So Esau declared, "Is he not rightly named Jacob? For he has cheated me twice. He took my birthright, and now he has taken my blessing." Then he asked, "Haven't you saved a blessing for me?"
Luke 1:15), prevails through believing prayer. Yet Jacob became Israel, and Israel had once been Jacob. The plant of faith has often to struggle through a hard soil. To understand the lessons of his life, remember -
1. In contrast to Esau, he was a man of faith. His desire was for a future and spiritual blessing. He believed that it was to be his, and that belief influenced his life. But -
2. His faith was imperfect and partial in its operation, and this led to inconsistencies (cf. Matthew 14:29, 30; Galatians 2:12). Naturally quiet, his life was passed chiefly at home. Godly influences undisturbed by outward life taught him to worship God, and to prize his promise. But he had not proved his armor (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:12); and, as often happens,- the object of his faith was the means of his trial. His father's purpose in favor of Esau shook his faith (cf. 1 Peter 4:18). He yielded to the suggestion to obtain by deceit what God had promised to give (Isaiah 49:1), and earned his brother's taunt, "Is not he rightly named Jacob?" Yet it does not appear that he was conscious of having failed in faith. Consider -
I. THE DANGER OF SELF-DECEIVING (cf. Ezekiel 13:10). One brought up among godly influences may seem to possess faith. Ways of faith, hopes of faith, may be familiar to him. He may really embrace them, really desire a spiritual prize. But not without cause are we warned (1 Corinthians 10:12). Some plan of worldly wisdom, some point of self-seeking or self-indulgence, attracts him; only a little way; not into anything distinctly wrong. Or he falls into indolent self-sufficiency. Then there is a shrinking from close walk with God. Formality takes the place of confidence. All may seem outwardly well; but other powers than God's will are at work within. And if now some more searching trial is sent, some more distinct choice between God and the world, a self-satisfying plea is easily found. And the self-deceit which led to the fall makes it unfelt. And the path is lighted, but not from God (Isaiah 1:11).
II. THE HARM DONE TO OTHERS BY UNFAITHFULNESS OF-CHRISTIANS (cf. Romans 2:24; Romans 14:16). The world is quick to mark inconsistencies of believers. They form an excuse for the careless, a plea for disbelieving the reality of holiness. And for weak Christians they throw the influence of example on the wrong side (cf. 1 Corinthians 8:9). Deeds have more power than words; and the course of a life may be turned by some thoughtless yielding. Nor can the harm be undone even by repentance. The failure is visible, the contrition and seeking pardon are secret. The sins of good men are eagerly retailed. The earnest supplication for pardon and restoration are known to few, and little cared for. The man himself may be forgiven, and rise stronger from his fall; but the poison in the soul of another is still doing its deadly work.
III. THE WAY OF SAFETY. Realize the living Christ (Ephesians 3:17). Rules of themselves can do little; but to know the love of Christ, to bear it in mind, is power. - M.
I. HE IS OVERWHELMED BY A HEART-RENDING SORROW
I. The character of Esau has unquestionably a fair side. Esau was by no means a man of unqualified wickedness or baseness; judged according to the standard of many men, he would pass for a very worthy, estimable person. The whole history of his treatment of Jacob puts his character in a very favourably light; it represents him as an open-hearted, generous person, who, though he might be rough in his manners, fond of a wild life, perhaps as rude and unpolished in mind as he was in body, had yet a noble soul, which was able to do what little minds sometimes cannot do — namely, forgive freely a cruel wrong done to him.
And when Esau heard the words of his father, he cried with a great and exceeding bitter cry, and said unto his father, Bless me, even me also, O my father.
I. Esau's cry is the cry of one who has rejected God, and who in turn has been rejected by Him. He was
(1) (2) II. The prodigal son is an example of a true penitent. He came to God with deep confession — self-abasement. He said, "Father, I have sinned." Esau came for a son's privileges; the prodigal son came for a servant's drudgery. The one killed and dressed his venison with his own hand, and enjoyed it not; for the other the fatted calf was prepared, and the ring for his hand and shoes for his feet, and the best robe, and there was music and dancing. (J. H. Newman, D. D.)
