Lately, we’ve seen a lot of discussion of the subject of birthrights regarding citizenship in the United States – no matter that the citizenship provided for in the 14th amendment is different from the citizenship provided for by the Founders – but it got me thinking about birthrights.
Biblically speaking, birthrights belonged to the firstborn son who would receive the inheritance of the father when the old man died. This inheritance wasn’t necessarily the immediate surroundings, but the wealth that was coming as well. It wasn’t something that was easily given up, and once done so, never reclaimed –
“All right,” Jacob replied, “but trade me your rights as the firstborn son.”
“Look, I’m dying of starvation!” said Esau. “What good is my birthright to me now?”
But Jacob said, “First you must swear that your birthright is mine.” So Esau swore an oath, thereby selling all his rights as the firstborn to his brother, Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and lentil stew. Esau ate the meal, then got up and left. He showed contempt for his rights as the firstborn. (Gen 25:31-34 NLT)
Esau’s life just went downhill from there –
Esau exclaimed, “No wonder his name is Jacob, for now he has cheated me twice. First he took my rights as the firstborn, and now he has stolen my blessing. Oh, haven’t you saved even one blessing for me?” (Gen 27:36 NLT)
No birthright, no blessing, no hope from his father. Why? Because for some food he had given it all away. His story was well rehearsed as an example of exactly what not to do with something that precious –
Make sure that no one is immoral or godless like Esau, who traded his birthright as the firstborn son for a single meal. You know that afterward, when he wanted his father’s blessing, he was rejected. It was too late for repentance, even though he begged with bitter tears. (Heb 12:16-17 NLT)
Esau didn’t just give up his father’s farm, acreage or temporal wealth… but he gave up the promise of Abraham which was Christ. This was Esau’s birthright, that through him Christ was come. Instead, Esau was hated and Jacob loved. Perhaps it was a character trait of Esau, that he devalued everything but the immediate things before his eyes. His birthright was worthless because his father was still young, alive, well. Besides, he was hungry. Esau surrendered his birthright without a fight and without any hope of redemption.