30 May 2021
Ps Ben Hooman
Please open your Bible at Hebrews 11. We are looking today at the extraordinary story of how the blessing of God came to a weak father, a strong mother, and a very troubled son. We’re looking today at Isaac, the son given to Abraham and Sarah in fulfilment of the promise of God. I am so glad that Isaac is included among the models of faith. Here’s why: Isaac lived an unremarkable life. When you put him alongside Abraham, Jacob and Joseph, he seems insignificant. What great thing did Isaac ever do?
Here is a man who is overshadowed by his famous father (Abraham), his notorious son (Jacob), and his extraordinarily gifted grandson (Joseph). Imagine having Abraham as your father and Sarah as your mother! Who could ever live up to that?
Perhaps you know what this is like. You have a multi-talented wife or husband. Or unusually successful colleagues or friends. Maybe you tire of being introduced as someone’s father or husband, or mother or wife or son or daughter or neighbour or friend.
Isaac was completely overshadowed by the people around him. Of 50 chapters in the book of Genesis, 12 are devoted to Abraham (chapters 12-23), 10 are devoted to Jacob (28-35, 48, 49), and 11 are devoted to Joseph (37, 39-47, 50). Only two chapters are devoted to Isaac (Genesis 26 and 27).
There’s very little that’s memorable about him. What great events took place in the life of Isaac? The first thing we think about is what happened on Mount Moriah where Isaac was laid on the altar and his life was spared because God provided a substitute to die in his place. That story is recorded here in Hebrews 11. But it is recorded as a story about the faith of Abraham, not Isaac.
“By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” (Hebrews 11:17,18)
In Genesis 24, we have the story of the search for a wife for Isaac. The extraordinary thing about that story is that Isaac doesn’t feature in it at all! It is another Abraham story: Abraham sent out his servant to find a wife for Isaac. What was Isaac doing?
Here we have a quiet man who lived an unremarkable life. What’s recorded of him in Genesis is that he dug wells in various places, and then had disputes with the neighbours over who had the rights to the water!
But God’s blessing was on this unremarkable man. And Hebrews includes him in the models and examples of faith.
“By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau.” (Hebrews 11:20)
Isaac’s outstanding act of faith came right at the end of his life. He invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau. It is never too late to exercise faith.
Why does Isaac’s blessing of his sons this matter? God had said to Abraham, “I will bless you…and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:2,3).
Blessing will come to the whole world through Abraham. But this promise would not be fulfilled through Abraham personally. It would be fulfilled through his offspring. That is why the birth of Isaac was such an important event. God has said, “In your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 22:18).
This theme is taken up in the New Testament where we read,
“Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, ‘And to offsprings’ referring to many, but referring to one, ‘And to your offspring’, who is Christ” (Galatians 3:16).
Somewhere in Abraham’s line, there would be a descendent who would bring blessing to the world. And Galatians tells us that this descendent is Jesus Christ. This is why the Old Testament story focuses on the line of Abraham. God had promised that His blessing would come to the world through a Person born into this line.
In each new generation, the question was, who would continue this line? When Abraham died, the promise of blessing through his offspring was carried forward by Isaac. But Isaac had two sons: Esau and Jacob. Which of them would carry the promise forward? The greatest responsibility given to Isaac in his uneventful life, was to name and bless the heir to the promise.
Hebrews records this as the most significant event of his life, and it tells us that he gave the blessing by faith.
When we pray that God will bless someone we love, we are asking that God will bring good gifts into their lives. But when Isaac pronounced the blessing at the end of his life, he was speaking as a prophet. He was announcing the line into which the One who would bring blessing to the world would come.
We see this most clearly in Genesis 28, where Isaac says to Jacob,
“May he give the blessing of Abraham to you and to your offspring with you” (Genesis 28:4)
Hebrews records that Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau. God gives good gifts to those who despise Him as well as those who love Him. But the great blessing that was given to Jacob was that he was directly related to Jesus Christ. And it is through Christ that God’s promised blessing comes to the world.
The story of how the blessing was given is told in Genesis 27. Isaac would never have made it into faith’s hall of fame had it not been for the strength and resolve of his wife Rebekah. What a remarkable woman she was!
