Abraham, Isaac and Jacob
are portraits of what it means to trust in a
sovereign God of grace. We see in their lives
examples of what it means to have "the assurance of
things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen"
This faith is
demonstrated in the manner in which Abraham chose to
follow the call of the LORD God and leave his home,
his father, his security and go to an unknown place.
When Abraham heard the call of God he obeyed. This
was an act of faith. God summoned him and he acted
in obedience immediately. He left the security of
family and friends to dwell as a stranger in a land,
without rights of citizenship or possession.
Abraham's faith is
outstanding because he was the first in his family
to place his trust in Yahweh, the LORD God. His
father was an idolater. Joshua says his forefathers
all "served other gods" (Josh. 24:2).
The great example of
faith is seen in the fact that Abraham, Isaac and
Jacob did not live to see the fulfillment of the
promise that the land would be theirs. They wandered
as alien nomads in a foreign land, but even in death
they were faithful believing in the promise that God
would fulfill His promise to them. History proves
that God was true to His word and He did provide a
land and descendants.
Faith of Abraham
The writer of Hebrews
held Abraham in such high esteem that he referred to
him ten times. Only Luke and John mention Abraham
It took faith for Abraham
to leave Mesopotamia and as a foreigner look for the
Promised Land. It was a step of faith when God asked
him to sacrifice Isaac. He looked for the city God
would provide for him as an inheritance.
To understand Abraham's
testimony we must keep in mind Genesis 15:6, "He
believed the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as
righteousness." The apostle Paul's commentary in
Romans 4:5 declares, "to the one who does not work
but trusts in Him who justifies the ungodly, his
faith is reckoned as righteousness."
Abraham accepted God's
promises and acted on them. He took God at His Word
and walked by faith seeing what the human eye could
not see. The testimony of Abraham begins in Genesis
12:1 and covers many chapters.
"By faith Abraham, when
he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which
he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went
out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he
lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a
foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and
Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; for he was
looking for the city which has foundations, whose
architect and builder is God" (Hebrews 11:8-10). All
Scripture quotations are from New American Standard
Bible, 1995 Update unless otherwise noted.
Leon Morris notes, "To
cultured men in the first century, the city was
the highest form of civilized existence" (Hebrews-Revelation,
Expository Bible Commentary, vol. 12, p. 118). The
city denotes permanent residence. There is nothing
more insecure than living in a tent. The city
represents permanence because it had foundations.
Abraham's eyes were not
focused on an earthly human city. By faith Abraham
spent his whole lifetime in temporary residence
because he was awaiting the city which has
foundations, whose architect and builder is God. God
is the builder. The city symbolizes heaven, the
residence of God. Abraham looked forward with
absolute confidence that one day he would enter that
city whose designer and builder is the LORD God. The
imagery moves from a pilgrimage to the actual
possession of the city.
Abraham did not have his
gaze fixed on an earthly city with materialistic
gain. He was looking for something far greater. He
is not looking for the earthly city of Jerusalem. It
makes you wonder why we have a lot of false teachers
focused on Abraham's material wealth as their goal
in teaching rather than the higher more important
emphasis of his spiritual vision of being in the
presence of the living God. The spiritual wealth of
Abraham has been completely left out by these modern
Hebrews 11:16 reads, "But
as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a
heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be
called their God; for He has prepared a city for
them" (Hebrews 11:16). That city is heaven. Hebrews
12:22 says, "But you have come to Mount Zion and to
the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem,
and to myriads of angels." Hebrews 13:14 reads, "For
here we do not have a lasting city, but we are
seeking the city which is to come" (Hebrews 13:14).
It is the heavenly Jerusalem which is above where
God resides. You can read about that New Jerusalem
in Revelation 21. This is the home every believer in
Christ should have his eyes focused upon. Even
though we live as strangers and pilgrims in this
world, we look forward to our inheritance in the New
Jerusalem (Rev. 21:1, 9-27). It is "the holy city,
Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God" (Rev.
The apostle Paul
contrasts between the "present Jerusalem" and "the
Jerusalem which is above" (Gal. 4:25-26). We are
going to a prepared place for a prepared people.
Abraham's faith was
focused not on an earthly city with its riches, but
on a heavenly city. He had his eyes set on eternity.
He was looking at that which is not earthly, but
spiritual which physical eyes cannot see. He got
eternity into the picture. Earthly temporal values
were of small consequence to Abraham.
