Hebrews 12:17
For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.
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(17) For ye know how that afterward . . .—The meaning of the verse will be seen more clearly if one clause be placed in a parenthesis: “For ye know that even when he afterward desired to inherit the blessing he was rejected (for he found no place of repentance), though he sought it earnestly with tears.” The blessing of Jacob related in Genesis 27 is here viewed (apart from all attendant circumstances) as a necessary consequence of Esau’s “profane” scorn of his birthright. Notwithstanding Esau’s piteous entreaty, Isaac cannot but ratify (Genesis 27:33) the blessing which he has pronounced; though his son sought the blessing earnestly with tears (Genesis 27:38), he was rejected. He “found no place of repentance;” that first act (Genesis 25:33) could not be recalled, but brought with it a loss which nothing could retrieve.

(It is right to add that other interpretations of the verse have been given, which seem, however, much less probable. Thus, the last clause has been understood to mean that Esau earnestly sought repentance; and the preceding words, which we have placed in a parenthesis, that he could not bring his father to a change of purpose.)



Hebrews 12:17THESE words have Been often understood as teaching a very ghastly and terrible doctrine, viz., that a man may earnestly and tearfully desire to repent, and be unable to do so. Such teaching has burdened many a heart, and has put obstacles before many feeble feet in the way of a return to God. It seems to me to be contradicted by a thousand places of Scripture, and to involve something very much like a contradiction in terms.

The Revised Version, by a very slight change, has dispelled that ugly dream. It has put the clause ‘for he found no place of repentance’ in a parenthesis. The effect of that is to bring the first and last clauses of the verse more closely together; and to show more clearly that what Esau is represented as seeking, and seeking with tears in vain, is not repentance, but the Father’s blessing.

It may not, perhaps, be legitimate, regard being had to the construction of the sentence, to treat the clause in question as a parenthesis, because it is so closely connected with the succeeding clause by the antithesis of ‘found’ in the one and ‘sought’ in the other. But although that may be so, I have no doubt whatever that the truth intended to be conveyed by the parenthesis of the Revised Version is the true interpretation of the words before us; and that we are to find here simply the declaration that this man, at a given time of his life; ‘would have inherited the blessing,’ ‘sought it carefully with tears,’ and found it not.

Now the words, thus understood, teach a sufficiently grave and solemn lesson, though they do not teach the ghastly, and, as I believe, the erroneous thought that has been drawn from them. And it may he worth our while to consider for a moment the lessons that they do teach, and to try to lay them upon our hearts.

I. I begin then, first, with asking you to look at the history which is held up before us here as a solemn warning.

The character of Esau is a very simple one. In many respects he is much more attractive and admirable than his brother Jacob. He is frank, generous, quick to kindle into anger, but, as the story shows us too, quick to forgive; placable, easily to be entreated; with the wild Arab virtues of chivalry and generosity and bravery; and the vices Belonging to such a character, of almost utter incapacity to rise beyond the present, and of a great susceptibility to mere material and sensual gratification.

And so he comes in from the field hungry and faint. The pottage smells savoury there, as it smokes in the dish before him. The birthright is a long way off, very unsubstantial, very ideal, and the thing that is nearest him, though it be small, shuts out from his view the far greater thing that lies beyond. Therefore he elects to secure present gratification of a material character, whatever becomes of future satisfaction of a higher and more spiritual nature.

And are you going to throw stones at him for that? Is it such a very unusual thing to find men choosing paths that will yield some modicum of sufficiently hot and sufficiently savory pottage, whatever becomes of their birthright? Is there nobody here that believes more in wealth than in purity? Is there no young man here who would rather live to make a fortune than to cultivate his own nature into loftiest beauty? Are there none of you that despise the priceless things, the things that have no price in the market because they are beyond all its wealth to purchase? Are there none of us who are such fools that a spoonful of pottage to-day seems to us to be more real and more precious than a whole heaven hereafter?

Esau had a show of reason. He said: ‘I am ready to die, and what will my birthright do for me?’ Better a thousand times that he, or we, should die as animals that we may live as the sons of God, than that we should buy existence at the price of true life. And so the man of our text is sufficiently like the rest of you, for you to have a fellow feeling to him that should make you wondrous kind, and his faults are nothing at all extraordinary, but only putting in graphic form, and in such disproportion as to be almost absurd, the choice that the mass of men always make between present and future, between the material and the spiritual. And then the story goes on to tell us that, long years afterwards, we do not know how long, he found out what a fool he had been. Perhaps so much as thirty or forty years elapsed between the moment when he despised his birthright and the other moment that is set before us here. What are the points that come out in the narrative to which our text refers? ‘When Esau heard the words of his father, he cried with a great and exceeding hitter cry, and said unto his father, Bless me, even me also, O my father’... and again, ‘Hast thou but one blessing, my father? Bless me, even me also, O my father. And Esau lifted up his voice and wept,’ These are the parts of the history which the writer of the Hebrews recalls to his Jewish hearers. There is nothing in them about Esau’s vainly seeking for repentance, but there is an account of his passionate weeping and loud entreaties that he yet might obtain a blessing from Isaac’s trembling lips. In the story there is no word of his vainly trying to repent, but there is a real repentance in the sense in which alone that word can be employed, in reference to such an incident and upon that plane of things, viz., there is in him a decided and fundamental change of view, of mind, as to the value of the birthright that he had despised, and that is repentance; and there is bitter sorrow for what had passed, and that is repentance; and there is earnest desire that it might be different, and that is a sign of repentance. There is no sign of sorrow for sin, of repentance, in that sense of the word, but if we take the word not in the, religious meaning, but in what may be called its secular significance, there are in Esau’s ease, as recorded in Genesis, both the elements of a decided alteration of mind and purpose, and of penitence and sorrow for the past. These, then, are the facts of the story, and these are the facts to which my text appeals, for it begins by saying, as to those to whom the whole narrative was familiar: ‘Ye know how that.’ Therefore all that follows must find its vindication in the story as it is Written in Genesis.

