- Locate the passage.
The text follows 12:4-11 and on the basis of understanding how God’s educative discipline works in our lives, we are to press on in the Christian life.
- Determine the structure of the text
Hebrews 12:4–11 is followed by a short paragraph 12:12–13 introduced by the conjunction dio, “therefore,” and a final short paragraph 12:14–17 concerning Esau’s failure. Verses 14–17 expand the command of v. 14. The conclusion of v. 11 serves as the grounds for the exhortation in vv. 12-13.
Some interpret vv. 14-17 as beginning a new section. It is possible, and may be desirable, to construct two sermons from this passage: 12:12-13 and 12:14-17.
- Exegete the passage
A new paragraph is begun with dio in v. 12 that ends in v. 13 and serves as a transition to the concluding exhortation of the paragraph begun in v. 4. Weakened hands and paralyzed knees imply physical and emotional/spiritual exhaustion. Both participles are in the perfect tense in Greek.
Verse 13 is a quotation of Prov 4:26 LXX (see the context of Prov 4:25–26). In the larger context of Heb 12:1–11, the sense is “pursue ways that are directed straight to the goal” or “move in a straight direction with your feet.” The phrase “but rather healed” indicates “disabled” should be taken in its medical sense of “dislocation.”
This short paragraph has about it a certain Lukan flavor in that within the short confines of two verses there is a cluster of six words which are primarily Lukan, three of which are unique to Luke and Hebrews. Such evidence strengthens the suggestion that Luke may have written Hebrews.
The final sub-paragraph in this section is 12:14–17. Verses 14–16 form one sentence in the Greek text with only one finite verb: “Pursue.” The NIV’s “make every effort” renders the present imperative verb in Greek which connotes earnest, diligent, continuous pursuit of something. “Peace” is emphatic by word order. The meaning of this command is usually taken as a striving to be at peace with other people.
Verse 15 also begins with imperatival force with the translation “see to it,” which governs the three following clauses.
The third clause governed by the participle translated “see to it” begins v. 16. The NIV translates pornos as “sexually immoral” which is the literal meaning of the word. However, given that it is coupled with “godless” as descriptive of Esau, the meaning is likely that of spiritual unfaithfulness.
Verse 17 is introduced by the Greek subordinating conjunction gar which provides the ground or reason for the preceding warning. “Afterward” refers to the time after Isaac had given the blessing to Jacob. The use of “as you know” intimates a well-known fact which will not be questioned by the readers.
See Neva Miller, The Epistle to the Hebrews: An Analytical and Exegetical Handbook, 399-408; J. Harold Greenlee, Hebrews: An Exegetical Summary, 530-43; and David L. Allen, Hebrews, 583-88, for more detailed exegetical and semantic analysis of the text.
- Let the structure of the text drive the structure of the sermon.
Since both paragraphs contain imperatives and since 12:14-17 is not directly connected with 12:12-13 by a conjunction, the sermon can be structured in two equal halves: