By Mike Baird
Faculty, College of Theology
The Red Stew Incident
The Jacob Journal is a reflection on the life and times of the biblical character of Jacob, son of Isaac and Rebekah.
All the world for a sip of soup!
That’s exactly what I thought when one day, in our youthful years, Esau demanded that I give him some of the “red stuff,” as he called it. Please forgive the language, but I said to myself, “You jerk! You would give the world for this ‘stuff’ and you don’t even know what it is!”
Ah, I am a little ahead of myself. Perhaps I should back up and explain the whole affair.
My brother and I usually got along. This was mainly because we had such different interests and we stayed out of each other’s way. There was open favoritism in our home, but children don’t usually take notice of it consciously.
I don’t remember any great fits of jealous rage on my part or any significant bullying on Esau’s part. He was bigger and stronger than me, but as twins we also had some secret connections I’m told twins have, so we were able to get along most of the time, except for the usual sibling rivalry that happens in the home.
But my adolescent eyes were opened to another side of my brother, and of myself, when the incident occurred. Up until then, I had never realized how jealous I was and how the privileged status of Esau had motivated me. When it happened right before my eyes, when Esau turned up his nose at the blessings of his family, I realized how much I wanted what he had, how much I needed what he had.
To be honest, I didn’t think the stew, or the “red stuff” as he called it, was so good myself. I had done much better. You should taste my goat kabobs.
But Esau, he’s a different case. He had been out in the field hunting for several days. Father had marked each day in the sand beside the tent door. So when he came in, he was more restless than usual. I was surprised when he said “please.”
“Please give me some of that red stuff.”
I was not surprise when he ended his request by bellowing out, “I am starving to death!”
Esau is a man of many appetites. Ever since this particular incident, my parents have called Esau by the nickname Edom—that means “red”… for the red stew.
I tried many times to use that name to provoke him and make him mad. I did it to poke fun at his incessant hunger and bottomless appetite.
But he was proud of it.
You could tell he liked the attention it brought him. So he relished the name. He never was ashamed of his prodigious appetites. I guess he thought it made him manly to gobble down six goat kabobs in one sitting. At least, our father always got a kick out of it.
Now I never did do anything like that, although I must confess I am no angel myself. At that moment, my Jacob instinct kicked in. I couldn’t help seeing an opportunity in this red stew thing.
A word of explanation is need here. You need to know that the birthright ceremony involves the father passing a blessing to his chosen son. Here was a chance for me to receive the blessing, by getting the birthright. That is exactly and quickly what I demanded from Esau—the birthright.
At the time I wasn’t thinking “blessing,” exactly. I was thinking money. I guess I thought money was the blessing that I needed most. The birthright meant getting all my father’s possessions.
But I realize now, in looking back, that what I really wanted was to hurt my father somehow. Yet, at the same time, on some deeper level, I wanted my father’s blessing.
Can you figure that one out?
All I had to do was manipulate Esau’s uncontrollable appetite. I knew it was a long shot, but I told Esau that I would give him the stuff if he would give me the birthright. It turned out to be a major lesson in life, not just about Esau, but also about myself.
Oh, the power of desire.
I couldn’t believe my ears when he responded, “I’m going to die anyway if I don’t get something to eat. You can have the birthright; it’s no good to me.”
My mind raced. Doesn’t this guy know what the birthright is? Doesn’t he know it is the greatest blessing he can receive?
For a flickering instant, I was glad he didn’t, maybe it could now be mine. I blurted out, “Give me your solemn promise!” My appetite, my desire was no less out of control than his.
There is an old desert legend about a goat that roams the hills. This goat is always looking for a human soul. Around the campfire, we have heard stories from neighboring nomads about how this goat will try to barter for a soul. It is said that his voice is a deep, raspy, guttural groan, almost as if it were coming up from a volcanic fissure.
One story goes that a young shepherd decided to give his soul to the goat when the goat promised to make him a wealthy flock owner. “I have the power to make your flocks increase beyond your wildest dreams.” I’m not sure I know what it is like to give your soul away, but it doesn’t sound very promising to lose your soul to a goat.
Yet I think I saw something like this kind of exchange on the day Esau sold his birthright for some red stew. Looking at him over that bowl of soup, I saw a soul that was being sold, not to me or to a goat but to the power of desire.
The record says, “He ate and drank, and then got up and left.” But he left behind his soul. Just like that, he got up and left his soul behind.
What is happening here?
We have a fellow whose appetite is bigger than himself. It must be if he can give up the very blessing which made him what he is. Give up the birthright which could secure his place in the world and assure him of a future. The record says, “Esau despised his birthright.” I say Esau despised his very own being, his very self.
Why? Because of his desire.
But what shakes me to the core of my being is that I was doing the same thing.
I was selling my integrity and honor for the birthright. I was as close to the abyss as Esau was. My childhood vow was to gain a sense of blessing. That may sound like a good thing to strive for, but a person cannot find blessing, from money, love, attention, fame or anything else, if he surrenders his soul to desire, even the desire for blessing.
Here’s a bit of advice: Learn the difference between what you are and what you want.
Even the blessed are cursed by losing sight of the difference. Until you recognize the difference, you are on the market for real cheap, the price of a bowl of soup or less.
And take my word for it, there’s always a Jacob around to barter for your soul.
Questions for Reflection:
- Has there been a time when you gave up or lost something (or someone) important because of your impatience and desire?
- Why is it so hard to control our desires? Is it all that important to control desire?
Check back soon for the “The Jacob Journal: Part 4.” Catch up on the rest of the Jacob Journal by reading “The Jacob Journal: Part 2.”
About the Author
The 21st century author of this journal is Mike Baird, PhD, retired professor of Christian studies. The ideas and insights found here come from a life lived, not from a fantasy world. It is his prayer that you will see yourself mirrored in some of Jacob’s struggles and decisions, and that you will discover the timeless spiritual resources which Scripture and the Holy Spirit speaking through it have made available to us.
Dr. Baird originates from Glendale, AZ. He received his BA at Grand Canyon College (now GCU). His MDiv and PhD were completed at Southwestern Baptist Theology Seminary, Fort Worth, TX (Go Cowboys!). He and his wife have three children and five grandchildren.
He has enjoyed teaching college students for the last 35 years. He is a member of First Southern Baptist Church, where he teaches a Bible study class on Sunday mornings and sings in the choir.
What he has enjoyed greatly over the years is participating in the Ethington Theatre Series as a guest actor. He has been in 27 productions, his favorites being the Shakespeare productions.
He encourages students to use their time at GCU to clarify and sharpen their sense of calling. You are here to equip for the work of the Kingdom. Don’t squander the opportunity.