The next clear example of a Biblical character who displayed a defective form of repentance is Esau. Esau, like Cain, sought to repent of only a consequence of his sin. therefore, though he sought relief feom that consequence earnestly, he is said to have found no opportunity to repent. The writer to the Hebrews says:
14 Follow after peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no man will see the Lord, 15 looking carefully lest there be any man who falls short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and many be defiled by it; 16 lest there be any sexually immoral person, or profane person, like Esau, who sold his birthright for one meal. 17 For you know that even when he afterward desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for a change of mind (metanoias) though he sought it diligently with tears.
Hebrews 12:14-17 (WEB)
This passage affirms six things about Esau, which will each be discussed in turn: 1) he fell short of the grace of God; 2) he exhibited a "root of bitterness" that caused trouble and defiled; 3) he was sexually immoral; 4) he was profane; 5) he sold his birthright for one meal; 5) he later desired his father's blessing, but was rejected; and 6) he found no place for repentance concerning the blessing, though he sought it with tears. First, Esau fell short of the grace of God. Esau, as firstborn, had the right to the birthright of his father Isaac. This birthright included not only leadership of the family after his father's death and a preferred share of the inheritance, but also, on the spiritual plane, the right to the promises God had made to Abraham and Isaac. God's promises to Abram, before He even renamed him Abraham, started with this promise, made when he told Abram to leave his own land for a land God would show him:
Leave your country, and your relatives, and your father’s house, and go to the land that I will show you. 2 I will make of you a great nation. I will bless you and make your name great. You will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who treats you with contempt. All the families of the earth will be blessed through you.
Some time later,God promises to make Abram's offspring as numerous as the dust and to give them all the land he can see and walk through. (Gen. 13:14-16). God later promised to be Abram's shield and very great reward. (Genesis 15:2.) God also repeated his promise of offspring grater then the stars and the sand (Genesis 15:4-5), and that they would be placed in possession of the land in which Abram lived as a wanderer (Genesis 15:6), as soon as the sin of the Amorites who then lived there was full. (Genesis 15:16). Note God's word to Abram about the sin of the Amorites--it is important to the story of Esau, as will be explained later.
Although Abram tried to fulfill God's promise in his own wisdom and strength--agreeing with his wife Sarai that he should have the son God promised through Sarai's servant Hagar--Hagar's son Ishmael was not to be the inheritor of the promises. Instead, thirteen years later, after first repeating to Abram (now renamed Abraham) the promise that he would be a father of nations and that his offspring would inherit the land, God promises to give Sarai--who he renames Sarah--a son. (Genesis 17:3-6, 15-16). He peomises that sarah will be a mother of nations, and that kings will come out of her, just as he had previously promised Abraham. (Genesis 17:16). God established His covenant with Abraham through the as-yet-unborn son of his wife Sarah, to give the children of this son of the promise everlasting possession of the land and to be their God. (Gen. 17:3-8) He told him to name his son Isaac, and promised "I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him." (Genesis 17:19).
Much later, God commanded Abraham to offer Isaac as a sacrifice to Him. After Abraham demonstrated his faith in God and in the resurrection by showing himself willing to obey God, even in this, God repeated his previous promises:
15 Yahweh’s angel called to Abraham a second time out of the sky, 16 and said, "I have sworn by myself, says Yahweh, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 that I will bless you greatly, and I will multiply your offspring greatly like the stars of the heavens, and like the sand which is on the seashore. Your offspring will possess the gate of his enemies. 18 All the nations of the earth will be blessed by your offspring, because you have obeyed my voice."
Genesis 22:15-18 (WEB).
God confirmed these same promises to Isaac (Genesis 26:2-5, 24). These promises, were, in a greater and more real sense than the property of Abraham and Isaac, the birthright of Esau. Yet Esau "despised" his birthright. He sold it to his younger brother, Jacob, for a bowl of soup when he was hungry. (Genesis 25:34). He was one of those of whom Paul warns, who are "enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is the belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who think about earthly things." (Philippians 3:18-19). In this way, Esau was "profane," i.e., common, in his thinking, placing grater value on his own appetite than on the blessing of God. Therefore, just as Hebrews says he "fell short of the grace of God."
In falling short of the grace of God, Esau displayed a root of bitterness which caused trouble for centuries. Esau never really forgave Jacob the loss of his birthright. This was compounded when Isaac, their almost-blind father, believed himself near death, and Rebekah, their mother, counseled her favorite son, Jacob, how to steal his brother's blessing (Genesis 27:1-27), knowing that God had told her that the older son would serve the younger (Genesis 25:23). The ruse worked, and Isaac passed on to Jacob the blessing of Abraham:
“Behold, the smell of my son
is as the smell of a field which Yahweh has blessed.
