Esau, Esau. Heb 12.12-17

by Dr. Franklin L. Kirksey, pastor
FBC, Spanish Fort, Ala.

Esau, Esau, why are you crying?  Esau’s life serves as a warning to anyone who chooses to live a profane life (Genesis 25:19-37; 26:34-35; 27:1-46; 32:1-33:18; 36:1-43).  God through Malachi states, “‘I have loved you,’ says the Lord.  ‘Yet you say, ‘In what way have You loved us?’  Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?’  Says the Lord. ‘Yet Jacob I have loved; But Esau I have hated, And laid waste his mountains and his heritage for the jackals of the wilderness.’ Even though Edom has said, ‘We have been impoverished, But we will return and build the desolate places” (Malachi 1:2-4). 

The writer to the Hebrews recounts, “By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come.  By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff” (Hebrews 11:20-21).  Esau is mentioned in Hebrews 11, but note verse 20 does not say, “By faith Esau” as it does of Jacob in Hebrews 11:21.  Believers are in a race and blessings come to those who finish well.  Hebrews 12;1-2 reads, “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” 

Vigilance is necessary to preserve the spiritual health of the Christian and the church.  In Hebrews 12:15-16 note the word thrice repeated word, “lest” (Hebrews 12:15a, 15b, and 16a).  Notice this threefold warning in our text found in Hebrews 12:12-17, “Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed.   Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord:  looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled; lest there be any fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright.  For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears.”

Allow me to share three things about Esau.

I. Esau Loved Pleasure.                                                                                                                  Dr. Albert Barnes (1798-1870) comments on Hebrews 12:16a, “Lest there be any fornicator. The sin here referred to is one of those which would spread corruption in the church, and against which they ought to be especially on their guard. Allusion is made to Esau as an example, who, himself a corrupt and profane man, for a trifle threw away the highest honour which as a son he could have. Many have regarded the word here used as referring to idolatry, or defection from the true religion to a false one-as the word is often used in the Old Testament-but it is more natural to understand it literally. The crime here mentioned was one which abounded everywhere in ancient times, as it does now, and it was important to guard the church against it. Acts 15:20; 1 Corinthians 6:18.”  [In Acts 15:20, Dr. Luke writes, “but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood.”  Paul the apostle writes in 1 Corinthians 6:18, “Flee sexual immorality.  Every sin that a man commits is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body.”] On the phrase translated, “Or profane person” (Hebrews 12:16b), Dr. Barnes shares the following, “The word profane here refers to one who, by word or conduct, treats religion with contempt, or has no reverence for that which is sacred. This may be shown by words; by the manner; by a sneer; by neglect of religion; or by openly renouncing the privileges which might be connected with our salvation. The allusion here is to one who should openly cast off all the hopes of religion for indulgence in temporary pleasure, as Esau gave up his birthright for a trifling gratification. In a similar manner the young, for temporary gratification, neglect or despise all the privileges and hopes resulting from their being born in the bosom of the church; from being baptized and consecrated to God; and from being trained up in the lap of piety.”[1]

Genesis 25:27 reads, “So the boys grew. And Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field; but Jacob was a mild man, dwelling in tents.” After citing Genesis 25:27, Dr. Tom Malone (1915-2007) says of Esau, “He was earthly. Earthly. That describes him. The Bible says: He that loveth pleasure shall be a poor man. . .’ Proverbs 21:17. It happened to Esau. You say: ‘Preacher, it won’t happen to me.’ Yes, it will. You say: ‘How do you know?’ Because God said so, that is how I know! ‘He that loveth pleasure shall be a poor man.’ But she that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth.’ 1 Timothy 5:6.”[2]  Paul warns that in the last days men will be “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Timothy 3:4b).   

At this point I think of Epicureanism, an ancient Greek philosophical system taught by Epicurus (341-270 B.C.).   According to an article in Religion Facts, “It emphasized the goal of a happy and content life in the here and now, rejecting both superstitious fear of the gods and notions of an afterlife.

Though the modern use of the term ‘Epicurean’ is associated with the saying, ‘Eat, drink and be merry,’ Epicureanism did not advocate simple pursuit of bodily pleasure and differed significantly from hedonism. . . . The Epicurean purpose of life is peace of mind, happiness and pleasure. But the Epicurean pursuit of pleasure was neither hedonism nor self-indulgence. Epicurus primarily promoted the pleasures of the mind, friendship and contentment. Epicurus noted that it is human nature to seek pleasure and avoid pain, and made this the basis of his guidelines for living.”[3]

It is interesting to note how noble every substitute for obeying the clear teaching of the Word of God sounds to the unsuspecting soul.  Paul the apostle warns, “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, following the tradition of men according to the rudiments of the world, and not in accordance with Christ” (Colossians 2:8).

