And Thus Esau Despised His Birthright

It was recently said by a man of God that the next revival needed is a revival of prayer. Today as never before God’s children are too rushed to take time to pray. A multitude of activities will keep them from this sacred calling, and yet it is manifestly true that every genuine revival was born in a prayer meeting. It is in prayer that Christians fail most. It is in this that the enemy of our souls fights the hardest. It is in this that God promises the most infinite reward. It is the pulse of the church, and to lose it is to lose the church’s very life.[1]

Behold, There Were Twins

Genesis 25:19-34 is sixteen verses. It is about Isaac, he is Abraham’s son. It is about Rebekah, she is Isaac’s wife. It is about Esau, he is the older, red and hairy firstborn of Isaac and Rebekah. It is about Jacob, he is the younger and much less hairy and quiet second born of Isaac and Rebekah. Esau and Jacob are twins. And it is about Esau. Each verse of this passage leads up to verse thirty-four. “Thus Esau despised his birthright.” The word despised, and we see this in the context, means to treat carelessly or to think worthless. Esau did not see it; he did not see the point or think it a big deal to be the big brother, the firstborn. And the big question is, why did he despise his birthright?

Genesis 25:19-34 is sixteen verses. Each verse of this passage leads up to verse thirty-four. And the key verse is Genesis 25:24. It is the key verse for two reasons. First, it answers the big question, why did Esau despise his birthright? But it is also the key verse for a second reason. “When her days to give birth were completed, behold, there were twins in her womb.” And the word to pay attention to is behold. It could be translated as look, but with an exclamation point. Look! The word itself is used intentionally. It is an abrupt remark and it adds to how the verse is read. You do not see it coming and it causes you to give much attention to what follows. There were twins in her womb.

The word behold is found often in both the Old and New Testament. And in both testaments, it gets used in almost identical ways. On Christmas evening, some shepherds were out in some field watching some sheep. And an angel appeared to them, stood among them and said, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all people.” Interestingly, like Genesis 25:24, the word behold here is in the context of a birth. But what is really important is, who is told to behold? Who is it for? In Luke 2:10, some shepherds are told to behold. Some shepherds are told to look! It is for shepherds.

We want to keep this in mind as we look back at Genesis 25:24, and the question there is, who is told to behold? Who is it for? This key verse, the second reason this is the key verse, is for us. We are told to behold. Genesis 25:24 is written for us. Some translations use the word indeed. “When her days to give birth were completed, indeed there were twins in her womb.” Indeed, there were twins. Behold, there were twins. And it is an abrupt remark. Why? Why this abrupt remark now?

This is the Account of Isaac

The passage begins with verse nineteen. “These are the generations of Isaac,” or “This is the account of Isaac.” And what follows are ten chapters which have very little to do with Isaac and more to do with his twin boys. And these sixteen verses treat Isaac in the same way. It is the account of Isaac, but almost has very little to do with Isaac and more to do with his twin boys. However, this is the account of Isaac because it all begins with Isaac.

He was forty years old as the passage begins. It is one of the first facts we are given about Isaac as his account unfolds. The first fact is that he was Abraham’s son, which might be the most important fact. He was Abraham’s son and he was forty years old. And the third fact is that Isaac prayed for his wife. And why did Isaac pray for his wife? It was because she was barren. Keep this before you: Isaac was Abraham’s son; Isaac was forty years old; Isaac prayed for his wife because she was barren. And God granted his prayer, but it is not until Genesis 25:26 that we learn when God granted Isaac’s prayer. It was when Isaac was sixty years old. When Isaac was sixty years old his wife gave birth to twin boys. This means that Isaac prayed and prayed and prayed for his wife for ten, fifteen, maybe even twenty years. The point is that Isaac persevered in prayer. The account of Isaac is that he persevered in prayer.

Why Did Isaac Persevere in Prayer?

Keep all of the facts before you: Isaac was Abraham’s son; Isaac was forty years old; Isaac prayed for his wife because she was barren; God granted Isaac’s prayer when Isaac was sixty years old. Isaac persevered in prayer, but why? He was convinced that God was faithful to the promise God made to Abraham. Remember, God’s promise to Abraham is about offspring, offspring through Isaac. But why would Isaac be convinced that God was faithful to his promise he made to Abraham? Certainly, Isaac’s father Abraham shared with him all he knew and had experienced with the one true God. Surely, Isaac knew Genesis 12 through Genesis 21. Isaac himself experienced Genesis 22 – the Lord will provide.

But there is Genesis 24. Genesis 24 is about seeking and finding a wife for Isaac. It was the task of Abraham’s oldest and most trusted servant. The servant had understandable reservations and questions about the task. But he heard God’s Word; set out for the task and prayed (Genesis 24:7; 10; 12). Listen to his prayer. “O Lord, God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today and show steadfast love to my master Abraham.” Steadfast love is a good word, a good Old Testament word to have in your vocabulary. It is the Hebrew word hesed (checed). It means loyalty or faithfulness, but in this context, it means covenant loyalty or covenant faithfulness. God had made a covenant to Abraham, a promise, about these offspring through Isaac (see Genesis 17:1-4; 7). And the servant’s prayer is that God show in this task his loyalty to his promise he made to Abraham. And something unexpected happens. God showed his loyalty. God showed his faithfulness. But what was unexpected was who God showed it to. God showed his faithfulness to his promise he made to Abraham and he showed it to this servant (cf. Genesis 24:27). What does this have to do with Isaac and Isaac persevering in prayer? Listen to Genesis 24:67. “And the servant told Isaac all the things he had done.” The servant told Isaac everything.

