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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
 www.oaklawnurc.org/
 
Title:Isaac's Acceptance of God's Sovereign Choice
Text:Hebrews 11:20 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Faith Tested
 
Preached:2016
Added:2021-04-13
Updated:2021-04-15
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

(Blue Psalter, unless otherwise noted):

4 (Red) – Praise the Lord! Ye Heavens Adore Him

437 - More Love to Thee, O Christ

6 – (Supplemental Songs) - Blessed Jesus at Thy Word

380 - Amazing Grace

Scripture Reading: Genesis 27:1-40; text: Hebrews 11:20

 

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


“Isaac’s Acceptance of God’s Sovereign Choice”
Genesis 27:1-40; text: Hebrews 11:20
 
After reading Genesis 27, Hebrews 11:20 sounds completely out of place. A skeptic might ask, “Is the person we read about in Genesis 27 really a man of great faith? Are these two passages out of the same Bible? Didn't Jesus say, in John 10:35, “Scripture cannot be broken”? How can Isaac’s blessing of Jacob and Esau be an act of faith?” 
 
After all, Isaac wanted to bless Esau even though he knew the blessing belonged to Jacob. No one less than the Lord God Almighty had revealed who was to get the blessing. In Genesis 25:23 the Lord said directly to Isaac's wife, Rebekah, “Two nations are in your womb, and two people's from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.” Isaac was certainly aware that by God’s decree the blessings belonged to Jacob.
 
Not only did Isaac know what God had said to Rebekah, but he also knew that Esau had sold his birthright to Jacob (Gen. 25:33). The birthright represented blessings that were normally given to the oldest son. There was no doubt that the older brother would serve the younger, and that the younger brother, Jacob, would receive the blessings normally given to the older brother. Thus it seems surprising, initially at least, that the events of Genesis 27 would lead the author of Hebrews, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to write, “By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future.”
 
A second reason why it may seem surprising to find Isaac's blessing of Esau and Jacob described as an act of faith, is that Isaac tried to give his “last will and testament” many years before his death in an effort to bless his favorite son.
 
Admittedly Genesis 27:1 describes Isaac as being old and his eyes so weak that he could no longer see. Yet, as many commentators point out, the term “old” in the Old Testament was used in a general way for anyone who was up in years. Many commentators believe that Isaac was, at the time when he blessed his sons, about 137 years old. Yet Genesis 35:28 tells us that he lived to be 180 years old. He lived for 43 more years or so. Did he just feel that he was on his death bed when he attempted to bless Esau? Did he attempt to bless Esau because his eyesight was failing and because the passing years had sapped his strength?  Or was it because he really wanted Esau to get the blessing that he knew from divine decree belonged to Jacob?
 
Many believe that it was an effort to get the blessing to Esau because, after all, Esau was Isaac's favorite son. The family life for Isaac and Rebekah and their sons was turbulent to say the least. And one reason is that both parents had favorites. Genesis 25:28 describes how “Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob.”
 
A third reason why it may see strange that this blessing of his sons would be considered an act of faith is that Isaac seemed to focus on material blessings more than spiritual ones. We all enjoy good food, but it seems as though Isaac had a real penchant for wild game. The prerequisite for the blessing was a tasty meal. Verse 4, “Prepare me the kind of tasty food I like and bring it to me to eat, so that I may give you my blessing before I die.”  Isaac wanted Esau to have the blessing that belonged to Jacob, but as long as he was going to give the blessing he wanted a tasty meal as well.
 
The Old Testament account of Isaac blessing Jacob and Esau is not a pretty picture. It is filled with all sorts of deceit. It goes against the clear teaching that the Lord had given Rebekah as to who should receive the blessing. It sprang from favoritism that parents had for their sons. And the blessing had, as Isaac's focus, the tasty meal before the blessing, the material earthly desire before the spiritual proclamation.
 
Yet what does Hebrews 11:20 say? “By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future.” How can that be? How can both accounts be in the same Bible, with one account describing a great tragedy and another calling it an act of faith?
 
One reason why Isaac is included with the people of faith is because as the realization dawned on Isaac that he had blessed Jacob instead of Esau, he finally came to see that he could not thwart God's plans. Instead he had to trust God’s plans and submit to God’s will.
 