II. These, then, being the facts, let me now come, in the second place, to deal with the lesson which this story teaches us.

Remember what I have said as to points which come out in the narrative, that the man there seeks with tears for the blessing, that so far from vainly seeking to repent, in the lower sense of the word which alone is appropriate in the present ease, he does repent. Therefore that expression of our text ‘he found no place of repentance’ does not mean ‘he found no place where he could repent,’ but it means he found no field on which such repentance as he had could operate - so as to undo that which was past. His repentance did not alter the fixed destination of the blessing. His repentance, his change of mind as to the worth of the thing thrown away, and as to his own conduct in despising it, did not bring the thing back again to him. His tears did not obliterate what was done. He wished that it had been otherwise, but his wishes were vain.

And that is the lesson, my brethren, which this text as it stands is intended to teach us. We are pointed hack to that tragic picture of Esau there, weeping, wringing his hands in the wild passion of his uncultured nature, when the blessing, seen to be desirable too late, had vanished from his convulsive grasp. And the lesson that is taught us is just this old solemn one. There may come in your life a time when the scales will fall from your eyes, and you will see how insignificant and miserable are the present gratifications for which you have sold your birthright, and may wish the bargain undone which cannot be undone. You cannot wash out bitter memories, you cannot blot out habits by a wish. Tears will not alter the irrevocable, you cannot avert consequences that fall upon a man, the consequences of a lifetime, by any weeping and wringing of your hands, and by any wish that they might disappear. ‘What I have written I have written,’ said Pilate, and in tragic sense it is true about many a man who at the end looks back upon many ‘a line which dying he would wish to blot,’ but which stands ineffaceable, not to be scratched out by any of your penknives, unless you can cut out the substance of the soul on which it is written.

My brother! learn the lesson. You young men and women, do you begin right, that there may not be in your career deeds or a set of the life which one day you may wake to see has been all madness and misery! Oh! it is an awful thing for men to stand looking back upon a past life which to them appears as the vale of Sodom, on the morning after the eruption, did to Abraham as he looked on it from Mature, ‘and lo! the smoke of the country went up as the smoke of a furnace.’ So foul with slime-pits of boiling bitumen, the indulged lusts of the flesh, and dark with curling smoke-wreaths which tell of infernal fires wasting the fields that might have waved fruitful with harvests, the dark remembrances and blighting habits of sin set on fire of hell, does many a man’s life lie spread out to his gaze. How fain would he cancel the record, if he could! How fain would he forget and reverse the history! How fain would he bring back his early innocence of these lusts and crimes! In vain! in vain!

The past stands - ‘Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.’ I know, thank God for the knowledge, I know that - as we shall have to say presently - any man, at any moment of his earthly career, may find, if he seeks for it, the mercy of the Lord which bringeth salvation, but I know too that the salvation which comes to a man who has all his life been giving himself up to earth, and limiting his views and moulding his character by the present and its contemptible objects, will not be as large, as full, as blessed in many an aspect, as the salvation which might have been his if at an early stage in his life, with his character still to mould, and his memory still unwritten with evil, he had turned himself to his God, and found peace in the blood of Jesus Christ. Maimed and marred in a thousand ways, having memories which burn and sting, having habits which it will be hard to fight against; with the marks of thee gyves upon his wrists; and his eyes unaccustomed to the daylight, like the prisoner that came out of the Bastille after a lifetime of imprisonment there, and wanted to go back again because he could not bear freedom and sunshine: so many a man brought to God and saved yet so as by fire, near the end of his days, has to feel that it is not all the same whether a lifetime has been spent in the temple and priestly service, or in the foul haunts of vice and debauchery.

We shall always have as much of God as we can hold, and as much of salvation as we desire; but the tragic thing is that a life spent in living, Esau-like, for the world and for the present, lames our desires and limits our capacities, so that even if such a man afterwards become a Christian, it may be impossible even for the giving God to give us as large a bestowment of His mercy and grace as we might otherwise have possessed. On the other side it is not to be forgotten ‘the publicans and the harlots shall go into the Kingdom of God before you,’ Pharisees and Sadducees. And there is such a thing as the deep repentance and the passionate trust with which a soul, all spattered and befouled with fleshly sins, may cleave to the Master that may overcome even these disabilities of which I have spoken. But in the main it remains true that even if Esau at the last gets a blessing, he bears away a less blessing than he might have done had his earlier life been different.

