Isaac, Jacob, Joseph: Trusting God with the Future

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Hebrews 11:20-22

INTRODUCTION: Our message series is called “Growing in Faith,” and we have been learning from the various Old Testament persons of faith how to put our own faith into action.

You will notice on the back of your message outline this morning a recap of the entire series so far. (Click here for outline of Hebrews 11.) We have invested a lot of time in this chapter, and one of my goals for all of us is that we really own this chapter by the time we get to the end of the series, that we really understand the various lessons of faith that God gives us here in Hebrews 11.

So, I would encourage you to spend some time going over this recap outline. Try covering up the right column with your hand and see if you can remember which lesson of faith goes along with each person just by looking at the person’s name. For example, what lesson of faith do we learn from Abel? Faith means giving God the first portion. Or what lesson of faith do we learn from Noah? Faith means heeding God’s warnings. Or what three lessons of faith do we learn from Abraham? Faith means following God’s leading, believing God’s promise, and unquestioning obedience to God’s commands.

If you practice doing that with the whole chapter, you will gain a firm grasp of Hebrews 11 and all these various aspects of biblical faith. You can then give each of those areas over to God in prayer, asking God to help you grow in each area.

Today’s passage deals with Abraham’s direct descendants: Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. And as we look at the three of them in today’s text, you will see that all three of them share one important aspect of faith in common. They all trusted God with the future. (Read Hebrews 11:20-22 and pray)

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Is anybody here a “worrier?” Which do you worry about more – the past or the future? Obviously, the future, right? We don’t really worry about the past. We may be bothered by the past, we may regret certain things from the past, but we don’t really worry about the past, because worry is oriented towards the future.

I like what one person said about the future: “We should all be concerned about the future because we will have to spend the rest of our lives there.” (Charles Kettering) So, yes, we should be concerned about the future. We should plan for the future. But as Christians we should not worry about the future.

Remember our definition of faith from Hebrews 11:1: “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Like worry, faith is also oriented towards the future. And the part of faith we want to focus on today is trusting God with the future. Because you will find that learning to trust God with the future is a powerful antidote to worry in your life.

When God made his covenant with Abraham, he also made a covenant with Abraham’s children or descendants. God says to Abraham in Genesis 17:7: “I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.” (Genesis 17:7)

And so, today’s passage focuses on three of Abraham’s direct descendants: his son Isaac, his grandson Jacob, and his great-grandson Joseph. All three of these descendants of Abraham demonstrated their faith by trusting God with the future, even as they neared the end of their own lives. And each of them has something specific to teach us about trusting God with the future, too.

I. Isaac: Trusting God with your children’s future (20)

So, let’s look at Abraham’s son Isaac first. The lesson of faith we learn from Isaac has to do with trusting God with your children’s future. Look at verse 20 with me: “By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future.” (Hebrews 11:20)

We don’t know a whole lot about Isaac from Scripture. We know that God appeared to Isaac and reaffirmed his covenant with Isaac and with Isaac’s descendants. We know that Isaac married Rebekah, and that Rebekah was barren, just like Isaac’s mother Sarah was barren. We know that Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of Rebekah, and the Lord answered his prayer. Rebekah became pregnant with twin boys. And when the time came for the twins to be born, Esau was born first with Jacob right behind him, grasping Esau’s heel as he came out into the world.

   A. God chose Jacob over Esau before they were born
      – Genesis 25:21-28

Now, Esau was born first, and as the older brother you would expect then for Esau to be listed first. But you will notice they’re not listed in Hebrews 11:20 as “Esau and Jacob,” but rather, “Jacob and Esau.” That is both significant and intentional.

When Jacob and Esau were still in Rebekah’s womb, the twin boys jostled each other in such a way that Rebekah sensed something unusual. She went to inquire of the Lord about it, and God answered her: “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.” (Genesis 25:23) God in his sovereignty chose the younger son Jacob, instead of Esau, to carry on the promises of God to Abraham.

However, we also read in Genesis that, as the boys grew older, Isaac preferred Esau over Jacob. Genesis 25:28 tells us that “Isaac . . . loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob.” (Genesis 25:28)
As parents we’re not supposed to play favorites with our children. We may need to treat our children differently according to their age and level of responsibility, but we should love them all equally. Isaac and Rebekah both made the mistake of playing favorites.

