Hebrews 12:16
Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.
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(16) Lest there be.—Better (as in the last verse), whether there be. Though Jewish tradition (see, for example, the Targum of Palestine on Genesis 25:29) affirms that Esau was a man of impure life, it is not probable that he is so represented in this verse. Here he is mentioned as a type of “the profane,” who care not for divine things, but only for the gains and pleasures of this world.

Who for one morsel of meat.—Better, who for one meal sold his own birthright (Genesis 25:29-34). We cannot suppose that the writer has in thought the material rights of the firstborn, such as his claim on pre-eminence and, possibly (see Deuteronomy 21:17), on a larger share of his father’s possessions. Tradition relates that, up to the time of Aaron, priestly functions were discharged by each firstborn son (comp. Numbers 3:5-12); and to the line of the firstborn would seem to belong that “blessing of Abraham” (Genesis 28:4) which every one who shared Abraham’s faith would earnestly desire to possess.

12:12-17 A burden of affliction is apt to make the Christian's hands hang down, and his knees grow feeble, to dispirit him and discourage him; but against this he must strive, that he may better run his spiritual race and course. Faith and patience enable believers to follow peace and holiness, as a man follows his calling constantly, diligently, and with pleasure. Peace with men, of all sects and parties, will be favourable to our pursuit of holiness. But peace and holiness go together; there can be not right peace without holiness. Where persons fail of having the true grace of God, corruption will prevail and break forth; beware lest any unmortified lust in the heart, which seems to be dead, should spring up, to trouble and disturb the whole body. Falling away from Christ is the fruit of preferring the delights of the flesh, to the blessing of God, and the heavenly inheritance, as Esau did. But sinners will not always have such mean thoughts of the Divine blessing and inheritance as they now have. It agrees with the profane man's disposition, to desire the blessing, yet to despise the means whereby the blessing is to be gained. But God will neither sever the means from the blessing, nor join the blessing with the satisfying of man's lusts. God's mercy and blessing were never sought carefully and not obtained.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 honor which as a son he could have. Many have regarded the word used here 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; see the Acts 15:20 note; 1 Corinthians 6:18 note.

Or profane person - The word "profane" here refers to one who by word or conduct treats religion with contempt, or has no reverence for what 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.

As Esau - 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; compare 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 birth-right, in his circumstances, was a high honor. 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 oldest son, all the honor 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 honor which he held as the first-born 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.

Who for one morsel of meat - The word "meat" here is used, as it is commonly in the Scriptures, in its primitive sense in English, to denote food: Genesis 25:34. The phrase here, "morsel of meat," would be better rendered by "a single meal."

Sold his birthright - The birth-right seems to have implied the first place or rank in the family; the privilege of offering sacrifice and conducting worship in the absence or death of the father; a double share of the inheritance, and in this instance the honor of being in the line of the patriarchs, and transmitting the promises made to Abraham and Isaac. What Esau parted with, we can easily understand by reflecting on the honors which have clustered around the name of Jacob.

16. fornicator—(Heb 13:4; 1Co 10:8).

or profane—Fornication is nearly akin to gluttony, Esau's sin. He profanely cast away his spiritual privilege for the gratification of his palate. Ge 25:34 graphically portrays him. An example well fitted to strike needful horror into the Hebrews, whosoever of them, like Esau, were only sons of Isaac according to the flesh [Bengel].

for one morsel—The smallness of the inducement only aggravates the guilt of casting away eternity for such a trifle, so far is it from being a claim for mercy (compare Ge 3:6). One single act has often the greatest power either for good or for evil. So in the cases of Reuben and Saul, for evil (Ge 49:4; 1Ch 5:1; 1Sa 13:12-14); and, on the other hand, for good, Abraham and Phinehas (Ge 12:1, &c.; Ge 15:5, 6; Nu 25:6-15).

his birthright—Greek, "his own (so the oldest manuscripts read, intensifying the suicidal folly and sin of the act) rights of primogeniture," involving the high spiritual privilege of being ancestor of the promised seed, and heir of the promises in Him. The Hebrews whom Paul addressed, had, as Christians, the spiritual rights of primogeniture (compare Heb 12:23): he intimates that they must exercise holy self-control, if they wish not, like Esau, to forfeit them.

