************ Sermon on Hebrews 11:20 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on February 26, 2017
We have been taking an in depth look at the heroes of faith listed by Hebrews 11. So far we have looked at Abel and his offering; Enoch and his walk with God; Noah and the ark; and three different events in the life of Abraham -- leaving Ur, the promise of Isaac, and the sacrifice of Isaac. All of these are the most outstanding moments of faith in the lives of these Old Testament saints.
Today we will be looking at the faith of Isaac but our Bible reading also covers Jacob and Joseph. Now, I have to admit I am surprised by what Hebrews has selected as the highlight of their faith. Tell me, what would you select? I looked over Isaac's life as recorded by Genesis. I would say the high point of his faith was when he allowed his father to bind him to the altar. When it comes to Jacob, I would select his dream of the ladder or the time he wrestled with the angel of the Lord. As for Joseph, I believe his faith is best illustrated by his escape from Potiphar's wife or the forgiveness he gave his brothers or the way he served even while in prison. Now, look at what Hebrews selects. Not the events I mentioned. Instead, Hebrews looks at the faith expressed when all three men faced death.
I have discovered over the years that there are two times when people are completely honest with me as pastor. There are two times when people show you exactly what is on their heart. First, people are completely honest when they are drunk. However, I don't recommend this approach to honest discussion because every other inhibition usually goes out the window as well. Second, people are completely honest, they show the integrity of their confession, when they realize death is approaching.
Our Bible reading from Hebrews takes the second approach. It highlights the faith of Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph as they sense death approaching. To be more exact, Hebrews shows us their unshakeable confidence in the promises of God as death draws near.
Think of this in terms of the situation of the Hebrew Christians. They realize persecution is coming. Persecution that is greater than what they have already faced (cf Heb 10:32-34). Persecution that involves not only insult and prison and the confiscation of property but even the shedding of blood (cf Heb 12:4). Under the threat of persecution some have already left the faith. But now Hebrews wants to encourage them. Look at Isaac as he faced death. Look at Jacob and Joseph. Be encouraged by their faith. Imitate their faith. Like them, hold fast to the promises of God as death draws near.
I Isaac Blessed
So what makes Isaac's faith special? Why is he a hero of faith as he faces death? Look at what is said by our text:
(Heb 11:20) By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future.By faith, acting on the basis of faith, Isaac blessed.
You may wonder what is the big deal. After all, a blessing is only words.
In the book of Genesis the first time we see a blessing is in chapter 1 already. At that time God blessed the sea creatures and birds, telling them to be fruitful and multiply in the earth (Gen 1:22). God gave a similar blessing to Adam and Eve, adding that they were to exercise dominion over creation (Gen 1:28). When God called Abraham to go to the Promised Land (Gen 12:1-3), He promised to bless him, make his name great, and through him, to bless all the families of the earth.
Each of these blessings actually came to pass. Telling us what? Telling us that blessings in the Bible aren't just words. Telling us blessings in the Bible aren't just feel good wishes. Telling us blessings in the Bible have power. Telling us blessings in the Bible express God's intent, God's will, God's plan for the person or thing getting the blessing.
In this light consider the words of the blessing often said at the end of our worship services:
(Num 6:24-26) The LORD bless you and keep you; (25) the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; (26) the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.Another blessing we often use is the one pronounced by Paul upon the Corinthians:
(2 Cor 13:14) May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
Patriarchal blessings were not merely a father's wishes for his sons; rather, they express God's desire. Likewise, the benedictions at the end of our worship services are not merely "feel good" words so we leave on an upbeat note; they express God's desire and intent for us in Christ.
When Isaac, by faith, blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future these aren't just words. Isaac does so as the mouthpiece of God. Isaac does so revealing and declaring God's destiny, God's plan, for his sons.
II Jacob and Esau
A "By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future" (Heb 11:20). You might wonder what message about Isaac's faith the Hebrews Christians can get from such a few words.
Everything Hebrews wants to say comes out in the unnatural order of the names. According to Jewish practice what name should be mentioned first? Esau should be mentioned first as the older brother. Don't forget, in that time and place and culture it is the older brother who receives the birthright and the covenant promises. Yet, Hebrews makes a point of mentioning Jacob first and then Esau:
(Heb 11:20) By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future.
B Don't forget the original audience of Hebrews: Hebrew Christians who know their Old Testament. They only need one small little hint to understand what Hebrews is saying. So, I can well imagine those Hebrew Christians listening as the letter of Hebrews is read to them. They nod their heads in agreement as they hear about the faith of Abel, Enoch, Noah, and Abraham. They are probably surprised, just like we are surprised, when they hear about Isaac's faith. I can hear them talking to themselves or to each other:
What was that? What did the author just say? Did he mention Jacob first?And they would nod their heads as they remembered.
Oh yeah, remember? This was God's plan revealed already before the babies were born. Isaac prayed for Rebekah when she couldn't get pregnant. She became pregnant with twins. When the babies kept fighting inside the womb Rebekah inquired of the Lord what was happening. Remember that the Lord told her "the older will serve the younger"?
"By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future." The original audience hears this and they recall God's words that "the older will serve the younger." A quick look at Genesis tells us that God often works this way. Often God violates human tradition and gives the covenant blessing to the younger son. For instance, God preferred Abel over Cain. The blessing was given to Shem rather than Japheth. Isaac was picked instead of Ishmael. Joseph became the head of the family rather than Reuben. Joseph's younger son Ephraim was blessed over the older son Manasseh. Similarly, Jacob -- not Esau -- received the covenant blessing.
Do you remember what Paul's Spirit-inspired commentary says about this in Romans 9?
