Biblical typology adds so much extra richness to the stories, sometimes it is quite amazing. I think we’ll see that today, as we take a closer look at Esau.
Establishing the Types: Flesh and Spirit
Let’s start with what we know about Esau. First, he had a twin brother – Jacob. Before they were born, it was prophesied that the older would serve the younger, upsetting the natural order of things. Esau, of course, was the older, and the two brothers constantly had strife between them. In Genesis 25:30-34 we read:
“And Esau said to Jacob, “Please feed me with that same red stew, for I am weary.” Therefore his name was called Edom. But Jacob said, “ Sell me your birthright as of this day.” And Esau said, “ Look, I am about to die; so what is this birthright to me?” Then Jacob said, “ Swear to me as of this day.”So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. And Jacob gave Esau bread and stew of lentils; then he ate and drank, arose, and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.” (emphasis mine)
Esau became known as “Edom” because he wanted the red stew. Edom means red. For roughly the next two thousand years his descendants after him would be branded with this single rash act of stuffing the belly (Phil 3:19). Isn’t that amazing? Think of why we’re called Canadian, or American, or Chinese, or whatever… can you imagine taking your national identity from a single instance of stuffing your face with stew? And yet that’s just what happened here.
Esau was serving his flesh, and in the process, he despised his birthright, which had been given to him by God. He sold his birthright – the right to be the next leader of the family – in favor of feeding his flesh. He valued his God-given right to leadership equivalent to a bowl of stew.
As a result, Esau becomes a type of the FLESH all throughout the Bible, wherever you find him or his descendants, the Edomites.
Jacob, on the other hand, was also a very flesh-serving fellow. He did anything he could to get ahead in life, from taking advantage of his brother’s weakness to get his birthright, to out right full-on deception to steal the blessing, to craftiness in dealing with Laban to get his flocks. But there was one thing that separated Jacob from Esau – Jacob had a heart for Lord, and Esau did not. Through a series of events, God revealed Himself to Jacob, ultimately culminating in an all-night struggle that left Jacob knowing his weakness, finally submitted to God, and given a new name… Israel (Gen 32:24-30). Israel means God rules, power with God and man, or Prince with God.
As such, Jacob is a type of the fleshy man who has been saved by God and given a new name – a spiritual name – and made a new creation. He is a type of the renewed SPIRIT of man in submission to God. His descendants, the Israelites – when found in contrast to the Edomites – are also a type of the spirit.
When we are born, each one of us has a FLESH nature as well as a SPIRIT nature – they are twins. We are separated from God due to Adam’s sin, and we are in need of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ to reconcile our spirits to God the Father. Once saved, we are a new creation (2 Cor 5:17) in Christ, and our spirit is grafted into the family of God (Rom 11:17), given the right to be called sons of God (John 1:12). On the other hand, our older brother the flesh, is not saved, and in fact is sentenced to death (Rom 8:13).
All of the stories about the Edomites and the Israelites now serve to illustrate this central theme, the struggle of the flesh against the spirit. To further establish this picture, the Edomites settled in a land that was very mountainous. In fact, they literally carved out their dwellings from the mountains. Today, the most famous of these remains is Petra, and as you can see in the picture, these were not simple “cave-dwellers!” Mount Seir was their capital city, and was considered an impregnable fortress. Enemies had to approach through extremely narrow canyons, and defenders could be perched high up above and easily slaughter any invading army with impunity.
To me, this is yet a further illustration of the flesh making its dwelling in high and lofty pride, impregnable to attack, unwilling to submit or admit wrong, considering itself aloof from all others. Furthermore, the dwellings were carved straight out of the rock, speaking of a hardened heart which we know is exactly what pride produces.
The Amalekites Attack
The first time we bump into the Edomites is when the Israelites have just left Egypt… a type of the world. In typology, this is the picture of Israel’s salvation experience. They cross the Red Sea in a spectacular and powerful water baptism where all their old enemies are cut off and thoroughly destroyed. They’ve been miraculously blessed with bread from heaven (Jn 6:35) and water (Jn 4:14) from a rock (Ps 18:2) and… then came Amalek (Ex 17:8).
When Israel left Egypt, the Egyptians gave them tons of gold and riches as a “parting gift.” Thus Israel was carrying with them the wealth of Egypt – not insignificant! Amalek happens to be the grandson of Esau, and Amalek’s father’s name was Eliphaz (Gen 36:16). Eliphaz means “my god is fine gold” and Amalek took his father’s and his grandfather’s nature literally, and decided to swoop in and steal Israel’s gold (blessing).
Whenever we gain something in the spirit, watch out for Amalek – he will come to snatch away whatever victory you’ve gained by whatever means is available. John 10:10 “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy…” Amalek is like the birds of the air that devoured the seed as soon as it hit the ground (Luke 8:5).
