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2. Missing God’s Best (Genesis 25:29-34)

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Now Jacob cooked some stew, and when Esau came in from the open fields, he was famished. So Esau said to Jacob, “Feed me some of the red stuff—yes, this red stuff—because I’m starving!” (That is why he was also called Edom.) But Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.” “Look,” said Esau, “I’m about to die! What use is the birthright to me?” But Jacob said, “Swear an oath to me now.” So Esau swore an oath to him and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and lentil stew; Esau ate and drank, then got up and went out. So Esau despised his birthright.

Genesis 25:29-34 (NET)

Why do so many Christians miss God’s best—God’s plans for their lives?

Scripture is full of stories of those who, for whatever reason, missed God’s calling on their lives. God’s plan for Israel was for them to enter the promised land; however, the majority died in the wilderness. It was also God’s plan for Moses to lead them into the promised land; however, he was only allowed to look into it before he died. Ephesians 2:10 says, “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which he prepared beforehand that we should walk in” (paraphrase). God prepared a spiritual blueprint for each of our lives—people we were called to minister to and works we were called to accomplish; however, many, if not most, miss God’s best.

In Genesis 11, at the tower of Babel, the people rebelled against God by deciding to no longer spread throughout the earth, and to instead stay in one place and make a monument to themselves. In God’s anger, he confused their languages, so they would spread to the corners of the globe. After this rebellion, God called a man named Abraham to begin a work of reconciliation—to draw people back to himself. Most worshiped many gods instead of worshiping the true God. God promised to bless Abraham and use him to be a blessing to many. Through Abraham’s descendants a messiah would come who would save the world. That blessing passed from Abraham to Isaac and then to Isaac’s seed.

In the previous narrative, Isaac had twins. Esau was the oldest and therefore would receive the birthright. The birthright included a double-portion of Isaac’s goods, becoming the chief of the family, and becoming the family’s priest or spiritual leader. The spiritual leader would also carry on the blessing of Abraham. Before the children were born, Rebekah, Isaac’s wife, received a prophecy that the oldest would serve the youngest (Gen 25:23). The blessing would instead go to Jacob.

Though God sovereignly chose Jacob, Scripture puts the blame for losing the birthright on Esau. Consider Hebrews 12:16-17:

And see to it that no one becomes an immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal. For you know that later when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no opportunity for repentance, although he sought the blessing with tears.

Though God is sovereign over all things, including salvation, his sovereignty does not remove human responsibility. Jacob did receive the blessing, but Esau rejected it, though he later wished he had received it.

Therefore, as we look at this narrative, we learn principles about missing God’s best. We learn them not only from Esau but also from Jacob, who likewise misses God’s best when he manipulated Esau to receive the birthright. As we consider this story, we must ask ourselves, “What is holding us back from receiving God’s best—our heavenly birthright?”

Big Question: What principles can be discerned from this narrative about why people often miss God’s best?

Lack of Faith Can Lead to Missing God’s Best

Now Jacob cooked some stew, and when Esau came in from the open fields, he was famished. So Esau said to Jacob, “Feed me some of the red stuff—yes, this red stuff—because I’m starving!” (That is why he was also called Edom.) But Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.”

Genesis 25:29-31

Hebrews 11:6 says, “Now without faith it is impossible to please him, for the one who approaches God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” Faith is the doorway to all of God’s promises. It is the way that we receive salvation (cf. Eph 2:8-9, Rom 10:9-10). It is the way that we have peace in the midst of chaos (cf. Phil 4:6-7). It is the way we access God’s power for service (cf. Eph 1:19). Jacob is to be commended for wanting the blessing, as it showed that he cared for spiritual things. The birthright was more than Isaac’s inheritance; more importantly, it was to take part in God’s promise to Abraham of being a blessing to the world. However, Jacob’s problem was that though he had faith, it was little faith. God had promised him the blessing, even before he was born. But Jacob believed he needed to manipulate others in order to receive it. Kent Hughes said it this way:

At the very heart of Esau’s demise is the sad reality that he did not believe the word of God. God’s promise was, to him, intangible and unreal. In contrast, Jacob believed the promise and cherished it with all his being. Ironically, the stumbling in Jacob’s life came because though he believed in the promise, he did not believe that God’s promise could be his apart from his own sinful manipulation of Esau. Nevertheless, despite his faults and ungodly manipulation, Jacob stands as a man of faith.1

Many today also miss God’s best or delay it because of a lack of faith. Israel didn’t believe God, and therefore, the promise of entering Canaan was delayed for forty years. Faith is necessary to receive God’s promises. We must remember that Christ said, “all things are possible for one who believes” (Mk 9:23) and “If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can move mountains” (Matt 17:20 paraphrase).