III. And now let me turn last of all to what I venture to consider the misapprehension which these words do not teach.

They do not teach that a man may desire to repent with tears and be unable to do so. That, it seems to me, is to assert a staring, stark contradiction, for if a man desire to repent he must have changed his views as to the conduct of which he desires to repent, and that change of View is the repentance which he desires. And if a man desires to repent there must be in him some measure of regret and sorrow for the conduct Of which he desires to repent, considered as sin against God, and that is repentance.

Nor do the words teach, as it seems to me, the cognate thought which has sometimes been deduced from them, that a man may desire to receive the salvation of His soul from God, and may not receive it. To desire is to possess; to possess in the measure of the desire, and according to its reality. There is no such thing in the spiritual realm as a real longing unfulfilled. ‘Whosoever will, let him come and take of the water of life freely.’ And the awful pictures that have been drawn of men weeping because they could not repent, and of men with passionate tears imploring from the Father in heaven the blessing which does not come to them, are slanders upon God and misapprehensions of His gospel. That gospel proclaims that wheresoever and whosoever will ask shall receive, or rather that God has already given, and that nothing but obstinate determination not to possess prevents any man from being enriched with the fulness of God’s salvation.

Only remember, dear brethren, it is possible for a man to wish vagrantly, with half his will, to wish in a languid fashion, to wish while he is not prepared to surrender what stands in the way of his wish being gratified. And such wishing as that never got salvation, and never will. There are plenty of people that would like to Be saved as they understand it, and to be sure that they are so, who are not prepared to close with the terms of salvation. It is not wishing of that sort that I am talking about. Heaven may be had for the wishing, but it must be an honest wish, it must Be out-and- out wishing, it must be wishing which actuates the life, it must be wishing which drives you to the Cross of Christ. And then, in the measure of the desire shall be the gift; and the larger the petition, the larger the benediction which comes fluttering down from heaven on to your head and into your heart.

We have all sold our birthright, but we have a Brother in whom we may win it back, the elder Brother of us prodigals, who, instead of grudging us the fatted calf and the festival welcome, Himself has died that they may be ours; and that no penitence may be unavailing, nor any longing be unsatisfied for ever more.

Whatever we are, whatever has been our past, however embruted in sensual vice, however entangled in material gains, we have but to turn ourselves to that gracious Lord our Brother, in whom the Father blesses us with all heavenly blessings, and we shall share in the birthright of His firstborn Son, ‘being heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ.’

Hebrews 12:17. For — As if he had said, Beware of profaneness, because Esau was punished for it, and so will you be if you fall into it; ye know how that afterward — After the blessing had been bestowed on Jacob, Genesis 27:30. This afterward was probably not less than forty or fifty years after; for he sold his birthright when he was young, and now, when he wished to recover the blessing, Isaac was about one hundred and forty years old: so long, it seems, he lived in his sin, without any proper sense of it, or repentance for it. Things went prosperously with him in the world, and he did not consider what he had done, or what would be the end of it. But falling now into a new distress, he was filled with perplexity. And so it is with all secure sinners: while things go prosperously with them they can continue without remorse, but sooner or later their iniquity will find them out. When he would have inherited the blessing — The patriarchal blessing, of which he esteemed himself the presumptive heir, and which he knew not that he had virtually renounced by selling his birthright. For the apostle here distinguishes between the birthright and the blessing: he sold his birthright, but would have inherited the blessing. And herein he was a type of the unbelieving Jews at that time; for they adhered to the outward things of the blessing, to the rejection of him who was the whole life, soul, and power of it. The meaning is, when he would have obtained what had been given to his younger brother, he was rejected — Namely, by his father; for he found no place of repentance — Could by no means induce his father to alter his mind; though he sought it — Namely, the blessing, or the repentance of his father; (with either of which expressions the pronoun αυτην, it, with equal propriety agrees;) carefully with tears — For, instead of repenting, his father confirmed the blessing of Jacob, Genesis 27:33. Esau had discovered a great readiness to part with his birthright and all that was annexed to it by divine institution, not considering, it seems, what it was significant of as to matters spiritual and heavenly. Hence he put so little value upon it, as to give it up for one morsel of meat. And afterward, regardless of what he had done, after the power of his present temptation was over, it is said he did eat and drink, and rose up and went his way, as a man utterly unconcerned about what had taken place; whereon the Holy Ghost adds that censure, Thus Esau despised his birthright. He did not only sell it, but despised it. But he is represented on this occasion as being under great amazement, as if he had little thought to fall into such a condition. And thus, at one time or other, it will happen to all profane persons who refuse the mercy and privileges of the gospel; they shall, sooner or later, fall into a state of dreadful surprise. Then shall they see and feel the horrible consequence of that conduct, and of those sins, which before they made nothing of.

