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The time at length drew nigh when Esau's contempt of the birthright was to be recompensed. Isaac being far advanced in years, and no longer able to see distinctly, thought it needful to set his house in order, not knowing how soon it might please God to call upon him to lay down his earthly house of this tabernacle. He, therefore, determined, without further delay, to bestow his patriarchal blessing on his first-born, Esau, according to the custom of his fathers. Some have been disposed to condemn Isaac's determination, as indicating a disposition to contravene that saying of the Almighty, “The elder shall serve the younger;" and amongst this number, is the pious and learned Bishop Hall. I cannot join in this condemnation ; for, granting that Isaac was perfectly acquainted with the divine declaration, he had received no intimation from God how it was to be brought about; nor had he been instructed by Him to withhold his blessing from Esau. To the compact made between his children, moreover, Isaac was no party; nor could he be in any way bound by it. Neither must it be forgotten, that on these occasions, the patriarchs were under the influence of the Spirit of prophecy: they spake not of themselves, but as they were moved by the Holy Ghost; so that Isaac, even if fully aware of God's determination to give the superiority to Jacob, might purpose to do what seemed right and natural, confident that he would be directed how and what to speak in that hour. Jacob and Rebekah, however, had not the same faith ; for, knowing Isaac's attachment to his first-born, they were filled with anxiety, lest the avowed purpose of God should be frustrated. Little do those persons know of God, who imagine that puny mortals can contravene His purposes. “ His counsel will stand,” whatever opposition creatures may make to it. The want of faith, or a weakness of faith, oft inclines persons to have recourse to unlawful expedients, and to seek to be wiser and more provident than God. This was the case with Rebekah. Fearful lest Esau should inherit the blessing, she counselled Jacob to resort to deceit; and though he at first rejected the counsel, not so much from an abhorrence of fraud, as from a dread of detection, yet her persuasions prevailed, and her counsel was followed. Thus by an act of fraud, Jacob compassed his heart's desire, and unconsciously carried into effect what the Lord had determined should be done. This latter circumstance no more diminished the criminality of the proceeding, than the determinate counsel of God that Jesus should die for sinners, diminished the guilt of those who by wicked hands crucified and slew Him.
Great was the consternation and remorse of Esau on finding the blessing thus wrested from him. He could not indeed justly have calculated upon it; for he had virtually disposed of it, by disposing of his birthright : yet when he saw it put beyond his reach, his grief was most immoderate, and he cried with a great, and exceeding bitter cry, “ Bless me, even me also, O my
father!" Yet even at this moment, Esau's carnal mind betrayed itself. Instead of condemning his own sin,-instead of saying, “I have sinned in undervaluing and despising thy blessing, O my God; therefore, I repent in dust and ashes,” he was angry only with his brother Jacob, against whom he had, indeed, just ground of complaint, exclaiming, “ Is he not rightly called Jacob ? for he hath supplanted me these two times : he took away my birthright; and, behold, now he hath taken away my blessing.” In Esau's sorrow, there was evidently nothing of a godly character- no abhorrence of his sensuality and profaneness—no acknowledgment of his sin-no humiliation before God. He was, indeed, grieved at the frustration of his hope, and irritated beyond measure with his brother ; but he was not a penitent.
Esau sought to induce his father Isaac to reverse what he had done; but he did not succeed : he found no place of a change of mind in him, though he sought it carefully with tears. Isaac felt that he had been cruelly deceived ; but he felt also that the Lord had not been deceived; and that what he had been moved by the Holy Ghost to say, could not be unsaid, and would stand for ever. But though Isaac could not be prevailed upon to give the blessing to Esau, he did, in accordance with his urgent request, give a blessing unto him.