(2) II. The prodigal son is an example of a true penitent. He came to God with deep confession — self-abasement. He said, "Father, I have sinned." Esau came for a son's privileges; the prodigal son came for a servant's drudgery. The one killed and dressed his venison with his own hand, and enjoyed it not; for the other the fatted calf was prepared, and the ring for his hand and shoes for his feet, and the best robe, and there was music and dancing. (J. H. Newman, D. D.)
II. The prodigal son is an example of a true penitent. He came to God with deep confession — self-abasement. He said, "Father, I have sinned." Esau came for a son's privileges; the prodigal son came for a servant's drudgery. The one killed and dressed his venison with his own hand, and enjoyed it not; for the other the fatted calf was prepared, and the ring for his hand and shoes for his feet, and the best robe, and there was music and dancing.
(J. H. Newman, D. D.)
II. Nevertheless, it is not without reason that the apostle styles Esau a profane person. The defect in his character may be described as a want of religious seriousness; there was nothing spiritual in him — no reverence for holy things, no indications of a soul which could find no sufficient joy in this world, but which aspired to those joys which are at God's right hand for evermore. By the title of profane the apostle means to describe the carnal, unspiritual man — the man who takes his stand upon this world as the end of his thoughts and the scene of all his activity, who considers the land as a great hunting-field, and makes the satisfaction of his bodily wants and tastes the whole end of living.
III. Esau's repentance was consistent with his character; it was manifestly of the wrong kind. Sorrow of this world; grief for the loss of the corn and wine.
(Bishop Harvey Goodwin.)
II. HE REFERS HIS WRONGS TO THEIR TRUE AUTHOR.
III. HE PLEADS PATHETICALLY WITH HIS FATHER.
IV. HE IS CONTENTED WITH AN INFERIOR BLESSING. God's blessings without God. Nothing of heaven enters into it.
(T. H. Leale.)
1. Remark, first, the double blessing — Jacob's containing temporal abundance, temporal rule, and spiritual blessing, the main points plainly being the rights of primogeniture; Esau's, in the first part identical with his brother's, but different afterwards by the want of spiritual blessing: God's gifts without God, the fruit of the earth and the plunder of the sword, but no connection with the covenant of God. Of course the destinies of Israel and Edom are prefigured in this, rather than the personal history of Jacob and Esau. For the predicted liberty of Edom, the breaking the yoke off the neck, did not take place till the reign of Jehoram, long after Esau's death (2 Kings 8:22). So that when it is written, "Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated," the selection of nations to outward privileges is meant, not the irrespective election of individuals to eternal life. Now in these blessings we have the principle of prophecy. We cannot suppose that the Jacob here spoken of as blessed was unmixedly good, nor the Esau unmixedly evil. Nor can we imagine that idolatrous Israel was that in which all the promises of God found their end, or that Eden was the nation on whom the curse of God fell unmixed with any blessing. Prophecy takes individuals and nations as representations for the time being of principles which they only partially represent. They are the basis or substratum of an idea. For instance, Jacob, or Israel, represents the principle of good, the Church of God, the triumphant and blessed principle. To that, the typical Israel, the promises are made; to the literal Jacob or Israel, only as the type of this, and so far as the nation actually was what it stood for. Esau is the worldly man, representing for the time the world. To that the rejection belongs; to the literal Isaac, only so far as he is that.
2. Next observe Isaac's adherence to his promise. If anything can excuse a departure from a promise, Isaac might have been excused in this case; for in truth he did not promise to Jacob, though Jacob stood before him. He honestly thought that he was speaking to his first-born; and yet, perhaps partly taught to be punctiliously scrupulous by the rebuke he had received in early life from Abimelech, partly feeling that he had been but an instrument in God's hands, he felt that a mysterious and irrevocable sacredness belonged to his word once past, and said, "Yea, and he shall be blessed." Jesuitism amongst us has begun to tamper with the sacredness of a promise. Men change their creed, and fancy themselves absolved from past promises; the member of the Church of Rome is no longer bound to do what the member of the Church of England stipulated. Just as well might the king refuse to perform the promises or pay the debts of the prince whom he once was. Therefore, let us ponder over such texts as these. Be careful and cautious of pledging yourself to anything; but the money you have once promised, the offer you have once made, is irrevocable — it is no longer yours; it is passed from you as much as if it had been given.
