Esau’s Spiritual Struggles

In Jeremiah 49:8, Jehovah promises to bring the “calamity of Esau” upon Edom, and, a couple weeks ago, we looked at that calamity in Genesis 25 and the implication in Esau’s rejection of his birthright. In Genesis 25:23, the Lord calls these two children separate nations who would strive with each other, and we see that bear out in the lives of the peoples descended from these two. Likewise, in I Corinthians 3:1, Paul categorizes people as either spiritually minded or carnally minded; again, two opposites destined to strive with each other in eternal conflict, and the case can be made that Esau – and the nation that descends from him – typifies worldly thinking in his life.

The Legacy of Esau

First, we return to Genesis 25:29-34 where Esau forsakes his heritage, his inheritance, and his responsibilities as the firstborn for the sake of a meal. He is said to despise that birthright, with all of the rights, responsibilities, and promises attendant to that heritage. He knew the importance of this birthright, but he treats it as worthless because it could not satiate an immediate physical hunger.

Genesis 26:34 reveals this same Esau then marries into a Hittite family when choosing a wife. These were an idolatrous people who did not honor God, and verse 36 says this family makes life bitter for Isaac and Rebekeh. In chapter 28:8, when Esau sees his wife does not please his family, he seeks to rectify things by taking more wives – not because he was concerned for his spiritual health but because he hoped to please his parents.

II Chronicles 25:14-16 then records a king of Judah bowing down before the idols of Edom, those descendants of Esau. The precedent Esau had set down during his life set up a nation that did not know God, did not honor God, and bowed down before idols that were unable to deliver them. These same descendants, generations before in Numbers 20:14-21, despite Moses’ appeal to ancient family ties, refused passage to the children of Israel over the King’s Highway during their pilgrimage to Canaan. They set themselves against their brothers.

Edom’s Fate and Ours

Terrible judgment is proclaimed against Edom in Isaiah 34:6-7, from the greatest to the least, for their mistreatment of God’s people. They were founded in spiritual emptiness, and they persecuted those who sought to live in the spirituality of God. As their father was uninterested in God’s promises, so are his descendants invested too heavily in this world. From birthright to marriage, Esau invested in this world, and he set up a heritage without foundation in God’s promises.

Likewise, we can be spiritually dead. We can marry ourselves to the things of this world. We can reject our Father’s heritage for the temporary blessings here. It doesn’t have to be this way, though. We can accept our birthright; we can become heirs of Abraham as in Galatians 3:27-29. We can choose to be spiritually minded. We can invest in things above. We can choose redemption and walk the King’s Highway and create spiritual heritage that we can pass on to our children and grandchildren, passing on a spiritual birthright of our own.

So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, Abba! Father! The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

– Romans 8:12-17

lesson by Tim Smelser


The Calamity of Esau

In Jeremiah 41, we are in the middle of God affirming His sovereignty over all nations, and He is proclaiming judgment upon various Gentile nations. During the prophecy against Edom, God, in verse 8, speaks of the “calamity of Esau.” It is from Esau that the nation of Edom descended, and it is a calamity like his own that befalls the nation. What is this calamity of Esau?

In Genesis 25:23, the Lord tells Rebecca that she had two nations struggling within her, and that the older would serve the younger. This prophecy begins to gain form in verses 27-34 when Esau sells his birthright to Jacob in exchange for physical sustenance. In this, verse 27 says Esau despised his birthright.

Rejecting His Birthright

God sees this event as a calamity in Esau’s life.

  • Esau despised his birthright. Not only was Esau rejecting all of the material blessings of the birthright, but he was also rejecting God’s promises to Abraham and Isaac.
  • Esau had the wrong priorities. Jacob and Esau were old enough to understand what the promises of that birthright meant. He was old enough to understand the import of those words, but he saw those as doing him no good in the face of immediate hunger.
  • Esau repented too late. Hebrews 12:15-17 speaks to this, that Esau could never recapture what he had lost, having recognized the significance too late.

Avoiding Our Own Calamity

There are lessons for us in the life of Esau. We cannot be guilty of the same errors made by this man. Esau had, through his birthright, a spiritual heritage, and we also have a great spiritual heritage in Jesus Christ. We are part of a spiritual family that goes all the way back to the cross and God’s plan for our salvation. In Hebrews 11:39-40, as the author wraps up example after example of great faith, we are told that what we have in Christ completes their heritage.

III John 4 records John calling those with whom he has shared the gospel as spiritual children. They are our spiritual forefathers, and we fulfill those promises in which they had faith. When we reject that heritage, we affect not only ourselves but those who will come after us, those who will not know of God’s promises because we rejected them. We cannot and must not view God’s birthright as common or disposable.

