Not much is told us about Isaac. The scriptural record spends quite a number of chapters on Abraham and his faith. Even the writer to the Hebrews does this. But very little is told us of Isaac’s life and faith. But that he was a man of faith is evident from Hebrews 11:20, the verse we examine today. We read, “By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come.” Isaac, like Abraham, lived in tents because he too looked for a city which has foundations whose builder and maker is God. Isaac, too, was persuaded of the promises God had given him. He confessed that he was a pilgrim and a stranger in the earth. Isaac did this along with his wife, Rebekah.
Rebekah, together with Isaac, was a godly woman of faith. At first Rebekah was unable to have children. So she asked Isaac to entreat God on her behalf. God then gave to her two children, twins. During her pregnancy her sons wrestled within her. God explained to Rebekah, and through her to Isaac, that the elder son, who was Esau, would serve his younger brother, Jacob. The promises of God’s covenant were to go to Jacob.
This is why the verse before us today is so intriguing. It summarizes an account in Genesis in which Isaac in weakness went against God’s revealed will to him and his wife. He was about to give the birthright blessing to Esau rather than to Jacob. Rebekah was insistent, however, that Jacob receive the blessing. The event of our text takes place when the two sons of Isaac were older. We are told in Genesis 27:1 that Isaac was an old man. His eyesight was gone. He was blind. Actually, Isaac lived another 43 years after the incident of our text took place. But he was blind and that put him at a definite disadvantage.
That being said, we must be careful today not to lose sight of what Hebrews 11 emphasizes. We must focus on Isaac’s faith. By faith, we learn, Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come. That is where Isaac’s faith reveals itself. He pronounced upon his sons what he truly believed would come to pass. He pronounced on them the promises of God to him concerning their generations and the land of Canaan. So, the faith of Isaac (and with him, Rebekah) is found in what he believed would truly come to pass. Then Isaac in our minds can be rightfully numbered among this cloud of witnesses given us in Hebrews 11.
I. The Blessing Conferred
Isaac had decided that he and his sons were getting older and it was time to pronounce the birthright blessing. Though God told Rebekah and Isaac that His will was to bless the younger son of Isaac, that is, Jacob, Isaac felt otherwise. Isaac favored Esau. To him Esau was a man’s man: robust, hardy, a man who enjoyed hunting and the great outdoors. Jacob was a man who enjoyed being in the home with his mother. He spent his time in the kitchen with her—a momma’s boy, of sorts. For this reason, when Isaac thought the time was right, and he was alone with Esau, he called Esau to him and said, “Go kill a deer and make me some savory venison and I will bless you before I die.” Esau, all too glad to accommodate his father, left immediately to shoot himself a deer.
Well, without Isaac’s knowledge (he was blind), Rebekah was not far off and she overheard the conversation between Isaac and Esau. She acted quickly. She instructed Jacob to go to the flock of goats and kill a couple of kids, disguising them as best he could with the same savory spices used by Esau. He was to take the meat to Isaac and ask him to bless him with the birthright blessing. She and Jacob both well knew, however, that, though Isaac had lost his eyesight, it would still be difficult for Jacob to deceive Isaac. After all, Isaac still had his other senses: smell, touch, and hearing. Hearing would be hard to disguise, but touching and smelling could be overcome. Jacob dressed himself in Esau’s clothing so that he would have the smell of the field. Rebekah then covered Jacob’s wrists, the tops of his hands and his neck with the skins of the goats he had killed. Jacob then took his meat and went into the presence of Isaac while Esau was still out in the forest hunting his deer.
Isaac was taken aback. Esau had returned so soon. Jacob was quick to lie. “The Lord thy God brought it to me.” Isaac was not persuaded yet. The voice he heard was that of Jacob and not Esau. Wary, Isaac asked Jacob to come near to him so he could feel the skin of his son. He felt Jacob’s hands and discovered the skin of Esau. It was hairy. Hmmm. The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau. So Isaac put Jacob before the question: Are you my very son Esau? Jacob lied: I am. So Isaac ate of the goat, somehow cleverly disguised to taste like venison, drank some wine, and was ready to give his son Esau, so he thought, the blessing. One more test. Come near now and kiss me. Jacob bent near to his father and kissed him. Yep, this son had the smell of Esau. Isaac then proceeded to pronounce the blessing on Jacob, believing that it was Esau. He had been convinced. Having received the blessing, Jacob quickly left his father’s presence in order to absent himself before Esau returned.
