A Question I Was Asked:

What is the Meaning of Esau Finding 'No Place of Repentance' in Hebrews 12:16-17?

"Jacob I Loved, But Esau I Hated"?

What is the meaning of Esau finding 'no place of repentance' in Hebrews 12:16-17? Is he banned from God's kingdom forever? Why did God love Jacob but hate Esau?

UK Apologetics Reply:

Okay. First of all we need to understand the account of Esau in the Old Testament. The full account is in Genesis 25:19-34. In short, Jacob and Esau were twin boys born to Isaac and Rebekah. The Lord revealed to Rebekah that two entire nations of people would come from the twin boys (verse 23). Esau was born first, then Jacob was born, significantly after the second little twin boy was born, he actually gripped Esau's heel (verse 26). Rebekah had already been told by the Lord that "the elder shall serve the younger" - normally the firstborn would receive the greater blessings so this was unusual, and actually a prophecy. Esau was born first, so he would later serve Jacob, despite being slightly older. Esau later grew into being a very skilled hunter and wonderful venison stews and soups were produced from his hunting exploits which people could not resist (Geness 25:27-28). Esau evidently knew that the greater birthright was in the hands of Jacob and he resented this. In character, Jacob was much more 'stay at home,' and seemingly loved to cook tasty meals. We thus arrive at the day when the incident took place:

29. Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. 30. He said to Jacob, 'Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I'm famished!' (That is why he was also called Edom.) 31. Jacob replied, 'First sell me your birthright.' 32. 'Look, I am about to die,' Esau said. 'What good is the birthright to me?' 33. But Jacob said, 'Swear to me first.' So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob. 34. Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left. So Esau despised his birthright. (Genesis 25:29-34; NIV).

Esau placed a very low value on the birthright he should have received from his father. When the time came for Isaac to bestow his blessing on his sons, Jacob and his mother cunningly contrived to deceive Isaac into blessing Jacob in Esau's place. When Esau found that his blessing had been given to Jacob (though he should have expected it), he even threatened to kill his brother, and Jacob fled (Genesis 27:1 - 28:7). Years later, Jacob and Esau met and were reconciled without bitterness (Genesis 33).

So both Jacob and Esau were fathers of nations. Jacob's name was changed to Israel, of course (Genesis 32:28), and he became the father of the 12 tribes of Israel. Esau's descendants were the Edomites (Genesis 36). Edom was a nation that often plagued Israel in later years and were finally judged by God (Obadiah 1:1-21).

The root meaning of 'Edom' is red, we may think of the red soup or stew which Esau demanded from Jacob. In Greek times Edom became Idumea (mentioned in Mark 3:8) and the roles ironically reversed for a while, since the Herod family was Idumean.

In the New Testament, Esau's choice to sell his birthright is used as an example of ungodliness and unfaithfulness; a 'godless' person who will put physical and lustful desires over spiritual blessings (Hebrews 12:15-17). The New Testament also uses the story of Jacob and Esau to illustrate God's sovereignty in human affairs. God chose the younger Jacob to carry on the Abrahamic Covenant and of Israel, while Esau was excluded from the Messianic line because he had shown himself to be faithless.


Whilst the story concerns our salvation and our faithfulness toward God, it is important to remember that this is a wonderfully descriptive teaching example. God says, "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated," but this is to show us that God has full decision and jurisdiction in all of our lives; as Almighty God He can raise up people to serve as good or bad examples; this is His area of decision and choice, but this is not necessarily saying that Esau is eternally lost at all, it is talking about his lack of character at one point in his life in giving up a birthright for a bowl of hot stew! Let's not read things into Scripture which are not there.

14. What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! 15. For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." 16. It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God's mercy. 17. For Scripture says to Pharaoh: "I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth." 18. Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. (Romans 9:14-18).

God plans things His way, He may decide to raise people up as good, or bad examples. This is not saying that the bad examples are eternally lost, their time has probably not come yet; this concerns this present life and how God may use people and situations as teaching examples that all can see and learn from. The later Calvinism came to see Esau as the perfect example of a "reprobate," that is, one of the great majority of humanity who are barred from salvation and are headed for Hell no matter what they might decide to do. This is an appalling perversion of biblical teaching.

No 'Place of Repentance'?

16. See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. 17. Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. Even though he sought the blessing with tears, he could not change what he had done. (Hebrews 12:16-17).

Esau found 'no place of repentance' (as it is expressed in the KJV), because in the final analysis, he could never really see that he had done wrong. For him, he needed that hot stew there and then, he said, "What good is the birthright to me?" (Genesis 25: 32b). He later blamed both Jacob and his father for his not having received the fuller birthright. It was difficult for him to see that he had brought this situation upon himself; true repentance is to see the awful truth about ourselves, that was beyond the young Esau. God's hatred was for Esau's lack of character. Esau, then, served as a bad example for a moment in time in salvation history, but this does not mean he is "banned from God's kingom forever."

Robin A. Brace. September 25th, 2017.