20 By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau. – Hebrews 11:20 ESV
Isaac, the son of Abraham, would live a long life and father two twin sons, Jacob and Esau. He would also inherit the same promise from God given to his father, Abraham.
“Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you and will bless you, for to you and to your offspring I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father. I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed…” – Genesis 26:3-4 ESV
When Isaac realized that his days on earth were coming to a close, he determined to bless his sons, beginning with Esau, the first-born of the two.
When Isaac was old and his eyes were dim so that he could not see, he called Esau his older son and said to him, “My son”; and he answered, “Here I am.” He said, “Behold, I am old; I do not know the day of my death. Now then, take your weapons, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field and hunt game for me, and prepare for me delicious food, such as I love, and bring it to me so that I may eat, that my soul may bless you before I die.” – Genesis 27:1-4 ESV
Of course, little did Isaac know that his wife, Rebekah, had overheard his instructions to Esau. She immediately conspired with Jacob, her personal favorite of the two sons, to trick Isaac into giving him the blessing reserved for Esau. In her defense, Rebekah thought she was doing the right thing.
Like her mother-in-law, Sarah, Rebekah had been barren and unable to have children. But God came to her and promised to give her twin boys. He told her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger” (Genesis 25:23 ESV). She believed that the blessing of Isaac was the key to God’s promise being fulfilled, so she concocted a plan to make sure Jacob received the blessing of the firstborn. And Jacob went along with it because, technically, the birthright was his. Esau had unwisely and impulsively sold it to him for a pot of stew (Genesis 25:29-34). Driven by his hunger, Esau had flippantly forfeited his right to the blessing
So, when Rebekah approached Jacob with her plan to deceive Isaac, he was reluctant but eventually agreed to carry it out. And their deception worked. Unknowingly, Isaac gave the blessing to Jacob that had been intended for Esau.
“May God give you of the dew of heaven
and of the fatness of the earth
and plenty of grain and wine.
Let peoples serve you,
and nations bow down to you.
Be lord over your brothers,
and may your mother’s sons bow down to you.
Cursed be everyone who curses you,
and blessed be everyone who blesses you!” – Genesis 27:28-29 ESV
But what is interesting about this story is what the author of Hebrews says about Isaac. He writes, “By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau.”
But wait a minute! He was deceived. He didn’t knowingly bless Jacob. He did so because he was tricked. How can this be an example of faith? Well, first of all, we have to realize that the blessing he gave, fully believing he was giving it to Esau, was an example of faith. It was based on things hoped for and a conviction of things not seen. In simply invoking the blessing he was trusting God to bring it all about. Isaac could speak the words, but God would have to bring them to fruition. That is an act of faith.
Yet even when Isaac discovered that he had been deceived by his wife and youngest son, he was angry but remained faithful.
Then Isaac trembled very violently and said, “Who was it then that hunted game and brought it to me, and I ate it all before you came, and I have blessed him? Yes, and he shall be blessed.” – Genesis 27:33 ESV
Despite the subterfuge of Rebekah, Isaac had faith that God would fulfill the promise He had made to Abraham and had passed on to him.
And the Lord appeared to him [Isaac] the same night and said, “I am the God of Abraham your father. Fear not, for I am with you and will bless you and multiply your offspring for my servant Abraham’s sake.” – Genesis 26:24 ESV
Things had not turned out quite like he had planned, but he was willing to trust God with the future outcome. In a display of acceptance of God’s sovereign will in the matter, Isaac pronounced a second blessing on Jacob before he moved to Paran in order to escape the wrath of his disgruntled brother.
“God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples. May he give the blessing of Abraham to you and to your offspring with you, that you may take possession of the land of your sojournings that God gave to Abraham!” – Genesis 28:3-4 ESV
Notice what Isaac did. He went back to the promise of God. Despite all that had happened, he kept his focus on what God had said. He didn’t grasp the full implications of all that had transpired; he didn’t even like it, but he was willing to trust God with it. He had no idea what was going to happen in the years ahead. He was blind to all that God was going to do with and to Jacob. But he believed that God had meant it when He had said, “I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father. I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 26:3-4 ESV).
And years later, when Jacob had returned from his self-imposed exile and his father Isaac was near death, God visited him and reconfirmed His covenant commitment.
And God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” So he called his name Israel. And God said to him, “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body. The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you.” – Genesis 35:10-12 ESV
It is interesting to note that God changed Jacob’s name. In Hebrew, his name meant “he takes by the heel or he cheats.” This was a result of what happened at the time of Jacob and Esau’s births. Esau came out first, but the text tells us, “Afterward his brother came out with his hand holding Esau’s heel, so his name was called Jacob” (Genesis 25:26 ESV).
But now, years later, God would change Jacob’s name. In Hebrew, the name change from Ya`aqob to Yisra’el was subtle but highly significant. Israel means, “God prevails.” In spite of all the trickery, deceit, human flaws, misplaced blessings, and convoluted circumstances surrounding Jacob’s life, God was in charge. His will was being done. His promise was being fulfilled. And it was in this fact that Isaac had placed his hope and conviction. He had faith that God would do what He said He would do. So by faith, he invoked future blessings on his two sons, trusting God to take care of the rest. Isaac believed his God to be faithful, trustworthy, and fully capable of fulfilling His promises – despite the well-intentioned but highly deceitful actions of Rebekah and Jacob. God was in charge and Isaac placed his faith in that foundational fact.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.