This morning we come to Hebrews 11:20, a very brief statement, indeed:
20 By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau, even regarding things to come. (Hebrews 11:20)
That’s a simple statement; Isaac, the good father, blesses his sons.
That is, unless you are familiar with the story where Isaac blesses his sons.
Let’s look at Genesis 27.
Let’s work through this story.
1 Now it came about, when Isaac was old and his eyes were too dim to see, that he called his older son Esau and said to him, “My son.” And he said to him, “Here I am.” 2 Isaac said, “Behold now, I am old and I do not know the day of my death. 3 Now then, please take your gear, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field and hunt game for me; 4 and prepare a savory dish for me such as I love, and bring it to me that I may eat, so that my soul may bless you before I die.” (Genesis 27:1–4)
As Genesis 27 opens, Isaac is old and blind, apparently bed-ridden (Genesis 27:19, 31), and close to death.
Isaac was well aware that while Rebekah was still pregnant, the Lord had revealed to her that her twin sons would always be in conflict, and that the older – Esau – would serve the younger – Jacob.
Esau was Isaac’s favorite because Esau was a hunter, an outdoorsman, a man’s man, and regularly brought home fresh game. Jacob, on the other hand, was Rebekah’s favorite, perhaps because he was a peaceful man, happy to live in tents. (Genesis 25:27-28).
The Scripture tells us that Esau was self-willed and governed by his appetites. He was willing to sell his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of stew because he was hungry; he even claimed he was dying from hunger, which was obviously not true. The Spirit of God makes clear that Esau despised his birthright. (Genesis 25:29-34; Hebrews 12:15-17).
Esau also married two Hittite women, Judith and Basemath, a decision which brought grief to Isaac and Rebekah. (Genesis 26:34-35).
God had said to Rebekah while she was pregnant that the older would serve the younger. The fact that we read this in Genesis 25 means that it wasn’t a secret; Isaac knew it too. Rebekah was fine with it; Jacob was her favorite. But Isaac loved Esau more, and in spite of Esau’s self-absorption and narcissism, Isaac decided that he would secretly bless his favorite son. He asked Esau to go and hunt wild game and prepare it for him, and promised to bless him after he ate.
Where’s the deception? Blessings were never meant to be secret things. When the time came for Jacob to bless his sons, in Genesis 49, he called them all together. So Isaac is trying to sidestep God’s purposes by keeping Rebekah and Jacob out of the loop.
5 Rebekah was listening while Isaac spoke to his son Esau. So when Esau went to the field to hunt for game to bring home, 6 Rebekah said to her son Jacob, “Behold, I heard your father speak to your brother Esau, saying, 7 ‘Bring me some game and prepare a savory dish for me, that I may eat, and bless you in the presence of the Lord before my death.’ 8 “Now therefore, my son, listen to me as I command you. 9 Go now to the flock and bring me two choice young goats from there, that I may prepare them as a savory dish for your father, such as he loves. 10 Then you shall bring it to your father, that he may eat, so that he may bless you before his death.” 11 Jacob answered his mother Rebekah, “Behold, Esau my brother is a hairy man and I am a smooth man. 12 Perhaps my father will feel me, then I will be as a deceiver in his sight, and I will bring upon myself a curse and not a blessing.” 13 But his mother said to him, “Your curse be on me, my son; only obey my voice, and go, get them for me.” 14 So he went and got them, and brought them to his mother; and his mother made savory food such as his father loved. 15 Then Rebekah took the best garments of Esau her elder son, which were with her in the house, and put them on Jacob her younger son. 16 And she put the skins of the young goats on his hands and on the smooth part of his neck. 17 She also gave the savory food and the bread, which she had made, to her son Jacob. (Genesis 27:5–17)
Rebekah has a plan to counter Isaac’s deceit, and we see it here.
Notice that Jacob objects in Genesis 27:11-12, not because of the immorality of this deception, but because of the consequences if he got caught. But Rebekah had that covered as well. She dressed Jacob in Esau’s clothes, and then puts fresh goat skin, complete with hair, on Jacob’s hands and neck
Just as Isaac believed that he could control the purposes of God, Rebekah believed that God and Jacob needed her help. Both Isaac and Rebekah believed that God was powerless to stop Isaac from blessing Esau.
