“By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come. By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and he worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff. By faith Joseph, as he was nearing the end of his life, mentioned the exodus of the Israelites and gave instructions concerning his bones.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
When we think about faith and having faith in God, we often think about grand, heroic acts pursued to God’s glory. After all, consider the stories of the various examples of faith to which the author of Hebrews has referred so far in this chapter. Enoch didn’t die. Abraham went on a long journey. Noah built an ark. If we encounter enough examples like this, eventually we can develop the idea that faith is something for super followers of God to exercise, but not necessarily average folks like us. This next collection of faith references brings things back down to earth. Let’s talk about some of Israel’s saltier patriarchs this morning, and how laudable faith can be mundane too.
Abraham gets a lot of textual space dedicated to telling his story. And rightly so. It was a pretty amazing story. He certainly had some pretty low downs along the way, but his willingness to keep returning to his trust in God’s character is what kept moving his story forward. Have you ever noticed, though, that the children of people who are super…whatever…don’t tend to shine nearly as brightly as their parents. In fact, sometimes they almost seem to run in the opposite direction just so they aren’t defined by whatever their parents’ reputation happens to be. It’s a little like that with the stories of Isaac and Jacob as compared with Abraham’s story.
Of the three patriarchs, Isaac actually gets the least amount of time. We get the story of his finding and marrying Rebekah. Then there’s the story about his lying that Rebekah was his sister to avoid potentially getting killed by a local warlord who expressed interest in adding her to his harem…just like his dad had done…twice. Then Jacob and Esau enter the story and Isaac pretty much fades into the background except for some minor character development notes about his being just an average father who played favorites and was clueless as to the manipulations of his wife.
Jacob gets a lot more time in the narrative spotlight, but while he certainly demonstrated a dedication to God that was admirable, he was more of a scoundrel than anything else. He was willing to work hard to get what he wanted, but he was also perfectly willing to manipulate things like his mom had done. And he played favorites with his children even more blatantly than his father had done, and his family situation was just as broken by it.
Then there was Joseph, Jacob’s favorite son. Other than being a bit of an innocent punk when he was a kid, he was actually the best of the bunch in terms of his character and willingness to keep trusting in the Lord even in the midst of horrible circumstances that just kept getting worse all the time.
Here’s the thing about all three of these stories: while all three of these guys did demonstrate faith in God over the course of their lifetimes, for none of them was it the feature that it was in Abraham’s life. And all three of them…well at least the first two of them…seemed to have far more character flaws than features. As much as we hold them up as models of faithfulness by virtue of their appearing in the Scriptures, these were regular guys who lived regular lives. The three examples the author of Hebrews cites here don’t make any mention of faith at all when you read them in context. If you don’t read these verses in light of what we talked about Monday, it almost doesn’t make any sense why they would get mentioned in this faith lineup at all. The author’s point is that they lived with their eyes focused forward toward the promises about the future God made to them.
That point is where we find the real worth to these examples for our own lives. These three men were not faith superheroes. They simply lived their lives with an eye toward trusting in God and His plans more than whatever their plans happened to be. At least, that was their ultimate aim. Along the way, they took their eyes off that particular prize and made a mess of things several different times. They made huge and consequential mistakes that affected not just their lives, but the lives of their children as well as other people within their circles of influence. Their stories were complicated and messy. But they kept returning to faith, and so God used them in powerful ways. They became integral parts of His story.
You can also become an integral part in God’s story. You can become that by exercising trust in Him the way these men did. Being a key player in God’s story of grace doesn’t mean hitting the mark of sinless perfection. That’s definitely still what we are to aim for as Jesus made clear in Matthew 5:48, but the way God has been unfolding His beautiful tapestry throughout human history the whole time is by weaving it through the lives of very imperfect people who were willing to trust in Him in spite of their brokenness and to keep returning to that trust in Him when they got off track along the way. You can do that. Not by yourself, of course. You’ll need Jesus and the indwelling help of the Holy Spirit to make any forward progress on the matter, but with their help, you can do it. Don’t look for the big and the bold when it comes to being of any use to God. Those times may come, but those aren’t your aim. The real beauty of God’s story is when we are faithful in the mundane.