“lest there be any fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright” (Hebrews 12:16).
Hebrews 12:16 presents us with two behavioral characteristics that are unsuitable for those who claim to follow God in Christ. The first reference involves “fornication,” a word that largely seems to have fallen out of use among contemporary audiences.
The word “fornicator” is translated from the word pornos in the original language of this passage. As you might suspect, pornos is a form of the word from which we derive our modern-day word “pornography.” In a general sense, this word refers to sexual activity that takes place outside a Biblical marriage covenant. Here in Hebrews 12:16, it specifically addresses two unmarried persons who are engaged in a physical relationship with one another.
With this in mind, it may be difficult to see how this characteristic exemplified Esau, a man who appeared to be legally married (Genesis 26:34). To address that question, we should note that Esau’s wives were members of a people group known as the Hittites. As mentioned earlier, the Hittites were a tribal society that worshiped several different pagan gods during the Old Testament era.
Unfortunately, there is no indication that Esau had any interest in the moral character or spiritual beliefs held by these women before he married them. In light of this, it should not surprise us to learn that Esau’s wives made life miserable for his parents (Genesis 26:35). So while Esau may not have been guilty of physical immorality, we might say that he displayed a type of spiritual immorality. Unlike the positive example set by his grandfather Abraham, Esau demonstrated his spiritual indifference through his choice of marriage partners.
Esau also neglected the spiritual inheritance he possessed as the eldest son, for he sold his birthright for a morsel of food. Nevertheless, Esau’s irreligious attitude did not stop him from pursuing the material blessings that God made available through that inheritance. When Esau finally realized what he had lost in treating that heritage so carelessly, he expressed remorse, but did not acknowledge his need to repent.
In this respect, Esau fits the profile of someone who practices fornication. Much like those who seek the advantage of a sexual relationship without the encumbrance of a marriage commitment, Esau wanted the blessings God could offer without the commitment of a relationship with Him. Since “morality” describes what we ought to do, Esau’s spiritual immorality provides us with an example to avoid.