28 God give you of the dew of the sky,
of the fatness of the earth,
and plenty of grain and new wine.
29 Let peoples serve you,
and nations bow down to you.
Be lord over your brothers.
Let your mother’s sons bow down to you.
Cursed be everyone who curses you.
Blessed be everyone who blesses you.”
When Esau returned with the game he had killed, expecting the blessing of his ancestors, Isaac told him that Jacob had stolen his birthright. Esau then noted, correctly, that Jacob, whose name meant "supplanter," had "supplanted" him two times, first by taking his birthright, then by taking his blessing. Genesis 27:37. Esau then asked his father if he has only one belessing, and he wept. Esau, as Hebrews says, sought the blessing earnestly with tears. But he did not repent of the flippant attitude he had taken toward his birthright. He merely repented, and mourned, the consequences of that attitude--the loss of both the birthright and the blessing. After Esau wept for a blessing, the best prophetic blessing Isaac could give him was:
“Behold, of the fatness of the earth will be your dwelling,
and of the dew of the sky from above.
40 By your sword will you live, and you will serve your brother.
It will happen, when you will break loose,
that you shall shake his yoke from off your neck.”
It is here in the story that the root of bitterness clearly starts to defile many--the whole family of Esau (the later Edomites). Esau consoled himself the loss of his birthright and blessing by telling himself that his father would soon be dead, and he would then be free to kill his thieving little brother! As will be seen in a few paragraphs, this root of bitterness carried over into the whole relationship between the Children of Israel (Jacob) and the Edomites.
But at this point Jacob is saved by another of Esau's vices--his immorality. Esau had married two Hittite wives his parents couldn't tolerate. Remember what was said earlier about the immorality of the people of the land--which included the Hittites--not being "full" yet? It was, at least, not full enough yet for God to be ready to drive them out of the land in judgment. But it was full enough that they "grieved" Isaac and Rebekah's "spirits. (Genesis 26:34). To add further injury, when Esau saw that his parents did not like his Hittite wives, he added to them one of the daughters of his uncle Ishmael. (Genesis 28:9). The problem was not the number of Esau's wives--his blessed brother Jacob ultimately had four wives. Rather, it was the immorality of the communities from which Esau drew his wives. Esau's immoral taste in wives gave his mother and excuse to ask his father to send Jacob away--back to Haran where her family was. (Genesis 28:1-5). Thus, when Isaac died, Jacob was miles away with uncle Laban, where Esau couldn't kill him.
It is interesting to note that, although Esau personally years later displayed a degree of forgiveness and even love for his brother(Genesis 33:4-16), the same was not true of his descendants, the Edomites. Though Esau himself at least partially overcame his root of bitterness later in life, it defiled his entire family for the rest of their history. When Israel, the descendants of Jacob, left Egypt and wandered through the wilderness for 40 years, when God was ready to bring them to their own homeland, He brought them first to the border of Edom. They requested only safe passage through the land of their "brothers" the Edomites--as God had commanded them not to take anything that belonged to Edom--but Edom denied them passage. (Numbers 20:14-21). So Israel went the long way, around Edom, in the desert.
Edom’s hatred of Israel did not end in the desert, as Israel was leaving Egypt, but literally continued “throughout all generations,” as long as Edom continued to exist. Just as Jacob had predicted when he blessed his sons, after Israel entered their possession, Edom came under their control--at least for a time--from the days of King David until the days of King Joram. In Joram’s time, Edom successfully revolted against Judah, and remained enemies of Judah from that time on. (1 Kings 8:20-22). The result was no ordinary political rivalry. It was a pure ethnic hatred, driven by hurt pride and a sense of old injury. It was a cherished anger--a root of bitterness--of which the Edomites refused to let go. Amos, one of the earliest of the writing prophets, explains that the Philistines of Gaza took whole communities of Hebrews captive and sold them as slaves to Edom--and for this Gaza and the Philistines were to be punished. (Amos 1:6-8). God then decrees even greater punishment on Edom:
For three transgressions of Edom, yes, for four,
I will not turn away its punishment;
because he pursued his brother with the sword,
and cast off all pity,
and his anger raged continually,
and he kept his wrath forever;
12 but I will send a fire on Teman,
and it will devour the palaces of Bozrah.
Amos 1:11-12 (WEB).
