“I would never do that!” How many of us have thought these words, or even said them out loud, after reading or hearing a Bible story about someone who made an unwise choice? Kill a sibling out of jealousy? Betray Jesus? Sleep with another man’s wife and then make sure he dies? Fall asleep when Jesus asks for prayer backup? No way—not me.
One of the most mind-boggling accounts in the Old Testament is that of Esau selling his birthright for a bowl of soup and some bread. In those days, the birthright was an enormous privilege granted only to firstborn sons. It’s easy to think that under no circumstance would we make such a foolish decision. Yet something drove Esau to this breaking point, and he gave up the most valuable thing in his possession.
Was he crazy, or are we all capable of such foolishness? You can probably remember times in your life when the going got so tough that it felt hopeless to keep trying. Perhaps a relationship became so splintered that you stopped trying to fix it, or a college course proved so difficult that quitting seemed to be the only solution. Maybe you threw in the towel after multiple failed attempts at dieting.
What about your relationship with God? Obeying Him and trying to live a holy life can feel like a steep uphill climb that’s draining and full of obstacles. Worst of all, you can’t see your final destination or even, at times, what’s just around the corner. It can be discouraging to keep plodding along with no immediate gratification or results.
READ Genesis 25:19-34; Hebrews 12:14-17
It’s hard to imagine what Esau was thinking when he returned home one day, probably from an exhausting hunting expedition, and saw his twin brother cooking stew. His hunger, heightened by the aroma of whatever was in the pot, clouded his judgment, and the rumbling in his stomach drowned out the voice of reason. Esau responded to Jacob’s bribe before thinking through the long-term implications of what he was doing. “Look, I am about to die,” he said. “What good is the birthright to me?” (Gen. 25:32 NIV).
Esau likely knew that he was Isaac’s favorite son. He might have made the deal with Jacob lightly, assuming his father would not enforce it. He certainly could not have anticipated being double-crossed later (see Gen. 27:1-40) and losing his father’s final blessing as well. Instead of holding out for a permanent, priceless inheritance, Esau placed higher value on temporary, physical satisfaction. In so doing, he swapped his birthright for what turned out to be the most expensive bowl of stew in the history of mankind.
The impulse to seek instant gratification is certainly nothing new, though it does seem to have become an epidemic in our modern society. Since the beginning of time, humans have been quick to give up eternal rewards for the sake of relief from momentary pain, need, or trouble. Perseverance doesn’t come naturally or easily, but blessing awaits those who persist (James 1:12, James 5:11).
REFLECT + EXPLORE
Like Esau, you may be tempted to take the easy road instead of persevering on the narrow one, to reach for instant gratification or relief instead of enduring your trials, to give up your soul in an attempt to gain the world. Reflect on these insights from supporting scriptures. If you have time, explore the passages and journal your responses.
• You may feel like giving up when your circumstances are tough, because there seems to be no hope of victory.
Read James 1:2-4 and Romans 5:3-4. Why does Scripture say to rejoice during difficult times? What is the end result of perseverance?
• Missionary Jim Elliot once said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
Read Matthew 16:26 and 1 Peter 2:11. What are the “bowls of soup” in your life that distract you from the eternal blessings promised by God?
• Esau told Jacob he was hungry to the point of death and then carelessly gave away his birthright. We don’t know just how famished Esau was, but his statement seems exaggerated.
Why is it dangerous to see your problems as more harmful than the “bowl of soup” you are tempted to buy into as a solution?
• It’s possible you desire to persevere, but guilt about the past or fear about the future weighs you down and leaves you feeling unable to move forward.
Read Hebrews 12:1-3. How can focusing on Jesus help you endure?
• In Hebrews 11, we read about men and women who persevered through trials much greater than an empty stomach.
Read Hebrews 11:1-40. Put yourself in the shoes of each person named in this chapter. How would you react in each situation? What enabled these godly people to remain faithful under such difficult circumstances?
Answer the following questions, journaling your thoughts if possible.
• What insights did you gain about your life while reflecting on Esau’s story?
• What circumstances are weighing you down and tempting you to give up or give in? How are they affecting your relationship with God?
• What practical changes can you make in your life today to develop discipline and perseverance? Ask the Lord to strengthen your faith and give you the courage to obey Him even when it seems impossible or frightening.