   B. Isaac gives Esau’s blessing to Jacob
      – Genesis 27:1-40

Now, the actual blessing of the two boys takes place two chapters later when Isaac gives Esau’s blessing to Jacob. We read in Genesis 27 that “when Isaac was old and his eyes were so weak that he could no longer see, he called for Esau his older son,” in order to give Esau his blessing before he died. (Genesis 27:1-4)

It is important to understand that the blessing Isaac was about to impart was much more than just wishing his son well for the future. Isaac’s blessing was part prophecy and part prayer. The blessing was part prophecy in that the patriarchs also functioned as prophets. They spoke words from God to man, and so the words of prophecy they spoke would most certainly come to pass. And the blessing was part prayer in that Isaac looked to God to provide the blessing. And so, the blessing was both a word of prophecy from God and a word of prayer to God. This blessing was so important. It would make a real difference in Esau’s life in the years to come.

Now, the blessing rightfully belonged to the older son, and so it was only natural that Isaac would seek to give the blessing to Esau rather than Jacob. But God had already said that the blessing should go to Jacob, and that Jacob, not Esau, would carry on the promises of God (see Genesis 25:23 above). We don’t know whether Rebekah ever shared with Isaac God’s prophecy about Jacob, but if she did, then it is hard to see how Isaac was operating in faith here. Was he deliberately going against God’s prophecy and giving the blessing to his favorite son instead of to Jacob? Or was he acting in ignorance? The Bible doesn’t tell us, so we don’t know.

What we do know is that Rebekah and Jacob took matters into their own hands and deceived Isaac into giving the blessing to Jacob rather than to Esau. (Genesis 27:5-29) This was a lack of faith on Rebekah and Jacob’s part, because if they had only left the situation in God’s hands, God would have brought the blessing to Jacob without any deception on their part. And unfortunately, their deception of Isaac concerning the blessing would rip the family apart with anger, fear and resentment for many years to come. There were serious consequences to their actions.

And yet Hebrews 11:20 tells us: “By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future.” So, in what sense did Isaac bless his sons in faith? Well, even though Isaac did not intend to give Esau’s blessing to Jacob, once it happened, he had no doubt that God would indeed fulfill the blessing in Jacob’s life. In fact, once he learned what had happened, he told Esau concerning Jacob: “I blessed him – and indeed he will be blessed!” (Genesis 27:33)

Isaac recognized that God had chosen to bless Jacob, and that he could not reverse or alter God’s plan. Isaac had already given the primary blessing to Jacob, and so he could only give Esau a secondary blessing. (Genesis 27:30-40) But even though Esau received the lesser blessing, Isaac still fully believed that God would fulfill this blessing in Esau’s life also. And indeed, God fulfilled both blessings in both sons’ lives. In faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau, and in faith Isaac accepted God’s will for his sons as expressed through the blessings.

If part of faith is trusting God with the future, then one of the lessons you can learn from Isaac is to trust God with your children’s future. That’s an important lesson to learn, because as a parent you can waste a lot of time and energy worrying about your children’s future. But part of Christian faith is learning to trust God with your children’s future instead. Hebrews 11:20 says: “By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future.” (Hebrews 11:20)

So, how can you bless your children with regard to their future? Well, unlike the patriarchs of Israel, you and I are not prophets. We do not speak prophetic words of blessing into our children’s lives. But in faith you may still speak prayers of blessing on their behalf, and you may speak words of blessing to them. Scripture is full of blessings that you may pray for your children or speak to them. You also bless your children in regard to their future when you raise them to know God and his word and to walk in God’s ways.

As a parent you certainly want the best for your children. You want to see them succeed and do well. Your heart aches when you see them struggling or in trouble. But in the long run you need to entrust them to God. You can raise your children in the training and instruction of the Lord, you can set the example, you can encourage them with your love and support, but eventually you have to let them go.

Under normal circumstances, your children will be around long after you’re gone. So, commit them to God in prayer, and trust God to take care of them. That’s our first lesson of faith this morning. Part of growing in faith is learning to trust God with your children’s future.

II. Jacob: Trusting God rather than trying to control people or events (21)

Our next example of trusting God with the future comes from Jacob, Abraham’s grandson. Abraham was one hundred sixty years old when Jacob was born, and then Abraham lived another fifteen years, so he got to know his grandson growing up. The lesson of faith we learn from Jacob has to do with trusting God rather than trying to control people or events. Look at verse 21: “By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.” (Hebrews 11:21)

Part of trusting God with the future is learning to trust God rather than trying to control people or events. This is a difficult lesson for anyone to learn, and it was especially difficult for Jacob. In many ways it took him his whole life to learn.

