The Heroes of Faith: Isaac, Jacob and Joseph.

By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau.  By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff. By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones’ (Hebrews 11:20-22).

After the intense focus on Abraham, the next three verses deal with Isaac, Jacob and Joseph in a much quicker manner, yet actually covering almost half of the book of Genesis! Nevertheless, despite of the fleeing mention of each they are well worth looking at.  Isaac’s blessing of Jacob and Esau is intriguing to say the least (v20).  A Brief summing up of the two characters (for a more complete study of the events read Genesis 25:19-28:9) shows Esau as driven by his sensuality and bodily appetites, which causes him to be done out of his birth-right and blessing as Isaac’s oldest son by his brother Jacob. That makes Jacob a liar and a cheat!  So, how does this qualify as an act of faith when Jacob’s blessing was a result of deceit and trickery?

Isaac realised that God would still bring about his purposes; even when sinful human beings try to manipulate them! In the next verse we find Jacob literally on his deathbed, blessing Joseph sons again in an unorthodox manner by blessing the younger (vs20-21 and Genesis 48).  We can see from the events in Jacob’s life (Genesis 27-50) that he arrived at the conclusion that all his trickery and scheming has got him nowhere.  It is only through God’s grace that blessing has come (check out his prayer in Genesis 32:9-12, it’s a key moment in his spiritual growth).  In other words, despite his past, Jacob is now living by faith and seeing God’s promises extended to another generation!  So how do we understand the workings of God here?  John Owen outlines the theological implications for us. ‘So did God accomplish his purpose and promise unto Jacob, by ordering the outward circumstances of the irregular actings of him and his mother unto his own blessed ends.’ He goes on to point out that the Lord: ‘accepted their persons, pardoned their sins, and affected the matter according to their desire.’[1]  Put simply, if God wills it, and I stress – if God wills it – even the misguided actions of those who have some faith can be used by the Lord in his purpose because of his infinite grace towards sinful people!  In other words: ‘God’s blessings are given not because we deserve them, but because we need them.’[2]

That brings us to verse 22 and Joseph’s act of faith in asking for his bones to be taken back to the Promised Land (Genesis 50:22-26). Why was this simple request regarded as an act of faith? It was for several reasons. Firstly, those who had gone down to Egypt were seventy in all (Genesis 46:27) which is hardly a nation’s worth!  Another factor, which made their return to the “promised land” rather unlikely, was that things were pretty good for them in Egypt.  Yes, we know that things were far from good later (which will lead us to the next example of faith, Moses) yet, here, Joseph speaks by faith. He knew that however things might have appeared God had something better for his people in the future, because he had promised it to their forefathers.  Again he serves the writer’s purpose well in that he speaks of something he does not get to see but believes will happen, because God has promised it!  As such, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph are once again interesting examples of faith, and a good encouragement to those who seek such faith models to live by.

Want to listen to a sermon on this passage? Three fleeting but poignant examples.

[1] John Owen, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews, Volume 7, (Edinburgh, The Banner of Truth Trust, 1991), 122.

[2] Raymond Brown, The Message of Hebrews, Christ Above All, The Bible Speaks Today, (Leicester, Inter-Varsity Press, 1982), 212.