Hebrews 11:20 - The Faith Of Jacob As He Blesses His Two Sons
Last year it was my privilege to participate in four beautiful weddings. Two of these couples are now expecting to have their first baby!
One of the moments that I appreciate at weddings is when the father gets up and blesses the new couple. This is when a father relinquishes his responsibility to be the primary caregiver and protector of his daughter and he places her in the hands of another godly and capable man. What a weighty transfer of responsibility!
There is another special moment that a parent may get to share with their children. This happens when the parentblessestheir child as their death approaches. In that moment a Christian parent has a special opportunity to speak to them about spiritual things and eternal things.
The book of Hebrews often shows us that the faithful saints live and die with their focus set upon these eternal things.For example,
Hebrews 11:10, “For he (Abraham and his heirs) was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.”
Hebrews 11:13-14 & 16, “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland...they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared for them a city.”
As you read the scriptures you discover that godly parents have always sought to prepare the next generation to understand life, death, and the eternal life. Indeed, these things are of first importance (1 Corinthians 15). Death is inevitable. It comes upon us all; and yet, when it comes we will often walk through these moments with a bit of awkwardness and imperfection.
As we come to Hebrews 11:20-22 we are given three examples of men who came to the end of their lives and displayed great faith in the promises that God has made. In Hebrews 11:20-22 we read, “By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau. By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff. By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones.”
This morning we are only going to look at Hebrews 11:20, “By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau.” Of these three examples Isaac’s story is perhaps the most awkward and shows the most imperfection. Because of this I think that there is a lot that we can learn from this story.
Before we consider this text, however, I would like to begin in 1 Kings 1. This chapter contains events that happened as King David approached death. You can imagine how important it would be to have a succession plan for the throne to be passed down to the next generation. David’s story reveals some of the same tension and confusion that will be seen in our story today.
The successful transition of one king to another would be very important; however, I think one could argue that the story concerning Isaac passing on the patriarchal blessing is even more significant than this. The consequences for countless generations is at stake. Because of this we see that God is controlling everything although this may not appear to be true at first.
In 1 Kings 1 we read of the time when King David was old and advanced in years (1:1). His time of death was quickly approaching. Sometime in the past David had made some preparations for this season of life when he declared that Solomon was to succeed him as king. Adonijah, David’s eldest living son began to possession himself as the king (1:5-10).
Adonijah seemed to be the right man for this position because he was the firstborn son after Absalom who had been killed. We are also told that Adonijah had never displeased the king in any way (1:6). We are told that Adonijah was very handsome and kingly in his stature (1:6). We are told that he also had the support of David’s military commander Joab and the priest Abiathar (1:7). All of these things made it seem to Adonijah, and to many others, that he was to be the next king.
There must have been some question in his mind about this, however, because we are told that he did not invite some of the most important guests to his coronation. And we are told that he did all of this without David’s knowledge (1:9, 18).
Listen to how this is described in 1 Kings 1:5 & 9, “Now Adonijah the son of Haggith exalted himself, saying, ‘I will be king.’ And he prepared for himself chariots and horseman, and fifty men to run before him...Adonijah sacrificed sheep, oxen, and fattened cattle by the Serpent’s Stone, whis is beside En-rogel, and he invited all his brothers, the king’s sons, and all the royal officials of Judah, but he did not invite Nathan the prophet or Benaiah or the mighty men or Solomon his brother.”
When Nathan heard about these things he acted quickly to ensure that Solomon, God’s chosen servant, would be king of Israel (1:12, 21).Nathan went to Bathsheba and together they devised a plan to inform King David of the events that had taken place. This was not a deceitful or malicious plan to deceive the king; rather, it was done to ensure that the kings will was done.
When they talked to David he responded swiftly to install Solomon as King over Israel (1:17, 28-30). Because it was God’s will that Solomon should be king the LORD blessed the entire nation throughout Solomon’s reign (1 Kings 10).
I have shared this story because I saw many parallels with our story this morning about Isaac and his two sons.
A father is on his death bed.
This father has two sons.
One son is chosen by God and the other is not.
The older son seems most likely to receive the blessing.
The younger son seems more unlikely, however, he is the chosen one.
The moments surrounding this blessing are profoundly intense, confusing, and the stakes are high. Not simply in a temporal sense, but in an eternal sense!
With these things in mind let’s consider Isaac in Genesis 27. Here we are given an example of a man who was facing his own immortality. As we come to Genesis 27:1 the scripture describeshim as, “...old and his eyes were dim so that he could not see…”. Isaac describes himself in Genesis 27:2 as he speaks to his son Esau in this way, “Behold, I am old…”. Isaac seems to be quite confident that his death is approaching so he acts decisively to pass the patriarchal blessing to one of his sons.
