RPM, Volume 16, Number 33, August 10 to August 16, 2014

The Faith of Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and Moses

Hebrews 11:20-29

By J. Ligon Duncan III

We have been in this chapter for a couple of weeks and looked at verses 1-7 the first time we were together and said that the connection between the end of Hebrews 10 and the whole of Hebrews 11 is that chapter 11 is a gigantic illustration of those who have faith to the persevering of the soul, a phrase we found in verse 39 of chapter 10. The author gives us illustration after illustration of those who persevered in faith. They finished the race. They fought the good fight. They were faithful even in the midst of trials.

But he doesn't just give us those examples to interest us. He gives us those examples by way of exhortation saying now this is what so and so did and this is what so and so did and it is a very polite way of saying, "Now, come on. You follow their example. You do as they did by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.

So let's look at God's word beginning in Hebrews 11:20.

Hebrews 11:20-29

Our Father, we thank You for this Your word. We ask that You would open our eyes to understand it and especially that You would strengthen us by the Spirit to believe, to trust, to rest in the Lord Jesus Christ, not only for the providence that He exercises over our lives. We ask these things in Jesus' name. Amen.

I have been reading James Robertson's biography of Stonewall Jackson for the last few weeks. I can only read a few snippets a night. You know, you sort of get the book by the bedside and you read it a few minutes before you fall asleep. It's a massive biography and I have no idea how long it is going to take me to finish it, but it has incredible stories about his childhood, things that I frankly didn't know before. I have read books about his military campaigns and have read parts of Dabny's biography of Jackson, but I have never read a full, proper biography of Jackson that takes you from the beginning to the end of his life. The interesting thing is that Jackson grew up in a home where he saw his mother die, his father die, his stepsister die, and several of his siblings die. As a young boy, he had all that loss experienced in his life. He was eventually given over to the care of an uncle, who though at first was a man who was a fairly successful businessman, developed a reputation of being a rather unsavory and unscrupulous man, who eventually lost the family business and lost the family fortune.

So he had every excuse by today's standards to claim that his background and his upbringing did not serve him well and, therefore, he was an underachiever and did not live up to his potential. But Jackson grew from those negative experiences in his life the exact opposite lesson. You might think he was put under the care of his uncle, certainly not a religious man and apparently not even an honest man, surely he would have been influenced by that and perhaps his character would have been tainted. But as Jackson saw this man's life was impacting him and those around him, he drew the conclusion that did not want to be like that.

For instance, he said that he perceived as a young man that it was irresponsibility that led to the loss of the family business. Therefore, he resolved never to be irresponsible. This is an incredible example of a man who God had laid hold of at a very early age and though you might have thought him to draw certain bad examples from those difficult experiences, by the grace of the Lord, he drew the opposite.

Well, the author of Hebrews is setting before us stirring examples just like the stirring example that Jackson gives us of a person in a very difficult situation and upbringing, who yet turns out to exercise great influence for his people. The author of Hebrews is giving us example after example of people who really move us when we contemplate the faith that they have exercised. He wants to motivate us by their example. Again and again he describes their deeds. He describes the deeds of the faithful which themselves come because of their faith and he asks us to follow in the same way.

So I would like to look at several things in this passage with you. We could break the passage down by parts. The first verse, verse 20, deals with Isaac. The second verse, verse 21, deals with Jacob. The third verse, verse 22, deals with Joseph. Then we have a long section from verse 23 to verse 28 on Moses. Then finally, verse 29 deals with the nation, the children of Israel and their response of faith in the exodus. In that order, we will go through this passage and see the lessons of faith that we learn.

I. Isaac followed the divine directives in blessing his sons.

First, in verse 20, read by faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau, even regarding things to come. He focuses in on this one act of Isaac's. His blessing of Jacob and Esau and it says that that action was based on faith. That is a very interesting thing. One of the things that the author is telling us here is that Isaac followed the divine directions of the Lord when he blessed his sons. And, of course, that means especially in his blessing of Jacob.