II. ESAU'S CONDUCT.
1. Remark his contentment with a second-rate blessing: "Hast thou not another blessing?" &c. These words, taken by themselves, without reference to the character of him who spoke them, are neither good nor evil. Had Esau meant only this: God has many blessings, of various kinds; and looking round the circle of my resources, I perceive a principle of compensation, so that what I lose in one department I gain in some other; I will be content to take a second blessing when I cannot have the first. Esau would have said nothing which was not praiseworthy and religious; he would have only expressed what the Syro-Phoenician woman did, who observed that though in this world some have the advantages of children, whereas others are as little favoured as dogs, yet that the dogs have the compensatory crumbs. But it was not in this spirit at all that Esau spoke. His was the complaining spirit of the man who repines because others are more favoured than he; the spirit of the elder son in the parable, "thou never gavest me a kid." This character transformed outward disadvantages into a real curse. For, again I say, disadvantages are in themselves only a means to more lustrous excellence. But if to inferior talents we add sloth, and to poverty envy and discontent, and to weakened health querulousness, then we have indeed ourselves converted non-election into reprobation; and we are doubly cursed — cursed by inward as well as outward inferiority.
2. Remark Esau's malice (ver 41). "The days of mourning for my father are at hand, then will I slay my brother Jacob." Distinguish this from the resentment of righteous indignation. Resentment is an attribute of humanity in its original, primal state. He who cannot feel indignant at some kinds of wrong has not the mind of Christ. Remember the words with which he blighted pharisaism — words not spoken for effect, but syllables of downright, genuine anger; such expressions as peculiarly belong to the prophetic character, in which indignation blazes into a flame; the prophetic writings are full of it. Very different from this was Esau's resentment. Anger in him had passed into malice; private wrong had been brooded on till it had become revenge, deliberate and planned vindictiveness.
(F. W. Robertson, M. A.)I. This narrative SUGGESTS A WARNING AGAINST THE UNDER-VALUING OF PRIVILEGE.
II. This narrative SUGGESTS THAT GOD IS ABLE TO BLESS EVERY DESIRING SOUL. Eternal life for all. See the inexhaustible nature of the Divine riches exemplified in —
1. The vast numbers who have been made partakers of it already passed from mortal sight.
2. The multitudes on their way at this moment to the same heavenly kingdom who have " obtained like precious faith."
III. This narrative REMINDS US THAT ONE MAY SEEK THE BLESSING TOO LATE. Though Esau obtained at last a blessing, he did not realize the blessing.
(F. Goodall, B. A,)
Homilist.I. There is here THE SENSE OF AN IMMENSE LOSS. A holy character is the highest birthright. We have all to lament the loss of this.
II. THE SENSE OF A GREAT INJURY. Victimized by his own brother. Far worse to bear than an injury from an enemy.
III. THE SENSE OF REMORSE.
IV. THE SENSE OF APPROACHING HOPELESSNESS. Conclusion:
1. What we have all lost. Our birthright — the image of God.
2. What we should all chiefly struggle for. The restoration of the Divine image. Our loss is not, like Esau's, irremediable. We can, by faith in Christ, regain it.
(Homilist.)I. CERTAINLY WE ARE NOT TO GATHER HENCE THAT ANY TRUE PENITENT CAN TURN TO GOD AND BE REJECTED OF HIM. ESAU'S rejection was no such contradiction of God's love as the rejection of any one weeping penitent upon earth would surely be. For, first, there is about Esau's very cry itself, loud and bitter as it was, no sign of true penitence; and, next, when he uttered it, so far as that which he had then lost is concerned, his day of probation was already over, his time of trial closed, his hour of judgment come. There is doubtless, as we shall see hereafter, a true counterpart of this before every impenitent man, with horrors aggravated above any which waited upon Esau's sentence, as far as time is exceeded by eternity, and temporal disadvantage by the death of the enduring soul. But there is not one word in it to make any one who, in this his day of grace, turns to the Lord, and cries to him for cleansing and for pardon, doubt the full certainty of a most gracious acceptance by Him who suffered the woman that was a sinner to wash His blessed feet with her tears, and to wipe them with the hair of her head.
