By Faith Isaac
As we move through the hall of faith, we come to the next exhibit, Isaac. Isaac is an important person in the scriptures because he was the child of promise to Abraham. However, there is not much information about Isaac even though he is listed as one of the “by faith” characters.
By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau, even regarding things to come. (11:20; NASU)
This is a text that is easy to pass by and continue reading the other heroes of faith. But we need to stop and determine why the author is picking the event of Isaac blessing Jacob and Esau as an act of faith. The question becomes more intriguing when we remember that Jacob deceived Isaac when Isaac was pronouncing the blessings. The blessing that Isaac pronounced on Jacob he believed he was pronouncing on Esau. Only once Esau returns with the meal does Isaac realize that he had been deceived (Genesis 27:33). Can you imagine the panic that must have ensued once Isaac learned he had been deceived? Genesis 27:33 tells us that Isaac was trembling very violently. Isaac had just given the blessings of the fruitfulness of the land and the nation to Jacob and not Esau. What a seeming monumental mistake! So where is the faith in any of this event? Why would the writer of Hebrews use Isaac as example of faith when his blessings were performed by accident on Jacob, not Esau?
The faith that we see in Isaac is that he believed that the blessing belonged to Jacob. Isaac does not try to revoke the blessing that he gave to Jacob. Isaac does not curse Jacob for his deception. Isaac does not give Esau an equal blessing to make up for what took place. Turn to Genesis 28:1-4 and we will see that Isaac believed that this blessing would be fulfilled in Jacob.
1 So Isaac called Jacob and blessed him and charged him, and said to him, “You shall not take a wife from the daughters of Canaan. 2 “Arise, go to Paddan-aram, to the house of Bethuel your mother’s father; and from there take to yourself a wife from the daughters of Laban your mother’s brother. 3 “May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples. 4 “May He also give you the blessing of Abraham, to you and to your descendants with you, that you may possess the land of your sojournings, which God gave to Abraham.” (Genesis 28:1-4; NASU)
Isaac is accepting that Jacob was who God selected. Isaac does not pull Esau aside and pray that God will make Esau a great nation that will possess the land. Isaac understood that the blessing belonged to Jacob. We would not understand this except for the words of the writer of Hebrews that Isaac had faith, even regarding the things to come, that Jacob would fulfill God’s promises. What began as a tremendous blunder turned out to be the realization that this was the plan of God.
The lesson I would like to key on from Isaac is acceptance. By faith we accept our circumstances when we do not think the circumstances are correct. The scriptures do not teach that “everything happens for a reason.” This is a disturbing teaching that causes the destruction of faith rather than the encouragement of faith. If everything happens for a reason, then what is the reason for the death of the apostle James, but the deliverance of the apostle Peter from Herod’s hands? While everything does not happen for a reason, by faith we accept the circumstances we are in, knowing that God can use me for righteousness in the situation and place I am in. We always think we need our circumstances need to change before we can be effective in God’s kingdom. Our thinking goes like this: “If only we had more money, we could be better servants.” “If we only had a better marriage then we would be more fruitful disciples.” If only we only lived in another city we would be able to do more for God.” God wants our service and discipleship now. We need to accept the circumstances of our lives and understand that God can use us where we are right now. If your marriage is not what you want it to be, don’t use that as an excuse to not serve God as you ought. Don’t become a distraction to the church and to other Christians. Show how you can serve God even if you are not experiencing “marital bliss.” Are you single? Serve God as a single person. Use your circumstance, not bemoaning that you want to be a different situation. While understanding the context is about a present distress, the apostle Paul said:
32 I want you to be without concerns. An unmarried man is concerned about the things of the Lord—how he may please the Lord. 33 But a married man is concerned about the things of the world—how he may please his wife— 34 and he is divided. An unmarried woman or a virgin is concerned about the things of the Lord, so that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the things of the world—how she may please her husband. 35 Now I am saying this for your own benefit, not to put a restraint on you, but because of what is proper, and so that you may be devoted to the Lord without distraction. (1 Corinthians 7:32-35; HCSB)
You can be fully devoted to the Lord. Use the situation you are in to be a devoted disciple. Don’t like where you live. Don’t paralyze yourself just because you would rather live somewhere else. Use your opportunities where you are to be a devoted disciple. We are always looking for being in a better situation, better relationship, or better circumstance. We need to simply accept our position in life and understand that we can still be profitable servants for the Lord, even if our lives are not ideal. Rather than bemoan his mistake, Isaac simply accepted that God would fulfill the promises through Jacob, not Esau.
By Faith Jacob
By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff. (11:21; ESV)
The writer of Hebrews makes a similar point with Jacob as with Isaac. By faith Jacob blessed the sons of Joseph while bowing in worship. It is easy to read over this verse and go on to the next, but what is the point that the writer is trying to make?
When we turn to Genesis 48 we see that the blessings were reversed again. Remember that the oldest son was to receive the blessing. Joseph has two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, and Manasseh was the oldest. However, Jacob crosses his hands, placing his right hand on Ephraim, ready to impart the blessing upon Ephraim rather than Manasseh. Joseph sees this, tells Jacob that he has it wrong, and begins to move Jacob’s hands so that the right hand would be on Manasseh. But Jacob resisted this.
