HEBREWS: THE DOCTRINE OF FAITH, PART 3

The Futurists

Very little is said in the Bible about the faith of the Patriarchs, but what is said is significant: each had a faith that looked beyond death. The thing that distinguishes the faith of Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph is their unshakable conviction that nothing, not even death, could frustrate the plans of God. Their faith in the future was so strong that they spoke with confidence of what would happen after they died. Without exception, their faith was stronger than death and their prophetic words were fulfilled. In a sense, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses’ parents were the original futurists! Verse 13 is the verse that best describes these people:

They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.

The Greek verb behind “did not receive” means none of the patriarchs or Moses’ parents were in possession of the promises. But because they had faith, they could “see” the promise at a distance; they knew it was coming closer but that they also knew they wouldn’t live long enough to see come to fruition. Each of these “futurists” looked to the future through eyes of faith. But they never denied the reality the present.

1. The faith of Isaac, Hebrews 11:20

By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future.

The one who has faith possesses  both the eyes of the prophet and a quiet confidence in the future of God’s people. Isaac’s example of faith demonstrates this. His faith in blessing Jacob and Esau when he spoke of their future is such a classic picture of Biblical faith and its willingness to trust in God’s Word. This willingness is understandable, given his past. Isaac was probably in his early 30’s when his father Abraham was prepared to offer him on the altar. Isaac’s willingness to trust was demonstrated even back then by allowing his father to bind him upon an altar. The story of Isaac’s blessing is found in Genesis 27:27—29 and 39—40. The author of this letter glosses over the details of how each son was blessed; he’s not interested in details, he’s interested only in showing Isaac’s willingness to demonstrate his faith in the future. With each blessing, Isaac spoke out of a firm confidence that God’s promises could not possibly faith. The blessings themselves are quite different, but the important thing is to notice Isaac’s faith and the fact that the patriarch’s faith spoke of marvelous blessings that would not be fulfilled until the far, far future. Isaac had an unwavering trust in God and God’s plan for his sons and he was not afraid to voice to his faith.

Isaac was an unremarkable person for most of his life. He was a man who dug wells everywhere he went. That was his claim to fame: digging wells all over the Middle East. The only thing that really distinguishes this otherwise milquetoast man is the truly remarkable demonstration of faith at the very end of his life.

2. The faith of Jacob, Hebrews 11:21

By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Josephs sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.

The story of Jacob’s faith in blessing the sons of Joseph is seen in Genesis 48, and like Isaac, the blessing went against the natural order of birth. Sometimes faith insists that you do something like that. Remember, God’s ways are not always our ways. Sometimes faith opposes the human way of doing things. Both Isaac and Jacob showed genuine faith in recognizing that it was God’s will to give the greater blessing to the younger son, and the fathers both accepted God’s sovereign plan and went with it; they did not resist it.

Jacob’s life is perhaps one that exemplifies human nature in all its dubious glory. Had it not been for the grace of God, Jacob would have most certainly been a lost soul. He was a thoroughly disreputable character.

So Jacob is not only the picture of Biblical faith, but also of the dreadful human condition. From his birth, Jacob was one who was always struggling, always trying to “get ahead” by hook or by crook. Jacob was a deceiver; he was a con man who who was always working some angle to get something, even it was wrestling with God!

Jacob’s life proves the old proverb: the sins of the father are visited upon the children. Or as we might say, “what goes around comes around.” As Jacob was a smooth operator, so his sons deceived him and broke his heart.

But near the end of his life, he finally demonstrated obedience and faith. He blessed Joseph’s sons as a sign that he was looking ahead to the future fulfillment of God’s promises. Even though famine had forced Jacob and his family to emigrate to Egypt, his ties to the Promised Land remained and his confidence in the Word of God remained.

But what about the fact that Jacob blessed Joseph’s sons while leaning on a staff? Why does the Bible go out of its way to mention that? Jacob was handicapped; for years after he wrestled with God he needed a staff so he could walk. Even with his death just around the corner, old Jacob would not rest and face it lying down! The fact is, Jacob never stopped struggling. His life was a life of sin and deception, chicanery and craftiness. His life blessed no one. But his death did.

The profound lesson from Jacob’s faith is that it’s never too late; God can take any life and straighten it out. Somewhere in the dark crevasses of his heart, Jacob had a measure of faith that, perhaps, lay dormant for most of his life. But when it counted, the faith rose to the occasion and old Jacob was able to lay hold of God and God’s promises.

4. The faith of Joseph, Hebrews 11:22

By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions about his bones.

Technically Joseph is not considered to be a patriarch, but had it not been for Joseph, it’s hard to imagine there ever being a nation called Israel.

This man’s faith, like that of Isaac and Jacob, looked far beyond his death. The reference is Genesis 50:24, 25—

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die. But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” And Joseph made the sons of Israel swear an oath and said, “God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up from this place.”

At the time of his death, there was no indication that the Hebrew people would be leaving Egypt any time soon, but in faith Joseph knew there would come a day when they would leave and he did not want any of his mortal remains left in Egypt. At the time Joseph uttered his prophetic words, the Israelites were contentedly settled in Goshen, decades before the terrible time of oppression. But Joseph was a futurist. He knew he would not leave Egypt alive, but he also knew God would eventually lead His people back to the Land of Promise.

5. The faith Moses’ parents, Hebrews 11:23

By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.

The king’s edict was that every male infant should be cast in the Nile River, effectively drowning them (Exodus 1:22). But Moses’ parents defied that terrible edict, not because they loved their son more than other parents loved their sons, but because they “saw he was no ordinary child.” Now, every parent thinks their baby is the most exceptional baby ever born and that their infant is smarter, further advanced, and more genetically perfect than any other infant, but the Greek word asteios, usually translated “beautiful,” is perhaps better rendered “princely.” But what exactly does that mean? These parents, futurists, somehow had prophetic insight that this child, this strangely beautiful child, had a special destiny to fulfill and that he must, against all odds, survive. It was the purpose of the king to weaken the Israelites by causing the death of their baby boys, but this one—this princely baby—had to live, and it was up to his parents to make that happen.

His parents kept their baby at home for as long as they could, then one fateful day they placed him in an ark of bulrushes on the Nile, instead of in the Nile. In faith, they let their precious baby boy go, in hopes that he might live. As painful as that must have been, these parents trusted the future to God, whose love they trusted at least as much as their own for their son. They knew that God had a plan for him and that somehow God would preserve his life. And God did just that, in a way no Hollywood screenwriter could have conceived!

Moses’ parents refused to be bullied by the threat of Pharaoh. They stood against the law of the land and they set a pattern for the people of God forever.

People who possess real Biblical faith are futurists in the truest sense. They live in the present, but their hope is in the future. But they know the future isn’t set by other people or by the state, but by God and His unshakable promises. They are the optimists in the pew. They are the cheerful individuals who, no matter what’s going around them, are convinced that God is control and they always live above the circumstances, not under them.

(c)  2012 WitzEnd
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