II. This, then, certainly is not the lesson which is taught us here; but just as certainly IT IS THAT WE, TOO, MAY CAST AWAY GOD'S MERCY TO US; that we, the true children of promise, bred in the family of One greater than Isaac — that we, the inheritors of a birthright greater far than Jacob sought for or Esau despised — that we, the children of God's grace, may reject His grace, and cast profanely from us our more blessed birthright. Such awful cases the experience of every parish priest has, I suppose, brought before him. I have seen them and have trembled. I have seen the fearful paroxysms of a loud and violent despair. I have seen what is more awful still, the obstinate sinner, calmly, deliberately, determinately put from himself the hope of salvation, and declare that in a few hours he shall be in hell. And so indeed it must be. For if this were not so, what could the warning mean, "Look diligently, test any man fail of the grace of Christ." Surely it must mean that the time of hopeless lamentation will come to every obstinate despiser of God's grace; that His Spirit does not always strive with any man — that there is a limit to the trial of every man. Can we not, as we gaze with awe upon the fearful picture, see in some measure why this doom is irreversible? For must it not of necessity happen that the very perfection of this miserable wickedness sets the seal of hopeless continuance upon such spiritual wretchedness? For such a spiritual being with such a nature must hate the good; must, above all, hate supremely God, the All-Good; must see in Him the highest and most absolute conceivable contradiction of itself, and so must recoil infinitely from Him, and in recoiling from Him must choose the evil with an ever-renewed iteration and ever-increasing intensity of choice. Nor does the perfection of the misery which such a soul endures at all incline it to any breath of penitence; it only deepens the blackness and the malignity of its despair. There is nothing in itself purifying in suffering.
III. But if we would learn one true lesson from this portion of God's Word, we must not only note the general warning of looking diligently lest we fall from God's grace, but we must see further AGAINST WHAT SPECIAL FORMS OF EVIL THIS WARNING IS PECULIARLY DIRECTED. And indeed, for many here, as everywhere, this is a lesson needing very signally to be learned. For remember what were Esau's circumstances and Esau's trial. Born to the inheritance of a certain birthright, exercising, as to his first title to it, no volition regarding it; having centred in his own person the mysterious privileges which ordinarily belonged to the first-born son of the heir of promise — he cast these away; not from special or marked depravity of character, but from yielding to the temptations of appetite. This one special attribute of sensuality is clearly shadowed forth in this example; we see its direct tendency to lead to delaying repentance until true repentance is impossible. For its gratifications fill for a season, and occupy the degraded soul. Thus the first drawings of the blessed Spirit are resisted, His first tender motions on the soul are quenched; and it is in yielding to these, instead of resisting them, that there is the only possibility of any true repentance. So it was with Esau, when, under the overmastering impulse of a sensual temptation, he was led to cast all good away — for "thus Esau despised his birthright." Surely the application is too explicit to be missed. Is not the warning plain against exactly that whole class of sins of the real guilt of which the world takes least account? Is it not as much as saying that indulged sensuality does build up barriers against true repentance, which are all but impassable? Does it not meet the man possessed, by natural endowment, of high spirits, of frankness, of cheerfulness, of all that makes him a popular companion — with strong passions, with great powers of enjoyment — who flings himself freely into life, is the leader of a set, and, from there being a certain look of generosity about his vices, is lauded perhaps for his unselfishness; who has naturally a far more attractive character than the less courageous, less spirited, less frank, more self-conscious, more self-watchful man beside him? doest it not meet this man in his hours of sensual temptations, and say, Thou hast a birthright, beware of despising it, beware of bartering it? Does it not say to him, "Thou, too, art a son of Abraham"? yea, and more, "Thou art a son of Christ"; without thy choice, before thy knowledge, of God's mere love and mercy, that blessed privilege was made thine. His love yearned over thine infancy, His Spirit has striven with thy youth, His care is watching over thee now, and thou, too, art tempted to barter these inestimable blessings for the mess of pottage. In thee, too, appetite craves for indulgence; before thine eyes a sensuous fancy paints her