Some commentators see Isaac's violent trembling in Genesis 27:33 as his true conversion. He had tried to put his will over the will of God. He had tried to bless Esau long before his death. Yet he had been deceived by Jacob and Rebekah. God's plan was not thwarted. God's will prevailed. Was it because Isaac realized the full impact of God's sovereign decree, that verse 33 says, “Isaac trembled violently and said, ‘Who was it, then, that hunted game and brought it to me? I ate it just before you came and I blessed him – and indeed he will be blessed!’”?
 
At that point it was beginning to sink into Isaac's mind and heart that he could not thwart God's plans and purposes. At that moment he began to realize the truth of Proverbs 16:9, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord directs his steps.” And as he realized that truth he also trusted in God's plan; he finally trusted God's will for his sons as he said, “I blessed him – and indeed he will be blessed!”
 
God’s Purposes Prevail
 
Is this just another interesting story from the Old Testament? Another historical event leading up to the formation of the people of Israel? Or does it also have application for us today? As with all of Scripture, it is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and training in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16). 
 
Our text teaches us, first, that God's plans cannot be thwarted, not by Isaac or by anyone else. The Lord had laid out his plans very clearly to Isaac and Rebekah when he had said to Rebekah, “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.” Yet Isaac was trying to circumvent God's plans.
 
Not only was Isaac unsuccessful, but so is everyone else who goes against God's plans. Psalm 33:10-11: “The Lord foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples. But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.”
 
Romans 9:10-13 also sheds light on this whole situation: “Rebekah’s children were conceived at the same time by our father Isaac. Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls—she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ Just as it is written: ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’  What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’”
 
What God has determined – in election as well is in the counsel of his will in every area of life – will happen. What God has decreed will happen, and nothing – absolutely nothing, not even the gates of hell – can change that.
 
God had decreed that the promises given to Abraham would be fulfilled through Isaac. The Lord had said, “…It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” (Gen. 21:12; Heb. 11:18). And God decreed that of Isaac’s two sons, the line of the Messiah would be through Jacob, even though he was younger and weaker than Esau.
 
Isaac’s Will Broken
 
Our text also teaches us that if our will is not in conformity with the Lord's will, and if we are one of God's people, the Lord will break our will and make it conform to his will.
 
Isaac's will was certainly not in conformity with God's will as he tried to bless Esau instead of Jacob. Yet, as we saw in the account of Genesis 27, Isaac became a broken man. He trembled violently. You can almost hear the amazement in Isaac's voice when he said, concerning Jacob, “I blessed him – and indeed he will be blessed!” (v. 33).
 
If you are one of God's children and you are not living according to God's word, if you are putting your will before his will, you can be sure that he will break your will and bring you into submission to his will. He will do so, not because he is mean, but because he is kind; and his will is, in the words of Romans 12:2, “good, pleasing and perfect.”
 
Isaac came to see that truth when God broke his will through this traumatic experience of being deceived. By contrast, may you and I seek to live according to the revealed will of God. May we seek to live according to his word to us in the Bible so that we will not come under the discipline that God gives to those whom he loves, when they stray from his decrees.
 
The Apostle Paul found out that you cannot thwart God's will. As he described his conversion experience, on the road to Damascus, he said, “I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’”  (Acts 26:14).
 
Goads, as used in the Bible, were long poles with an iron point. They were used to prod oxen. If an ox kicked back against the goad, the iron tip dug painfully into the flesh. When you resist God’s will, when you purposely do what you know the Bible says you should not do, you are “kicking against the goads”. You are going to bring ever increasing pain into your life until you conform your living to God’s Word.
 
I don’t recommend the New Living Translation of the Bible. It is a paraphrase, not a translation. But it paraphrases Acts 26:14 accurately: “I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is useless for you to fight against my will.’”
 
The Lasting Examples of Esau and Isaac
 
Isaac and Rebekah lived long before the term “dysfunctional family” became popular, but their relationship and family life portray the conflict of a family that was tragically dysfunctional. Both parents had their favorites. Both were scheming. Isaac schemed to get the blessing to Esau and Rebekah schemed to get the blessing to Jacob. Jacob also lived up to his name; Jacob means “he grasps the heel”, figuratively, “one who deceives”. Meanwhile Esau rejected spiritual truths and was captivated by sensual pleasure.
 
