52 – Hebrews 11:20-22: The Faith of Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph

Hebrews 11:20-22

“By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning their future. Faith enabled Jacob on his deathbed to bless the sons of Joseph, who worshiped as he leaned on his staff. Faith inspired Joseph as he was dying to speak confidently of the Israelite’s future exodus from Egypt – and to give specific instructions concerning his own burial.”

Abraham’s son (Isaac), grandson (Jacob), and great-grandson (Joseph) form the trio of patriarchs that are prominent in the book of Genesis. The writer selects incidents from the final segments of their lives which illustrate their faith in God concerning future generations. Although each of these men affirmed God’s promises, none of them actually possessed Canaan. Isaac died a nomadic pilgrim, Jacob as an exile in Egypt, and Joseph as an Egyptian official. These ancestors demonstrate the determination of godly parents to pass God’s blessings on to their children. Isaac knew the day of his death was approaching (Gen. 27:2). Jacob realized the time he would die was drawing close (Gen. 47:29). Joseph, nearing the end of his life, made the Hebrews swear they would not leave his bones in Egypt (Gen. 50:25). All three men left this world knowing God would keep His word.

Portfolio of Isaac

Isaac, the promised son of Abraham and Sarah, was born at Gerar. He was circumcised when he was eight days old (Gen. 21:3-4). When Isaac was a boy, Hagar and Ishmael were banished at Sarah’s request so his half-brother would not overshadow the favored son (21:10). Isaac’s submissive spirit is best depicted by his obedience to his father’s instructions on Mount Moriah (22:6-8). Because Abraham did not want Isaac to marry a local Canaanite girl, he sent a servant back to Mesopotamia to seek a wife for him (24:3). At forty years of age, Isaac was a man of faith and is seen praying as his new bride arrived (24:63 & 25:20). Rebekah was a special comfort to him after his mother, Sarah, passed away (24:67).

Although Isaac and Rebekah were childless, God heard their prayers and gave them twin sons: Esau and Jacob. Their birth story depicts how Jacob would one day surpass his older brother (Gen. 25:22-26). Famine later drove Isaac’s family into the Philistine land of Gerar (26:1). There God reiterated to Isaac the promise He made to his father concerning his posterity (26:2-5). Years before, Abraham had twice lied about Sarah in order to spare his own life (Gen. 12:13 & 20:2). Following his father’s bad example, Isaac lied about his wife. He told Abimelech, the Philistine king, that Rebekah was his sister. The king discovered the trick and rebuked him (26:8-11). Isaac eventually became wealthy and dug a number of wells (26:13-15). He finally settled in Beersheba in the Promised Land where he made an alliance with Abimelech and the Philistines (26:28-33).

The brief glimpses of Isaac’s character indicate he was submissive and obedient (Gen. 22:6), dedicated to Rebekah (24:67), a man of peace (26:20-22), affectionate (27:26-27), God-fearing (31:42, 53), and one who avoided conflict (35:7).

As an elderly man, Isaac was determined to bestow patriarchal favor upon his elder son Esau. However, Rebekah conspired to have this special invocation conferred on Jacob (Gen. 27:6-17). Because he was deceived, Isaac gave Jacob the greater blessing (27:33). We last see Isaac just before his death, after Jacob returned from his twenty-year sojourn in Mesopotamia. Isaac died at age 180, having lived a longer life than either Abraham or Jacob (35:28). Esau and Jacob buried their father in the cave of Machpelah (35:29). The monuments seen there today honor Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, Leah and Joseph (49:31). For reasons lost to antiquity, the biggest one is erected in honor of Isaac.

v. 20
Because this passage in Hebrews concerns patriarchal blessings, it is important to understand that a progenitor in Abraham’s family:

<> was confirmed as an ancestor of the Messiah (Gen. 3:15)
<> was obliged to stay true to the covenant with Jehovah (Gen. 17:7)
<> was duty-bound to preserve and pass on God’s laws to his children (Gen. 26:5)
<> was assured of the futuristic inheritance of the Promised Land (Gen. 28:4)
<> was designated to inherit a double portion of his father’s possessions (Deut. 21:17)

