Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” (That is why he was also called Edom.)
Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.”
“Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?”
But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob.
Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left.
So Esau despised his birthright.
Genesis 25:29-34 (NIV)
Back in the day, the age of thirteen meant you could bus tables in the restaurant industry. My buddy Doug talked me into applying to be a busboy at Campiano’s Italian Restaurant in Des Moines. I learned a ton of great life lessons doing that job.
It happened to be payday one evening as Doug and I worked together. I’m not sure who’s idea it was, but we were suddenly floating the idea of having dinner together after our shift. There was something in this idea that felt revolutionary; The invisible bus boys at the bottom of the employee food chain would be the honored customers. One of the waitresses, (I still remember her name was Karen) heard us talking about it and offered to serve us and take really good care of us. So, we did it. We spent our entire two-week paycheck on one meal.
On the surface, the decision seems kind of foolish. If one is merely talking about fiscal responsibility then I agree that it was a foolish choice. Looking back, however, I have never, ever forgotten that meal on that night. That meal was an investment in intangibles that I now look back on with honor.
That meal, and Karen’s humble generosity, taught me that I was just as valuable as any of the rich customers I cleaned up after each night. The true difference, that I so often felt, was not about age or economic status, but in attitude and perception. That meal taught me that sometimes an experience has a value that can’t be calculated by the prices on the menu. It was formative in teaching me the joy of being with good people around a table where good food and drink are gratefully savored as well as the company and the conversation. Things I highly value today.
Today’s chapter begins and ends with contrasting stories. As part of the cultural solidifying of Isaac assuming the position as Abraham’s sole heir, Abraham sends away potential rivals, including children that he’d fathered with concubines. Culturally, Abraham had no responsibility to these sons. They were merely servants in the social pecking order. Abraham, however, gives them gifts as he sends them on their way. In the culture of that day, this was an act of extraordinary and unexpected generosity. It spoke to me of Abraham’s heart and the things he valued.
By the end of the chapter, we’ve quickly been introduced to Isaac’s twin sons, Esau and Jacob. Esau was born first, and so he is the heir apparent to succeed his father as sole heir and the paterfamilias. Esau arrives at camp after a long hunt and he’s really hungry. He’s so hungry he makes an exaggerated statement about starving to death. His younger twin brother, Jacob, offers to serve his twin brother some food in exchange for Esau’s birthright as the firstborn. It strikes me as Shakespearean, selling your birthright for a bowl of soup. It says something about what Esau valued, and didn’t value.
In the quiet this morning, I find myself mulling over my choice to spend an entire two-week paycheck on that steak dinner. In the grand scheme of things, it was of little financial consequence in comparison to the value I found in the experience and the character lessons it afforded me. Esau’s decision, on the other hand, was of great consequence. A life-changing (history-changing) decision was made in a momentary desire to appease a daily appetite.
I make value judgments every day. What do my decisions and choices reveal about what I value, and what I don’t?
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.