In this particular story, the only way the Israelites overcame the Amalekites was when Moses held out his staff with both hands, from on top of the mountain. Looking up from below, the soldiers would have seen a silhouette of the cross. When Moses lowered the staff, the Amalekites were winning, but as long as that cross was lifted up over the battle, Israel had the victory.
Much more could be said about Amalek, but I’ll leave that for another post. For now though, know that Amalek as a type of the flesh empowered by demonic forces (birds of the air), will take any opportunity to try to steal our blessings and freedom that we have in the spirit.
The Edomites Block Passage to the Promised Land
The next time we cross paths with the descendants of Esau, it is when Israel wants to cross Edomite territory to get to the land promised them by God (Numbers 20:14-21):
“Now Moses sent messengers from Kadesh to the king of Edom. “Thus says your brother Israel:‘You know all the hardship that has befallen us, how our fathers went down to Egypt, and we dwelt in Egypt a long time, and the Egyptians afflicted us and our fathers. When we cried out to the Lord, He heard our voice and sent the Angel and brought us up out of Egypt; now here we are in Kadesh, a city on the edge of your border. Please let us pass through your country. We will not pass through fields or vineyards, nor will we drink water from wells; we will go along the King’s Highway; we will not turn aside to the right hand or to the left until we have passed through your territory. ’”
Then Edom said to him, “You shall not pass through my land, lest I come out against you with the sword.”
So the children of Israel said to him, “We will go by the Highway, and if I or my livestock drink any of your water, then I will pay for it; let me only pass through on foot, nothing more.”
Then he said, “You shall not pass through.” So Edom came out against them with many men and with a strong hand. Thus Edom refused to give Israel passage through his territory; so Israel turned away from him.
Note how the Bible records this as a conversation between two brothers, and not between two nations? So here’s the question of the day that each one of us ought to ask:
–> Does my flesh ever prevent my spirit from breaking through to its promised inheritance in Christ?
–> If so, HOW?
Of course the answer to the second part will be a bit different for each one of us, but I can assure you, the answer to the first question is undeniably YES for all of us. The flesh ALWAYS tries to block the spirit from its inheritance. The flesh has its own agenda, and that agenda is always antichrist. Remember, “antichrist” actually means “in place of Christ” and in that sense, the flesh is always seeking preeminence, and that is always at the expense of Christ. The two are mutually exclusive.
The Edomites Conquered by David
Fast forward a few hundred years, to when King David is establishing his kingdom. There’s this little verse in 2 Samuel 8:14 that never meant much to me, until I saw Edom as a type of the flesh:
“He also put garrisons in Edom; throughout all Edom he put garrisons, and all the Edomites became David ‘s servants. And the Lord preserved David wherever he went.”
David is a type of the overcomer in Christ, so he fits in perfectly with our picture of Israel being the renewed spirit. David and Saul are another chapter of the spirit versus flesh battle, but in this little verse we see the Edomites pop up again… However David, as a type of overcomer, has turned the tables on the Edomites and made them his servants. This is a great picture of conquering the flesh (1 Cor 9:27), and giving it no opportunity to rebel; however I believe David fell short of what the Lord truly intended.
In the New Testament, Paul tells the Ephesians (Eph 4:27) “do not give the devil a foothold.” He also goes even further and says “put to death the works of the flesh” Rom 8:13. We are not to tolerate the works of the flesh – even under guard – but rather we are to crucify the flesh with its passions and desires (Gal 5:24).
Amaziah – Conquering Flesh with Flesh
“Then Amaziah strengthened himself, and leading his people, he went to the Valley of Salt and killed ten thousand of the people of Seir. Also the children of Judah took captive ten thousand alive, brought them to the top of the rock, and cast them down from the top of the rock, so that they all were dashed in pieces.
But as for the soldiers of the army which Amaziah had discharged, so that they would not go with him to battle, they raided the cities of Judah from Samaria to Beth Horon, killed three thousand in them, and took much spoil.
Now it was so, after Amaziah came from the slaughter of the Edomites, that he brought the gods of the people of Seir, set them up to be his gods, and bowed down before them and burned incense to them. Therefore the anger of the Lord was aroused against Amaziah, and He sent him a prophet who said to him, “ Why have you sought the gods of the people, which could not rescue their own people from your hand?”
So it was, as he talked with him, that the king said to him, “Have we made you the king’s counselor? Cease! Why should you be killed?”
Then the prophet ceased, and said, “I know that God has determined to destroy you, because you have done this and have not heeded my advice.”” 2 Chronicles 25:11-16
This is a bizarre little story, and even more strange if you read the preceding verses. However, I think the lesson here is that Amaziah tried to conquer the Edomites through his own strength – “Amaziah strengthened himself.” When you start reading the chapter, it almost looks like he was going to go to battle in faith; he turned away the Israelite mercenaries he’d hired. But then he strengthens himself, and proceeds to toss 10,000 captives alive off a cliff… and adopt their gods for himself!