glowing pictures of the mad delight of gratified desire, of the feast, of the revel, of the impure orgy, of the satisfied sense. All these she sets before thee, and thy spirit, faint often and weary in this struggle, whispers to thee, Lo! I die in this abstinence; and what good shall this birthright do me? Oh, then beware — for then is the tempter nearest, closest, most dangerous. Then, under the form of what he whispers to thee is a common practice, a slight evil, the yielding to an irresistible temptation; then is he tempting thee, too, after this example of the old profaneness of Esau, to despise thy birthright. Nor can you tell that in any one of these allowed instances of sensual indulgence you may not actually sell your birthright. It is the very secret of the power of the temptation, that in each separate instance it looks so inconsiderable in its future consequence, compared with the pressing urgency of the present desire. It is the gusty impulsiveness of your nature which exposes you so certainly to the danger. You become profane without knowing it; you meant but to gratify appetite, and lo! for appetite you have bartered your soul. Here, then, is God's warning to you. He sets, from the beginning, the end before you. He shows you what such conduct really is, and whither it must lead you. He lets you hear the loud and bitter cry.
(Bp. S. Wilberforce.)I. To respect and reverence old age, and commiserate its infirmities.
II. To cultivate a spirit of truth, honesty, and honour in our dealings.
III. To shun every occasion of household strife.
IV. To seek the blessing of our heavenly Father, in the full confidence that all He has given to others has not so impoverished Him that there is not a blessing left for us.
(J. C. Gray.)
I. THE FACTS HERE STATED.
1. Notice the individuals concerned; these are, Isaac and Rebekah, and their twin sons, Esau and Jacob. Isaac was the child of promise, given to Abraham in his old age, through whom the blessing pronounced on Abraham was to descend to an innumerable multitude. He married Rebekah, his cousin, the grand-child of Abraham's brother; and the offspring of their union were these twin children, Esau and Jacob. All that is recorded of the parents impresses us with the conviction of their piety. In the short notices of their life, we observe that, with sufficient evidence of their partaking of human infirmity, we have abundant testimony to their devotional habits, their submission to the dispensations of Providence, their peaceable and liberal disposition, and their prosperity under the blessing of the Lord. Esau and Jacob, their children, were characters widely differing from each other.
2. The blessing that Jacob obtained. It was a blessing which was inherent in the posterity of Abraham, and which one of the sons of Isaac was consequently to inherit.
3. The means which were used for the obtaining of this blessing. Isaac was on the point of conferring the blessing of the first-born upon Esau, contrary to the Divine intimation, contrary to the warrantable expectations of Rebekah, and contrary to those predilections which she seems to have cherished for the younger son, and which his regular and domestic habits appear to have strengthened. Acting under the influence of unbelief, she immediately suggested to Jacob the plan of supplanting his brother by fraud. Jacob's objections appear to have been those of prudence rather than of principle; they yielded to a mother's earnest entreaties; and the result shows him to be no inapt scholar in the ways of deception. There is something very humiliating in the whole of Jacob's interview with his father. Every succeeding step is marked with grosser hypocrisy and deeper guilt; and though, in the mysterious providence of God, the promised blessing was permitted to rest on his head, yet the guilt of that scene must afterwards have been like a barbed arrow in his conscience, and given increased severity to many of his subsequent sufferings. The promise was given to Isaac with this recognition of Abraham's character, "Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws." Isaac did the same. He entered into the spirit of the covenant, and lived a life of obedience. On what reasonable ground, therefore, could Esau, knowing this, expect the blessing? He was a "profane person, a fornicator," a mere sensualist. It is in this light, therefore, that we should regard him, and by these things that we must measure his tears.
II. The circumstances that have come before us suggest SOME VERY IMPORTANT AND USEFUL PRACTICAL REMARKS. We notice —
1. The evil of parental partialities. The selection of one child for favouritism is altogether inconsistent with the sacredness of parental duty, and with the strict justice which is essential to parental discipline. In the present instance, the fondness of Isaac for his first-born, and of Rebekah for her younger child, led both themselves and their children into sin.
