Supplement to Genesis 36:1-43: A Defense of Esau’s Character

As Esau is so considerable a person in polemic divinity, it may be necessary, in this place especially, to say something farther of his conduct and character. I have already, in several places, endeavored, and I hope successfully, to wipe off the odium that has been thrown upon this man, without attempting to lessen his faults; and the unprejudiced reader must see that, previously to this last account we have of him, his character stands without a blot, except in the case of selling his birthright, and his purpose to destroy his brother. To the first he was led by his famishing situation and the unkindness of his brother, who refused to save his life but on this condition; and the latter, made in the heat of vexation and passion, he never attempted to execute, even when he had the most ample means and the fairest opportunity to do it.

Dr. Shuckford has drawn an impartial character of Esau, from which I extract the following particulars: “Esau was a plain, generous, and honest man, for we have no reason, from any thing that appears in his life or actions, to think him wicked beyond other men of his age or times; and his generous and good temper appears from all his behavior towards his brother. When they first met he was all humanity and affection, and he had no uneasiness when he found that Jacob followed him not to Seir, but went to live near his father. And at Isaac’s death we do not find that he made any difficulty of quitting Canaan, which was the very point which, if he had harbored any latent (evil) intentions, would have revived all his resentments. He is indeed called in Scripture the profane Esau; and it is written, Jacob have I loved, and Esau have I hated; but there is, I think, no reason to infer, from any of those expressions, that Esau was a very wicked man, or that God hated or punished him for an immoral life. For,

1. The sentence here against him is said expressly to be founded, not upon his actions, for it was determined before the children had done good or evil.

2. God’s hatred of Esau was not a hatred which induced him to punish him with any evil, for he was as happy in all the blessings of this life as either Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob; and his posterity had a land designed by God to be their possession, as well as the children of Jacob, and they were put in possession of it much sooner than the Israelites; and God was pleased to protect them in the enjoyment of it, and to caution the Israelites against invading them with a remarkable strictness, Deuteronomy 2:4, Deuteronomy 2:5. And as God was pleased thus to bless Esau and his children in the blessings of this life, even as much as he blessed Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob, if not more, why may we not hope to find him with them at the last day, as well as Lot or Job or any other good and virtuous man, who was not designed to be a partaker of the blessing given to Abraham?

3. All the punishment inflicted on Esau was an exclusion from being heir to the blessing promised to Abraham and to his seed, which was a favor not granted to Lot, to Job, to several other very virtuous and good men.

4. St. Paul, in the passage before cited, only intends to show the Jews that God had all along given the favors that led to the Messiah where he pleased; to Abraham, not to Lot; to Jacob, not to Esau; as at the time St. Paul wrote the Gentiles were made the people of God, not the Jews.

5. Esau is indeed called profane, (βεβηλος ), but I think that word does not mean wicked or immoral, ασεβης or ἁμαρτωλος· he was called profane for not having that due value for the priest’s office which he should have had; and therefore, though I think it does not appear that he was cut off from being the heir of the promises by any particular action in his life, yet his turn of mind and thoughts do appear to have been such as to evidence that God’s purpose towards Jacob was founded on the truest wisdom.” – Shuckford’s Connections, vol. ii., p.174, etc.

The truth is, the Messiah must spring from some One family, and God chose Abraham’s through Isaac, Jacob, etc., rather than the same through Ishmael, Esau, and the others in that line; but from this choice it does not follow that the first were all necessarily saved, and the others necessarily lost.

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