Esau traded his birthright for lentil stew; read the story in Genesis 25:19-34.
The great patriarch Abraham was 100 years old when his son Isaac was born (2066 B.C.). At about 40 years of age (2026 B.C.), Isaac married Rebecca. Initially, Rebecca was barren; however, after 20 years (2006 B.C.), she gave birth to twin boys. Esau was the firstborn and Jacob was born second. In ancient near east cultures, the law of primogeniture prevailed (Deuteronomy 21:17 notes, NIV Study Bible, 2002). This law allocated a double portion of the father’s wealth to the first born son. It included that the eldest son would be the next head of the family or clan. As the first born son, Esau would have been the ancestor of the Messiah.
As Esau and Jacob grew up, Esau enjoyed spending time in the open country; he became a skilled hunter. In contrast, Jacob was a quiet man, often staying among the tents. Jacob envied Esau’s right of the first born. One day, Esau returned to camp after a time away in the open fields probably hunting. Esau saw Jacob cooking red lentil stew. Identifying that he was famished, Esau asked his brother for some stew. Jacob’s responded was that he would give Esau the stew only if Esau swore an oath to sell Jacob his birthright. Esau answered, “I am about to die, what good is my birthright?” and swore to sell his birthright to Jacob in exchange for lentil stew. Jacob gave Esau stew and bread. When Esau finished eating and drinking, he got up and left. The Bible concludes this story by saying, “so Esau despised his birthright” (Genesis 25: 34).
The Lentil Plant
The red lentil is a type of small bean known scientifically as Ervum lens (aka Lens esculenta) and more recently the Lens culinaris. The lentil originated in the Middle East and central Asia. Wild red lentils were harvested by 9000 B.C. and domesticated as early as 7,000 B.C. Archeology excavations found a large storage of lentils in northern Israel dating about 6,800 B.C. Lentil plants grow well in sandy, loam, and clay soils that are dry or moist, but not wet. In rich soils the lentil plant becomes leafy and produces few pods. Lentil pods were harvested in August or September just as the pods began to turn brown. In ancient time lentil plants were harvested when the foliage was green, and then were laid out in a dry area. To maintain the lentil seed’s flavor, ancient peoples kept lentil seeds in the pod until they were ready to use them. In this way, lentil seeds could be retained two years before cooking or planting. Because lentil seeds have a high nutritional value, often nomadic peoples and traders carried them as a food source.
In this scene, the lentil represents nourishment. Nourish means to sustain or to furnish with something essential for growth, e.g., nutrients. When he returned to camp, Esau suffered severely from hunger (famished). Whether we realize it or not, men and women today are famished for someone to believe in and someone to trust. Jacob provided the nourishing stew that his brother needed for a price, however, Christ’s behavior to his human brothers and sisters is diametrically opposite. Christ invites us to come to him and live with him. Freely he nourishes us with himself and his words, e.g. “the one who feeds on me will live because of me” (John 6:57). We do not have to barter for salvation or for life with Christ.
At the same time that Christ nourishes us, he tells us to feed and nourish others. For example, Christ directed Peter, and through Peter all of us, to feed and nourish his lambs and sheep (John 20: 15 – 17). We are to nourish not only fellow Christians, but our enemies as well. Romans 12:20 is very explicit, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him. We should act intentionally to nourish others both physically and spiritually. We can provide physical nourishment by giving to and assisting at the local food bank, and rescue mission, or inviting others for a meal. Spiritually, we can nourish others by acknowledging their presence with a smile or hello when we walk by them; sending an email or card when we know someone is hurting; or dialing seven digits on the telephone and telling someone you miss them or care about them.
Thought: “The lips of the righteous nourish many” (Proverbs 10: 21). Are you nourishing others with your words or are people around you starving from want of a kind word? Do you nourish only when you get something in return, or do you willing feed your brothers and sisters?
Copyright: March 9, 2016; Carolyn A. Roth