ŇBy faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come.Ó Hebrews 11:20.
In the three former verses, the Holy Ghost hath particularly commended the faith of Abraham. Now in this verse, He proceeds to set down unto us the faith of Isaac particularly also. Wherein we are to mark these four points:
I. First, a blessing wherewith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau;
II. Secondly, the cause of this blessing, that is, his faith;
III. Thirdly, the parties blessed, which are Jacob and Esau; and
IV. Fourthly, the nature and matter of this blessing, in the end of the verse: Concerning things to come.
Of these in order.
I. First, for the blessing. That we may know the nature and quality of it, we must search out the kinds of blessings how many they be. In GodŐs Word, we find three kinds of blessings:
1. First, whereby God blesseth man. Now God blesseth man by giving unto him gifts and benefits either temporal or spiritual; and so He blessed all His creatures in the beginning, but especially man.
2. The second kind of blessing is that whereby man blesseth God; and this man doth by praising God, and giving thanks unto Him, who is the author of all blessings. So St Paul saith, Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly things in Christ (Eph. 1:3), beginning his epistle with this kind of blessing, that is, by praising God. And so Zachariah after the birth of his son and the receiving of his sight, he sings unto God this song of praise: Blessed be the Lord of Israel (Luke 1:68), that is, praise and thanksgiving be unto the Lord &c.
3. The third kind of blessing is that whereby one man doth bless another; and under this kind we must understand IsaacŐs blessing in this place.
Now further, this kind of blessing whereby one man blesseth another, is either private or public.
(1) A private blessing is that whereby one private man whatsoever he be in his place, prays to God for a blessing upon another. And this is common to all men; for every man may bless another, that is, pray to God for a blessing upon another; but especially it belongeth to parents thus to bless their children, by praying to God for a blessing upon them. And therefore the commandment goes thus: Honour thy father and thy mother, that they may prolong thy days in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee (Exod. 20:12). Now parents prolong their childrenŐs days by blessing them; that is by teaching and instructing them in religion, and by praying unto God for a blessing upon them, that He would bless them.
(2) Secondly, there is a public kind of blessing, which is done by the minister of God, in the name of God. And after this sort Melchizedek blessed Abraham as he returned from the slaughter of the kings (Heb. 7:1), and without all contradiction (saith the author of this epistle), the less is blessed of the greater (v.7). Further, these public kinds of blessings are of two sorts: either ordinary or extraordinary. An ordinary kind of public blessing is that which is pronounced and uttered out of GodŐs Word by an ordinary minister upon the people. Example of this we have in the ordinary priests of the Old Testament; whose duty was in the service of God, to bless the people before their departing. And the form of blessing which they should use is prescribed unto them by Moses, after this manner from the Lord: Thus shall ye bless the children of Israel, and say unto them: The Lord bless thee, and keep thee, the Lord make His face to shine upon thee, and be merciful unto thee; the Lord lift up His countenance upon thee, and give thee peace (Num. 6:24-26). Where we see the manner of the priest was to bless the people, not in his own name, but in the name of God, stretching out his hand over the heads of the people.
(i) This kind of blessing was then ordinary, and yet some way figurative; signifying unto them the blessings which Christ Jesus the Mediator, God and man, should not only pronounce, but even give unto the church in the New Testament; which our Saviour accordingly performed to His disciples at His ascension. For the story saith, when He was risen again, He led them to Bethany (where he ascended) and lift up His hands and blessed them (Luke 24:50). And St Paul declareth this blessing of Christ more at large, saying (Eph. 4:8,11,12), Christ ascended on high, and led captivity captive, and gave gifts for men; some to be apostles, some prophets, and some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the gathering together of the saints, for the work of the ministry, and for the edification of the body of Christ. Where we see that our Saviour Christ did not only pronounce a blessing upon His church, but was also the author thereof from God His Father. And as the priests in the Old Testament had an ordinary kind of blessing for the people; so the ministers of God in the New Testament, they have the same in substance; for the ministers may bless their people two ways: first, by praying unto God for them; and secondly, by pronouncing a blessing upon them, according to GodŐs holy Word. A form of this blessing we have from the apostle Paul, who blessed the Corinthians after this sort: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost be with you all (2 Cor 13:14).
