My friend and church elder, Lewis, reminded people in church today that I write this blog – and of course immediately I was convicted of my lack of activity on it recently! So here goes with another post which reflects my thoughts on the passage from Hebrews I preached from today. I’ve been preaching from Hebrews for some time now and loving the insights gained along the way – sorry I haven’t shared them with you (except of course if you have been in church to hear them).
Anyway, for the past few weeks we have reflected on faith, from that great chapter of faith, Hebrews 11. Faith, it tells us, is “the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.” (KJV) – in other words, the thing which keeps us going between hearing the promise of God and seeing it come to pass.
Today’s passage highlights Isaac, Jacob and Joseph:
20 By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future.
21 By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshipped as he leaned on the top of his staff.
22 By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions concerning the burial of his bones.
I find it interesting that out of all the episodes in the lives of these patriarchs which the writer could have chosen, he draws our attention to the ends of their lives, when they look to the future and know that the purposes and blessings of God will extend beyond their own lifetimes. Each of them was weak at the time their faith is highlighted here: Isaac was old and blind; Jacob who had previously wrestled with God now could only lean on his staff; Joseph knew his end was near.
My biggest surprise in this passage is: “By faith, Isaac blessed Esau and Jacob.” Really? Isaac was deceived into giving his blessing to the wrong brother. But Hebrews still tells us he did this by faith. So it seems that passing on that blessing, as he knew God wanted him to do (and he knew it was no small thing, as he couldn’t recall Jacob’s blessing when the deceit was exposed), was an act of faith. His knowledge of God told him that God’s purposes would be worked out in God’s way in the lives of his sons. God would even use his mistakes. A redemptive message if ever I heard one.
At the end of his own lifetime Jacob was asked to bless his grandchildren, Manasseh and Ephraim. To Joseph’s displeasure, Jacob crossed his hands over and favoured the older over the younger. Once again, God’s order would be against the usual way of the world, though this time there was no deception. I love his prayer:
‘May the God before whom my fathers
Abraham and Isaac walked faithfully,
the God who has been my shepherd
all my life to this day,
the Angel who has delivered me from all harm
– may he bless these boys.
When my own boys were small I prayed this often for them (and of course now they are grown up there is no reason for me to stop!). Here is Jacob praying for his grandchildren, conscious of his own failings and of God’s protection, that those who come after him will also experience the keeping power of God. I imagine him praying that they will learn from his mistakes as well as his victories, that they will not have to go through some of the struggles he did, that they will not resort to the deceptions of his own early life, but take God’s promises, fight their own battles, know God’s protection and power and change their world.
And dear old Joseph: no mention in Hebrews 11 of the faith to have dreams and interpret those of others. No mention of his rise to power in Egypt which saved his family and paved the way for the establishment of the Hebrew nation. Instead what is celebrated is his faith which looked to the future of that nation, remembering that God promised them a different land. A faith which caused him to arrange to be embalmed so that for generations ahead, his bones would remind his descendants that Egypt was not their home. And, of course, in due time Moses did take Joseph’s bones out of Egypt to his promised land where they were eventually buried.
So I reflect on the importance of passing on the promises and the blessing from one generation to the next. We are all the inheritors of a great deposit of faith from our ancestors, whether those are blood ancestors or others who taught us the faith. And we all can pass on a legacy of faith. 2015 is the centenary year of the Elim Churches in the UK, in which I have the privilege of serving as a minister, and throughout the year we have been encouraged to celebrate the past while looking to the future, because “the best is yet to come.”
And I hope in my own family – both my biological and my church family – I can bless those who come after me with faith.