2. The fearful results of one deviation from rectitude. One vice entails another. One instance of error or untruth frequently places a man in circumstances in which he is led to commit many to bring him off without suspicion; and he who tells one lie will not scruple much, in a very short time, blasphemously to call the name of God to witness it. "And he said, Because the Lord thy God brought it to me." Let every one, then, beware how he approaches the first appearances of evil, or oversteps in the least degree the line of propriety. "We cannot hope to be preserved when we have placed ourselves in questionable circumstances; and we have not strength to keep ourselves.
3. The character of the over-ruling providence of God. It was said of Jacob and Esau, "the elder shall serve the younger." But the ways of God are very mysterious. The same result is brought about by a series of natural events, on which we could not have calculated; events, however, which are in no respect the results of an absolute fatalism, but which are seen to arise fairly out of the elements of character and habits of the parties concerned. "we see each character developed in its peculiarities by the course which it is permitted to pursue; and to each, in the sovereignty of Divine Providence, a moral discipline is applied, calculated to forward the best interests of the soul.
4. The melancholy character of the sorrow of the world. While, therefore, the afflictions of Jacob, though they were the consequences of his sins, led him to draw near to God in his solitude, the grief of Esau was merely the regret consequent on worldly disappointment. The privation of the blessing of the first-born was only lamented by him as the ruin of his best earthly hopes. It was the downfall of his ambition. It was a limit prescribed to his indulgences. It was merely that sorrow which often seizes on ungodly men in the course of Providence, and in which they know not where to turn for consolation, because they will not turn to God.
5. Observe the immeasurable extent of the Divine compassion. It is only on the mercy of God that Jacob or Esau, or any character similar to either, can rest a sure and certain hope of deliverance at last.
(E. Craig.)God, no mention of God at all, or of God's just anger for his past offence. And hence we may conclude that he took a mere worldly view of his loss, that he felt mere worldly sorrow — sorrow for the loss of some temporal advantages to himself and his descendants, and perhaps mingled with this keen sense of worldly disappointment — sorrow at having missed a father's benediction, especially as he believed it, in his case, to carry with it some unusual power. If this is a right view of Esau's state of mind, we see at once that he is not to be regarded as a true penitent, that he is not presented to us as such, and that therefore no feelings of true penitence are to be chilled or checked in their growth by the treatment which he received. The great truth still stands out as clearly as ever, quite unclouded by any instance in Scripture to the contrary, that God does receive back the penitent; that godly sorrow, if it lead on to the after acts and fuller development of repentance, never rends our hearts in vain; not in vain does any wandering child of God draw near, and kneeling down at the foot of the cross exclaim, "Bless me also, O my Father." Whenever the sorrow of the heart is true godly sorrow, and the conscience-stricken bow themselves in genuine compunction at the mercy-seat of God, mercy comes forth from the throne of God, and the penitent is blessed. But all sorrow — and it is this which the history of Esau impressively proclaims — is not godly sorrow, and has not its blessed fruit. Men may grieve over losses, disasters, reverses brought on them through sin, without grieving altogether for the sin, without being grieved and angry with themselves for sinning. And what harder burden to bear than this worldly sorrow, when the heart is dry and dead to the influence of grace, when the soul has no light in its dark place, when God is not confessed in time of trial, when chastisements for sin fail to create the sense of sin, or to break the will of the disobedient child, when there is no mark of the Cross of Christ, but when it is the fruitless cross of the world, which cannot heal? If we are in any suffering, under any trial through transgressions, whether lately or long since done, we can find blessings springing up amid the thorns, should we own the hand of God and sorrow after a godly sort; but if we steel our hearts, and go through trial without taking it as from our Saviour's hands, without owning "rod lamenting the sins and errors and neglects, the worldliness and the foolishness from which the trial grew, then indeed it is a heavy weight to bear, and there is a still heavier burden to be laid upon us hereafter.
(M. M. Kalisch, Ph. D.)
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