I had mentioned earlier that we may have a tendency to approach death in an awkward and imperfect way. Thisappears to be especially true in this story in Genesis 27. We see this awkwardness and imperfection in Isaac and in his wife Rebekah and also in their two children: Esau and Jacob.
Because of these things I found that as I read this story I found it hard to reconcile the description of Hebrews 11:20with thedescription that we are given in Genesis 25-27. It is hard to see faith in Genesis 27.
Hebrews 11:20can give us the impression that this moment where Isaac passes on the patriarchal blessing was a picture perfect moment. However, as I read this storyin Genesis 25-27I kept asking myself…
Why would the scriptures record this story?
Why preserve this story about a family who was so dysfunctional and sinful?
How can faith be seen when the father begins to give the blessing to the wrong son?
And what admirable thing can be seen where a family is found lying and deceiving each other even in the name of the LORD?”
Let’s take a moment to read Genesis 27:1-41,
When Isaac was old and his eyes were dim so that he could not see, he called Esau his older son and said to him, “My son”; and he answered, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “Behold, I am old; I do not know the day of my death. 3 Now then, take your weapons, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field and hunt game for me, 4 and prepare for me delicious food, such as I love, and bring it to me so that I may eat, that my soul may bless you before I die.”
This part of the story would not shock us at all if we did not know what happened in Genesis 25. The LORD had said to Rebekah in Genesis 25:23, while she was pregnant with twins, that the older would serve the younger. It was not Esau who should be receiving this blessing, Jacob was to be given the blessing.
Isaac, however, had a fondness for his firstborn son. Esau was a skillful hunter, he was a man of the field, and Isaac liked to eat the food that his son provided (25:27). Genesis 25:28 tells us that Isaac loved Esau and favored him more than Isaac. Because of these things, like we saw with Adonijah, Esau seemed like the logical choice to receive the patriarchal blessing. Isaac was willing to disobey the clear instruction of the LORD and bless Esau instead of Isaac.
5 Now Rebekah was listening when Isaac spoke to his son Esau. So when Esau went to the field to hunt for game and bring it, 6 Rebekah said to her son Jacob, “I heard your father speak to your brother Esau, 7 ‘Bring me game and prepare for me delicious food, that I may eat it and bless you before the Lord before I die.’ 8 Now therefore, my son, obey my voice as I command you. 9 Go to the flock and bring me two good young goats, so that I may prepare from them delicious food for your father, such as he loves. 10 And you shall bring it to your father to eat, so that he may bless you before he dies.” 11 But Jacob said to Rebekah his mother, “Behold, my brother Esau is a hairy man, and I am a smooth man. 12 Perhaps my father will feel me, and I shall seem to be mocking him and bring a curse upon myself and not a blessing.” 13 His mother said to him, “Let your curse be on me, my son; only obey my voice, and go, bring them to me.”
Like the prophet Nathan, Rebekah became aware of what Isaac planned to do. However, she does not try to persuade Isaac to change his mind. Nor does she wait to see how the LORD will resolve this situation. No, she comes up with her own plan to deceive her husband.
She speaks to Jacob and instructs him about what they should do so that he can receive the blessing. Jacob’s conscience objects in a couple ways. First, Jacob does not think that this plan will work. He does not talk like his brother. He does not look and feel like his brother. He does not smell like a man of the field like his brother. Secondly, Jacob’s conscience testifies that if Isaac discovers this deception he will be cursed instead of receiving the blessing. Despite these objections Jacob is persuaded by his mother when she says, “Let your curse be on me, my son; only obey my voice…”.
14 So he went and took them and brought them to his mother, and his mother prepared delicious food, such as his father loved. 15 Then Rebekah took the best garments of Esau her older son, which were with her in the house, and put them on Jacob her younger son. 16 And the skins of the young goats she put on his hands and on the smooth part of his neck. 17 And she put the delicious food and the bread, which she had prepared, into the hand of her son Jacob.
One time I had to play Jesus in an Easter play. They put me in a costume and then made me wear a fake beard and a wig. I hated it! I felt so uncomfortable and I knew that this costume made a mockery of the very person I was trying to portray.
I can only imagine how ridiculous Jacob must have felt as his mother put these goat skins on him. Everything in him probably told him that this was not going to work. Like David when he was asked to wear Saul’s armor, Jacob must have wanted to say to his mother, “I cannot go wearing these!” (1 Samuel 17:39)
The only advantage that they had was that Isaac loved food and Rebekah knew how to make it as good or even better than Esau. They also could take some comfort in the fact that Isaac was blind and so there may be a very slim chance that this plan could work.
