The Faith of Rahab

By Adam Brown –

31 By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies (Hebrews 11:31).

Rahab the prostitute was saved by faith.

Notice, the biblical statement of fact does NOT say, “Rahab the FORMER prostitute was saved by faith.”

Nor does it say, “Rahab the prostitute was saved by her GOOD DEEDS.”

And yet, it seems customary for us as evangelical Christians to very subtly transform Hebrews 11:31 into one of these two alternatives:

A) We require Rahab to undergo some moral rehabilitation by suggesting that her prostitution is a past-tense occupation.

OR

B) We require Rahab’s “good deed” toward the spies to outweigh the moral indecency of her profession.

Either way, we seem inclined to factor good works into our evaluation of Rahab’s salvation. After all, God couldn’t possibly save a practicing prostitute, could He?

It is amazing how easy it is for us to abandon the core conviction of the Gospel, that we are saved by grace through faith. This is not our own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9). I believe that we believe this! And yet, even while we believe this, we then require Rahab to be saved by faith AND works.

My greatest concern is not for Rahab. She is enjoying the fruit of her faith even now. And, to her belongs the resurrection of the dead unto eternal life. My greatest concern is for us. If we require a faith + works Gospel for Rahab, do we secretly require a faith + works Gospel for ourselves and one another? I am concerned about this because such a Gospel is NOT the Gospel. A faith + works equation undermines the true Gospel and leaves us vulnerable to counterfeit conversions and bad evangelism.

I am not advocating a licentious Gospel or suggesting that good works do not flow out of a true salvation (as per Ephesians 2:10). However, good works can never be considered an ingredient in our salvation. We are saved by grace through faith [FULL STOP]. This is not our own doing [FULL STOP]. It is the gift of God [FULL STOP]. Not a result of works [FULL STOP]. So that no one may boast [FULL STOP].

Rahab was not saved because she was a reformed prostitute. Nor was she saved because the value of her kindness toward the spies was greater than the liability of her prostitution. Rahab was saved by grace through faith. This was not her own doing. It was the gift of God. It was not a result of works. Rahab cannot boast in her salvation. Why, then, was Rahab saved? In spite of all her sin, Rahab was saved because of this faith-filled speech:

Joshua 2:9–13 (ESV)

“I know that the LORD has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the LORD your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath. Now then, please swear to me by the LORD that, as I have dealt kindly with you, you also will deal kindly with my father’s house, and give me a sure sign that you will save alive my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death” (Joshua 2:9-13).

In spite of everything else that opposed God in Rahab’s life, Rahab had heard about the  God of Israel, she believed in Him, and she cried out to Him for salvation. And the LORD counted this faith as righteousness and He saved her.

We do not know much about the rest of Rahab’s life. It is possible that God’s grace had a transforming effect in her life, that she ceased her life as a prostitute. We are told that she became a mother in the genealogy of Jesus, the Messiah (Matthew 1:5), which is, itself, a wonderful evidence of the lavish grace of God. Whatever the rest of Rahab’s life looked like, she was saved by grace through faith while yet a sinner.

May we find comfort in the example of Rahab. May we also find instruction, both for ourselves and for those we seek for God’s salvation.

 

The Faith of Israel (Pt 2)

By Adam Brown –

30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days (Hebrews 11:30).

For all the guts and gore of the actual event, the fall of Jericho remains a children’s ministry favourite. Lessons of faith and courage from this episode fill Sunday School classrooms the world over. Indeed, it is easy to imagine the writer of Hebrews assenting of this common application.

The main faith-related point of this narrative is that God won the victory on behalf of Joshua and the Israelites. It was God who caused the walls of Jericho to fall. Israel’s contribution was faith and obedience to the commands of God:

1 Now Jericho was shut up inside and outside because of the people of Israel. None went out, and none came in. 2 And the Lord said to Joshua, “See, I have given Jericho into your hand, with its king and mighty men of valor. 3 You shall march around the city, all the men of war going around the city once. Thus shall you do for six days. 4 Seven priests shall bear seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark. On the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets. 5 And when they make a long blast with the ram’s horn, when you hear the sound of the trumpet, then all the people shall shout with a great shout, and the wall of the city will fall down flat, and the people shall go up, everyone straight before him” (Joshua 6:1–5).

We read of Israel’s compliance to these commands in Joshua 6:6-19. What might have seemed like a peculiar military strategy was proven effective. The walls fell and the victory was won:

20 So the people shouted, and the trumpets were blown. As soon as the people heard the sound of the trumpet, the people shouted a great shout, and the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they captured the city (Joshua 6:20).

