Esau’s [Seemingly] Denied Repentance

I don’t know that I have come across a more Christ exalting book in all of Scripture than the book of Hebrews. It feels strange to pick one book because the reality is, the whole Bible is about exalting Jesus! However, the point of Hebrews is to show Jesus Christ as bigger and better than anything else. He’s better than angels, He’s the better prophet, He’s the better priest, He’s the better sacrifice, He’s better than Moses and He’s the true Sabbath Rest. In some ways, I feel like the book of Hebrews is the interpretive key for the whole Bible. Of course, Hebrews may not mean that much if we did not have the Old Testament, Gospels, Acts, and the rest of the Epistles. So I am not saying we should throw out other books, but what I am saying is we should know Hebrews well.

If you have never read Hebrews through in one sitting, you should. Recently I read the book of Genesis and half of Exodus—then I read Hebrews. The author does such a great job of weaving these stories together and showing how Jesus is the true and better Moses, Aaron, sacrifice, and priest. The book is beautiful!

I reached a bit of a snag in Hebrews 12:17 where it says, “For you know that afterward, when [Esau] desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears (ESV).” My question is, what is the referent of “it” at the end of v. 17? Is the author of Hebrews saying that Esau sought after repentance with tears and God denied him? It sure seems so, which makes me very uncomfortable. However, just because it makes me uncomfortable does not mean it is wrong. If that is what Scripture is saying, I must submit to it but how does that fit with Jesus’ teaching of Ask, Seek, Knock?

So the question is, what is “it?” Looking at the story as it is written in Genesis 27, Esau wasn’t really seeking repentance.

34  As soon as Esau heard the words of his father, he cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry and said to his father, “Bless me, even me also, O my father!” 35       But he said, “Your brother came deceitfully, and he has taken away your blessing.” 36       Esau said, “Is he not rightly named Jacob? For he has cheated me these two times. He took away my birthright, and behold, now he has taken away my blessing.” Then he said, “Have you not reserved a blessing for me?” 37       Isaac answered and said to Esau, “Behold, I have made him lord over you, and all his brothers I have given to him for servants, and with grain and wine I have sustained him. What then can I do for you, my son?” 38       Esau said to his father, “Have you but one blessing, my father? Bless me, even me also, O my father.” And Esau lifted up his voice and wept.
39       Then Isaac his father answered and said to him:
“Behold, away from the fatness of the earth shall your dwelling be,
and away from the dew of heaven on high.
40       By your sword you shall live,
and you shall serve your brother;
but when you grow restless
you shall break his yoke from your neck.”
41       Now Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him, and Esau said to himself, “The days of mourning for my father are approaching; then I will kill my brother Jacob (ESV).”

Nothing in Esau’s lament leads me to believe he actually sought out true repentance. Seems to me after he realized he gave away his birthright, he pleaded and wept for his father to undo what he had done. Repentance was never denied to Esau. He wanted the consequences of his choices removed, but he never truly sought repentance. Never once in that story did he cry out to God, rather he resents his brother and vows to kill him.

In all of this let’s not miss the point of the author of Hebrews. He is telling his listeners to “see to it that no one becomes an imoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal (v. 16, NET).” All this time the author is trying to convince his readers that Jesus is better! Esau serves as a model of the worldly, sensual person. He traded his blessing for a meal! Christian, don’t trade Christ for anything! He is better!We might look at Esau and think, “How stupid! He traded everything for a meal!” For a moment let’s turn this criticism of Esau on ourselves. We trade Christ consistently—daily, maybe even hourly for the lusts of our flesh.

Christian, don’t be like Esau. Don’t trade Christ for anything. Not for money, sex, power, notoriety, your wife, kids, mom, dad, technology etc… He is BETTER!

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One thought on “Esau’s [Seemingly] Denied Repentance

  1. Gustav says:

    Thank you! A really well written article! Enjoyed it thoroughly! This is a piece of scripture I have also thought about and studied a lot. Nothing in the story of Esau led me to either believe that he was seeking genuine repentance. The way it makes most sense to me in light of everything is that the “it” refers to the blessing he wanted back rather than repentance. In my mind I compared it to the story of Peter’s denials and God granted him repentance and forgiveness. Esau was complacent about the blessing of God on his life and now after his meal he throwed a tantrum like a typical child because he wanted the best of both without any reference for God’s blessing or ever being truely sorry for his sins.

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