(ii) Secondly, an extraordinary kind of blessing is when an extraordinary prophet, or servant of God, doth sit down and pronounce a blessing unto any, and foretelleth their estate from God. Thus did Noah bless his two sons Shem and Japheth (Gen. 9:25-27), and pronounced a curse upon Canaan. This he did, not as an ordinary father, but as an extraordinary prophet, not only praying for a blessing upon his two sons, but also foretelling them what should be their condition or estate afterward. So in this place, whereas Isaac blesseth Jacob and Esau, it is no private blessing, but a public; and yet indeed, not an ordinary public blessing, but extraordinary, by telling unto Jacob and Esau beforehand what should be their particular estates and conditions, and what blessings they should have from God, both in this life, and in the life to come. For we must not here conceive of Isaac as an ordinary father, but as an holy patriarch and prophet of the Lord, and an extraordinary man; foreseeing and foretelling by the spirit of prophecy, the particular estate of his two sons; and also what particular blessings they and their posterity should receive from God.
The meaning of these words Isaac blesseth Jacob and Esau is this: that Isaac being a prophet, an extraordinary man and a famous patriarch, did by the spirit of prophecy foretell and set down, and tell beforehand, what should be the particular estate of his two sons, Jacob and Esau; and as he did foretell it, so likewise he prayed unto God that the same might come to pass; as it did afterward. And thus much for the meaning.
Now though this were an extraordinary kind of blessing which Isaac used; yet from hence we may all of us learn an ordinary duty; for look as Isaac blessed his two sons, so we by his example must learn to abstain from all wicked speeches, as cursing and banning, and exercise our tongues in blessing, nor making them the instruments of sin to curse and revile, as many do; for vengeance is mine, saith the Lord (Rom. 12:19). He must curse that hath absolute power and authority to inflict the same when He will. But we are not absolute lords over any man, nor any creature; and therefore we must remember St PeterŐs lesson (1 Pet. 3:9), we must not render evil for evil, nor rebuke for rebuke; but contrariwise bless; and he rendereth a reason, knowing that we are thereunto called to be heirs of blessing. Far be it from us therefore to open our mouths to curse either men or any of GodŐs creatures; and indeed vile and abominable is the practice of many, who exercise their tongues in cursing and banning, not only men, but also other creatures of God. But let such as fear God both learn and practice the contrary.
II. The second point to be considered is the cause of this blessing, to wit, IsaacŐs faith: By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau.
1. Here first we are to consider how IsaacŐs faith blessed Jacob and Esau. Surely thus: He did most notably gather together all the promises of God made to him, and to his two children, which were specially three: first, I will be thy God, and the God of thy seed; secondly, God had promised that he and his seed should possess the land of Canaan; and thirdly, that his two children should be two mighty nations, and that the elder shall serve the younger.
Now Isaac doth not consider these blessings apart one from another, but hath them all in memory; and on them all (receiving them by a lively faith) he builds his blessings; for by faith in these promises, he did certainly foresee what should be the future estate of his two sons, and accordingly doth he pronounce particular blessings upon them both.
But it may be thought that Isaac did not bless his sons by faith; for if we read the history in Genesis, we shall see that he blessed them by error and was deceived therein; for he was purposed to have blessed Esau only with the special blessing, when as he gave the same to Jacob unwittingly; how then could he do this by faith? For the answering of this, we must consider two things: first, it is true indeed that Isaac was blinded overmuch with a fond affection toward Esau, and loved him otherwise than he ought, and therefore was purposed to have blessed Esau with the special blessing. This was a fault in Isaac; but yet it takes not away IsaacŐs faith, nor makes it to be no faith; but it shews that IsaacŐs faith was weak, and joined with some infirmity in forgetting GodŐs particular promises. Secondly, howsoever at the first Isaac erred in his purpose for the blessing of his children, yet afterwards he corrects himself for it. For as we may read in the history, after he had indeed blessed Jacob, supposing it had been Esau, when Esau came for his blessing with his venison, the text saith that Isaac was stricken with a marvellous great fear, and said, I have blessed him, and therefore he shall be blessed (Gen. 27:33); correcting his fault in his former purpose; yea, and though Esau sought it with tears, yet he could not move Isaac to repent himself of blessing Jacob (Heb. 12:17). Wherefore it is undoubtedly true that he gave these blessings unto his children by faith.
2. Now from this, that Isaac blessed his children by faith, we learn many instructions.
(1) The first concerneth parents; that howsoever they cannot like Isaac did, like prophets and patriarchs, pronounce blessings upon their children, and foretell what shall be their particular estate afterward; yet if parents would as far as they may, follow the practice of Isaac, they should bring great comfort and consolation to their own souls, both in this life and in the life to come.
