At critical times in his life, Esau made terrible decisions because he could not see beyond the moment. He lived for the immediate gratification of his desires without any regard for the consequences, for the future, or for eternity.
Esau’s life alerts us to the dangers of living solely for the temporal world, for things we can see versus those things that are eternal (2 Cor. 4:17-18).
(This post is an excerpt from my book with a few revisions, The Bad Guys of the Bible – And What They Teach Us About Walking with God, chapter 8, “Esau Lives for the Moment.”)
- The Danger of Seeking Immediate Satisfaction
I wonder what made Esau’s hunger so intense on the day he sold his birthright. It’s difficult to imagine that he was actually as close to death as he claimed. Why couldn’t he have waited for someone else to cook something for him? Was Jacob really that great of a cook?
Later, Esau prepared a meal of “delicious food” for his father on the day he expected to receive his father’s blessing (Genesis 27:31). So, Esau could cook! Was he really too exhausted to do anything else but beg Jacob for food in exchange for his birthright?
What did Esau do at other times when he returned from a day of hunting? Not only could he cook, but he was a member of a wealthy family. Although not specifically mentioned in Genesis, it’s probable that his family had servants who could have prepared a meal for him.
I don’t doubt Esau’s weariness or intense hunger. While not the most satisfying choice to him at the time, he could have refused Jacob’s deal and sought other alternatives. Why such a rash and foolish decision to satisfy his immediate hunger?
Desire by itself is not bad or sinful. Imagine never experiencing hunger or desiring tasty food. While that might be great for weight control, it could have fatal consequences. We need food to survive, and our hunger keeps us pursuing needed nourishment.
However, when we seek the immediate satisfaction of a desire, it most often results in foolish choices. Esau’s decision to sell his birthright was reckless; he put the need of the moment above all other considerations. Like Esau, it’s tempting to believe our desires must be satisfied right away. Such a frame of mind frequently leads to sin and unwelcome consequences.
Proverbs 16:26 says, “A worker’s appetite works for him; / his mouth urges him on.” The desire to eat makes us get up in the morning and go to work. Our hunger pushes us forward; it’s a good thing, part of God’s plan for us. This is true even when the Lord makes us wait (as He often does).
Is this not also true for the other things we desire in this life? I have discovered from experience that when God makes me wait, the answer He brings is much better than what I could have obtained by rushing ahead of Him. It’s the anticipation of the good that the Lord has for us in this life that motivates us to wait for it, or work for it in the way He desires.
Like Esau, we get in trouble when we run ahead of the Lord’s provision and demand immediate gratification for our desires. Sometimes the Lord makes us wait a very long while He fulfills other purposes in our lives, but in the end, we will find that He rewards our patience.
- The Danger of Ignoring Eternity
In 1984, Twila Paris wrote a song titled “Forever Eyes.” The words to this song describe the perspective Esau lacked. The lyrics contrast living for the moment versus eyes that see beyond the present into eternity. The song emphasizes our need to see beyond what’s currently right in front to things with eternal values.
Second Corinthians 4:17-18 says,
“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
Esau valued the fleeting realities of this life over eternal values. As a result, despite his later acquisition of great wealth and power, we regard him as a failure, one deemed “godless” by the writer of Hebrews.
Esau epitomizes those who live with a one-world perspective. He made decisions based solely on what he could see. The great promises God made to Esau’s grandfather Abraham represented something in the distant future with no real meaning to him. Like many today, he lived with no thought of eternity.
We do not know what Abraham might have taught his descendants regarding eternity or the future resurrection. Hebrews 11:13-19 tells us that the patriarch believed in both God’s ability to raise the dead and in a “city” beyond this life. Abraham possessed an eternal perspective; he saw far beyond the need of the moment. Hebrews 11:16 says that he desired “a better country, a heavenly one.” We can safely assume that he passed this vision of the future, of eternity, on to Isaac and possibly to Jacob and Esau as well, who would have been teenagers when Abraham died.
