December 30, 2018
I want you to think of an important someone from your past – perhaps he or she has moved away, or passed away. Maybe a grandfather or grandmother, a father, a mother, sister or brother, close friend or confidant. Someone important you highly valued, or respected. Why? What was it about that person in your mind right now which caused you to think of him or her?
- Maybe it was their deep love for you – even when you were unlovable.
- Or their words of comfort, wisdom, encouragement, affirmation, always when you needed it most.
- Maybe it was it was walking with you during a difficult time – and not deserting you.
- Maybe it was their tangible expressions of love – in gifts or service.
- Maybe he or she was your confidant – the one you could talk to…about anything…and they would listen without judgment.
- Maybe it was their spiritual lives – their deep faith in Christ, and the way they lived that out.
What is it that makes a person special to you? We are studying through the famous 11th chapter of Hebrews – the Hall of Faith. The author selects a seemingly random sampling of OT characters whose lives bear the hallmarks of faith. We’ve seen several already, which, while maybe obscure, once we read their respective stories, it makes sense how they made the chapter:
- Abel – by faith, offered right worship, and it cost him his life.
- Enoch – by faith, only lived 365 years in the midst people living much longer, but never tasted death – he walked out of this world into presence of God, because he had this testimony – that he walked with God, that he was pleasing to God.
- Noah – of course, believed God and built an ark, by which he saved his family and a bunch of animals.
- Abraham and Sarah – wow, did they live by faith. Their story covers more of chapter 11 than anyone else, and no wonder. The believed God and moved from their homeland. They believed His promises, like the one about the land of promise – which, by the way, they never received. They believed His promises, especially that one about having children. Abraham believed God when God told him to sacrifice Isaac. Their whole story is one of amazing faith – it was a great 3- week miniseries.
But now, we get to the next three we’ll cover this morning. Three in one morning – no, it’s not a New Year’s Resolution to speed up. I want you to think of that person in your mind. How many of you have someone in your mind who got there because of the way they died? Probably not, unless they left you a gob of money on their deathbed. I want you to think of the five we’ve already studied. Fairly significant events in their lives to demonstrate faith.
Let me give you the names of the three guys, one at a time, and I want you to think about what you know about their lives. No peeking at Hebrews 11, by the way. What was it about Isaac which demonstrated great faith? Well, certainly it had to be when he allowed father Abraham to bind him, and raise the knife in preparation for sacrifice. Or maybe it was when he believed he was the son of promise – that the great nation would come through him – even when wife Rebecca was barren, according to Genesis 25:21. Why, in fact, Isaac prayed, and God opened her womb, and she conceived. That was some great faith.
What about Jacob? That’s a little more challenging, isn’t it. I mean, you can probably think of all kinds of bad things he did – stealing the firstborn blessing from Esau. Deceiving his father. Deceiving his father-in-law. Four wives – which is about two or three too many. His favoritism toward Joseph – that coat-of-many-colors thing.
But I suppose if we searched, we might find great acts of faith. The time that he was fleeing his brother Esau, and had a dream – a stairway to heaven. And he built an altar to the Lord. When he was coming back to the land of promise, and God Himself met him. Jacob wrestled with God all night – it was then his name was changed to Israel. Perhaps when he went down to Egypt to see Joseph, and blessed Pharaoh. These are great acts of faith.
Well, the third character is none other than Joseph himself. His amazing story is covered from Genesis 37-50. In fact, I know you think we never study the OT, but how quickly you forget. We did a 13-week study on the Life of Joseph. I don’t know about you, but I can think of lots of ways he demonstrated his faith – the way he lived his faith: his dreams, his faithfulness to his father, his faithfulness as a steward to Potipher, his faithfulness when tempted by Potipher’s wife, his faithfulness in prison, his faithfulness to God in the midst of all that, his faithfulness to his job as Prime Minister, his rescue of all Egypt, his care for his back-stabbing brothers. The guy could fill a Hebrews 11. But…what makes it there?