Isaac set before his eyes all the promises that God had made both concerning him and his sons, and by faith in these promises, is moved to bless his children; so if parents would have true comfort in their children, they must search through the whole book of God, and see what promises God hath made unto the godly and to their seed; and withal, they must by faith apply unto their own souls, all these gracious promises, endeavouring also to make their children to know the same, and to walk worthy thereof; and then as their obedience shall increase, so will their joy increase, not only in God, but mutually one in another. This will stay their hearts in all assaults, yea, even in death itself.
(2) Secondly, whereas Isaac blessed his children by faith; here we may take just occasion to speak of such wicked persons as are commonly called blessers; who are too much esteemed of by many at this day, and their wicked practices counted blessings, and good means of help, when as indeed they are most vile and wretched creatures. This may be thought a hard censure, because they are taken for cunning men and women, and for good people, following IsaacŐs example in blessing menŐs children and cattle; they are thought to do no harm at all, but much good, by helping strange mischances that befall men in their bodies, children or goods. Thus would some excuse and defend these wizards and blessers, who are the wretched limbs of the devil; but let us know that if they will bless aright, it must be by faith. Now what faith have they? Hath God made any promise to them, that by their means he will help those that come to seek help at them for their children and cattle? Nay verily, there is no such matter; God never made promise to any such; nay, He hath flatly forbidden, not only such practices as they use, but also for men to seek to any such persons; and therefore they cannot bless menŐs children and cattle by faith. But they say they do these things by faith; yet it is by faith in the devil and in his promises. For this is certain, that as God hath his laws and sacraments for those that enter covenant with Him; so on the contrary the devil hath words, spells and charms as his laws and rites, wherein he exerciseth his slaves; and by a satanical faith in the devilŐs word and promise, do these wizards and wise-women bless menŐs goods and children. This is true by the common confession of many of them, to omit all other proof. And therefore we must hold them for the limbs of the devil, and his wicked instruments to draw men from God; and so in no case go to them for help; for in so doing, we forsake the living Lord and his help, and seek for help at the devil; than which what can be more odious? But say we receive some outward help by their means; yet mark the issue; the Lord hath said (Lev. 20:6), If any turn after such as work with spirits, and after soothsayers; to go awhoring after them, then will I set my face against that person; and will cast him off from among his people. Therefore unless we fear not the curse of God, we must be warned hereby not to seek help at their hands. For they are graceless people, who have no fear of God before their eyes; but they set themselves against God and His Word. And indeed these common blessers which seem to do no hurt, but to bless menŐs children and cattle, are more dangerous than notorious witches, who can only hurt menŐs bodies and goods, when God permits; whereas these blessers ensnare the soul, and draw whole towns and countries to the approbation and partaking of their wickedness.
III. The third point to be considered is the parties blessed, that is, Jacob and Esau. Here mark first the order which the Holy Ghost useth: He setteth Jacob in the first place, and yet Esau was the elder brother. What is the reason for this? Answer: We must know that the Scripture useth a threefold order in the naming of persons:
1. The order of nature, as when the firstborn is put first. And thus DavidŐs sons are numbered according to their age; first Ammon, then Daniel, the third Absalom etc.
2. The order of dignity, whenas those are put in the first place, not which are the eldest, but which are the best and most in GodŐs favour. This order the Holy Ghost uses in naming NoahŐs sons (Gen. 5:32), saying, Noah begat Shem, Ham and Japheth; whenas Japheth was the eldest, and by order of nature should have been put first; yet with Shem God continued the covenant.
3. The order of history, when as one that is first, or chief in dignity, is placed last because his history begins in the last place. So our Saviour Christ is mentioned last in the genealogy made by St Matthew, because His history began in the last place, though in dignity He were first and principal. To apply this to our purpose; the order which the Holy Ghost here useth, is not the order of history, or of nature, but of dignity; because Jacob was chief in favour of God, therefore the Holy Ghost putteth him in the first place.
Here then we see in this order of dignity, that the first blessing (of life everlasting) belongs to Jacob; Esau must have his blessing, but in the second place.