Jacob was born into this world grasping his brother’s heel, and that really became a metaphor for his whole life. Jacob would spend most of the rest of his life grasping for control. When his older brother Esau came in hungry from hunting one day, Jacob quickly took advantage of the situation and manipulated his brother into selling him his birthright for a pot of stew. When Isaac was preparing to give the blessing to Esau, Jacob deliberately deceived his own father into giving him the blessing instead. Time and again we see Jacob trying to manipulate, deceive and control instead of trusting God to take care of the situation.

   A. Jacob gives Manasseh’s blessing to Ephraim
      – Genesis 48:1-20

Hebrews 11:21 relates an incident that took place right at the end of Jacob’s life. Jacob’s son, Joseph, had two sons of his own: Ephraim and Manasseh. Ephraim was the younger son, and Manasseh was the older. We’ve just seen how Isaac gave Esau’s blessing to Jacob. Well, now Jacob gives Manasseh’s blessing to Ephraim!

Jacob, the master manipulator and controller, was dying. There are few times in your life when you have less control than when you are dying. Once you die, you lose all power to influence and control other people and events. You would think that for someone who had spent his whole life trying to control others that such a situation would leave Jacob frustrated and bitter. But Jacob had learned some valuable lessons about faith over the years, and instead we find a peaceful, trusting, worshipful Jacob at the end of his life. “By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.” (Hebrews 11:21)

When Joseph brings his two sons to Jacob for their blessing, Joseph is careful to put Manasseh, the older son, next to Jacob’s right hand, and Ephraim next to Jacob’s left hand. That way, Jacob’s right hand would go on Manasseh’s head conferring the greater blessing on him as the firstborn.

Jacob, however, crosses his hands putting his right hand on Ephraim’s head and his left hand on Manasseh’s, basically reversing the blessings. Joseph is not pleased with this at all, and he actually grabs hold of his father’s right hand and tries to move it from Ephraim’s head back to Manasseh’s. But Jacob refused.

   B. Jacob worshiped God as he leaned peacefully on his staff
      – Genesis 47:28-31

So, what’s going on here? Was Jacob still trying to manipulate and control? No, he had received a word from God that Ephraim should receive the greater blessing, and besides, Jacob was through fighting with God. (Are you through fighting with God?) The final picture we have of Jacob here in Hebrews 11:21 is that of him peacefully leaning on his staff, worshiping God even as he prepares to die. (Genesis 47:31) Jacob had finally learned to trust God rather than try to manipulate and control people and events.>

How about you? Are you like Jacob was most of his life? Are you a control freak? Do you have “controller” tendencies? I know I do. I would love to be able to control the future. I like to think that I can make things turn out just the way I want them. But that’s not faith.

And it’s not reality either. One of the things we need to learn in life is that none of us are ever really in control anyways. It’s just an illusion. We sometimes learn that the hard way when we lose our job or health or something drastic happens in our lives, and we suddenly learn that we are not in control after all. God is in control, and we need to learn to trust him.

There were a number of things in the lives of Isaac, Jacob and Joseph over which they had absolutely no control at all. For starters, all three of their mothers were barren. That’s right. Isaac’s mother Sarah was barren. Jacob’s mother Rebekah was barren. And Joseph’s mother Rachel was barren. In other words, these are three men who, humanly speaking, they should never even have been born! Now that has got to be the ultimate in lack of control. I mean, if you have very little control when you are dying, you have absolutely no control when you haven’t even been born yet, especially when your mother is barren.

A second area where all three lacked control was this: none of them were the firstborn sons of their fathers. And so, humanly speaking once again, none of them should have received the birthright of the eldest son. Yet God in his sovereignty gave special blessings to each of them.

Faith means trusting God with the future. And that means trusting God rather than trying to control people or events.

III. Joseph: Trusting God to fulfill his larger purpose and plan for the world (22)

And then finally we come to Abraham’s great-grandson, Joseph. And the lesson of faith we learn from Joseph has to do with trusting God to fulfill his larger purpose and plan for the world. Look at verse 22 with me now: “By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions about his bones.” (Hebrews 11:22)

Now, the lessons of faith that we learned from Isaac and Jacob concerning the future were more personal in nature. Their faith related directly to themselves, their children and their immediate descendants. Joseph’s lesson of faith concerning the future is more broad-based and far-reaching. Joseph’s faith looked forward over four hundred years to God’s fulfillment of the next stage in his plan for his people, Israel.

