12 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. 14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; 16 that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. 17 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.
This passage catches us a little off guard. As it starts out, it sounds like it’s going to be this soaring encouragement, but then it transitions into a very stern warning with Esau as the prime example.
The account of Jacob and Esau is found in Genesis 25.29-34 and Genesis 27. Their story serves as a warning that it’s possible to do something that causes irreparable harm to a person’s character. Jacob is the younger brother, and he doesn’t come off very well in this narrative, but the focus is on the older brother Esau who makes an incredibly foolish decision.
As the oldest brother, Esau is set to inherit their father’s estate. However, one day Esau had gone out hunting and when he returned, he was exhausted and starving and asked Jacob to let him eat some of his stew. Jacob refused to share unless Esau sold Jacob his birthright. Esau foolishly agreed.
As the account continues in Genesis 27, when the time comes for their father Isaac to give the birthright, Jacob tricks Isaac into thinking that he is Esau and Isaac gives Jacob his blessing—something that can’t be undone. Esau comes in later and begs for a blessing, but his father Isaac has none to give.
In a moment of utter foolishness, Esau has given everything away. Verse 17 from our passage stands as the warning in that Esau had no chance to “repent.”
“Repent” here means a change of mind or a change of heart. For Esau, there was no change to change the outcome. It was too late to go back and undo the deal with Jacob and there was no possibility of changing his father’s mind in that cultural context.
Here in our passage, the warning stands with other warnings we’ve read in Hebrews 6.4-8 and 10.26-31. It’s the warning against turning away from the Lord, turning one’s back to and rejecting Jesus. Those who do so run the risk of finding themselves in a fixed position of heart and mind against Jesus, one from which there may be no way back.
Fortunately for us, we’re not sitting in the place of God, so it’s not our place to say if someone will suffer eternal consequences for a foolish decision.
But what we can say is that we must take up the encouragement of verses 12-15 in that we must pursue our relationship with Christ in every way. Paul called it “working out our own salvation” in Philippians 2.12-13.
The point here in Hebrews and for Paul is that we do our part to know, love, serve, and follow Jesus. We’re not to be spiritually lazy. We’re to get to work and let the Spirit do the good work of transformation within us so that we become who we are created to be in Christ.
Where might you need to lift up your drooping hands, strengthen weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet in pursuit of your relationship with Jesus? Prayer? Worship? Fellowship? Rhythms of sabbath rest? Silence before the Lord? Striving for peace, especially with those that are not like you?
Guard your heart against even a moment of spiritual foolishness.
God bless you and know that I am praying for you constantly.