12:12-17 A burden of affliction is apt to make the Christian's hands hang down, and his knees grow feeble, to dispirit him and discourage him; but against this he must strive, that he may better run his spiritual race and course. Faith and patience enable believers to follow peace and holiness, as a man follows his calling constantly, diligently, and with pleasure. Peace with men, of all sects and parties, will be favourable to our pursuit of holiness. But peace and holiness go together; there can be not right peace without holiness. Where persons fail of having the true grace of God, corruption will prevail and break forth; beware lest any unmortified lust in the heart, which seems to be dead, should spring up, to trouble and disturb the whole body. Falling away from Christ is the fruit of preferring the delights of the flesh, to the blessing of God, and the heavenly inheritance, as Esau did. But sinners will not always have such mean thoughts of the Divine blessing and inheritance as they now have. It agrees with the profane man's disposition, to desire the blessing, yet to despise the means whereby the blessing is to be gained. But God will neither sever the means from the blessing, nor join the blessing with the satisfying of man's lusts. God's mercy and blessing were never sought carefully and not obtained.For ye know how that afterward ... - When he came to his father, and earnestly besought him to reverse the sentence which he had pronounced; see Genesis 27:34-40. The "blessing" here referred to was not that of the birth-right, which he knew he could not regain, but that pronounced by the father Isaac on him whom he regarded as his first-born son. This Jacob obtained by fraud, when Isaac really "meant" to bestow it on Esau. Isaac appears to have been ignorant wholly of the bargain which Jacob and Esau had made in regard to the birth-right, and Jacob and his mother contrived in this way to have that confirmed which Jacob had obtained of Esau by contract. The sanction of the father, it seems, was necessary, before it could be made sure, and Rebecca and Jacob understood that the dying blessing of the aged patriarch would establish it all. It was obtained by dishonesty on the part of Jacob; but so far as Esau was concerned, it was an act of righteous retribution for the little regard he had shown for the honor of his birth.

For he found no place of repentance - Margin, "Way to change his mind," That is, no place for repentance "in the mind of isaac," or no way to change his mind. It does not mean that Esau earnestly sought to repent and could not, but that when once the blessing had passed the lips of his father, he found it impossible to change it. Isaac firmly declared that he had "pronounced" the blessing, and though it had been obtained by fraud, yet as it was of the nature of a divine prediction, it could not now be changed. He had not indeed intended that it should be thus. He had pronounced a blessing on another which had been designed for him. But still the benediction had been given. The prophetic words had been pronounced. By divine direction the truth had been spoken, and how could it be changed? It was impossible now to reverse the divine purposes in the case, and hence, the "blessing" must stand as it had been spoken. Isaac did, however, all that could be done. He gave a benediction to his son Esau, though of far inferior value to what he had pronounced on the fraudulent Jacob; Genesis 27:39-40.

Though he sought it carefully with tears - Genesis 27:34. He sought to change the purpose of his father, but could not do it. The meaning and bearing of this passage, as used by the apostle, may be easily understood:

(1) The decision of God on the human character and destiny will soon be pronounced. That decision will be according to truth, and cannot be changed.

(2) if we should despise our privileges as Esau did his birth-right, and renounce our religion, it would be impossible to recover what we had lost. There would be no possibility of changing the divine decision in the case, for it would be determined forever. This passage, therefore, should not be alleged to show that a sinner. "cannot repent," or that he cannot find "place for repentance," or assistance to enable him to repent, or that tears and sorrow for sin would be of no avail, for it teaches none of these things; but it should be used to keep us from disregarding our privileges, from turning away from the true religion, from slighting the favors of the gospel, and from neglecting religion until death comes; because when God has once pronounced a sentence excluding us from his favor, no tears, or pleading, or effort of our own can change him. The sentence which he pronounces on the scoffer, the impenitent, the hypocrite, and the apostate, is one that will abide forever without change. This passage, therefore, is in accordance with the doctrine more than once stated before in this Epistle, that if a Christian should really apostatize it would be impossible that he should be saved; see the notes on Hebrews 6:1-6.

17. afterwards—Greek, "even afterward." He despised his birthright, accordingly also he was despised and rejected when he wished to have the blessing. As in the believer's case, so in the unbeliever's, there is an "afterwards" coming, when the believer shall look on his past griefs, and the unbeliever on his past joys, in a very different light from that in which they were respectively viewed at the time. Compare "Nevertheless afterward," &c. Heb 12:11, with the "afterward" here.

when he would—when he wished to have. "He that will not when he may, when he will, shall have nay" (Pr 1:24-30; Lu 13:34, 35; 19:42).

he was rejected—not as to every blessing, but only that which would have followed the primogeniture.

