What’s so Bad about Esau?

100_0499 (2)Genesis 27-29 today! We’re getting to some intense moments in Jacob’s life. In these chapters, he lies to Isaac his father, he takes Esau’s blessing, flees for his life from Esau’s anger, sees a stairway to heaven, meets up with Laban, and gets married to two women and eventually the two servants of those wives. It’s packed with all kinds of action and drama. Honestly, you can’t make some of this stuff up.

But what about Esau? What’s going on with him? And why is everybody so down on him all the time? I think many people have the same reaction about fairness when they think about Cain. Why were these brothers rejected and the other ones chosen?

I had to break out Mom’s study Bible to look at the commentary and look some things up to understand the Hebrew here.

When we read about Esau, I think the first thing that stands out to me is that he was impulsive. He wasn’t always looking at the long-term consequences of his actions. He sells his birthright because he’s hungry, and he marries without listening to his parents’ wishes. It’s a heart thing. I imagine that he might also not value the things of God if he acts impulsively like this. In Hebrews 12:17 Esau is even called “godless” for his actions concerning his birthright. (When I looked up the word ‘godless’ it describes it as a lifestyle that does not acknowledge God). I think we also see this with Cain when he doesn’t give God his first-fruits. I’m not saying that Esau and Cain are the worst people to walk the earth, but they definitely miss the mark.

Then, we have those verses that say “Jacob have I loved, but Esau I have hated” in Malachi 1:2-3. What does that mean? And is it fair that God decides to hate Esau?

I’ll start by saying that when we get into questions of ‘fairness’ and what we ‘deserve’ the answer is that we ‘deserve’ hell because everyone falls short of the standard God has set. We’ve all broken His law. When it comes to fairness, I honestly think that’s a horrible way to look at the Bible. God extends mercy to us daily, and He is not willing that any should perish. But, He is a righteous judge who has set the law in place. If we don’t accept Jesus (who is the ONLY way to salvation) we can’t expect Him to change that law for us and still be righteous.

So, I looked up that phrase that talks about ‘hate’ and it came up with a couple explanations for these verses:

  • One of the first things that it mentioned was that this expression ‘hate’ can imply less love. It referenced passages about situations where one wife was loved more than the other, it even mentioned Leah and Rachel’s relationship with Jacob (how he loved Rachel and not Leah), and it mentioned when Jesus tells us we must ‘hate’ our own family (or love them less than we love Him) to follow Him (compare Luke 14:26 to Matthew 10:37). The commentary from Mom’s study Bible described that this wasn’t really about Esau’s ‘eternal destiny’ but that it was about the fact that God’s covenant was extended to Jacob and not to Esau. Jacob was favored because God chose to extended His covenant toward his descendants, but Esau was still blessed, he just wasn’t included in the covenant.
  • Another thing it brought up was the dynamic between God and sin. God cannot be the perfect, loving, holy God that He is and permit any sort of sin. There is enmity between God and sin, and He has every right to have righteous ‘hate’ for sin and sinners. (See also: God showing us grace and mercy by sending Jesus to die for our sins so that they can be forgiven and we can be with Him one day in heaven).

Now, when we start to talk about the situation with God extending His covenant to Jacob and not to Esau, I think we get into that question of ‘fairness’ again. But, in Romans 9 Paul addresses this by saying that we don’t have any place to judge God for who He chooses to bless and who He doesn’t. He knows how the whole story works out. He is the potter and we are the clay. Paul explains, what right does a clay pot have to say to the potter ‘you should have made me this way or that’ (Romans 9:19-21).

We don’t have the full picture, but He does. Again, God is ultimately working everything to the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). We may not get everything we want in this life, but if we fit that description of loving Him and being called according to His purpose we need to stop comparing our blessings to other people’s blessings and trust that He knows what He is doing.

Another thing about this passage that stands out is that this family was taking matters into its own hands. Rebekah knew the promise God had made, but she decided to do things her way. Jacob lied and stole from his brother. Esau thought he knew what was best in his own life. And, Isaac was pretty imperfect as well.

God still blessed this family. Both Jacob and Esau went on to have considerable wealth and fathered two nations of people. But, because of Esau’s impulsive choices (and obviously in part due to Jacob’s actions) there was animosity between his descendants and the Israelites. God still seems to look out for Esau (or Edom) and blessed him, but Jacob was chosen and had a personal relationship with God. Jacob messed up considerably in his life, but he passionately sought after God’s will. (I’m not so sure about Esau since he’s called ‘godless’ later)

So, what do we take away from Esau? Well, I think Proverbs 3:5-6 sums it up.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding; think about Him in all your ways, and He will guide you on the right paths.”

This verse really applies to the whole family in these chapters. With both Jacob and Esau’s choices, we see how impulsive actions and not valuing the right things can lead us into sin that has long-lasting consequences.

So, maybe we are slightly more understanding when it comes to Esau; but, at the same time, take the lesson of what not to do. Remember to think about the long-term consequences of your own actions in whatever you do—even if it seems small at the time.




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