Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was famished. Esau said to Jacob, ‘Let me eat some of that red stuff, for I am famished!’ (Therefore he was called Edom.) Jacob said, ‘First sell me your birthright.’ Esau said, ‘I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?’ Jacob said, ‘Swear to me first.’ So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.
Neither Esau nor Jacob come out well from this story - and both behave in ways that they repeat later on in Genesis. Esau, the impulsive, impatient one, throws away his birthright for the sake of a bowl of lentils, while Jacob, the deceitful one, sets a trap for his brother that he knows he is likely to fall into, in order to get the birthright that isn’t by rights his. The writer of Genesis seems to have more sympathy with Jacob, than with Esau, who is said to have ‘despised’ his birthright, but turns the tables on Jacob later on when he himself is tricked by Laban.
I suspect that the idea of a birthright - the privilege of the first born - will feel alien to many of us, and the fact that Esau and Jacob are twins makes such an inequality starker. These men are so different in character and habits, but tradition would make Esau the more important one, whether or not his talents and preferences made him better suited to continuing the family firm than his brother - and the writer of Genesis is pretty clear that whether or not Jacob got his position legitimately, he was better suited to the task of carrying on the family name.
In this first of a series of bad choices Esau begins to carve out a path through life that bucks expectations - and doesn’t always go well. If I was Esau’s boss I’d be working with him on giving himself enough time to make considered decisions, rather than going with his gut on partial information! But there is also something powerful about the way that he doesn’t just follow a path laid out for him by others, that may resonate for the way we have to discern our callings. We should avoid selling our souls for lentils, however!
Lord, We give thanks for the freedom to make our own choices in life. We remember the mentors and advisors, the family and friends, the ministers and elders who have helped us discern our choices at key moments in our lives. We pray that we may support others, helping them listen for your call and see how they should use their gifts and talents. And when we make bad choices, help us remember that you are still with us, and that that there is always hope for the future.