Hebrews 12:16, 17
Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.…
Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, etc. There is much about this man, Esau, which is noble and attractive. "Esau, the shaggy, red-haired huntsman, the man of the field, with his arrows, his quiver, and his bow, coming in weary from the chase, caught as with the levity and eagerness of a child by the sight of the lentil soup - 'Feed me, I pray thee, with the red, red pottage' - yet so full of generous impulse, so affectionate towards his aged father, so forgiving towards his brother, so open-hearted, so chivalrous, who has not at times felt his heart warm toward the poor rejected Esau, and been tempted to join with him as he cries 'with a great and exceeding bitter cry,' 'Hast thou but one blessing, my father? bless me, even me also, O my father!'" (Dr. A. P. Stanley). Yet he is solemnly held up in our text as a beacon against certain sins which might lead to apostasy from the Christian faith and life. In his conduct as mentioned in the text we notice two things.
I. A SACRIFICE OF SACRED RIGHTS AND PRIVILEGES FOR SENSUOUS SATISFACTION, "Esau for one mess of meat sold his own birthright" (cf. Genesis 25:29-34). Peculiar rights and privileges were inherited by the firstborn son.
(1) He received a double portion of the paternal property, which probably signifies twice as much as any other son received (Deuteronomy 21:17).
(2) The priestly office pertained to him, previous to the selection of the tribe of Levi to fulfill that office for the nation (Numbers 8:17-19).
(3) He enjoyed a rank and authority in the family over those who were younger similar to that exercised by the father (Genesis 27:29; Genesis 49:3).
(4) And in the case before us, the honor of being in the patriarchal line, and of transmitting the promises made to Abraham. These rights of primogeniture Esau sold for one meal of red pottage; and in the sale we have:
1. A sacrifice of a great and lifelong good for the satisfaction of present need and desire. Esau was tired, faint for want of food; there was the appetizing pottage; and there was the mean and subtle brother who craved the birthright, and saw his opportunity for gaining his end by disgraceful means, and who proposed that the birthright should be given to him for the mess of pottage, and who, deeming others as unprincipled as himself, would have the bargain ratified by an oath; and Esau yielded, and sacrificed the long future for the brief present. He allowed his strong impulse to overpower his reason and judgment.
2. A sacrifice of spiritual privileges for sensuous satisfactions. The cravings of his senses, his hunger and desire for the pottage, mastered the convictions of his soul. Carnal appetite conquered the claims of Esau's higher interests.
3. A sacrifice made upon the solicitation of his mean and crafty brother. Most discreditable was the action of Jacob in this transaction. If a darker guilt attaches to the tempter to evil than to him who, being tempted, yields, then Jacob's sin was greater than Esau's. Well does Dean Stanley inquire, "Who does not feel at times his indignation swell against the younger brother? 'Is he not rightly named Jacob, for he hath supplanted me these two times?' He entraps his brother, he deceives his father, he makes a bargain even in his prayer; in his dealings with Laban, in his meeting with Esau, he still calculates and contrives; he distrusts his neighbors, he regards with prudential indifference the insult to his daughter and the cruelty of his sons; he hesitates to receive the assurance of Joseph's good will; he repels, even in his lesser traits, the free confidence that we cannot withhold from the patriarchs of the elder generation." Thus tempted by hunger, by appetite, by opportunity, and by his astute and scheming brother, "Esau for one mess of meat sold his own birthright." "Thus Esau despised his birthright." To what a large extent do men still sin after the fashion of Esau's transgression! In our country there are multitudes who are bartering their spiritual interests for secular prosperity - renouncing godliness for worldly gain. What countless numbers are risking the salvation of their souls for the gratification of their senses! sacrificing their well-being in the endless future for their pleasure in the brief present!
II. A SACRIFICE WHICH INVOLVED IRREPARABLE LOSS. "For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected," etc. We have here:
1. Earnest desire for the forfeited blessing. "He would have inherited the blessing." Esau was neither so wicked nor so worldly as to contemn the blessing either of his lather's God or of his father. And when he was defrauded of that blessing by his brother, he sought for it with a most pathetic earnestness (Genesis 27:30-40).
2. Deep distress because of the loss of the forfeited blessing. Our text mentions the "tears" of his great sorrow. "He cried with a great and exceeding bitter cry, and said unto his father, Bless me, even me also, O my father.... Hast thou but one blessing, my father? bless me, even me also, O my father. And Esau lifted up his voice, and wept."
3. Earnest desire and deep distress which were of no avail for the recovery of the forfeited blessing. "He was rejected: for he found no place of repentance." We do not understand by this either that Esau was unable to change his father's mind, or that he could not himself repent of his sins; but, as Alford expresses it, "that he found no way open to reverse what had been done: the sin had been committed and the consequence entailed, irrevocably. He might change, but the penalty could not, from the very nature of the circumstances, be taken off. So that repentance, in its full sense, had no place. And such is the meaning of the 'place of repentance,' wherever occurring. We do not mean by it an opportunity to repent in a man's own bosom, to be sorry for what he has done, for this may be under any circumstances, and this might have been with Esau; but we mean a chance, by repenting, to repair. There is an awful permanence in deeds. They cannot be undone. Words once spoken are beyond recall. Opportunities once lost are lost forever. Others may, perhaps, be granted; but those are irrevocably gone. Let us learn:
1. To curb strong impulses by reason and by conscience.
2. To maintain the forgiver relation between the present and temporary, and the future and abiding.
3. To keep the sensuous subordinate to the spiritual. This brings us to the practical point of the writer of the Epistle. Let us not forsake what is right and true to escape from any present difficulty or loss or pain, or, to secure any present pleasure. Let us not turn away from Christ to escape the cross. - W.J.
Parallel VersesKJV: Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.
WEB: lest there be any sexually immoral person, or profane person, like Esau, who sold his birthright for one meal.