2017 07 16: By Faith- Isaac

Posted on 17 Jul 2017

Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Since Martin Luther first posted his 95 Theses 500 years ago, five principles have emerged which summarize the Protestant understanding of the Christian faith. They are five Latin phrases known as the Solaes or Slogans of the Reformation. Sola Fide by “faith alone”: Sola Scriptura “by Scripture alone”:  Sola Gratia “by grace alone”:  Solus Christus “by Christ alone”: and the sola most popular among musicians, Soli Deo Gloria “to the glory of God alone.”  For Luther, faith alone was always the most important. But faith for him was not simply a spoken confession. It was always an action based on trust.  This morning we continue our sermon series exploring the faithful actions of the Old Testament characters mentioned in the Book of Hebrews.  This morning we will conclude the story of Abraham and Sarah and their promised son and heir  Isaac.

From Hebrews 11:20

By faith Isaac invoked blessings for the future on Jacob and Esau.

No family is perfect.  We argue, we fight, we even stop talking to each other at times, but in the end, family is family.  The love will always be there.  It is said God gave us families to prevent us from fighting with perfect strangers. For as one therapist joked, if they ever held a conference for functional families, nobody would attend.  Scripture itself teaches us that every family has its issues, even God’s chosen ones.

The patriarch Isaac seemed to have it all- a good family, a good wife, and a promise for the future. Yes, he married Rebekah a woman whom he loved. He saw God answer his prayer concerning children and had two healthy sons Esau and Jacob.  Through his work he became a wealthy man and lived to a well advanced age. Yet it was one incident when he was old and blind that challenged his faith more than any other.  Indeed, Isaac whose very name means “laughter” was made a laughing stock.   In spite of this, Isaac is remembered by the author of the Book of Hebrews as the man who by faith invoked blessing for the future on his two sons Jacob and Esau.

Of course, Isaac could be rightfully remembered as the son who was willing to be bound by his father Abraham when God was testing Abraham. That was surely a horrible ordeal.  The fear of death took the very life from his mother Sarah.  Interestingly, nowhere in the Bible does it state Isaac’s age when he journeyed with his father to Mount Moriah for the tempted sacrifice.  Some scholars believe he may have been in his 20’s . Isaac went willingly, even carrying the wood for the fire. It would seem that when the time came for the sacrifice, Isaac, being a strong young man, and Abraham, being elderly, that Isaac could have protested his impending death, and yet he choose not to. Instead, at the last moment an angel intervened, instructing Abraham to sacrifice a ram instead – one that the Lord himself had provided.  God was true to his promise.

When it was time for Isaac to choose a wife, Abraham called his senior servant, Eliezer, the manager of his entire household to go to his former homeland in Haram, the land he had departed 65 years earlier, to the city of Nahor where his own people lived to find a suitable wife. The messenger devised a plan.  He would stop before a well in the city at the hour when women went out to fetch water.  Since he was travelling with 10 camels, he prayed that that God would bring the right girl to that well, who would both offer him a drink of water as well as his camels. Surprisingly, at the very first well, Eliezer met Rebekah who offered hospitality to him and his thirsty camels.  Isaac’s cousin.  Eliezer then introduced himself to her family and his mission- to find a wife for his master’s son Isaac. They agreed to the marriage.

At evening when the camel caravan arrived in Canaan carrying its precious cargo of Rebekah and Eliezer, Isaac was out in the field meditating.  Rebekah dismounted from the camel when she saw Isaac, and covered herself with a veil as the custom was. Abraham’s hope had been fulfilled.  It was not long afterward that Rebekah and Isaac were married.

It was a tender beginning for the two, but like his mother Sarah, Isaac’s wife Rebekah was also barren.  So Isaac prayed that God would intervene and God did. Unfortunately, when Rebekah conceived, she had a difficult pregnancy. She cried out to the Lord for answers, “If it is to be this way, why do I live?” And the Lord, said to her, “Two nations are in your womb; and two peoples shall be separated from your body; and one people shall be stronger than the other; and the older shall serve the younger.” When the twin boys were born, the first came out red, all his body like a hairy mantle, so they named him Esau.  Afterward his brother came out, with his hand gripping Esau’s heel: so he was named Jacob.

