Faith of Isaac, Jacob and Joseph


(The following text is taken from a sermon preached by Gil Rugh in 1978.)

In Hebrews 11:20-22, the writer illustrates examples of faith in the face of our most difficult circumstance: death. The writer highlights the faith of Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. These three men manifested unshakable faith even as they confronted the reality of the death of their physical bodies. Remember what is written in Hebrews 11:13. 'All these died in faith, without receiving the promises... .' All three of these men died before the realization of God's promises were fulfilled. Yet they all approached death with confidence. Only biblical Christianity provides this kind of faith and assurance.

If we have salvation through Christ when we die, we can be confident that we are going to spend eternity in the presence of our Lord and Savior because of His promise. The writer begins in verse 20; 'By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau, even regarding things to come.' Genesis 27, the well known story of Jacob and Esau, gives the historical account of this blessing. The writer is emphasizing the fact that even though Isaac was dying, and had not realized God's promise, he still had faith that God would fulfill it.

The blessing (Genesis 27:28-29) is inadvertently passed on to Jacob, who deceived the blind Isaac by disguising himself as Esau. It is the same blessing that Abraham had passed on to Isaac before his death. One might think that Isaac would lose his faith in God. After all, Abraham lived 175 years and never saw the blessing, and Isaac lived until he was 137. But his faith was never shaken. He knew that God's promises are true, and he only wanted to pass on those blessings to his sons.

The writer then brings us to the end of Jacob's life in verse 21 . He says, 'By faith Jacob, as he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff.' This is a reference to Genesis 48, where Joseph brought his two sons to Jacob so that they could be blessed before his death. Joseph places his youngest son, Ephraim under Jacobs left hand, and he places his oldest son, Manasseh under his right hand (the hand through which the blessing is communicated). But Jacob pulls a switch on Joseph (vs 14), and lays his right hand on Ephraim. In so doing, he is actually blessing Joseph (vs 15), and giving him two portions of land through his two sons. He is given the right of the first born.

The blessing that Jacob bestowed upon Joseph is the same blessing that was bestowed on him by Isaac. Now, at this time Jacob was in Egypt, and the promise of God involved land in Palestine. How could Jacob still believe that God would give his family land that they did not even live in any longer? The answer is faith! He truly believed that God would keep His promise some day, and so he, like his grandfather and father before him, wanted to pass along that blessing to his son.

The writer skips ahead to another generation in verse 22. He says, 'By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the exodus of the sons of Israel, and gave orders concerning his bones.' Remember, Joseph's family has lived in Egypt for quite a long time. Now, if you were established in a country as a ruler, like Joseph was, and you were going to die, would you not prepare your children so that they would continue to rule over that country? Would not everything you did revolve around that issue? Is this what Joseph did? No. Genesis 50 illustrates the account of Joseph's death. Verse 24 says, 'And Joseph said to his brothers, 'I am about to die, but God will surely take care of you, and bring you up from this land which He promised on oath to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.'' Amazing! Joseph believed so strongly that God would keep His promise, that he did not bother making plans to take care of his holdings in Egypt. In fact, he was so confident that God would give his family the land He had promised that he asked his family to take his bones with them when they moved (Genesis 50:25). Like his father and grandfather, Joseph confronted death with confidence that God would fulfill all that He had promised.

As believers, we are to have this attitude as well. We can be confident and sure that God will fulfill every promise that He has made to us in the salvation that He has provided through Jesus Christ. John 14:1-3 says, 'Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.' As believers we need to have the faith to completely trust God and to obey His promises. Our eyes are supposed to be fixed on our heavenly rewards and not on our earthly possessions.

See also 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, 8:5, Philippians 1:23, 3:20-21, Colossians 1:22, 1 John 5, Revelation 3:21, 22:1-5 The question is, 'Are you going to inherit the promises of God?' Have you come to the point in your life where you understood that you are a sinner separated from God? Have you trusted in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior? If you have, you are going to inherit every promise that God has given to those who are His children. If you have not trusted in Christ, the only promise you will inherit is the promise that God will judge those who have rejected Him. That judgment results in an eternity in a very real and very horrible hell. What promise will you receive?

Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Lockman Foundation 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977. All quotations used by permission.

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Indian Hills Community Church

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