the Edomites. Jacob took advantage of his brother's necessities, and replied, " Sell me this day thy birthright." Had Esau attached that importance to the birthright which he ought, he would have rejected the proposal with horror, and sharply rebuked his brother for making it. But he says, '^ Behold I am at the point to die, and what profit shall this birthright do to me ?" It was impossible that he could be in danger of perishing for absolute want of food where he then was, and therefore either the expression denotes the impatience of his mind which made him aggravate the case, or he might mean that the blessings attached to the birthright were at a great distance of time, that he should never live to enjoy them, and therefore they were of no consequence to him. In either sense it exhibited great

contempt of the privileges attached to it.

262 ESAU DESPISES To make the contract more secure^ Jacob required his oath^ which he scrupled not to give. And "then," as die text says, "Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentiles ; and he did eat and drink and rose up and went his way ; thus Esau despised his birthright."^ In general there were many important advantages attached to the birthright. The first bom son was considered the head of the family s^er the father's death. He had authority over his brethren, and a double portion of the father's goods. But it does not appear that this was the law in Isaac's family, and it is very clear that the peculiar advantages of the birthright in his case consisted of the inheritance of those spiritual blessings which God had promised to Abraham, namely, the blessings of the presence and favour of God, of a numerous posterity with whom his covenant should be made, and of being the progenitor of that particular seed, even the Messiah, in whom all the families of the earth should be blessed. These were the blessings which ]iad been given to Abraham, which were to descend from him, which might

TH£ BIRTHRIGHT. 263 naturally be expected to descend in the line of llie lawful first-bom son, and which Esau llierefore ought to have highly valued, and to have parted with life itself rather than have done any thing to deprive hiinself of them. It is evident, I say, that they were spiritual and not temporal advantages which were attached to the birthright in the family of Isaac ; and in fact Jacob obtained no advantages of a worldly nature by his purchase of it. That such was their nature is declared

by the Apostle, who, for £sau*s contempt of them, calls him a *^ profane person." These blessings Esau despised. He could not but be well acquainted with their nature and value, for they must often have been the subject of Isaac's conversation with his family, and yet he parted with his interest in them for a mess of pottage ; '^ for one morsel of meat he sold his birthright.'' It would have been a strong proof of his indifference to religious privileges had he sold them for all the riches that Jacob could have given him in return ; but it exhibited the greatest profaneness and contempt of them when he

264 ESAU DESPISES threw them away for so mere a trifle. Such was the charactier of this transaction on the part of Esau, and such the irreligious and impious state of his judgment and feelings. But it may he said that it was unjust and peculiarly unkind in Jacoh to take advantage of his brother's necessity and thoughUessniess. Be it so. This only reflect3 some discredit upon Aim/ hut affords no palliation of the fault of Esau. The scriptures do not hold up Jacob or any other mere man as a pattern of rectitude in every particular. We may however well suppose that Jacob had long been aware of his brother'^ indifference in this matter, and that he had had daily proofe of the light estimation in which he held these spiritual favours, and therefore would be less scrupulous in availing himself of the oppor-* tunity of becoming possessed of that which Esau esteemed of so little value. or .did Esau repent of what he had done, or care any thing more about it. He expressed no regret for his folly, he made no endeavour to induce his brother to set him free from Ws agreement, but shewed himself well satisfied with

THE BIRTHRIGHT, 266 the equiyalent, sach as it was, which he had obtained. This appears strongly expressed in the terms in which his behaviour is related : ^' he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way: thus Esau despised his birthright." Let us now close this acconut of Esau, and apply it to ourselyes. Are there not too many of us who are guilty of the same indifference and contempt of spiritual blessings? Such must be far more inexcusable than even Esau. It might be alledged for him, if he were to be compared with us who live under the christian dispensation, that he could not so well know the value of either the Saviour or the portion that was promised, while we have a full acquaintance with the dignity and grace of the divine Redeemer, and with the value of the inheritance that is reserved for the saints in light. But how is that Son of God who was promised to the patriarchs, and who has appeared to us, who has suffered and died, who rose and ascended, who sits at the right hand of God as head over all things to his church, in whom all fulness dwells, and

