Be Future-Oriented!

Norbert Lieth

Today we read about future-oriented companies, future management, future planning, and even future paths. They’re concerned with future worlds, future implementations, guiding maxims for future designers; or, in short, the importance of thinking ahead and planning. But how do these relate to the future-oriented faith of Christianity?

Are we planning, occupying ourselves, and working with the future in mind? Do we adjust our lives around it? Paul writes, “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead” (Phil 3:13, ESV). Are we still firmly anticipating God’s future? His future-oriented promises? Are we anticipating Jesus’ return, His future kingdom on earth and in heaven? Are our lives full of enthusiasm for it?

C. H. Spurgeon put it this way: “If the night be never so dark, the morning cometh […] Do you know what it is thus to live on the future, to live on expectation, to antedate heaven?”

In the lives of Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, we see examples of three men who believed and acted in a forward-thinking manner.

Isaac’s future-oriented faith: “By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau” (Heb 11:20). Isaac’s sons were twins and received different promises from God for the future:

“And Isaac prayed to the LORD for his wife, because she was barren. And the LORD granted his prayer, and Rebekah his wife conceived. The children struggled together within her, and she said, ‘If it is thus, why is this happening to me?’ So she went to inquire of the LORD. And the LORD said to her, ‘Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger.’ When her days to give birth were completed, behold, there were twins in her womb. The first came out red, all his body like a hairy cloak, so they called his name Esau. Afterward his brother came out with his hand holding Esau’s heel, so his name was called Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them” (Gen 25:21-26).

It’s beautiful to see how Isaac prayed for his wife and was heard, just as Rebekah cultivated her own personal relationship with the Lord and was answered by Him. God revealed two things concerning the two nations that would come from Jacob and Esau.

Jacob was the second-born, and yet his people would be stronger than Esau’s. The elder, Esau, would serve the younger, Jacob.

From the beginning, Jacob was a “heel-grabber,” deceitful. The brothers had already struggled against each other in the womb. Jacob later obtained the birthright fraudulently, in an unspiritual manner. But this didn’t prevent God from fulfilling His promise. After Jacob had given his brother Esau a bowl of lentil stew, and when he betrayed his own father by posing as Esau, Isaac blessed his son (believing him to be Esau): “May God give you the dew of heaven and the fatness of the earth and plenty of grain and wine. Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may your mother’s sons bow down to you. Cursed be everyone who curses you, and blessed be everyone who blesses you!” (Gen 27:28-29).

Jacob was promised three things: First, he was granted prosperity in the blessing. Second, he gained dominion over nations. Third, he received special divine protection.

His father Isaac bestowed these promises through faith in God. He not only did not rescind them, but also even confirmed them. When Esau came to him, “Isaac trembled very violently and said, ‘Who was it then that hunted game and brought it to me, and I ate it all before you came, and I have blessed him? Yes, and he shall be blessed’” (Gen 27:33).

Although Jacob fraudulently obtained the blessing, and although Isaac hadn’t intended to bless Jacob in this way (but rather Esau), Isaac’s faith in God’s promise at the birth of the sons was unbreakable. Here, we’re faced with the divine principle of God’s faithfulness. He cannot deny Himself (2 Tim 2:13). He doesn’t revoke His gracious gifts and appointments (Rom 11:29).

God put Jacob through a severe education, but didn’t withdraw His promises. God isn’t human, that He has regrets (Num 23:19; 1 Sam 15:29).

Esau received the following prophecy: “Then Isaac his father answered and said to him: ‘Behold, away from the fatness of the earth shall your dwelling be, and away from the dew of heaven on high. By your sword you shall live, and you shall serve your brother; but when you grow restless you shall break his yoke from your neck’” (Gen 27:39-40).

He was also told three things for the future: First, Esau would live in a wasteland or desert (Edom, Jordan). Second, Esau would live by the sword but serve his brother. The Edomites were indeed a warlike people, but they were ruled by Judah. Third, Esau would one day throw off Jacob’s yoke. This was fulfilled at the time of Jewish king Joram: “In his days Edom revolted from the rule of Judah and set up a king of their own […] So Edom revolted from the rule of Judah to this day” (2 Kings 8:20-22).

Isaac’s blessings were simultaneously prophecies for the future that literally came true. Isaac believed these promises. He fully trusted in God’s promise for his sons’ future.

The future-oriented faith of Jacob: “By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff” (Heb 11:21).

Jacob acted similarly to the way his father Isaac had. Joseph and his Egyptian wife Asenath had two sons, the firstborn Manasseh and the second-born Ephraim (Gen 41:50-52). When Jacob was already sick and dying, he blessed Joseph’s two sons, placing the second-born Ephraim before the firstborn Manasseh: “So he blessed them that day, saying, ‘By you Israel will pronounce blessings, saying, “God make you as Ephraim and as Manasseh.”’ Thus he put Ephraim before Manasseh” (Gen 48:20). Additionally, Joseph’s two sons were elevated to the rank of Jacob’s other sons and made equal to them (Gen 48:5).

Afterward, Jacob worshiped God while leaning on his staff and died. This shows that he was already very frail, but his faith was still strong. He spared no effort to worship God as the bearer of His promises. By the end of his life, he had led a God-oriented life. He was aware of God’s presence and knew that he was uttering prophecies. Throughout the pilgrimage that was his life, which lasted 147 years (Gen 47:28), he worshiped only God. His staff was a symbol of this. This staff may also have reminded him of his struggle with God, when his hip had become dislocated: Jacob had needed a staff to walk ever since. He was grateful for this experience, which had brought a great spiritual change in his life.

Arnold Fruchtenbaum explains that both Isaac and Jacob’s blessings expressed forward-thinking belief. We can learn a lot from that: faith isn’t only oriented to this life, but also to the future. And that should shape our actions in this world. We can believe in the promises about the future that are yet to be fulfilled. Hold fast to them, build on them, and worship because of them. Grounded in this, we can live and serve and lead a life of devotion to God (2 Tim 4:6-8).

The future-oriented faith of Joseph: “By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones” (Heb 11:22).

Joseph had become a great man in Egypt. But he believed in God’s promises that He had given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob concerning Israel’s future and the Promised Land (Ps 105:8-10ff.). He knew that his people would one day return to Canaan. Israel would become a great nation, occupy its own land, and bless all nations with regard to the Messiah.

We read of Joseph, “Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, ‘God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here’” (Gen 50:25). “Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for Joseph had made the sons of Israel solemnly swear, saying, ‘God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones with you from here’” (Exod 13:19). “As for the bones of Joseph, which the people of Israel brought up from Egypt, they buried them at Shechem, in the piece of land that Jacob bought from the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for a hundred pieces of money. It became an inheritance of the descendants of Joseph” (Josh 24:32).

These are all examples that can strengthen our faith. We should think about the future, occupy ourselves with it, be attuned to it, and prepare accordingly. That means believing, even when we don’t see anything yet; and so bless, work, and live.

“Faith is the bird that feels the light when the dawn is still dark” (Indian proverb).

Midnight Call - 11/2019

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