Vain Tears

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. And he said, Thy brother came with subtilty, and hath taken away thy blessing.
~ Genesis 27:34-35

But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned.
~ Hebrews 6:8

But ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof: I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh;
~ Proverbs 1:25-26

Reprobate silver shall men call them, because the LORD hath rejected them.
~ Jeremiah 6:30

A Commentary of Hebrews 12:17, by John Owen.

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

1. The efficacy of the example proposed consists in the due consideration of the consequent of the sin exemplified. ‘Such was the sin of Esau, which ye ought to watch against in yourselves and others; for ye know what ensued thereon.’This the particle, “for,” declares to be the reason of the following account of it.

2. The way is expressed whereby they understood this consequent of Esau’s sin: “Ye know.” They knew it from the Scripture, where it is recorded. He supposeth them acquainted with the Scriptures, and what is contained in them; as they were; in like manner as he says of Timothy, 2 Timothy 3:15; as it is the duty of all Christians to be. Besides, there is a peculiar force of persuasion and conviction, when we argue from men’s own knowledge and concessions. ‘Ye know this yourselves; ye know it full well from the Scripture, and therefore let it be of great weight and consideration with you.’

3. The general force of the exhortation from the consideration of the event of Esau’s profaneness, is taken from the surprisal that befell him when he found what his sin had brought him unto. For he is represented as a man under great amazement, as if he had little thought to fall into such a condition. And thus at one time or another it will befall all profane persons, who have refused the mercy and privileges of the gospel; they shall at one time or other fall under dreadful surprisals, in life, or at death, or at the last day. Then shall they see the horror of those crimes which before they made nothing of. Wherefore the Hebrews are here warned, and all professors of the gospel with them, that they decline not from their profession, lest they fall into the like surprisals, when it is too late to seek for deliverance out of them.

4. What he did upon this surprisal, with the effects of it, are declared,

(1.) The time wherein he did it is noted; it was “afterward.” This afterward was not less, perhaps, than forty or fifty years. For he sold his birthright when he was young; now, when he designed the receiving of the blessing, Isaac was old, namely, about an hundred and forty years old, Genesis 27:2. So long did he live in his sin, without any sense of it or repentance for it. Things went prosperously with him in the world, and he had no regard in the least of what he had done, nor of what would be the end of it. But falling now into a new distress, it fills him with perplexity. And so it is with all secure sinners. Whilst things go prosperously with them, they can continue without remorse; but at one time or other their iniquity will find them out, Genesis 42:21-22.

(2.) What he designed; and that was, to inherit the blessing: “He would have inherited the blessing.” He esteemed himself the presumptive heir of the patriarchal blessing, and knew not that he had virtually renounced it, and meritoriously lost it, by selling his birthright. So the apostle here distinguisheth between the birthright and the blessing. He “sold” birthright, but would have inherited the blessing; esteemed it to belong unto him by right of inheritance, when he had himself destroyed that right. So he distinguished himself: “He took away my birthright; and, behold, now he hath taken away my blessing,” Genesis 27:36. He had, no doubt, an apprehension that there were many excellent things contained in it; especially, a flourishing state and condition in this world, in a multiplication of posterity, and power over enemies, which were express in the promise made unto Abraham, Genesis 22:17. This made him put in his claim for the blessing, without the least sense of the spiritual privileges of it; for he was a “profane person.” And herein he was a type of the unbelieving Jews at that time; for they adhered to the outward things of the blessing, the carcass of it, unto the rejection of Him who was the whole life, soul, and power of it. And it is not unusual, that men should earnestly desire the outward privileges of the church, who value not the inward grace and power of them; but they are profane persona

(3.) The event of this attempt was, that “he was rejected.” “He was reprobated.” So translators generally. Not that his eternal reprobation is hereby intended, (but this open, solemn rejection of him from the covenant of God, and the blessings thereof, was an evidence of his being reprobated of God, whence he is proposed as the type of reprobates, Romans 9:11-12), but the refusal of his father to give him the patriarchal blessing is that which is here intended.

(4.) There is his behavior under this rejection, and the event thereof: “He sought it diligently with tears,” but “he found no place of repentance.” For that which the apostle intends fell out after his rejection, when his father had declared unto him that his blessing was gone for ever, Genesis 27:33-38. It is all one whether we refer αὐτήν , in the close of the verse, unto the remote antecedent, “the blessing,” or unto the next, which is “repentance;” for that which he sought for in repentance, namely, the repentance of his father, or the change of his mind, was the blessing also. For it is now generally agreed by all, that there is nothing in the words which should in the least intimate that he sought of God the grace of repentance; nor is there any thing in the record that looks that way. And I shall rather interpret this word, with Beza, of the blessing, than of the repentance of Isaac; because his cry in the story was immediately and directly for the blessing.