And God Did More Than Asked or Imagined

God granted Isaac’s prayer; Rebekah conceived, and God did more than Isaac asked or even imagined. Listen to Genesis 25:22. “The children…” This is important. The word children is plural. God granted Isaac’s prayer; Rebekah conceived, and she conceived children. But we know this before Isaac and before Rebekah know this. We know that God has done it and done more than asked or even imagined. And it is not until Genesis 25:23 that Rebekah gets a glimpse that God has done it; he has done more than Isaac asked or even imagined. Rebekah sought out God. And he answered her. She had questions about this pregnancy and she also had God’s promise. And God answered. God told her that there were two nations in her womb, two peoples in her womb. One would be stronger than the other. The older would serve the younger. Question, which is the stronger one? The one who will be served. Their names will be Esau and Jacob. Two nations will come from these two boys. Esau is the older. He and the nation to come from him will serve the younger. Jacob is the younger and the nation to come from him will be the stronger.

After the birth of these two boys and after these two boys had grown up, we are told that Isaac loved or favored Esau. It was because Esau loved the outdoors and he loved to hunt. He was really good at hunting. But Jacob was quiet, he was refined, a man of the house and his mom loved or favored him. Why did she favor Jacob over Esau? I think it is because of what she heard. He was to be the stronger one; he was to be served; and he would be the father of a stronger nation.

But in Genesis 25:19-24, it is really important to see that God did it. God did more than asked or imagined, but God did it. This is the point of verse twenty-four. It is the reason for this abrupt remark – behold! It is why it is for us. We first knew of the children in Rebekah’s womb before Rebekah knew of the children in Rebekah’s womb. And we heard then what Rebekah heard. The children are twins! And in verse twenty-four, Moses writes for us, “behold, indeed, there were twins.” It is meant to cause us to stop. This abrupt remark is meant to grab our attention and just stop.

I have spent more time on these sixteen verses than any other passage in Genesis. Why? I do not know…until Friday. I know that God’s Word is God speaking. He has used this passage, in particular verse twenty-four, to get me to slow down. I had the attitude of wanting to look and not merely move on but keep going and get further into Genesis. But Genesis 25:24 demands a pause. Behold.

It is an invitation. Not an invitation to pray. Not an invitation to seek God. We are commanded to do those things (Psalm 105:1; 4). It is not an invitation to know God’s promises or to know God’s will, which is to say to know, read, study, meditate upon God’s Word. We are commanded to do those things too (Joshua 1:8). This is an invitation to come and behold; to pause in awe and marvel. God did it. It was as God said and it was more than could have been imagined.

Esau Despised His Birthright

All sixteen verses lead up to “Thus Esau despised his birthright.” Why did he despise it? The birthright had privileges – to be the man of the house, to get the larger inheritance. Of course, in this account is how Jacob got the birthright. Esau sold it to Jacob for some soup. And so, we see a bit of Jacob’s character. He came out of the womb holding on to his brother’s heel. Initially, this was a good thing. To be at someone’s heels was to be at their rearguard, to be their protector. But Jacob is not seen as a protector but rather as one grabbing for something that is not his. But the focus is on Esau. Esau did no savoring. Not only did he despise his birthright, he did not even enjoy the soup that he purchased with his birthright. He gulped it (cf. 25:30, 34).

This birthright was wrapped up in the previous verses. It was wrapped up in God’s promises, his will, his word, what he had done, what he will do, but most importantly, when God has done it, we might say, “Look at that! God has most certainly done it!” But Esau knowing the previous verses did not savor it. He never savored all that God had done, especially when it came to his own birth. Instead, he ate and drank and got up and went his way. He never savored.

It is why Genesis 25:24 is so important to Genesis 25:34. It is why Moses with that abrupt remark causes us to stop and look. It is to savor. And it is for us. It is for us do some praying and praying and praying. Just like Isaac. And it concerns us, the life of this church, praying together here in this home and praying in our homes. Forgive me; I have kept the Wednesday prayer guide to Wednesdays, in that prayer room. I have kept it from you. You need it. We need it to grow. We need it to be praying; praying for Jonathans and Jaclyns and Jacobs and watching the prayer guide grow, watching the prayer requests, the heartfelt petitions grow and watching all of this together as we pray. But we must pray for these things according to God’s promises; according to God’s will and this is only found in God’s Word. And as we pray, we also pray anticipating some pauses. We will pause that we might see and say, “He has done it; God has done it!” And we pause like this so that we might do some savoring.

Isaac prayed and prayed and prayed. And God did more than Isaac asked or imagined. But imagine this, what if Isaac never prayed? What if Isaac never asked?


[1] The Nyack Correspondence School, A Course in Practical Methods of Christian Work, page 5. Written over 50 years ago.


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