II. Esau Lacked Purpose.
Dr. Robert E. Wenger, professor emeritus in the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Cairn University, Langhorne, Pennsylvania, author of Social Thoughts in American Fundamentalism (1918-1933), explains, “Esau however, had flaws in his character that he never overcame. . . . One flaw in Esau’s character was that he lacked seriousness of purpose. We can see this in the occupation he chose. He was ‘a cunning hunter, a man of the field’ (Genesis 25:27).”[4]   

Dr. Albert Barnes comments on the words translated “Like Esau” or “As Esau” (Hebrews 12:16), “It is clearly implied here that Esau sustained the character of a fornicator and a profane person. The former appellation is probably given to him to denote his licentiousness, shown by his marrying many wives, and particularly foreigners, or the daughters of Canaan. See Genesis 36:2; comp.  Genesis 26:34, 35. The Jewish writers abundantly declare that that was his character. See Wetstein, in loc. In proof that the latter appellation-that of a profane person-belonged to him, see Genesis 25:29-34. It is true that it is rather by inference, than by direct assertion, that it is known that he sustained this character. The birthright, in his circumstances, was a high honour. The promise respecting the inheritance of the land of Canaan, the coming of the Messiah, and the preservation of the true religion, had been given to Abraham and Isaac, and was to be transmitted by them. As the eldest son, all the honour connected with this, and which is now associated with the name Jacob, would have properly appertained to Esau. But he undervalued it. He lived a licentious life. He followed his corrupt propensities, and gave the reins to indulgence. In a time of temporary distress, also, he showed how little he really valued all this by bartering it away for a single meal of victuals. Rather than bear the evils of hunger for a short period, and evidently in a manner implying a great undervaluing of the honour which he held as the firstborn son in a pious line, he agreed to surrender all the privileges connected with his birth. It was this which made the appellation appropriate to him; and this will make the appellation appropriate in any similar instance.”[5]

Note in Genesis 25:34b, “Esau despised his birthright.”  Rev. John G. Butler, longtime pastor and Bible commentator, explains, “Those who are given to their physical appetite will despise spiritual things. Churches who are increasing programs which emphasize the physical appetite (banquet, suppers, eat outs, picnics, etc.) and are decreasing the emphasis and time given to teaching and preaching the Word are announcing they, too, despise spiritual things.”[6]

The will of God is the greatest purpose for any life, period.  Paul the apostle writes in Romans 12:1-2, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.  And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”  John writes in 1 John 2:15-17, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world.  And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.”

III. Esau Lost Privilege.
Dr. Tom Malone comments, “I do not know of a man in the Bible who ever lost any more than Esau lost.”[7]  Esau made a bargain with his brother, Jacob, and missed the prayer of blessing from his father, Isaac.  Esau bartered his birthright for a bowl of beans.  A poor bargain indeed.  Esau shed bitter tears.  Rev. William Gurnall (1617-1679), author of The Christian in Complete Armour, explains, “Esau wept that he lost the blessing, not that he sold it.” 

George Henry Lang (1874-1923) author of Firstborn Sons: Their Rights and Risks, (London: Samuel Roberts Publishers, 1936), writes, “It is better to trust in the Lord than in men or princes; whereas whoever will live on worldly principles must carry the same strain and care as does the man of the world.”

Dr. F. F. Bruce (1910-1990) writes on Hebrews 12:18-24, “One commentator on Hebrews, G. H. Lang, was led by this mention of the Esau incident to his distinctive interpretation that the ‘rest’ which may be forfeited in 3:11-4:11, like the ‘blessing’ or ‘grace of God’ of which may fall short here, is the millennial reign of the resurrected saints with Christ (Cf. his Firstborn Sons: their Rights and Risks [London, 1936], 217 et passim).  See p. 107 with n.21.”[8] 

Dr. Kenneth O. Gangel (1935-2009) former Vice President of Academic Affairs and Academic Dean at Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, Texas, observes, “God did not give him a second chance (Genesis 27:34-40). It is interesting to read here in the New Testament that Esau actually sought that blessing with tears. . . . The paragraphs that follow this verse, which made up the remainder of Hebrews 12, emphasize that higher privileges carry greater responsibilities.”[9]

Conclusion
Kenneth W. Osbeck shares the following in 52 Bible Characters Dramatized, “As the early morning sun arose, I could see clearly my brother Esau with his 400 men coming toward me.  To my great surprise Esau threw his arms around my neck and embraced me.  Together we wept joyfully.  Later that day we twin brothers parted as friends, Esau to his home in Seir (SEE-er) while I continued homeward to my father Isaac.”[10]  I wish I could tell you that they walked off into the sunset arm in arm and lived happily ever after.  This demonstrates the danger of devotionals.  While it is wonderful to teach forgiveness, we must carefully study the context of the character of Esau, before we hold him up as an example to emulate.  Based upon the biblical account of Esau’s life, it appears that these twin brothers, were glad to see each other after a twenty year absence, but we must be careful not to read anything into the motivation of Esau’s “forgiveness” of his brother. 

