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Monday
Sep052005

By Faith Isaac

This is the ninth post in a series from Hebrews 11. You’ll find all the posts on this series listed here.

Next on the list of faithful ancients in Hebrews 11 is Isaac.

By faith also Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning the future. (Hebrews 11:20 NET)

When Isaac was an old man, he blessed his two sons, Jacob and Esau. You’ll find Isaac’s blessing of Jacob in Genesis 27:27-29 and his blessing of Esau in Genesis 27:39-40. Both blessings contain predictions of things that God would do long after Isaac’s death. Isaac would not see these future events, but in faith, he understood  the certainty of them.

That Isaac was fooled into blessing Jacob when he thought he was blessing Esau is not important to the point the author is making about Isaac’s faith. What is important is that Isaac spoke in faith concerning a future he could not see.

Thursday
Sep012005

By Faith Abraham, Again

This is the eighth post in a series from Hebrews 11. You’ll find all the posts done so far in this series here.

After the summary statement in verses 13-16 of this chapter, the author of Hebrews returns to his examination of Abraham’s faith. He’s already explained that it was by faith that Abraham obeyed God and left his homeland, and it was by faith that Abraham conceived his son Isaac. Now the author tells us that it was by faith that Abraham offered up Isaac.

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac. He had received the promises, yet he was ready to offer up his only son. God had told him, “Through Isaac descendants will carry on your name,” and he reasoned that God could even raise him from the dead, and in a sense he received him back from there. (Hebrews 11:17-19 NET)

You know the story, right? God speaks to Abraham:

Take your son—your only son, whom you love, Isaac—and go to the land of Moriah! Offer him up there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains which I will indicate to you. (Genesis 22:22)

This was, of course, a test of Abraham’s love for God: Did he love God enough to give up his son? This text in Hebrews, however, points us to something else that was tested—Abraham’s willingness to keep on believing and obeying God  when faced with what appeared to be contradictory revelations from him. God had told Abraham that Isaac’s descendants would carry on Abraham’s name, and Abraham had already received partial fulfillment of that promise in the birth of Isaac. Now God was telling Abraham to offer his son as a burnt offering, an act that would seem to ensure that Isaac would have no descendents at all. At the very least, it would have been confusing.

How did Abraham square God’s command with his promise? He denied neither, but trusted instead in God’s ability to raise the dead. God, Abraham concluded, would be able to fulfill this promise even if Isaac died, because God had the power to raise him to life again. So Abraham determined to obey God’s command.

He was already in the process of offering up Isaac when God intervened in a way he had not anticipated.

But the Lord’s angel called to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Here I am!” he answered. “Do not harm the boy!” the angel said. “Do not do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God because you did not withhold your son, your only son, from me.” (Genesis 22: 11,12 NET)

God provided a ram for Abraham to sacrifice in place of his son Isaac, giving Abraham and all the rest of us a picture of the provision God would make for us by the sacrifice of his own Son.

The phrase “only Son” used to describe Isaac should be understood to mean “unique son,” since Abraham had other sons besides Isaac (Genesis 25:1-2). None of them, however, were conceived in the unlikely way that Isaac was, and only Isaac received the covenant promises.

And even though God stopped Abraham from following through on his plan to offer Isaac, in a sense, says our text, Abraham did receive Isaac back from the dead. In his mind, Abraham had already given Isaac up for dead, expecting him back only through a miraculous work of God. The way God chose to intervene was different than what Abraham expected, but, in keeping with his trustworthy nature, God did act so that his promise to Abraham would be fulfilled.

Thursday
Aug252005

By Faith These All

This is the seventh post in a series from Hebrews 11. You’ll find all the posts done so far in this series listed here.

The verses in Hebrews 11 that come right before the section we look at in this post are about Abraham’s faith, and the verses right after it are about Abraham’s faith as well, but in this section, the writer takes a little time out to summarize what’s been said so far.

These all died in faith without receiving the things promised, but they saw them in the distance and welcomed them and acknowledged that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth. For those who speak in such a way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. In fact, if they had been thinking of the land that they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they aspire to a better land, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. (Hebrews 11:13-16 NET)

“These all”, of course, is all the “people of old” discussed in the chapter so far. Common to all these people of faith is that when they died, they had not yet received the things promised to them. They had received a partial fulfillment of God’s promises, but there were things God had promised them that were yet to come when they died. 

Take Abraham, for example. In chapter 6 of Hebrews it tells us that because Abraham persevered, he “obtained what was promised.” Having a son was a fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham, but it was just the first step in the promise that God would make him “into a great nation.” I’m sure that Isaac’s miraculous conception and birth strengthened Abraham’s faith in the rest of God’s promise, but the biggest part of God’s promise, that God would make a great nation of him and that all the families of the earth would be blessed through him, had not yet come and was clearly far off in the future when Abraham died.

It would have been the same with all the people listed in this chapter. They’d seen enough of God’s work to know that he would do as he’d said, but much of what God had promised them remained uncompleted when they died. They died in faith, still convinced of things they did not see.

And the communion they had with the God who had promised them these things caused them to see themselves as foreigners on the earth. They never quite belonged in their worldly surroundings because they longed for something more: “a better land, that is, a heavenly one.” What they longed for wasn’t an earthly place; they longed to be with God. The writer tells us that they could have returned to the land they’d left if their own place on earth was what they wanted, but it wasn’t. They desired God and so they aspired to a heavenly land.

As a result of their trust in God’s faithfulness to fulfill his promises and their longing to be with God above all else, “God is not ashamed to be called their God.” Think about that statement! God called himself “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob”, and yet, when we read these men’s stories, we can see that they were not perfect men and not always men of the strongest faith, yet because they sought God and believed he would fulfill his promises to them, God identifies himself with them.

And the heavenly land they longed for? It’s already built.

But you have come to Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the assembly and congregation of the firstborn, who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous, who have been made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks of something better than Abel’s does. (Hebrews 12: 22-24 NET)

It has come through Christ. Jesus is the mediator of the new covenant and his blood brings people right into the presence of God (Hebrews 10:19). That’s the whole gospel story: Jesus died to “bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18).”

When God promised Abraham that through him all the families would be blessed, he’s  pledging that Jews and Gentiles—people from all nations or ethic groups—would be reconciled to God through the cross. What these faithful “people of old” longed for most, the heavenly country where people can be in the presence of God, had not yet come; but God was bringing it about through them, and they died in faith, trusting that he would fulfill his promises to them.