This properly interprets the root of bitterness before, by two special fruits of it.

Lest there be any fornicator: uncleanness, pornov, is not to be taken so strictly, as only to note fornication, uncleanness committed by unmarried persons, but all sorts of pollution and filthiness, as it is used in the general decree, Acts 15:29; such defilements as had crept in among them already, to which many were propense and inclined, whence warned of and charged against it by James, Peter, and Jude, in their Epistles.

Or profane person: bebhlov imports one who had a bitter frame of spirit against the first table, one of an impure mind to God-ward, opposite to godliness, who neglects and spurns at holy things, rolling itself in its own pleasures, riches, honours, with a despising of God, his grace, and glory, 1 Timothy 1:9 4:7,16 2 Timothy 2:16.

As Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birth-right: Esau, the best example to these Hebrews, he being Jacob’s brother, who was most notoriously profane, who irreligiously undervalued and despised the blessing of the birthright, to which was entailed by God the double portion, the priesthood and dominion over the family, the blessings of the covenant, and the being a type of Christ; he basely and impiously gave it away to his younger brother, slighting it, and freely and fully making it over to him, and all for one eating, the base gratifying of his sensual appetite but once, Genesis 25:32,34. Like to whom were those, Philippians 3:18 2 Peter 2:10-19 Judges 1:4-19. In these is his filthy, profane spirit improved.

Lest there be any fornicator or profane person,.... The first of these is guilty of a sin against the second table of the law, as well as against his own body; and which is opposed to the holiness the apostle had before exhorted to; such who are guilty of it, are not to be continued in the communion of the church; and it is a sin, which, lived in not repented of, excludes from the kingdom of heaven: the latter is one who is a transgressor of the first table of the law; who is an idolater, a swearer, a despiser of public worship and ordinances, and who behaves irreverently in divine service, and mocks at the future state, as Esau; to whom both these characters seem to belong: and this agrees with what the Jews say concerning him: they have a tradition (w), that he committed five transgressions on the day he came out of the field weary.

"He committed idolatry: he shed innocent blood; and lay with a virgin betrothed; and denied the life of the world to come (or a future state); and despised his birthright.''

It is elsewhere (x) a little differently expressed.

"Esau, the wicked, committed five transgressions on that day: he lay with a virgin betrothed; and killed a person; and denied the resurrection of the dead; and denied the root, or foundation, (i.e. that there is a God,) and despised his birthright; and besides, he desired his father's death, and sought to slay his brother.''

It is common for them to say of him, that he was an ungodly man; and particularly, that he was a murderer, a robber, "and an adulterer" (y); and that he has no part in the world to come (z): who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright; the account of which is in Genesis 25:29 this includes all the privileges which he had a right unto by being the firstborn; as a peculiar blessing from his father; a double portion of goods; and dominion over his brethren: and it is commonly said by the Jews, that the priesthood belonged to the firstborn, before the Levitical dispensation; and that for this reason, Jacob coveted the birthright (a), Esau being a wicked man, and unfit for it. The birthright was reckoned sacred; it was typical of the primogeniture of Christ; of the adoption of saints, and of the heavenly inheritance belonging thereunto; all which were despised by Esau: and so the Jewish paraphrases (b) interpret the contempt of his birthright, a despising of his part in the world to come, and a denial of the resurrection of the dead: and his contempt of it was shown in his selling it; and this was aggravated by his selling it for "one morsel of meat"; which was bread, and pottage of lentiles, Genesis 25:34. The Jewish writers speak of this bargain and sale much in the same language as the apostle here does; they say (c) of him, this is the man that sold his birthright , "for a morsel of bread"; and apply to him the passage in Proverbs 28:21 "for a piece of bread that man will transgress".

(w) Targum Jon. ben Uzziel in Genesis 25.29. (x) Shemot Rabba, sect. I. fol. 89. 3. T. Bab. Bava Bathra, fol. 16. 2.((y) Tzeror Hammor, fol. 27. 1.((z) Tzeror Hammor, fol. 26. 3.((a) Bereshit Rabba, sect. 63. fol. 56. 2.((b) Targum Hieros. & Jon. in Genesis 25. 34. Bereshit Rabba, ib. (c) Tzeror Hammor, fol. 26. 4. & 27. 1.