296 ESAU DESPISES who has received gifts for men, I aak, how is tl^at Saviour received ? The unhappy txuth ia that vidjxj '' see no form or comeliness in him that they should desire him/' and he is still " despised and rejected of men/' The present salvation which he effects, and the future glories which he will hestow, do also receive no greater regard. Tell th^n of his sanctifying grace which wiU renew them and make them holy, tell them of his hlood which will^

cleanse them from all sin, tell them of ihe glory of his kingdom and the happiness of his heaven, they make light of these things ; they despise them, contemptuously disregard, and profanely reject them. This contempt of divine things still arises from an insatiable hung^ and thirst after* earthly possessions and sensual indulgencies* The necessities of the body 9xe pleaded for. We must live, say men ; we must provide for ourselves and oiu* families, and we cannot attend to this religion; we must eat and drink and be clothed now, whatever becomes of us hereafter. ot only are the necessities of the body thus pleaded in ei^cuse, but an

THE BIRTHRIGHT. 267 inordinate desire for the gratification of its appetites hurries them on into more determined and obstinate rejection. What would the language of many be, if put into words, but this, " Give me the gratification of my desire. I must and will have it, whatever it cost me?" Urged on by its impetuosity and an obstinate will they determine to have their indulgence, and no considerations of the future, no consequences temporal or eternal, have influence enough to restrain them. — What do we see in all this, but the very character, the temper and conduct of the profane Esau ? What is here but a sale of the birthright for a mess of pottage ? And, when this has been done, is there not with many, the same reckless unconcern? They do not bethink themselves and say what have I done ? but they go on in their worldly and irreli^ous course, utterly careless of the consequences. They do not acknowledge and bewail their sin and folly ; they do not repent and pray for pardon; they do not resort to the means which God has in mercy provided for the forgiveness of an offender,

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268 ESAU DESPISES and his recovery of his forfeited inheritance j in short they do not repent and do works meet for repentance. I would most earnestly beseech all of you, who are thus despising the blessings of salvation, to reflect deeply on your sin and danger. Endeav9ur to contemplate that moment in which you shall really be " at the point to die/' and think what judgment you will then form of eternal and earthly thiugs. Will you then say contemptuously what profit will this birthright do me? Will you not rather cry, Oh that I had but an interest in Christ ! Oh that I had never sold my soul for things of nought, which now cannot profit nor deliver, which now cannot please nor satisfy ! If in that awful hour you have any sense of your state, any powers of feeling, you will then most bitterly regret the having thrown away the offers of grace and the mercy of Christ. In what light will those earthly things which you are now so ardently desiring and so assiduously pursuing then present themselves to your view ? Will they not all appear as poor and worthless as a mess of

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THE BIRTHRIGHT. 269 pottage? ay you will then feel, that you would have been nothing profited even if you could have gained the whole world, should you have thereby lost your own soul. Why then should you part with a thing of such

inestimable value for little and mean possessions^ for the pleasures of sin for a season^ or indulgencies that pall the appetite, and perish in the using ? Oh that you may be enabled by the grace of God to form a right judgment of things which so much differ, and so at length to refuse the evil and choose the good. But there are some who know the value and importance of spiritual blessings, and who covet earnestly the best gifts. Let these be the objects of your constant and increasing desire. Be willing to suffer every inconvenience, loss or pain, rather than give up your possession and hope of these. Buy the truth, but sell it not. Esteem the favour of God even above your necessary food. Labour not for the bread that perisheth^ but for that which endureth unto everlasting life. " Blessed are they who hunger

270 ESAU DESPISES THE BIRTHRIGHT. and thirst after righteousness^ for they shall he filled." Oh ! think continually of the blessed privilege of being sons and daughters of die Lord almighty. And if you have a good hope that through grace you are already in possession of the birthright, hold it fast and never let it go. Let no one buy it of you. Let no one steal it from you. Let no one deprive you of it by any art or inducement whatever. It makes you an heir of God, and a joint-heir, not only with all the children of God, but with Christ himself. May you keep it^ and may God keep ym to the full enjoyment of it in his heavenly kingdom.

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