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When Esau heard the words of his father, he cried with a great and exceedingly bitter cry, and said to his father, “Bless me, even me also, O my father!” — Genesis 27:34

Esau: The Perils of the Profane

The patriarchs. We all know them well. Let’s see, there were Abraham, Isaac, and Esau… The tragedy is that some of you don’t notice anything wrong with that statement. That’s not quite the way it was. It was Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Precisely. But what happened to Esau? He was the firstborn. There is the law of primogeniture. It says that to the firstborn goes the honor and the title and the double blessing, and thereby hangs a tale—a sorrowful tale, a tale from which we may learn a great deal even today, almost three thousand years later.

As we look at Esau’s background, we see the incredible opportunities he had. How’s this, for starters? Grandpa is named Abraham. Abraham, the father of the faithful, the father of the Jews, the father of the Christians, the father of the Muslims. Abraham, one of the most influential men who ever lived upon this earth. Abraham, the man who walked with God—the man who was a friend of God. Abraham, a man who was willing even to give up his own son for God. How would you like to sit on his knee and learn wisdom and godliness? Esau had that privilege.

Esau’s father, Isaac, was also a godly man in that train. He followed the instructions of his father, Abraham. Then Esau came along as the firstborn. He had a magnificent upbringing. He reminds us of many today who have grown up in godly homes, have had godly counsel, and have listened to family prayers and heard the Bible read. How could he have gone so wrong?

How badly wrong did he go? In the New Testament Book of Hebrews, where that great chronological telling of the heroes of the Old Testament is set forth, this is all we read about Esau: “Lest there be any sexually immoral or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright. For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected. For he found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears” (Hebrews 12:16–17). Esau, the profane person.

Today we more than likely use the word profane to describe the kind of language that has become increasingly common. It has always been common, but it is common in a different sense today. Gross language has found its place in movies and television shows increasingly, so much so that almost anything goes. Producers or writers continue to push the envelope to find out if there are any words they haven’t said on television.

Since the free speech movement of the sixties it has become in vogue to see how vile, how vulgar, how toilet-like one can talk. And that is simply the outworking of the profane spirit. That is not really profanity; it is profanity expressing itself. It is the vocabulary of the ungodly, of the unspiritual, of the immoral, and it has become all too ghastly common in our day.

That, briefly, is the background of Esau, and we saw the ultimate result. How did this happen? In Genesis 25 we are told something about Esau. He must really have been a terrible, terrible person. No. Not in what the common man would think of him. I guarantee you that if Jacob and Esau were set up before any group and both ran for president, Esau would be elected, hands down. He would be the most popular man in high school. Jacob would not be likely to succeed. Esau was an outdoors man, this hairy, red fellow. He loved to take his bow and quiver of arrows out into the field and hunt deer and bring home the venison his father, Isaac, loved so well. He was a man of open spaces. He was a robust man. He was no doubt an outgoing fellow who would clasp your hand and greet you warmly. That’s who Esau was. He was the kind of fellow you probably would want to make friends with—and yet he was rejected.

We see that Esau had a fatal flaw. Though the chain may have been ever so strong, there was one weak link. That link broke, and his whole life collapsed thereby—because he was profane in mind and heart. He was not concerned about spiritual things. He was not concerned about the things of God—the things of the soul, the things of the future. He was concerned about the things of the body, the things of the flesh, and the things of the senses. He was the indubitably sensate man, which supposedly the twenty-first-century man is. Well, he preceded us by three thousand years as a sensate man. He was mostly concerned about his body, and he was blind to these other things. He didn’t care about them.

And so that fateful day came when he went out hunting in the morning and came home empty-handed and famished. He had nothing to eat. And there was Jacob, whose name means “the supplanter”—Jacob, the deceiver; Jacob, the sly one—and he’s fixing some stew for dinner. Esau says to his brother, “Please feed me some of that red stew, for I am famished” (Genesis 25:30).

Well, not quite so quickly there, Esau. Remember when they came out of the womb, it was Jacob who was holding on to the heel of Esau—Jacob, the supplanter, who is going to supplant his brother. Jacob said, “Sell me your birthright, and I will give you all the stew you can eat.”

Esau said, “I am at the point to die. What good is this birthright to me? I’m not going to be alive tomorrow.”

That’s part of the problem with the sensate man. It was then, and it is today. His only concern is about the things of flesh, and he has this exaggerated sense of how desperately he needs them. We see that today. Someone feels sexually attracted, and he has to fulfill that need. It’s a bodily need, and it must be fulfilled, and it must be fulfilled now. It can’t wait. That is the motto of the sensual man.

It’s like Esau said, “What good is this birthright going to be to me? That’s something that’s not going to come to me for who knows how many years down the line, not until my father dies.” But what happens next? “Then Jacob said, ‘Swear to me this day.’ So he swore to him, and he sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew. Then he ate and drank, arose, and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright” (Genesis 25:33–34).

In that birthright there was the primogeniture, the law of the firstborn. To him went half again the inheritance that went to the next brother. To this man went the name. To this man went the glory of the family. He became the heir. In this case he would become heir of all of the Abrahamic promises—that his seed would be as stars of the heaven. That wouldn’t have meant a thing to Esau. Furthermore, through him the Messiah would have come forth; all of Canaan would have been his. It was a glorious thing that his name would be listed as one of the progenitors of the Messiah, the Savior of the world. But all of that Esau sold for a bowl of stew.

God has glorious promises for those who will trust in His Son today—an inheritance of all things. But how many people today will do the very same thing? Under some kind of sensual or sensate urge, they will sell all of their birthright for a bowl of stew…a bowl of stew…a bowl of stew—and there goes heaven. What a fool. But Esau was never a man for the long look. He lived for the moment. Why, that is as up-to-date as modern existential philosophy: Live for the moment. There’s no tomorrow; there’s just today. Let Esau’s negative example warn us all of the perils of the profane.