The fact is, walking around the city and blowing trumpets once a day for six days, and then seven times on the seventh day, was not going to win the war, intimidating as it may have been. Moreover, the shouts of the people at the end of all their trumpeting and all their marching did not cause the walls to fall, loud as that may have seemed.

All of this means that these commands were not military strategy at all. Rather, they were tests of faith and obedience. It was the LORD who made the walls fall. The LORD won the victory, just as He promised He would (Deuteronomy 9:3).

The lesson is clear. Each of us is hemmed in by a great wall of sin and depravity. Nothing we do will win us the victory. The walls are too high! The enemy is too strong! Nevertheless, we, like Israel, have the commander of the LORD’s army (Joshua 5:13-15) at our head. Jesus commands the war and wins the victory by the blood of His Cross. At the Cross, the walls that enslaved and entrapped us fell if we but have faith.

Just as Jericho was the beachhead at the front end of Israel’s taking of the Promised Land, so too, our faith in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the beginning of an eternal inheritance that climaxes in our own resurrection from the dead and entry into the eternal promised land, the new heavens and the new earth (Revelation 21-22).

Believe. Obey. Take the land.

Forever.

The Faith of Israel (Pt 1)

By Adam Brown –

29By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned (Hebrews 11:29).

The crossing of the Red Sea is a foundational moment in the formation of Israel’s identity as God’s chosen nation. Before this moment, they had been slaves. After this moment, they were free. We read about this miraculous historical moment in Exodus 14.

It is interesting to note that God instructed Moses to encamp the 2 million – or so – men, women, and children between Migdol and the sea (Exodus 14:1-2). This was a very vulnerable place to rest, since there was no escape route should the Egyptian army pursue them. This was precisely the point! God told Moses that He would harden Pharaoh’s heart and put it into his mind to advance against his former slaves (Exodus 14:3-9).

As the Egyptian army approached Israel, we initially do not see a great expression of faith:

When Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they feared greatly. And the people of Israel cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” (Exodus 14:10-12)

In light of this, it is curious that the writer of Hebrews recalls the faith of Israel in this moment. How can he conclude that Israel had faith? The answer comes in Exodus 14:19-22:

Then the angel of God who was going before the host of Israel moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them, coming between the host of Egypt and the host of Israel. And there was the cloud and the darkness. And it lit up the night without one coming near the other all night. Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. (Exodus 14:19-22)

Once God had made an exceptional display of His awesome power, Israel mustered enough courage by faith to walk on dry ground between the parted waters.

Notice how feeble this faith really was. Look how much God had to do before Israel showed any faith in their God. So often we are like Israel. We require a mighty act of God to prompt our faith. The good news is this, in His tender mercy, God delights to do such awesome wonders in order to instil greater faith in His children. We ought to take courage that, just as the father who came to Jesus and His apostles to exorcise the demon from his son, we can cry to God, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).

The  mightiest act God ever did was raise Jesus from the dead. Having died for the sin of the world, Jesus conquered death by bodily resurrection. In this way, Israel’s passage through the Red Sea is a picture of death and resurrection.  Israel “was baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (1 Corinthians 10:2). Before they passed through the waters they were dead slaves. On the other side of the Red Sea they were alive and free. It was God who glorified Himself. All Israel needed to do was walk, one step at a time, by faith, from death to life and from slavery to freedom.

The Faith of Moses (Pt 3)

This is the first submission since May 31, 2016 in a blog series called Portraits of Faith. This series profiles the examples of faithful men and women as listed in Hebrews 11. I encourage you to check out the other posts in this series.

By faith [Moses] kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them (Hebrews 11:28).

In Exodus 12, God gave Moses and Aaron instructions for the Passover. His instructions can be summarized as follows:

  1. Every household should take a lamb on the tenth day of the first month (Exodus 12:3-4).
  2. Make sure that the sheep or goat lamb is without blemish, a male that is a year old (Exodus 12:4-5).
  3. Kill the lamb at twilight on the fourteenth day (Exodus 12:6).
  4. Put the blood of the lamb on the doorposts and lintels of your house (Exodus 12:7).
  5. Eat the flesh of the lamb that night, roasted whole on the fire. Do not eat it raw or boil it. Make sure it is entirely consumed that night (Exodus 12:8-10).
  6. Do not break any of the lamb’s bones (Exodus 12:46).
  7. Burn up whatever you do not eat so that nothing remains in the morning (Exodus 12:10).
  8. Eat it  with your belt fastened, your sandals on, and your staff in your hand. In other words, eat it with a readiness to depart (Exodus 12:11).
  9. Do not permit any foreigner to eat the Passover unless he is circumcised (Exodus 12:43-49).

Moses followed these directions and instructed Israel to do likewise. On the very first Passover, the LORD struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt (Exodus 12:29). But, when the Destroyer saw the blood on the doorposts and lintels of the house, He passed-over that house so that no one was hurt or killed (Exodus 12:23).

