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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

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(1) St. Paul (Romans 9:10-13) uses the pre-natal oracle regarding Esau and his brother (Genesis 25:22-23) as an illustration of the principle of Divine election. Before they were born, when neither had any merit or demerit, the elder was destined to serve the younger. As the prophet Malachi (Malachi 1:2-3) has it, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’ In both of the OT passages quoted there was a reference not merely to the children but to their descendants. The first part of the oracle runs, ‘Two nations are in thy womb, and two peoples shall be separated from thy bowels’ (Genesis 25:23); and the Prophet’s words are, ‘Was (or ‘is,’ Revised Version margin) not Esau Jacob’s brother? saith the Lord: yet I (have) loved Jacob; but Esau (have) I hated, and made his mountains a desolation, and gave (given) his heritage to the jackals of the wilderness. Whereas Edom saith,’ etc. (Malachi 1:3-4).

St. Paul is engaged in proving that the Divine promise has not failed though the majority of the children of Abraham have been excluded (or have excluded themselves by unbelief) from a share in its fulfilment in Christ. His purpose is to sweep away a narrow, particularistic doctrine of election, according to which God’s action ends in Israel, and to replace it by a grand universalistic conception, according to which the world, or all humanity, is the end of the Divine action, and election itself is controlled by an all-embracing purpose of love. He accomplishes his purpose partly by a very effective argumentum ad hominem. The Jews so little understood the humbling principle of election, which ascribes all the merit of salvation to God, that they prided themselves on having been chosen, while their neighbours, Ishmael and Edom, had been rejected. Since Jacob-in the prophetic words which were so dear to them-had been loved and Esau hated, it was clear to them that they were the objects of a peculiar Divine favour. To turn the edge of this argument, St. Paul had only to remind them that many of the rejected-e.g. Esau and all his descendants-were children of Abraham. If God could make a distinction in the chosen family in former times, without being untrue to His covenant, He might do so again. A whole nation might lose its birthright like Esau.

(2) The writer of Hebrews (Hebrews 12:16) instances Esau as a profane person, who for a single meal (ἀντὶ βρώσεως μιᾶς) sold his birthright. ‘Profane’ (βέβηλος), when applied to things, means ‘unconsecrated,’ ‘secular. The word occurs in the Septuagint of Leviticus 10:10, ‘ye shall put difference between the holy and the common (τῶν βεβήλων).’ It was the fault of Esau, who was not without admirable qualities, that he made no such distinction. To him the most sacred things were common, because he had no spiritual discernment. He despised ‘this birthright’ (Genesis 25:32) as a thing of no worth. He did not despise the blessing which had material advantages attached to it, and he imagined he could retain it even after he had sold the birthright. But the poignant moment of disillusionment came, when he realized that the blessing was gone beyond recall. His regrets were vain: ‘he found no place for repentance.’ This signifies that there was no means of undoing what he had done; the past was irreparable.

James Strahan.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Esau'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​e/esau.html. 1906-1918.
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