Lectionary Reflection for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

This excerpt comes from Genesis (BTCB) by R. R. Reno, commenting on Genesis 25:19-34:

This episode is rich with irony. The elder brother has been chosen to serve the younger, and yet, with his bowl of soup, the younger brother is poised to serve the hungry elder. And precisely because ready to serve, Jacob finds himself at an advantage: the mighty elder brother is about to be put down from his throne (Luke 1:52).

Yet, more than a pattern of reversal is at work. God’s prophecies are not mechanically fulfilled. Human reality corresponds to what God ordains. In this case, Esau seems culpably negligent. Perhaps he has failed to make provisions for an unsuccessful hunt, or perhaps his account of his hunger is hyperbolic. In any event, Jacob’s bargain should strike him as ridiculous: a bowl of soup for Abraham’s birthright!

But Esau’s hunger makes him feel as though he is on the brink of death, so he readily takes an oath to hand over his rights as the firstborn son. Esau seems a man so controlled by his bodily desires that the precious things of God are of no moment to him.

Other passages in scripture seem to support this reading. In Obad. 10 and Amos 1:11, the children of Esau are depicted as rightly punished by God because of the sins of their forefather. Hebrews 12:16 portrays Esau as an immoral and irreligious man and uses his example to warn against the perils of a lax, undisciplined faith. Yet it is important to recognize that Esau’s wickedness flows from the choice of election rather than motivating or triggering it. God’s intervention into history forces the issue of sin.

Esau is drawn into the ever intensifying drama of antagonism between good and evil, between truth and the lie. God invades space and time through the particularity of his chosen people, and this action brings forth the spirit of resistance. Elected to serve the younger, Esau no more willingly plays his role in God’s purposes than Adam and Eve wished obediently to play their roles. The powers of the world coil around him and draw him into their purposes. Unable to participate in the divine plan on his own terms, he falls more deeply into the counterplan of the devil. There is no third way.

Human sinfulness has a role in the divine plan. Esau is wrong to bargain away the blessings of God, but because of his sinful fixation on his bodily hunger the way is clear for the promise to flow toward Jacob.

This is one of many moments throughout Genesis when human sins are quite real but nonetheless providential. It is a felix culpa, a happy fault. Foreshadowing the story of Joseph and his brothers, Esau does evil, but God puts it to good use.


©2010 by R. R. Reno. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.