Before we read the text, let me remind you, it’s December 30 – time for New Year’s Resolutions. Maybe you’re wondering what do resolve to do. Maybe these guys have something worth emulating – a life of faith. Let’s see – Hebrews 11:20-22.
Is anyone else surprised? Of all the things that could have gotten these three – Abraham’s son, grandson and great-grandson – into the Hall of Faith, it was these:
- Isaac – blessing Jacob and Esau, as he neared death
- Jacob – blessing Joseph’s sons from his deathbed
- Joseph – when he was dying, giving instructions about his bones
Really, that’s the best you got? Move over, author of Hebrews, I can do better than that. What was it about these three guys and these three events that captured his attention – which made it into the eternal Word of God – that made it into Hebrews 11? And, further, what are his readers, to include us, to learn from these surprising stories? Well, let’s look quickly at the three stories, try to determine what was special about them, and what we’re supposed to do about it.
Let’s start with Isaac. We’ve already looked at the beginning of his story with Abraham and Sarah. He was the son of promise, born to Abraham when he was 100, Sarah when she was 91. You may remember his name means laughter – because both parents laughed when they heard about his promised birth. You’d laugh too if you’re over 90 and I told you, you’re going to have a baby. Of course, laughter later took on a different meaning when laughter filled their hearts and home at the birth of their son.
Well, we pick up his story in earnest in Genesis 24. Sarah has died – and Abraham gives his oldest servant, probably Eliezer, instructions to go back to Haran and find a wife for Isaac from his father’s family. It’s kind of a cool story – the servant prays God will reveal which woman is to be Isaac’s wife. Lord, would the one who offers me something to drink, and waters my camels – would she be the one. Enter Rebekah, Isaac’s distant cousin. By the time the story is finished, he finds out Rebekah is indeed related and agrees to go back with the servant to marry Isaac. Isaac is forty when he marries her.
As I said earlier, Rebekah was barren at first, but Isaac prayed for her, and she conceived twins – Jacob and Esau. Esau was the older since he came out first. He was therefore Isaac’s favorite – the right of primogeniture, or right of the firstborn. But Jacob was Rebekah’s favorite. By the way, just a side note – all three of these – Isaac, Jacob and Joseph were not the firstborn. It was Ishmael and Isaac, Esau and Jacob, and Joseph and his ten older brothers. But God determined who would be the sons of promise – so it’s actually Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau. And it’s Joseph’s two son – Manasseh and Ephraim – who become part of the twelve tribes. And it’s not Manasseh and Ephraim, is it – even though Manasseh was born first – it’s Ephraim and Manasseh. God determines and sovereignly carries out His plans. The circumstances of your birth matter nothing to God – He has sovereignly chosen you.
There are some other stories about Isaac, but let’s jump to this one the author of Hebrews records. It’s found in Genesis 27. Isaac was close to death – so he was to bless his sons before he died. You see, the father’s blessing was very important. So he told Esau to go kill him something, and bring him some of his favorite stew – at which point he will bless him.
But, Rebekah overheard the conversation, so she prepared the stew before Esau returned and sent Jacob into the almost blind Isaac with the stew – to receive the firstborn blessing. Jacob fooled his father, and received the blessing. Soon thereafter, Esau came in, and received a blessing also.
And it is this story, of all stories, the author of Hebrews records – By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau, even regarding things to come. That’s important – what were the things to come? Let me give you a little hint – it was regarding the fulfillment of the promises to come.
Well, let’s look at faithful Jacob. Does that moniker come to your mind when you think of that manipulative, deceiving guy? I won’t take the time to recount all his story – it covers Genesis 25-50 – a lot of chapters. But when they were boys, Jacob weaseled Esau out of the firstborn blessing. Later, he deceived his own father and received the blessing. As a result, he had to flee Esau to his mother’s family in Haran.
