Once when Jacob was cooking stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was exhausted. And Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stew, for I am exhausted!” (Therefore his name was called Edom.) Jacob said, “Sell me your birthright now.” Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” Jacob said, “Swear to me now.” So he swore to him and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright. – Genesis 25:29-34, ESV
See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. Even though he sought the blessing with tears, he could not change what he had done. – Hebrews 12:16-17, NIV
In ancient times, the birthright was highly prized and valued. It was the greatest inheritance given to the eldest child (Esau was older than Jacob; ergo, the birthright was his–see Deuteronomy 25:17 on birthrights). And remember, Isaac had considerable wealth to bequeath upon his death. In other words, selling Esau’s rightful lion’s share of the inheritance (i.e. his birthright) for a meal was a very shortsighted and contemptuous act on Esau’s part. That is why I believe Scripture records this event as Esau having “despised his birthright” (Gen 25:34b, ESV).
This tale of warning strikes me as applicable to adultery.
The adulterous spouse has despised the gifts of matrimony for the sinful stew of adultery. He/she has taken a bite from this sinful stew in a shortsighted pursuit of pleasure. This pleasure is short-lived with long-lasting disastrous consequences. And like Esau, these consequences cannot be stopped regardless of the amount of tears.
God accepts and respects human choice:
Esau chose to despise and reject his birthright.
And adulterous spouses choose to reject and despise their marital covenant by committing adultery.
God, in turn, rejected Esau even though Esau sought to undo his deed.
This is part of the reason I see God allowing divorce in the case of adultery (see Mt 5:32 and Mt 19:9). God respects human agency enough to allow humans to choose sin over godliness. Sometimes that sin destroys the good gifts God has given humans like marriage. God is a realist who understands this. And He is compassionate to the faithful spouse who has experienced such sin against them allowing them to end a marriage ravaged by adultery.
Furthermore, I find it interesting that the author of Hebrews links this story to avoiding sexual immorality. To be clear, adultery certainly is sexual immorality. It is as if the author is reminding his readers of the long-lasting consequences of rejecting God’s best for short-term sexual pleasure. And the warning comes with the reminder that such a rejection comes with long-lasting consequences. No cheap grace preached here.
These are sobering stories. They remind us that our actions have consequences. And they warn us not to give into the short-term pleasures over faithfulness that comes with the long-term blessings from God.
May we all be true sons and daughters of Jacob holding on to God’s best!