Here observe these two things:
(1) First, Jacob is received into GodŐs covenant, and Esau put by; Jacob gets the principal blessing, and Esau loseth it; but what? Are these things so for JacobŐs desert, or for the default of Esau? Nay verily; the good pleasure of God is the chief cause hereof; for as touching the blessing, if we read the history, we shall see that Esau at his fatherŐs commandment went and hunted, and took pains, and got his fatherŐs venison, and told him nothing but truth. But Jacob never went to hunt, but gets a kid dressed, and comes to his father with it, and while he talks with his father doth foully gloss and lie; so that in all reason it might seem that Esau deserved the better blessing; yet God will have it otherwise, and the principal blessing belongs to Jacob. Wherein we may note that GodŐs special love to a man, whereby He receives him into His covenant, is not grounded on manŐs behaviour, but on His own good will and pleasure.
(2) Secondly, in that Jacob here had the principal blessing; we learn that the counsel of God doth overrule the will of man. For father Isaac had purposed to have blessed Esau with the chiefest blessing; but yet GodŐs counsel was contrary, and the same overrules IsaacŐs will. For though Isaac had cause to suspect that it was not Esau, both because he came so soon, and also for that the voice was apparent not to be EsauŐs, but JacobŐs voice; yet GodŐs counsel overruled his will; and when he came to handle his sonŐs hands, he could not discern between a kidŐs skin and the skin of a man; what is the cause hereof? Surely it was GodŐs will and counsel that Jacob should have the chiefest blessing; and therefore he overrules IsaacŐs will, and blinds his senses, and makes him to bless Jacob with the chiefest blessing.
The consideration hereof is profitable unto us; for it is a received opinion with many at this day, that God did purpose to save all men. Now when question is made, Why then are not all men saved? They answer, because men will not, though God will. But this opinion is erroneous, for it makes manŐs will to overrule GodŐs counsel; as if they should say, God willeth it not because men will it not; or else (which is worse) God willeth it, but it cometh not to pass because men will not do it. But GodŐs will and counsel is the highest and chiefest cause of all; and look whatsoever He willeth, that bringeth He to pass; and because all men are not saved, therefore we may safely think and say that God did never decree to save all men.
1. Now further, more particularly of JacobŐs blessing:
(1) First it may be asked, How could Jacob be blessed, seeing he came dissemblingly and lying to his father? Answer: We must know that howsoever Jacob sought the blessing by fraud, yet he might be blessed; for he failed not, neither did amiss in seeking the blessing, but only in the manner of seeking it; it was his duty to seek it, though not after that manner which he did; he should rather have stayed that leisure and time wherein God had caused Isaac to bless him, without his sin in seeking it.
(2) Secondly, consider the manner how Jacob receives his fatherŐs blessing; namely, in his elder brother EsauŐs garment.
Here we may see a notable resemblance of GodŐs manner of blessing us: When we look for a blessing at GodŐs hand, we must not come in our own garments, in the rotten rags of our own righteousness; but we must put on ChristŐs garment, the long white robe of His righteousness. And so coming unto God, as Isaac said of the savour of EsauŐs garments which Jacob had put on (Gen. 27:27,28): Behold, the smell of my son is as the smell of a field; God give thee therefore of the dew of heaven, and the fatness of the earth, and plenty of wheat and wine; so will God say to us that the righteousness of Christ, which we have put on by faith, is a sweet smelling savour in His nostrils (Eph. 5:2). Now seeing all the blessings that we enjoy come to us in Christ, and our acceptance with God is in His righteousness; we therefore must labour to put on Christ every day, by becoming new creatures; we must seek to resemble Him in knowledge, righteousness and holiness; so shall our assurance of GodŐs blessings increase upon us more and more.
(3) Lastly, mark that howsoever Jacob was blessed otherwise than Isaac had purposed; yet after the blessing is pronounced, it must needs stand; for so when Esau came, Isaac said unto him, I have blessed Jacob; therefore he shall be blessed (Gen 27:33). Even so, the ministers of GodŐs Word, in the assembly of the church, who have power to pronounce GodŐs blessings upon the people; howsoever they be but weak men, and may be deceived, being subject to error as other men are; yet when they pronounce GodŐs blessing upon their congregation in the ministry of the Word; if they do it in sincerity of heart and uprightness of conscience, that blessing shall stand. And so on the contrary, look whom they curse for just cause out of GodŐs Word, their curse shall stand. Further, as Isaac blessed, but knew not whom; so the ministers of God in the dispensation of the Word, they must bless GodŐs people, though they know not who they are particularly that do receive it.
2. Thus much of IsaacŐs blessing Jacob. Now I come to his blessing of Esau; for he also was blessed, as the text saith; yet in the second place, though he were the elder brother.
