by Ken Yates
In Hebrews 12:15-17, the author gives Esau as an example to his readers. Here is what he says:
Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled;
Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.
For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.
As stated in my previous blog, many people think that the author uses Esau as an example in one of two ways. Esau is either an illustration of somebody who was a believer but lost their salvation, or somebody who claims to be a believer, but really isn’t.
In either case, it is held that Esau is an example of somebody who will be in hell. This is said because the author says that Esau was a “profane” person, who did not experience “repentance.”
But as I also stated in my previous blog, this is an example of reading one’s theology into the text. If we look at what the author of Hebrews says, the view that Esau is an illustration of somebody who is not a child of God must be rejected.
First of all, as we saw in the previous blog, the author of Hebrews is speaking to people he knows are Christians. He is warning them to look out (v. 15). He tells them they might fall from the grace of God. This certainly indicates that they currently find themselves in the grace of God.
In addition, in chapter 10:10, 14 he says that the believer is made perfect forever. For the author of Hebrews a believer cannot lose their salvation.
The warning is that one of them, that is the group of believers, might become a “fornicator or profane” person. A fornicator is an immoral person, especially in the area of sexual sins. A profane person is a person that does not care of spiritual matters. It is certainly possible that a “true” believer can commit sexual sins. It is also certainly possible that a believer can focus upon this world, and its pleasures, and lose sight of the importance of spiritual matters.
It is also strange that some people say that Esau represents a person who goes to hell because Esau didn’t repent. Of course, this is held by people who say that repentance is necessary to be eternally saved. But when we look at the text we see the exact opposite. Esau did repent. He regretted what he had done and even did so “with tears.”
The best way to understand what the author is saying is that Esau’s father, Isaac, would not repent. When Esau sold his birthright, and Isaac gave that birthright to Esau’s brother Jacob, Isaac would not reverse that decision.
The point is that Esau lost the birthright of being the firstborn and could not get it back. He lost all of the benefits of that birthright. Even though he regretted it and wanted it back, it was not to be.
Esau is simply a lousy illustration of an unbeliever. He was still the son of Isaac, even after he made his terrible decision. In fact, when you look at the account in Genesis, you see that Esau received other blessings from his father, but not the blessing of being the firstborn son.
Esau’s problem was not that he wasn’t a son. It was that he did not value spiritual things. He was a “profane” person. It is interesting that in the Genesis account there is no indication that he was a “fornicator.” He desired the temporary things of this world—a bowl of soup—more than all the spiritual blessings that went with being the firstborn son of Isaac, the heir of the promises.
That is the warning for Christians. Value the rewards that God has for those believers who are faithful to Him. We must beware, lest the things of this world take our eyes off the things that are truly valuable. But to read into these verses the idea that all “true” believers will value such things is to read our own theology into them.