18 So he went in to his father and said, “My father.” And he said, “Here I am. Who are you, my son?” 19 Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me; now sit up and eat of my game, that your soul may bless me.” 20 But Isaac said to his son, “How is it that you have found it so quickly, my son?” He answered, “Because the Lord your God granted me success.” 21 Then Isaac said to Jacob, “Please come near, that I may feel you, my son, to know whether you are really my son Esau or not.” 22 So Jacob went near to Isaac his father, who felt him and said, “The voice is Jacob's voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” 23 And he did not recognize him, because his hands were hairy like his brother Esau's hands. So he blessed him. 24 He said, “Are you really my son Esau?” He answered, “I am.” 25 Then he said, “Bring it near to me, that I may eat of my son's game and bless you.” So he brought it near to him, and he ate; and he brought him wine, and he drank. 26 Then his father Isaac said to him, “Come near and kiss me, my son.” 27 So he came near and kissed him. And Isaac smelled the smell of his garments and blessed him.
Adonijah was made king as he threw himself a feast. In this story Jacob hopes to receive the patriarchal blessing by bringing his dad a delicious feast. But from the very beginning something seemed wrong to Isaac. How could Esau have obeyed his request so quickly?
Jacob responds to Isaac’s question with a lie in the name of the LORD saying, “Because the Lord your God granted me success.” Still uncertain that he was not being deceived Isaac calls his son to come close so that he could feel him. His son had the voice of Jacob, but the hands of Esau. When Jacob came closer Isaac did not recognize him and so he gave the blessing to the younger son. Isaac said to Jacob,
“See, the smell of my son is as the smell of a field that the Lord has blessed! 28 May God give you of the dew of heaven and of the fatness of the earth and plenty of grain and wine. 29 Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may your mother's sons bow down to you. Cursed be everyone who curses you, and blessed be everyone who blesses you!”
This was the blessing that Rebekah and Jacob had worked so hard to get from Isaac. Yet, there is no celebration. There is no expression of great joy throughout the camp. This blessing came deceitfully so it must be celebrated quietly.
Perhaps the best image of the seriousness of this moment and the profound nature of this blessing is seen in the reaction of Isaac and Esau when they realize what has happened. There reactions shows that the patriarchal blessing is no trivial and trite matter.
30 As soon as Isaac had finished blessing Jacob, when Jacob had scarcely gone out from the presence of Isaac his father, Esau his brother came in from his hunting. 31 He also prepared delicious food and brought it to his father. And he said to his father, “Let my father arise and eat of his son's game, that you may bless me.” 32 His father Isaac said to him, “Who are you?” He answered, “I am your son, your firstborn, Esau.” 33 Then Isaac trembled very violently and said, “Who was it then that hunted game and brought it to me, and I ate it all before you came, and I have blessed him? Yes, and he shall be blessed.” 34 As soon as Esau heard the words of his father, he cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry and said to his father, “Bless me, even me also, O my father!” 35 But he said, “Your brother came deceitfully, and he has taken away your blessing.” 36 Esau said, “Is he not rightly named Jacob? For he has cheated me these two times. He took away my birthright, and behold, now he has taken away my blessing.” Then he said, “Have you not reserved a blessing for me?” 37 Isaac answered and said to Esau, “Behold, I have made him lord over you, and all his brothers I have given to him for servants, and with grain and wine I have sustained him. What then can I do for you, my son?” 38 Esau said to his father, “Have you but one blessing, my father? Bless me, even me also, O my father.” And Esau lifted up his voice and wept.
Esau had no regard for his birthright which he sold to Jacob for a bowl of soup (Hebrews 12:16); but he knows full well the significance of this moment. Jacob has been blessed and Esau has become his servant. Esau pleads to his father for a blessing so his father speaks in faith and says,
39 “Behold, away from the fatness of the earth shall your dwelling be, and away from the dew of heaven on high. 40 By your sword you shall live, and you shall serve your brother; but when you grow restless you shall break his yoke from your neck.”
After this we see the seriousness of this moment in the reaction of Esau towards his brother. He hates his younger brother and he longs for the day when he can kill his brother. We read,
41 Now Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him, and Esau said to himself, “The days of mourning for my father are approaching; then I will kill my brother Jacob.”
Having read Genesis 27 let’s try to answer the question, “Why is this ugly story in scripture?”
Is our application from Genesis 27 that transitions are always hard?
Is this story here to remind us of the depravity of mankind after the fall?
I think that this story does remind us about our depravity.
This story does make us see that God’s election is not the result of our goodness.
This story reminds us that the doctrine of God’s election can bring chaos, confusion and anger if it is not received with humility and faith.