Maybe you are thinking, “Why are you dragging all of this up about Esau?”  My reason is simple.  God chose to record it in His inspired, inerrant, and infallible Word.  Paul the apostle writes in Romans 15:4, “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” 

George Herbert (1593-1633) writes, “God sees hearts as we see faces.”  The following comment comes from the Tarbell’s Teachers’ Guide, “You remember when George William Curtis looked through Mr. Tidbottom’s spectacles he saw the real man—one was but a ledger, another was but a billiard cue.  Without such spectacles we judge others only very imperfectly.  Human nature is too complex, motives and deeds are too often at variance, the evil from the good can not be discerned by human eyes.  We see that Esau was generous and impulsive while Jacob was tricky and untruthful—how can we disapprove Esau and approve Jacob?  As we follow the story of their lives we get a glimpse of God’s judgment of them; the tendency of Esau with all his good qualities, was downward, while the tendency of Jacob, with all of his bad qualities, was upward.

An editorial in the Sunday School Times points out the difficulty in the way of our correct judgment.  ‘Two men are moving in the direction of their several choices.  One has started from a low plane, and is slowing moving Godward.  The other has left the high plane, and with his face set downward is moving with constantly increasing velocity.  Just now the one slowly rising to a loftier height seems to the eye of man not so high up in the scale of being as the other who is simply going down the peaceful decline.  But God judges each by his choice and ultimate endeavor.  Not what we yet are, but what we would become, is our true measure in God’s sight.’”[11]  

Dr. F. W. Robertson (1816-1853), known as Robertson of Brighton, writes, “Worldliness is the spirit of childhood carried into manhood. The child lives in the present hour: today to him is everything. The holiday promised at a distant interval is no holiday at all: it must be either now or never. Natural in the child, and therefore pardonable, this spirit, when carried on into manhood, of course is worldliness. The most distinct illustration given us of this is the case of Esau. Esau came from the hunting-field worn and hungry: the only means of procuring the tempting mess of his brother’s pottage was the sacrifice of his father’s blessing, which, in those ages, carried with it a substantial advantage. But that birthright could be enjoyed only after years; the pottage was present, near and certain: therefore he sacrificed a future and higher blessing for a present and lower pleasure. For this reason, Esau is the Bible type of worldliness: he is called in Scripture a profane, that is, not distinctly a vicious, but a secular or worldly person—an overgrown child, impetuous, inconsistent; not without gleams of generosity and kindliness, but over-accustomed to immediate gratification.”[12] 
Dr. John Henry Jowett (1864-1923) explains, “Worldliness is a spirit, a temperament, an attitude of soul. It is life without high callings, life devoid of lofty ideals. It is a gaze horizontal, never vertical. Its motto is ‘Forward’, never ‘Upward’.”

In a message titled, “Worldly Business no Plea for the Neglect of Religion,” Rev. George Whitefield (1714-1770) explains, “Were we always to live in the world, then worldly wisdom would be our highest wisdom: but forasmuch as we have here no continuing city, and were only sent into this world to have our natures changed, and to fit ourselves for that which is to come; then to neglect this important work for a little worldly gain, what is it but, with profane Esau, to sell our birth-right for a mess of pottage. 

Alas! how unlike are Christians to Christianity! They are commanded to ‘seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,’ and all other real necessaries shall be added unto them; but they are fearful (O men of little faith!) that if they should do so, all other necessaries would be taken from them: they are strictly forbidden to be careful for the morrow, and yet they rest not night or day, but are continually heaping up riches for many years, though they know not who shall gather them. Is this acting like persons that are strangers and pilgrims upon earth?”[13] 

Listen carefully, you might be able to hear Esau, lamenting, I woulda, coulda, shoulda, been a spiritual man. However, lest we fall into the same trap, we must listen to the warning of his profane life. Beware of “the Esau Syndrome.”   Moses records God’s prediction that Esau would be the father of a great nation in Genesis 25:23.  He recounts the fulfillment in Genesis 36:8, 43b, “So Esau dwelt in Mount Seir.  Esau is Edom. . . . Esau was the father of the Edomites.”  Hebrews 12:16 clearly reveals he was a “fornicator.”  Esau’s sexual immorality is verified in Genesis 26:34-35, 28:9, and 36:1-3. 