Throughout the New Testament, the apostles point believers to our “blessed hope” of the return of Jesus for His church (see Titus 2:11-13). At the end of the book of Revelation, we also have a wondrous promise of a glorious eternity where there will be no more suffering, death, or tears (Rev. 21:4).
As we face the challenges of life, we must never lose sight of the thrilling hope ahead for us that begins with Jesus’ appearing. That’s when He will take us to the place He is preparing for us (John 14:2-3). That is the substance of the “blessed hope” of the gospel!
- The Danger of Gathering Wealth Without Regard for The Lord
When Jacob and Esau later reconciled, I believe Esau’s gracious attitude toward his brother resulted from the riches and fame he had gained in the intervening years. During the twenty years the brothers were apart, Esau obtained all the material blessings, power, and fame he could ever desire. He approached Jacob with four hundred men, a sign of both considerable wealth and great worldly influence (Genesis 32:6).
Esau, as his wealth increased, forgot all about the stolen blessing. He had all he wanted from this life, and that was enough; what did he really miss by not receiving his father’s blessing? We see no sign of reverence for the Lord in Esau’s life or in that of his descendants.
Esau reminds me of the Lord’s parable about the rich fool in Luke 12:16-21. At the end of a bountiful harvest, the rich man vainly reflects on his wealth. Thinking his wealth came as the result of his own efforts, he boasts about his vast fortune and financial security.
The foolish farmer overlooked the Lord’s role in providing the harvest and failed to thank Him for it. He focused solely on his own efforts in securing his future. He did not consider eternity or the lost state of his soul.
Death came that very night for him. For Esau, the end did not come quickly, yet the end result was the same. He later died, and his great wealth and power vanished like a vapor. The question Jesus asked in Mark 8:36 seems pertinent in Esau’s case, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” I wonder if Jesus was thinking about Esau when He asked that question.
From a worldly perspective, Esau was anything but a failure. In addition to his success in acquiring livestock, riches, and great power, the ancient nation of Edom descended from him. What did he lose from an earthly perspective by failing to obtain his father’s blessing?
Jacob became the father of the nation of Israel, and Esau the forefather of the nation of Edom. One might look at this and think they both enjoyed earthly success.
God’s Word, however, views their respective lives and outcomes quite differently. The writer of Hebrews praises the faith of Jacob (Hebrews 11:21) but says Esau was “godless” (Hebrews 12:16). Jacob’s name appears in the hall of fame for faith, while Scripture emphasizes the futility of Esau’s life.
Which evaluation would you prefer at the close of your life?
The nation of Edom no longer exists. Like its founder, it flourished for a while but has since vanished from the pages of history.
The descendants of Jacob, however, remain and possess a glorious future. Israel now miraculously exists as a nation, and during the millennium, Jesus will rule the world seated upon the throne of His father David in the city of Jerusalem. The Lord will bless Jacob’s heritage forever.
Walking with God
What does Esau teach us about our walk with God? He demonstrates the danger of ignoring spiritual realities for the sake of temporary pleasures. Those who walk with the Lord recognize that the things of this life are fleeting, a fleeting vapor. They learn to value things with eternal value above the temporal realities of what we see on earth.
The apostle Peter says that we have been “born again to a living hope… to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3-5).
Peter later instructs us with these words, “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:13).
Our hope rests solely in Jesus and in His promises of eternal life. Romans 8:24 says that “we were saved” in the hope of Jesus’ appearing, for it’s at that time He will give us imperishable glorified bodies, and we will experience our adoption into God’s forever family.
Many passages in the New Testament draw our attention to this glorious hope, to the realization that this life is not all we have. Yet so many Christians live as though this life is all that they have. Because of their erroneous outlook, they miss the multitude of signs that tell us we live in the last days.
Walking with God enables us to look beyond the futility of this life to our certain possession of eternal life and glory in eternity. Such a perspective keeps us watching for Jesus’ appearing.
Each character study in Bad Guys of the Bible ends with a “Walking with God” section and a study guide with 8-10 questions to generate discussion on the main points of the passage.
Note: Please consider signing up for my newsletter on the home page of my website at https://www.jonathanbrentner.com/. It will help me in reaching more people. Thanks!