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Faith in a future

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The faith, while dying, of Isaac, Jacob and Joseph

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Faith in a future

The faith of Isaac, Jacob and Joseph
Hebrews 11:20–22 NIV
By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future. By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff. By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions concerning the burial of his bones.
As we continue our journey through the letter to the Hebrews, and we have reached the point where the writer, in just a couple of verses, refers to the faith of Isaac, Jacob and Joseph, I want to take you back to the moment when God called Abraham. Do you remember what God said?
Gen 12: 2-3 ““I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.””
To Isaac, Jacob and Joseph these words from God to Abraham, this blessing and this promise would have been so significant, so important, that it had the effect of determining who they were — a people who had been called out from among every other tribe and nation to be a people belonging to God.
The blessing to Abraham was not the first mention of God’s blessing. We find it in Gen 1:28-30 “God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.”
Then again in Gen 5:1-2 “This is the written account of Adam’s family line. When God created mankind, he made them in the likeness of God. He created them male and female and blessed them. And he named them “Mankind” when they were created.”
It was God’s will that his favour and goodness should rest upon all mankind, but we know that the fall changed that. Instead of blessing there was a curse. Instead of fellowship there was enmity.
Just look at Gen 3: 14-15 “So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, “Cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.””
And Gen 3:17 “To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life.”
The fall had consequences, not just for Adam and mankind, but for the created world, too. It will produce food, but only through toil.
If you look carefully at verse 15 you will discover that God’s favour, or God’s blessing, is still there. The woman has not been abandoned to Satan or left out of God’s presence. She has a future; she will have a child. And she is very much part of God’s plan.
God still wants to bestow his favour, but now his blessing is conditional. It is for those who know and obey him:
Ps 128:1 “Blessed are all who fear the Lord, who walk in obedience to him.”
Ec 8:12 “Although a wicked person who commits a hundred crimes may live a long time, I know that it will go better with those who fear God, who are reverent before him.”
Psalm 1 begins: Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked
and it ends: For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.
That curse was already there in Genesis 3:15 : “you will eat dust all the days of your life” and “he will crush your head.” Without God’s favour, the end is only death.
The first time we witness God’s blessing, and curse, being passed on was when Noah had got drunk and fell asleep naked in his tent. Ham saw it and reported to his two brothers, who took a garment and walked in backwards so that they would not see their father naked.
In response to this episode Noah pronounced a curse and a blessing:
gen 9: 24-27 “When Noah awoke from his wine and found out what his youngest son had done to him, he said, “Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers.” He also said, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Shem! May Canaan be the slave of Shem. May God extend Japheth’s territory; may Japheth live in the tents of Shem, and may Canaan be the slave of Japheth.””
We cannot dismiss these words as merely those of an angry man. Noah was speaking here of a future, giving a prophetic message that he would not see in his lifetime, but would indeed come to pass. Canaan was Ham’s fourth son and he received the curse, not Ham, probably because Noah’s sons, Ham included, had been blessed by God in Genesis 9:1 “Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth.”
Shem, although he was not the eldest son of Noah, was singled out to be the bearer of God’s blessing and it was through one of his descendants that God was going to continue his plan of Salvation. That descendant was Abraham who showed his faith in his obedience to God’s Call and, later, in his obedience to God’s command. It’s not that Abraham was perfect, for therec were times in his life when he did things which were outside the will if God. However, the writer to the Hebrews mentions none of those things. having been reckoned by God as righteous because of his belief, not a single sin was, or would ever be held to his account. It was faith alone which was important, and it was faith in a future. I will make of you a great nation and through you shall all nations be blessed. Abraham would not see this in his lifetime, but it is that promise and the promise of the land that sustained Abraham throughout the rest of his life till he died at the age of 175.
As we move on from Abraham, the writer , in the next three verses, takes us to the faith of Isaac, of Jacob and of Joseph. Up to this point Faith has been demonstrated in what the patriarchs did. Abel’s act of sacrifice was an act of worship. Enoch’s faith in God was shown in his walk with God. Noah’s faith was made clear in the work that he did for God, the building of the ark. In Isaac, Jacob and Joseph their faith is demonstrated in what they said. And it was all to do with their confidence in a future. They would not see it in their lifetime, but they were convinced that God would and will keep his Promise.
Hebrews 11:1 “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”
The Faith of Isaac
Heb 11:20 “By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future.”
We witnessed Isaac’s faith at the time of Abraham’s test of faith on Mount Moriah, and Isaac would certainly have been present when God reaffirmed his covenant with Abraham. Gen 22:17 - 18 “I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.””
We have no record that Abraham blessed Isaac, but Isaac would have known from his father that God had promised a future for him and his descendants and that even from before he was born Isaac was to be part of God’s plan: Gen 17:21 “But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year.””
