Esau was the firstborn son of Isaac and Rebekah and the older twin brother of Jacob in the Old Testament. Though he was the firstborn son who had the birthright and stood to inherit great blessings from his father, Esau ultimately lost his birthright to his younger brother Jacob. This leads many to wonder about Esau’s spiritual state – did he ever repent and go to heaven? Or was he eternally damned due to his unbelief and contempt for his birthright? In this comprehensive blog post, we will examine Esau’s life and the Bible’s commentary on his character to see what conclusions we can draw about his eternal destiny.
The story of Jacob and Esau serves as a sobering warning against despising spiritual blessings for temporary physical gratification. As the firstborn son, Esau was entitled to a double portion of Isaac’s inheritance as well as the spiritual leadership of the household when Isaac died. However, Esau showed complete disregard for the value of his birthright when he sold it to Jacob for a single meal (Genesis 25:29-34). The writer of Hebrews cites this as evidence that Esau was a profane person who had no regard for spiritual things:
lest there be any fornicator or profane person like 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 (NKJV)
This passage paints a bleak picture of Esau’s spiritual state. The author compares him to a fornicator and a profane person who cared more about fulfilling his immediate fleshly desires than honoring his spiritual birthright. Even when Esau regretted his choice and desperately sought the blessing with tears, he found no place for repentance in Isaac’s eyes. Isaac could not simply undo what Esau had freely chosen to sell away in a moment of fleshly weakness.
However, the story does not necessarily end there. While Esau never regained his birthright, the question remains of whether he later repented and sought the things of God rather than living for his fleshly desires. To answer this question, we must look deeper into the key events of Esau’s life and the Bible’s commentary on his unfolding story.
- Esau's Life and Character
- Assessing Esau's Spiritual State
- Lessons from Esau
- Conclusion – A Warning for All
- Key Takeaways:
Esau’s Life and Character
Selling His Birthright for Stew
The first insight into Esau’s character comes from Genesis 25, where we see Esau returning from an unsuccessful hunt. Being both exhausted and famished, Esau agrees to sell his birthright to his younger brother Jacob in exchange for a bowl of stew. As the older twin son of Isaac, Esau stood to inherit a double portion of his father’s estate as well as the family’s spiritual leadership. But in this critical moment, Esau’s immediate fleshly needs took priority over any thought of his spiritual heritage.
The writer of Hebrews labels this as evidence that Esau was sexually immoral and unholy (Hebrews 12:16). Rather than esteeming his spiritual birthright, Esau despised it in a moment of fleshly weakness. This important choice revealed the true condition of Esau’s heart.
Marrying Foreign Women
In Genesis 26:34-35, we find that Esau grieved his parents by marrying two Hittite (Canaanite) women at around age 40. Isaac and Rebekah were unhappy with these daughters-in-law from the surrounding peoples who did not worship the true God. Esau’s choice to marry these women showed further contempt for the covenant blessings he was to inherit as the firstborn son of Isaac.
This continued pattern of disregarding spiritual matters in favor of fleshly appetites only reinforced Esau’s reputation as a profane man. Marrying foreign unbelievers would have corrupted the line of patriarchs through whom God’s covenant blessings were to flow. But Esau followed his physical desires rather than honoring God’s calling on his life.
Lost Blessing from Blind Isaac
Years later when Isaac was old and blind, he asked Esau to hunt game and prepare a savory meal so that he could bestow his final blessing before death (Genesis 27:1-4). Rebekah overheard this plan and conspired with Jacob to deceive the blind Isaac into giving the blessing to Jacob instead. When Jacob brought the meal disguised as Esau, Isaac questioned the quick timing but proceeded to pronounce blessings of prosperity and dominion over nations and peoples upon Jacob (Genesis 27:27-29).
When Esau discovered that Jacob had taken the blessing, he wept bitterly and begged Isaac for any blessing to remain upon him (Genesis 27:34-38). While Isaac did pronounce a lesser blessing on Esau, the privileged blessing that was Esau’s birthright had been irrevocably given to Jacob. The stolen blessing only seemed to solidify the contempt Esau had squandered away years earlier.
Marrying Ishmael’s Daughter
After this, Esau recognized the grief that his Hittite wives had brought to his parents. So in addition to his existing wives, Esau married Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael (Genesis 28:8-9). Ishmael was Abraham’s first son, born through Sarah’s maid Hagar. So by marrying Ishmael’s daughter, Esau attempted to show regard for his parent’s spiritual wishes while still indulging his attraction to foreign women.
While not as idolatrous as his Canaanite wives, this union with Ishmael’s line shows that Esau still prioritized his own desires over full repentance and return to God’s best plan for him. Ishmael was also not the line of the covenant, as Isaac was the son of promise through whom God’s blessings would flow. So Esau’s compromise solution still fell short of fully honoring God.
Reconciliation with Jacob
The most hopeful note in Esau’s story comes many years later when Jacob returns to the land of Canaan with his wives, children, and livestock after staying with Laban in Paddan Aram. Jacob sent messengers ahead to get word to Esau, and they returned saying that Esau was coming to meet him with 400 men (Genesis 32:3-6). Jacob was terrified that Esau still intended vengeance for stealing his blessing.