Are you trusting God or doubting him in your situation? He has given you many promises, even as he did, Jacob. He promises that he will save you eternally if you put your trust in his son (Rom 10:9-10), meet your needs, guide you in the paths of righteousness, and protect you (Ps 23). Doubting God can lead to missing God’s best, but believing him, despite our circumstances or negative thoughts, opens the door to his blessings.

Application Question: How can we increase our faith?

  1. Our faith in God increases as we study and believe his Word. Romans 10:17 says faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. When we are in his Word, our faith grows. When we are not, it decreases. Are you abiding in God’s Word and thus growing in faith?
  2. Our faith in God increases as we develop a history with God. As we walk with God and he delivers us, heals us, and guides us, it gives us confidence that he will continue to do so. Are you allowing yourself to develop a history with God? Are you remembering his acts of faithfulness to you or are you forgetting them?
  3. Our faith in God increases as we walk with those who have great faith in God. Their trust inspires our trust. Like iron sharpening iron, they sharpen us (Prov 27:17). In the same way, when we walk with those who don’t trust God, our trust decreases (Prov 13:20). Who are you walking with? Are they strengthening your faith or helping it decrease?

Application Question: How would you rate your current level of trust or faith in God on a scale of 1-10? Why would you give it this rating? How can we discern when we should be active in pursuing God’s promises and blessings and when we should wait in faith? How have you struggled at times with the tension between faith and activity?

Selfish Ambition Can Lead to Missing God’s Best

Now Jacob cooked some stew, and when Esau came in from the open fields, he was famished. So Esau said to Jacob, “Feed me some of the red stuff—yes, this red stuff—because I’m starving!” (That is why he was also called Edom.) But Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.”

Genesis 25:29-31

As mentioned, the fact that Jacob desired the birthright was a good thing. However, it is possible to pursue the right thing in a wrong way. Abraham desired a seed to fulfill God’s promise, so he married another woman, Hagar, causing discord in his family and future generations. Jacob desired God’s blessing, and the Lord had already told him he would have it. But instead of waiting on God, he manipulated his brother to secure the blessing.

There was nothing inherently wrong with Jacob’s bargaining. Most likely, they had talked about the birthright previously, and it was clear Esau cared nothing for it. Ancient evidence shows us that birthrights were transferable. In one ancient contract, a brother paid three sheep for part of the inheritance.2 The fact that Esau swore made this bargain official—most likely there was a witness watching.

What was wrong with Jacob’s bargain? As mentioned, it not only demonstrated a lack of faith, but also the motivation was purely selfish. He took advantage of his brother. Though it was God’s will for Jacob to receive the promise, it would not ultimately be given to him through selfish means. James said that when jealousy and selfish ambition are in our hearts, those desires are earthly, natural, and demonic in origin (cf. Jam 3:14-15). The future fruit of Jacob’s manipulations was that Esau eventually planned to kill him. Thus, Jacob had to run away from his family for some twenty years. Jacob’s selfish ambition almost cost him God’s blessing and ultimately delayed it.

People often miss God’s best when they try to secure it through selfish ways. Philippians 2:3 says, “Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself.” The world seeks greatness through selfish-ambition, but in the kingdom, greatness comes through humbling ourselves. In Matthew 23:11-12, Jesus said, “The greatest among you will be your servant. And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

A great example of God exalting the humble and not the prideful is seen in Christ. Over two thousand years after Jacob, Christ, instead of holding onto his rights as deity, gave them up to become human. He further humbled himself by becoming a servant and dying for humanity. Philippians 2:6-11 describes this:

who though he existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature. He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross! As a result God exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow—in heaven and on earth and under the earth—and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

Because Christ humbled himself, God exalted him by giving him a name above all names. In the same way, those who humble themselves like Christ will be exalted—they will receive God’s best. However, those who, like the world, selfishly exalt themselves, shall be humbled. Christ said this in Matthew 5:5, “Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth.” Those who fight, cheat, and manipulate others to gain the world, shall lose it, but those who willingly give up the world and its esteem, will be blessed by the Lord.