he found no place of repentance—The cause is here put for the effect, "repentance" for the object which Esau aimed at in his so-called repentance, namely, the change of his father's determination to give the chief blessing to Jacob. Had he sought real repentance with tears he would have found it (Mt 7:7). But he did not find it because this was not what he sought. What proves his tears were not those of one seeking true repentance is, immediately after he was foiled in his desire, he resolved to murder Jacob! He shed tears, not for his sin, but for his suffering the penalty of his sin. His were tears of vain regret and remorse, not of repentance. "Before, he might have had the blessing without tears; afterwards, no matter how many tears he shed, he was rejected. Let us use the time" (Lu 18:27)! [Bengel]. Alford explains "repentance" here, a chance, by repenting, to repair (that is, to regain the lost blessing). I agree with him that the translation, instead of "repentance," "no place for changing HIS FATHER'S mind," is forced; though doubtless this is what was the true aim of the "repentance" which he sought. The language is framed to apply to profane despisers who wilfully cast away grace and seek repentance (that is, not real; but escape from the penalty of their sin), but in vain. Compare "afterward," Mt 25:11, 12. Tears are no proof of real repentance (1Sa 24:16, 17; contrast Ps 56:8).

it—the blessing, which was the real object of Esau, though ostensibly seeking "repentance."

For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: as Esau’s sin was, such was his penalty; for they knew, and were well acquainted with this in Moses’s history of him, that after he had despised his birthright, and sold it, being at man’s estate, Genesis 27:1-46, and was desirous to inherit that blessing, he was rejected by his father, as well as by God, and could not obtain it, being unalterably settled on Jacob by both.

He found no place of repentance, as to the giving it, with God, who gave it, and would not alter it, Romans 11:29; nor with his father, who did not repent of giving it to Jacob, but confirmed it, Genesis 27:33,40 28:1,3,4.

Though he sought it carefully with tears; and this, although he sought the blessing from his father with cries and tears, Genesis 27:34,38. How therefore should these Hebrews, knowing all this, root out such a root springing up in themselves, or others, that they might not be guilty of such sin; lest having despised God’s blessing for their own ease, honours, or profits in this world, when they may desire to seek with tears the blessing of the eternal inheritance from God, he should irreversibly reject them. See Matthew 7:22,23.

For ye know how that afterwards,.... After he had had his pottage; after he had sold his birthright for it, and the blessing with it; after his father had blessed Jacob: this the apostle relates to the Hebrews, as a thing well known to them; they having read the books of Moses, and being conversant with them, in which the whole history of this affair is recorded:

how that when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected; by his father, who refused to give him the blessing, but confirmed what he had given to Jacob; and also by God, he being the object of his hatred; concerning whom he had said, even before his birth, the elder shall serve the younger, Romans 9:11,

for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears, Genesis 27:34 though he was very solicitous for the blessing, and shed many tears to obtain it, yet he had no true repentance for his sin in soiling the birthright. Tears are not an infallible sign of repentance: men may be more concerned for the loss and mischief that come by sin, than for the evil that is in it; and such repentance is not sincere; it does not spring from love to God, or a concern for his glory; nor does it bring forth proper fruits: or rather, the sense of the words is, that notwithstanding all his solicitude, importunity, and tears, he found no place of repentance in his father Isaac; he could not prevail upon him to change his mind; to revoke the blessing he had bestowed on Jacob, and confer it on him, Genesis 27:33 for he plainly saw it was the mind of God, that the blessing should be where it was; whose counsel shall stand, and he will do all his pleasure. This latter seems to be the better interpretation of the words, though the former agrees with the Targum on Job 15:20

"all the days of Esau the ungodly, they expected that he would have repented, but he repented not.''

For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no {g} place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.

(g) There was no room left for his repentance: and it appears by the effects, what his repentance really was, for when he left his father's presence, he threatened to kill his brother.

Hebrews 12:17. Warning reference to the pernicious result of Esau’s behaviour. Comp. Genesis 27

ἴστε] not imperative (Vulgate: scitote; Luther: wisset aber), but indicative, since to the readers as born Jews the fact itself was a perfectly familiar one.

ὅτι καὶ μετέπειτα, θέλων κληρονομῆσαι τὴν εὐλογίαν, ἀπεδοκιμάσθη] that later also, when he wished to inherit (to receive as a possession) the blessing, he was rejected. καί accentuates the ἀπεδοκιμάσθη, as the appropriate natural consequence of the ἀπέδοτο, Hebrews 12:16. ἡ εὐλογία, however, is the blessing absolutely, i.e. the more excellent blessing, which, was appointed to the first-born as the bearer of the promises given by God to Abraham and his seed. To ἀπεδοκιμάσθη, finally, there is naturally supplemented: by Isaac, in consequence of the higher occasioning or leading of God.