But when the brothers finally met, Esau ran to embrace and kiss Jacob. Esau graciously accepted the generous gifts of livestock that Jacob sent ahead to appease him (Genesis 33:1-11). Jacob remarked that seeing Esau’s face was like seeing the face of God (Genesis 33:10). This tender reunion after years apart seems to portray a genuine change of heart in Esau toward his brother.
Could this later reconciliation with Jacob also reflect a softening of Esau’s heart toward spiritual matters and the God of his father Isaac? While Scripture does not explicitly say, it does seem Esau bore no ill will toward Jacob in the end. Perhaps with age and maturity Esau recognized the triviality of his youthful choices to sell his birthright and absorb himself in fleshly pursuits. We can hope that Esau’s heart had softened over the years and he was reconciled to the loss of his blessing and inheritance.
Assessing Esau’s Spiritual State
With these major events of Esau’s life in mind, let’s synthesize the biblical evidence regarding Esau’s character and possible repentance.
Despised His Birthright
The Genesis and Hebrews accounts both paint Esau in very negative terms regarding his lack of value for spiritual things. In a rash moment of fleshly weakness, Esau esteemed his birthright as worthless compared to some quick stew. His willingness to casually throw away this sacred honor showed that his heart was far from God at this time. This understandably led to him being labeled as profane and sexually immoral (unholy).
No Place for Repentance with Isaac
The Genesis account tells us Esau was deeply distraught when he learned that Jacob had stolen his blessing from Isaac. Esau wept and begged his father to have any blessing at all, but it was too late (Genesis 27:34-38). The blessing had been given, and Isaac refused to take it back from Jacob. The writer of Hebrews confirms that Esau found no place for repentance at that time, though he sought it diligently with tears (Hebrews 12:17).
So in Isaac’s eyes during his life, there was no reversing the consequences of Esau’s choices. His bitter tears in that moment could not undo his previous disdain for his birthright. However, that does not necessarily mean that Esau had no future opportunity to repent before God.
Possible Change of Heart in Later Years
While the early accounts paint Esau very negatively, there are some hints that his heart may have softened over time. His attempt to please his parents by marrying Ishmael’s daughter showed some improved regard for spiritual things. And Esau’s warm reconciliation with Jacob after years apart could suggest a genuine change of heart toward God and repentance from his previous fleshly ways.
We are not told explicitly if Esau ever turned to wholeheartedly serve the Lord. But the Bible also does not rule out the possibility that Esau humbled himself and repented in his later years. If Esau did ultimately repent and turn to God, he may still have a place with the redeemed in heaven.
Lessons from Esau
Regardless of whether Esau finally repented or not, his story provides a sobering warning about the dangers of living for our fleshly appetites and disregarding spiritual matters. Here are some key lessons we can learn from Esau’s tragic example:
- Do not despise spiritual blessings for fleeting worldly pleasures. Be willing to deny fleshly desires to pursue God’s calling.
- Highly value your spiritual birthright and inheritance in Christ. Do not trade it away for temporary gratification.
- When you fail, quickly repent and seek restoration. Our merciful God will forgive a humble and contrite heart.
- Make wise marriage choices. Don’t just satisfy personal desires but seek a spouse who shares your faith.
- Be reconciled to others. Let go of bitterness and demonstrate the forgiveness of Christ.
Even when others disappoint us greatly, we must guard our own hearts before God. Like Esau, our fleshly appetites can easily lead us astray from God’s best if we do not keep a close watch over our hearts. But if we learn from Esau’s mistakes, we can avoid his tragic consequences.
Conclusion – A Warning for All
In conclusion, the biblical evidence on balance weighs against Esau experiencing salvation after his bitter tears before Isaac. His choices consistently portrayed a heart indifferent toward spiritual matters and God’s purposes for his life. The author of Hebrews points to Esau as a grave warning against despising our spiritual birthright in Christ.
However, we cannot say with full certainty that Esau never humbled himself and repented in his later years. If he did ultimately turn to God, Esau may have still attained salvation, though he permanently lost his earthly birthright.
Regardless, Esau’s tragic example remains a sobering reminder not to sell our eternal inheritance for temporary fleshly fulfillment. By God’s grace, may we highly value and guard our spiritual birthright, unlike Esau who despised his. The choices we make today determine our eternal destiny.
- As firstborn son, Esau was entitled to both material inheritance and spiritual headship in Isaac’s household. But he despised this birthright and sold it for a single meal.
- Esau’s choice to marry Canaanite women further revealed his disregard for spiritual matters compared to fleshly appetites.
- When Jacob stole Esau’s blessing from blind Isaac, Esau bitterly wept but found no room for repentance in Isaac’s eyes.
- Esau later attempted to please his parents by marrying Ishmael’s daughter, but this compromise still indulged fleshly desires over God’s best.
- Esau’s warm reconciliation with Jacob years later may suggest a change of heart, but the Bible does not explicitly say Esau repented.
- Esau’s life serves as a grave warning against despising spiritual blessings for temporary worldly pleasures.
- If Esau ultimately humbled himself before God, he still may have attained salvation though losing his earthly inheritance.