Hebrews – Chapter Twelve XXXIII

by Ed Urzi

“For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears” (Hebrews 12:17 ESV).

We often think we know what’s good or best for us in life. But let’s consider those concepts for a moment. Things like “good” or “best” are only as reliable as the information they are based on. If more information becomes available later, then our idea of what is “good” or “best” may radically change. This explains why people are often heard to say, “If I only knew then what I know now…” after they’ve made a poor decision.

Esau likely expressed that sentiment as he endured the consequences that arose from the sale of his birthright. However, Esau was not the only person who was affected by that decision. The late author and apologist Norman Geisler alerts us to several important considerations regarding this verse and its reference to repentance…

“There are two important things to observe about this passage. First, the statement ‘no place for repentance’ may refer to his father’s inability to change his mind about giving the inheritance to Jacob, and not to Esau’s change of mind. At any rate, the circumstances did not afford Esau the opportunity to reverse the situation and get the blessing.

Second, tears are not a sure sign that a person has genuinely repented. One can also have tears of regret and remorse that fall short of true repentance or change of mind (cf. Judas, Matt. 27:3). Finally, this text is not talking about spiritual blessing (salvation), but earthly blessing (inheritance). God always honors the sincere repentance of sinners and grants them salvation (Acts 10:35; Heb. 11:6).” (1)

Much like an unrepentant thief who laments the fact that he or she got caught, Esau was deeply saddened by the loss of his inheritance. However, Esau’s sorrow did not prompt him to change his mind or behavior. Indeed, we’re later told that Esau comforted himself with the thought of killing his brother for what he had done. So even though Esau could not reverse the sale of his birthright, he never sought to learn from that decision by committing to honor God in his future choices.

We can thus conclude that Esau did not demonstrate the type of genuine repentance that is characterized by a change in mind that leads to a corresponding change in behavior. Another source ties these ideas together with an important application: “The author uses this as a warning to the recipients of the letter. He wants them to make a decision for Christ now while there is time and then to persevere in that new relationship with Christ because there is no second chance (cf. Heb. 6:6; 10:26).” (2)

(1) When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties [Hebrews 12:17] (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe.

(2) Dr. Bob Utley, Hebrews 12 [12:17] Copyright © 2014 Bible Lessons International http://www.freebiblecommentary.org/new_testament_studies/VOL10/VOL10_12.html