Genesis 25:31
And Jacob said, Sell me this day your birthright.
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25:29-34 We have here the bargain made between Jacob and Esau about the right, which was Esau's by birth, but Jacob's by promise. It was for a spiritual privilege; and we see Jacob's desire of the birth-right, but he sought to obtain it by crooked courses, not like his character as a plain man. He was right, that he coveted earnestly the best gifts; he was wrong, that he took advantage of his brother's need. The inheritance of their father's worldly goods did not descend to Jacob, and was not meant in this proposal. But it includeth the future possession of the land of Canaan by his children's children, and the covenant made with Abraham as to Christ the promised Seed. Believing Jacob valued these above all things; unbelieving Esau despised them. Yet although we must be of Jacob's judgment in seeking the birth-right, we ought carefully to avoid all guile, in seeking to obtain even the greatest advantages. Jacob's pottage pleased Esau's eye. Give me some of that red; for this he was called Edom, or Red. Gratifying the sensual appetite ruins thousands of precious souls. When men's hearts walk after their own eyes, Job 31:7, and when they serve their own bellies, they are sure to be punished. If we use ourselves to deny ourselves, we break the force of most temptations. It cannot be supposed that Esau was dying of hunger in Isaac's house. The words signify, I am going towards death; he seems to mean, I shall never live to inherit Canaan, or any of those future supposed blessings; and what signifies it who has them when I am dead and gone. This would be the language of profaneness, with which the apostle brands him, Heb 12:16; and this contempt of the birth-right is blamed, ver. 34. It is the greatest folly to part with our interest in God, and Christ, and heaven, for the riches, honours, and pleasures of this world; it is as bad a bargain as his who sold a birth-right for a dish of pottage. Esau ate and drank, pleased his palate, satisfied his appetite, and then carelessly rose up and went his way, without any serious thought, or any regret, about the bad bargain he had made. Thus Esau despised his birth-right. By his neglect and contempt afterwards, and by justifying himself in what he had done, he put the bargain past recall. People are ruined, not so much by doing what is amiss, as by doing it and not repenting of it.A characteristic incident in their early life is attended with very important consequences. "Jacob sod pottage." He has become a sage in the practical comforts of life. Esau leaves the field for the tent, exhausted with fatigue. The sight and smell of Jacob's savory dish of lentile soup are very tempting to a hungry man. "Let me feed now on that red, red broth." He does not know how to name it. The lentile is common in the country, and forms a cheap and palatable dish of a reddish brown color, with which bread seems to have been eaten. The two brothers were not congenial. They would therefore act each independently of the other, and provide each for himself. Esau was no doubt occasionally rude and hasty. Hence, a selfish habit would grow up and gather strength. He was probably accustomed to supply himself with such fare as suited his palate, and might have done so on this occasion without any delay. But the free flavor and high color of the mess, which Jacob was preparing for himself, takes his fancy, and nothing will do but the red red. Jacob obviously regarded this as a rude and selfish intrusion on his privacy and property, in keeping with similar encounters that may have taken place between the brothers.

It is here added, "therefore was his name called Edom," that is, "Red." The origin of surnames, or second names for the same person or place, is a matter of some moment in the fair interpretation of an ancient document. It is sometimes hastily assumed that the same name can only owe its application to one occasion; and hence a record of a second occasion on which it was applied is regarded as a discrepancy. But the error lies in the interpreter, not in the author. The propriety of a particular name may be marked by two or more totally different circumstances, and its application renewed on each of these occasions. Even an imaginary cause may be assigned for a name, and may serve to originate or renew its application. The two brothers now before us afford very striking illustrations of the general principle. It is pretty certain that Esau would receive the secondary name of Edom, which ultimately became primary in point of use, from the red complexion of skin, even from his birth. But the exclamation "that red red," uttered on the occasion of a very important crisis in his history, renewed the name, and perhaps tended to make it take the place of Esau in the history of his race. Jacob, too, the holder of the heel, received this name from a circumstance occurring at his birth. But the buying of the birthright and the gaining of the blessing, were two occasions in his subsequent life on which he merited the title of the supplanter or the holder by the heel Genesis 27:36. These instances prepare us to expect other examples of the same name being applied to the same object, for different reasons on different occasions.