Scarcely had Jacob left Isaac’s presence when in marched Esau with his venison prepared exactly how he knew his father enjoyed it. “Let my father arise and eat of his son’s venison, that your soul may bless me!” Who are you? Isaac asked. “I am your son, your firstborn, Esau.” Now we learn that Isaac truly had been deceived by Jacob. Isaac trembled greatly, we are told in verse 33. His surprise was not feigned. It was genuine. When Isaac informed Esau that the blessing had been given to his brother Jacob, we find that Esau cried with a great and exceeding bitter cry. “Bless me too!” To this Isaac replied, “Your brother by subtlety has taken away your blessing.” Esau asked if Isaac had not reserved some sort of blessing for him. Perhaps his father had more than one blessing he could pronounce. Isaac did pronounce a blessing on Esau but it certainly was not the same as that given to his younger brother. Such is the account to which the writer to the Hebrews refers in Hebrews 11:20.
Now, before we consider the faith of Isaac in this account, we need to look closely at the blessings that he pronounced on his sons. The blessing that Isaac spoke to Jacob (that he intended to give to Esau) contains two truths. First, God give you the dew of heaven and the fatness of the earth. The dew of heaven, the fatness of the earth, and the plenty of corn and wine were a blessing that was to be found in the land of Canaan. The land of Canaan flowed with milk and honey. The blessing of such earthly wealth was based upon God’s promise that He would give to Abraham and his seed the land of Canaan. This blessing was rooted in God’s promise that this land, with its dew from heaven, its fatness, and its corn and wine, would be the inheritance of God’s people. The second truth in this blessing is that of the birthright: You will be lord over your brothers and their children. Nations will bow down to you. Here too, of course, Isaac erred. He knew Jacob was to rule over his brother Esau. God had told him this. Yet, Isaac was ready to bestow this blessing on Esau.
Now, we may not overlook the fact that what Isaac was pronouncing here was the birthright blessing. It was not the blessing of God’s covenant. The two were related to one another, and for that reason it would have been wrong for Isaac to speak this blessing to Esau. But Isaac did know that the blessing of the covenant belonged to Jacob. We read of that blessing in the next chapter of Genesis. Before sending Jacob off to Haran to find a wife, Isaac spoke these words of God’s blessing on Jacob in Genesis 28:3, 4: “God Almighty bless thee, and make thee fruitful, and multiply thee, that thou mayest be a multitude of people; And give thee the blessing of Abraham, to thee, and to thy seed with thee; that thou mayest inherit the land wherein thou art a stranger, which God gave unto Abraham.” That was the blessing of the covenant that God had established with Abraham.
Notice the two promises in these words. First, God would multiply Jacob’s seed as he promised to Abraham. Second, Jacob’s seed was promised the land of Canaan as an inheritance. These promises were likewise rooted in the coming of the Messiah. Jacob, like Abraham, is referred to in Scripture as God’s friend. Out of his children the Messiah was to be born—not out of Esau’s children. So the true blessing of Isaac upon Jacob came later.
Now, what about Isaac’s blessing on Esau, the one Esau wept for? Here is where our KJV translation of what Isaac said to Esau is defective. We actually read in Genesis 27:39, “Behold, thy dwelling shall be away from the fatness of the earth, and away from the dew from above.” In other words, Isaac’s word to Esau is that he would not inherit the land of Canaan. This had already been promised by Isaac to Jacob. Further, Esau would live by the sword. His descendants would be a warfaring people. By might they would come to possess the land of Edom to the east and south of Canaan. Jacob’s seed, the nation of Israel, would come to rule over Esau’s seed, that nation of Edom. Neither really was this a blessing in the true sense of the word. We learn in Hebrews 12:16, 17 that when Esau would have inherited the blessing he was rejected by God. He inherited no true blessing because he did not seek the blessing with repentance. In fact, we learn in Romans 9 that Esau was a reprobate man whom God hated. God never blesses the wicked man. So the blessing spoken to both Jacob and Esau was, in fact, no true blessing in the case of Esau.
II. Isaac’s Faith Revealed
Given what we learn in Genesis 27, we may wonder how this entire account exhibits the faith of anyone—including Isaac. Isaac, full-well knowing what God told Rebekah when the children were struggling in her womb, that the younger shall rule over the elder, was ready to confer the birthright blessing on Esau. Then Rebekah sinned too, did she not? Instead of confronting Isaac and telling him that he was doing wrong, she commandeers the disguising of Jacob. Esau in unbelief and arrogance yet seeks his father’s blessing even though he had sold his birthright to Jacob. Then there is Jacob himself, who without hesitation lied to his father. Are you Esau? I am.
Sin at every point. How was anyone exhibiting faith in all of this? Yet, our text points to this incident in the life of Isaac as one of faith. “By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come.” If we dig a little deeper behind what happened in this whole incident, we will discover this faith of Isaac—and of Rebekah too for that matter.
