Hebrews 11 records a number of people who by faith received their commending. If you have grown up in the pews, you likely have heard some of the people who are listed by faith like Noah, Abraham, and Moses. But there are people listed who are commended for their faith but their faith appears to be a strange faith. Isaac is one example that I want to look at in regards to his faith by which he is commended. Listen to what the writer of Hebrews says about Isaac.
By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau. (Hebrews 11:20 ESV)
Now when you think about the faithful life of Isaac, I don’t think that we would focus on the fact that he gave out blessings on Jacob and Esau about their future. I think many most know Isaac for his faith when his father Abraham listen to God’s command to offer him up as a sacrifice. In fact, that is what the writer of Hebrews says about Abraham in Hebrews 11:17. When we read the account in Genesis we see that Isaac had the faith to go along with this action.
The Problem of Isaac’s “Faith”
Now I want to talk about why this statement about Isaac is quite strange. First, Isaac blessing his sons concerning their future was not unique to Genesis. Abraham blessed his children. Isaac blessed his children. Jacob blessed his children. Even Moses gave blessings for each of Israel’s sons and their offspring in Deuteronomy 33. So we need to wonder why Isaac blessing Jacob and Esau is something considered commending for faith.
Second, if you understand the act of Isaac in blessing his two sons, this commending is even more curious. We need to return to Genesis to see why commending Isaac for blessing his two sons does not appear to be an act of faith in God. Our first introduction to Jacob and Esau is when they are in their mother’s womb in Genesis 25. Rebekah is barren and Isaac prays to the Lord for his wife (Genesis 25:21). The Lord grants his prayer and they are having fraternal twins. But there is such a struggle in her womb that Rebekah inquires of the Lord about what is happening. What the Lord says is very important. In verse 23 the Lord reveals that these two boys represent two nations. One will be stronger than the other and the older will serve the younger. This is a key prophetic declaration of God’s will. The younger will be the superior and the older will serve him.
Now go forward to Genesis 27 where we read about Isaac blessing his sons. In the first two verses of Genesis 27 Isaac tells Esau that he is old and does not know when he is going to die. So Isaac wants to bless his sons. But I want you to notice something curious. Isaac is telling Esau that he wants to be him rather than Jacob (27:4). Now we have heard that the Lord said Jacob would be greater and Esau would serve Jacob. So what is happening here? What is Isaac doing? We are told something important to this event back in Genesis 25:28. “Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.” So it appears that Isaac has a personal motivation. He is going against what God proclaimed and is going forward with blessing Esau over Jacob.
This is why what the writer of Hebrews says is so confusing. How is Isaac showing faith in blessing his sons concerning the things to come when he is intentionally attempting to bless Esau rather than Jacob? Believing that he is blessing Esau, Isaac dispenses the full blessing in Genesis 27:27-29. So I hope you have your interest peaked at this point. What is the writer of Hebrews pointing to that is the display of faith in Isaac?
The Faith of Isaac
As we continue to read the account in Genesis 27 we see that no sooner than Jacob has left with the blessing that Esau returns from hunting and makes delicious food for Isaac (27:30-31). Look at what happens in verses 32-33. Esau identifies himself before Isaac. When Isaac hears this, he trembles very violently. Now what would we do in a situation like this? I think we would see this as fraud and deceit. We would call Jacob back in and tell him that all of those promised blessings have been revoked. No contract is binding when it is done with the intent to defraud. So Isaac would revoke the blessing, maybe pronounce a curse on Jacob instead, and then properly bless Esau. But look carefully at verse 33. “I ate it all before you came in, and I blessed him. Indeed, he will be blessed!” (27:33 CSB)
This appears to be a lightbulb moment for Isaac as he understands what is happening. I think this is why he is violently trembling in verse 33. Notice what he tells Esau in verse 37. Isaac tells Esau that he made Jacob master over Esau. This is exactly what God said would be the case when Jacob and Esau had not even been born. So Isaac says, “When then can I do for you, my son?” Even though Esau pleads for a blessing, Isaac does not undo what he said regarding Jacob. He does not try to reverse or revoke the prior blessing. In fact, look carefully at what Isaac says in regards to his beloved son, Esau, in verses 39-40. Please especially look at the middle of verse 40. “You will serve your brother.” Isaac does not fight the blessing but confirms the blessing made to Jacob through the blessing he gives to Esau.
Isaac appears to realize that he had been resisting God regarding his sons and now he stops. Isaac was resisting God by trying to bless Esau over Jacob. But God did not let it happen. Isaac now understands that God’s plan cannot be overthrown. He blesses his sons regarding their future by faith. Isaac trusts God and accepts this outcome. Isaac yielded to the will of God.
When we come back to Hebrews 11 and think about the people of faith, I want us to observe that one of the consistent characteristics of faith is yielding to God’s will even when it is hard to do so. This is what we are told about Abraham who was tested and offered up his son (Hebrews 11:17). This is what we read about Moses in verses 25-26.
He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. (Hebrews 11:25-26 NIV)
Let me read Hebrews 11:20 in a way that I think the author is trying to teach us. Isaac blessed his sons about their future, even though those were not the blessings he wanted for those particular sons, because of his faith. It is because of his faith that he blessed his sons and yielded to the will of God. Faith stops resisting God and yields to the will of God. This is the message that surrounds chapter 11.
Look at first few verses of Hebrews 12. Notice that we are told to look to Jesus. What are we supposed to see when we look at Jesus? We are to see that Jesus endured the cross and disregarded the shame for the joy set before him. In other words, he did not resist God’s will but yielded to God’s will. Now go back to the end of Hebrews 10 and notice how this is also the context that starts the description of faith in chapter 11.
Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. (Hebrews 10:35-36 ESV)
Do not resist God’s will but yield to God’s will. But yielding to God’s will requires endurance. Yielding to God’s will is not going to be easy. Nothing about what we read God’s people doing by faith in Hebrews 11 was easy. Isaac wanted a particular outcome. He even tried to accomplish that particular outcome. But Isaac was resisting God’s outcome. By faith he finally accepted God’s will and confirmed God’s outcome.
Is there an area in our lives in which we are resisting the will of God? As I have thought about this idea I think this is a situation in which we can become angry with God because we desire and are pushing for a particular outcome that is not God’s outcome. I think this becomes real when want life to be different than what it presently is. Isaac did not want the blessings to be dispensed the way God said and actively worked against it. Job did not want his life to be full of suffering and actively spoke against it. But I want to think about what Job is told by Elihu and by God himself.
“Behold, God is exalted in his power; who is a teacher like him? Who has prescribed for him his way, or who can say, ‘You have done wrong’?” (Job 36:22-23 ESV)
“Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be in the right?” (Job 40:8 ESV)
By faith we accept the circumstances of our lives and believe that God is working and we will yield to it. It is easy to want to say to God in rebellion, “What are you doing?” But God’s response is that you cannot tell him that he is wrong or charge him with evil. Maybe it is time to reflect and shutter violently at the fact that we have been trying to resist God rather than yield to God like Isaac did. God has us here right now, whatever that circumstance is, with all its pain and difficulties. By faith we will yield to God and run this life race with endurance.