μετανοίας γὰρ τόπον οὐχ εὗρεν, καίπερ μετὰ δακρύων ἐκζητήσας αὐτήν] for he found no room for change of mind, although he eagerly sought it with tears, i.e. for Esau did not succeed in causing his father Isaac to change his mind, so that the latter should recall the blessing erroneously bestowed upon the younger brother Jacob, and confer it upon himself the elder son; in this he succeeded not, though he besought it with tears. This acceptation of the words, which Beza,[121] H. Stephanus, Piscator, Jac. Cappellus, Schlichting, Owen, Er. Schmid, Seb. Schmidt, Calmet, Wolf, Carpzov, Cramer, Michaelis, Storr, Schulz, Böhme, Klee, Paulus, Stengel, Tholuck, Ebrard, Bloomfield, Bisping, Grimm (Theol. Literaturbl. to the Darmst. A. K.-Z. 1857, No. 29, p. 677), Nickel (Reuter’s Repertor. 1858, March, p. 210), Maier, Moll, Kurtz, and others insist on, is most naturally suggested by the context itself, yields a clear, correct thought, and best accords with the narrative in Genesis. Comp. LXX. Genesis 27:33 : εὐλόγησα αὐτὸν καὶ εὐλογημένος ἔσταΙ. Gen 12:34: ἘΓΈΝΕΤΟ ΔΈ, ἩΝΊΚΑ ἬΚΟΥΣΕΝ ἨΣΑῦ ΤᾺ ῬΉΜΑΤΑ ΤΟῦ ΠΑΤΡῸς ΑὐΤΟῦ ἸΣΑΆΚ, ἉΝΕΒΌΗΣΕ ΦΩΝῊΝ ΜΕΓΆΛΗΝ ΚΑῚ ΠΙΚΡᾺΝ ΣΦΌΔΡΑ ΚΑῚ ΕἾΠΕΝ· ΕὐΛΌΓΗΣΟΝ ΔῊ ΚἈΜῈ ΠΆΤΕΡ. Gen 12:35: ΕἾΠΕ ΔῈ ΑὐΤῷ· ἘΛΘῺΝ Ὁ ἈΔΕΛΦΌς ΣΟΥ ΜΕΤᾺ ΔΌΛΟΥ ἜΛΑΒΕ ΤῊΝ ΕὐΛΟΓΊΑΝ ΣΟΥ. (It was thus a question not of a blessing in general,—that Esau also still received afterwards, comp. Gen 12:39 f.,—but about the definite blessing pertaining to the first-born.) Gen 12:38: Εἶπε δὲ Ἠσαῦ πρὸς τὸν πατέρα αὐτοῦ· μὴ εὐλογία μία σοι ἔστι πάτερ; εὐλόγησον δὴ κἀμὲ πάτερ. Κατανυχθέντος δὲ Ἰσαάκ (this addition, peculiar to the LXX., accentuates afresh the fact that Isaac’s resolution remained inflexible, since he regarded the blessing already bestowed as irrevocable), ἀνεβόησε φωνῇ Ἠσαῦ καὶ ἔκλαυσεν. Nor is that which Bleek, de Wette, and Delitzsch have advanced against this mode of interpretation of great force. They assert (1) that there is here nowhere any mention of Isaac, so that we cannot think of him in connection with ΜΕΤΑΝΟΊΑς either. But a distinct allusion to Isaac, though not an express mention of him, is certainly contained in that which precedes. Partly in ΤῊΝ ΕὐΛΟΓΊΑΝ, partly in ἈΠΕΔΟΚΙΜΆΣΘΗ, there is found a reference to him; since it was just he who had to bestow the blessing, and afterwards under God’s disposing refused it to Esau. An addition of ΤΟῦ ΠΑΤΡΌς to ΜΕΤΑΝΟΊΑς was therefore unnecessary. (2) That the formula: “he found no place or room for a change in the mind of his father,” in the sense: “he could not bring about such change in him,” would be a very unnatural one. But why, pray, may not ΤΌΠΟΝ ΜΕΤΑΝΟΊΑς ΕὙΡΊΣΚΕΙΝ equally well and naturally signify: “to gain room for a ΜΕΤΆΝΟΙΑ to unfold and assert itself,” as at Acts 25:16 ΤΌΠΟΝ ἈΠΟΛΟΓΊΑς ΛΑΜΒΆΝΕΙΝ signifies: “to obtain room for an ἈΠΟΛΟΓΊΑ to unfold and maintain itself,” or ΤΌΠΟΝ ΔΙΔΌΝΑΙ Τῇ ὈΡΓῇ, Romans 12:19 (comp. Ephesians 4:27): “to give room to the divine wrath to unfold itself and make itself felt”? (3) That the expression ΜΕΤΆΝΟΙΑ itself is unsuitable, inasmuch as “this word can surely only denote an inner emotion of the mind, but not the bare outward recalling of a measure or a verdict” (Bleek), or, as de Wette expresses himself, “in the N. T. is ordinarily employed of human penitence.” Nevertheless there attaches likewise to the notion of the “change of mind,” as above insisted on as its primary requisite, the notion of a proceeding in the inner or spirit-life of the man; which, however, naturally does not exclude the accessory notion that this inner process has also as its necessary consequence an external action. If, further, ΜΕΤΆΝΟΙΑ in the N. T. “ordinarily” serves for the designation of human penitence, this presents no difficulty to the supposition of its having on one occasion preserved its original verbal signification (comp. e.g. Josephus, de Bello Jud. i. 4. 4 : ἐμίσουν τὴν μετάνοιαν αὐτοῦ καὶ τοῦ τρόπου τὸ ἀνώμαλον); specially in a passage where not an article of faith is to be expressed, but simply an historic fact to be related. (4) That the thought thus obtained would not accord with the object of the author and the parallel Hebrews 6:4-6 (de Wette). But the author’s object is no other than to show, by the warning example of Esau, that the member also of the Christian community who is ΒΈΒΗΛΟς may for ever come short of the attainment of salvation; that, however, Hebrews 12:17 is to be explained in accordance with the standard furnished by Hebrews 6:4-6, is an arbitrary presupposition. (5) That this interpretation did not enter into the mind of the Fathers. But this argument, added by Delitzsch, as it in like manner frequently recurs with him, is an unscientific one. For to the Greek Fathers and their expositions can only be applied that which was said of them long ago by Joh. Gerhard (tom. I. of the Loci Theologici, chap. v. p. 30): “sint et habeantur lumina, non autem numina.”

