“By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come.”
The struggle of faith is particularly twofold. There is, first of all, the struggle between faith and reason. Of this, Abraham is a clear example. His reason could have told him, when sacrificing Isaac, that the death of Isaac would mean the end of the promise. But Abraham did some reckoning, some reasoning; he reckoned that God would raise his son from the dead. Only, this reckoning of Abraham was by faith. Then, there is also the struggle between faith and the flesh. This aspect of the struggle is more pronounced and general in our lives. The way of faith and the way of our flesh are so often in conflict. What we believe and what we desire according to the flesh are often such violent contrasts.
It is the latter aspect of this struggle which stands upon the foreground here with Isaac. For Isaac to bless Jacob involved him in a severe struggle, a struggle with the flesh. We read that Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau by faith. First, did he also bless Esau? Secondly, did Isaac do what he did by faith? Does Isaac strike us in the entire narrative as prompted by faith?
AN APPARENT UNTRUTH
First, let us look at Isaac prior to this text. Does Isaac strike us as a man of faith? Is he not the least spiritual of the patriarchs? When we look at the incident to which this text refers (Gen. 27), who makes the worst impression, and which character appeals the most?
First, he is a son of Abraham and Sarah in their old age. His mother died when he was thirty-seven years old, and he was not comforted until Rebecca came into his life. During all these years, from his birth on, he must have been severely spoiled. He was surely petted, all his needs were fulfilled immediately, and he knew little if anything of the difficulties and hardships of life. He did not have to make any decisions; everything was decided for him, and this even included the choice of a wife.
Secondly, the Word of God speaks of his marriage. In this he had no choice. Abraham probably did not care to entrust this decision to his son. His eldest servant must fetch for him a wife. However, although comforted in Rebecca’s arms, Rebecca cannot cure him of his weaknesses. He liked good meals, preferred his mother’s cooking. It was only after Esau grew up that he enjoyed a good meal.
Thirdly, we read of his lack of aggressiveness. We read of the time that his servants digged wells. But, when a controversy developed about them, instead of defending them he simply moves on. At Gerar he imitates the example of his father and told the lie that Rebecca was his sister. When he is one hundred thirty years old he feels exhausted, would bless his son before he dies, although he continued to live fifty years after this.
Does Isaac strike us in all this as a man of faith, as one who deserves a place among the heroes of faith inHebrews 11?
And now, secondly, we look at Isaac in the light of this text. The text refers to Genesis 27. It is this incident that must indicate that Isaac really ranks among the heroes of faith. We read that it was by faith that Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come. But, is this incident of Genesis 27 really a true picture of what we read in Hebrews 11, that Isaac did what he did by faith?
First, Isaac resolves to bless Esau. This was surely his desire. O, he knew how Rebecca felt about Esau and Jacob, who her choice was. He also must have known who would have the birthright blessing. And he also knew Esau’s profanity, his selling of the birthright. He deliberately conceives of and executes a policy whereby Esau would receive the blessing and tells him to prepare venison to his liking.
Secondly, Rebecca intervenes. Shrewd and constantly alert and aggressive, Rebecca is equal to the occasion. She certainly knew the mind of her husband, knew his desire, and was determined to frustrate it if at all possible. The story we know.
One may well ask: where is the faith whereof the writer to the Hebrews speaks? Does Isaac not strike us as stumbling, hesitating, vacillating throughout the entire procedure? Is it not really true that he is guilty of a big blunder, that he blesses Jacob only because he thinks that this “Jacob” is Esau? Is Jacob not the deceiver who bears his name, “supplanter,” with honour? In fact, is it not true that the only character who appeals to us from a natural point of view is Esau, and he gets the worst of it?
A SEVERE STRUGGLE
The birthright blessing. The birthright blessing was, after all, nothing else than an expression of what God had decreed to bestow upon the sons that were blessed. The patriarchs were informed by God of His counsel unto that end, and this blessing was the patriarchal announcement of this blessing of Jehovah.
Generally speaking, there was no difficulty here, because usually the firstborn received it. But here something extraordinary had happened: the Lord had revealed to Rebecca that the younger should receive this birthright blessing in order that God’s absolute sovereignty might be revealed. In fact, this is surely the reason why Esau was born first. God had sovereignly arranged this. Would Esau have received the birthright blessing had Isaac blessed him? Indeed not! Isaac’s blessing was of power only as in harmony with God’s counsel and will.
