Hebrews 12:14–17. Esau and the Root of Bitterness.
Key Notes: The life of Esau. " I shall be safe. although I walk in the stubbornness of my heart."
12:14 "Strive for peace with all people, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord."
No one can see God without holiness. No one would want to see God without holiness. The pain would be too great.
12:15–17."See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God", that no one stumbles and falls in the race. This is a group admonition, a pastor talking to the group about its corporate responsibility. We do not run alone. The root of bitterness must not contaminate the group. No one should be immoral or profane like Esau who sold his birthright for a dinner, lost the blessing as well, and was unable to repent.
We associate the root of bitterness with Esau's attitude: he was bitter with his brother for stealing his blessing. But the "root of bitterness", a root that bears bitter fruit, is spelled out in Deut.29:18.
"Beware lest there be among you a man or woman, or family or tribe whose heart turns away this day from the Lord our God to go and serve the gods of those nations; lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit, one who, when he hears the words of this sworn covenant, blesses himself in his heart saying, 'I shall be safe though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart'. The Lord would not pardon him, but rather the anger of the Lord and His jealousy would smoke against that man...."
Was Esau immoral? Commentators are divided, but all agree that he was irreligious, secular. Let us review the story.
Abraham got a wife for Isaac from his family in Nahor, not from Canaan, setting a precedent.Gen. 24:4
Jacob and Esau were twin sons of Isaac. The Lord told his wife Rebekah that the twins would become two nations and the firstborn would serve the second-born. Esau (the red) was born first, with Jacob holding onto his heel ("the supplanter"). Gen. 25:23–26
Esau was a more attractive man: an outdoorsman, a skillful hunter, beloved of Isaac, a man's man. Jacob was quiet, lived in the tent, and was the favorite of his mother. Gen 25:27–28
In an impulsive moment, hungry after hunting, Esau promised to give his birthright to Jacob for a dinner of lentils.Gen. 25:29–32
God confirmed to Isaac the blessing of Abraham on two occasions. Gen. 26:3, 24.
When Esau was of age, he married two Canaanite (Hittite) women who made life bitter for his parents, Isaac and Rebekah.Gen. 26:34–35.
Isaac, when he was old, arranged for Esau to bring him his favorite dish of venison and planned to give him the blessing of the firstborn, but Rebekah connived with Jacob to deceive Isaac and get the blessing for Jacob. Gen. 27:28–29
Isaac"s blessing: "May God give you of the dew of heaven, and the fatness of the earth, and plenty of grain and wine. Let people serve you and nations bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may your mother's sons bow down to you. Cursed be every one who curses you and blessed be every one who blesses you."
c When Esau returned and realized that he had been excluded, he "cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry and said to his father, 'Bless me, even me also, O my father'". But he had come to the point of no return and Isaac had given away the blessing: "I have blessed him--and he shall be blessed." (Gen. 27:33)
Esau was only given a prophecy that he would break from Jacob's control: "Behold, away from the fatness of the earth shall your dwelling be, and away from the dew of heaven on high. By your sword you shall live, and you shall serve your brother, but when you break loose you shall break his yoke from your neck." (Gen. 27:37–40)
Jacob was sent away to avoid getting killed by his brother, back to Rebekah's people, where he married Leah and Rachel. As he left, he was given another blessing .Gen. 27:41–45 "God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples. May He give the blessing of Abraham to you and to your descendants with you, that you may take possession of the land of your sojournings which God gave to Abraham." (Gen. 28:3–4)
What was the birthright of the firstborn, which Esau gave away so easily?
a. head of the family, priest, chief shepherd, commander of the local militia.
b. a double portion of the family estate. Deut.21:15–17
c. the father's blessing.
d. to be favored, owned indeed by God. Ex 22:29; Num 3:13, 40–51
What was the blessing, first given to Abraham and then to his descendents? Gen. 12:1–3
a. Canaan as a possession.
b. a great nation would come from him.
c. the blessing of God.
d. through him, a blessing would come to the world-- The Messiah. "Abraham rejoiced that he was to see My day." (Jn.8:56).
Was Esau immoral? His two Hittite wives certainly distressed his parents. If they adhered to Canaanite religion, which was debased and immoral, we would expect Esau to be immoral with them, and this would upset his parents. Apocryphal writings say they were “fornicators’, lusty, and unclean”. (Jubilees 25:1).
Was Esau profane? Tradition meant little to him. If his family had not been Abraham's lineage, we would not have a story, but when he gave up the birthright, he forfeited the blessing as well. The blessing was partly material but also spiritual. Esau did not need either part of it, until he lost it. Four times the verdict went against him: he sold it; Rebekah plotted for it; Jacob stole it; Isaac confirmed it.
It is hard not to be sympathetic with Esau and critical of Jacob, humanly speaking. (Esau even forgave Jacob later on.) But Esau is used as an illustration of one who says in his heart "I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart". (Deut.29:19). The concern of the pastor-author is that this rebelliousness would be expressed by someone in the group, and be contagious, leading many astray. That is the root of bitterness.
Rebel against evil, not against God.