24 When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. 25 The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau. 26 After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when Rebekah gave birth to them.
27 The boys grew up, and Esau became a skilful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was content to stay at home among the tents. 28 Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob.
29 Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. 30 He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” (That is why he was also called Edom.)
31 Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.”
32 “Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?”
33 But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob.
34 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.
In Old Testament times, stews were the most common cooked meal and people would dip bread into them. The distinction between a soup and a stew is a fine one but, when it comes to Jacob’s dish, the King James Bible uses the term ‘mess of pottage’—and ‘pottage’ still means something of little value carelessly exchanged for something of great value.
Esau’s protestation that his birthright was worthless when he was starving is not very convincing. On the other hand, it is hard for us, who can so easily buy any number of ready made soups or other meals at the supermarket, to appreciate what it is to starve or what Esau’s birthright was really worth.
Esau comes home empty-handed and hungry, and then the cycle of deceit begins. Jacob cons Esau out of his birthright and then adds insult to injury by pretending to be Esau in order to gain Isaac’s blessing (27:15-38). Like a meal eaten, the deed is done: Jacob has secured for himself a double share of the inheritance and the rightful headship of the family, which had been Esau’s birthright. When Isaac realises has been deceived, he can do nothing: an oral blessing was legally binding, just as a verbal undertaking can be today.
When Jacob goes to work for his uncle Laban, also an expert in manipulating others, Laban makes Jacob work for seven years for the hand of Rachel. Laban, however, dresses Leah as Rachel, thus turns the tables on the trick that Jacob and Rebekah played on Isaac and Esau. Laban then makes Jacob work for another seven years to g Rachel, the one whom he loved all along (29:1-28).
Jacob began his career by using food to manipulate his brother and father. As we shall see tomorrow, he went on to attempt further manipulation in order to increase his wealth and feed what was become a very large family.
Lord, hear those who cry to you in hunger. Feed them and protect them from all who would exploit their need, for the sake of Jesus Christ the bread of life. Amen