Hebrews With A Hebrew – Part 27

Written by Neil Silverberg

June 24, 2024

Therefore, lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. 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; 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.

Hebrews 12:12-17

The imagery of the athletic runner is retained in the first two verses of this section (12:12-14). He feels his knees weakened and, giving way to discouragement, he easily falters in the race, failing to keep a straight course. The essential thing is to press on and to continue competing. Present trials are the way to the greatest prize. A good example of this is the words found on the lips of Paul and Barnabas to the converts in Galatia: Luke says they were “strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:23).

The writer exhorts them to “strive for peace with everyone, and holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” This is not an imputed holiness but the change of nature in which a person is transformed into the image of God. We are told we are to strive for it; it is not to be found by the casual enquirer. The reason a person must be diligent in his pursuit of holiness is that without it, no one will see the Lord. God is holy, and only those who pursue holiness of heart and life can be assured of seeing Him. This reminds us of Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount; “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). “This kind of holiness, which reflects the pure goodness of God, springs from single-minded love of God, not from love of human applause, and is consistent with a longing to see the Lord, who is all-holy not with a lust to be seen by men” (The Epistle to the Hebrews, Philip Hughes, page 536).

As he has done repeatedly, the writer warns again regarding committing apostasy, this time using the words, “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” (12:15). The writer quotes almost literally Deuteronomy 29:18:

“Beware lest there be among you a man or woman or clan or tribe whose heart is turning away today from the LORD our God to go and serve the gods of those nations. Beware lest there be among you a root-bearing poisonous and bitter fruit, one who, when he hears the words of this sworn covenant, blesses himself in his heart, saying, ‘I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart.”

The mention to see to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God pertains to the temptation to fail to lay hold of that grace that ensures that they will continue to run the race. They are to guard against any “root of bitterness” that may spring up and defile the community. Such a root has the ability to cause irreparable damage to the peace that must be carefully protected. The implication is that one embittered and rebellious person in their midst can have a disastrous effect on the community as a whole so that many are defiled just as one noxious root can poison a whole crop, leading, in the words of Moses, to “the sweeping away of moist and dry alike” (The Epistle to the Hebrews, page 539).

The writer uses the Old Testament figure Esau as the ultimate example of a bitter root springing up and defiling many. He is referred to as an unholy man; the exact opposite of the person who is holy in person and therefore sees the Lord. He is regarded as sexually immoral by the writer, perhaps a reference to his marrying two foreign wives, which made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah. Esau was also an irreligious man, a man who trampled upon the sacred, which the recipients of the letter were about to do. He sold his birthright for a single meal, demonstrating his profaneness. “These Hebrew Christians will be guilty of a much greater act of profanity if, disheartened by the difficulties of the contest, they barter not an earthly but a heavenly birthright for a short period of worldly ease and prosperity” (The Epistle to the Hebrews, page 541).

The story of Esau sadly ends with his inability to find repentance, even though he sought it with tears. He lacked godly grief, which produces life (II Cor 7:10). It was his loss, not his profanity, that he mourned. Esau continues as an example of the difficulty of restoring again to repentance those who have sinned against the light.

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