14 March, 2016

Hebrews 11:20—"By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come"

“By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come” (Genesis 39:5 KJV).


Rev. Robert C. Harbach

It may be that a godly man may bless a reprobate person (Heb. 11:20); it may be that one man may say to another who happens to be a reprobate, “God is with thee” (as in I Sam. 10:7). But God does not ever say of a reprobate, “I have blessed him,” “fear thou not,” or “God was with him.” (Cp. Gen. 39:2, 3, 21; Judges 6:12; I Sam. 3:19; 18:14.) When He uses this language He uses it with reference to His children. (see Isa. 41:10; Matt. 28:20.)



Prof. Herman Hanko

[Source: Covenant Reformed News, May 2011, Vol. XIII, Issue 13]

Question: "How can we understand the blessings promised to Esau in Hebrews 11:20—a reprobate man? Surely only God’s covenant people were blessed."

Hebrews 11:20 states, "By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come."

We know with certainty that Esau was reprobate. God already told Rebekah before the twins were born that "the elder [i.e., Esau] shall serve the younger [i.e., Jacob]" (Gen. 25:23). Malachi confirmed this in his prophecy: "Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? saith the Lord: yet I loved Jacob, and I hated Esau" (Mal. 1:2–3). Paul, in explaining why all that are of Israel are not Israel (Rom. 9:6), finds the explanation in God’s decree of election and reprobation. He writes, "But when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac; (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;) It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated" (vv. 10–13).

It is perhaps worth noting in this connection that my Old Testament professor, Rev. George Ophoff, insisted that the Hebrew required that we translate Genesis 27:39, Isaac’s words to Esau: "Behold, thy dwelling shall be away from the fatness of the earth, and of the dew of heaven from above." But this does not alter the fact that Isaac said to Esau, "And by thy sword shalt thou live, and shalt serve thy brother; and it shall come to pass when thou shalt have the dominion, that thou shalt break his yoke from off thy neck" (v. 40). Taken together, these words sound to me like a blessing. I do not want to argue the rightness or the wrongness of the translation of the AV, but it seems to me that there is some kind of a blessing in all this for Esau.

There is another matter that is of importance in this question. Esau is not the only one who was reprobate and of whom it is said that God blessed him. In Genesis 39:5, the Bible tells us that God blessed the house of Potiphar. The verse reads, "And it came to pass from the time that he [i.e. Potiphar] had made him [i.e., Joseph] overseer in his house, and over all that he had, that the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; and the blessing of the Lord was upon all that he had in the house, and in the field." And when Jacob came into Pharaoh’s presence upon arriving in Egypt, it is twice mentioned in the Genesis narrative that Jacob blessed Pharaoh (47:7, 10).

I doubt whether anyone would argue that either Potiphar or Pharaoh was an elect child of God. My point is that in the Old Testament times it was not necessarily true that the blessing of God upon an individual was the blessing of salvation in the promised seed, the Christ. The narrative which describes God’s blessing on Potiphar’s house (Potiphar’s house surely included that slut of a wife who tried to seduce Joseph) was material prosperity. This was frequently the case in the dispensation of shadows. The blessing of God on these people was limited to material riches. Esau was promised wealth. Potiphar’s fields produced abundant riches and so Jacob sought such material prosperity for Pharaoh—perhaps along with long life, for long life was included in the blessing and favour of God upon people.

This was emphatically true in the life of Israel in the land of Canaan. Canaan was a picture of heaven and when Canaan was a land flowing with milk and honey, it was God’s blessing on the nation, a blessing outwardly given to be a picture of the spiritual blessings of the kingdom of heaven. So the people in the Old Testament associated material prosperity with spiritual blessings. And indeed riches were such a picture.

This occasioned Asaph’s error, which he describes in Psalm 73. He was envious of the wicked when he witnessed their prosperity and long life. But God taught him that these were only outward "blessings," while the true blessings of God’s people were far more abundant, far richer, far more valuable. When God held Asaph by His right hand, guided him by His counsel, and afterward received him in glory, that was blessing indeed. And as far as the blessings of material prosperity are concerned, they were, in the end, no blessings at all, but simply ice on the slippery slope of life on which those who received them would slide the more rapidly into hell. (Prof. Engelsma’s superb book, Prosperous Wicked and Plagued Saints: An Exposition of Psalm 73, is available from the CPRC for £6.60, including P&P.)

One more point needs to be made. In every case where blessings were given to those obviously reprobate, they were given for the sake of the elect. In Joseph’s case this is explicitly stated (Gen. 39:5) and we are able to see the same truth in the other instances.

Today, prosperity gospellers attract thousands by promising them earthly prosperity if they will only give their life to Christ. But it is worse than that, for such a serious mistake can be found in the church as well. When our way is easy to walk and no cares burden us, we speak of the great blessedness upon us from our God. And when troubles mount and evils are our lot, then we question God’s goodness and wonder why God is so cruel to us and why He places such heavy burdens on us.

In the Old Testament times, God blessed His people with the true blessings of salvation and cursed the wicked, for then too it was true what Solomon said, "The curse of the Lord is in the house of the wicked: but he blesseth the habitation of the just" (Prov. 3:33). The curse of the Lord was also in Potiphar’s house and in Pharaoh’s house, as well as in Esau’s house. But we are no longer in the Old Testament and we ought not to bind ourselves to types and shadows as if they are realities. For poverty and grief, trouble and sorrow come to God’s people pregnant with blessing and the riches of troublous times are as great as, if not greater than, wealth and well-being.



Rev. Martyn McGeown

Check out the following MP3 audio of a recent sermon on Hebrews 11:20 by Rev. Martyn McGeown of the Limerick Reformed Fellowship:



More to Come! (DV)

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