Although the rights of the first-born (primogeniture) were well established (Gen. 21:15-17), God reserved the sovereign right to overrule them. Faith was always a factor:

<> Abel’s sacrifice was accepted, instead of the one offered by his older brother Cain (Gen. 4:4-5).
<> Isaac received Abraham’s blessing, instead of his older half-brother Ishmael (Gen. 21:10).
<> Jacob got a greater blessing from Isaac, instead of his older brother Esau (Gen. 27:33).
<> Joseph was blessed by God, instead of his older brother Reuben (Gen. 49:3-4).
<> Ephraim was the beneficiary of a superior blessing from Jacob, instead of his older brother Manasseh (Gen. 48:19).

Esau is mentioned in this passage – but not as a man of faith. The writer refers to him only in contrast to his faithful brother. Esau is later depicted as a godless, unholy person who flippantly sold his birthright (Heb. 12:16). Rebekah, having inquired of the Lord regarding her sons before they were born, knew that Jacob was destined to receive the preeminent blessing (Gen. 25:23). Although Esau was blessed by his father, it was insignificant compared to the one Jacob received (27:39-40). Isaac was old when he gave his blessing to Jacob and Esau, but did not die until forty years later (Gen. 35:28). 

Portfolio of Jacob

When Rebekah gave birth to her twin sons, Jacob was born grasping Esau’s heel (Gen. 25:26). This was emblematic of the fact he would one day usurp his older brother inheritance. Jacob is pictured as a “quiet man” (25:27). One day Esau sold his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of beans (25:33-34). Rebekah and Jacob would later take steps to ensure the blessing was conferred upon Jacob by his father Isaac (27:6-29). Rebekah then sent Jacob to her brother Laban in Paddan-aram to flee from Esau’s rage (27:43). In route from Beersheba to Haran, Jacob had a vision of a heavenly staircase (28:12). He worked for his uncle Laban for twenty years and became wealthy (30:30). Rachel, who had been barren, finally bore Jacob a son. She named him Joseph (30:24). The twelve children that were eventually born to Jacob became the forefathers of the tribes of Israel (Gen. ch.29-30). The Lord led Jacob to leave Haran and return to the Promised Land (31:13). Before he crossed the river Jabbok, he wrestled all night with an angel who renamed him “Israel” (32:28). The descendants of the man once named Jacob grew to become, as God promised, the great nation of Israel.

God later appeared to Jacob and reaffirmed the Abrahamic covenant with him (Gen. 35:11-12). Rachel died as she gave birth to her second son, Benjamin (35:16-20). A famine struck Canaan and Jacob sent some of his sons into Egypt to buy food (42:1-2). Joseph’s good fortune in Egypt eventually allows him to relocate his aged father Jacob and extended family there (46:5-9). Near the end of his life, Jacob pronounced his greatest blessings upon Joseph’s sons, Ephraim and Manasseh (48:8-20). At his own request, Jacob’s body is later carried back to Canaan and laid in the family burial cave in Machpelah (Gen. 47:30; 49:29-30; 50:13).

v. 21
The writer omits the honors conferred upon Jacob’s other children (Gen. 49:2-28), choosing to focus upon the time he blesses Joseph’s sons: Ephraim and Manasseh. Although they were born in Egypt, Jacob blessed them, for they were destined to head two separate tribes in Israel (Num. 1:33-35). Jacob bowed before God, leaned on his staff, and died in an attitude of worship (Gen. 49:33).

Portfolio of Joseph

While Jacob was working for Laban, Joseph was the first child born to his beloved Rachel (Gen. 30:22-24). Jacob loved him and favored him above all his children (37:3). Medianite merchants bought Joseph from his jealous brothers…..who led Jacob to believe he had been killed by a wild animal (37:27-34). The Midianites in turn sold him to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, and Joseph became an Egyptian slave (37:36). Although he found great favor with his master, his wife accused Joseph of attempting to seduce her and he was thrown into prison (39:20). The jailer was impressed with Joseph and entrusted him with the supervision of the prison (39:22-23). After two years, Pharaoh had dreams that no one could interpret…..except Joseph (41:25-32). He was rewarded and became second only to Pharaoh himself (41:40). Joseph married Asenath, the daughter of an Egyptian priest, who bore him Manasseh and Ephraim (41:50-52).

