Hebrews 12:17 – Esau Prevented from Repenting?

“For ye know how that afterward, when he [Esau] would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.” (Hebrews 12:17)

Note that Esau couldn’t find it – the fault was in him, not God. This is clearly understood by taking this verse in the context of all of scripture which clearly says that God does not prevent but, rather, encourages repentance.

“I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:32)

“I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.” (Luke 15:7)

“Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.” (Acts 5:31)

God gives the opportunity for repentance but man needs to take the opportunity and make the decision to repent. (Like forgiveness, it is both given and received.) God does not change people’s minds for them; He is not into mind control.

“The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but [is willing] that all should come to repentance.” (2 Pet 3:9)

God certainly does not prevent people from doing what scripture says He wants them to do.

Why the Tears?

Esau’s tears, it seems, were over missing his chance for a blessing rather than his sin of despising his birthright (Gen 25:34):

“And when Esau heard the words of his father, he cried with a great and exceeding bitter cry, and said unto his father, Bless me, even me also, O my father.” (Gen 27:34)

No “place” can mean “no opportunity” for repentance because the opportunity was gone – it had already been given. He had already made his choice many years before.

The Greek word translated “place” (topos, Strong’s G5117) is used in other verses with the meaning of opportunity:

“To whom I answered, It is not the manner of the Romans to deliver any man to die, before that he which is accused have the accusers face to face, and have licence to answer for himself concerning the crime laid against him.” (Acts 25:16)

“But now having no more place in these parts, and having a great desire these many years to come unto you” (Rom 15:23)

“Neither give place to the devil.” (Eph 4:27)

So Hebrews 12:17 is not saying that God somehow hid the opportunity for repentance or refused forgiveness to Esau. Esau had made His choice when he sold his birthright (actually, traded it for merely a meal of bread and lentils – Gen 25:29-32). There was now no undoing what he had done. While God forgives there are still consequences to our actions and decisions:

“Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” (Gal 6:7)