Genesis 24-25

The Esau Syndrome

“Look, I’m dying of starvation!” said Esau. “What good is my birthright to me now?” Genesis 25:32 NLT

The spiritual versus the physical. These two areas of our lives are always in constant battle. The flesh against the Spirit. Over in Romans 8:5 we are told, “For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit” (NASB). In Galatians 6:8 we read, “Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful desires will harvest the consequences of decay and death. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit” (NLT). This is the Esau Syndrome. Whenever we allow our flesh, our natural desires or appetites to control our lives, we are suffering from the Esau syndrome. In the story of Esau and Jacob, you have two men who, in spite of the fact they are twins, are polar opposites in respect to their personalities and lifestyles. They may have been born at the same time and from the same womb, but that is where the similarities end.

Esau was a man’s man, a hunter-gatherer, who loved the outdoors. Jacob was a “mama’s boy” who “was a peaceful man, living in tents” (Genesis 25:27). The New Living Translation describes him as “the kind of person who liked to stay at home.” But the real difference between these two men lie in their outlook or approach to life. It seems that Esau was a man who was controlled by his passions and his appetites. He was a man who lived in the moment, not particularly interested in future blessings or spiritual inheritances. He was driven by sight, what he could see and touch. This is made painfully clear in the story of chapter 25. He came in from the field and found his brother Jacob cooking up a pot of stew. Hungry and driven by his appetite, he asks his brother for a taste of the stew. He doesn’t even know what it is, referring to it simply as “red stuff.” Jacob takes advantage of this opportunity to make a deal with his brother. He would give him the stew in exchange for his inheritance. To any of us reading this story, we can’t help be struck by the inequality of this “bargain.” A bowl of lentil soup for an inheritance that was worth a fortune. It just doesn’t make sense. Why would Esau even agree to such an offer? It seems he is so driven by his physical appetites that he can’t help himself. He is willing to give up his rightful inheritance in exchange for a meal. But it also reveals his apparent disdain for his inheritance. It seems to have no value to him. It is not his at that moment. It is little more than a promise of future blessing. He can’t enjoy it now. It won’t even be his until his father is gone. So what good is it to him?

Driven by desire

What exactly is the Esau syndrome? We are given the answer in the book of Hebrews: “Watch out for the Esau syndrome: trading away God’s lifelong gift in order to satisfy a short-term appetite” (Hebrews 12:16 MSG). The Esau Syndrome is to allow our physical appetites to overpower or control our spiritual appetites. It is any time we give in to the flesh instead of listening to the Spirit. I love the way Matthew Henry describes it in his commentary:

The gratifying of the sensual appetite is that which ruins thousands of precious souls: surely, if Esau was hungry and faint, he might have got a meal’s meat cheaper than at the expense of his birthright; but he was unaccountably fond of the colour of this pottage, and could not deny himself the satisfaction of a mess of it, whatever it cost him. Never better can come of it, when men’s hearts walk after their eyes (Job 31:7), and when they serve their own bellies: therefore look not thou upon the wine, or, as Esau, upon the pottage, when it is red, when it gives that colour in the cup, in the dish, which is most inviting, Proverbs 23:31. If we use ourselves to deny ourselves, we break the forces of most temptations.

Esau devalued the very thing that could bring value to his life: His inheritance. It meant little or nothing to him. “He is called profane Esau for it (Hebrews 12:16), because for one morsel of meat he sold his birthright, as dear a morsel as ever was eaten since the forbidden fruit; and he lived to regret it when it was too late. Never was there such a foolish bargain as this which Esau now made” (Matthew Henry Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible). Yet, we make similar bargain every day when we sell our “birthright” – our spiritual inheritance as saints – for the passing pleasures of this world. We give in to our appetites and sell ourselves short. We go for the immediate satisfaction of a sinful thought, a worldly pleasure, a physical enjoyment – rather than keeping our focus of the future. We tend to live for the immediate and are unwilling to wait for what God has in store for us. It is interesting to note that God had already told Rebekah that Jacob was going to get the inheritance. “The sons in your womb will become two rival nations. One nation will be stronger than the other; the descendants of your older son will serve the descendants of your younger son” (Genesis 25:23 NLT). But Esau would play a part in the forfeiture of the inheritance by selling it. It wouldn’t have to be taken from him because he would willingly sell it in exchange for something more immediate and physically gratifying.

As believers we have been promised a rich and valuable inheritance. It is ours and awaits us in the future. But because we live in the NOW, we sometimes struggle with waiting for it. So we “sell” it in exchange for more immediate gratification. We trade future blessing for immediate satisfaction. And like Esau, we live to regret it. The stew may taste great going down, but it will not last. It will not satisfy for long. We will always regret giving in to our physical appetites and live only to satisfy our sinful desires.

Father, I don’t want to live like Esau, driven by my physical appetites. I want to be a man who lives for You and who keeps my eyes on the prize. Forgive me though when I allow my flesh to dictate my decisions. Give me the strength to listen to the Spirit so that I might listen to His direction and enjoy the benefits of Your promises over the false promises of this world. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men