He would also have known that for four hundred years his descendants would be strangers in a country not their own, but that they would come back to their Promised Land.
Isaac, the son of the Promise, loved by Abraham and Sarah. His life should have been pleasant and despite some difficulties over wells in the Valley of Gerar, he was content. It was there that God appeared to him and repeated the Promise:
Gen 26:22-25 “He moved on from there and dug another well, and no one quarreled over it. He named it Rehoboth, saying, “Now the Lord has given us room and we will flourish in the land.” From there he went up to Beersheba. That night the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bless you and will increase the number of your descendants for the sake of my servant Abraham.” Isaac built an altar there and called on the name of the Lord. There he pitched his tent, and there his servants dug a well.”
However this life of contentment did not last. When you look at the account of his life in 25 to 27 you discover that Isaac was head of one of the most disfunctional families in the Bible. To begin with Rebecca had been childless for about twenty years; then she had that difficult birth when Esau and jacob were born and God gave her the prophecy that the older will serv e the younger: Gen 25:23 “The Lord said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.””
And how different they were. Gen 25: 27-28 “The boys grew up, and Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was content to stay at home among the tents. Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob.”
Esau cared nothing for spiritual things. he sold his birthright for a bowl of stew. He married pagan Girls: Gen 26:34-35 “When Esau was forty years old, he married Judith daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and also Basemath daughter of Elon the Hittite. They were a source of grief to Isaac and Rebekah.”
The passing on of God’s blessing from father to son was recognised by everyone in the family as being of great significance. Isaac thought he was about to die, although in fact he lived on for more than a decade. at this point he was driven by his own desires rather than God’s will. He knew that Rebecca had been told by God that Jacob would be the one through whom the Promise would continue. Yet he still seemed determined to bless Esau.
Esau, even though he was a profane man, still wanted to receive his father’s blessing. Heb 12:17 “Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. Even though he sought the blessing with tears, he could not change what he had done.”
Rebecca was prepared to deceive Isaac to ensure that the son she loved, Jacob, should receive the blessing
Jacob was prepared to connive with Rebecca and to lie to his father.
There was sin in this family, but although their actions were sinful, the one thing that they had in common was that they believed in the Promise.
Even though he wanted to bless Esau as firstborn, his blessing to Jacob was as if to the firstborn and was given in faith and that blessing would stand; it could not be changed. When he realised that he had been tricked:
Gen 27:33 “Isaac trembled violently and said, “Who was it, then, that hunted game and brought it to me? I ate it just before you came and I blessed him—and indeed he will be blessed!””
Isaac trembled, probably not in anger, but when he realised that he had been going against God. God will have his way. God’s purpose could not be thwarted by the failures and sins of the people in this family. We have seen time and again in scripture that God uses flawed people as he works out his purposes and often we cannot know how he does it.
The faith of Jacob
Heb 11:21 “By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.”
Jacob was by no means a perfect human being and his story, as told in Genesis, shows him to be a man, who, despite his weaknesses and fears and failures, was a man in whom faith was present throughout his life. The writer to the Hebrews chose to highlight only this act of faith at the end of Jacob’s life, when he was dying at the age of 147 in Egypt, far from the Land of Promise. Remember Heb 11:1 “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”
This was the faith of Jacob on his deathbed. He could die, knowing that God would fulfil his promise and that for him and his descendants there would be a resurrection. His act of blessing the sons of Joseph was an act of worship to God.
Jacob had lived most of his life, just like his father Isaac and his grandfather Abraham as a sojourner in the land that God had promised to them. Yet here he was in Egypt, having lived there since the age of 130 with the whole family. There was no member of the family left in Canaan. No doubt he remembered what God had said to him: Gen 46:3-4 ““I am God, the God of your father,” he said. “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. I will go down to Egypt with you, and I will surely bring you back again. And Joseph’s own hand will close your eyes.””
Shortly before he died Jacob did something important that prepared the way when it was time to pass on the blessing. we find it in verse 5 of Genesis 48. He adopted as his own the two sons of Joseph. Their mother was Egyptian. They were born in Egypt. Their Grandfather was priest of a pagan Religion. They probably knew of their father’s God and his faith, but the life they led was in Egypt, and a good life it was, too, since they were the sons of one of the most powerful leaders in Egypt. They were Egyptian.
Genesis 48:5 ““Now then, your two sons born to you in Egypt before I came to you here will be reckoned as mine; Ephraim and Manasseh will be mine, just as Reuben and Simeon are mine.”
Jacob in faith claimed them as belonging to him and his family, and by extension, belonging to God. Now he could give them his blessing.