Moses demonstrated his faith by keeping this Passover, even while the fulfillment of these instructions in Jesus Christ may not have been entirely clear. We, however, can see ever more clearly why God gave Israel these instructions:

  1. Every one of us must take a lamb for ourselves. We do this by putting our faith in Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God.
  2. We must see for ourselves that the Lamb of God is without blemish, entirely without sin. He is also a man in the prime of His life when He is struck down by crucifixion. This period of inspection was fulfilled by the last week of Jesus’ life, as he was tested and questioned by the scribes and pharisees in Jerusalem.
  3. Jesus was crucified on Passover. He died at twilight, 3:00pm, when the evening prayers were being offered.
  4. We must apply the Blood of Jesus to our lives by faith.
  5. Jesus was entirely consumed by the torture of Rome and roasted by the wrath of God before sundown.
  6. Unlike the two thieves crucified next to Him, none of His bones were broken.
  7. He was buried that very day, so that He did not remain exposed the next morning.
  8. The Passover of Jesus can be applied to any life in an instant.
  9. Those who share in the Passover of Jesus must be circumcised. This is not a circumcision of the flesh, but of the heart. That is, just as the flesh of a man is cut off and thrown away, so likewise, the sin of our heart must be cut off by the Holy Spirit and nailed to the Cross (Colossians 2:11-14).

Those who participated in the first Passover were delivered from Egypt. The wrath of God that fell on every house, killing the firstborn, passed-over them. Those who participate in the Passover of Jesus are and will be delivered from sin. At the final judgment, the wrath of God that is to fall on everyone, killing all with the second death, which is eternal condemnation and hell, will pass-over us.

Moses demonstrated His faith by keeping the Passover. Let us join with Him by keeping the Passover of Jesus Christ by faith.

The Faith of Moses (Pt 2)

By faith [Moses] left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible (Hebrews 11:27).

Moses left Egypt twice. The first time was when he fled from Pharaoh after having killed an Egyptian to protect a Hebrew slave (Exodus 2:14-15). The second time was when he led millions of slaves out of bondage to worship God at the base of Mount Sinai (Exodus 12-14). It is not entirely clear which “leaving” the writer of Hebrews has in view here. However, there are two clues that seem to indicate that he is describing the exodus itself.

First, we are told that Moses was not afraid of the anger of the king. Context would seem to indicate that he fled the first time because he was afraid of the anger of the king. By contrast, Moses was not, ultimately, afraid to confront Pharaoh and lead God’s people out of Egypt.

Second, the writer of Hebrews tells us why Moses was not afraid of Pharaoh: “He endured as seeing him who is invisible.” As far as we are aware, Moses had not had a personal interaction with God before he fled from Pharaoh the first time. However, it was his direct commissioning by God from the “Burning Bush” (Exodus 3:1-4:17) that emboldened him for his mandate. Initial fear was replaced by a confidence in the power of the LORD, which Moses beheld for himself.

Therefore, this verse could be rendered along these lines: By faith Moses led the Israelite exodus from Egypt, not fearing Pharaoh because he had personally encountered the Living God.

The problem with this text is that we have not seen God as Moses had. How then can this experience aid us in our desire to live faithfilled lives? Peter addresses this indirectly in his letter:

In this [salvation ready to be revealed in the last time] your rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen Him, you love Him. Though you do not now see Him, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls (1 Peter 1:6-9).

Moses endured without fear because he “saw” the invisible One in the Burning Bush. But, as Peter points out, we have not seen Him nor do we now see Him. Nevertheless we love Him, we believe in Him, and we rejoice at the thought of His coming. But how is it that we can be emboldened, so that we might have faith without fear as Moses did?

The answer is somewhat counter-intuitive. We are grieved by various trials. So Moses got to speak to God in the Burning Bush and we have to endure various trials? Precisely. These trials, says Peter, test the genuineness of our faith. That is, every time we endure and come through a trial with our faith intact, we gain confidence that it is, in fact, true faith and not just a house of cards. Moreover, trials give God an opportunity to reveal Himself as Protector, Provider, Healer, Comforter, Refiner, Forgiver, Father, and so on. It is in the valleys of life that we see God most clearly and therefore each trail builds confidence in our faith, enabling us to walk ever increasingly without fear.

Moses fled Pharaoh the first time with great fear. He returned and led a nation of slaves to freedom by faith, not fear. Like Moses, we ought to grow in faith that overcomes fear, one trial at a time.

The Faith of Moses (Pt 1)

By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward (Hebrews 11:24-26).