{11} Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.

(11) We must shun immorality, and a profane mind, that is, such a mind as does not give God his due honour, which wickedness, how severely God will at length punish, the horrible example of Esau teaches us.

Hebrews 12:16. Μή τις πόρνος] sc. ἐνοχλῇ) (comp. Hebrews 12:15): that no fornicator trouble you. Yet we may, with Grotius, Bleek, de Wette, Tholuck, Alford, Maier, Kurtz, and the majority, supplement merely : that no one be a fornicator. πόρνος is to be taken in the natural sense, as Hebrews 13:4. The taking of it as a figurative designation of one who is unfaithful to Christ, in order to hold unlawful intercourse with Judaism (Böhme, Tholuck, Ebrard, Riehm, Lehrbegr. des Hebräerbr. p. 155, and others), is unsuitable, because Hebrews 12:16 is nothing else but the continued amplification of the διώκετε τὸν ἁγιασμόν, Hebrews 12:14.

ἢ βέβηλος ὡς Ἠσαῦ] or a profane person (a man of unhallowed, common mind, centred upon the earthly), as Esau. ὡς Ἠσαῦ belongs only to βέβηλος. It is not to be referred also to πόρνος (so still Delitzsch and Alford), since nothing is related in scripture concerning a πορνεία of Esau (more, it is true, the later Rabbis have to tell us; see Wetstein at our passage), and the elucidatory relative has respect only to βέβηλος.

ὃς κ.τ.λ.] Comp. Genesis 25:33.

ἀντί] indication of the price, as Hebrews 12:2.

τὰ πρωτοτόκια] the birthright with its privileges. Classic writers employ for it ἡ πρεσβεία or τὸ πρεσβεῖον.

Hebrews 12:16. μή τις πόρνος … specific forms in which roots of bitterness might appear among them. πόρνος is to be taken in its literal sense and not as signifying departure from God [but cf. Weiss]. Neither is it to be applied to Esau, in spite of the passages adduced by Wetstein to show that he was commonly considered a fornicator, and of Philo’s interpretation of “hairy” as “intemperate and libidinous”; v. Delitzsch. From Hebrews 13:4 it appears that fornication was one of the dangers to which these Hebrews were exposed. ἢ βέβηλος ὡς Ἠσαῦ, a profanity which was especially betrayed in his bartering for a single meal [ἀντὶ βρώσεως μιᾶς] his own rights of primogeniture. Esau lightly parting with his religious privileges and his patrimony for a present gratification is an appropriate warning to those who day by day were tempted to win comfort and escape suffering by parting with their hope in Christ. The warning is pointed by the fate of Esau. ἴστε γὰρ ὅτι καὶ μετέπειτα … “for ye know that even though he was afterwards desirous to inherit the blessing he was rejected, though he sought it with tears; for he found no place of repentance”. “The term ‘repentance’ is here used not strictly of mere change of mind, but of a change of mind undoing the effects of a former state of mind” (Davidson). In other words, his bargain was irrevocable. The words must be interpreted by the narrative in Genesis (Genesis 27:1-41), where we read that some time after the sale of the birthright (μετέπειτα) Esau sought the blessing with tears (Genesis 27:38, ἀνεβόησε φωνῇ Ἠσαῦ καὶ ἔκλαυσεν) but found his act was unalterable. The lesson written on Esau’s life as on that of all who miss opportunities is that the past is irreparable, and however much they may desire to recall and alter it, that cannot be. It was this which the writer wished to enforce. If now, through any temptation or pressure, you let go the benefits you have in Christ, you are committing yourselves to an act you cannot recall. It must also be observed that the author is confining his attention to the one act of Esau, not pronouncing on his whole life and ultimate destiny. [μετανοίας τόπον. So Pliny, Ep., x. 97, “poenitentiae locus;” and Ulpian, Digest., xl. Tit. 7, “poenitentiae haeredis is locum non esse” (Wetstein)].