The key to this is found in the last part of our text, that Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come. Now, faith is the substance of things hoped for. Faith is the firm conviction of heart and soul of things that are yet to come. They are not a reality yet. They are hoped for, that is, waited for and longed for. But they are yet to come. Faith is the evidence of things not seen. It is the confidence that the promises God gives us—not yet seen with the eye—nevertheless will come to pass. The writer to the Hebrews is proving that point in the various examples of faith he cites in this chapter. Well, that faith was evident in the blessings Isaac pronounced on Jacob and Esau. We noticed that already. 1) God promises to give Canaan to Abraham, Isaac, and their children after them. 2) God promised that the seed of Abraham, and that of Isaac too, would be as many as the stars in the sky. 3) God promised that Abraham would be the father of many nations. All the promises contained in the blessing, Isaac now passed along to Jacob.
Then, there was one more promise contained in what Isaac spoke to Esau. The children of Esau would not inherit Canaan. They were not accounted as the seed. This nation would serve Israel. Neither may we forget the spiritual significance in all of this. God never promises that the reprobate wicked will inherit heaven. It is not God’s intention to give them the inheritance of those whom He chose to eternal life. Heaven is reserved for those who belong to Jesus Christ by a true and living faith!
Esau was a member of the church, remember. But he was not one of God’s elect, though an outward member of Abraham’s family. The line of election and reprobation cuts through the heart of the church. They are not all Israel that are of Israel. Esau did not believe because he was not one of God’s elect. Jacob had been chosen by God to believe. God chose Jacob to receive the inheritance. Esau was rejected, we learn in Hebrews 12:17, because of his unbelief.
The same is true today in the church of Christ. Simply being a member of the church does not save a person, as necessary as it is to be a member of the church. There is often a carnal seed that grows within the sphere of the church too. I know that is not easy at times for us to see or admit. But it is true. Jesus says, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” Those who do God’s will enter heaven. But those who do God’s will are always and only those who believe! Obedience to the will of God is a fruit of faith. And faith is what binds us to Jesus Christ. Esau would have no part in the land of inheritance because Esau had no part in Christ. We will have no place in the inheritance of heaven if we have no part in Christ. Faith is that which draws us to Christ.
If God has not grafted a person into Christ by His grace, such a person will not come to believe in Christ. He will not truly know Christ. He will not truly see his need for Christ as Savior from sin. He may be a member of the church, but he does not know Christ in the saving sense of the word. Neither will he place his confidence in Christ. Isaac did. This is evident from the promises to which he clung. If he did not cling to those promises he would not have conferred the blessing upon Jacob. Neither did Isaac doubt that this blessing belonged to Jacob.
Once he conferred the blessing on Jacob, Isaac did not go back on what he said. Isaac could have said: “Okay, everything I conferred upon Jacob is null and void. He tried to receive the blessings by deceit and lie. That I spoke upon him the blessing means nothing. I will take it from him and give it to you, Esau.” Isaac did not take the blessing back in order now to give it to Esau. Isaac said to Esau, “I have blessed Jacob. Yea, and he shall be blessed!” Isaac knew what had taken place. He knew the blessing belonged to Jacob. So he says, “and he shall be blessed.” By faith, then, Isaac conferred the blessing on his sons. As to his weakness, whose faith is so strong that it shows no weakness? “Lord, I believe. Help thou my unbelief.” Is this not what we say? Is this not what Isaac could say too? The faith was there. Isaac believed God’s promises to Abraham and to him. That was revealed most certainly in the account before us.
III. God’s Gracious Fulfillment
Was this blessing fulfilled? It most certainly was. God never goes back on His promises. Jacob’s children—his twelve sons—became the heads of the twelve tribes of Israel. Jacob left the land of Canaan for a time to find a wife. He returned with a large family. This family in their generations would inherit the land of the promise—the land flowing with fatness and the dew of heaven. Israel would become a great nation and conquer all the nations around her—including the nation of Edom. Esau’s generations would indeed come to serve Jacob’s. God was faithful to fulfill what He promised to Abraham. These promises Isaac never questioned. He was indeed a man of faith.
But there is more than a mere earthly fulfillment of this blessing of Isaac. Jacob’s believing children would indeed come to inherit the heavenly land of Canaan. They looked beyond the land of Canaan too—just as did Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They sought a better country. The children of Abraham still do today. Believers today are Abraham’s children. We will inherit the land of Canaan too—the heavenly Canaan. God’s promise still has not failed! The word to Esau is true yet today as well. The reprobate have no part in the kingdom of heaven. The gates of heaven are shut and locked to them. God has no desire to grant them a place there. God uses the call of the gospel to gather only His own into the kingdom. The wicked and unbelieving He hardens through that call.
Is the faith of Isaac your faith too? Do you know Christ? Do you know your need for Him? Then you will one day see Isaac in heaven. Then the blessing on Jacob is the blessing on you and me. God, by His grace, grant us to remain faithful.