We know very little about the first 40 years of the life of Moses while he lived in the court of Pharoah as a Prince in Egypt. The writer of Hebrews indicates that during these years Moses undoubtedly enjoyed unrivaled luxury. These “fleeting pleasures of sin” and “treasures of Egypt” would have been difficult for anyone to abandon. In realative terms, the decision Moses made to leave the house of Pharaoh for the wilderness of Midian is akin to trading Trump Tower for low income housing. It is almost inconceivable that anyone would do such a thing.

Of course, the writer of Hebrews is silent about one not-so-incidental detail. Moses enraged Pharaoh by killing an Egyptian who had been beating a Hebrew. We are told in Exodus 2:15 that “when Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh and stayed in the land of Midian.” The point that the writer of Hebrews is making, however, is that when Moses witnessed the abuse of a Hebrew slave, he decided, in that moment, to identify with the slave and not the master, with Israel and not Egypt. This is what the writer of Hebrews means when he writes: “[Moses] refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.”

Moses may not have rejected his adopted mother. However, he rejected the title of Prince, here called “the son of Pharaoh’s daughter.” In other words, by killing the Egyptian, Moses effectively abdicated his royal position in Pharaoh’s court. For, no “Prince of Egypt” would kill an Egyptian to protect a Hebrew slave. It is in this moment, as Moses “looked this way and that,” when Moses chose Israel over Egypt, the LORD God over the many gods of Egypt. So, while his murder remained sin, it demonstrated Moses’ self-identification with God’s people. It is this accompanying self-identity that is the manifestation of faith, not the murder itself.

The writer of Hebrews continues to say that Moses preferred the reproach of Christ than the treasures of Egypt. It is difficult to affirm that Moses would have been aware of Christ at the moment of his self-identification with Hebrew slaves. And yet, at some level Moses was motivated to identify with Israel because he believed that they were the people of the One True God. He may not have been able to articulate it any more than this at first, but this was enough. He preferred to be counted among the slaves than among the royal family because he believed that the reward coming to the Israelite slaves was greater than that coming to the royal family. This would have been, by no means, self evident. Nevertheless, Moses discerned correctly by faith and is sure to be rewarded accordingly.

This same dilemma faces every Christian today. Contrary to how it may seem, there is nothing of greater importance or eternal significance than toiling within the local church. Whether paid pastoral work or unpaid service in any given ministry, no work is greater than church work. With some exceptions, the labourers of the local church are not the poweful, the rich, or the elite in our world. In fact, even unpaid servants of the church necessarily relinquish earthly wealth and prestige by giving significant time and energy to the local church. Like Moses, may we have the eyes of faith to look forward to the reward that will be ours at the end of the age. Let us not be distracted by worldly idols that seem greater, but are, in the end, only fleeting pleasures of sin.

The Faith of Moses’ Parents

By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict (Hebrews 11:23).

Moses was born in Egypt to Levite parents (Levi was a son of Jacob and a brother of Joseph) at a time when all male Hebrew newborns were to be killed, by edict of Pharaoh, king of Egypt. In the first chapter of Exodus, the midwives are given much credit for saving a multitude of Hebrew baby boys from this terrible law. The writer of Hebrews, however, chooses to focus in on the role of Moses’ parents:

Now a man from the house of Levi went and took as his wife a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son, and when she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him three months. When she could hide him no longer, she took for him a basket made of bulrushes and daubed it with bitumen and pitch. She put the child in it and placed it among the reeds by the river bank. And his sister stood at a distance to know what would be done to him (Exodus 2:1-4).

This basket made its way down the Nile River and came to rest in the hands of the daughter of Pharaoh, who adopted Moses and raised him as a Prince of Egypt.

In the Exodus account it is not entirely clear that Moses’ parents hid Moses by faith. Of course, their love is apparent. As is their perception that Moses was a fine, or beautiful, child. How, then, can we say that this was an act of faith, and not merely an act of love?

The writer of Hebrews helps us by explaining; “… and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.” Love without faith might not have been enough to motivate Moses’ parents to defy Pharaoh. Accompanying this love was faith in God’s protection. We can imagine that their concealment of the baby was bathed in constant prayer. Dangerous undertakings do have a way of drawing us into a position of great dependance on the protection and provision of God. And so, motivated by love and affection, Moses’ parents hid their baby by faith, trusting in God to protect them all.

After three months Moses’ parents entrusted their baby to the Lord in a vivid way, floating him down the Nile in a minature ark. This too required faith, perhaps even greater faith than the first three months. God rewarded their faith by making Moses into Egyptian royalty, where he was to receive 40 years of preparation to be a Shepherd-Prince over the people of Israel (a second 40 years of shepherding in the Midian wilderness would be additionally required, but this is a story for another post).

