Being red in the face is a bigger problem than just being embarrassed. God reminds His people to be on the lookout for those ‘red in the face.’
These are the generations of Esau (that is, Edom). . . So Esau settled in the hill country of Seir. (Esau is Edom.) Genesis 36:1, 8
So why the reminder that Esau is Edom? In Hebrew Edom literally means red. This seems to be a reminder, repeated here and elsewhere in scripture, that Esau and his descendants are Edom or “red.” Esau despised his birthright as the firstborn making him ‘red in the face’ or Edom. Genesis 25:29-34 tells the story of Esau selling his birthright to his brother Jacob for a bowl of stew.
The meaning of this reminder is lost to many of us because we are unfamiliar with the rights and privilege given by birthright to the firstborn. What is the birthright that Israel is being reminded Esau (who is Edom) forfeited?
- The birthright authorized the firstborn to serve as the priest, the intermediary of his family before God.
- The birthright granted the firstborn judicial authority over his kinsmen; he would have the final word in covenantal or legal matters.
- The birthright gave the firstborn a double portion of the inheritance given by his father to his heirs.
Esau gave these things up because he chose to live only for the moment satisfying his hunger rather than looking forward to receiving the birthright that would one day be his (see also post: Blameless). Therefore, Israel – the heirs of their father Jacob – was reminded that Esau is Edom/red with no priestly or judicial authority, and more importantly no inheritance in the land. For Jews and the nation of Israel today, Esau’s forfeiture of the birthright is one of their claims to legitimize the possession of their homeland, but that’s a rabbit whole I don’t wish to explore here.
Many have tried to identify the descendants of Esau today. Depending upon their perspective they might single out modern Esau as the Roman Empire (including the Catholic Church), Western Civilization (Europe and America), or Islam – to name only a few.
Rather than try to identify the nation(s) or people groups who are the modern descendants of Esau, I would like to think instead about the attitude such people might have. Because Israel was warned to remember Esau is Edom, I think the descendants of the one who despised his birthright will at times seek to rise up reclaiming what was lost for the momentary yearning to satisfy Esau’s hunger. Specifically, Esau’s descendants today want to try to reclaim what they have forfeited by giving into momentary pleasures to satisfy the desires of their flesh.
As followers of Jesus we are a spiritual house of Israel. This can be seen within Peter’s reminder of our identity as believers – an identity I believe is tied to the birthright of the firstborn. He said we are, “a chosen race . . .” (1 Peter 2:9). We are the people or nation loved by the LORD. We are just like our brothers, but we have been set apart by God because of His great love for us; “‘Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the LORD. ‘Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated'” (Mal. 1:2-3). And so according to the love of God, Peter says we are “a chosen race,” but he does not stop there. Peter continues showing how we too are recipients of the birthright – as chosen people we are:
- “A royal priesthood.” The birthright gave the firstborn the right to serve as a priest representing his family before God. Yet a royal priesthood also has an illusion to the authority to sit in judgement made clearer in Peter’s next statement of identity.
- “A holy nation.” The birthright gave the firstborn authority to judge. Followers of Jesus are not like other people. We have the mind of Christ to make judgements or to discern between good and evil. The authority to judge sets us apart from others making us people who are holy.
- “A people for his own possession.” The birthright also gave the firstborn a double portion of the inheritance. We are “heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17). Therefore, we don’t hold tightly to the things of this world, which is passing away, but instead we look ahead to the inheritance we will receive with Jesus.
I believe the spirit of Esau is within our churches today, often manifesting itself within well meaning Christians (or should I say followers of Jesus?). Who are those that seek to exercise priestly authority; they may say “Thus says the LORD,” but it is not the Spirit of Jesus speaking through them. Who are those who are quick to judge others, but like Jesus’ parable they have a log in their eye living unholy lives? Who are those who want to claim an inheritance now misrepresenting Christ’s authority to possess things of this world rather than things eternal?
Before we identify others as giving the spirit of Esau place in their lives, let’s look carefully in the mirror and make sure we are not Edom – red in the face.
I do not want to be red faced chasing the desires of the flesh forfeiting the birthright Jesus gives to His followers.
Yes to Yield
LORD Jesus, thank You for sharing Your birthright with us as coheirs; I don’t deserve the inheritance You freely give to all who acknowledge You as LORD. Forgive me when like Esau I would exchange my birthright to pursue the desires of the flesh. Holy Spirit convict me of my sin that when I’m quick to try to exercise my “rights” I may have given place to the spirit of Esau; show me how to forsake my sin and be holy. And only after I’m no longer red in the face, give me discernment to know when and how to deal with others within Your church jealous for the inheritance they have forfeited because they too have acted like Edom.