Faith Heroes: Isaac

By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come.”[1]

We may be a bit surprised from time to time as we read through this chapter concerning the heroes of the faith. Let’s assume for a moment that you have never read the corresponding portion in Genesis, but once you’ve read about these three men in Hebrews 11:20, you want to investigate a bit more. You would perhaps be surprised at the level of intrigue as different members of the family try to control the circumstances so that the “right” son inherits the blessing. If you were to take time to read more about Esau, you would read that although he was his father’s favorite, he wasn’t exactly God-fearing; yet here in the story in Genesis 27 he turns out being the only one not dealing dishonestly. That makes it difficult for some to discern where the phrase “by faith” comes in, but we need to remember two things: God sees far deeper than we do into the human soul, and the writer to the Hebrews in this great chapter leaves any failings behind in history.

Facing the Finish

This story starts with Isaac recognizing his frail human frame. He is already 130 years old, and realizes he will not live forever, saying, “I know not the day of my death” (Gen 27:2). While this is true of each one of us, it is wise to come to grips with the reality that one day, should the Lord not come for us beforehand, He will call us to His presence by means of death. Isaac wanted to set his house in order and pass along the blessing to Esau.

There is, however, an allusion to an upcoming and reoccurring problem when he says: “Make me savoury meat, such as I love, and bring it to me, that I may eat” (v4). This desire for dinner would lead to disastrous developments, at least from Esau’s perspective, as well as Isaac’s perspective at the beginning of the chapter.

Favoring the Firstborn

Over 70 years prior, when Isaac and Rebekah’s twin boys were born, God told her that there were two nations in her womb, and that “the elder shall serve the younger” (Gen 25:23). Surely Isaac was not ignorant of this prophetic promise given to his wife, but now his desire is to give the double portion of the paternal blessing to his favored son, Esau, as was the custom of the land and the times. Remember, too, that one day Esau had despised his birthright, making a deal with Jacob, and exchanging it for a bowl of lentil soup.

Forging Forward

There is great determination on Rebekah’s part to ensure that her favorite son, Jacob, would receive the blessing. This decision leads to a whole series of deceptive actions, both by her and by Jacob. There does not seem to be a sense of dependence upon God, leaving all these things in His powerful hand so that He can bring about what are His divine designs.

As soon as the dinner was ready, Jacob prepared himself by putting on Esau’s clothing as well as the kids’ skins on his hands and neck (Gen 27:15-16). Surely with fear and trembling Jacob entered his father’s tent with the meat and bread, and offered it to him. There not only was deceit but outright lies as Isaac tried to determine what was happening.

Without wanting to be overly critical of Isaac, we notice as we go through the story that the writer emphasizes the physiological aspects in his life: he loved savoury meat (v4) and wanted some venison; later, however, we read that he obviously wasn’t able to discern the difference between venison and goat meat (v25); he was also fooled by his hearing (v22), his smell (v27) and even his sense of touch (v23). We remember from the commencement of the chapter that his “eyes were dim” (v1). How terribly cruel of both his wife and Jacob to disrespect him in this way. There seems to be no sense of waiting upon God, or seeking God’s will, in them or in Isaac. Isaac enjoys his dinner, and then invites Jacob to “come near now” (v26).

Rebekah had done what she could, and Jacob had gone along with it, but we need to remember that behind all of this there were divine designs for Jacob and his descendants. God was not, and is not, dependent upon human ploys to bring about His will. However, God in His providential mercy did, and can, overrule in the midst of all this confusion.

Focus on the Future

We cannot go into any detail about what Isaac said first to Jacob, thinking he was speaking to Esau, and then later to Esau. But we do see that God indeed did demonstrate clearly that He was still going to perform what He had promised almost eight decades prior. At this point, Jacob neither possessed land nor did he have descendants, but in this prophetic blessing we learn that God’s purposes will stand even when men try to oppose.

Jacob is told that his blessings concern prosperity, as he will have plenty of corn and wine as God gives him the dew of heaven and the fatness of the earth (v28); position, as other nations would bow down to him; and place in his own family, as his mother’s sons would also bow down to him (v29). There is also a mention of protection, since those who cursed him would be cursed (v29). Recall that Isaac thought he was giving all this to Esau, although these are blessings God had promised to Rebekah for Jacob. Esau’s actual blessing is very limited: “Thy dwelling shall be the fatness of the earth, and of the dew of heaven from above; and by thy sword shalt thou live, and shalt serve thy brother” (vv39-40). The word translated “of” on two occasions often means “away from,” and that would seem to be the case here also. The land of his descendants would be more arid than the richness of Canaan, and thus we have the absence of grain and wine.

God overruled; we can understand that quite easily, but then in Hebrews we are still faced with the commendation of his faith. Why?

His Faith Was Firm

When Esau returned soon after Jacob’s departure, Isaac recognized his error, and therefore “trembled very exceedingly, and said … yea, and he shall be blessed” (v33). Later he expressed to Esau what the blessings were that he had given to Jacob and realized there was no going back – “What shall I do now unto thee?” (v37).

In the following chapter Isaac called Jacob as he readied to leave for Padan-aram, fleeing from Esau, and he again blessed him, this time with no deception in the background, but fully cognizant that he was going along with what God’s plan was for his sons. He invokes God Almighty, who will give Jacob the blessing of Abraham, and to his seed. Thus the writer to the Hebrews can say, “By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come.”

What can we learn from this story?  Dependence upon God to accomplish His purposes is always the best way; there is no need of employing cunning deception or trusting human faculties as we bow in submission to His perfect will.

[1] All Scripture quotations in this article are from the KJV.