It is tempting to feel sorry for Esau. His parental examples were poor, and his brother was a sneaky cheat. And while we do have sorrow for all those who are unsaved, and we keep them in our prayers, we recognize that Scripture portrays Esau as an example to warn us about taking spiritual realities lightly. In Hebrews 12:15-17, the Holy Spirit warns us, “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.”
 
There comes a point of no return. When we take God’s Word and his will lightly, we become more and more hardened, even to the point that we can no longer repent. There are people who think they can spurn God’s Word, and then at death say the sinner’s prayer and be saved like the thief on the cross. That does happen sometimes. But more often such people become hardened in their sin as did Esau, hardened to where he could not receive the blessing even though he sought it with tears. His tears flowed from a worldly self-centered sorrow; they were not tears of true, heartfelt repentance. (2 Cor. 7:10).
 
But while we see Esau’s bitter tears, our text also portrays a truth of great comfort for every believer, namely that God's grace is seen in that he doesn't hold Isaac’s sins – or ours – against us. Instead, he remembers us by his gift of faith he has given us.
 
If I were writing Hebrews 11, I might be inclined to write, “Isaac had faith, but…”  I might be inclined to go on and bring up the sin problems in Isaac's life.  But not so with the Lord. Our text simply says, “By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future.”
 
And the same is true for you and for me. God remembers us not by the sins that we have committed, but by his gift of faith to us. Earlier in this letter to the Hebrews we read, in Hebrews 10:17, this promise from the Lord: “Their sin and lawless deeds I will remember no more.” The reason why is because of Christ. He has paid the full penalty for the sins of all who have saving faith in him alone. He bore our curse and now imputes his perfect obedience and righteousness to us.
 
And his redeeming love is not based on any goodness in us. It is all of God’s grace; it is of his electing love. As Ephesians 2:8-9 puts it, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Not Isaac. Not Jacob. Not you nor me. Our salvation is all of God’s grace and not a result of our works.
 
And what a blessing it is that our salvation is by God's grace through faith in Jesus, and not based on our works! All our works are steeped in sin, for, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.” (Isaiah 64:6).
 
All of us are a lot more like Isaac than we care to admit. All of us at times are lukewarm, more concerned about a tasty meal than the spiritual food of God's Word. At times we can be so devious. Many times in our lives we have rested on our plans rather than God’s plans.
 
And we are also more like Esau than we care to admit. We can so quickly put material pleasures above spiritual blessings; we so often take God’s Word lightly and pursue our will over his will.
 
Yet by God's grace may your life and mine, imperfect and sinful as they are, be recognized as lives of saving faith in Christ alone. For it is only through faith in him that we are redeemed and presented to God faultless and without blame, as Isaac was, imputed with the righteousness of Jesus Christ!  Amen!
       
 
 
Bulletin outline:
 
 
               “By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future.”
                                                                                            Hebrews 11:20
 
                           “Isaac’s Acceptance of God’s Sovereign Choice”
                                          Genesis 27:1-40; Hebrews 11:20
 
I.  In some ways Isaac’s inclusion in Hebrews 11 seems surprising, because he wanted
    to bless Esau even though he knew the blessing belonged to Jacob (Gen. 25:23).
    In the process he tried to give his “last will and testament” (Genesis 27:27-29) long
    before his death (Gen. 35:28), in an effort to bless his favorite son (Gen. 25:28)
 
 
 
     
II. Isaac’s blessing, although opposite of what he intended, show us that:
      1) God’s plans cannot be thwarted (Psa. 33:10-11) regarding election (Rom. 9:10-13)
           or any other aspect of life (Proverbs 16:9)
 
 
 
 
      2) If your will is not in conformity with the Lord’s will, He will break your will
           and make it conform to His (Gen. 27:33), and His will is “good, pleasing and
           perfect” (Rom. 12:2)
 
 
 
 
   III. Applications:
        1) There are many like Esau who spurn God’s grace and will regret it
             eternally (Heb. 12:15-17)
 
 
 
 
        2) God’s grace is seen in that He doesn’t hold Isaac’s sins – or ours – against
             us (Heb. 10:17), but remembers us by His gift of faith in Christ alone, which
             He has given to us (Heb. 11:20; Eph. 2:8-9)
 
 

 

 

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2016, Rev. Ted Gray

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