The author of Hebrews
shifts his argument to include Sarah in verse
eleven. She is obviously important to the argument
because the son of the promise could not be born
without her involvement. She was barren, and because
of her age she could not bear children except for a
divine intervention. Abraham upon the death of
Sarah, after the birth of Isaac, would go on to
father more children (Gen. 25:11ff).
Faith of Sarah
"By faith even Sarah
herself received ability to conceive, even beyond
the proper time of life, since she considered Him
faithful who had promised. Therefore there was born
even of one man, and him as good as dead at that, as
many descendants as the stars of heaven in number,
and innumerable as the sand which is by the
seashore" (Hebrews 11:11-12).
God's promise to Abraham
and Sarah was beyond all human possibilities.
Abraham was 99 years old when the birth of Isaac was
first announced, and 100 when Isaac was born. Sarah
was 90 years old! (Gen. 17:15-21) They were as good
as dead (Rom. 4:19).
However, the God who can
raise the dead can make a 90 year old woman conceive
The LORD God took Abraham
outside at night and said to him, "Now look toward
the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to
count them." God said to him, "So shall your
descendants be" (Gen. 15:5). The response of Abraham
was, "Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned
it to him as righteousness" (v. 6). The promise is
repeated to Abraham regarding Isaac in Genesis
22:17; 26:4; It was repeated to Jacob in Genesis
32:12. "For You said, ‘I will surely prosper you and
make your descendants as the sand of the sea, which
is too great to be numbered’" (Genesis 32:12). The
promise was literally fulfilled with the birth of
Isaac and his descendants. Spiritually it is
fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:16).
"All the nations shall be blessed in you" (Gen.
12:3). "So those who are of faith are blessed with
Abraham, the believer" (Gal. 3:9). "If you belong to
Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs
according to promise" (v. 29).
The context of this
chapter would include all these patriarchs who
walked by faith. They all died believing God would
fulfill their promises in time. Their lives are a
testimony of verse one. "Now faith is the assurance
of things hoped for, the conviction of things not
seen" (Hebrews 11:1). Jesus said to the Pharisees,
"Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My dad; and he
saw it, and was glad" (John 8:56).
"All these died in faith,
without receiving the promises, but having seen them
and having welcomed them from a distance, and having
confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the
earth. For those who say such things make it clear
that they are seeking a country of their own. And
indeed if they had been thinking of that country
from which they went out, they would have had
opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a
better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore
God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He
has prepared a city for them" (Hebrews 11:13-16).
The hour of death for each of these patriarchs was
the hour of victory of their faith. Their faith
prevailed in the hour of death. In the hour of death
their faith in the future and invisible had shown
most brightly. They faced the moment of death by
trusting in the everlasting promises of God. By
faith they took possession of the everlasting
inheritance. These "spiritual expatriates" knew the
source of their blessings and they trusted Him. They
had no intention of returning to the old life
because they had made a commitment to a better
How beautiful the
statement "God is not ashamed to be called their
God." The reason He is not ashamed is because "He
has prepared a city for them." Indeed, God is
pleased to be called their God. "They desired—even
now—that better country, and God is not ashamed—even
now—to be called their God" (Philip Hughes, Hebrews,
p. 480). This is a great encouragement for us to
live our lives in a manner that is pleasing to Him.
Jesus told His disciples the night before His
crucifixion that He was going to heaven to prepare a
place for us (John 14:1-3). The apostle John reminds
us: "By this we know that we love the children of
God, when we love God and observe His commandments.
For this is the love of God, that we keep His
commandments; and His commandments are not
burdensome" (1 John 5:2-3).
Did Abraham really
believe God would raise Isaac from the dead when he
was called upon to offer him as a sacrifice?
The promise of the son of
the covenant with Abraham was so tied to Isaac that
if he died all would come to an end. "I will
establish my covenant with Isaac" was the focus of
God's promise to Abraham and his descendants (Gen.
17:21). "Through Isaac shall your descendants be
names" (Gen. 21:12).
"By faith Abraham, when
he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had
received the promises was offering up his only
begotten son; it was he to whom it was said, 'In
Isaac your descendants shall be called.' He
considered that God is able to raise people even
from the dead, from which he also received him back
as a type" (Hebrews 11:17-19).
How would he be able to
reconcile the different revelations made to him? How
could Isaac be the promise child if Abraham killed
him? God has specifically said Isaac, not Ishmael,
was the fulfillment of the covenant with Abraham.
