Hebrews uses Esau as an instructive, bad example. Encouragements to avoid certain behaviors occurs in Hebrews 12:15-17. The part about Esau reads, “unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.” (Hebrews 12:16–17, ESV) The overall appeal in the larger section is to see that no one fails to obtain the grace of God. The author surveys several ways that it can happen, but it is worth focusing for a moment on Esau.
Hebrews calls Esau “profane” (KJV, NKJV); “godless” (NASB, NIV, NET); “unholy” (ESV); “irreverent” (CSB); or “irreligious” (FHV). The Greek word, βέβηλος (bebēlos, Strong’s Number 1013), has an etymology of “walk” and “threshhold.” The idea was is to be beyond the threshold of a temple, and therefore be in profane space. And from there, the word deals with the attitude of living without regards to the holy. It describes the profane or worldly person. Esau wasn’t thinking about spiritual things or the promises of God. The underlying problem in Esau’s life was his worldliness. Hebrews is warning us: don’t be worldly like Esau.
Esau is also incredibly shortsighted. All of us have to decide between short-term needs and benefits versus long-term needs and benefits. Esau was legitimately hungry and thirsty. But Jacob would only give Esau some of his stew if Esau sold his birthright (see Genesis 25:29-34). The birthright included a double portion of the inheritance, a special blessing, and leadership in the family. In a family with two sons, it means Esau paid one third of the inheritance for one meal besides the other things he was giving up. The price was too high! Surely there was another way to meet his needs, but Esau was only looking at the short-term.
Esau experienced great regret for his wordiness and shortsightedness. There came a time “when he desired to inherit the blessing” (see Genesis 27:34). But he was rejected. As Hebrews says, “for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears” (Hebrews 12:17, ESV). We see Esau’s regret in the historical narrative of his life. He missed the spiritual, so he serves as a great reminder that missing the grace of God will lead to regret at the judgment. At the judgment, if we have missed God’s grace in this life, we will regret it, but there will be no further opportunity for repentance. We must learn from Esau.
“See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God.” Don’t be worldly and shortsighted like Esau.
— Russ Holden