By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come (Hebrews 11:20).
This is a curious statement, because if we go back to Genesis 27, we see that Isaac’s intention was not to bless Jacob at all, but to give the blessing to Esau. There was clear favoritism in this family, as we shall see. The two boys. Jacob and Esau, were twins, and while their mother, Rebekah, was pregnant, they had struggled together within her so she went to the LORD to ask what was wrong. He spoke to reassure her.
“Two nations are in your womb,
Two peoples shall be separated from your body;
One shall be stronger than the other,
And the older shall serve the younger.”
Esau was the older, the firstborn, and Jacob had come out holding onto the heel of his brother. They grew up to be very different young men. And Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field; but Jacob was a mild man, dwelling in tents. And Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob (Genesis 25:27).
So when Isaac grew old, he had a plan. He called Esau, the eldest twin, and told him to go hunt game for him, “and make savory food, such as I love, and bring it to me that I may eat, that my soul may bless you before I die” (Genesis 27:4). Of course, we know from the LORD’s previous words to Rebekah that the eldest was not to receive the blessing.
And in the providence of God, Isaac did not end up blessing Esau -- because Rebekah also had a plan. She overheard Isaac’s words to Esau, and as soon as he had gathered up his quiver and bow, she ran to Jacob and instructed him on her deceitful plan to trick Isaac into blessing him instead. After all, the blessing was rightly his, because God had given precedence to the younger ("And the older shall serve the younger.")
Rebekah quickly set her plan of deception in motion. She cooked up a savory stew, found Esau’s best clothes and put them on Jacob (so he would smell like Esau), and covered Jacob’s smooth hands and the back of his neck with kidskin, so he would feel hairy to the touch, like his brother.
Jacob followed through. He took the stew to his father and lied to him, “I am Esau your firstborn; I have done just as you told me; please arise, sit and eat of my game, that your soul may bless me.” Isaac was a bit puzzled at first. His eyes were so dim that he could not see (27:1), but it sure smelled like Esau, and the hands were hairy like Esau’s, and the aroma of the stew Rebekah had whipped up was inviting. So Isaac was deceived. He ate and drank and then called his son, who he thought to be Esau, near to him and blessed him.
"....may God give you of the dew of heaven,
Of the fatness of the earth
And plenty of grain and wine.
Let the peoples serve you,
And nations bow down to you.
Be master over your brethren,
And let your mother's sons bow down to you.
Cursed be everyone who curses you,
And blessed be those who bless you."
It wasn’t long before Esau returned home with his game and took the savory food to his father. Isaac was shocked beyond words! He trembled exceedingly (27:33). He surely realized right away that God had dealt with his disobedience. Surely he remembered the LORD’s words to Rebekah before the twins were born, “Two nations are in your womb….. And the older shall serve the younger.” Furthermore, and above all, Isaac knew the blessing and promise from God had been given to Abraham :
"I will make you a great nation;
I will bless you
And make your name great;
And you shall be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
And I will curse him who curses you;
And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (Genesis 12:2-3).
This blessing had been passed down to him and he knew this blessing was to continue through Jacob (not Esau). But knowing full well the destiny of the promise, he was willing to defy God’s plan by blessing Esau. Disobedience! Rebellion!
This whole story is one of favoritism, lies, and deceit. Isaac tried to alter the channel of the blessing from God. He knew through whom God’s blessings would be fulfilled, but he wanted to alter the channel and have them come through Esau, his favorite. Rebekah knew Isaac was wrong and took the matter into her own hands, failing to trust God. Jacob, though he had a heart for God, deceived and lied to his father to obtain the blessing he longed for.
But where is Isaac’s faith in all this? After being confronted by the pitiful, weeping Esau, who, by the way, is described in Hebrews 12:16 as a profane person, Isaac responded, "I have blessed him [Jacob] -- and indeed he shall be blessed" (Genesis 27:33). S. Lewis Johnson, in his sermon, “The Faith of the Patriarchs”, sees Isaac’s statement as an act of faith. Isaac had sinned in trying to deviate from God’s revealed plan, but now he held to that plan in faith. His words, “And indeed he shall be blessed,” indicate Isaac’s genuine faith, as he recognized, in the midst of it all, the providential hand of God. “It was something he didn’t want. It was something he was willing to attempt to alter. But when God in effect had providentially caused him to bless the person he didn’t think he was blessing, he said, ‘And indeed he shall be blessed.’ So he bowed to the providence of God.”