Rebekah had endured an unusually difficult pregnancy. Carrying twins is never easy, and Scripture tells us that the twins she carried “struggled together within her”. Jacob and his brother Esau were fighting before they were even born! God spoke to Rebekah during her pregnancy and revealed what He had planned,
“And Isaac prayed to the LORD for his wife, because she was barren. And the LORD granted his prayer, and Rebekah conceived. The children struggled together within her, and she said, ‘If it is thus, why is this happening to me?’ And 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” (Genesis 25:21-23)
“When her days to give birth were completed, behold, there were twins in her womb. The first came out red, all his body like a hairy cloak, so they called his name Esau. Afterwards his brother came out with his hand holding Esau’s heel, so his name was called Jacob” (Genesis 25:24-26)
Rebekah knew the will of God: It was God’s revealed purpose that the promise given to Abraham, and carried forward by Isaac, would continue through Jacob. But when the time came for Isaac to pronounce this blessing on his son, Rebekah realized that her husband was about to make a big mistake. Isaac had a special affection for Esau – not least because Esau was a hunter and he used to cook venison for the old man. Clearly the best way to Isaac’s heart was through his stomach! Isaac said to Esau,
“Now then, take your weapons, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field and hunt game for me, 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.” (Genesis 27:3,4)
Rebekah heard what Isaac said, and she realized that her husband was about to act in direct opposition to the revealed will of God. God had said that the promised blessing would come through the line of Jacob, but Isaac was about to pronounce the promised blessing on Esau.
What was Rebekah to do? Rebekah came up with a cunning plan: She said to Jacob,
“I heard your father speak to your brother Esau, ‘Bring me game and prepare for me delicious food, that I may eat it and bless you before the LORD before I die.’ Now therefore, my son, obey my voice as I command you.” (Genesis 27:6-8)
Rebekah was not willing to let her husband contradict the will of God. Rebekah’s plan was simple: She would prepare a meal, cooked just as Isaac liked it. Jacob would impersonate Esau, and take the food to Isaac, whose eyes were so weak that he could barely see. Then, Isaac would impart the promised blessing to Jacob.
Jacob was far from convinced that the plan would work. Esau’s skin was hairy and Jacob’s skin was smooth. The old man may not be able to see, but if he reached out and touched Jacob’s skin, he would know that this was Jacob and not Esau.
Rebekah had already thought about that. First, she dressed Jacob is Esau’s clothes that had the smell of the field on them. Then she put the hairy skin of an animal on Jacob’s hands and on his neck. And when the food was prepared, she gave it to Jacob and sent him to receive the old man’s blessing.
“When Jacob went to see his father, he said, “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.” (Genesis 27:19)
It was a downright lie. The old man seemed suspicious,
“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” (Genesis 27:21)
Jacob’s heart must have been pounding as the old man felt the animal skin on his neck and the back of his hands.
“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.” (Genesis 27:22)
Then Isaac said,
“Come near and kiss me, my son’. So, he came near and kissed him. And Isaac smelled the smell of his garments and blessed him.” (Genesis 27:26)
Jacob had hardly left when Esau returned with the food he had prepared. “Who are you?” Isaac asked. “I am your son, your firstborn, Esau” (verse 32). Scripture records,
“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, he shall be blessed’. 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!” (Genesis 27:33,34)
That’s the story, and here’s the question: Hebrews 11 tells us, “By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau” (Hebrews 11:20)
How could Isaac possibly have invoked the blessing by faith? Imparting the blessing to Jacob was not what he wanted or what he intended. Should it not say, “by mistake, Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau?” Where was the faith?
When Isaac realized what had happened, he submitted to the will of God. He accepted what had happened and made no attempt to change it. “I have blessed him, Yes, and he shall be blessed”.
In fact, as we saw earlier, Isaac repeated the blessing on Jacob. “May he give the blessing of Abraham to you and to your offspring with you” (Genesis 28:4).
This is why Hebrews says that Isaac gave the blessing by faith. If Isaac had gone with what he felt, he would have revoked the blessing on Jacob. He would have said, “I was tricked!” I never intended to give the blessing to Jacob, so what I said to him is null and void.”
But Isaac didn’t do that. He realized that what he had spoken was the word of God. He saw that behind Rebekah’s cunning trick, God was working out His sovereign purpose.
Isaac’s faith lay in this: He submitted to God, even when God’s will is not what he wanted. “I have blessed him, Yes, and he shall be blessed” (Genesis 27:33).
Here’s what genuine faith looks like: Faith submits to God, even when His plan is not what you would have chosen. When your plans are frustrated, when God doesn’t give you what you wanted, faith submits to God.
Here’s the challenge that comes to us from this story: How will you respond when God’s plan is not what you would have chosen? What will you do when your prayer is not answered, when your hope is not fulfilled, when God leads you on a painful path?
There are two ways you can go: You can be like Isaac, or you can be like Esau. Here are two men: a father and a son: They both want the same thing. Isaac wants Esau to inherit the promise. Esau wants Isaac to give him the blessing. But when God’s plan is not what they would have chosen they respond in very different ways.