19 But his father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know. He also shall become a people, and he also shall be great. Nevertheless, his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his offspring shall become a multitude of nations.” 20 So he blessed them that day, saying, “By you Israel will pronounce blessings, saying, ‘God make you as Ephraim and as Manasseh.'” Thus he put Ephraim before Manasseh. 21 Then Israel said to Joseph, “Behold, I am about to die, but God will be with you and will bring you again to the land of your fathers. (Genesis 48:19-21; ESV)
We read about Jacob accepting the will of God that Ephraim would be greater than Manasseh. Interesting that Jacob, the younger of the two boys, also received the greater blessing of a fruitful land and a great nation. Ephraim also receives this blessing. Here again we see the acceptance of God’s will. All four people in this story, Jacob, Joseph, Manasseh, and Ephraim, were affected by God’s will for Ephraim to be the lineage of Abraham’s promise.
But notice what else Jacob says. In verse 21 Jacob declares that he knows that God will be with Joseph and will bring him again to the land of his fathers. Jacob knew that God would keep his promise concerning inheriting the land of Canaan. In fact, Jacob gives explicit directions about this:
29 When the time drew near for Israel to die, he called for his son Joseph and said to him, “If I have found favor in your eyes, put your hand under my thigh and promise that you will show me kindness and faithfulness. Do not bury me in Egypt, 30 but when I rest with my fathers, carry me out of Egypt and bury me where they are buried.” “I will do as you say,” he said. 31 “Swear to me,” he said. Then Joseph swore to him, and Israel worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.
This seems to be the point the writer of Hebrews is driving at. Jacob believed in God’s promises just as his grandfather Abraham had. It did not look like God would keep this promise at the time. But God had made the promise of inheriting the land. Jacob knew he could put his full confidence in God because God keeps his word. I believe this is a point we need to repeatedly hear. God does not break his word. There is nothing in the scriptures that we cannot place our confidence. Did you take the time last week and go through the scriptures finding those “anchor” passages? Jacob’s faith resonates with us because this promise had not been fulfilled with his grandfather, Abraham. Nor had this promise of inheriting the land been fulfilled with his father, Isaac. Now Jacob is forced to move to Egypt because of famine. God has not fulfilled the land promise. BUT JACOB BELIEVED ANYWAY. Time had gone by and circumstances had changed, but Jacob still believed that they would inherit the land God had promised.
Now we can amplify what we learned last week. We need those anchor passages to hold on to in our lives. We can hold on to them even when our life circumstances change and even when it appears that God is not going to keep his promise. We must understand that God’s promises are not always fulfilled on the time schedule that we want. But God is faithful and God keeps his word. Do not let time cause us not to hold on to those anchor scriptures.
By Faith Joseph
By faith Joseph, as he was nearing the end of his life, mentioned the exodus of the sons of Israel and gave instructions concerning his bones. (11:22; HCSB)
What is so important about Joseph making mention about his bones? We must go to Genesis 50 to understand what Joseph did.
24 Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die, but God will certainly come to your aid and bring you up from this land to the land He promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” 25 So Joseph made the Israelites take an oath: “When God comes to your aid, you are to carry my bones up from here.” (Genesis 50:24-25; HCSB)
Notice that Joseph exhibits the same faith that his father Jacob exhibited. God was going to come to their rescue and God would deliver them from Egypt. Why did Joseph and Jacob believe they would be leaving Egypt soon? Because they believed in the word of the Lord:
13 Then the LORD said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. 14 But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. 15 As for yourself, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. 16 And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” (Genesis 15:13-16; ESV)
God had promised that in the fourth generation the people would go back to the land of Canaan. So after Abraham, we can count Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. So they knew the return would happen soon because God had promised.
But what makes Joseph’s faith special is remembering what had happened to him. Joseph had lived in Egypt since he was 17 years old. He probably hardly remembered what Canaan looked like. Even though he had lived nearly his whole life, and certainly all of his relevant life (married in Egypt, worked in Egypt, lived in Egypt, and was 2nd in command in Egypt), he wanted his bones to go back to the promised land of Canaan. Joseph had a family in Egypt, children in Egypt, a home in Egypt, and was second in command in Egypt. His whole life was wrapped in Egypt. But Egypt was not his home. He made the sons of Israel swear that they would take his bones from Egypt to Canaan.
Bones have great significance in the scriptures. Bones symbolize life. The scriptures speak about the bones of the wicked being shattered and scattered, while the bones of the righteous remain whole and intact. In Ezekiel 37 God uses the vision of dry bones coming to life to symbolize resurrection. A dead man’s body came in contact with the bones of Elisha and the dead man came to life. Again, the bones of the righteous symbolizes resurrection. This is another implication for the necessity for none of Jesus’ bones being broken. Joseph is reflecting his hope in the Lord. Joseph has a relationship with God and knows that God will fulfill his promise. Because of this knowledge, Joseph is concerned about his bones. Not merely that his bones need to be in the promised land, but that this was a statement about the righteous being resurrected one day to be with the Lord.
All of these people of faith had hope in the resurrection. Remember how we read that Abraham was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. The resurrection gives us the encouragement to endure the difficulties of life. How did Abraham survive the test of offering his son? His hope in the resurrection. How did Joseph endure all of his difficulties? We see that he also had hope in God’s promises and hope in the resurrection. The apostle Paul made the powerful point:
16 For if the dead are not raised, Christ has not been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. 18 Therefore those who have fallen asleep in Christ have also perished. 19 If we have placed our hope in Christ for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone. (1 Corinthians 15:16-19; HCSB)
The hope of the Christian is bound in the resurrection. These lessons about the heroes of faith are worthless if there is no resurrection. If our hope in Christ is for this life only, then we should be more pitied than anyone else. By faith we believe in the resurrection of the righteous. Joseph had that faith and we must also.