Ep.248: Patriarchs Predict the Future.

Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray With Me”.

Hebrews 11 says: 

    By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future.
    By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons,
        and worshiped as he leaned on his staff.
    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.
                Heb. 11:13-16  

Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph had this in common: while preparing to die, their faith looked to the future which God promised the next generations. 

Let’s start with Isaac, who made a plan to pass God’s blessing to his older son, Esau. While Esau was off hunting game for a celebration meal, his brother, Jacob, impersonated him and tricked Isaac into giving him the blessing. When Esau returned from hunting, he was so angry he threatened to hunt Jacob. Father Isaac, fearing a rerun of the Cain and Abel story, unhappily sent Jacob and his blessing to a distant land to live with relatives. 

Does that sound like what the author of Hebrews describes? Isaac, man of faith, blessing his sons? Or does it read like a story of the weak patriarch in a dysfunctional family, haphazardly bestowing his blessing on a deceitful son? 

Next, look at Jacob. After deceiving his father and running away from home, he lived with Uncle Laban, cheating and being cheated, until many years later he returned to his birthplace, still fearing Esau’s anger. Fortunately, Esau had lost his anger. But Jacob’s family continued the story of dysfunction. His favorite son, Joseph, was hated by his ten other sons, so they sold Joseph as a slave into Egypt and generated fake news about his death for father Jacob. Fortunately, God intervened, promoting Joseph as a ruler of Egypt. Joseph invited his family to Egypt to wait out the famine. 

When Jacob was dying in Egypt, Joseph brought his sons to receive a blessing. Joseph positioned them so that his father’s right hand would be on the elder son, giving him the greater blessing. But Jacob crossed his arms and gave the blessings backward. Joseph was displeased, but Jacob said, “That’s how it is. The younger will be greater.” 

Jacob, the younger son who stole the blessing, now gives preference to another younger son. Is Jacob manipulating history? Or as the book of Hebrews says, are his blessings an act of faith?

Finally, Joseph, when he was dying, predicted that God would bring Israel back from Egypt to the Promised Land, and requested that the Israelites repatriate his bones. But Joseph didn’t see what his bones saw in Egypt–four hundred troubled years until God took his people to their home. 

So what do these patriarchs teach us about faith? 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, perhaps faith is not a gift that solves our problems. Perhaps it is a gift that believes you are present in our confused and troubled lives. As you did with Isaac, work through the blessings we confer in our confused way. As you did with Jacob, work through the deceits we perpetrate and the lies we live. As you did with Joseph, bring about the future we see dimly, but you see clearly. Like the patriarchs, our road has been long and winding, our character often weak and naive. But we trust our lives to your promises, for the present we see and for the future we hope to see.  


I’m Daniel, on the channel “Pray with Me”.  

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Ep.245: Sacrifice.

Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray With Me”.

Hebrews 11 says:
  By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice.
  He who had embraced the promises
    was about to sacrifice his one and only son,
    even though God had said to him,
          “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.”
  Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead,
    and so in a manner of speaking
    he did receive Isaac back from death.
              Heb. 11:13-16  

This story is shocking, almost repulsive. I can’t imagine myself in Abraham’s sandals, setting out with knife and firewood to sacrifice my son on a distant mountain. The law of Moses prohibits human sacrifice (Deut. 18:10). Parts of the Bible may condone killing in a just war or for capital punishment, but even here scholars disagree.

So what can we do with the story of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac? 

First, we can grant it licence as an ancient story from a time and culture that we understand remotely and incompletely. Trying to put our modern minds and sensibilities into Abraham and Isaac’s story is stretch. 

But the story resonates deeply at another level. In our relationship with God, Abraham articulates some of the cautions and hopes we feel. 

Because it is a story about faith, about a man who spent his life struggling toward faith. When he was childless, God promised Abraham that he would be the father of nations. Over the years, Abraham risked that promise by letting his wife go into the harem of a local king and by having a child with his wife’s Egyptian slave. The child was Abrahams’s attempt to help God’s promise along. God protected Sarah in the harem and arranged her rescue. Having a son by the slave caused trouble in Abraham’s family until God said clearly the baby from that relationship was not the anticipated son of promise.  

Abraham waited another 13 years, until Sarah implausibly bore a son in her old age. Now, God said, this is the promised son. 

Fast forward a dozen or so years. The boy has grown and God is asking Abraham to sacrifice him. Recognizing and trusting God’s voice, Abraham sets out faithfully with a knife and wood and fire to make a burnt offering, telling his son, “God will provide the lamb for the sacrifice.” God did. 

What resonates with me is how God crowded Abraham into a place where all he had left was faith. Abraham failed to protect Sarah, but God did. Abraham tried to help God by having a son with a slave woman, but God didn’t want Abraham’s help. Only his faith. When it came time to sacrifice Isaac, Abraham had run out of options. He had no plan to help God fulfill his promises. He could only believe and hope that through life or death or resurrection, God would keep his promises. 

God has crowded me in a similar way. He teaches me to hold all things in open hands, even the things he has given me. He teaches me that I might have to relinquish every gift and relationship and possession, no matter how dear or how strongly they are connected to my heart. God teaches me to listen for his voice all my life, not with fear of what sacrifice he may require, but with the joy of hearing him call my name and trusting him to keep his promises. 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, the life of faith you call us to is a holy and precious gift. We do not understand your ways, but we hold all we have in open hands. Give and take as you will, but hold us always in your heart, as you did Abraham and Isaac. And fulfill all your promises to us. 


I’m Daniel, on the channel “Pray with Me”.