Let me begin by reading to you from the London Baptist Confession concerning God’s decree (3.1). It says, “From all eternity God decreed everything that occurs, without reference to anything outside himself. He did this by the perfectly wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably. Yet God did this in such a way that He is neither the author of sin nor has fellowship with any in their sin. This decree does not violate the will of the creature or take away the free working or contingency of second causes. On the contrary, these are established by God’s decree. In this decree God’s wisdom is displayed in directing all things, and His power and faithfulness are demonstrated in accomplishing His decree.”
It is passages like Genesis 27 where this statement is applied in real time. Let me explain. Back in Genesis 25 we discover that God had made a decree concerning two twin boys. From the very beginning, when these boys were still in their mothers womb, they struggled with each other because God had chosen one and not the other (Gn. 25:22, Ro. 9:10-13).
The struggle was so intense that Rebekah prayed about this and asked, “Why is this happening to me?” The LORD said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger.” (23).
The conflict that we have seen in Genesis 27 began in this family while these kids were still in their mother’s womb. Right at the center of this conflict was the call that God had concerning both of these children. And even in the womb these two brothers struggled together.
Paul speaks of this in Romans 9:10-13 when he says, “...when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad- in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls- she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ As it is written, Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
God had made a decree concerning these two kids. He did this according to his perfectly wise and holy counsel of His will. This calling was done freely and unchangeably. This was not done because one was good and one child was bad. In fact, Genesis 27 reminds us that everyone involved is a sinner!
God knew which child would be born first and He knew how the younger was to receive the birthright and the inheritance. This calling and the election of Jacob over Esau would dominate the events of these two boys lives.
They struggled with each other within their mother’s womb.
They struggled with each other in life.
And because of this calling their descendants would war with one another in the future.
The war was not to see who the victor would be because that had already been determined, “The younger will be stronger; the older will serve the younger.”
With these things in mind we should not be surprised by the drama that we see being played out in Genesis 27.
Is what we see dysfunctional? Yes.
Is it sinful? Yes.
Is there deceit in this story? Yes.
Is it understandable under the decree of God’s election? Yes.
Does this story get confusing as all of these second causes begin to be played out by Isaac, Rebekah, Esau and Jacob? Yes.
Will all of these things work together for good for all those who are called? Yes. Romans 8:28says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.”
When Rebekah experienced this struggle in her womb she prayed and the LORD spoke to her regarding the call of God on their lives. The LORD told her that there were twin boys in her womb and all of these things proved to be true! (Genesis 25:24 -...Behold, there were twins in her womb.)
From that point on Rebekah lived by faith in what the LORD had said. As a result of this we see that in Genesis 27 Rebekah acts to insure that Jacob receives the blessing.
Did she have to do this? No, God is not the author of sin.
Could God have done it another way? Yes.
Will God work to accomplish His purposes through these secondary actions? Yes.
In Genesis 27 Isaac’s struggle concerning the call of God on his children would finally come to an end. He was deceived by Jacob but in faith he accepted that the LORD had still spoken through him the blessing. Jacob would be blessed and he would rule over his brothers.
And when Esau came and pleaded for a blessing his father responded in faith and spoke to Esau the Word of the LORD which was more of a curse than a blessing. Esau would live by the sword, his toil would be hard, he would be restless and his life would be one of service.
Jacob had spent his whole life struggling with the call and election of God concerning his children. It seems clear that until this very moment Isaac wanted to act contrary to the call of God and give the blessing to Esau. But by faith he acknowledged that Jacob was blessed and Esau would not be.
We see in Genesis 25-27 that this whole family struggled to understand and submit to the election of God. There is only one thing that can bring an end to this dilemma. We must embrace it by faith. We must apply our faith to the wisdom of God, the Word of God and in His holy counsel.
This story shows us that this life of faith is not easy. Isaac struggled with it. Rebecca accepted it but then struggled to live by faith when she overheard Isaac and Esau speaking about the blessing. And if we are all honest we will admit that the doctrine of election is hard to understand and accept. This story is in scripture to remind us of how this family struggled with it but then accepted it by faith. Without faith we will have no other choice but to be angry about it like Esau.
I did not bring these things up to stir us up to anger, but to encourage us to believe God and His Word by faith. After the struggle we can then rest in the wisdom of God who will always do better than we will. In this church we are somewhere between Genesis 25-27 in our faith in these things. But perhaps after today we will be a little more appreciative of the struggle we have and the struggle the person next to us has with this. But we should also see, that like Isaac we must embrace these things by faith.
Let me leave you with these words from the London Baptist Confession 3:7, “The doctrine of the high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care so that those heeding the will of God revealed in His Word and obeying Him may be assured of their eternal election by the certainty of their effectual calling. In this way this doctrine will give reasons for praise, reverence, and admiration of God, as well as humility, diligence and rich comfort to all who sincerely obey the gospel.”