(Rom 9:11-16) Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad--in order that God's purpose in election might stand: (12) not by works but by him who calls--she was told, "The older will serve the younger." (13) Just as it is written: "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated." (14) What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! (15) For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." (16) It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy.
We need to realize that God is not subject to human patterns, human traditions, human conditions. God's blessings are dispensed according to His good pleasure. God's thoughts are not our thoughts, neither are our ways His ways (cf Isa 55:8-9)
So, before birth already God clearly made His intention known to Isaac and Rebekah: the covenant would be advanced through Jacob, Jacob would inherit the covenant promises, and the promised Messiah would come through Jacob.
III In Regard to Their Future
A "By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future" (Heb 11:20).
Do you remember everything that happened before Isaac got to this point of blessing Jacob over Esau? Genesis tells us Isaac loved Esau but Rebekah loved Jacob. Therefore, Isaac intended to go against God's revealed purpose and bless Esau over Jacob.
(Gen 27:1-4) When Isaac was old and his eyes were so weak that he could no longer see, he called for Esau his older son and said to him, "My son." "Here I am," he answered. (2) Isaac said, "I am now an old man and don't know the day of my death. (3) Now then, get your weapons--your quiver and bow--and go out to the open country to hunt some wild game for me. (4) Prepare me the kind of tasty food I like and bring it to me to eat, so that I may give you my blessing before I die."
We would be wrong if we excused Isaac's behavior as the acts of an old mixed-up man. We can't blame Alzheimer's or hardening of the arteries or dementia. Isaac knew exactly what he was doing. Isaac knew he was about to give the covenant blessing to the son who was not God's choice.
You know the story. Esau goes hunting. Meanwhile, Rebekah puts a plan into action. Her and Jacob scheme and plot and lie. Rebekah prepares the food Isaac expects from Esau. Jacob dresses like his brother and smells like his brother and is hairy like his brother. So Isaac is fooled into blessing Jacob over Esau.
B Everyone in this story was in the wrong: Isaac, Esau, Rebekah, Jacob. What a family!
Isaac wrongly thought the covenant blessing was his to give away. Isaac mistakenly thought he was the one in charge. And Esau went along with this. Both of them went against God's expressed will.
Rebekah and Jacob also did not do what was right. You might argue the end result was God's plan, God's will, God's intention. But this not make right what was done by Rebekah and Jacob. The end result never justifies the means to get there. You can't justify stealing money in order to give to the church. You can't justify marriage to an unbeliever by pointing to how they join the church. You can't enroll your kids in public school because they will be a witness there.
You know what Rebekah and Jacob forgot? They forgot God needs no help in fulfilling His promises. Our help is not needed. God does not need the help of sinful people. Because God is Almighty. Because God's purposes are invincible. Because God always accomplishes His plans.
Think about this in terms of the cross and the grave of Christ. At that time wicked men thought they would get rid of Jesus. They nailed Him to the tree and put Him in the grave. But God went around their plans, just like He went around the plans of Isaac and Esau. And, God used them, just like He used Rebekah and Jacob to accomplish His will and His plans and His purposes.
C Do you remember what happens next? Esau shows up after Jacob has stolen the blessing. Isaac asks, "Who are you?" "I am your son, your firstborn, Esau."
The next line says it all: "Isaac trembled violently" (Gen 27:33). Understand this to be violent convulsions. Understand this to include tears and moans and great terror. Why? Because he was filled with rage at what Rebekah and Jacob had done? No! Because he was scared of what Esau would now do? No! Isaac trembled violently because he saw the hand of God at work. He trembled because he realized God intervened to do His will and accomplish His plans. He trembled because God overthrew his plans at disobedience. He trembled because his disobedience to God's stated purpose has been exposed and has been defeated by God's sovereignty. He trembled because he knew he had nothing to give to Esau. He trembled because he saw that God brings about His purposes not through picture-perfect people but through a long line of sinners.
IV Isaac's Faith
A "By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future" (Heb 11:20). How does this sad, sad story of a fallen and dysfunctional family show faith? Why would Hebrews commend Isaac's faith when he attempted to disobediently bless the wrong son?
Keep in mind what happens next in Genesis. Esau is there, stew in hand. Maybe he is kneeling by his papa's chair. Isaac doesn't try to go around God a second time. He doesn't say, "Okay son, let's try this again. Let me give you the blessing your brother just stole from you." Instead, he says, "I blessed him -- and indeed he will be blessed" (Gen 27:33). Do you hear what he is saying? He is saying, "It is done. There is nothing I can do." Isaac is surrendering himself to the will and plan of God. He is submitting himself to God's design. He admits it is God's purpose, and not man's, that prevails.
"I blessed him -- and indeed he will be blessed." Esau wept at these words. He exploded. His was a bitter cry. He vowed to kill his brother. But Isaac knew better than to fight or resist what God had brought about. By faith, Isaac surrendered himself to the will and plan and promise of God.
B The next chapter in Genesis, chapter 28, tells us Isaac blesses Jacob a second time. It is really the same blessing again. But this time Isaac gives it willingly. This time Isaac does it knowingly. This time Isaac consciously follows God's will.
"By faith." "By faith." By faith, Isaac surrenders himself to the will of God. "By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future" (Heb 11:20).
Isaac's faith is commended because at the end of his life he relies on the plan and will and promises of God. Isaac's faith is commended because of his holy fear. Isaac's faith is commended because he surrenders himself to the will of God.
Jesus was that way. In the Garden. On the cross. By faith, He surrendered Himself to the will and plan of God. By faith, He went the Father's way rather than man's way.
So look beyond Isaac to Jesus. Look to Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith, Who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Look beyond Isaac to Jesus. But don't wait, like Isaac did, until you are old and dying. Right now, today, live by faith.
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