Fasting is all about appetite. The writer of Hebrews says, “Watch out for the Esau syndrome: trading away God’s lifelong gift in order to satisfy a short-term appetite” (Hebrews 12:16, MSG).
In Genesis 25, we read that Esau came home famished from hunting, and noticed that his brother, Jacob, was cooking. As you would expect, he asked for some of the food. Jacob offered a trade – he would give Esau his stew if Esau gave Jacob his birthright (note: a birthright was the right to the inheritance and spiritual leadership of the family). Here’s the crazy part, Esau accepted the deal. It seems bizarre that Esau would sacrifice something so valuable for something so small, but the truth is, it happens to all of us. We can find ourselves settling for less for the sake of satisfying short-term appetites.
Fasting is all about appetite.
Fasting is ultimately a declaration of what our greatest appetite is and what we believe will ultimately satisfy us. This is precisely why God honors fasting and works so powerfully through it. In his book, A Hunger for God, John Piper writes, “God rewards fasting because fasting expresses the cry of the heart that nothing on the earth can satisfy our souls besides God. God must reward this cry because God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.”
Genesis 25:19-34 ESV
These are the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham fathered Isaac, and Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, the sister of Laban the Aramean, to be his wife. And Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren. And the Lord granted his prayer, and Rebekah his wife conceived. The children struggled together within her, and she said, “If it is thus, why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the Lord. And the Lord said to her,
“Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger.”
When her days to give birth were completed, behold, there were twins in her womb. The first came out red, all his body like a hairy cloak, so they called his name Esau. Afterward his brother came out with his hand holding Esau’s heel, so his name was called Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them.
When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents. Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.
Once when Jacob was cooking stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was exhausted. And Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stew, for I am exhausted!” (Therefore his name was called Edom.) Jacob said, “Sell me your birthright now.” Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” Jacob said, “Swear to me now.” 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 his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.
Hebrews 12:16 MSG
Work at getting along with each other and with God. Otherwise you’ll never get so much as a glimpse of God. Make sure no one gets left out of God’s generosity. Keep a sharp eye out for weeds of bitter discontent. A thistle or two gone to seed can ruin a whole garden in no time. Watch out for the Esau syndrome: trading away God’s lifelong gift in order to satisfy a short-term appetite. You well know how Esau later regretted that impulsive act and wanted God’s blessing—but by then it was too late, tears or no tears.