During a time of famine, Joseph’s brothers were sent to Egypt to buy food (Gen. 42:1-2). Not recognizing the grain overlord as their brother, Joseph devised a plan to cause them to acknowledge their evil deeds. After finally revealing himself to his brothers (Gen. 43-45), Joseph brought his father Jacob and his extended family to live with him in Egypt (47:1). Jacob made Joseph swear to bring his corpse back to Canaan for burial (47:29-31). Joseph requested the same concerning his own remains (Ex. 13:19). After more than four centuries of Egyptian bondage, Joseph’s body finally reached its final resting place in the cave of Machpelah (Josh. 24:32).

Joseph’s life was characterized by humility, morality, faithfulness, gentleness, sensitivity, patience, perseverance, and determination. He was a prodigy, for his envious brothers did not deter him, being sold into slavery did not embitter him, the flirtations of an adulterous woman did not sway him, prison life did not destroy him, and his rank and title in Egypt did not corrupt him. Although he was the fourth-generation heir of God’s promises, he also died without seeing their fulfillment. 

v. 22
There are numerous episodes in Joseph’s life, but the writer calls attention to his deathbed. He centers on God’s promise that his descendants will inherit Canaan (Gen. 50:24). Except for his first seventeen years, Joseph spent his entire life in Egypt. Although he was a man of power and influence there, he chose to be associated with his fellow Hebrews rather than the Egyptians. Like Moses, Joseph refused to be remembered as a pagan prince (Heb. 11:24).

His instructions regarding his burial in Canaan served several purposes:

<> It would remind the family that Abraham was their ancestor.
<> It would testify to their consistent patriarchal faith in Jehovah.
<> It would serve as an emblem of their deliverance from Egyptian bondage.
<> It would encourage them to have faith in God’s promise to bring them into Canaan.
<> It would signify that Joseph, represented by his coffin, “accompanied” them.
<> It would depict Egypt as a place unworthy of his corpse.

Just as God had revealed to Abraham centuries earlier, Joseph also foresaw his descendants deliverance from slavery (Gen. 15:13-14). Joseph “made mention” (emnemoneou) of the exodus which awaited his descendants. Emnemoneou means “to recall vividly.” He faithfully adhered to the original covenant regarding the future possession of the Promised Land (Gen. 12:7).

The story of Genesis begins with Adam in a garden paradise and ends with Joseph in an Egyptian coffin. All three of the patriarchs mentioned in this passage were convinced their deaths would bring their descendants closer to the fulfillment of God’s promises.


Hebrews 11:20-22

1. The name of Abraham’s son was Joseph. True or False?

2. Where did both Jacob and Joseph want to be buried?
A. Bethlehem
B. Jerusalem
C. Ur
D. Cave of Machpelah
E. Egyptian pyramids

3. Which of these women was Isaac’s wife?
A. Sarah
B. Rebekah
C. Rachel
D. Leah
E. Miriam

4. Isaac was:
A. obedient
B. submissive
C. God-fearing
D. affectionate
E. all of the above

5. According to Genesis 37:2, how old was Joseph when his brothers sold him into slavery?

6. What nickname did Joseph’s brothers give to him? (Genesis 37:19)

7. Name the five persons buried with Abraham. (Genesis 49:31 & 50:13)                                 

8. What new name did the angel give Jacob after wrestling with him?  (Genesis 32:28)

9. Write a synopsis of a situation in which you “wrestled” with God.

10. Joseph escaped from his master’s wife so fast, what was she left holding? (Genesis 39:12)

11. What are some dangers of sexual flirtation at your workplace?


Maxim of the Moment

Rare is the one you can long hold dear.