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Genesis 25:29-34 tells the story about Esau selling his birthright because he is hungry and despised it.

And Jacob sod pottage: and Esau came from the field, and he was faint: And Esau said to Jacob, Feed me, I pray thee, with that same red pottage; for I am faint: therefore was his name called Edom. And Jacob said, Sell me this day thy birthright. And Esau said, Behold, I am at the point to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me? And Jacob said, Swear to me this day; and he sware unto him: and he sold his birthright unto Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentiles; and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way: thus Esau despised his birthright.

Why did he (Esau) despise his birthright?

Is there a good Christian commentary that explains what "despised" means, and why Esau would have despised it?

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    Despised may not be the best translation of the word בּזה bâzâh, perhaps it should better have been translated lightly regarded. – BYE Dec 23 '14 at 15:27
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    I am sorry to see that this question had been placed on hold. Please ask it on Mi Yodeya. The short answer is that there was no material gain for Esau in the birthright, it was spiritual. – gideon marx Dec 23 '14 at 18:54
  • You need to add a tag or description for the belief system you want to answer this. There are lots of potential answers without a specific denomination named. Do you want a Jehova's Witness view point? A Catholic viewpoint? A Baptist viewpoint? etc. if your answer is 'any/all of them' the site says your question is too broad, regardless of whether that actually makes any sense or not. In this case, due to wide doctrinal variance on the topic, it actually does make sense. – the dark wanderer Jan 1 '15 at 4:27
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Esau despised his birthright. In order to understand this, first we need to understand what it means in this context to "despise" and also what the birthright was.

What was a birthright?

An abundance of sources will tell you that in the Ancient Near East context, the birthright goes to the eldest son. All sons receive a "portion" of the inheritance of their father, but the one who receives the birthright receives a double portion. He would also be the "head" of the family.

What did despise (בָּזָה) mean?

Different translations have:

Despise (NIV, ESV, NASB, KJV, HCSB, NET, WEB), contempt (NLT), belittle (ISV), make little account of (Douay-Rheims)

Strong's defines it as:

despise, disdain, contemptible, think to scorn, vile person

NET Bible Notes say:

So Esau despised his birthright. This clause, which concludes the episode, is a summary statement which reveals the underlying significance of Esau’s actions. “To despise” means to treat something as worthless or with contempt. Esau’s willingness to sell his birthright was evidence that he considered it to be unimportant.

Bottom line: He considered his birthright to be unimportant.

What was Esau's birthright?

God makes a covenant with Abraham in Genesis 17:

I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.

This reiterates and expands on the promises God had already made to Abraham in Genesis 12, 13, and 15. In Genesis 25:11, it says that "after Abraham's death, God blessed Isaac." In the next chapter, God speaks to Isaac:

Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you. For to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham. I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because Abraham obeyed me and did everything I required of him, keeping my commands, my decrees and my instructions.

These are the blessings that Esau was to inherit, in addition to his father's property. He was to receive the promise of fathering many nations, being a blessing to other nations, and a close relationship with God. But this he despised.

Why did he despise it?

In Hebrews 12 we read:

See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. Even though he sought the blessing with tears, he could not change what he had done.

Esau is implicitly contrasted with Jesus, who is mentioned at the beginning of the chapter:

For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Jesus endured the hardship of the cross in order to secure blessings for all nations. Esau gave in to his momentary hunger in order to forego his blessing. Ultimately the reason he despised his birthright could be said to be that his god was his stomach. Paul has this to say about such men in Philippians 3:

For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

Additional Resources

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Esau was a physical man, not a spiritual one.

In Genesis alone you will see Edom's (Esau's) nature as a primarily fleshly person -- not spiritual.

Symbolically, he was...

He was born with a reddish color, very hairy, and had a beastly disposition.

As Jesus would later say, "Don't throw your pearls before swine..." and "do not throw what is holy to dogs...".

Dogs and pigs do not appreciate the quality of what they are given. Esau could be likened to a boar (according to certain Jewish traditional documentation such as Jubilees or Enoch).

His choice in women reflected that he lightly esteemed the holy standards of the group he was with -- one of those standards being to avoid marrying women of the nations.

So why did he care so little for his birthright?

All of his attention were given to things of the world, and to pleasures of the flesh. Hence when he was hungry enough its no big surprise that a bowl of food had more value than a birthright full of things he couldn't really comprehend or appreciate - like a dog or a boar.


Occasionally I'll throw my dog a peace of good meat, and I then demonstrate to the children how he does not care - or even perceive - the quality of what he was given as he mindlessly devours it. And there is Esau :D.

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The reason Esau despised his birthright is because he is at the point to die. Meaning he and the nation of people that he is the father of ( Edom) was created to be the vessels of dishonor, the son of perdition, fitted for destruction at the end of what the gentiles call this life, but know to the spiritual vessels of honor ( children of Israel) as the election. This is explained in Romans 9:11-22. Esau and Cain are one in the same, the serpents seed. There punishment is reserved until the end. Esau/Edom are carnal and defiled by the vanities of this world. Jacob/Israel where put at the bottom of society by the MOST HIGH for defiling themselves with the vanity of this world, but the elect number of them will endure until the end in accordance with GODS laws, statues and commandments, as well as spiritual faith until the LORD ends their final captivity and destroys the kingdom of Esau, and the children of Israel shall posses the nation on Edom as slaves in the kingdom of the LORD. As told in Isaiah 14:1-3 and Revelation 13:9-10. As well as the book of Obadiah the smallest book in the bible 1 chapter long that depicts the end of Esau. -

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    Welcome! Sadly, this answer seems to just express your opinion, which isn't what this site is about. It would be much stronger if you demonstrated that it reflects the teaching of a Christian commentary, as requested in the question. I hope you'll take a minute to how this site is different from others, and review how your answer can be supported. – Nathaniel Oct 28 '15 at 18:40
  • I believe it states that Esau despises his birthright before Jacob flees to Laban's - while Esau is still a young man. – James Shewey Oct 28 '15 at 19:44

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