Turn with me back to the book of Genesis because the story itself is a bit convoluted. Jacob was the second son and not by normal pattern in line for the family inheritance and blessing and yet God had told Isaac and his wife that it would be his second son who would receive the blessings. Look back to Genesis 25 and these words to Isaac and Rebekah. Verse 23: "And the Lord said to her, two nations are in your womb and two people shall be separated from your body. And one people shall be stronger than the other and the older shall serve the younger." And yet, we know that Isaac favored Esau, even though the Lord had said by prophecy that the older (Esau) would serve the younger (Jacob), Isaac favored Esau. That was his favorite son. Rebekah favored Jacob and so there was this competition in family life. As we look at the story of the blessing in Genesis 27:27-29, as we look at the story of Isaac's blessing of Jacob, it is of anything but willing on Isaac's part. You know, nobody really comes out of this story looking good. You have Isaac who is going directly against what God told him, he knew that Jacob was to receive that blessing and yet Isaac his dead-level best to go against what God said.

Then you have Jacob who doesn't trust in the Lord to provide him that blessing, he tries to steal the blessing. Then you have Rebekah who is working in a very nefarious way to try and defraud and trick her husband. Then you have the ungodly, worldly Esau ­— really you have Esau who comes out of the whole thing looking better than everyone else. You almost feel sorry for the guy in the whole story. So the whole story actually points to the grace of God because it is not because of any wonderful thing about these people that God chooses to bless Isaac and Jacob. They all showed deficiencies. But isn't it interesting that in the end, the author of Hebrews can say, "But what did Isaac do?" He blessed his sons by faith. The bottom line is there came a time when Isaac realized that God's blessing was going to rest upon Jacob and he accepted that. Remember the blessing that he gave to Jacob? Look at Genesis 27:27-29, "See the smell of my son is like the smell of a field. The Lord has blessed. (Now here is the blessing.) Now may God give you the view of the heaven and of the fatness of the earth and an abundance of grain and new wine. May people serve you and nations bow down to you. Be master of your brothers and may your mother's sons bow down to you. Cursed be those who curse you. Blest be those who bless you." And you hear the echoes of God's blessings to Abraham in that blessing of Isaac to Jacob.

Now, of course, there was a blessing to Esau in the next section, Chapter 27, verses 29-40 give you the blessings that Isaac subsequently gave to Esau. But the point of this passage is that by faith Isaac believed the revelation which God made to him concerning the future destinies of Esau and Jacob. There came a point where even Isaac relented and embraced what God had said in His word.

There is a very important lesson for us in that. Faith always bows the knee to God's will and then acts in accordance with that will. We also learn in this passage that faith is not perfect. Faith is very often mixed with great imperfection in God's people. It wasn't the purity of Isaac's faith that got this blessing pronounced upon him because it took Isaac a long time before he accepted what God had said. But ultimately, because he believed God, Isaac accepted God's reversal, both of his personal preference for Esau and of the general pattern of the blessing of the firstborn and he accepted that Jacob was the one who was going to be blessed with regard to things to come.

So this passage opens up with a very important reminded to us about faith. Faith accepts God's will. Faith bows the knee to God's will. Faith acts in accordance with God's will and does its deeds in accordance with God's will.

II. To the very end of life, Jacob trusted God and worshiped.

Then we look at verse 21 of Hebrews 11. This is the story of Jacob and again it zeros in on one act of faith. We learn here that to the very end of his life, Jacob trusted God and worshipped. And in this passage we are told about Jacob's blessing of the sons of Joseph. In spite of Jacob's advanced age, this act is seen as an act of worship.

Turn with me to Genesis 48 and we will see exactly what he did. Remember Joseph brings his sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, to Jacob to be blessed. Genesis 48:13: "Joseph took them both, Ephraim with his right hand towards Israel's left, and Manasseh with his left hand toward Israel's right, and brought them close to him. But Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on the head of Ephraim who was the younger and his left hand on Manasseh's head, crossing his hands, although Manasseh was the firstborn. And he blessed Joseph and said, 'The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day, the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads. And may my name live on in them and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac. And may they grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.'"