The challenge for us likely does not involve hiding our children or floating them down the Nile. However, motivated by love we must also bathe our parenting in constant prayer, trusting God to care for our children. And, one day, perhaps not at three months of age, we too must release our children to the world. May it be that God will reward our faith and diligence as parents by making our children into heavenly royalty for the ages to come.

The Faith of Joseph

By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones (Hebrews 11:22).

Joseph was the son of Jacob, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham. He was Jacob’s favourite son and he receives more attention than any other son of Jacob in the last half of the book of Genesis. Yet, he was not the messianic heir of the Promise to Abraham. No, the line of the Messiah was carried by Judah, Joseph’s half-brother.

The biography that we have of Joseph shows remarkable faith in the face of tremendous adversity. He was hated by his brothers because of their father’s demonstrative favouritism. He was bullied, thrown into a well, sold into slavery, falsely accused of adultery, imprisoned, and forgotten. And yet, repeatedly the Bible tells us that the LORD was with him. And, at just the right time, the LORD gave Joseph an opportunity to interpret the dreams of Pharaoh, king of Egypt. His insight was so remarkable that Pharaoh made him Prime Minister over Egypt, the second most powerful man in the most powerful nation at that time. One of his key responsibilities was to stockpile enough grain over seven years so that Egypt might not starve to death when the dreamt-of famine hit.

When the famine struck Egypt and surrounding lands, people flocked to Joseph to receive a ration of grain. Included in these hungry pilgrims were Joseph’s brothers, who had sold him into slavery decades earlier. Joseph recognized them but they did not recognize him. Eventually Joseph revealed himself to his family, inviting them to live in privilege within Egypt.

The author of Hebrews might have selected a detail from any part of Joseph’s life to demonstrate his faith. And yet, he chooses a relatively obscure passage from the end of the book of Genesis:

So Joseph remained in Egypt, he and his father’s house. Joseph lived 110 years. And Joseph saw Ephraim’s children of the third generation. The children also of Machir the son of Manasseh were counted as Joseph’s own. And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die, but God will visit you and bring you up out of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, sayng, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.” So Joseph died, being 110 years old. They embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt (Genesis 50:22-26).

Why did the writer of Hebrews choose this passage? Perhaps it was because this passage best illustrates the definition of faith given in Hebrews 11:1: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Indeed, Joseph is clearly looking into the future by faith. However, this is not altogether different from his interpretation of his own teenage dreams or of Pharaoh’s dreams. All of these incidents illustrate Joseph’s ability to perceive future realities by God’s gracious gifting and by faith. Therefore, this cannot be the reason for choosing this latter passage.

This passage is likely selected because it, more than any other detail of Joseph’s biography, is embedded with deep symbolism for the nation Israel and for all humanity. The land God promised to Abraham is a picture of the eternal promised land, the New Jerusalem in a new heavens and a new earth. Egypt, on the other hand, was to become a picture of bondage, slavery, and sin. Joseph wanted to be forever linked with the promises of God and therefore, he asked his bones to be buried in the land that had been promised to his great-grandfather, Abraham. On the day when the Trumpet sounds from heaven and the dead are raised back to life imperishable, Joseph will rise out of the ground of the Promised Land, meet the Lord in the air, ready to inherit the eternal promised land forever, with all the saints of all the ages.

Likewise, we are to live in hope for the fulfillment of all God’s promises. We do not need to be buried in Israel to have the same faith as Joseph. All we need do is remember always that God’s promises are sure. We have been delivered from our slavery to sin and we will inherit the eternal promised land, along with Joseph, Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham. Praise be to God!

The Faith of Jacob

By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff (Hebrews 11:21).

From what we can tell from Scripture, Jacob was not a very nice man. He manipulated his brother, who was weak-minded and appetite driven, into trading him his birthright for a bowl of soup (Genesis 25:29-34). He deceived his father into blessing him in place of Esau (Genesis 27:1-40). He put conditions on his relationship with God, saying that his devotion required the LORD’s protection and prosperity (Genesis 28:20-22). He married two sisters and had two mistresses (concubines). To make matters worse, he treated all but his favourite wife, Rachel, with contempt (Genesis:29:30-30:24). He bred the sheep of his father-in-law in a way that enabled him to prosper at Laban’s expense (Genesis 30:25-43). He fled from the house of his father-in-law without warning, taking much wealth with him (Genesis 31:17-21). He deceived his brother, Esau, a second time, saying he would return with him to Seir when all the while he had decided to continue to Shechem (Genesis 33:12-18). When his daughter, Dinah, was raped he did nothing, preferring a good standing with the Shechemites than the protection and honour of Dinah. When Dinah’s brothers, Simeon and Levi, avenged their sister, they were disciplined by Jacob: “You have brought trouble on me by making me stink ot the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites and the Perizzites” (Genesis 34:30). Just as he showed devestating favouritism to Rachel, he elevated Rachel’s son, Joseph, before his brothers (Genesis 37:3-4). He showed this same favouritism to Joseph’s brother, Benjamin, after he thought that Joseph had been killed (Genesis 43:1-7). So, you see, Jacob, by today’s Canadian standards, was not a very nice man.

