Bean Soup: Day 4
The boys grew up, and Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was a quiet man, staying among the tents. Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob. Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished…Jacob replied, “First, sell me your birthright.” “Look, I am about to die,” said Esau, “What good is the birthright to me?” But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore an oath, selling his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left. So Esau despised his birthright.
Genesis 27: 27-34
If you were looking for material for a daytime television drama, you could hardly do better than the story of Jacob and Esau, grandsons of Abraham, the father of faith. It has sibling rivalry, parental partiality and on-going intrigue, all set against a backdrop of wealth and power within the palace walls (if the walls were made of animal skins…).
The only problem would be that ending. What could you do to fix that WEIRD ending? Maybe a hand-to-hand combat or a swordfight in which the winner would claim the birthright—a double portion of the family wealth and along with it the right to lead and rule the family. Even an old West game of poker for the whole shootin’ match would make more sense than this trade: you give me a bowl of the bean soup you are cooking and I will give you my future right to wealth and rulership.
Here you have the Old Testament at its most magnificent, multi-dimensional and bizarre. What is going on here? Esau wasn’t really dying. His words were, as any reader would understand, a metaphor: Esau was really tired and really hungry (as in the “I could eat a horse” variety of hunger) but he wasn’t near death.
Esau was Mr. Instant Gratification. He was the heir of fabulous wealth and great responsibility; however, instead of staying home and learning the family business he would one day inherit, he spent his days exploring the back country, so that he could entertain his adoring dad with his exploits around the campfire. For Esau, thinking no farther than his immediate desire or most-pressing appetite, was nothing new.
Of course, Jacob also had his problems. His history was one of a schemer; his name means “supplanter,” one who seeks to overthrow. But he deeply valued everything that the birthright stood for. And God would work with that…