Notice how suspicious Isaac is, and how deceptive Jacob is:
18 Then he came 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. Get up, please, sit and eat of my game, that you may bless me.” 20 Isaac said to his son, “How is it that you have it so quickly, my son?” And he said, “Because the Lord your God caused it to happen to me.” 21 Then Isaac said to Jacob, “Please come close, that I may feel you, my son, whether you are really my son Esau or not.” 22 So Jacob came close to Isaac his father, and he felt him and said, “The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” 23 He did not recognize him, because his hands were hairy like his brother Esau’s hands; so he blessed him. 24 And he said, “Are you really my son Esau?” And he said, “I am.” 25 So he said, “Bring it to me, and I will eat of my son’s game, that I may bless you.” And he brought it to him, and he ate; he also brought him wine and he drank. 26 Then his father Isaac said to him, “Please come close and kiss me, my son.” 27 So he came close and kissed him; and when he smelled the smell of his garments, he blessed him and said, “See, the smell of my son Is like the smell of a field which the Lord has blessed; (Genesis 27:18–27)
Isaac was right to be suspicious; Jacob lied the entire time.
We can imagine Jacob sitting there while Isaac ate and drank, sweating under the freshly skinned goat hides, probably staring at the tent flap, listening for the sounds of Esau returning. Isaac was finally full of food and wine, and formally blesses his son.
28 Now may God give you of the dew of heaven, and of the fatness of the earth, and an abundance of grain and new wine [this is material prosperity and riches, primarily in agriculture and livestock]; 29 may peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you [this is power and prestige and honor]; be master of your brothers, and may your mother’s sons bow down to you [this is formal leadership of the family; he is to be the patriarch from this time on]. Cursed be those who curse you, and blessed be those who bless you [Isaac finishes with a summary of the Abrahamic covenant, thinking that the genealogy will read “Abraham, Isaac, Esau.”].” (Genesis 27:28–29)
Jacob left as soon as he could.
ISAAC LEARNS THE TRUTH
ISAAC LEARNS THE TRUTH
30 Now it came about, as soon as Isaac had finished blessing Jacob, and Jacob had hardly gone out from the presence of Isaac his father, that Esau his brother came in from his hunting. 31 Then he also made savory 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 Isaac his father said to him, “Who are you?” And he said, “I am your son, your firstborn, Esau.” 33 Then Isaac trembled violently, and said, “Who was he then that hunted game and brought it to me, so that I ate of all of it before you came, and blessed him? Yes, and he shall be blessed.” (Genesis 27:30–33)
The revelation that he had blessed Jacob and not Esau shakes Isaac to his core. This shock went all the way through him. It was a perfect plan. Secretly bless Esau with the patriarchy, without Rebekah and Jacob’s knowledge. He tried to get around God’s purposes, and violated the custom by carrying out a secret blessing. But it blew up in his face.
Isaac had come to put his love of Esau ahead of his love of God. He knew that God had rejected Esau as the heir. But he loved Esau more than God. This is important – Isaac’s love for Esau didn’t change the Lord’s eternal purpose. Instead, Yahweh ripped Isaac’s self-sufficiency into shreds.
“Yes, and he shall be blessed.” (Genesis 27:33).
This final phrase is Isaac’s submission to God’s purpose. Isaac refused to retract the blessing he gave Jacob.
He made no attempt to retract the blessing given to Jacob, even though Jacob obtained it through deception. Instead, Isaac acknowledged that this was the will of God, and leaves the blessing in place: “Yes, and he shall be blessed.”
34 When 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 And he said, “Your brother came deceitfully and has taken away your blessing.” 36 Then he said, “Is he not rightly named Jacob, for he has supplanted me these two times? He took away my birthright, and behold, now he has taken away my blessing.” And he said, “Have you not reserved a blessing for me?” 37 But Isaac replied to Esau, “Behold, I have made him your master, and all his relatives I have given to him as servants; and with grain and new wine I have sustained him. Now as for you then, what can I do, my son?” 38 Esau said to his father, “Do you have only one blessing, my father? Bless me, even me also, O my father.” So Esau lifted his voice and wept. 39 Then Isaac his father answered and said to him, “Behold, away from the fertility of the earth shall be your dwelling, And away from the dew of heaven from above. 40 “By your sword you shall live, And your brother you shall serve; But it shall come about when you become restless, That you will break his yoke from your neck.” (Genesis 27:34–40)
Esau’s reaction is agonizing and emotional, and your heart might go out to him; mine certain does.
But at the same time the testimony of Scripture, which means the testimony of God Himself, is that Esau had despised his birthright (Genesis 25:34), and that he was an immoral, godless man (Hebrews 12:16).