Jacob was a liar, a conniver, a polygamist, and a manipulator. He was selfish in business, tribal politics, and family matters. He showed devastating favouratism to some while ignoring the plight of others. From the biblical record, we cannot even say that was a prayerful man. All of his prayers and worship moments came at times of intense crisis. They were usually accompanied by a healthy dose of self-preservation and self-promotion. And yet, in spite of all of this, God loved him (Malachi 1:2-3, Romans 9:13). And, over and over again God mightily blessed him (Genesis 25:22-23; 28:10-17; 31:3; 31:22-24; 32:1-2; 32:22-32; 35:1, 5; 35:9-15).

This brings us back to Hebrews 11:21By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff.

The writer of Hebrews is alluding to Genesis 48:14-20. This blessing, which stands apart from the blessings that Jacob bestowed on his other eleven sons, reveals Jacob’s enduring favouratism of Joseph. By blessing Joseph’s sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, Joseph received a double blessing. Moreoever, in a reinactment of his own stealthy theft of his older brother’s blessing, Jacob blessed Ephraim, the younger, in greater measure than Manasseh, the older.

Was it right to give Joseph a double blessing? Was it right to bless Ephraim more than Manasseh? In spite of these moral ambiguities, the writer of Hebrews affirms that what Jacob did, he did by faith. Perhaps more to the point, God honoured Jacob’s faith-filled blessing by ensuring that Jacob’s prophetic word to each son came to pass. Ephraim, indeed, did become a mighty nation (Northern Kingdom), just as the blessing predicted.

The writer of Hebrews also makes a point of Jacob’s worship at this moment. This is, perhaps, because it is the purest example of true worship in all of the Bible’s portrait of Jacob. Every other instance of worship is mixed with significant self-interest. Finally, however, at the end of his life, Jacob finally articulated all that God had done for him. He begins his blessings with this prayer of worship:

The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day, the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the boys; and in them let my name be carried on, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth (Genesis 48:15-16).

Finally, pure worship that recognized the fullness of God’s love and grace toward him. Uttered by faith and pleasing to God.

The Faith of Isaac

By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau (Hebrews 11:20).

This is a very perplexing verse. For, anyone familiar with the life of Jacob will know that he deceived his father, Isaac, into giving him his blessing. Indeed, in blessing Jacob, Isaac thought he was blessing Esau. How then can the writer of Hebrews say that Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esauby faith? In order to answer this question, a quick review of Genesis 27 is required.

Isaac was old and blind when he called his favourite son, Esau, and told him that the time had come for him to receive his father’s blessing. But first, Isaac wanted to taste some venison (perhaps a reminder of the exhileration he experienced when feasting on that ram that had been caught in the thickets to stay his execution), and so he requested that Esau go hunting before receiving the blessing (Genesis 27:1-4).

Having listened-in on Isaac’s conversation with Esau, Rebecca mobilized her favourite son to steal Esau’s blessing by stealth. This was, perhaps, because she remembered the prophecy given to her from the LORD that the older twin, Esau, would server the younger, Jacob (Genesis 25:22-26). Whatever her reasons may have been, she successfully disguised her son with hairy garments to replicate the hairy body of Esau. The blind Isaac touched his costumed son and, upon smelling the goatish stench, he blessed Jacob thinking he was Esau (Genesis 27:5-27). The blessing went like this:

See, the smell of my son is as the smell of a field that the LORD has blessed! 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 27:27-29).

Isaac’s intent was that Esau be lord over his brothers, so that his mother’s sons would bow down to him. This, of course, was a direct reference to Jacob, his younger twin brother.

When Esau returned with the hunted game and approached his father for his blessing, Isaac was made aware of his error. Rather than withdrawing his blessing from Jacob, however, he affirmed that it shall stand. Moreover, he blessed Esau with a blessing that sounds much more like a curse than a blessing:

Behold, away from the fatness of the earth shall your dwelling be, and away from the dew of heaven on high. By your sword you shall live, and you shall serve your brother; but when you grow restless you shall break his yoke from your neck (Genesis 27:39-40).

Therefore, Esau hated his brother and he sought to kill Jacob on account of his thievery (Genesis 27:41-45). And thus, Jacob fled for his life and did not return for almost two decades. So ends this chapter of salvation history.

By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau (Hebrews 11:20).