Application Question: How can we practice selflessness instead of selfishness?

1. To practice selflessness, we must put others and their desires before our own.

Hebrews 10:24 says, “And let us take thought of how to spur one another on to love and good works.” Are we taking thought of others and putting them first or primarily thinking about our needs and wants? We must ask ourselves questions like: “How can we bless others? What might help them grow in Christ? What might make their life easier and more comfortable?”

2. To practice selflessness, we must remember that God blesses humble servants and judges the prideful.

Again, in God’s economy the first will be last and the last will be first (Matt 20:16). If you want to become the greatest, you must become the servant of all. It is the meek who will inherit the earth. Those who give shall receive (Lk 6:38). Those who refresh others shall themselves be refreshed (Prov 11:25). Those who humble themselves shall be exalted (Matt 23:12). Remembering this kingdom reality will keep us from worldly selfishness that misses God’s best.

Are you missing God’s best because of selfishness? Jacob seems to delay God’s best, as his selfish and manipulative actions eventually lead to his running away from home for twenty years.

Application Question: Why is it so hard to practice humility and selflessness? In what ways is God calling you to humble yourself and seek what’s best for others?

Being Undisciplined Can Lead to Missing God’s Best

Now Jacob cooked some stew, and when Esau came in from the open fields, he was famished. So Esau said to Jacob, “Feed me some of the red stuff—yes, this red stuff—because I’m starving!” (That is why he was also called Edom.) But Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.” “Look,” said Esau, “I’m about to die! What use is the birthright to me?”

Genesis 25:29-32

It seems that Esau was an athlete. He enjoyed the sport of hunting, and his father gave him freedom apart from any real responsibilities. Esau therefore became an undisciplined man driven by his desires. Like a spoiled child, when he wanted something, he had to have it then and couldn’t wait. The fact that he was without discipline led to his desires controlling him. Hebrews 12:16-17 says this about him:

And see to it that no one becomes an immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal. For you know that later when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no opportunity for repentance, although he sought the blessing with tears.

The writer of Hebrews said that he was not only godless—not caring about spiritual things—but also immoral, which can be translated sexually immoral (ESV). His lust dominated, controlled, and eventually destroyed him. This led him to miss God’s best, including salvation.

It is good to remember that how we train our children can either help them know God or reject him. Being spoiled by his father, Isaac, helped Esau choose a life full of pride and self, instead of a life of humility and discipline in serving God.

It must be noted that there was nothing wrong with Esau having a bowl of soup—food is good. It’s a gift from God. However, when our desire for food, sleep, or any other pleasure, keeps us from doing God’s will, it has become an idol. Work, family, entertainment—all gifts from God in their own right—can become evil when we pursue them over God. First Corinthians 6:12 says, “‘All things are lawful for me’—but not everything is beneficial. ‘All things are lawful for me’—but I will not be controlled by anything.” When something starts to control us—other than God—it is sin. Esau was an addict. He was dominated by his desires, which caused him to lose his birthright. Uncontrolled passions, whether sinful ones or not, often do the same for believers—causing them to miss God’s best.

How many miss God’s best because they are addicted to TV, social media, video games, food, career, money, sleep, or some drug? The church is full of people that sell their heavenly birth right for some passing pleasure.

Therefore, in order to receive God’s best, we must be disciplined with our desires. In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Paul said it this way:

Do you not know that all the runners in a stadium compete, but only one receives the prize? So run to win. Each competitor must exercise self-control in everything. They do it to receive a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run uncertainly or box like one who hits only air. Instead I subdue my body and make it my slave, so that after preaching to others I myself will not be disqualified.

Because of a lack of discipline with his desires, Esau was disqualified from God’s blessing.

Application Question: How can we protect ourselves from being controlled by our passions?

When talking about the war between our sinful desires and the Spirit, Paul simply said, “Live in the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Gal 5:16). When we are living in God’s Word, prayer, fellowship, and service, we will find our fleshly desires weaker or non-existent. Because Esau was a godless man, who had no real time for spiritual things, his flesh ruled him, and if we do the same, our flesh will rule us as well. If we neglect spiritual disciplines, we will find ourselves controlled by pride, anger, discord, unforgiveness, lust, etc., as our flesh becomes stronger than our Spirit. Live in the Spirit and the flesh will not control us and keep us from God’s best.

Application Question: What are the areas you struggle with having discipline over? How do you try to discipline yourself in those areas? How is God calling you to practice discipline, so you won’t miss God’s best?

