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 it 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.
Above we have a snapshot of the lives of Jacob and Esau, Isaac’s twin sons. Esau, the elder, sells his birthright to Jacob at the cost of a bowl of soup and a piece of bread. The final assessment of the situation: Esau despised his birthright.
So what does despise mean in this context? I used to assume the word was very emotive, in the same camp as disgust, hate, or loathe. But the Bible doesn’t use it that way. Here there is no argument breaking out, no punches thrown, no harsh words. After Esau sells his birthright, he goes on his way. He doesn’t seem to care either way about whether he has it or not. And that is the essence of this Biblical word, despise: to treat as insignificant, expendable, and of little value.
We see this word show up in the New Testament as Jesus is said to have “endured the cross, despising the shame.” (Heb 12:2) It’s not that he was angry at or disgusted by the shame of being nailed to the cross. He just didn’t give much importance to the shame he would endure. It was a negligible side-effect of the cross when compared to the immense joy and salvation it would bring.
We are told that David, the man after God’s own heart, despised the word of the Lord and the Lord Himself:
Nathan then said to David, “Why have you despised the word of the Lord by doing evil in His sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the sons of Ammon. Now therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.” ~2 Samuel 12:9-10 (emphasis mine)
David valued His own desires so greatly that He gave God very little weight in the decision. He treated God and His commandments as optional, superfluous, and just not important. He despised God. Now, I doubt David made the decision, “Today, I will choose not to love the Lord my God, but despise Him and His Word.” Likely, his heart grew hard over time, as he began to find other things more important than God.
Like David, we won’t move from “on fire for God” to “despising God” overnight. Slowly over time, as we give other things more value, we esteem God less and less. This is what it means to despise God and His Word: to treat Him lightly, as unimportant, and just not a big deal.
So, do you despise God? What does it look like to despise Him and His Word? If the man after God’s own heart fell into this, then we are capable as well. Here’s what it looks like to despise Him:
1. Treating God as small. Small in your decision-making. Small in your priorities. Small in your goals. In Jeremiah 49:15 and Obadiah 2, despising something is equivalent to making something small. When God is just a very small part of your life and He factors very little into your decisions, you despise Him.
2. Treating His Word as optional. Numbers 15:30-31 describes the willful choice to act contrary to God’s Word as despising His Word. Do you know what you should be doing and still willfully choose not to? Maybe you have thought, “Well God is gracious and forgiving, He will forgive me.” God did not save you to give you license to disobey the Word, but to keep it in His strength.
3. Doubting God can save you. In 1 Samuel 10:27, it says the people despised their new king, Saul, saying, “How can this one deliver us?” In seasons of suffering or temptation or bondage to sin, have you said that in your heart of God? How could God possibly help me in this? How could He save me? These questions come from a heart that despises God, that treats Him lightly.
4. Breaking covenants. In Ezekiel 16:58 and 17:18-19 God describes people who break covenants as those who despise the covenant. Later in Ezekiel 22:8, He accuses the people of despising His holy things. The marriage covenant is one ordained by God to bring Him glory. When we break that covenant or treat it lightly, we are despising something God has sanctified and made holy. This means, if you are married, don’t despise that covenant by putting yourself in compromising situations, by not investing in your marriage or by allowing divorce to be an option. And to the unmarried, don’t despise the marriage covenant of others by drawing them away from their spouse in time or affection.
5. Not giving God your best. In Malachi 1:6-8, after God has accused the priests of despising His name, they respond with the question: “How have we despised Your name?” God’s answer: you give me your worst. Instead of a perfect spotless lamb, the priests are offering blind, lame, and sick animals for sacrifices, less than they would even give to the governor. Thankfully, Jesus already became our perfect spotless sacrifice and we have no more need of physical offerings. But do you give God the best of your time, or the leftovers? Does He get your first financially offerings, or what is left over after you use your money for yourself? Giving God your leftovers is to despise His name.
6. Giving man more honor than God. From that same passage in Malachi, God accuses the people of giving more honor and reverence to fathers, masters, and governors than to Him. Who do you revere? What human do you show the most respect and honor to? If you treat that person better than you do the Lord God, Maker of Heaven and Earth, you despise Him.
No Christian sets out with an agenda to despise God. It happens to us slowly over time as we give more value to people and things than to Him. And it doesn’t seem bad to value friends, spouses, children, churches, careers, to-do lists, homes, and cars. None of these things are bad by themselves. But when we treat them with more weight than the God who gives us life and breath, we have begun the slow descent that King David fell into at the height of his success.
The truth is, we will all at times despise God. We will treat Him as less important than He is. We will not consider Him in our decisions. We’ll give Him our leftovers, not our best. We will fail to keep covenants and doubt His saving power. He knows our hearts would despise Him and He sent Jesus to endure that and take the punishment for us.
Jesus was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face. He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried, Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell up on Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him. Isaiah 53:3-6 (emphasis mine)
Magnify the Lord with me today and give Him the weight and importance He deserves.