The Calamity of Esau

painting depicting Esau trading his birthright for food, painted by Matthias Stomer
The Lentil Stew, Matthias Stormer

In Jeremiah 41, God is affirming His sovereignty over all nations and proclaiming judgment upon various Gentile nations. During the prophecy against Edom, God, in verse 8, speaks of the “calamity of Esau.” Like Jacob was to Israel, Esau was the father of Edom, and God tells the nation they are falling into the same error as their father. So what is this calamity of Esau?

Back in Genesis 25:23, the Lord tells Rebecca that she had two nations struggled within her, and that the older would serve the younger. This prophecy begins to gain form in verses 27-34 when Esau sells his birthright to Jacob in exchange for food. Verse 27 says Esau despised his birthright.

Rejecting His Birthright

God sees this event as a calamity in Esau’s life. Esau despised his birthright. Not only was Esau rejecting all of the material blessings of the birthright, but he was also rejecting God’s promises to Abraham and Isaac.

Furthermore, Esau had the wrong priorities. Jacob and Esau were old enough to understand what the promises of that birthright meant. Esau was old enough to understand the import of those words, but he saw them as doing him no good in the face of immediate hunger.

Unfortunately, Esau repented too late. Hebrews 12:15-17 speaks about this, saying that Esau could never recapture what he had lost, having recognized the significance too late.

Avoiding Our Own Calamity

There are lessons for us in the life of Esau. We cannot be guilty of the same errors made by this man. Esau had, through his birthright, a spiritual heritage, and we also have a great spiritual heritage in Jesus Christ. We are part of a spiritual family that goes all the way back to the cross and God’s plan for our salvation. In Hebrews 11:39-40, as the author wraps up example after example of great faith, we are told that our promises in Christ complete their heritage.

III John 4 records John calling those with whom he has shared the gospel as spiritual children. They are our spiritual forefathers, and we fulfill those promises in which they had faith. When we reject that heritage, we affect not only ourselves but those who will come after us, those who will not know of God’s promises because we rejected them. We cannot and must not view God’s birthright as common or disposable.

We must also avoid Esau’s priorities. Colossians 3:1-2 and Matthew 6:19 call on us to set our minds on the things above because the things of this life do not last. How long did Esau’s bowl of stew last him? How long was it until he was hungry again? I Peter 1:5-9 calls us to work on our spiritual growth and to avoid being nearsighted, forgetting what is truly important. So much in this life can crowd out our spiritual heritage, but how much of it will benefit us eternally as God’s gifts will?

Finally, we cannot wait too long to accept God’s gifts. In Luke 16:19-31, Jesus speaks of a rich man who waited too long until nothing more could be done for him. Felix, in Acts 24:25, wanted to wait until a more convenient time, and King Agrippa, a couple chapters later, says he was “almost” persuaded to respond to the message of Christ. Matthew 25:41, after a parable of unprepared wedding guests, warns of the consequences of waiting until it is too late. We have a strong tendency to put things off, but we cannot procrastinate accepting our spiritual heritage.

Conclusion

In contrast to all of this, Luke 17 tells a parable of another child who wastes his birthright. We call him the prodigal son. In contrast to Esau, this young man came to recognize the worth of what he had lost. He realigned his priorities, and he returned to his father for forgiveness and restoration. Who will we be more like? Will we fall into the calamity of Esau, or will we avert disaster by humbly coming to God and accepting the heritage and birthright offered by His grace.