Esau walked away from God
Esau is described in the New Testament as a “godless” man (Hebrews 12:16 NIV). That is, a man who lived far from God. “If God doesn’t give me what I want, I don’t want anything more to do with Him.”
When God’s plan is not what you would have chosen, you will face this temptation – to live at a distance from God because He did not give you what you wanted.
Hebrews gives us this tragic bottom line about Esau, “he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears” (Hebrews 12:17). I find that one of the saddest statements in the Bible.
He lived at a distance from God, and he couldn’t repent. He could find no repentance because he had no faith. All he had was bitter regret that God did not give him what he wanted. So, he lived at a distance from God. “I don’t want anything to do with a God who withholds what I want.”
Isaac submitted to God
Isaac is described in the New Testament as a man of faith in Hebrews 11:20. He didn’t get what he wanted, but he submitted to God’s plan. Submitting to God’s plan when it is not what you would have chosen is the sure mark of genuine faith.
You see this in the story of Isaac. You see this in the story of Job, and you see this in the story of Jesus. Jesus came to a place where the Father’s plan was not what He would have chosen. The will of God for Jesus meant enduring great pain. It meant being taken from the friends He loved. It meant bearing the sins of the world. But in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus said,
“Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me. Nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42)
That’s what faith does: Faith submits to God, even when His plan is not what you would have chosen.
What we learn from this story:
- God’s promise to bless always prevails
This story is not a moral example. This message is not “Be like Rebekah! Deceive your husband and get what you want!” The lesson is not “Be like Jacob! Tell lies to your father and you will be blessed.”
Read the rest of the story and you will see that lies and deception brought pain and sorrow. They always do. The family divided, for Jacob left home in fear of what Esau might do to him. Rebekah never saw her dearly loved son again.
So, don’t base your ethics on the story of Jacob and Rebekah. That’s not why this story is in the Bible. What we learn from this story is that God’s promise to bless always prevails.
This story is a story of hope for “far from perfect” families. It’s a story about a husband and wife who are not on the same page. It is a story of two brothers who just can’t seem to get along.
Where can God’s blessing be found in all of this? And yet God is present here working out His purpose though the pain of this troubled family.
This is a story of lies, deception, and betrayal with a kiss. But God’s promise to bless all the families of the earth moved forward through it all.
It points us forward to the New Testament, where we read about a disciple of Jesus who lied, and deceived, and betrayed his Master with a kiss. And God’s promise to bring blessing to the world moved forward through it all.
If you should endure the pain of lies and deception and betrayal with a kiss, your first thought may be that this is the end of hope. But God’s promise to bless always prevails.
- God’s promise to bless is a gift, not a right
“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23, 24)
No one is entitled to the blessing of God. It is a gift, not a right. It cannot be earned or deserved.
By convention the blessing went to the eldest child. So, Esau thought it was his by right. But God does not work by convention.
“For He says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion” (Romans 9:15)
Esau wanted the blessing, and he went to work to get it. He hunted the game. He cooked the stew. “If I put in the effort; if I do the work, I will be rewarded with the blessing.” But despite all his effort, he didn’t get what he wanted.
You see the same spirit of entitlement in the elder brother in Jesus’ story of the Prodigal Son. The elder brother worked hard. And because he worked hard, he felt entitled. He says to his father,
“but he answered his father ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, … (Luke 15:29)
Have you ever felt like that? Lord, I have lived a good life. I have worked hard. I have kept your commandments. Now why have you not given what I want?
Esau thought the blessing of God was his right. But no one has a right to the blessing of God. That includes Jacob! He certainly did not deserve to inherit the blessing. And we don’t deserve it either!
God’s blessing is a gift, not a right. If you would receive the blessing of God, you must give up claiming it as a right. You must humble yourself and receive it as a gift.
- God’s promise to bless is ours in Jesus Christ
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:28,29)
In the Old Testament the blessing of being heir to the promise only went to one person in each generation. But here we are told that the promised blessing will come to men and women of every generation and every social status. Jew, Greek, slave, free, male, female; You are Abraham’s offspring! You are heirs of the promise of God, if you belong to Jesus Christ.
The arms of Jesus Christ are extended towards you today. The blessing of being adopted into God’s family. The blessing of being His forever can be yours through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Think about this: Jacob came to Isaac, dressed in Esau’s clothing and received a blessing that he did not deserve.
We come to the Father as sinners, clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ our Saviour and Lord. And when we do come in this way, God’s blessing will be ours.