Yes, on the way there he had a dream, and the Lord reiterated the promises of Abraham and Isaac to Jacob. While in Haran, he married two sisters – Rachel and Leah, and then later their handmaids, Bilhah and Zilpah. Through those four were born twelve sons, and one daughter. The twelve became the 12 Tribes of Israel. After 20 years, he eventually made his way back to Canaan and the Land of Promise.
His favorite son was the firstborn of his favorite wife, Rachel. The boy’s name was Joseph, and his little full brother was Benjamin – the last two sons born to Jacob. He gave Joseph that special coat, signifying he was the favorite, and Joseph’s place of preeminence. As a result, Joseph is sold by own his brothers into slavery in Egypt – who told their father Joseph had been killed. We’ll cover his story in a minute, but Joseph ends up getting married and having two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. Later, when Jacob discovers his favorite son is alive in Egypt, and because of a famine in the land, he moves his entire family – 70 in all – to Egypt. There, he is reunited with his son, and lives 17 more years. On his deathbed, he calls for Joseph to bring those two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, to him for a blessing. He’s dying, and wants to give them a special blessing. In fact, they take Joseph’s place, if you will, to become two of the 12 tribes of Israel.
I won’t go into further detail, but when Joseph brings his own sons to his father Jacob for a blessing, it is this story, of all stories, the author of Hebrews records. By faith Jacob, as he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped leaning on the top of his staff. That’s a quote of the Septuagint, remember, the Greek translation of the OT. Actually, the Hebrew OT says he worshiped while lying in his bed. I won’t get into that – it’s not a problem – likely both happened. The point is, while dying, he worshiped.
Bringing us to that third name – Abraham’s great grandson Joseph. His story really begins in Genesis 37. It’s a great story, filled with faithfulness – of Joseph living by faith. Yes, because of jealousy, he was sold into slavery in Egypt. But when he got there, in Potipher, the captain of the guard’s house, he was faithful – and God blessed him. He had the Midas touch – everything he touched prospered.
And, he caught the attention of Potipher’s wife, who tried to seduce him. But Joseph rightly and faithfully refused. But, as a result, he was sent to prison. But even there, he was faithful, and God gave him the ability to interpret dreams – these, not his own, but those of the cupbearer and baker. Well, eventually, Pharaoh’s hears of the ability, and calls for Joseph to interpret Pharaoh’s own troubling dreams. He does, and as a result, is promoted to Prime Minister of all Egypt. He’s given a wife, by whom he fathers Manasseh and Ephraim.
Soon, per Pharaoh’s dreams, after seven years of plenty, there are seven years of famine. His father Jacob and his brothers hear there is food in Egypt, so the brothers are sent to buy some. It’s an intriguing story – I won’t take time to recount it – but eventually Joseph reveals himself to his brothers, and tells them to go get his father and for all them to move to Egypt. Jacob is overcome with joy – moves his family to Egypt, reunites with his favorite son. Seventeen years later, in Genesis 50, the last chapter of Genesis, Jacob dies. They take their father’s body to Canaan, the land of promise, and bury him there in the same place Abraham and Sarah and Isaac and Rebekah are buried. They all return to Egypt.
And by the time we get to the end of Genesis 50, it’s Joseph’s turn to die, at the age of 110. And the last two verses of Genesis 50 read:
25 Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, “God will surely take care of you, and you shall carry my bones up from here.”
26 So Joseph died at the age of one hundred and ten years; and he was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt.
And of all stories – all the great stories of faith – the author of Hebrews refers to the last two verses of Genesis 50. By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the exodus of the sons of Israel, and gave orders concerning his bones. Really? That’s all you got?
By the way, this the only place in the NT the departure of the Israelites under Moses from Egypt is referred to as the Exodus. But that’s not the point of the verse, necessarily. It was, when you leave, take my bones.
So, what do we do with those stories? Why, of all the stories, does he pick these? We must remember the purpose of the letter. He’s is writing to Jewish believers – who knew these stories by heart – who were facing opposition because of their faith in Jesus – and were considering abandoning their new faith. And so he writes to warn them – yes. Don’t quit – there is no sacrifice for sin – no forgiveness of sin – no eternal life outside of Christ.
