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any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth ;) it was said unto her, the elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, “ Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” It is thus that the Spirit, in the age of the gospel, makes use of this ancient prophecy to shew that it has always been God's will to bestow his spiritual blessings upon some out of others, so that at that present time also there was “a remnant according to the election of grace.
” And in whatever point of view we contemplate this election, whether to the call of nations into an outward and visible Church of Christ, or to the appointment of particular persons to special offices and duties, or to the choice of those who are ordained to eternal life, (for the term is occasionally applied in scripture to every one of these cases,) it must ever be humbly and piously resolved into the righteous determination, the wise purpose and sovereign pleasure of God, “Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight.”
II. I proceed now, in the second place, to the consideration of the particular incident recorded in the text, namely, the manner in which Esau despised his birthright.
The brothers were twins, of whom Esau was the first-born, yet so that Jacob's hand took hold of his heel. As the boys grew up they shewed different dispositions, and followed very different pursuits. “Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field; and Jacob was a plain man, dwelling in tents.” They separately obtained the divided affections of their parents; for “ Isaac loved Esau, because he did eat of his venison; but Rebekah loved Jacob.” The reason of the mother's preference is not assigned : perhaps it might be only on account of his more quiet and domestic habits, or perhaps because she had treasured up and pondered in her heart the declaration of heaven which had been made respecting them. On one occasion Esau returned from his hunting, wearied with toil and faint through hunger, and found that his brother had made ready some pottage, of which he was probably preparing to eat.
When Esau saw it he said, “Feed me, I pray thee, with that same red pottage, for I am faint.” The scripture adds,
« Therefore was his name called Edom,” that is, red, and this was transmitted through future ages to his descendants the Edomites. Jacob took advantage of his brother's necessities, and replied, “Sell me this day thy birthright.” Had Esau attached that importance to the birthright which he ought, he would have rejected the proposal with horror, and sharply rebuked his brother for making it. But he says, “Behold I am at the point to die, and what profit shall this birthright do to me ?" It was impossible that he could be in danger of perishing for absolute want of food where he then was, and therefore either the expression denotes the impatience of his mind which made him aggravate the case, or he might mean that the blessings attached to the birthright were at a great distance of time, that he should never live to enjoy them, and therefore they were of no consequence to him. In either sense it exhibited great contempt of the privileges attached to it.
To make the contract more secure, Jacob required his oath, which he scrupled not to give. And “then,” as the text says, “Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentiles ; and he did eat and drink and rose up and went his way; thus Esau despised his birthright.”
In general there were many important advantages attached to the birthright. The first born son was considered the head of the family after the father's death. He had authority over his brethren, and a double portion of the father's goods. But it does not appear that this was the law in Isaac's family, and it is very clear that the peculiar advantages of the birthright in his case consisted of the inheritance of those spiritual blessings which God had promised to Abraham, namely, the blessings of the presence and favour of God, of a numerous posterity with whom his covenant should be made, and of being the progenitor of that particular seed, even the Messiah, in whom all the families of the earth should be blessed. These were the blessings which had been given to Abraham, which were to descend from him, which might naturally be expected to descend in the line of the lawful first-born son, and which Esau therefore ought to have highly valued, and to have parted with life itself rather than have done any thing to deprive himself of them. It is evident, I say, that they were spiritual and not temporal advantages which were attached to the birthright in the family of Isaac; and in fact Jacob obtained no advantages of a worldly nature by his purchase of it. That such was their nature is declared by the Apostle, who, for Esau's contempt of them, calls him a “profane person.”
These blessings Esau despised. He could not but be well acquainted with their nature and value, for they must often have been the subject of Isaac's conversation with his family, and yet he parted with his interest in them for a mess of pottage ; " for one morsel of meat he sold his birthright.” It would have been a strong proof of his indifference to religious privileges had he sold them for all the riches that Jacob could have given him in return; but it exhibited the greatest profaneness and contempt of them when he