The secular kings of the day understood that if they conquered another nation, their gods were clearly stronger than the conquered nation. Look at Pharoah’s reaction to the God of the Israelite slaves… he mocked Him. The Babylonians and others all did the same. If you conquered someone, clearly, your gods were stronger than theirs.
But Amaziah actually took the gods of the people he had conquered – the Edomites/Flesh – and made them his own! He began worshiping the gods of the flesh, rather than the Living God, Yahweh.
I think the takeaway from this story is that when you try to conquer the flesh through the means of the flesh, you will end up serving the flesh. In other words, flesh will always win. You cannot put to death the flesh through works of the flesh, because the flesh will never commit suicide. It must be destroyed by the work of the spirit.
How many times have you seen someone try to lose weight, and take up smoking instead? Or they try to lose weight, and become addicted to working out? Perhaps they think they talk too much, and instead they become perpetually silent. Satan always tries to get us off the moderate middle ground. He doesn’t care which extreme we’re at, so long as it is an extreme and not on the straight and narrow with Christ. If you yo-yo back and forth from fleshly position to fleshly position, he’s happy with that – just so long as we’re not attacking the flesh from the spirit!
The other takeaway from this story is that when we’ve decided to worship the gods of the flesh, the voice of the Spirit will cease. The prophet was silenced, and Amaziah no longer had the benefit of God’s advice and direction for his reign. The same holds true in each one of our lives – if someone deliberately chooses flesh over spirit, they should not expect to hear much from the spirit until there is some repentance.
Any time throughout history that Israel was attacked by another nation (Egypt, Babylon, etc), the Edomites would always take the opportunity to slip in from the south and attack at the same time (more details here). Israel’s armies were focused elsewhere, and Edom saw it as a great chance to slip in and kick ’em while they’re down. When the Babylonians captured Jerusalem, the Edomites were cheering them on, laughing at the Israelites’ misfortune. And when the Israelites fled from the Babylonian invaders, the Edomites stood at the border of their land with their armies and turned the Israelites back, once again refusing them entry, sending them straight into the Babylonian swords.
Throughout history, the Edomites took every single opportunity to steal, kill, and destroy their brethren the Israelites. There was never any mercy, never a missed opportunity – it was sheer vicious hatred.
“Moreover the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Son of man, set thy face against mount Seir, and prophesy against it, and say unto it, thus saith the Lord God; Behold, O mount Seir, I am against thee, and I will stretch out mine hand against thee, and I will make thee most desolate. I will lay thy cities waste, and thou shalt be desolate, and thou shalt know that I am the Lord. Because thou hast had a perpetual hatred, and hast shed the blood of the children of Israel by the force of the sword in the time of their calamity, in the time that their iniquity had an end” Ez 35:1-5 KJV
In the KJV, it says Edom has a perpetual hatred for Israel (See also Amos 1:11). Other translations render that as ancient hostility, eternal hatred, everlasting enmity, and perpetual enmity. This actually describes the problem of the flesh quite perfectly: the flesh has an everlasting hatred and hostility against the things of the Spirit.
“Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” Romans 8:7-8
In Romans, Paul says “the carnal mind is enmity against God…” that is its very nature, and the flesh cannot change its nature anymore than a leopard cannot change its spots. Indeed, the flesh cannot submit to the Spirit. It’s not even that it refuses, because that implies choice – it simply cannot fulfill the law of God, it is completely contrary.
So here’s another big question:
–> Do we really discern and understand the true nature of our flesh, according to Jeremiah 17:9?
Do you understand that your flesh is inherently evil and dead set on the destruction of anything that Christ has done or wants to accomplish in your life? Once we begin to understand how vicious this flesh nature is, we begin to see why Paul said in Romans 8:13: “For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”
I’d like to clarify that when I’m speaking about the flesh, I do not mean our physical body, although that plays a role. Our bodies are not inherently evil; they were created by God, and although we struggle with the consequences of sin (sickness, disease, etc), it does us no good – nor does the Bible ever teach – that we ought to literally destroy any part of our bodies. Paul said to put to death the deeds of the flesh… not the flesh itself. We are talking about the flesh nature within each one of us. The desires of the soul (James 1:14) are intimately connected to our body of course, and yet are distinct. There are doctrines floating around that we ought to literally beat our own bodies into submission via torture, cutting, or whatever other means – let me say that these are demonic doctrines and I do not in any way advocate them. Our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19-20) and must be treated and respected as such.
Our flesh nature on the other hand – the desires and will of our soul – must be brought into alignment with the spirit.