As you might expect, their personalities were vastly different. Scripture says, “When the boys grew up, Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the field; but Jacob was a peaceful man, living in tents.”  And as often happens, Isaac and Rebekah each latched onto one of the children. “Now Isaac loved Esau, because he had a taste for game; but Rebekah loved Jacob.”  Yes, Isaac saw in Esau the rugged outdoorsman that he himself never was, and he learned to enjoy Esau’s sporting exploits vicariously as he savored his delicious venison stew. Rebekah, on the other hand, favored Jacob. He stayed close to home. He probably talked to her, listened to her, and helped her with her chores.

We all may warn families of the problems of favoritism, unfortunately few of us ever read the user’s manual we are assigned when we take children home from the hospital.  We all tend to muddle our way through parenthood.  Favoritism in the family causes serious problems.  While a child may be getting pampered and overindulged by one parent, he or she is getting criticized and rejected by the other. Neither one does any good.   Yes, no family is perfect.  Not even in scripture.

And so we turn to the event that made poor Isaac into laughingstock.  When Isaac was old and blind, he called his elder son Esau, and said to him. “See, I am old.  I do not know the day of my death.  Prepare for me a savory food, so that I may bless you before I die.”  Rebekah, who was eavesdropping outside the tent, heard old Isaac tell Esau to hunt some venison and make him a savory stew so that he could gain the strength to bless him before he died.  As Esau left Isaac’s presence, Rebekah’s devised a deceitful plan to help Jacob impersonate Esau, so that blind old Isaac would be fooled into blessing him instead of his brother.  She would make a stew just like Esau and place it in Jacob’s hand.  She would then dress him in fur skins to fool her husband into offering the blessing.  Jacob did not like the idea. It was likely that his father would put his hands on him, feel his smooth skin, and his deceit would be exposed, bringing him a curse rather than a blessing. But Rebekah offered to assume any curse upon herself and urged him to go ahead and do as she said.  And Jacob played his part to steal Esau’s rightful blessing, which included a double portion of the family property.  And once it had been given, even deceitfully, it could not be taken back.  Unwittingly, Isaac gave his blessing to Jacob.

Moments later, Esau entered the tent of his father, with his freshly prepared red stew. Both father and son were shocked. Esau vowed to kill his brother, but Rebekah came up with another ingenious idea. She called Jacob in and said to him, “Behold your brother Esau is consoling himself concerning you, by planning to kill you. Now therefore, my son, obey my voice, and arise, flee to Haran, to my brother Laban.  And stay with him a few days, until your brother’s fury subsides, and he forgets what you did to him. Then I shall send and get you from there. Why should I be bereaved of you both in one day?

Poor Isaac!  The man who was once tested by his father Abraham, was now being tested by his wife and sons.  His words of blessing would come true.  “One brother would rule over the other, and other would be ruled.  One brother would receive the good, rich land, and the other would receive the poor, deserted land.”   It simply wasn’t the son he intended to receive his blessing.  Surprisingly, even after such an embarrassing, deceitful betrayal by his wife and son, Isaac did not die.  He lived for another forty years.

No family is perfect, not even God’s chosen families. So there are many lessons that can be drawn from this story.  Beware of favoritism; speak openly of any divine revelations regarding your children ; and, of course, avoid eating red stew when you think you’re dying.  But I am convinced that there is another lesson, buried within the conflicted lines and flawed characters of this story, and that is, “Trust in God’s long term commitment to the family.  For God can in time turn an act intended for evil to good.”

Isaac waited and trusted that God would bring his broken family together again one day.  Perhaps it was his stubborn confidence that kept him alive as well.  He waited 25 years, for the warring Esau and deceitful Jacob to return to his bedside as brothers and friends.  Their destinies did not unfold in the way the world might have expected.  Esau became a settled and respected man with huge flocks and land.  Jacob too became rich, but he himself worked like a dog as a servant to his own father-in-law.  Tricked one time after another. Not exactly the way of success for one who was destined to rule over his brother. After living for 25 years in exile, Jacob decided to journey home, but in order to return, he needed to make peace with his past- and so he sent a messenger to his brother who was far more ready to forgive than Jacob imagined. That story will wait for next week. But then after sharing tears, kisses, hugs and gifts, the two brothers Esau and Jacob returned to the home of their waiting father Isaac, and he was over joyed.  Isaac would die in peace at the age of 180.  His two sons Esau and Jacob, having made peace with each other, would bury him in the tomb of the Patriarch’s in Hebron with his father Abraham and Sarah.  Interestingly, there is no mention of Rebekah’s death in scripture.

No family is perfect, but my friends, the story of Isaac teaches us that when you trust God with the future of those you love- all will be well.  God’s timing may not be your timing, but God can and will turn an act intended for evil to good. Amen.

May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.