We must also avoid Esau’s priorities. Colossians 3:1-2 and Matthew 6:19 call on us to set our minds on the things above because the things of this life do not last. How long did Esau’s bowl of stew last him? How long was it until he was hungry again? I Peter 1:5-9 calls us to work on our spiritual growth and to avoid being nearsighted, forgetting what is truly important. So much in this life can crowd out our spiritual heritage, but how much of it will benefit us eternally as God’s gifts will?

Finally, we cannot wait too long to accept God’s gifts. In Luke 16:19-31, Jesus speaks of a rich man who waited too long until nothing more could be done for him. Felix, in Acts 24:25, wanted to wait until a more convenient time, and King Agrippa, a couple of chapters later, says he was “almost” persuaded to respond to the message of Christ. Matthew 25:41, after a parable of unprepared wedding guests, warns of the consequences of waiting until it is too late. We have a strong tendency to put things off, but we cannot procrastinate accepting our spiritual heritage.


In contrast to all of this, Luke 17 tells a parable of another child who wastes his birthright. In contrast to Esau, this prodigal son came to recognize the worth of what he had lost. He realigned his priorities, and he returned to his father for forgiveness and restoration. Who will we be more like? Will we fall into the calamity of Esau, or will we avert disaster by humbly coming to God and accepting the heritage and birthright offered by His grace?

lesson by Tim Smelser

Esau’s Error

In Jeremiah 49:7-8, while the prophet is speaking against the nations, some interesting words are brought up about Edom – that the “calamity of Esau” would befall them. This is likely a reference back to Genesis and the choices made by the father of their nations.

In Genesis 25:23, God tells Rachel that two nations are in her womb and that the younger will be stronger than the elder. One would be worldly minded and the other spiritually minded. We are familiar with the story of Jacob and Esau, how each parent favored one. Esau is also called Edom, meaning red or ruddy, and we know how Jacob convinces Esau to sell his birthright for food.

The Problems with Esau’s Actions

  • He despised his birthright. Being the firstborn, certain rights and responsibilities were on Esau’s shoulders. He was next in line for the promises of Abraham. He disdained his honorable lineage.
  • His priorities were wrong. He focused on his hunger first. His inheritance came second. He was most interested in instant gratification, and his choices were short-sighted.
  • He repented too late (Hebrews 12:16-17). Esau realized his error eventually, but he came to the realization too late. There was no turning back from the course he set.

Our Application

Our Birthright

Many of us have members of our family who are fascinated with genealogy and history. Spiritually, do we value our spiritual heritage? In Hebrews 11:39-40, the author tells us that the promises to us complete the actions and lives of those that came before. Our spiritual birthright begins with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and all those who came before us. Hebrews 12, then, encourages us to lay aside our worldly influences to continue the race these individuals began, and we should pass this heritage on to our own children. (See Joshua 24:31 vs. Judges 2:10 for a time when this did not take place.) III John  4 – “I have no greater joy than these things, to hear that my children walk in the truth.”

Our Priorities

In Colossians 3:1-2, we are told to seek things that are above rather than what is of this world. Matthew 6:19 reminds us to avoid placing our trust in earthly gain, putting anything secular in a higher priority than spiritual maters. In II Peter 1:3-10, Peter tells us what we should be concentrating on, and, if we lack the correct priorities, like Esau we become concerned with short-sighted needs, and we lose sight of those long-term promises we are given by God.

Correcting Too Late

In Luke 16:19, Jesus begins telling the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, in which the rich man looks up from torment to Abraham. He asks for relief from Abraham and is denied. He asks that Lazarus be sent back to warn his family of this fate. However, Abraham denies this request – citing the cannon of scriptures they already had. In Acts 24:25 and Acts 26:27-28, Paul encounters two figures who put off repentance. Matthew 24:42 warns us that the Second Coming will be unexpected. He then tells a parable of prepared and unprepared maidens waiting for a wedding feast – it was too late for the unprepared to enter. FInally, in Luke 15, we know the story of the prodigal son. He took action when he realized the state he was in. This son did not wait until it was too late, and he humbly corrected his ways, being enthusiastically received by his father.


God viewed Easu’s poor choices as a tragedy. The question is if we are walking into the same fate ourselves. We should value the heritage we have as God’s children, making sure our priorities are focused on things above. We don’t know when we will have to give an account to our God, so now is time to repent if you need to.

lesson by Tim Smelser