   A. Joseph speaks about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt
      – Genesis 15:13-16, 50:24

“By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt.” (Hebrews 11:22) The Exodus was God’s great deliverance of his people from slavery in Egypt under the leadership of Moses. For the rest of Israel’s history as a nation, they would look back to this great act of God’s redemption on their behalf. Even today this is the central event which Jewish people remember and celebrate each year at Passover. The Exodus was a vital part of God’s overall plan of redemption, which finds its ultimate fulfillment in the sending of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross for the sins of mankind.

Now, most Israelites throughout history have spoken of the Exodus in the past tense. But Joseph spoke about the Exodus in the future. The book of Genesis tells us that Joseph lived to be a hundred ten years old and saw the third generation of Ephraim’s children before he died. And so, Joseph was near the end of his life when he spoke about the Exodus.

It’s interesting, the word translated “spoke” in verse 22 is really a word that means “to remember, to make mention of, to call something to mind.” Of course, that raises the question, how could Joseph “remember” something that would not even happen for another four hundred years?

The answer is this. Joseph was remembering what God had spoken to his great-grandfather Abraham so many years before. God told Abraham back in Genesis 15: “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions … in the fourth generation your descendants will come back here.” (Genesis 15:13-16)

So, as Joseph neared the end of his life, he gathered his brothers together, and he reminded them of God’s larger plan. He told them in Genesis 50:24: “I am about to die. But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” (Genesis 50:24) Joseph believed God’s promise, and he spoke to his brothers about the Exodus four hundred years before it actually happened.

   B. Joseph gives instructions concerning his bones
      – Genesis 50:25

Now, back to Hebrews 11, verse 22 goes on to say that Joseph also “gave instructions about his bones.” (Hebrews 11:22) We find these instructions in Genesis right after Joseph reminds his brothers about the future exodus. We read in Genesis 50:25: “Joseph made the sons of Israel swear an oath and said, ‘God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up from this place.’” (Genesis 50:25)

It’s interesting to contrast Joseph with Jacob here. When Joseph’s father Jacob was dying, Jacob instructed his sons to bring him back to Canaan right after he died and to bury him in the cave where Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah were buried. And they did just that. Joseph received special permission from Pharaoh to bring his father Jacob back to Canaan for burial. (Genesis 50:4-14)

But when Joseph was dying, he was so confident that God would fulfill his larger plan that he did not even bother to ask about being buried in Canaan right after he died. Instead, he basically told the Israelites: “You know what? When God delivers you from Egypt in four hundred years, you can just take my bones with you then.” Joseph could wait on his own burial because he trusted God’s larger purpose and plan for the world. “By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions about his bones.” (Hebrews 11:22)

Like Joseph, we also need to keep the big picture in mind. God’s plan includes you and your life, but it is also so much bigger than just you and your life. And when you see a world gone crazy, and it looks as if everything is falling apart around you, you need to remember that God is still in control, and you need to trust God to fulfill his plan.

Author Richard Phillips writes about God’s plan: “Isaac sought to give the blessing to Esau, but God’s plan overruled; Joseph lined up his sons before his father, only to watch Jacob cross his arms. Years later Pharaoh would determine to hold Israel in slavery, yet God’s people would carry out Joseph’s body in the exodus. Nothing can change or thwart God’s will and plan.” Part of trusting God with the future is trusting God to fulfill his larger purpose and plan for the world.

CONCLUSION: Do you tend to worry about the future? Do you worry about your children? Do you try to control things in order to manipulate the future? Do you tend to despair over the worsening condition of the world?

God says, “Don’t worry. Have faith. Trust.” Trust God with your children and their future. Trust God rather than trying to control people or events. Trust God to fulfill his larger purpose and plan for the world. You can’t control the future anyways. Only God can.

Corrie Ten Boom once said, “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.” God is in control, and he has good plans for you. God says in Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

Someone once wrote: “Every tomorrow has two handles; we can take hold by the handle of anxiety (left hand) or by the handle of faith (right hand).” (Southern Baptist Brotherhood Journal) You can trust God, or you can worry, but you can’t do both at the same time. Part of faith means trusting God with the future. Take hold of tomorrow by the handle of faith.

© Ray Fowler

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