Isaac is an illustration of the way we ought to act when we have sinned and acted in rebellion against God. Have you ever done that? Have you ever deliberately acted in defiance of what you knew was right and good and God’s will? Have you ever wanted something so badly that you didn’t care if you sinned - you just did it? When you’ve done something that is plainly wrong and it’s pointed out to you, how have you responded? Isaac acknowledged that he was wrong and that God was right. He showed faith in response to his sin.
Even though we are saved, we are still sinners and tempted in this world. Even when we go astray, may our faith always reign in the end.
By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac (Hebrews 11:17)
So far, in Hebrews Chapter 11, we have seen Abel’s faith in his offering to God, Enoch’s faith in his walk with God, Noah’s faith in his obedience to God, Abraham’s faith in following God into the unknown, and Sarah’s faith that God would give her the ability to conceive and bear a child in her old age.
Now, the writer of Hebrews is giving us a deeper look at Abraham’s faith. We saw Abraham embark on his journey of faith by following God’s command to leave his home in Ur of the Chaldees and travel to an unknown land. Now we see the depth of Abraham’s faith and his commitment to obey God when the cost gets greater and his understanding is still small.
Hebrews 11:17 tells us that God was testing Abraham. God tested Abraham by commanding him to take his son Isaac, whom he loved, to the land of Moriah and offer him as a burnt offering (Genesis 22:1). Can you imagine how Abraham must have felt? Isaac was his son, his flesh and blood, the son of promise, the miracle son of his old age. And all of God's promises were bound up in Isaac. God had promised Abraham, “In Isaac your descendants shall be called.” God’s promises to Abraham were to be fulfilled through Isaac. Yet God commanded Abraham to offer up Isaac as a sacrifice. Read Genesis 22:1-14 for the full and true story of Abraham’s heart-rending obedience to God. But don’t miss what our writer to the Hebrews tells us in 11:19. As Abraham acted deliberately and faithfully in obedience and fear of God, he considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead. Abraham had full and complete faith in God’s promise concerning Isaac. He was so sure of it that he was willing to obey God’s command to offer his son as a burnt offering. Abraham knew that God had the power to raise his son from the dead and he had faith that God would keep the promises He had made.
But God’s plan for Isaac was not death. As Abraham lifted the knife to sacrifice his son, the Angel of the LORD spoke to him, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad,…..for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me” (Genesis 22:12). And as Abraham looked up, he saw a ram caught in the bushes, and he took the ram and offered it in the place of his son.
And Abraham called the name of that place The LORD Will Provide, as it is said to this day, “In the mount of the LORD it will be provided” (Genesis 22:14).
By God’s grace, provision had come and rather than Isaac’s death, a substitute had been supplied. Instead of Isaac’s blood being shed, a sacrificial animal was offered in his place. With thankful heart, Abraham named the place “The LORD Will Provide.” He didn’t name the mountain, “The LORD Has Provided” because, as at least one commentator has observed, there was more to come. And the more that God would provide was Jesus Christ who came by His grace as the perfect substitutionary sacrifice for our sins (Romans 5:8). But now Christ has been raised from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:20).
Hebrews 11:19 ends with the words, Abraham received him (Isaac) back as a type. By faith, Abraham relinquished Isaac to God, fully intending to obey His command to sacrifice his son. But God, by His grace, gave Isaac back to Abraham, in a figurative sense, just as if he had died. Isaac’s "resurrection" was a parable, symbolic of Jesus’ physical resurrection from the dead. And in that Isaac was a type of Christ.
What a profound application of Abraham’s faith. God used this picture of the depth of Abraham's faith to show us, and help us understand, the depth of His love and grace and commitment to us, as sinners.
How does God desire to use your faith to show others His love, His grace, and His mercy?
I have been involved in Disciplers since 1987, as a discussion leader, teacher, writer, and now as director. I am profoundly committed to the stewardship of this ministry which God has entrusted to me for a time. God’s word is the chief joy of my life. I cherish my personal time in the word, and I am filled with gratitude to be able to share His word with you, my fellow disciples in Christ.