July 8, 2018
When I think about the Giants of the faith in the Bible, Isaac is usually not toward the top of my list (at least initially). Yes, God repeatedly refers to himself as “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” but I guess that in my mind, I still see him as a kind of place-holder between his better-known father and his better-known son.
Think about it, 14 chapters of Genesis are dedicated to Abraham and 13 chapter are dedicated to Jacob. Isaac has only 2 chapters sandwiched in between. True, he is mentioned elsewhere, but when it comes to Scriptural real-estate, much more is given to his father before him and to his son after him. Yet, the book of Hebrews very intentionally names him amongst the other “Heroes of the faith.” And interestingly so, he is remembered perhaps a little differently than we might remember him.
The author addresses this in verse 20:
“By faith, Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau with reference to future things.”
Now, if you go to Genesis 27, you will find both the blessings of Isaac. First to Jacob, who had deceived his father to get his older-brother’s blessing and second to Esau who lamented the loss of the blessing after his father had given it to his brother.
Upon Jacob, he pronounces a blessing of fertility of the land, rulership over his family, and a continuation of his father, Abraham’s blessing: “Cursed be everyone who curses you and blessed be everyone who blesses you.”
On Esau, there is a blessing that he will live by the power of the sword and though he is under Jacob’s power, when he grows great, he will break Jacob’s yoke — a blessing that sounds somewhat similar to the blessing uttered to his uncle Ishmael.
Why are these blessings significant and what do they teach us about Isaac and Godly living?
First, they are significant because they speak of future things — they are prophetic.
Of Jacob, they speak of his success amongst the folds of his Uncle Laban — they speak of the fertility of building his house and of his many children — they speak of the promise of Abraham that his seed will be innumerable (Jacon would go down into Egypt with 70 people and the nation of Israel would emerge about 400 years later numbering in the millions) — then in Christ that number would be more innumerable than can be imagined.
Yet, it also speaks of the spiritual character of God’s blessing on Jacob — he will lord over his brothers and the nations will serve him — God’s blessing and cursing respectively.
As Christians in this modern age, this last notion, though important, is often difficult to wrap our hearts around — we can get our heads around the idea pretty easily, but living like we believe this promise can be a challenge. We are used to being given the short straw in a society that doesn’t much care for us or for our Bibles. Yet, the blessing that Isaac places on Jacob (and that is handed down to the church through Christ) is that the nations exist for the sole purpose of God working out his plan in the lives of his people — they exist to serve us, not so much we them.
Maybe I can word it this way… The sole reason that the peoples and the nations exist is to serve God’s end of calling his elect to himself.
The Heidelberg Catechism words it this way: “All things work together for my salvation…”
That, folks, is a different way than we are usually taught to live and to think. It is living in assurance and a triumphalist spirit rather than to go about shying away from sharing your faith.
So, let’s apply this mindset in this way:
Students, think about that atheistic professor or teacher that is always beating you down. Or, think about that coworker at the office that makes fun of your faith and complains loudly about the lunch Bible-study you participate in. Think of that family member who is disenchanted with the church and who has walked away entirely.
Then say to them something like:
“Yep, God is just using you and your attitude toward Christians to make me stronger in my faith…but boy, I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes on the judgment day.”
Then walk away. That’s a confident faith…even a little cocky…but it is intensely Biblical because that confidence does not come from within you; it comes from the sufficiency of Christ’s completed work.
And so, with the Psalmist, we say:
“My soul makes me boast in the Lord!” (Psalm 34:2)
And with Paul, we say, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord!” (1 Corinthians 1:31)
So, rather than apologizing for faith, we say with Jesus, “Repent and believe!” (Mark 1:15)
If you want a take-away from Isaac’s blessing on Jacob, let it be to live in a confident faith and don’t apologize for it.
There is also a blessing on Esau that is fulfilled in his children and descendants. These would become the nation of Edom — or the Edomites. And, in Numbers 20:18, the prophesy comes to pass as Edom refuses to led Israel pass through their land to the Promised Land and indeed, with the sword, they broke from their submission to Jacob and found themselves under the wrath of God. David would later conquer them, but we read in 2 Chronicles 21:10 that they revolted from the rule of Judah. Later in Ezekiel 36:5 we see God’s final condemnation of them to wipe them off of the face of the earth.
Again, there is a take-away…those who stand against God and forsake his promises will face God’s wrath. We ought not fear them, but we ought to fear for them.
Now, these events would be future events, and that is something that we as Americans often struggle with — for the most part, we live in the here and the now and we don’t see the benefits of an action or a decision unless those take place right away.
Now, it should be said that it wasn’t always that way… our American founding fathers put principles and guidelines into practice to ensure that our nation would survive past their lifetimes and that of their childrens’. Further, I think that our congregation’s founding fathers did much the same when establishing this church. Yet, every generation is at risk of losing the fruit of what went before it if they do not learn and heed the lessons of history.
The historian Will Durant wrote that from barbarism to civilization takes a century but from civilization to barbarism takes but a day. Sometimes I get asked why I often spend so much time talking about history, for example, as I did in our outdoor service. The answer is simple. History is not being taught today from original sources — the writings and testimonies of those who were there. And thus, we are often taught history from a distorted point of view to advance a political agenda.
If you intend to preserve your nation and your church, you need to learn history and then teach it to the next generation.
And that brings us back to Isaac’s role in God’s redemptive history. You see, in a sense, Isaac really was a place-holder, but in an important way. He taught what he received from his father to his sons — no, not perfectly, but clearly he did to a degree. And that is very important when it comes to application.
If you have paid attention to what I have said over the years, one fo the things that you have heard me lament is how a person’s life, no matter how many years they have lived, is reduced to a few paragraphs that fills a column in the newspaper. That has never sat well with me and I hope it never does.
That said, while if we were writing our own obituaries, we might be tempted to list first the individual accomplishments we have had…but in the big picture, what is much more valuable is seen in the example if Isaac…he faithfully handed the Truth he learned down to the next generation.
And that, folks, is one of the most important roles that any of us can play — passing down the Truth of God from one generation to the next. The language we use each year in the commissioning of our Sunday School and VBS workers puts the idea this way:
“When one generation fails to train the next in the Christian faith, the culture around them dies.”
Folks, history has proven that statement over and over again.
I expect that we all would prefer to be one of those folks that multiple chapters in the history books can be written about, but do not forget that God calls many of us to take on the role of an Isaac in the life of their family and in their community — to be a place-holder to the glory of God — one who quietly and faithfully teaches the children the tenets of our most holy faith with the goal of seeing those children walk in them.