Hebrews 12:17—Why couldn’t Esau repent if he sought it with tears?

Problem: The Bible informs us here that Esau “was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears.” But why wouldn’t God accept his sincere repentance, when He commands all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30) and is patiently waiting for people to repent (2 Peter 3:9).

Solution: There are two important things to observe about this pasage. 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).

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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.