In what way was Isaac’s error an act of faith? He had wanted to bless Esau not Jacob. He had been deceived by his wife and son to do that which he had not planned, nor desired to do. And here, the writer of Hebrews is calling this an act of faith. How are we to make any sense of it?

This episode is instructive for us when it comes to a full-bodied understanding of biblical faith.

One: Faith does not require all the facts. Clearly Isaac was not in possession of all the facts. He had been flat out deceived. And yet, by the intentional act of blessing his son he did demonstrate faith. He was passing forward the blessing that the LORD had given to his father Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3), the same blessing that had been passed down to him (Genesis 17:15-21). Therefore, in spite of the deception, the act of blessing his son demonstrated faith in the LORD’s promise to Abraham, to him, and to his sons for generations to come.

Two: Faith chooses God’s will over one’s own will. It is no small thing that Isaac chose not to rescind the blessing that he had mistakenly bestowed upon Jacob. One might argue that even against cultural decorum, a blessing received by trickery is not necessary legitimate. However, when given the chance to make it right, Isaac chose to ratify his blessing of Jacob, not take it away. And, it must be noted, this time he was in possession of all the facts. In this sense, his blessing of Esau has the aroma of Gethsemane to it: “Not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). Isaac had wanted to bless Esau (Genesis 27:1-4), but the LORD wanted Isaac to bless Jacob (Genesis 25:22-23, Malachi 1:2-3, Romans 9:13). Somehow, Isaac was able to discern this reality and, therefore, by faith, he chose the will of the LORD over his own will, even though it had all transpired via paternal deception.

Three: Faith is not the creation of the self. It is true that we are all responsible for our own waywardness in every way. It is also true that it is we who must choose to exercise faith. In that sense, faith comes from within us and it must be harnessed by us. Moreover, we are responsible for our lack of faith, in whatever measure. And yet, this episode, perhaps more than many others, illustrates so plainly that faith is not something we can create or fully control. There is a quality to faith that is beyond us. There is a source to faith that is not rooted in us, but belongs to God, comes from God, and returns full back to God. In his exercise of faith, Isaac was not in control, and yet his actions matched the will of God. It is as though the faith of God was exercised through Isaac, in spite of Isaac, in order that the son that God desired to bless was blessed.  All of this without blaming God for the sin of Rebecca and Jacob! Sorting out the depth of this mystery is beyond me this morning, but at the very least, my hope is to expose this aspect to faith. There is an aspect to faith that dwells in the domain of God alone.

May God richley bless us and help us to act by faith even when we are not in possession of all the facts. May God assist us to act in accordance with His will even when it requires us to act against our own will. Most of all, let us praise Him that He will always remain faithful to Himself, even when we are in danger of acting faithless (2 Timothy 2:13).

The Faith of Abraham (Pt 2)

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back (Hebrews 11:17-19).

Abraham was 100 years old when Isaac was born. Abraham’s wife, who bore Isaac, was 90. Her dead womb was a picture of the virgin womb of Mary so many years later, both sons conceived by the power of God to bring about the salvation of the world. For, without Isaac, there is no line to Jesus (Matthew 1:1-2). With great rejoicing and much laughter, Abraham and Sarah welcomed their very late arrival into the world (Genesis 21:1-7).

And then God commanded Abraham to kill his son.

God’s instructions were specific: “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you” (Genesis 22:2). Your son. Your only son. Isaac. The son you love. Burn him. So Abraham, without protest, prepared to do as the LORD had requested of him (Genesis 22:3-10).

It is at this point that we rise up in protest. And, we cannot be sure who we are more angry with, God for asking such a thing of Abraham or Abraham for being ready to obey! And herein lies the power of this chapter of Salvation History. Let us look into the motivation of each.

God’s Motivation. God chose Abraham from among all the people on the earth and promised to bring salvation to humanity through his seed. Abraham is the father of Isaac, the father of Jacob, the father of Judah, the father of David, the father of Christ Jesus. Jesus is both the eternal Son of God and the seed of Abraham promised in Genesis 12:7. Therefore, God is asking Abraham to do what He Himself will do to His own Son two thousand years later. God would take His Son, His only Son, Jesus, whom He loves, and sacrifice Him on the very mountain that Abraham and his son, Isaac, ascended generations before. Therefore, God’s motivation was to communicate the Gospel to the whole world. Abraham and Isaac are a picture of the sacrifice of Jesus, the only Son of God, for the sins of the world.

