Friday, September 2, 2022

Devotionals for the Heart: A life lesson learned from Esau and Jacob

Life Lessons From A Bowl of Soup

A devotional by Chaplain Paul Anderson

“Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” (That is why he was also called Edom.) Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.” “Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?” But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left. So Esau despised his birthright.” 
–Genesis 25:29-34 (NIV)

This week as I watched young students in my neighborhood climbing off of their school bus and walking home, I was transported back in time. When school started, my mother would change how and what she would fix for our dinner.

During the fall she would make soups, chili and stews. I loved her tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. Her beef stew or her oxtail stew were always thick and hearty. Smelling the food she fixed as we entered the house was always comforting to me. No matter how good or bad the day at school had been, taking in the delicious aroma and eating Mom’s stew was life-giving.

The story of Jacob and Esau is a cautionary tale about the power that nostalgia and fatigue—physical, emotional, or spiritual—can have on our decision making.

When Esau came home, exhausted and depleted from an unsuccessful hunt, he smelled the red stew that Jacob was cooking. It energized him and his hunger drove him to demand nourishment immediately. Perhaps he was reminded of celebratory meals that his mother had made. His only thought was to eat, lest he die.

With nutrition and the strength it gave, he could fight another day, but he wanted it, now! Entitlement paired with desperation creates an atmosphere ripe for disaster.

Jacob seized the moment to extort from Esau his most valuable, but devalued asset: his birthright. In the ancient times of this story the birthright was more than money and possessions. It included positional power and judicial authority as head of the family. Esau easily vowed to surrender his future claim upon the wealth, power and influence for the next several generations. He gave up a bright future for the price of immediate satiation of his appetite for food. He paid his entire future for one bowl of lentil stew. Foolish? Yes!

But, when I think about it, I am driven to ponder how many facets of our birthright we sacrifice when we make decisions like Esau. He was hungry, angry, alone in despair and tired. He cared more about his immediate hunger and thirst than about his future, his legacy and lore.

Home Economists recommend that we not grocery shop when we are hungry because we will be undisciplined in the decisions that we make in the aisles of the store. Impulsivity is the wingman of anger, so hasty and angry decision making should always be avoided. Details are clouded when our eyelids are heavy from fatigue and our minds are numbed by fatigue. Mirages beckon and boulders glisten when we are depleted. After rest, we see the aridity of our fantasy and the glitter we perceived, after all, was not gold.

Nostalgia can deceitfully seduce us into former states and zones of comfort. So, whenever we are approaching big decisions, it is helpful to be clear eyed, well rested, focused and unhurried by our passions, fantasies of grandeur and appetites.

As you start your day, be mindful. Gauge your appetite, energy and emotions. Are you full, enthusiastic and fulfilled? Who is on your team? Can you rely on them? If you answered no to any of these, I invite you to pause and pray for discernment and grace for the day. With those tools, you will avoid Esau’s bowl and preserve your birthright for another day.

Let’s Pray: Eternal God, as we start this day, I pray that You will give to each reader enough of whatever they need and some of their desires. May they go into this day rested, connected, full and fulfilled. Lead them by the path of righteousness. Deliver them from evil and into the realm of Your will. In Jesus’s Name I pray. Amen.

Author Bio:

Chaplain Anderson served for 20 years as a U.S. Navy Chaplain. Over 26 years of active duty, he was promoted through the ranks from Seaman Apprentice (E2) to his final rank as Commander (O5) in the Chaplain’s Corps. 

Prior to his Naval career, Chaplain Anderson pastored in the Allegheny East and Potomac Conferences of Seventh-day Adventists. His undergraduate preparation for ministry was completed at Washington Adventist University in Takoma Park, Md.

He has subsequently earned four graduate degrees: a Master of Divinity from Andrews University in Michigan, a Master of Education in Counseling and Personnel Services from the University of Maryland in College Park, Maryland and a Masters of Sacred Theology in Religion and Culture from Boston University. His Doctor of Ministry degree was conferred by Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C.

Chaplain Anderson also completed four units of Clinical Pastoral Education at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He also holds certifications in Suicide Awareness and Prevention, Civil Mediation, Alternative Workplace Dispute Resolution, Temperament Analysis, Marriage Enrichment, Workforce Diversity, and is a certified Life Coach.

You may connect with Chaplain Anderson via email at this address,

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