Paul the apostle writes in Romans 9:13, “As it is written, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.”  Of course, he cites Malachi 1:2, and 3.    

Dr. George Adam Smith (1856-1942) comments on Malachi 1:2-4, “The two nations, Israel and Edom, were utterly opposed in genius and character. Edom was a people of as unspiritual and self-sufficient a temper as ever cursed any of God’s human creatures. Like their ancestor they were ‘profane,’ without repentance, humility, or ideals, and almost without religion. Apart, therefore, from the long history of war between the two peoples, it was a true instinct which led Israel to regard their brother as representative of that heathendom against which they had to realise their destiny in the world as God’s own nation. In choosing the contrast of Edom’s fate to illustrate God’s love for Israel, ‘Malachi’ was not only choosing what would appeal to the passions of his contemporaries, but what is the most striking and constant antithesis in the whole history of Israel: the absolutely diverse genius and destiny of these two Semitic nations who were nearest neighbours, and, according to their traditions, twin brethren after the flesh.”[14]

Dr. F. B. Meyer (1847-1929) writes, “And as for Esau, we can never forget the beacon words of Scripture, ‘Look diligently, lest there be any profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright’ Heb 12:15). Yet let us, in condemning him across the ages, look close at home. How many are there amongst ourselves, born into the world with splendid talents; dowried with unusual powers; inheritors of noble names; heirs to vast estates; gifted with keys to unlock any of the many doors to name, and fame, and usefulness—who yet fling away all these possibilities of blessing and blessedness, for one brief plunge into the Stygian pool of sensual indulgence! And the appeals to sense come oftenest when we are least expecting them. These appeals, moreover, come in the most trivial things. One mess of pottage; one glass of drink; one moment’s unbridled passion; one afternoons’s saunter; a question and an answer; a movement or a look. It is in such small things—small as the angle at which railway lines diverge from each other to east and west—that great alternatives are offered and great decisions made.”[15]
As our Lord repeated the name of the one He addressed, for example “Martha, Martha” (Luke 10:41); “Simon, Simon” (Luke 22:31); and “Saul, Saul” (Acts 9:4); He would no doubt say, “Esau, Esau.”


[1]Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament Explanatory and Practical, Database © 2012 WORDsearch Corp.

[2]Tom Malone, “The Man Who Tried to Repent, But Couldn’t,” Sermon Notes, (Hebrews 12:17)

[NOTE: found in Guido Gardens Library under Hebrews 12 file number 810.pdf]

[3]“Epicureanism,” Accessed: 01/21/14, http://www.religionfacts.com/a-z-religion-index/epicureanism.htm

[4]Robert E. Wenger, “Jacob and Esau,” Sermon Notes, (Hebrews 12:16)

[NOTE: found in Guido Gardens Library under Hebrews 12 file number 808]   

[5]Barnes, Notes.   

[6]John G. Butler, Analytical Bible Expositor – Genesis, “The Selling by Esau,” (Genesis 25:29-34), 245, Database © 2013 WORDsearch.   

[7]Malone, “Repent.”  

[8]F. F. Bruce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Epistle to the Hebrews, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990), 352. 

[9]Kenneth O. Gangel, “Rooting Out Bitterness,” Sermon Notes, (Hebrews 12:15-16)

[NOTE: found in Guido Gardens Library under Hebrews 12 file numbers 803.pdf and 804.pdf]

[10]Kenneth W. Osbeck, 52 Bible Characters Dramatized, (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Resources, 1996), 29.

[11]Martha Tarbell, Tarbell’s Teachers’ Guide: To the International Sunday-School Lessons for 1907, First Quarter, “Jacob and Esau,” Lesson XI, March 17, (Indianapolis, IN: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1906), 144-145.

[12]The Biblical Illustrator, ed. Joseph S. Exell, “Worldiness Described,” John 17, Database © 2012 WORDsearch Corp.

[13]George Whitefield, “Worldly Business no Plea for the Neglect of Religion,” Sermon Notes, (Matthew 8:22).

[14]The Biblical Illustrator, Malachi, ed. Joseph S. Exell, George Adam Smith, “God’s Declared Hatred of Edom,” Database © 2012 WORDsearch Corp.

[15]The Biblical Illustrator, Joseph S. Exell, Genesis, “The Two Brothers,” F. B. Meyer, Database © 2012 WORDsearch Corp.

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