The writer of Hebrews isn’t saying what you might think at first glance. He’s not saying that Esau found no repentance. He says that Esau found no place of repentance. His repentance was evident, and as a result so was his forgiveness. What this verse teaches us is that his repentance did not restore the position he lost in his community.
It is possible to experience the forgiveness of Heaven and not be restored by men. Consider the fact that David was pardoned and then received his punishment. You say, “That is troubling.” No, it is comforting because there are times when we are overtaken by the just penalty of our actions and think that it’s the result of Heaven’s anger. That may not be the case. You may have already been forgiven. You see, when you seek forgiveness “carefully and with tears,” you will receive it instantly, completely and finally.
The Father has prepared a place of forgiveness for the repentant in His heavenly home, but such a place may not necessarily be found here on earth. The younger son wasted all of his inheritance on prodigal living. Then he heard the voice of the father and returned home. However, his return did not restore the inheritance he had wasted in the far country. Sure, we’re told that there was a ring and a robe that awaited his return. In fact, it was the best ring and the best robe, but it wasn’t his old ring or his old robe. He had wasted and lost his prior position. His father will raise him up and give him a new estate, but it will not be the former one. Thus he returns home in rags and want. It is a poor, malnourished man who listens that night to the music and dancing. He has been welcomed, but he’s received nothing more. He hears the song while still feeling the thorn. He has been hugged and kissed by the father, but the harvest he sowed still remains.
I am comforted and strengthened by the story of the Prodigal for here I learn that the Father’s pardon may precede my peace. What an encouragement when I am not at peace. When the answers to my cries of forgiveness seem only to be the results of my wandering way it is helpful to remember that the prodigal was welcomed home long before his glory was restored. When I find myself fallen from the estate of men; when I walk home wearing nothing but rags; when I reap the harvest of my own sinful sowing I must remember that the Prodigal was embraced before he was exalted.
I’m thankful my Lord that His pardon doesn’t have to wait for my peace. He forgiveness doesn’t sit by the wayside. His mercy toward me isn’t dependent on the mercy of men. The repentant thief reaped the results of his lawless deeds, but the One in the middle didn’t wait for the law to run its course. The cross may crucify him, but not before Christ crowns him. Earth will close behind him, but not before Heaven’s gates open before him. His birthright is lost, but His kingdom comes first and even before the place knows him no more, Jesus has prepared a place in paradise for him.