That passage is full of a great deal of pathos. In this passage, you see Jacob doing what he himself had experienced in his own childhood. The receipt of the blessing of the Lord against all expectations. So he gives this blessing to the sons of Joseph. Worshipping to the very end and expecting God's plan to be carried out. Once again, and not for the first or even the second time in the Book of Genesis, we see the younger son being the one who is blessed first or given the prime blessing. This again reminds us that the order of age or human favoritism does not constrain God's choice. It doesn't constrain God's plan. God works with whom He wills.

So to the very end of his life, Jacob continues to anticipate the fulfillment of God's promises. You remember in this passage he also says to Joseph, "You know, Joseph, there was a day and time when I didn't think I would ever see you again. But God has been so good, not only to let me see you but to see your children." And even though Jacob never saw the ultimate fulfillment of the promises that God had given to Abraham, Isaac, and himself, yet God gave him good gifts along the way and what a blessing it was to see the reunion of that fractured family before the end of his life. The Lord is good and Jacob spoke it in those final blessings.

III. Joseph expected the exodus to the very end of life and made provisions for it.

Then if we will look at verse 22, we move on to the act of the patriarch Joseph. Here the acts that are in view are first of all his belief that God was going to bring the children of Israel out of Egypt and secondly that he wanted his bones taken out of Egypt too. He did not want them left behind with the pagans. He wanted to go out with God's people when they went out of the land of Egypt.

So we are told in verse 22, "By faith, Joseph, when he was dying made mention of the exodus of the sons of Israel and gave orders concerning his bones." So again, to the very end of his life, Joseph expected the exodus. He expected God to bring His people out of Egypt and back into the land of promise; and he so much expected it that he said, "Now, here is what you are going to do with my bones when that day comes. You are going to take them up out of the ground and carry them back to the land of Canaan." Of course, that is one of the great scenes of the exodus as Joseph is taken back at the head of his people, back into the promises land.

But in each of these cases, these patriarchs looked forward to God fulfilling a promise that was not fulfilled in their own lifetime. And yet to the very end of their lives, they believed that God would be faithful to that promise. And just like we said last week and the week before, the author of Hebrews there is teaching us by that to trust God to fulfill His spiritual blessings, no matter what our situation is in this life. If they had judged God's faithfulness simply on what had been fulfilled in their lifetimes, or if they had said we will trust you God to the point that You fulfill Your promises in our lifetime, they would have fallen short in faith. But because they trusted God to the end for promises that were not ultimately fulfilled and as the author of Hebrews is going to say at the very end of Hebrews 11, will not ultimately be fulfilled until all the people of God are gathered in, because they trusted God for those things, they were exemplary models for us in the practice of faith. And so he holds that sort of spiritual vision of faith before us.

IV. Because of his faith in God and his blessings, Moses defied the world.

Now he spends a long time from verses 23 to 28 talking about Moses. He zeros in on several different actions of Moses. It's interesting, in verse 23 he starts off with the act of faith done by Moses' parents. Then in verse 29, he concludes this section by talking about the acts of faith on the part of the children of Israel under Moses' leadership. But in between he talks about specific actions that Moses himself took.

First in verse 23, he points out here that Moses' parents trusted God that God would effect a deliverance for him. So they trusted Him and Moses grew up in the house of Pharaoh, even though Pharaoh had ordered the slaughter of those Hebrew boys. The parents trusted that the Lord would overrule what the king's edict had said about their son. So Moses, as it were, comes into this world and is immediately entrusted to parents who believe in the Lord and trust in Him.

Then in verse 24-26, we see a succession of things that Moses did after he had grown up. First we are told that Moses declined to be identified with the world. He refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter. In other words, he determined that he would not be identified with Egypt, with the princely power of Egypt, with the people of the world, he would be identified with the people of God.

Furthermore, we are told in verse 25 that he chose to be solidarity with his people in their suffering. Look at that beautiful phrase, "He chose rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than the passing pleasures of sin." He could have had an easy life, but he chose to identify with his people's suffering.

Furthermore we are told that he chose to do this rather than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin. In other words, he could have acquiesced to an easy life that involved apostasy from the one true God, following after the gods of Egypt, and a life of pleasure and sin. But he refused to live that kind of life.