16. any fornicator] The word must be taken in a literal sense, since Esau was not “an idolator.” It is true that Esau is not charged with fornication in the Book of Genesis (which only speaks of his heathen marriages, geb 26:34, Genesis 28:8), but the writer is probably alluding to the Jewish Hagadah, with which he was evidently familiar. There Esau is represented in the blackest colours, as a man utterly sensual, intemperate, and vile, which is also the view of Philo (see Siegfried Philo, p. 254).

or profane person] A man of coarse and unspiritual mind (Genesis 25:33). Philo explained the word “hairy” to mean that he was sensuous and lustful.

for one morsel of meat] “for one meal” (Genesis 25:29-34).

Hebrews 12:16. Πόρνος, fornicator) ch. Hebrews 13:4; 1 Corinthians 10:8.—, or) Lust and intemperance in eating are closely connected.—βέβηλος, profane) casting away a spiritual privilege for the enjoyments of the palate; see Genesis 25:34 : Esau both ate and drank, and rose and went away. A graphic representation of a profane mind.—ὡς Ἠσαῦ, as Esau) An example well fitted to excite horror, which was needed to be struck into the sons of Jacob according to the flesh.—μιᾶς, one) This increases the fault, does not deserve (so far is it from being a ground for claiming) mercy; comp. Genesis 3:6. Sometimes one single action has the greatest force on both sides (for good or for evil). This is also evident from the example of Reuben and Saul; and again, on the other hand, of Abraham and Phinehas, etc.—τὰ πρωτοτόκια, the rights of the first-born) which were very precious. The right of primogeniture belonged also to the Hebrews, to whom he is writing, before the Gentiles, Hebrews 12:23, note.—αὐτοῦ, his) He had therefore really possessed it. Holy sobriety and temperance become those who partake of spiritual primogeniture.

Verses 16, 17. - 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 (i.e. desired to inherit) the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears. The word "fornicator" is to be understood literally, not figuratively (as Ebrard) of spiritual fornication (see ἁγιασμὸν, ver. 14). Βέβηλος ("profane") denotes one outside the sphere of sanctity, and so debarred from sacred privileges. Esau is appropriately adduced as a notable instance in the Old Testament of a person thus profane, and especially, in the way of warning, of one who lost irrecoverably the privileges which in his profaneness he had scorned. It is immaterial whether Esau himself is intended to be designated as a fornicator (πόρνος) as well as profane (βέβηλος). The essential moral of his history is this: being the firstborn of Israel, and so the primary inheritor of the promises made to Abraham, he set no store by the privilege, and so lost it irretrievably. In early life he so lightly esteemed his birthright as the eldest born (carrying with it, as is supposed, in the patriarchal age, the priesthood of the family, and in his case, as might be presumed, the custody and transmission of the promises) that he parted with it for the gratification of a passing appetite. His words on that occasion expressed the limit of his aims and interests: "Behold, I am at the point to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me?" Later in life he nevertheless presented himself to claim the blessing of the firstborn from his dying father, but found that he had been forestalled. It does not appear that he had meanwhile changed his mode of life or made amends for his former carelessness; still, he felt now that he had lost something worth having, and was grieved exceedingly. But not even his "great and exceeding bitter cry" availed then to recover what was forfeited. And so neither he nor his seed had part or lot in the Abrahamic promises: the time of opportunity was gone forever. There is some doubt with regard to the latter part of ver. 17,

(1) as to whether "it" (αἰτήν) in "he sought it" refers to "repentance" (μετανοίας) or to "the blessing" (τὴν εὐλογίαν);