Question: How could Esau be blessed at all, seeing Isaac had but one blessing? Answer: Esau was only blessed with temporal blessings, and not with spiritual.
Objection: But some will say, Esau was a bad man, and wicked; now it is said that to the impure, all things are impure (Tit. 1:15); how then could the bestowing of temporal things be blessings to him? Answer: Temporal things bestowed on the wicked are blessings, and no blessings. They are blessings in regard of God that gives them; but they are no blessings in regards of men that receive them and use them amiss.
Question: How came it to pass that Esau, being the elder brother, loseth his birthright and blessing both. How came it to be JacobŐs? Answer: The cause was his profaneness, as we may see and read in the next chapter, where it is said (Heb. 12:16) that he sold his birhright for a portion of meat, even for a mess of red broth; and being so profane as to condemn so high an honour, he must be content to have his blessing in the second place. And hence we may observe a good instruction.
There is many a young man in these our days baptised, as Esau was circumcised, and living in the church, as he did in IsaacŐs house; who, during the prime of his youth, is given to nothing but to his pleasure; that is as good to him as JacobŐs red broth was to Esau. Take that pleasure from him, and take away his life; herein is all his joy, and he delighteth in nothing so much as to spend his time in hunting, hawking, dicing, gaming, wantonness, and drinking. Now know for certain, this is a right Esau; and yet many such have we among us, who think of themselves, that they are the jolly fellows, and they only carry the brave mind; but as for Jacob, and such as make conscience of their ways and word; those alas are silly fellows. Now what is to be said or thought of these? Surely this: If they do not (and in that time) look to their estates, and to themselves, it will cost them their lives, even the life of their souls. Esau lost his birthright by his profaneness; and so will these men do if they continue in this estate; they will blot their names out of the book of life, and root themselves quite out of the kingdom of heaven. Therefore let all young men whatsoever they be, high and low, take heed how they live in sin, and go on in their wickedness; for if they take EsauŐs course, and continue in profaneness, doubtless they will have EsauŐs end. How wonderfully doth Satan bewitch them, that while they go on in sin, they should think so highly of themselves, and so basely of those that make conscience of their ways. Wherefore in the fear of God let such betime redress their ways and courses; lest when GodŐs curse is upon them, they cry too late for mercy. And thus much of the parties blessed.
IV. The fourth point to be considered is the nature or matter of this blessing, in the end of the verse: Concerning things to come.
The meaning of these words is this: That old Isaac their father did pronounce blessings upon his sons, not only for the time present, but for the time to come; in blessings temporal and spiritual (as we may read, Gen. 27:28,39), where he giveth to them both the fatness of the land, and plenty of wheat and wine; and especially to Jacob, that he should be lord over his brethren. But some will say, it will seem to prove otherwise; for while Jacob lived, he was always humble and subject to Esau; and when he came to his own country from among the Aramites, as he met with Esau, he sent presents to him; and when he saw him, he went before, and bowed himself to the ground seven times; until he came near unto his brother (Gen. 33:3). Answer: That prophecy of Jacob and Esau, that the elder should serve the younger, must not be restrained to the persons of Jacob and Esau, but referred to their posterity; especially in the days of David and Solomon; for then were the Edomites, who came out of Esau, in subjection to the Israelites, the posterity of old Israel. Whereupon David, speaking as a king, saith (Psa. 60:8), Moab shall be my washpot; over Edom will I cast my shoe; meaning thereby that he would bring the posterity of Esau into a base and low estate of subjection unto him; according as we may see verified (2 Sam. 8:14).
But some will say that Isaac when he blessed Esau, pronounced that he should have a fertile soil, and the fatness of the earth should be his dwelling place (Gen. 27:39); whereas in Malachi the Lord saith (Mal. 1:3), He hated Esau, and token thereof was this: that he had made his mountains waste, and his heritage a wilderness for dragons; meaning that he should dwell in a barren land. How can these two agree? Answer: First, we may say thus: That the land of Edom was a fertile land; but yet in respect of the land of Canaan, but a barren and waste land. Secondly, Isaac speaks here of Idumea, as it was in his time; not as it was afterward; for it might be fertile in IsaacŐs time, and yet after become barren; for God will curse a land by turning fruitfulness into barrenness, for the wickedness of them that dwell therein (Psa. 107:34).
And thus much for the example of IsaacŐs faith. Now follow the examples of the faith of Jacob.