The Bible doesn‘t recount much about Esau’s life. As a comparison, his twin brother Jacob is a major character in the book of Genesis with 11 chapters devoted to his life, while there are just 57 verses in the entire book of Genesis where Esau is mentioned. Jacob’s name, you remember, was changed by God to “Israel.” It is interesting to note that in the limited information about Esau in scripture, the second major event, like the first one, revolves around food. You can find the story in Genesis 27: 1-40.
This story describes the traditional Hebrew blessing given by the father to the oldest son. Although Esau and Jacob were twins, Esau was born first, and so was the elder brother. So here we learn of Isaac’s desire to pronounce the blessing on Esau. By right of being first in the birth order, the oldest son was entitled to the birthright, or inheritance of 100% of his father’s estate, and also the blessing, or an encouraging declaration by the father of his hopes and dreams for his son. The blessing of the firstborn was not so much arbitrary or whimsical as it was prophetic.
Esau’s father, Isaac, told Esau that he was ready to give him the blessing. “But first,” he said, “I’m in the mood for some wild game, so why don’t you go out and kill some and cook it up and bring me a plate of it.” So off Esau went to do his father’s bidding. Meanwhile, Rebekah, Isaac’s wife, overheard the conversation and decided to use trickery so that Jacob, her other son—and her favorite--would get the blessing instead. So she cooked a pot of stew using goats from the herd, dressed Jacob in Esau’s clothes, and sent him in to impersonate Esau and thus get the blessing for himself. Isaac, who was blind, fell for the ruse and gave his blessing to Jacob before Esau came back with his plate of cooked game.
This is the blessing Isaac gave:
Gen. 27: 27 “See, the smell of my son
Is like the smell of a field which the LORD has blessed;
28 Now may God give you of the dew of heaven,
And of the fatness of the earth,
And an abundance of grain and new wine;
29 May peoples serve you,
And nations bow down to you;
Be master of your brothers,
And may your mother’s sons bow down to you.
Cursed be those who curse you,
And blessed be those who bless you.”
There are many dynamics to this story, a major one being God’s own choice of Jacob, rather than Esau, as the one through whom He would carry His covenant.
Genesis 25:23 The LORD said to her, “Two nations are in your womb; and two peoples will be separated from your body; and one people shall be stronger than the other; and the older shall serve the younger.”
So there is an implication that Isaac actually knew about this and was tacitly willing to bless Jacob instead of Esau. However, I am studying scripture for food references and the lessons contained therein, so I will stick to that topic.
Why did Isaac tell Esau that he was willing to give him his blessing as long as Esau first brought his favorite wild game stew? Imagine it! Linking the patriarchal blessing to having food brought to him! I wonder why Isaac didn’t first spend the couple of minutes it would take to pronounce the blessing and then send him off for the food. I believe Isaac’s own physical appetite created the scenario that caused Esau to lose his rightful blessing. When I was reading this scripture portion I first thought that perhaps it was part of the blessing ceremony to include a meal. That might be an explanation for Isaac’s capricious demand for food. But I could find no reference for this, and no other explanation except for the fact of Isaac’s hankering for wild game.
This is a reminder for me that food and hunger can cause us to make bad decisions that lead to further effects of sin. Isaac’s hunger, or his craving for the plate of wild game, caused him to place getting the food he wanted ahead of giving the blessing to Esau. Sometimes it’s the same for me: my own hunger, or simply a craving for a particular food, can cause me to put getting that food ahead of self-discipline, achieving a personal goal, or the healthy lifestyle that I want to live.
There are several things I learn from this story of Isaac and the blessing given to Jacob instead of Esau:
1. Don’t allow myself to get too hungry; that is, hungry to the point of the risk of making poor decisions. That means that I need to plan ahead and carry a healthy snack with me if I am going to be out for several hours.
2. Learn the difference between true physical hunger and a simple craving. If I am merely craving some type of food, learn techniques for overcoming the craving.
3. Practice H.A.L.T. That is, don’t get too Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. Being too hungry, angry, lonely or tired are conditions that leave me susceptible to the temptations that lead me to make poor decisions, most often poor decisions about food.
4. Of the above HALT, recognize that I personally am probably more vulnerable to making bad food choices when lonely. Plan ahead and schedule personal activities during the times when I am most likely to be bored or lonely.
One final thought comes from I Peter 5:8-9.
Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith . . .
I happen to believe that there is a real “devil.” The Bible teaches that Satan was an angel who rebelled against God and is now working to wrest control from the Lord. He is the author of the evil in the world and he tries hard to tempt God’s children from living holy and disciplined lives. So, as I seek to be holy in all aspects of my life, including how I handle food, both when hungry and when not, I need to be aware that Satan is always lurking, hoping to dissuade me from following my plan. The moments of hunger or boredom are when I am vulnerable and so they are also the times when I need to be “on the alert.” I Peter 5:9 also reminds me that I CAN resist; I am not powerless. It IS possible to overcome temptation with the Lord’s help. On my own it will be almost impossible, but with God I can act with power and resist making bad choices.