(5.) The manner how he sought the blessing, is, that “he did it diligently with tears.” So the apostle expresseth the record, Genesis 27:38, “And Esau said unto his father, Hast thou but one blessing, my father? bless me, even me also, O my father. And Esau lifted up his voice and wept:” as those also of verse 34. No man, considering the intense affections that were between them, can express that conflict of nature which was on this occasion between Isaac and Esau. But in the one, grace and submission unto the will of God overcame all natural reluctancy; in the other, resolution for further sin offered itself for relief, “he said in his heart that he would slay his brother,” verse 41. So it is in all like cases. Things that are most terrible and convulsive to nature, in them that believe, are brought into order in due time by grace and resignation unto the will of God; and on the other hand, sin, with its deceitful contrivances, will not cease to offer its reliefs unto unbelievers in distress, until all hopes are cut off and vanished for ever.

But because here is an appearance of somewhat more than ordinary severity, in the peremptory denial of a divine blessing unto one who so earnestly sought and cried for it, the manner of his seeking it must be considered. And,

[1.] He did it when it was too late. For he had not only forfeited his right unto it long before, and lived in impenitency under that forfeiture, but the sacred investiture of another in that blessing was solemnly past, which could not be recalled. So speaks Isaac even under his surprisal: “I have blessed him; yea, and he shall be blessed,” Genesis 27:33.

Whatever men may pretend, whatever presumptuous sinners may flatter themselves withal, there is a limited time of the dispensation of grace, beyond which men shall not be admitted unto a participation of it, nor shall ever use the right way of attaining it. And this they may do well to consider who spend their lives in continual procrastination of their conversion to God. They may live, yet their time may be past, and a caveat entered against them, that they shall never enter into God’s rest. See Hebrews 3:11-15, with the exposition.

[2.] He sought it not at all in a due manner. Outward vehemency in expressions, and tears, may be influenced by such considerations as not to be an evidence of inward sincerity. He sought it not of God, but only of him that was the minister of it. And according to the law of God’s institution, the ministers of gospel blessings may be limited from a communication of them; but there is no law or bounds put unto the infinite treasures of divine goodness, if application be made thereunto in a due manner. But he sought the end without the means: he would have the blessing, but he used not the means for the attaining of it; namely, faith and repentance. For notwithstanding all his sorrow and trouble upon his disappointment, he entertained no thought about any repentance in himself; for he immediately fell into a resolution to follow Cain in his rejection, and to kill his brother. Yet herein lies the great folly that the generality of men are betrayed into through the deceitfulness ,of sin, namely, that they would have the end, the blessing of mercy and glory, without the use of the means, in faith, repentance, and obedience. But it is in vain to desire or endeavor a separation of those things which God, by an immutable constitution, hath conjoined and put together.

Lastly, The reason of this event is expressed: “He found no place for repentance.” That is, notwithstanding his pretended right, his claim of it, his earnestness with tears about it; notwithstanding the inexpressible affection of Isaac unto him, and his trembling surprisal at an apprehension that he had missed the blessing; yet Isaac did not, could not, might not, change his mind, or repent him of what he had done, in conferring the blessing on Jacob, which God approved of. This sad event had the profaneness of Esau. And we may observe,

Obs. 1. This example of Esau cuts off all hopes by outward privileges, where there is an inward profaneness of heart. He had as much to plead for the blessing, and as fair a probability for the attaining it, as ever any profane hypocrite can have in this world. And,

Obs. 2. Profane apostates have a limited season only, wherein the recovery of the blessing is possible. For although here be no intimation of a man’s seeking of repentance from God in a due manner, and being rejected, which is contrary to the nature of God, who is a rewarder of all that diligently seek him, yet there is an indication of severity, in leaving men in an irrecoverable condition, even in this life, who are guilty of such provocations. ordinance for the preservation of them that believe, and the edification of the whole church, Romans 11:22.

Obs. 4. Sin may be the occasion of great sorrow, where there is no sorrow for sin; as it was with Esau. Men may rue that in the consequents, which yet they like well enough in the causes.

Obs. 5. No man knows whereunto a deliberate sin may lead him, nor what will be the event of it. Esau little thought, when he sold his birthright, that he had utterly forfeited the eternal blessing.

Obs. 6. Profaneness and despising spiritual privileges, is a sin that God at one time or other will testify his severity against; yea this, on many accounts, is the proper object of God’s severity. It shall not be spared in the eldest son and most dearly beloved of an Isaac.

Obs. 7. Steadfastness in faith, with submission unto the will of God, will establish the soul in those duties which are most irksome unto flesh and blood. Nothing could prevail with Isaac to change his mind, when he knew what was the will of God.