Now we read that Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau. Does this mean that Isaac blessed Esau? Some believe this. However, the account in Genesis 27 shows clearly that Esau was not blessed. Literally we read in verse 39: “Away from the fatness of the earth.” That Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau simply refers to the entire incident, and it is of the utmost significance that Jacob is blessed first. After all, also Esau came to Isaac to be blessed. But what he received was not a blessing, not as far as its content was concerned.
What a severe struggle on the part of Isaac!
First, Isaac loved and was drawn to Esau. On the one hand, there was Esau’s personality. He was, naturally, a far more pleasant man than Jacob. Jacob was cunning, shrewd, deceitful; Esau was a “happy-go-lucky,” frank, liberal, and cordial. Besides, Esau and Isaac were opposites. Isaac was weak, had little courage; Esau was strong and bold, a hunter and a mighty man of the woods. Isaac felt drawn to Esau, as opposites, it is said, usually attract. This explains Isaac’s desire to bless Esau. He did not love Esau spiritually. How could he? Esau was a fornicator. He felt drawn to him naturally. It would be a struggle for him, a severe struggle, to bless Jacob rather than Esau, to bypass his elder son. He would be compelled to set aside all his natural love and affection.
Secondly there is the spiritual, invisible point of view. Esau was a fornicator, sovereignly rejected of God. He was a godless, profane man. Spiritually, there was nothing attractive in him. And Isaac knew this! First, he surely knew what God had revealed to Rebecca before the twins were born. And, secondly, Esau had also revealed himself as the rejected of the Lord. He married the daughters of the land, which, we read, was a grief to both Isaac and Rebecca. And he had also revealed his spiritual carelessness and indifference when he had sold his birthright for a mess of pottage.
Now this explains Isaac’s struggle. What shall he do? A fierce struggle goes on in the soul of Isaac. For years, undoubtedly, the only son of Sarah had struggled with this problem. Shall he believe, defy the natural order, and bypass the elder and bless Jacob? Or, shall he follow his natural desire and bless Esau? And when, after years of struggle, he sends Esau for venison and tells him that he will bless him, it seems that the carnal Isaac has triumphed over the spiritual Isaac. This, however, is not the end. We read: by faith Isaac blessed Jacob. And so we notice finally how Isaac’s faith has gained the victory.
A GLORIOUS VICTORY
First, Isaac blesses Jacob. Was Isaac really deceived? Was not the voice the voice of Jacob? Is it possible, as Jacob stood before him, that he realized that, in spite of his desire to bless Esau, it is Jacob who stands before and must be blessed? Be this as it may, Isaac blesses him. If Isaac were in doubt, why, then, did he not wait? But he does not wait. After considerable hesitation, much struggling, he blesses his younger son.
Secondly, Isaac maintains the blessing. Presently Esau enters his father’s tent. And of Isaac we read that he trembles. Again that battle rages in his soul. Again the voice of Esau melts his heart — he is drawn to his elder son. But faith has the victory because Isaac maintains the blessing. O, had he wished, he could have changed it. He could have declared the blessing upon Jacob of none effect; he could have nullified it, declaring that it had been obtained by fraud and deception. He could have called Jacob and Rebecca and rebuked them and then have blessed Esau. But he does nothing of the kind. He maintains the blessing upon Jacob. Esau, we read, found no place of repentance although he sought it with tears. This can only mean that he sought this place of repentance, this change in the heart of Isaac after Isaac had blessed Jacob. Esau would transfer the blessing upon Jacob to himself. Isaac, however, does not change; he maintains the blessing. Fact is, he tells Esau that he should serve his brother. Speaking thus, he uses the very words which the Lord had revealed to Rebecca, that the elder should serve the younger.
Finally, Isaac repeats the blessing in Genesis 28 when Jacob is about to leave for Padan-aram. Of this we read in Genesis 28:1-4. Indeed, Isaac’s blessing of Jacob was not simply a fortunate mistake. It was an act of faith. Isaac fights against his carnal desire and overcomes. And when Jacob is about to leave, to flee to his uncle Laban, he repeats the promise. This, too, we must understand, belongs to this text, that Isaac blessed Jacob by faith.
Faith must have and does have the victory! In the case of Isaac, the patriarch must and does overcome his natural love and affection. In our case, and throughout the ages, we must also overcome our natural desires, the world, the things that are therein, and cleave unto the invisible God and the invisible things of the Kingdom of God and of heaven. This faith is never of ourselves. It is always the gift of God. To Him, to Him alone, be all the glory, now and forever.