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Trading My Birthright For A Pot Of Stew (The Folly of Esau)

Esau eating the stew with which he sold his birthright..
We as people trade valuable things for worthless things—in the interest of instant gratification—all the time.

A birthright in ancient times was not a trivial thing. In the case of the Hebrews, it entailed privileges and responsibilities, which included leadership of the family and a material inheritance. Most things in life you have to work for; a birthright was not one of them. This backdrop makes Biblical Esau’s infamous forfeiture of his birthright for a bowl of lentil stew all the more alarming.

Esau And Jacob

Once when Jacob was cooking stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was exhausted. 30 And Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stew, for I am exhausted!” (Therefore his name was called Edom. 31 Jacob said, “Sell me your birthright now.” 32 Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” 33 Jacob said, “Swear to me now.” So he swore to him and sold his birthright to Jacob. 34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.

Genesis 25:29-34

It’s easy to read a story like this and think “Man, what an idiot.” I took that exact line when I wrote the title of this article. However, when we read Biblical stories, and history, more generally, we are supposed to read them as both the hero and the villain; the victim and the perpetrator; the good guy and the bad guy; the smart guy and the idiot. The truth is we are all capable of great malevolence and stupidity, just as we are capable of great benevolence and intelligence. What we end up manifesting depends on the environments we create and the choices me make within those environments.

The Consequences Of Sin And Evil

Have you ever traded something valuable for something worthless? I know I have. Every time in my life I looked at pornography, that is exactly what I was doing. I was trading my relationship with God; trading my relationship with people; trading my mental health and happiness; trading the chance at a loving monogamous relationship with a woman–all for instant gratification that left me feeling empty inside. And I always regretted it afterwards.

There’s a saying, “It’s easy to criticize when you’re comfortable.” Esau was hungry, and uncomfortable, when he made one of the worst deals of all time. He felt like he was going to die! Oftentimes, it is when we are hungry, “thirsty”, or otherwise uncomfortable, that we make the dumbest life decisions.

Integrity And Emotional Pain

The truth is that our discomfort is rarely ever an indication that we are going to die; it wasn’t in the case of Esau, even though it involved a need as fundamental as eating. Nor was his birthright the only leverage that he had to get his brother to give him some food (He could have taken it by force or made something himself!).

This observation reminds me of a quote by JK Emezi on the theme of managing sexual urges.

One of the very basic beliefs as a human being is that you don’t have to act on your sexual urges. You’re not going to die. You’re not going to lose your mind. Nothing bad is going to happen to you. Your body is going to react. Your mind is going to react, but after a while, it realizes that “Oh, it’s not the end of the world. I’m going to be OK. And this is going to pass.”

Many of us, at the first sign of discomfort, run for the nearest escape. We turn to entertainment, sugary food, video games–and more egregious vices, like drugs, porn, and sex. Anything to get our mind off the pain! This habit of medicating our every discomfort with something external to ourselves can lead to any number of impulsive disorders.

The truth is the pain we experience is more often than not lethal. Emotions come in cycles, like waves. The moment a wave hits, we are overwhelmed by it, whether it’s fear, anger, sadness, or lust; for a time, it is all we can see and experience. However, wisdom tells us that the current wave, like every wave before it and after it, will pass if we have the courage to wait it out.

It’s like a riptide. They say when you get caught in a riptide, the worst thing you can do is panic and start swimming against the flow. It is better to let it carry you where it wants and then finesse your way out at an angle.

Today, let’s increase our capacity to endure discomfort. We can’t always solve our problems right away, but we can choose to stop the bleeding so that healing and growth can take place.

For more on the same theme, check out Broken Cisterns That Can Hold No Water. You can also visit the complete archive of articles on integrity.

An intellectually curious millennial passionate about seeing people make healthy, informed choices about the moral direction of their lives. When I’m not reading or writing, I enjoy hiking, web-making, learning foreign languages, and watching live sports. Alumnus of Georgetown University (B.S.) and The Ohio State University (M.A.).

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