But now, in chapter 11, he is encouraging them to persevere. How long? Until their dying breaths. Consider the patriarchs. Remember Abraham and Sarah believed – back in verse 9, he even mentioned Isaac and Jacob – they also believed. Verse 13 and following, “All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear they are seeking a country of their own…they desire better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.”
Consider Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. They also died without receiving the promises. Isaac with a couple sons, no great nation, no land. Jacob and Joseph – perhaps a little closer to nationhood – but they both died in Egypt. So they all died without receiving the promises. But, they died believing. How do we know? That’s the author’s point in selecting these stories. Look at them: Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau – what was the blessing? Jacob’s is found in Genesis 27:28-29:
28 “Now may God give you of the dew of heaven, And of the fatness of the earth, And an abundance of grain and new wine;
29 May peoples 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, And blessed be those who bless you.”
Certainly he blesses him with prosperity – this was typical of the blessings of the day. But notice he mistakenly, though rightly, blesses Jacob with supremacy over his brothers. And then he gives him the blessing of Abraham – right from Genesis 12, “Cursed be those who curse you, and blessed be those who bless you.” He mistakenly, though rightly, blessed Jacob as the son of promise.
Yes, he also blessed Esau as well, just as Hebrews notes, later in Genesis 27 with not nearly as much material prosperity. But here’s the point – Hebrews 11:20 says Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau even regarding things to come. He went to his grave, but on his dying deathbed, he blessed Jacob, the son of promise, with the promises he believed – yet never received. He died in faith.
What about Jacob? It’s the same thing. By faith, from his deathbed, Jacob blessed the two sons of Joseph. That’s found in Genesis 48:15-16:
15 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,
16 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 is clearly the blessing of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob now being passed on to Ephraim and Manasseh – Joseph’s sons. He believed the promise – may they grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth. He died believing the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and himself – they would eventually be fulfilled, though he pronounced the blessing from Egypt, and never lived to see them.
But that’s not all. The verse in Hebrews 11 says, By faith Jacob, as he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff. That last part actually happened at the end of Genesis 47, before he blessed Joseph’s boys. There, we read the end of his life had come. So, he called for Joseph to give him some instructions – namely about his coming burial. We read these words in the last two verses of Genesis 47 – Jacob is speaking to Joseph:
30 “but when I lie down with my fathers, you shall carry me out of Egypt and bury me in their burial place.” And he said, “I will do as you have said.”
31 He said, “Swear to me.” So he swore to him. Then Israel bowed in worship at the head of the bed.
What’s the point? Jacob knew, while he lived comfortably the last 17 years of his life in Egypt, that Egypt was not his home. Bury me with my fathers – Abraham and Isaac – in the Land of Promise.
What about Joseph? We’ve already looked at the verses in Genesis 50 to which Hebrews refers. By faith Joseph, when he was dying, believed. Believed what? The promises of God. How do we know? Because he knew the day would come this great budding great nation would return to receive the land of promise. So sure was he that he said, take my bones with you when you go in the Exodus. Think about that – Joseph was sold into slavery – he had been in Egypt since he was 17 years old. He died at 110. He had spent 93 years in Egypt. But he knew Egypt was not his home. I’ve lived in NC 22 years – people ask me, where are you from? I say NC. Really? Is this place really my home? No. I’m looking for a country of my own – a heavenly one, a city whose architect and builder is God. Joseph died by faith – believing the promises. Will you?
How does this encourage his readers – to include us? Yes, the going might be challenging. And becoming more so. Yes, persecution, opposition, maybe even martyrdom might be right around the corner. Certainly ridicule. But this is all true. Stay faithful – die in the faith, believing the promises of God – the truth of Jesus, who, although you don’t see Him, you believe in Him. He is who the Bible says He is. He died and was raised for our sins. And He is coming back. Die believing, even if it doesn’t happen in your lifetime.