You might ask why he did not give the blessing to his eldest son Reuben. Reuben lost the right of the firstborn because he had slept with one of Jacob’s two concubines, Bilhah. 1 Chron 5:1-2 “The sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel (he was the firstborn, but when he defiled his father’s marriage bed, his rights as firstborn were given to the sons of Joseph son of Israel; so he could not be listed in the genealogical record in accordance with his birthright, and though Judah was the strongest of his brothers and a ruler came from him, the rights of the firstborn belonged to Joseph)—”
When he blessed Joseph’s two sons it was a deliberate act to place his right hand on the head of Ephraim instead of Manasseh , contrary to what Joseph wished, since Manasseh was the firstborn. Gen 48 : 18-19 “Joseph said to him, “No, my father, this one is the firstborn; put your right hand on his head.” But his father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know. He too will become a people, and he too will become great. Nevertheless, his younger brother will be greater than he, and his descendants will become a group of nations.””
In faith he declared: Gen 48:21 “Then Israel said to Joseph, “I am about to die, but God will be with you and take you back to the land of your fathers.”
Remember Heb 11:1 “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”
The faith of Joseph
Heb 11:22 “By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions concerning the burial of his bones.”
The story of Joseph is as well known to us as it was to the Jewish Christians who first read the letter. His faith was demonstrated in so many ways throughout his life and yet the author chose only to highlight his dying days.
This was all to do with the future that God had promised. All that had gone before — his journey to Egypt as a slave; his time in Potiphar’s household and then those years in prison, forgotten, it seemed, by everyone except God; his establishment as Pharaoh’s second in command at the age of thirty; his brothers coming to Egypt in the famine years and then Jacob and his whole family settling in Egypt and prospering there. All evidence of God’s providence at work and Joseph’s faith in that providence. The remarkable thing is that in all the years before his family came to Egypt there was nothing, absolutely nothing in Egypt to encourage him in his faith in God. He was a stranger in a foreign land, among a people who worshiped foreign Gods; he was married to the daughter of a priest of a pagan religion. Yet through it all Joseph maintained his integrity and his faith. Perhaps it was a remembering of his dreams that helped him in his faith, but we do know from Genesis 39 :2 “The Lord was with Joseph so that he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master.” and Gen 39:23 “The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.”
Do you remember what Joseph said to his brothers:
When he first revealed himself, he made this prophetic statement:
Gen 45:7 “But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.”
And then later, after Jacob had died:
Gen 50: 19-20 “But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”
Now , near the end of his life at the age of 110, he remembers the words of his father jacob, some 50 years before. Incidentally, Jacob had come to Egypt at the age of 130 and had died at the age of 147, so God had graciously allowed Jacob to have Joseph for the first 17 years of his life and for Joseph to take care of his father for the last 17 years of Jacob’s life.
The words that Joseph remembered were;
Gen 48: 3-4 “Jacob said to Joseph, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and there he blessed me and said to me, ‘I am going to make you fruitful and increase your numbers. I will make you a community of peoples, and I will give this land as an everlasting possession to your descendants after you.’”
And he also remembered the words of God to Abraham that had been passed to him.
Gen 15:13-14 “Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions.”
This was the future that he held to in faith. When he gave his instructions regarding his bones, he was declaring that he was not an Egyptian, but an Israelite. Egypt was not his home. His home was in the land that God had promised and even though all of the Israelites were living a life of prosperity in a fertile region of Egypt he knew that one day God would take all of them to that Promised Land. He had no idea how or when, but he could confidently leave that to God.
Heb 11:1 “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”
As one of the most powerful men in Egypt, Joseph would have been entitled too a state funeral and his body interred in a place akin to those in the Valley of the Kings or the Pyramids. Instead he had his body placed in a coffin. Why? Because a coffin could be carried.
At the end of his life Joseph did two things. He reassured his brothers;
Gen 50:24 “Then Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die. But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.””
And he made a public declaration to the Isrealites:
Gen 50:25 “And Joseph made the Israelites swear an oath and said, “God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up from this place.””
In all the years that followed, right up to the Exodus and beyond, Joseph’s coffin was in view as a reminder to the Israelites of God’s Promise and of God’s faithfulness.
Joseph died in faith, knowing that one day in the future he, along with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob and all those before him who had died in faith and all the believers after him would see God’s Promise fulfilled and that they would live in that Promised land. Death was not the end for them, nor is it the end for all who have the faith that the writer to the Hebrews has been describing. The writers purpose in recording the faith of Isaac, Jacob and Joseph at the end of their lives was to encourage his readers to grasp the truth that God’s Promise was not just for those Patriarchs, but also for all who have accepted Christ as Lord. He makes that known in the last two verses of Chapter 11.(39,40)
These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.
‌That’s the thought that I want to end with. All the Patriarchs and Saints, who have gone before will be made perfect together with us. Together with us! Wow!
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