"Sell me this day thy birthright." This brings to light a new cause of variance between the brothers. Jacob was no doubt aware of the prediction communicated to his mother, that the older should serve the younger. A quiet man like him would not otherwise have thought of reversing the order of nature and custom. In after times the right of primogeniture consisted in a double portion of the father's goods Deuteronomy 21:17, and a certain rank as the patriarch and priest of the house on the death of the father. But in the case of Isaac there was the far higher dignity of chief of the chosen family and heir of the promised blessing, with all the immediate and ultimate temporal and eternal benefits therein included. Knowing all this, Jacob is willing to purchase the birthright, as the most peaceful way of bringing about that supremacy which was destined for him. He is therefore cautious and prudent, even conciliating in his proposal.

He availed himself of a weak moment to accomplish by consent what was to come. Yet he lays no necessity on Esau, but leaves him to his own free choice. We must therefore beware of blaming him for endeavoring to win his brother's concurrence in a thing that was already settled in the purpose of God. His chief error lay in attempting to anticipate the arrangements of Providence. Esau is strangely ready to dispose of his birthright for a trivial present gratification. He might have obtained other means of recruiting nature equally suitable, but he will sacrifice anything for the desire of the moment. Any higher import of the right he was prepared to sell so cheap seems to have escaped his view, if it had ever occurred to his mind. Jacob, however, is deeply in earnest. He will bring this matter within the range of heavenly influence. He will have God solemnly invoked as a witness of the transfer. Even this does not startle Esau. There is not a word about the price. It is plain that Esau's thoughts were altogether on "the morsel of meat." He swears unto Jacob. He then ate and drank, and rose up and went his way, as the sacred writer graphically describes his reckless course. Most truly did he despise his birthright. His mind did not rise to higher or further things. Such was the boyhood of these wondrous twins.

31. Jacob said, Sell me … thy birthright—that is, the rights and privileges of the first-born, which were very important, the chief being that they were the family priests (Ex 4:22) and had a double portion of the inheritance (De 21:17). 1805

i.e. Speedily, without delay. So this Hebrew word is used 1 Samuel 2:16 9:13,27 2 Chronicles 18:4. The birthright then had divers singular privileges; as,

1. Dignity and authority over his brethren, Genesis 4:7 27:29,37 49:3.

2. A double portion, Deu 21:17 1 Chronicles 5:1.

3. A special blessing from his father, Genesis 27:4.

4. The priesthood and chief government of the affairs of the church in his father’s absence, or sickness, and after his death, Numbers 8:16,17, &c.

5. The first-born was a special type, both of Christ, who was to be a first-born; and of the church, which is called God’s first-born, as Exodus 4:22; and of the great privileges of the church, particularly of adoption and eternal life. See Hebrews 12:23. And therefore he is justly called profane, Hebrews 12:16, for slighting so sacred and glorious a privilege.


1. Could the birthright be lost?

Answ. Yes. See Genesis 4:7 1 Chronicles 5:1.