Others, as Theophylact, Calvin, Bengel, Chr. Fr. Schmid, Bleek, Delitzsch, Riehm (Lehrbegr. des Hebräerbr. p. 771), Ewald, Hofmann, Rönsch in Hilgenfeld’s Zeitschr. f. wiss. Theol. 1874, H. 1, p. 127 ff, and already τινές in Oecumenius, refer ΜΕΤΑΝΟΊΑς to Esau himself, and then regard the words ΜΕΤΑΝΟΊΑς ΓᾺΡ ΤΌΠΟΝ ΟὐΧ ΕὟΡΕΝ as a parenthesis, and make ΑὐΤΉΝ glance back to ΤῊΝ ΕὐΛΟΓΊΑΝ. The statement: ΜΕΤΑΝΟΊΑς ΓᾺΡ ΤΌΠΟΝ ΟὐΧ ΕὟΡΕΝ, is then understood either objectively: he found no place for the repentance, which he actually experienced, or subjectively: he found no place in his heart for the feeling of repentance; in the former sense, e.g., Calvin: “nihil profecit vel consequutus est sera sua poenitentia, etsi cum lacrymis quaereret benedictionem, quam sua culpa amiserat,” and Bleek: “he found no longer any place for repentance, change of mind, inasmuch as it was too late for that, and it could avail him nothing now, however much he might regret it;” in the latter sense, e.g., Bengel: “It could no longer be awakened in Esau. Natura rei recusabat.” But against the first modification of this rendering decides the thought which would thus arise, false at least for the application of the statement, since in the Christian domain a repentance that is worthy of the name can never be too late, never ineffectual (comp. Luke 23:39-43); against the second, the internal contradiction in which this interpretation is involved with the concession καίπερ μετὰ δακρύων ἐκζητήσας αὐτήν, since surely by this very fact the actual presence of a repentance was manifested; against both, finally, the harshness and unnaturalness of the grammatical construction, by which the syntactical order is forced out of its simple connection. Others, finally, as Chrysostom, Oecumenius, Primasius, Luther, Grotius, Nemethus, de Wette, Alford, Reuss, rightly indeed refer αὐτήν back to ΜΕΤΑΝΟΊΑς, but then understand ΜΕΤΆΝΟΙΑ of Esau’s change of mind. Luther: “for he found no room for penitence, although he sought it with tears.” De Wette: “For repentance (penitence, amendment, i.e. for the return to the theocratic union by the laying aside of his unhallowed, frivolous character) he found no room, no place, no scope (i.e. there was not granted him, by the delaying of the sentence of reprobation, the possibility of manifesting a more worthy spirit, and of becoming reconciled to God), although he sought it with tears.” But if one takes the statement with Luther subjectively, it yields a harsh, repulsive, contradictory thought; if one takes it, with de Wette, objectively, it would be incorrectly expressed, since in that case αὐτόν (sc. τόπον) must of necessity have been written in place of ΑὐΤΉΝ (sc. μετάνοιαν). Moreover, for this whole mode of explanation the narrative in Genesis affords no point of support.

[121] Yet Beza, as likewise Er. Schmid and Bisping, then refers back, without justifying reason, αὐτήν to τὴν εὐλογίαν instead of μετανοίας.