Esau's determination, on finding himself thus supplanted by his brother, is a further proof that he was not led by the Spirit of God, but rather by him who hath been a murderer from the beginning. “The days of mourning for my father are at hand, said he, in his heart: then will I slay my brother Jacob.” Such wrath was as cruel as it was unnatural ; and clearly indicated an unhumbled heart. Jacob was, however, removed out of the reach of Esau's hostility, in the hope that his anger would abate, and that he would forget what Jacob had done unto him.
During his lengthened absence, nothing worthy of commemoration seems to have occurred respecting Esau, save an attempt to conciliate his parents by entering into a matrimonial connexion with a daughter of Ishmael. He appears, moreover, to have quitted his father's place of sojourn, and to have removed to Mount Seir, the country of Edom. It is, indeed, probable that Isaac, acting by inspiration of God, had directed him to this part; for we find that God at a subsequent period declared, “I have given Mount Seir to Esau for a possession.”
When Jacob set his face homeward, he sent a very humble message to Esau, announcing his approach, and deprecating his wrath. The nature of Esau's reply is not given by Moses : he simply represents Jacob's messengers as saying on their return, “ We came to thy
brother Esau, and also he cometh to meet thee, and four hundred men with him.” Now Esau might, possibly have intended no evil by this formidable array: he might merely have designed to do honor to his brother. Jacob, however, judged otherwise: he seems to have apprehended, that Esau was now about to carry into effect his former threat. But whatever the purpose of Esau's heart was in the first instance, the Lord, in answer to Jacob's prayers, so mollified him, that he no sooner saw his brother, than wrath was banished from his soul ; so that he ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell upon his neck and kissed him. This incident
teach us, how greatly men are indebted to that
which so often restrains them from acting according to the first impulse of their feelings. How deeply would David have lamented his precipitation, had he executed his threat against Nabal and his family! And what a mercy must Esau, in his calmer moments, have accounted it, that he had not, like wicked Cain, stained his hands with a brother's blood !
The harmony thus happily re-established, continued uninterrupted to their lives' end. Esau quietly resigned the land of promise to his favored brother, and retired into Seir. There he appears to have ended his days in peace; yet we have no reason to conclude that he was ever otherwise, than profane Esau.
From this history, some important instruction may be drawn.
And, first, we learn from it, that a contempt of, or even indifference to spiritual privileges, from a hope of sensual gratification, not unfrequently provokes God to withdraw them altogether.
This was the case with profane Esau. The privileges which he had despised, when put in competition with a trifling sensual gratification, were never more placed within his reach. Is this an uncommon case ? That thousands, and tens of thousands, act precisely as Esau acted, is indisputable. To them is the word of salvation sent,—to them pardon, peace, and everlasting blessedness are freely offered, through faith in God's eternal Son. But what is their conduct? If they do not sell their birthright for a mess of pottage, do not they barter it for something equally contemptible,-for some worthless bait which Satan proposes to their carnal and sensual tastes ? What are our lovers of pleasure,—our votaries of the pomps and vanities of the world,--our worshippers of mammon, but so many profane Esaus, who, for some momentary gratification,-some worthless bauble that perishes in the using,—some paltry addition to a store already more than ample, do violence to their own convictions, and prefer the pleasures of sin to the blessings of salvation ? And will their offence be more leniently dealt with than that of Esau? I appeal to Jerusalem, of whom it was at length said, “the things that concern thy peace are hid from thee”—I appeal to Felix who said to his monitor, “Go thy way this time, and when I have a convenient season I will send for thee," but to whom that convenient season never arrived -I appeal to the thousands who have allowed the voice of conscience to be stifled by the cares, and pleasures, and employments of life, and who have at length died in their sins—I appeal to all these, in confirmation of the assertion, that the spiritual blessings which men once despise, and put from them, are not proposed to them again.
We learn, in the second place, that a day will come, when those, who have slighted spiritual privileges, will be made sensible of their folly.
Poor Esau would fain have inherited the blessing which he had once despised; but he was rejected. And could we unveil the mysteries of every chamber of death,-could we be ear witnesses to the exceeding great