Great Moments in Bible History
Valuing What Matters
Each of us has things in our lives that we really value. We all know people whose values are different from our own. Certainly, there are things they value, but not the same things we do. In this individualistic age it is common to find people who believe that it does not matter what you value. “Everyone is different. Isn’t that wonderful? In the end these differences do not really matter.”
But what we value determines our character, and character matters a great deal. According to the Bible, there are certain things that everyone should value highly and there are certain things that we should not value at all by comparison. When we get those things mixed up, we end up not behaving as God intended when He made us. Our character turns out wrong.
These differences show up clearly in the story of Jacob and Esau at the end of Genesis 25. In our last issue we learned that Isaac and Rebekah had twin boys. Before they were born, God announced that the older son (Esau) would serve the younger (Jacob). That was not the normal way of things back then. In today’s story we will see that long before either of them served the other, their characters could be seen in what they valued.
The story begins, “Once when Jacob was cooking stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was exhausted” (Genesis 25:29). Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stew, for I am exhausted!” Jacob replied, “Sell me your birthright now.”
We do not usually have birthrights today, but in those days the birthright belonged to the oldest son. When his father died, that son was the one who was expected to lead the family and carry on the family name. To help support him in that role, he was given a bigger share of the inheritance. In the case of a family with two sons, the one with the birthright would inherit two thirds of the estate while the younger son would get only one third.
All of this was what Jacob wanted Esau to give him in exchange for a single meal! We would expect Esau to reply with something like, “Forget it! It’s not worth it,” but instead he answered, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” ‘Jacob said, “Swear to me now.” So he swore to him and sold his birthright to Jacob’ (verse 33).
What a lopsided bargain! Esau got a meal while Jacob got all the benefits of the older son. Moses (the author of Genesis) does not often make editorial comments in his book, but in this case he made an exception. “Thus Esau despised his birthright” (verse 34).
In other words, what a poor set of values Esau had.
Getting what you value in the wrong way
Is That How to Treat Your Brother?
What do you think of a man who takes advantage of his starving brother? Was it right for Jacob to charge his brother an arm and a leg for a single meal? Does that sound to you like the way God wants a brother to behave?
Most people would agree that Jacob sinned in the way he took advantage of his brother’s hunger. At first glance, Moses appears to ignore that sin. The story is presented to show the poor values of Esau. He was a man who lived for the present and totally ignored the future. He simply did not value the things that were important.
Jacob, on the other hand, clearly valued what was important. Unfortunately, he coveted what belonged to his older brother and chose to take advantage of his brother’s weakness to get it. Both of the brothers were sinning. Why does Moses focus on Esau’s sin and ignore Jacob’s?
The two sins are very different and have different consequences. In Esau’s case he was blind to the things that mattered. He had no spiritual eyesight. Jacob, on the other hand, valued what mattered. What he lacked was not spiritual eyesight but the faith to allow God to give him those things instead of thinking it was all up to him. God can work with a man like Jacob. A man like Esau is useless in the things of God.
Nevertheless, God did not ignore Jacob’s sin. It would take many years, but God purged that sin out of Jacob. The purging was painful at times, but it left him a man who finally was willing to trust in God. Meanwhile, the fact that he valued what matters helped keep him on track as God led him through various experiences (some of them quite difficult) in order to train him to be a man of faith. Over the next several chapters Moses will tell the story of that training.
What a mess we make when we value the wrong things
From Bad to Worse
Esau continued to make bad decisions because of his spiritual blindness. “When Esau was forty years old, he took Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite to be his wife, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite, and they made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah,” (Genesis 26:34-35). You may recall back in Genesis 24 how Abraham was insistent that his son Isaac was not to marry one of the women of Canaan (where he was living). He sent his servant back to Haran where his relatives lived to get a suitable wife for him. Isaac’s son Esau in his spiritual blindness could see nothing wrong with marrying such sinful women. There is not much hope for someone who is blind like that.
In the New Testament the writer of Hebrews warns us that we should not be “sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal” (Hebrews 12:16). In other words, there are other ways to behave like Esau than simply selling your birthright. When a person practices sexual immorality they are displaying the same attitude. “I want to feel good right now! I don’t care if God says this behavior is wrong. I like it.” How does such behavior differ from that of an animal? It doesn’t.
May we value the things that truly matter. May we resist the temptation to value our appetites above those things. May we have true spiritual eyesight.
‘Why Can’t I Understand It?’
Have You Read It?
If a survey were conducted on the question, “Do you think it is possible for you to understand the Bible?” I have no doubt that a majority would answer, “No.” Some would explain, “If people who are much smarter than I cannot agree on what the Bible says, then how can I hope to understand it?” Others might even say, “I don’t believe God intended for us to understand it.”
Yet if those same people were asked the follow-up question, “How much of the Bible have you actually read?” they would answer, “Not very much,” or, “Oh, just a chapter here and there.” Very, very few of those who answered no to the first question would say they had actually read the entire Bible.
How incredible! Would we treat any other book in such a way? Would we take a novel like Gone with the Wind , read a chapter out of the middle, a page at the beginning and the last couple of pages and then announce, “This book is impossible to understand”?
It is my firm conviction based on my own experience that you can understand the Bible. But treat the book fairly. Start at the beginning and read it through to the end. If a person will read the Bible just fifteen minutes a day, they will easily read the entire Bible in less than a year. Is that too much of an effort to learn about God?
This paper is being published to encourage more people to read their Bible (as well as to obey, of course). We are hoping to show by example that the Bible can be understood. In each issue we take a single Bible story and show that it can be understood and that it has meaning for us today.