“A mess of pottage” refers to something that may be very desirable in the moment, but is of little value when taken in exchange for something less tangible but of immense value. It refers to Esau trading his birthright for a pot of lentil stew in Genesis 25:27-35.
When the boys grew up, Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the field, but Jacob was a peaceful man, living in tents. Now Isaac loved Esau, because he had a taste for game, but Rebekah loved Jacob. When Jacob had cooked stew, Esau came in from the field and he was famished; and Esau said to Jacob, “Please let me have a swallow of that red stuff there, for I am famished.” Therefore his name was called Edom. But Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” Esau said, “Behold, I am about to die; so of what use then is the birthright to me?” And Jacob said, “First swear to me”; so he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew; and he ate and drank, and rose and went on his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright. (NASB)
Trading one’s birthright for a pot of stew may seem farfetched, but we all misplace priorities at one time or another. Shortsightedness occurs when that for which I hunger is right in front of me. The present presents temptations difficult to resist at times. A dear friend heard my heart and used the mess of pottage reference to help me get my priorities in order. I haven’t heard that expression in decades, but it rang true in my heart as soon as I heard it this week.
Having friends who hear my heart and love God is a blessing I cannot imagine living without. I was at the point of trading a beautiful friendship for a mess of pottage, but God placed Esau’s stew in my path to help me see the folly of such a trade.
Walking in God’s kingdom now is a new concept for me. I smile and shake my head when I think of the number of times I said the Lord’s Prayer without seeing the kingdom as here and now. Christ clearly says “on earth as it is in heaven.” (NASB Matthew 6:9-13) It is sobering to realize how easy it is to trade a walk in God’s kingdom for a jaunt down my own path. A mess of pottage is all it takes to lose any birthright.
The phrase also reminded me of a beautiful poem I haven’t read in years, “Touch of the Master’s Hand” by Myra Brooks Welch. The phrase is used powerfully in the last verse of the poem.
‘Twas battered and scarred, and the auctioneer
Thought it scarcely worth his while
To waste much time on the old violin,
But held it up with a smile.
“What am I bidden, good folks,” he cried,
“Who’ll start the bidding for me?”
“A dollar, a dollar. Then two! Only two?
Two dollars, and who’ll make it three?”
“Three dollars, once; three dollars, twice;
Going for three…” But no,
From the room, far back, a grey-haired man
Came forward and picked up the bow;
Then wiping the dust from the old violin,
And tightening the loosened strings,
He played a melody pure and sweet,
As a caroling angel sings.
The music ceased, and the auctioneer,
With a voice that was quiet and low,
Said: “What am I bid for the old violin?”
And he held it up with the bow.
“A thousand dollars, and who’ll make it two?
Two thousand! And who’ll make it three?
Three thousand, once; three thousand, twice,
And going and gone,” said he.
The people cheered, but some of them cried,
“We do not quite understand.
What changed its worth?” Swift came the reply:
“The touch of the Master’s hand.”
And many a man with life out of tune,
And battered and scarred with sin,
Is auctioned cheap to the thoughtless crowd
Much like the old violin.
A “mess of pottage,” a glass of wine,
A game — and he travels on.
He is “going” once, and “going” twice,
He’s “going” and almost “gone.”
But the Master comes, and the foolish crowd
Never can quite understand
The worth of a soul and the change that is wrought
By the touch of the Master’s hand.
The lesson this week was that I am more than I can imagine myself to be. Like the old violin, I have seen myself as battered and scarred; but the touch of God’s hand changed that. God is love, and love is what His kingdom is all about. I tend to sell myself short, but this week I decided to let God play a new tune on my heart. I want the birthright He has for me, and that means seeing myself in His light. I can’t do that on my own, but I can do it if I relax in His hands and trust Him to do what He does best.