Life-Study of Genesis, by Witness Lee

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In 25:22-26, 29-34 we see the shifting of the birthright from Esau to Jacob. Although Esau was the firstborn (v. 25), Jacob was predestinated to have the birthright (v. 23). The shifting of the birthright from Esau to Jacob reveals that receiving the birthright is a matter of predestination. It does not depend on our natural birth. Although you may be an Esau by birth, this does not mean that you are predestinated to have the birthright. This is absolutely a matter of God’s sovereignty; it does not depend on us. As we consider the five cases of the shifting of the birthright, we must worship God for His sovereignty and say, "O Lord, we thank You for Your sovereignty. Everything depends on Your sovereign predestination."

Jacob, the one predestinated to have the birthright, was very covetous and did everything possible to get the birthright himself. When Jacob and Esau were still in their mother’s womb, they were fighting over the birthright. I believe that this fight was initiated by Jacob. But, according to God’s arrangement, Esau was stronger. If you read the Bible carefully, you will see that Esau, as a hunter, was strong and rather large in physical stature. Jacob, on the contrary, as one who stayed home with his mother, must have been rather small. I do not believe that a husky young man would always stay home with his mother. Because Jacob was smaller and weaker than Esau, he could not obtain the birthright by fighting for it with his physical strength. Although Jacob fought for the birthright in the womb, Esau defeated him, was born first, and gained the birthright. Jacob’s struggle had been in vain.

Jacob, however, refused to give up the fight. I believe he stayed with his mother mainly for the purpose of conspiring with her to gain the birthright. Perhaps Jacob’s mother eventually agreed to help him gain the birthright. In order to supplant his brother and gain the birthright, Jacob did two things. The first was to maneuver Esau into a situation where he was willing to sell the birthright to him (vv. 29-34). Jacob was exceedingly subtle and clever. He was very skillful. Through his cleverness he gained his mother’s cooperation, and Rebekah, who was more clever than Isaac, stood with Jacob. This clever Jacob tempted Esau to sell his birthright.

Jacob probably observed Esau’s activities over a period of time. He might have noticed that after hunting Esau was always hungry. Because hunting arouses one’s appetite, a hunter enjoys a good meal after a hunt. Anyone who engages in exhausting activity, such as hard work or play, afterwards desires some hearty and nourishing food. Jacob analyzed the entire situation—the environment, Esau’s psychology, and Esau’s appetite after hunting. Jacob might have said to himself, "Aha! I have a way to get the birthright. While Esau is hunting, I shall prepare soup for him." Genesis 25:29 says, "And Jacob sod pottage: and Esau came from the field, and he was faint." Esau was hungry, and the soup had been prepared. Esau said to Jacob, "Feed me, I pray thee, with that same red pottage; for I am faint" (v. 30). To this, Jacob replied, "Sell me this day thy birthright" (v. 31). When a person is hungry, he will eat anything and pay any price for it. Thus, Esau said, "Behold, I am at the point to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me?" (v. 32). Esau seemed to be saying, "The birthright is something for the future. What good does it do me now? But here is a bowl of soup in front of me. It is actual, present, and practical. Who knows when I shall have the birthright? I don’t know when it will come. For now, I need something real and practical." Hence, Esau agreed to Jacob’s proposal and sold his birthright. On the one hand, the birthright depends on God’s sovereign predestination. But on the other hand, whether or not we shall have the birthright depends on our attitude and our deeds. Esau’s attitude was poor, and his act was foolish. He was absolutely wrong to accept Jacob’s offer. Nevertheless, using today’s terms, he signed the contract and gave up his birthright.

Although Esau had sold the birthright, he did not have the standing to give the blessing of the birthright. This blessing was not in his hand; it was in the hand of Isaac, his father, the representative of God. Therefore, the second thing Jacob did to gain the birthright was to deceive his father into giving him the blessing of the birthright (27:18-29). Probably Jacob’s maneuvering of Esau was initiated by Rebekah who, in all likelihood, had been maneuvering the whole situation. Jacob was the learner, and his mother was the tutor. After Esau had been maneuvered into selling the birthright to Jacob, Rebekah waited for the opportune time to help Jacob receive the blessing of the birthright from Isaac. Although this had to take place before Isaac died, it could not be too early. If it had been too early, Isaac’s eyesight would still have been keen. Hence, Rebekah waited until Isaac’s eyes were dim. When she heard that Isaac was about to bless Esau, Rebekah said to Jacob, "Now therefore, my son, obey my voice according to that which I command thee" (27:8). Rebekah seemed to be saying, "Now is the time to deceive your father." Jacob obeyed his mother and deceived Isaac into blessing him blindly. As a result, Jacob obtained not only the birthright, but also the blessing of the birthright.

Jacob’s maneuvering, however, was unnecessary. If he had done no maneuvering or deceiving, God would have had a way to give him the birthright. Apparently, Jacob’s maneuvering and deceiving helped him to acquire the birthright. Actually, it caused him to suffer. From the time Jacob deceived his father, he never saw his mother again. Although Rebekah loved Jacob, due to her cleverness she lost him and never saw him again. Jacob had to flee to Laban’s home and suffer there under his hand for twenty years. Do not learn of Rebekah. If you do, you will suffer.

Through the case of the shifting of the birthright from Esau to Jacob, we see that the birthright depends on God’s sovereignty. We also see that we should never maneuver or deceive in order to gain the birthright. In other words, there is no need for us to struggle for the birthright. Moreover, we should not be so loose as to sell our birthright. Although we may not be able to gain the birthright by our own effort, we can sell it if we have it. It was not because of his doing that Jacob gained the birthright, but Esau lost it because of his wrongdoing.

(Life-Study of Genesis, Chapter 96, by Witness Lee)