The Preacher now broaches a subject almost in passing but one that raises some issues for us. He just called us to “buck up,” as they say; not in our own strength, mind you, but in the Spirit of the Lord: To lift up our drooping hands and strengthen our weak knees setting our minds on our glorious and mighty Captain at the Right Hand of Power and imitating the great deeds of the saints of old who through the power of the Lord did so much for the Kingdom. He calls us to peace in the church and to mutual responsibility seeing that no one falls by the wayside but that each and every one pursues holiness, that earnest desire God places in our hearts.
But just as there are good examples from the Old Testament, so there are bad ones: “See to it…that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. 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.” Such a passage pulls us up short. It sounds almost as if Esau wanted to repent but was rejected by God, nonetheless. This is not what the passage is saying.
Let us rehearse the account (Genesis 25:29-34). Esau came in from the hunt and was famished, or at least felt that he was. Jacob was making a stew and, in a very unbrotherly fashion, offered Esau the stew for his birthright. Esau voluntarily took the trade. What does this show? It shows that Esau despised his birthright selling it for a single meal. He was willing to sell something so very precious for something of so little value. Granted, he was later cheated out of his blessing by his swindling brother (and, most distressing, by his own mother, Genesis 27:1-45), but he had already proven himself unfit (also taking Hittite wives, Genesis 26:34-35; 27:46).
But does not the Preacher tell us that Esau wept and sought repentance? Yes, but not true repentance. Repentance may be defined as “a heartfelt sorrow for sin, a renouncing of it, and a sincere commitment to forsake it and walk in obedience to Christ” (W. Grudem, Systematic Theology, 713). Weeping is not enough. There is godly sorrow that produces repentance that leads to salvation and worldly sorrow that leads to death (2 Corinthians 7:10). Esau sought not God but the blessing. And now I ask, how many of us seek not God, not His glory, but something else—even heaven? Only a desire for God, His truth, His Kingdom, will lead to godly sorrow that produces true repentance—a turning away from self and sin to the Lord.