Undervaluing God’s Blessings Can Lead to Missing God’s Best

“Look,” said Esau, “I’m about to die! What use is the birthright to me?”

Genesis 25:32

One of the reasons that Esau missed God’s best was because he undervalued it. He thought to himself, “Living is more important than God!” Now of course, Esau was not about to die, but he was so hungry he might have felt that way. The problem was food and life were more valuable to him than God and his blessing.

It’s very interesting to consider that Christ faced a similar temptation. In the wilderness, Satan tempted Christ to turn a rock into bread. In Matthew 4:4, Christ replied, “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Christ essentially said, “Obeying God is more important than eating!” If it was God’s will for him to fast and not use his power to eat, then he would fast. Life did not matter; obeying God did. This was the attitude of the apostles who sacrificed their lives instead of denying Christ. To them obedience to God was more important than living. In Luke 14:26-27, Christ said that anyone who followed him must be willing to hate his own life and take up his cross—be willing to die.

Esau’s problem was he undervalued God and his blessing. He undervalued the fact that he was raised in a family that believed in and worshiped the Lord. He undervalued the calling to be a blessing to the world. Ultimately, this means he overvalued the temporary—like a bowl of soup.

Be careful of undervaluing God’s blessing: Don’t undervalue the privilege of reading and listening to God’s Word. Don’t undervalue the privilege of church and Christian fellowship. Don’t undervalue the privilege of serving God. When you undervalue God’s blessings, you will overvalue something lesser and miss God’s best.

Application Question: How can we properly appreciate the blessings of God?

1. To appreciate God’s blessings, we must take advantage of them often.

God has given us many blessings: worship, his Word, prayer, fellowship, the ability to serve, etc. The more we take advantage of them, the more we will typically enjoy and appreciate them. When we neglect them, we will appreciate them less.

2. To appreciate God’s blessings, practice giving thanks for them.

Thank God for your salvation often. Thank him for the opportunity to worship him. Thank him for your church—though it is imperfect. Thank him for your job—though it at times causes you pain. Give thanks in all situations for this is God’s will for your life (1 Thess 5:17). This will help you appreciate his blessings.

3. To appreciate God’s blessings, practice remembering them.

When God provided Israel with manna in the wilderness, he had them place some manna in the Ark of the Covenant, so they would always remember. When God split the Jordan River, so Israel could walk across dry land, they were called to take twelve stones, so they, and their children would always remember. Often the Patriarchs would build altars as memorials of God’s blessings. We are forgetful, and so we need to do the same. We’re prone to forget how God delivered us from a trial, how he provided for us in a dry season, how he healed us, and because of that, we often complain instead of giving thanks. We fear instead of living in faith.

Practice remembering your blessing. Do this by not only giving thanks, but also by writing them down in journals, so you can rejoice over them in times of difficulty. Sometimes, it might also be beneficial to take a keep-sake or build a memorial to help you remember what God has done.

Application Question: Why are we so prone to forget the blessings and victories God has given us? How have you benefited from disciplines like journaling or taking memorials? What blessings from God are you most thankful for? How is God calling you to grow in appreciation of his blessings?


Though God, in his sovereignty, had promised Jacob the blessing, Scripture says Esau despised and rejected it (Heb 12:16-17). He gave up his birthright, and the spiritual blessing that came with it, for a bowl of soup. Sadly, many choose the temporary over the eternal, the flesh over the Spirit, the earthly over the heavenly. Why do so many miss God’s best—their heavenly birthright as children of God?

  1. Lack of Faith Can Lead to Missing God’s Best
  2. Selfish Ambition Can Lead to Missing God’s Best
  3. Being Undisciplined Can Lead to Missing God’s Best
  4. Undervaluing God’s Blessings Can Lead to Missing God’s Best

Application Question: What are some other reasons people miss God’s best? In what ways have you missed God’s best in the past or are currently missing God’s best? How is God calling you to begin to redeem what was lost (cf. Joel 2:25)?

Copyright © 2018 Gregory Brown

Unless otherwise noted, the primary Scriptures used are taken from the NET Bible ® copyright © 1996-2016 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

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1 Hughes, R. K. (2004). Genesis: beginning and blessing (p. 337). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

2 Kidner, D. (1967). Genesis: An Introduction and Commentary (Vol. 1, p. 162). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Related Topics: Character Study, Christian Life

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