(2) as to what "place of repentance" means. If "it" refers to "repentance," it is difficult to see how Esau's own repentance can be meant; for not only does seeking repentance with tears seem in itself to imply the capability of it, but also the "great and exceeding bitter cry" to which allusion is made was, not because he could not himself repent, but because he could not get the blessing. Hence, if "it" refers to "repentance," it must be repentance, i.e. change of mind, in Isaac that is meant, or rather in God, against whose will Isaac could not go; cf. "God is not a man... that he should repent" (Numbers 23:19). Of such change of mind and purpose it may be meant that Esau found no place. This seems to be the view of many modern interpreters, though not of Bengel, De Wette, Bleek, Hofmann, Delitzsch, Alford, or of Luther, Calvin, Grotius, or any of the Greek Fathers. Against it is the consideration that such is not the more obvious meaning of "he found no place of repentance," taken by itself, especially as μετανοία is always elsewhere in the New Testament (though not always in the LXX.) used for a person's change of mind with respect to his own misdoings (cf. supra, Hebrews 6:6). Difficulty on this ground is removed if, taking the clause, "for he found no place of repentance," as parenthetical, we refer αὐτὴν to τὴν εὐλογίαν, preceding. This is by no means a forced construction of the sentence, and it is supported (as above intimated) by the fact that in Genesis it is the blessing itself that Esau is expressly said to have craved in his "great and exceeding bitter cry:" "Hast thou but one blessing, my father? bless me, even me also, O my father. And Esau lifted up his voice, and wept." Thus we may render either, "When he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected; for he found no place of repentance [i.e. of change of mind in the bestower of the blessing], though he sought it [i.e. such change of mind] with tears;" or, "When he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected (for he found no place of repentance), though he sought it [i.e. the blessing] with tears." If, the latter rendering being adopted, Esau's own repentance be intended, the idea maybe, either that there was no place left in which even a real repentance could avail, or that of a real repentance he had become incapable; for his tears might be those only of vexation and remorse, not expressing any more appreciation than before of the birthright in its religious aspect. Ebrard's remark, that his conduct as related in Genesis 33, shows "a changed heart," and hence a true repentance, is not to the point. For all that there appears is that he had got over his angry feeling towards his brother; it is by no means implied - rather the contrary - that he would have preferred his destiny to his own, or that his views of life had risen above thoughts of worldly prosperity. We observe, further, that nothing is implied one way or the other as to Esau's own salvation; it is only the privilege of being the patriarch of the chosen seed that he is said to have thus irrecoverably forfeited. But his example is adduced as a warning to Christians with regard to their still more precious inheritance, which does involve their own eternal prospects. The warning to them is similar to those of Hebrews 6:4, etc., and Hebrews 10:26, etc., to the effect that sacred privileges, if persistently slighted, may be lost beyond recovery. And if the passage before us seems to imply, according to one view of it, what the former ones were found not to do, the possible inefficacy of a true repentance, however late, - we may say that, even if this is implied of Esau with respect to his lost blessing, it is not therefore necessarily implied of Christians with respect to their personal salvation; or that, if it is implied of them, it is not till their probation in this life is over that a "place of repentance" in this sense can for them be found no more (cf. the parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1, etc.); also Matthew 7:22, etc.; Luke 13:24, etc.). One of Dr. Newman's Parochial Sermons ("Life the Season of Repentance," vol. 6. 'Sermon' 2) strikingly sets forth this view. See also 'Christian Year' (Second Sunday in Lent), with the appended note: "Esau's probation, as far as his birthright was concerned, was quite over when he uttered the cry in the text. His despondency, therefore, is not parallel to anything on this side the grave." Hebrews 12:16Fornicator (πόρνος)

In the literal sense, as always in N.T.

Profane person (βέβηλος)

See on 1 Timothy 1:9.

As Esau

Only the epithet profane is applied to Esau, not fornicator.

For one morsel of meat (ἀντὶ βρώσεως μιᾶς)

Βρῶσις, lit. the act of eating, as 1 Corinthians 8:4, Romans 14:17 : "one eating of meat." Sometimes corrosion, as Matthew 6:19. Sometimes of that which is eaten, John 6:27, John 6:55.

Sold (ἀπέδετο)

The word occurs in the narrative of Genesis 25:31, Genesis 25:33, lxx. In N.T. often of discharging an obligation; paying back. To sell, Acts 5:8; Acts 7:9.

His birthright (τὰ πρωτοτοκία)

N.T.o, oClass. In this form only in the later Greek translations of the O.T. Πρωτοτοκεῖον, a very few times, almost all in this narrative.

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