When Isaac asked his father about the sacrifice, Abraham prophesied, “God will provide Himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son” (Genesis 22:8). When Abraham raised his knife to slaughter his son, God offered a ram in the thickets to be sacrificed in Isaac’s place (Genesis 22:10-13). God had provided Himself with a ram for a burnt offering, not a lamb. Close enough, right? No, this ram was but a picture of the Lamb that God would provide for Himself. But, it was not the Lamb. Abraham’s prophesy remained unfulfilled until John the Baptist beheld Jesus and announced to the world, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). The ram was a substitute for Isaac, a partial fulfillment of Abraham’s prophecy. But it is Jesus who is the Lamb that God provided for Himself for a burnt offering, a substitute for Isaac and all of rebellious humanity, the ultimate fulfillment of Abraham’s prophecy.

Abraham’s Motivation. Abraham was into the second century of his life. For decades he had walked with the LORD and been shown many wonders. He also made a slew of mistakes. In that time, he came to realise that God is God, and He is able to do whatever he wants. He can give land to whomever He wants. He can bless whomever He wants. He can bring life out of an old and barren womb if He wants. And, according to the writer of Hebrews, Abraham came to believe, that He can raise the dead if He wants (Hebrews 11:19). Abraham trusted God when He promised, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named” (Genesis 21:12, Hebrews 11:18). Therefore, the descendents that God had promised Abraham would be born through Isaac. Not even death could annul a promise from God. Therefore, Abraham prepared to be obedient, trusting God to, once again, do the impossible. Now that is faith.

Of course, child sacrifice is contrary to God’s nature. So, having tested Abraham’s faith and having communicated the Gospel through the near sacrifice of Isaac, God halted Abraham’s swooning knife.

When we think about the horror of sacrificing Isaac, we only begin to approach the agony of the Cross. For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son [to be sacrificed like a burnt offering for the sins of the world], that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the Name of the only Son of God (John 3:16-18).

The Faith of Sarah

By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore (Hebrews 11:11-12).

Sarah left Ur with her husband, Abraham, and her husband’s family, in search of a new beginning in the West (Genesis 11:31). When her father-in-law, Terah, died, her husband took her further West because God promised them a land, a progeny, an international reputation, and divine blessing (Genesis 12:1-3). But there was a problem. Both Sarah and Abraham were old, well past the age of bearing children.

So, Sarah and Abraham, having faith, did the only thing they knew to do. They took their nephew, Lot, with them (Genesis 12:4). Maybe he would be their heir and the channel of God’s blessing. Over time, however, it became apparent, that Lot was not that heir (Genesis 13:1-13) and God affirmed to Abraham that this was, in fact, the case (Genesis 13:14-17). So, Abraham adopted a second heir, Eliezer of Damascus (Genesis 15:1-3). But, God intervened and told Abraham that Eliezer was not the promised heir either (Genesis 15:4-5). The promised son, said the LORD, would come from Abraham’s own body (Genesis 15:6). Abraham confided this to Sarah and they decided that she was too old to help Abraham conceive this promised son. However, she had a young Epytian handmaid, Hagar, who might be equal to the task (Genesis 16:1-3). And so, because they believed God’s promise, Abraham conceived a son with Hagar, his wife’s servant (Genesis 16:4,Genesis 16:15-16). But again, God declared that Ishmael, Hagar’s son, was not the promised son (Genesis 17:15-21). The promised son would come from Abraham’s body and from Sarah’s body (Genesis 18:9-15). Isaac was born to Abraham and Sarah when he was 100 and she was 90 years of age (Genesis 21:1-7), a miracle by anyone’s standards.

From Isaac came Jacob and Esau. From Jacob came the patriarchs of the twelve tribes of Israel. Among these tribes was Judah and from Judah was born David. To David God promised an eternal kingdom (2 Samuel 7:12-16). From David came, Solomon, Reheboam, and all the kings of Judah. Through exile, this Davidic line survived and from David’s heirs came Joseph of Nazareth, who was the adopted father of Jesus, the Messiah and Saviour of the world (Matthew 1:1-25, Luke 3:23-38).

We are told that Sarah laughed when she heard the LORD promise to her a child (Genesis 18:12). The LORD rebuked her for her disbelief, saying, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son” (Genesis 18:13-14). Sarah denied this, but the LORD reminded her that she had, indeed, laughed in disbelief (Genesis 18:15). This divine rebuke planted faith in Sarah’s heart, which, according to the writer of Hebrews empowered her to conceive the line of the Messiah (Hebrews 11:11). When Isaac was born, Sarah again laughed, but this time her laughter came from a deep seated joy in the faithfulness and power of God (Genesis 21:6-7).

Sarah’s laughter is a good reminder for us in the trials of life. Is anything impossible for God? Is God powerless in the face of death? Is it impossible for God to raise our bodies from the grave? Is God unable to make us sons and daughters of Sarah? Of course, God will do all this and more. When we have faith like Sarah, we become her children, heirs of eternal life along with her son, the Lord Jesus Christ.