17. For ye know how that afterward] The verse runs literally “for ye know that even, afterwards, when he wished to inherit the blessing, he was rejected—for he found no opportunity for a change of mind—though with tears he earnestly sought for it.” It is clear at once that if the writer means to say “that Esau earnestly sought to repent, but could not,” then he is contradicting the whole tenor of the Scriptures, and of the Gospel teaching with which he was so familiar. This would not indeed furnish us with any excuse for distorting the meaning of his language, if that meaning be unambiguous; and in favour of such a view of his words is the fact that he repeatedly dwells on the hopelessness—humanly speaking—of all wilful apostasy. On the other hand, “apostasy,” when it desires to repent, ceases to be apostasy, and the very meaning of the Gospel is that the door to repentance is never closed by God, though the sinner may close it against himself. Two modes of interpreting the text would save it from clashing with this precious truth. (1) One is to say (α) that “room for repentance” means “opportunity for changing his father’s or his brother’s purpose;” no subsequent remorse or regret could undo the past or alter Isaac’s blessing (Genesis 27:33); or (β) no room for changing his own mind in such a way as to recover the blessing which he had lost; in other words, he “found no opportunity for such repentance as would restore to him the lost theocratic blessing.” But in the N. T. usage the word “repentance” (μετάνοια) is always subjective, and has a deeper meaning than in the LXX. The same objection applies to the explanation that “he found no room to change God’s purpose” to induce God “to repent” of His rejection of him, since God “is not a man that He should repent” (Numbers 23:19). (2) It seems simpler therefore, and quite admissible, to regard “for he found no place for repentance” as a parenthesis, and refer “it” to the lost blessing. “Though he earnestly sought the lost blessing, even with tears, when (perhaps forty years after his shameful indifference) he wished once more to inherit it, yet then he found no room for repentance;” or in other words his repentance, bitter as it was, could not avert the earthly consequence of his profanity, and was unavailing to regain what he had once flung away. As far as his earthly life was concerned, he heard the awful words “too late.” The text gives no ground for pronouncing on Esau’s future fate, to which the writer makes no allusion whatever. His “repentance,” if it failed, could only have been a spurious repentance—remorse for earthly foolishness, not godly sorrow for sin, the dolor amissi, not the dolor aàmissi. This is the sense of “locus poenilentiae,” the Latin translation of τόπος μετανοίας. The phrase itself occurs in Wis 12:10. The abuse of this passage to support the merciless severity of the Novatians was one of the reasons why the Epistle was somewhat discredited in the Western Church.

with tears] “In former days he might have had it without tears; afterwards he was rejected, however sorely he wept. Let us use the time” (Luke 13:28). Bengel.

Hebrews 12:17. Ἴστε γὰρ, for ye know) The reason of the admonition from Genesis 27:30, etc.—καὶ μετέπειτα, even afterwards) He who has not, loses, Luke 8:18.—θέλων, when he would) Romans 9:16.—ἀπεδοκιμάσθη, was rejected) He did not fall from every blessing, ch. Hebrews 11:20 : but only from that which would have followed primogeniture.—μετανοίας τόπον, a place for repentance) There is said to have been no μετανοία, repentance; which is not with respect to Isaac; not that the case itself (the circumstances) opposes this explanation, for in fact to such a degree did he not change his opinion, that he said of Jacob, I have blessed him, and he shall be blessed, Genesis 27:33, but because with the LXX. and others τὸ μετανοεῖν, or even μετάνοια, means repentance, by which a man changes any opinion, whatever it be,—in short, a change of mind: whereas in the New Testament it always implies that by which the sinner entirely repents. Nor is it said, that no repentance was in the power of Esau; who, although he no doubt gave up the rights of the first-born, yet never the blessing, will not be said to have sought a change of purpose (if even μετάνοια ever so much denoted this). What remains is, that distress (anxiety or labour) of mind in Esau demanding the blessing afterwards (anew, back again), is called μετάνοια; the term referring to the Apodosis [i.e. to the spiritual Esau, rather than to Esau himself literally] (comp. notes on Matthew 18:13; Galatians 4:29) concerning profane despisers, who spontaneously cast away grace, Hebrews 12:15-16. They will indeed seek repentance afterwards (hereafter), but in vain, ch. Hebrews 6:6; Matthew 25:10-11. The same expression occurs, Wis 12:10, κρίνων δὲ καταβραχὺ, ἐδίδους τόπον μετανοίας, but executing judgment upon them by little and little, thou gavest a place for repentance. Μετάνοια is put as it were impersonally, as θέλημα, will, 1 Corinthians 16:12. Es wollte bey Esau nicht mehr seyn. Esau would have it no more. The nature of the thing did not admit of it.—μετὰ δακρύων, with tears) He might have had it formerly without tears; afterwards, though weeping, he was rejected. [Tears sometimes spring from the eyes of men of the hardest nature, 1 Samuel 24:17. Things which are not done at the time, are done with difficulty afterwards.—V. g.] Let us improve the time! Luke 13:28.—αὐτὴν, it) the blessing. It has been thus expressly written, Genesis 27:38. And the Synonyms here are, when he would have inherited, though he earnestly sought.

Hebrews 12:17He found no place of repentance (μετανοίας γὰρ τόπον οὐχ εὗρεν)

The phrase place of repentance N.T.o. This does not mean that Esau was rendered incapable of repentance, which is clearly contradicted by what follows; nor that he was not able to persuade Isaac to change his mind and to recall the blessing already bestowed on Jacob and give it to him. This is unnatural, forced, and highly improbable. The words place of repentance mean an opportunity to repair by repenting. He found no way to reverse by repentance what he had done. The penalty could not be reversed in the nature of the case. This is clear from Isaac's words, Genesis 27:33.

Sought it carefully (ἐκζητήσας)

See on 1 Peter 1:10. Comp. Hebrews 11:6. See also on questionings, 1 Timothy 1:4.

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