The covenant was renewed with Isaac, not Ishmael.
The only answer is that Abraham continued to trust
God to raise Isaac from the dead. This is the only
way he could fulfill the promise of the heir. When
Abraham untied Isaac and lifted him off the altar it
was a though he had risen from the dead.
"The test of Abraham's
faith lay in the apparent conflict between the
promise of God that Isaac was to be heir and the
commandment of God that he was to be put to death,
which meant the extinction of Abraham's seen and the
end of the promise. . . Believing that God's promise
could not fail, he was convinced that if Isaac died
God would raise him from the dead" (Thomas Hewitt,
Hebrews, p. 177).
God is the God of the
covenant; therefore He is able to perform the
greatest of all miracles which is the resurrection
from the dead, if that is needed for the
preservation of His promises to His covenant people.
Figuratively speaking Abraham did receive Isaac back
from the dead.
Abraham received Isaac
back as a "type" or figure (en parabole) (v.
19). Arndt and Gingrich observe that this word
implies the author of Hebrews regarded the incident
as a type of the violent death and resurrection of
Christ. The sacrifice of Isaac was a type of our
Lord's crucifixion. Thomas Hewitt writes, "Abraham's
faith was able to reach the wonderful heights of the
resurrection and for this reason Isaac was restored
to him as one from the dead, as a type of the death
and resurrection of the divine Son who was not
spared (cf. Rom. 8:32; Jn. 8:56)" (Hebrews,
No doubt Isaac's recovery
from the offering as a sacrifice was also a
prefiguring of the Abraham's ultimate seed, the Lord
Jesus Christ and his literal resurrection.
God is faithful to His
Faith of Isaac, Jacob and
"By faith Isaac blessed
Jacob and Esau, even regarding things to come. By
faith Jacob, as he was dying, blessed each of the
sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on the top of
his staff. By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made
mention of the exodus of the sons of Israel, and
gave orders concerning his bones" (Hebrews
They all walked by faith
trusting God to do as He had promised. Everything
depended on God's promise through Isaac. "God said,
'No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and
you shall call his name Isaac; and I will establish
My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for
his descendants after him. . . . But My covenant I
will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to
you at this season next year" (Gen. 17:19, 21; cf.
26:2-5, 24; 28:10-15; 35:9-12; 46:2-4).
"It is no ordinary trial
of faith to give up what we have in hand in order to
seek what is a far off and unknown to us," wrote
John Calvin. The patriarchs had "the assurance of
things hoped for" and "the conviction of things not
seen." It was a personal trust in the living
God to do as He had promised. They took God at His
word. Martin Luther said, "This is the glory of
faith . . . Abraham with this obedience of faith
shows the highest example of the evangelical life,
because he left all and followed the Lord,
preferring the word of God to everything else and
loving it above all things . . ."
All of the patriarchs
suffered, but they remained faithful. William
Tyndale said, "All that I do and suffer is but the
way to the reward, and not the deserving thereof. .
. . Christ is Lord over all, and whatsoever any man
will have of God, he must have it freely given him
for Christ's sake. Now to have heaven for mine own
deserving is mine own praise and not Christ's. For I
cannot have it by favor and grace in Christ and by
mine own merits also; for free giving and deserving
cannot stand together."
Leon Morris writes, "With
all three the significant thing was their firm
conviction that death cannot frustrate God's
purposes" (ibid). At the end of his life
Joseph demonstrated his unshakable faith by
requesting that his body be buried in the Promised
"As with Abraham and
Moses of old, the decisions we make today will
determine the rewards tomorrow . . . . The emphasis
in the Epistle of Hebrews is: Don't live for what
the world will promise you today! Live for what God
has promised you in the future!" (Warren Wiersbe,
The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2, p.
"Therefore we do not lose
heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our
inner man is being renewed day by day. For
momentary, light affliction is producing for us an
eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison,
while we look not at the things which are seen, but
at the things which are not seen; for the things
which are seen are temporal, but the things which
are not seen are eternal" (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
Where is your focus today? Are you using
Christianity for greedy gain and all you can get out
of it? Anything that puts the emphasis on fulfilling
material greed is not Christianity.
Just as God has provided
a heavenly home, a city of God, for the Old
Testament saints, He has a grand provision for us,
too. Jesus said, "Do not let your heart be troubled;
believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s
house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I
would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for
you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will
come again and receive you to Myself, that where I
am, there you may be also" (John 14:1-3).