2. Did Jacob well in this matter?

Answ. No; because he tempted his brother to an act of profaneness and folly, and so was guilty of his sin. And though God had designed and promised this privilege to him, yet he should have waited till God had executed his promise in his own way, as David did till God gave him possession of Saul’s kingdom; and not have anticipated God, and snatched it by an irregular act of his own, as Jeroboam did the kingdom from Rehoboam. And Jacob said, sell me this day thy birthright. Which had many privileges annexed to it, as honour and authority in the family next to parents; a double portion of inheritance; some say the exercise of priesthood, but that is questioned; the parental blessing, and especially in this the promises of the Messiah, and of inheritance of the land of Canaan, and which was typical of the heavenly inheritance: all which Rebekah knew by the divine oracle were designed for Jacob, and which no doubt she had acquainted him with, and advised him to deal with his brother about parting with his birthright as he had opportunity; and very likely they had talked together about it before in a distant manner, and Esau had shown some indifference to his right, and made no great account of it; and now, an opportunity offering to get him in the mind to part with it, he takes it, and moves for a sale of it immediately, at once, without any more delay, and even before he had his pottage; thus taking the advantage of his brother's necessity: or, sell it me "as the day" (x), let the bargain be as clear as the day, as Jarchi interprets it; let it be made in plain and full terms, that there may be no dispute about it hereafter, or any revocation of it: but the former sense seems best, as appears from Genesis 25:33, where the same way of speaking is used.

(x) "juxta hunc diem", Fagius, Drusius.

And Jacob said, Sell me this day thy birthright.
31. this day] Rather, as R.V. marg., first of all. So also in Genesis 25:33. See 1 Samuel 2:16, “they will surely burn the fat presently,” where “presently” = Heb. “this day,” i.e. “first of all.” The same idiom explains 1 Kings 22:5, where “to-day” should be rendered “first of all.”

Jacob seizes his opportunity: Esau is too faint to question or oppose: the coveted privilege may be won at once by a bold bid.

thy birthright] i.e. the rights and privileges of the firstborn. What these were is not defined. In 27 the blessing of the firstborn is chiefly regarded as a religious privilege rather than as a transfer of property. But it is clear from Genesis 43:33, Genesis 48:13-19, that the firstborn was regarded as entitled to a more honourable position and to a larger share of the inheritance than his brethren (cf. Deuteronomy 21:17). Jacob’s action on this occasion is recorded without disapproval. There is probably a touch of humour in the tradition, that by a stroke of cleverness Jacob, the younger, deprived his elder brother Esau of the advantage of the birthright; and, hence, Israel obtained a richer and more fertile land than Edom. The carelessness of Esau rather than the meanness of Jacob seems to meet with the contempt of the narrator.Verse 31. - And Jacob said, Sell me this day - literally, as the day; as clearly as the day (Jarchi, Kimchi, Drusius); immediately, statim (Rosenmüller); perhaps simply today, σήμερον (LXX., Glassius, Gesenius, Kalisch; cf. 1 Samuel 9:13, 27; 1 Kings 1:49) - thy birthright. The right of primogeniture in the family of Abraham implied

(1) succession to the earthly inheritance of Canaan;

(2) possession of the covenant blessing transmitted through the paternal benediction; and

(3) progenitorship of the promised seed. Under the Mosaic institute the privileges of the firstborn were clearly defined. They involved succession to

(1) the official authority of the father;

(2) a double portion of the father s property; and

(3) the functions of the domestic priesthood (vide Genesis 27:4, 19, 27-29; Genesis 49:3; Exodus 22:29; Numbers 8:14-17; Deuteronomy 21:17). When she was delivered, there were twins; the first-born was reddish, i.e., of a reddish-brown colour (1 Samuel 16:12; 1 Samuel 17:42), and "all over like a hairy cloak," i.e., his whole body as if covered with a fur, with an unusual quantity of hair (hypertrichosis), which is sometimes the case with new-born infants, but was a sign in this instance of excessive sensual vigour and wildness. The second had laid hold of the heel of the first, i.e., he came into the world with his hand projected and holding the heel of the first-born, a sign of his future attitude towards his brother. From these accidental circumstances the children received their names. The elder they called Esau, the hairy one; the younger Jacob, heel-holder: יעקב from עקב (denom. of עקב heel, Hosea 12:3), to hold the heel, then to outwit (Genesis 27:36), just as in wrestling an attempt may be made to throw the opponent by grasping the heel.
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