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.
– Hebrews 12:16
On a recent trip to Haiti I was overwhelmed with the poverty that surrounded me. I caught myself looking for the source of the problem, and it was clear that there was a leadership void on the island nation. Without leadership, people ended up doing whatever they wanted in the moment. The Haitians pursued immediate gratification, which led to a domino effect of problems. They cut down trees to make charcoal that they sold for pennies. This left the beautiful hills completely barren and dusty. Rain then eroded the uncovered soil, leaving it unsuitable for farming; and the muddy runoff flooded the ocean, killing the reefs and running off the fish. So, the people of Haiti were left hungry and without commerce, all because no one considered the consequences of their actions.
I was reminded of Haiti’s problems when the above verse, Hebrews 12:16, came up recently during our (un)RESTRICTED series on sex. The mention of Esau selling his inheritance rights refers to an event recorded in Genesis 25:19-34. It is the kind of story that sounds both crazy and completely believable, because it is exactly the type of unwise, hasty decision that people make every day—both here and in Haiti.
In the Genesis 25 story, Esau and Jacob are twin brothers. Esau is the oldest son—by about a minute—which in that culture meant he would receive the vast majority of their father Isaac’s property when Isaac passed away. Esau was also very much a “rough and tumble” guy, while Jacob was the sensitive type and pretty much a mama’s boy.
Anyway, Esau comes back from a hunting trip one day to find Jacob cooking some stew. He claims he is “starving to death,” and demands that Jacob give him some food. Jacob says he will give him the stew in exchange for Esau’s birthright—his first-born inheritance. Esau agrees to the trade, wanting to satisfy his immediate want and forsaking what it would really cost him.
I don’t doubt that Esau was extremely hungry, and it’s true that he did not have the option of running down to the local Taco Bell; he would have had to cook something up from scratch, which takes time. But, basically, he cared more about satisfying his immediate appetite than the much larger benefit he could get down the road by not selling his inheritance. His father’s kingdom in exchange for ramen noodles—that was the trade. The Bible says that he “despised his birthright,” which is very strong wording, but gets the point across: he valued an immediate meal more than all the good things his father had for him. To Esau the future payoff was not worth holding out for.
So, what does this story have to do with us today? A whole lot, actually.
Each of us constantly faces decisions between what feels good now (our appetite), and what will feel good later. Eat unhealthy now, or have a healthy body later. Give in to pre-marital sexual urges now, or go into marriage free from the consequences (guilt, relationship baggage, STDs, children, abortions, sexual dysfunction, etc.) later. Chase after short-term material possessions now, or store up eternal treasures in heaven for later.
In every case, the long-term “later” benefits far outweigh the short-term “now” pleasure. Yet, far too often, we make the same laughable choice that Esau did: ramen noodles in exchange for the Father’s blessings.
The problem is that the here and now feels so much more immediate and concrete than some vague future—until the future becomes the here and now, and all we can do is regret. Right now, it feels like we are “starving to death.” Of course, we are not; no one has ever died from not having sex, or not owning an iPad, or from not eating junk. Urges eventually pass, whether they are satisfied or not.
That vague future inheritance, on the other hand, is so much greater than we can imagine. The Bible says (in Romans 8) that when we believe, when we follow Him, we become children of God—and it emphasizes that as children, we are also heirs. Not heirs to whatever our earthly parents might leave us in their wills, but heirs to the one true King of the universe. We are heirs to the throne, and heirs to the One who owns all riches, all good pleasures, and all of time.
And you want to trade that for a cup of ramen noodles?