We are told in verse 26 that he counted abuse for Christ as greater, as more valuable, than the riches of this world, than of Egypt.

Finally, we are told that he did all this because in faith he was looking for an eternal life. If we were looking for a biblical illustration of the passage that we studied last Sunday in Matthew, I couldn't find a better example than this one. Here is a man who had every reason to be satisfied with the things that this life provided him, and yet he refused to be captured by the treasures of this world. Why? Because he was looking for a reward. Not a temporal reward, not a passing reward, but an eternal reward. Again the author of Hebrews holding this before us and saying what an example for us not to become complacent and to become satisfied with the trinkets of this world when God wants us to desire after a heavenly reward.

But it doesn't stop there. Notice in verse 27, it keeps on going. "By faith he leaves Egypt not fearing the wrath of the king for he endured seeing Him who is unseen." Now this is the second clue as to the source of the strength of Moses' faith. The first clue was that he was looking for a reward. You remember last Sunday we talked about the fact that if we don't believe that the Lord will reward our trust in Him, it robs our ability to trust in Him when it doesn't look like we are receiving any reward in the here and now. We are told here that Moses believed in that reward, that the Lord was going to give. And, of course, that reward ultimately refers back to the promises that He had made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, which are our promises if we trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. He believes in that. That is one source of his faith.

But here in verse 27 you see the second source ­— "As seeing Him who is unseen." If Moses had been a respecter of persons, he would have been overawed by the thought of going up against the Pharaoh of Egypt, the most powerful person in his part of the world. But Moses saw the One who is unseen. In other words, Moses feared God. He feared God so much that he had no fear of man.

You know, Moses is the kind of guy who scares people. Because what price can you pay to a man who doesn't want anything in this world? He wants an eternal reward. And how can you buy out or buy off or influence to compromise a man who fears God and not men? You see, those two elements of Moses' faith were sources of great strength in his perseverance. He was looking for a reward and he had seen God. He feared God and, therefore, he did not fear man.

So it goes on in verse 28 to say that "by faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood so that He who destroyed the firstborn would not touch him." You know, it didn't look like the plan that you might have thought to spare the children of Israel, the destroying angel, to simply smear blood on the doorpost of the house. Moses had to trust that God would, indeed, fulfill His promise not to destroy the firstborn of Israel if they would obey by spreading the blood of the Passover lamb on the doorpost of the house. Here again, we are told that Moses trusted what the Lord had said.

Notice over and over how faith is directly related to God's word. Faith is not in faith, faith in not believing as hard as we can something that we thought up in our mind. Faith is responding to God's word; and, of course, in this case faith also involved looking for a reward and fearing God above everyone else.

So we have described Moses here who, because of his faith in God, and because of his desire for God's blessings, not the blessings of Egypt, he was able to defy the world. By the way, these ways are the only way in which you will be able to defy the world. If you don't look for God's blessings more than worldly blessings and if you don't fear God more than you fear men, then you will never be able to distance yourself from an inappropriate love for the love. Christ calls on us to love the world in the sense of being concerned for the world, but He calls on us not to love the world in the sense of being captivated by the world. You will be captivated by the world if you don't fear God more than man and if you don't believe that God's rich blessings are the rewards that are really worth having in this life.

So the whole passage concludes when the author tells us that it was faith that made the difference when Israel and Egypt went through the Red Sea. Israel trusted in the Lord and, therefore, they walked across on dry land. The Egyptians, however, did not trust in the Lord and when they attempted it, they were drowned. So again both personally in the lives of Isaac and Jacob and Joseph and Moses, we see faith issuing forth in perseverance. But in the story of Israel crossing the dry land, we see faith in national experience leading to a distinction between God's people and those who are not God's people.

All these examples are held up before us that we might persevere in faith. May the Lord bless His word.

Let's pray.

Heavenly Father, we thank You for the richness of the truth of Your word and we ask that You would indelibly impress our hearts with the importance of faith and by the Spirit work in us that grace of faith to the persevering of our souls. We ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.

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