Herod the Edomite
Remember Herod? The ruler that killed all the baby boys at the time of Jesus’ birth? The guy that killed John the Baptist for speaking the truth? The guy that crucified Jesus? Was eaten by worms? Yes, I know they’re not all the same man, in fact there were several Herod’s over that time period, but their family line was Edomite.
In 164 BC, the Jews conquered the Edomites, but by 126 BC they had to reconquer them. This time, they forcibly converted all the Edomites to Judaism, even though they weren’t Jews. From this time forward, the Edomites lost their identity as a distinct nation, and became part of the Jews. There are many interesting rabbit trails that we could talk about, but I’ll stay on topic so we can actually get through this.
So by the time of Jesus, the Edomites (ie flesh nature) were thoroughly integrated into Jewish life. It is not surprising then, that we see that their religion had turned completely fleshly, to the point that Jesus was often openly rebuking the Pharisees.
“They answered and said to Him, “Abraham is our father.”
Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham. But now you seek to kill Me, a Man who has told you the truth which I heard from God. Abraham did not do this. You do the deeds of your father.”
Then they said to Him, “We were not born of fornication; we have one Father — God.”
Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and came from God; nor have I come of Myself, but He sent Me. Why do you not understand My speech? Because you are not able to listen to My word. You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.” John 8:39-44
The flesh will try to appear spiritual wherever possible, but you cannot change its true nature. Jesus saw right through the smoke show, and called a spade a spade.
The Good News
If it seems to you like this article has gotten progressively more depressing the further we got, that is by design. You see, we must begin to see our flesh as God sees it. The problem of course, is that we’re so used to relying on it that we actually think it is good for some things, if not for everything. The other problem is that pride blinds us (Ob 1:3). Something must cut through that pride, that flesh nature, to reveal to us the true nature of our flesh, because if one thing is certain, our flesh will never do that on its own.
The good news is that we have now been made a new creation in Christ Jesus, and we no longer have to live by the flesh! In Romans 6-8, Paul really develops this theme. Our flesh nature has been crucified with Christ, our spirits have been made and raised anew, and we are no longer are slaves to sin. With that said, in Romans 7, Paul describes the battle between the flesh and the spirit – the old man and the new man. As long as we are in these bodies, we will continue to have this struggle. That doesn’t mean we can’t be victorious, I believe it is possible to live a victorious life. But it does mean, that like David, we need to be constantly on guard against the flesh.
Ultimately, the flesh will be completely destroyed. And that, my friend, is good news!
Obadiah – Victory over the Flesh
Obadiah is a small little book. Blink, and you miss it – it’s only 21 verses. But the whole thing prophecies destruction against Edom. Read it now, it won’t take long. First, it starts out talking about the pride of the Edomites, and then it gets into the various manifestations of pride: violence, indifference, gloating, exploitation, all of which the Edomites were guilty of. Chuck Smith has a useful commentary on Obadiah here. Throughout the little book, God prophecies how Edom will be utterly destroyed.
At the end of Obadiah (17-21), a very beautiful picture begins to emerge:
“But on Mount Zion there shall be deliverance, and there shall be holiness; the house of Jacob shall possess their possessions.
The house of Jacob shall be a fire, and the house of Joseph a flame; but the house of Esau shall be stubble; they shall kindle them and devour them, and no survivor shall remain of the house of Esau,” for the Lord has spoken.
The South shall possess the mountains of Esau, and the Lowland shall possess Philistia. They shall possess the fields of Ephraim and the fields of Samaria. Benjamin shall possess Gilead. And the captives of this host of the children of Israel shall possess the land of the Canaanites as far as Zarephath. The captives of Jerusalem who are in Sepharad shall possess the cities of the South.
Then saviors shall come to Mount Zion to judge the mountains of Esau, and the kingdom shall be the Lord’s.
How many times in the Bible is the Spirit likened to a flame of fire? Flames appeared over the heads of the disciples in the upper room. The fire fell on the altar of sacrifice, and burned up the flesh that was presented, representing our own flesh there on the altar. Here, the house of Jacob and Joseph (ie Israel) represents the Spirit, and surprise surprise, the flesh… Esau… is the fuel!
“Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”” Matthew 16:24-25
The Israelites (born-again members of the body of Christ) are prophesied to possess the territory of the flesh, Esau. When Christ returns, Paul says that we will all be transformed (2 Cor 3:18); we will be given a body like the one that Jesus had after His resurrection. No longer will we have a flesh nature to deal with, but our body will be fully submitted to our spirit, in the proper order it is supposed to be.
In the meantime though, we are to give no quarter to the work of the flesh in our lives. We are to conquer it and keep it under close guard as David did, and even put it to death entirely as Paul did. More could be said about how this theme is developed in the New Testament, perhaps I will update this later on. In the meantime, I pray that God reveal to each of us the workings and nature of the flesh in our lives, in light of the victory of Christ!