POTTAGE VERSUS BIRTHRIGHT
by Alexander Maclaren
'Esau despised his birthright' -- GENESIS xxv. 34.
Broad lessons unmistakable, but points strange and
throw oneself back to so different a set of ideas.
I. Deal with the narrative.
Not to tell it over again, but bring out the
None of them any notion of sacred, spiritual aspect
To all, merely material advantages: headship of the
clan. All the
loftier aspects gone from Isaac, who thought he
could give it for
venison, from Esau, and from the scheming Rebekah
and the crafty
(_b_) The Bargain.
It is not clear whether the transaction was
seriously meant, or
whether it only shows Jacob's wish to possess the
Esau's indifference to it.
At any rate, the barter was not supposed to complete
as is shown by a subsequent piece of trickery.
Isaac's blessing was conceived to confer it; that
blessing, if once
given, could not be revoked, even if procured by
fraud and given in
The belief would fulfil itself, as far as the
It is significant of the purely 'secular' tone of
all the parties
concerned that only temporal blessings are included
(_c_) The Scripture judgment on all parties
Great mistakes are made by forgetting that the Bible
passionless narrator of its heroes' acts, and seldom
censure or praise--so people have thought that
Scripture gave its
vote for Jacob as against Esau.
The character of the two men.
Esau--frank, impulsive, generous, chivalrous,
Jacob--meditative, reflective, pastoral, timid,
Each has the defects of his qualities.
But the subsequent history of Jacob shows what
heaven thought of
This dirty transaction marred his life, sent him a
from Isaac's tent, and shook his soul long years
after with guilty
apprehensions when he had to meet Esau.
All subsequent career to beat his crafty selfishness
out of him and
to lift him to higher level.
II. Broad General Lessons.
1. The Choice.--Birthright _versus_ Pottage.
(_a_) The Present _versus_ The Future.
Suppose it true that to both brothers the birthright
secure merely material advantage, yet even so the
better part would
have been to sacrifice material present for material
future. Even on
plane of worldly things, to live for to-morrow
ennobles a man, and
he is the higher style of man who 'spurns delights
laborious days' for some issue to be realised in the
The very same principle extended leads to the
conviction that the
highest wisdom is his who lives for the furthest,
which is also the
most certain, Future.
(_b_) The Seen _versus_ The Unseen.
However material the advantages of the birthright
were supposed to
be, they _then_ appealed to imagination, not sense.
_There_ was the
pottage in the pan: 'I can see that and smell it.
This birthright, can
I eat _it_? Let me get the solid realities, and let
have the imaginary.'
So the unseen good things, such as intellectual
reputation, and the like, are better than the gross
that can be handled, or tasted, or seen.
And, on the very same principle, high above the
seeker after these--as
high as he is above the drunkard--is the Christian,
whose life is
shaped by the loftiest Unseen, even 'Him who is
2. The grim absurdity of the choice.
The story seems to have a certain undertone of
sarcasm, and a keen
perception of the immense stupidity of the man.
Pottage and a full belly to-day--that was all he got
for such a
'This their way is their folly.'
3. How well the bargain worked at first, and what
came of it at
No doubt Esau had his meal, and, no doubt, when a
man sells his soul
to the devil (the mediaeval form of the story), he
the price for which he bargained, more or less, and
a dash of vinegar in the porridge, which makes it
What comes of it at last. Put side by side the
pictures of Esau's
animal contentment at the moment when he had eaten
up his mess, and
of his despair when he wailed, 'Hast thou not one
He finds out his mistake. A sense of the
preciousness of the
despised thing wakes in him.
And it is too late. There _are_ irrevocable
every false choice. Youth is gone: cannot alter
gone: cannot alter that. Strength gone: cannot alter
formed, associations, reputation, position,
character, are all
But there is a blessed _contrast_ between Esau's
what may be ours. The desire to have the birthright
is sure to bring
it to us. No matter how late the desire is of
springing, nor how
long and insultingly we have suppressed it, we never
go to our
Father in vain with the cry, 'Bless me, even me
'What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole
world and lose his
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