We’re still hiking through the Faith Hall of Fame (Hebrews 11), a chapter that thrills no matter how many times I read or recite it. The writer sounds breathless, as if he’s racing through the highlights of a rich roster he’d love to explore, but is constrained by time and space. He says as much in verse 32:
What more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah….
It’s fitting that Abraham, father of our faith, gets the most airtime. He’s noted for his obedience, his willingness to live as an alien in a strange land, his faith in God’s promise of siring a son with his elderly wife, and, of course, his ultimate act of obedience: offering Isaac, his son of promise, as a sacrifice to God. We all know the story: Abraham’s knife is raised, God provides a last-minute substitute–a ram caught in a thicket–and Isaac is spared.
Abraham aces the test. We get a brilliant foreshadowing of Christ’s obedience and sacrifice. And we’re left with a story that has shocked, perplexed, and confounded readers ever since.
I might do a deep dive into this episode later on. But today I’m focusing on Abraham’s immediate offspring, and the brief mention they get in this chapter. Here’s the passage:
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 the top of his staff.
By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions about his bones. (Hebrews 11:20-22)
That’s it. Why such (apparently) short thrift?
Each of these men got plenty of airtime in the Old Testament (two chapters for Isaac, over nine and ten for Jacob and Joseph, respectively). Not everything they did was an act of faith, of course. Like us, they were mere mortals, with weaknesses, sins, and foibles. But they trusted in the God of Abraham and spawned the bloodline that would lead to Christ.
If I were writing this chapter, I would’ve mentioned their more dramatic acts of faith: Isaac, marrying the first woman to help water his flocks; Jacob, wrestling with God through the night for His blessing; Joseph, trusting God to deliver him from prison to the second-highest position in Egypt.
Instead, the writer (via the Holy Spirit) chose quiet moments when they blessed their offspring and made burial arrangements. Hardly as scintillating as Abraham’s exploits. Easy to skim over on the way to Moses, the next exciting faith hero. But just as instructional.
In blessing and prophesying, all three men displayed great trust in God.
Isaac believed God would be faithful to His word, choosing Jacob over Esau, and building His people through him—the unlikely heir.
Jacob believed God would create two tribes of Israel out of Manasseh and Ephraim, replacing Levi’s inheritance, whose descendants would be priests, not landowners, in the Promised Land—hundreds of years in the future.
Joseph believed God would deliver His people from Egypt—after 430 years of slavery—and that his bones would be buried on their return.
Each man looked far into the future, believing God’s promises.
Maybe our own greatest acts of faith are like that: unspectacular, but profound.
Maybe fully trusting God in this time of pandemic and uncertainty is a greater act of faith than all your past exploits: sharing your faith, moving abroad, vowing a lifetime of faithfulness to your spouse, enduring family persecution, letting go of a job—or a relationship– that conflicted with God’s values.
Maybe this point in time is where your faith shines brightest to God. Not by what you CAN do, but by what you can’t: predict the future, obliterate the virus, create a vaccine, steady the economy, physically comfort the sick and dying. Run around acting busy.
And by what you can do, instead: Pray. Be not afraid. Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Give thanks in all circumstances. Be not like the Gentiles, who panic, hoard, and fearmonger, overcome with helplessness and a lack of faith.
Of course, it’s easy to write these words when the virus hasn’t profoundly touched my own life. No one I know has died or been very ill. So far I’ve been healthy. The medical resources in my community are not overwhelmed. Grocery stores are open and stocked. Our generous Canadian government has a plan to supplement us for the wages we aren’t earning. I haven’t suffered. I’m not even isolating alone, but with someone who’s affectionate and fun to hang out with.
Maybe this is as bad as it’s going to get for me. Maybe things will get much, much worse. I have no direct word from God on this; none of us do.
But if we stand firm, looking confidently to a blessed future—here, or in the next life—we can imitate the faith of our forefathers. From my perspective, Isaac’s life was least eventful (apart from his traumatic near-death at the hands of his father), Jacob’s more turbulent and emotional, while Joseph endured far greater trials and injustice.
Their tests were not the same. Their lives followed different trajectories. But in the end, each trusted, absolutely, in God’s faithfulness. And God chose those twilight moments of blessing and believing to pay tribute to their faith.
Whatever our circumstances, we can offer God the same: a quiet faith, nurtured in profound trust. Especially when the future is decidedly uncertain.