The really chilling part of this story is what Hebrews 12:17 says, looking back:
17 For you know that even afterwards, when [Esau] desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears. (Hebrews 12:17)
There are decisions that cannot be unmade. There are words that cannot be unsaid. There are consequences that cannot be avoided.
We want to think that there is always forgiveness available, always an opportunity to do the right thing, to turn your life around.
But John writes this in First John 5,
16 If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask and God will for him give life to those who commit sin not leading to death. There is a sin leading to death; I do not say that he should make request for this. (1 John 5:16)
When Korah and the others rebelled against the Lord and Moses, they were consumed by the earth. There was no forgiveness, no restoration.
The sons of Eli the high priest, who were themselves priests, and had defiled the tabernacle, died under the judgment of God. Eli tried to warn them, but they refused to listen
25 “If one man sins against another, God will mediate for him; but if a man sins against the Lord, who can intercede for him?” But they would not listen to the voice of their father, for the Lord desired to put them to death. (1 Samuel 2:25)
Hebrews 6 warns those who get close to eternal life, but will not believe, that once they fall away from what they have begun to learn, there will no longer be any hope of repentance.
Esau saw his error; he understood his sin; he realized what he had done; it broke his heart; he wept over his life. With tears still running down his face, he tried every way possible to repent. But the door of repentance was never opened to him.
What an irony, that Esau pleads with Isaac, “Have you not reserved a blessing for me?”
No, Isaac didn’t reserve a blessing for him. There is nothing left to give him. Now, before you start feeling sorry for Esau, remember that Isaac left in reserve for Esau because he left nothing in reserve for Jacob.
ISAAC IN HEBREWS
ISAAC IN HEBREWS
Hebrews 11:20 makes a very simple, straightforward statement:
20 By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau, even regarding things to come. (Hebrews 11:20)
It sounds nice, actually, until you actually look into the Scriptures to see the story.
Isaac, who favored Esau over Jacob, thought he could outwit and outmaneuver God.
Esau, who was an immoral, godless man, driven to satisfy his own appetites, had already traded his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of stew, and was more than happy to get it back so easily.
Rebekah, who favored Jacob over Esau, believed what God said about the older serving the younger; she was pleased to have Jacob in a place of prominence. But when God’s promise seemed to be threatened by Isaac’s plan, she didn’t believe that the Lord could – or would – keep HIS promise to make Jacob the patriarch.
And Jacob, who had a reputation for being an opportunist, only worried about getting caught, not about the immorality of the deception.
And in what sense did Isaac bless Esau? He pronounced the only benediction left: you get the desert and the droughts and violence and rebellion.
You might think about these people, and wonder why the Lord didn’t choose better people to further His plan.
But the truth is that there are no better people, only people whose sins and wrongs aren’t as offensive as others might be. As long this age continues, God can only work through sinners. He can only choose sinners. He could have picked people who were better than others, that’s true, but then His choice would be have based on them, and not on His own sovereignty and freedom as Creator.
Among all the shameful, embarrassing, and perplexing things in this story, there is a single light of hope: By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau.
We can point to all the things that shouldn’t have been, but the one thing that actually mattered was firmly in place. Isaac believed Yahweh. He believed that the son whom he blessed would be blessed by Yahweh. That’s why after he and Esau learned what had happened, Jacob makes it clear that he can’t undo his blessing: “Yes, and he shall be blessed.”
BRINGING IT HOME
BRINGING IT HOME
With all the confusion around him, with all the divided loyalties and the family tensions, Isaac retained a firmly faith in the Lord. I think their situation become so complex that even Solomon would have shrugged and walked away.
But Isaac trusted God. He blessed Jacob and Esau in faith. It’s really hard to say that he acted in good faith, since so much of what he did was obviously wrong. But nevertheless, he believed that God would honor his blessing. And, the Lord did, as history shows.
We must be people of faith, no matter how confusing our circumstances are, even when we are the ones who confused and scrambled them.
We must avoid trying to manage the Lord’s purposes. In some circumstances we can be so determined to get the right outcome that we ignore everything else. A huge part of faith is trusting that the Lord is building His house. Nothing will prevent Him from building it; nothing will ever knock it down.
We must warn ourselves and others that repentance is a gift from God, and the time may come when He refuses to give that gift. We like to think that as long as there is life, there is hope. From our point of view, that’s certainly true. But the Lord can, and does, give people over to their sin and rebellion, and as in the case of Esau, it is not always at the moment of death.
Finally, we must do what we know to be right, living according to the Word of God, keeping a clean conscience, proclaiming the Gospel clearly and faithfully, refusing to compromise the honor and glory of God for anything.