Concerning Esau, Hebrews 12:16-17 gives us these solemn words:
,,,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. (N.K.J.V.)
I recently heard a Calvinist preacher reference this passage in his attempt to make the case that Esau wasn’t one of God’s chosen “elect” and therefore couldn’t be granted salvation no matter how many tears he shed in seeking it. What nonsense! The passage doesn’t even have anything to do with salvation.
The two stories in question both take us back to the book of Genesis. First, in Genesis 25:29-34, Esau foolishly sells his birthright to his younger brother Jacob for some stew. Second, in Genesis 27:30-40, Jacob deceitfully tricks their father Isaac into imparting the patriarchal, spoken blessing upon him rather than Esau. While there is no scriptural record of Esau crying over losing his birthright, there is a record of him crying over losing out on Isaac’s spoken blessing. Genesis 27:34-35 says of the conversation between Esau and Isaac:
…he cried with an exceedingly great and bitter cry, and said to his father, “Bless me — me also, O my father! But he said, “Your brother came with deceit and has taken away your blessing.” (N.K.J.V.)
The Greek noun translated as “repentance” in Hebrews 12:17 is metanoia. Strictly defined, the word means “a change of mind.” Therefore, the repentance (the change of mind) that Esau sought but couldn’t find was a change of mind from Isaac regarding the spoken blessing. The repentance had nothing to do with Esau because in that instance he hadn’t done anything wrong. All he had done was what Isaac had told him to do, which was kill some game and prepare it the way Isaac liked it.
Unless you are pushing a Calvinist agenda, it isn’t hard to see the point that Hebrews 12:16-17 is making. No matter how much Esau cried and begged to inherit the patriarchal blessing from Isaac, that genie couldn’t be put back in the bottle once Isaac had spoken the blessing upon Jacob. What had been done would have to stand. Furthermore, even though God wasn’t pleased with the deceitful way in which Jacob had received the blessing, He was pleased that Jacob now had it. Even while the twin brothers had been in Rebekah’s womb God had foretold that the older would serve the younger (Genesis 25:21-23). That was another reason, actually the most important one, why Isaac couldn’t change his mind, despite Esau’s pleadings and tears, and perform a redo regarding the imparting of the blessing.
Furthermore, it should be noted that even that business about the older (Esau) serving the younger (Jacob) didn’t have anything to do with salvation. It was, instead, all about the destinies of the two nations that would come from the twins. As God told Rebekah, “Two nations are in your womb, two peoples shall be separated from your body; one people shall be stronger than the other” (Genesis 25:23). At no point in their lives did Esau actually serve Jacob in any capacity. However, Esau’s descendants (the Edomites) did ultimately become subservient to Jacob’s descendants (the Jews) during the reign of David (1 Kings 11:14-25) and during the four centuries between the Old Testament and the New Testament.
Please don’t misunderstand me, though. I’m not trying to defend Esau or preach him into heaven. As Hebrews 12:16 says, he was a “profane” person.” That word “profane” translates the Hebrew adjective bebelos and literally means “permitted to be trodden.” This brings me to the lesson that we can learn from Esau.
Esau, in selling his birthright for a simple meal, allowed his spiritual legacy as the older brother to be trodden upon to the point of losing it. This explains why other translations use words such as “godless,” “irreverent,” or “unholy” rather than “profane” to translate bebelos. The point in all these different shades of the word is that Esau was far too careless with spiritually important matters to ever get them right. That’s not the same as him never having the opportunity to get saved, but it’s plenty bad enough.
So, the lesson that we can learn from Esau is this: Placing great value on worldly matters and placing little value on spiritual matters is not the way to go. And how many “profane” people are there out there right now who are treating important spiritual matters (salvation, Bible study, prayer, church attendance, seeking God’s will, etc.) with the same kind of frivolity that Esau showed in selling his birthright for a lunch? You see, what we are talking about here is priorities. Esau’s were seriously out of whack, and we have way too many people today who are acting way too much like him. So, beware, lest you yourself trample upon some priceless spiritual treasure or sell it for next to nothing. Sometimes there’s just no coming back from those decisions.