We have to continue
believing in the promises of God knowing that He may
have to raise us from the dead to fulfill them. This
is exactly where much of the popular preaching in
our day misses the correct interpretation. They
emphasize what you can get today in a materialistic
world. Turn man into a god, and the true LORD God
into a divine vending machine. Get your riches in
this world today. You don't have to take the long
road of true living faith and trust God to bless you
in eternity. God owes you riches and blessings and
perfect happiness today. You do not have to wait.
You can instantly claim God's blessings today, now.
Why do you continue to live in poverty? What is
wrong with this teaching? It is a sham. It is not
Christianity. Jesus said, "Come take up your cross
and follow me." Jesus called us to be servants and
he set the example.
Isaac's restoration was a
type or a parable, an illustration that points to
the fact that God will give us what He promised if
we trust Him. When Abraham untied Isaac it was like
he had risen from the dead. That type is a vivid
picture of the death and resurrection of our Lord
and Savior Jesus Christ. "The blood of Jesus, that
is to say, the perfect atonement provided by the
incarnate Son through his sacrifice of himself in
our stead, is the whole substance of our confidence.
The only merit in which the Christian trusts is the
merit of Christ." (Philip Hughes, Commentary on
the Epistle to the Hebrews, 432).
What Abraham, Isaac and
Jacob looked for was a better country, a heavenly
one. God prepared for them a city. By faith they
died looking for that city. My friend, are you
looking for that city, too? The LORD God has done
everything in preparation for you to enter that
city. What is your response to His loving grace and
The apostle Paul longed
for that city. "For I consider that the sufferings
of this present time are not worthy to be compared
with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the
anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for
the revealing of the sons of God. . . . For we know
that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains
of childbirth together until now. And not only this,
but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of
the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within
ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons,
the redemption of our body. For in hope we have been
saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who
hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for
what we do not see, with perseverance we wait
eagerly for it" (Romans 8:18-19, 22-25).
Principles and Practical Applications
1. When we have
true saving faith we will always demonstrate it in
obedience. It calls for a decisive action on the
part of the believer. "We love Him because He first
loved us." If we love Him we will obey Him. God
calls us to an obedient faith. Abraham responded to
the call of God immediately. That should be every
believer's response to Him.
2. Because we are
saved by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus'
finished work alone we will bear spiritual fruit in
our daily lives. Good works, fruits of righteousness
are the result of saving faith, not the cause of it.
"For by grace you have been saved through faith; and
that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not
as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For
we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for
good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we
would walk in them" (Ephesians 2:8-10).
3. Because we begin the
Christian life by faith we must also continue by
faith. From beginning to end it is by faith.
"nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by
the works of the Law but through faith in Christ
Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so
that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not
by the works of the Law; since by the works of the
Law no flesh will be justified. . . . I have been
crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who
live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I
now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of
God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me"
(Galatians 2:16, 20). We are justified by faith, and
we are sanctified by faith in Christ. By the
principle of faith we are justified and we
4. When we walk by faith
we see the unseen eternal glory in store for every
believer. It is by faith that we learn to look
beyond the present temporary scene and see the
unseen eternal promises which God has in store for
His children. The apostle Paul wrote, "For I
consider that the sufferings of this present time
are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is
to be revealed to us" (Romans 8:18). Like Abraham,
this earth is not our homeland. "For our citizenship
is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a
Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform
the body of our humble state into conformity with
the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power
that He has even to subject all things to Himself"
(Philippians 3:20-21). Then why do we go occupied
with this earthly life, and not with our eternal
"So real were God's
promises to Abraham that their fulfillment, though
not yet, was as certain to him as something already
and inalienably possessed. Thus the essential power
of faith made the distant hope a present reality,
and these believers of the ancient world 'saw' and
'greeted'' the promised consummation, even, and
indeed especially, in the hour of death, as though
already face to face with it" (Philip Hughes, The
Epistle to the Hebrews, p. 478). Chrysostom said of
Abraham, "he lived in all respects as one whose home
is in the City which is yonder." Let that be said of
us today, as well.
5. Because our great God
and Savior has blessed us in this life He will
continue to bless us in and beyond the grave. One
day He will come and we shall be like Him! May these
promised of eternal life sharpen our desire and whet
our appetite to look more intently for the day of
redemption. Jesus is coming! Even so, come Lord
11:8-22 Examples of Faith: Abraham, Isaac,
Jacob and Joseph