Enmity with Israel was also a point of national pride in Edom. Edom believed itself safe in its mountain fortresses, safe from anything Israel or Israel’s God could do to them. It will be noted that Edom’s national pride in its own self-sufficiency arose directly from its ancestor Esau’s pride when he believed he could make it on his own, without the godly birthright of Abraham and Isaac that belonged to him. Jeremiah, Obadiah and Malachi use nearly identical words in describing Edom’s pride. Thus, Jeremiah says:
15 For, behold, I have made you small among the nations, and despised among men. 16 As for your terror, the pride of your heart has deceived you, O you who dwell in the clefts of the rock, who hold the height of the hill: though you should make your nest as high as the eagle, I will bring you down from there, says Yahweh.
Jeremiah 49:15-16 (WEB).
Obadiah’s very similar words add only that Edom thought no one could bring them down:
2 Behold,[c] I have made you small among the nations. You are greatly despised. 3 The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who dwell in the clefts of the rock, whose habitation is high, who says in his heart, ‘Who will bring me down to the ground?’ 4 Though you mount on high as the eagle, and though your nest is set among the stars, I will bring you down from there,” says Yahweh.
Obadiah 1:2-4 (WEB).
Esau’s self-confidence in lightly casting away the birthright was the inner attitude in him which God foreknew, and hated. In his posterity, it became a confidence that, even if God Himself cast them down, they would rebuild in his face. This wicked pride earned Edom the judgment of God, and the name “the Wicked Land:”
A revelation, Yahweh’s[a] word to Israel by Malachi.
2 “I have loved you,” says Yahweh.
Yet you say, “How have you loved us?”
“Wasn’t Esau Jacob’s brother?” says Yahweh, “Yet I loved Jacob; 3 but Esau I hated, and made his mountains a desolation, and gave his heritage to the jackals of the wilderness.”
4 Whereas Edom says, “We are beaten down, but we will return and build the waste places”; Yahweh of Armies says, “They shall build, but I will throw down; and men will call them ‘The Wicked Land,’ even the people against whom Yahweh shows wrath forever.”
Malachi 1:1-4 (WEB).
It hardly need be mentioned that self-reliance, the belief in our ability to make our own success in God’s face, while thumbing our noses at Him, is a part of the modern American creed.
But, in Edom’s case, its pride, and its cherished grudge against Israel (going all the way back to Jacob), had an even more severe consequence in God’s eyes. It led Edom to continually take vengeance on it brother, Israel. As Ezekiel said, “Because Edom has dealt against the house of Judah by taking vengeance, and has greatly offended, and revenged himself on them; therefore thus says the Lord Yahweh, I will stretch out my hand on Edom, and will cut off man and animal from it; and I will make it desolate…” Ezekiel 25:12-13. Summarizing the thrust of Obadiah, whenever attackers came against the children of Israel, Edom gave them help and encouragement. They “looked down on” them in the day of their disaster, and rejoiced in their destruction. They helped all attackers plunder their brother Jacob, seizing their wealth, and cutting off the escape of those who were fleeing. They did great violence to Israel. Obadiah 1:10-14. In the end, when the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem, they gave aid and encouraged compete its destruction:
7 Remember, Yahweh, against the children of Edom,
the day of Jerusalem;
who said, “Raze it!
Raze it even to its foundation!”
8 Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction,
he will be happy who rewards you,
as you have served us.
Psalm 137:7-8 (WEB).
But, even beyond Old Testament times, the Edomites remained enemies and oppressors of Israel. Herod the Great, who took power in Judea, Galillee, Edom and Samaria upon the collapse of the Jewish Hasmonean dynasty, was by birth an Idumean—i.e., an Edomite. It was this Herod who had all of the young boys in the vicinity of Bethlehem killed in an attempt to kill Jesus. Matthew 2:16. It was his son, Herod Antipas, who had John the Baptist executed and played a weak and negative role in the trial of Jesus. Matthew 14:3-12; Luke 23:6-12. Another of Herod’s sons, probably Herod Agrippa I, started the persecution of the Church recorded in Acts 12 and had James, the brother of John, beheaded. The Apostle Paul was later brought for trial before this Herod’s son, Herod Agrippa II. Acts 26. Edom’s hatred of the Jews, who carried with them the promise of blessing to all the nations, asserted itself even against Jesus, the Son of God, when he came.
Such is the destructive power of self-sufficiency--that is, reliance on our own dead works--when joined with a root of bitterness that arises from taking the things of God too lightly and then "repenting" only of the consequences of doing so, all the while blaming others for those consequences. Much of the evil in the world today can be traced to bitterness cherished by self-sufficient individuals (and institutions and nations!) that do not know how to repent!