What does Hebrews 11:20 mean?
ESV: By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau.
NIV: By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future.
NASB: By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau, even regarding things to come.
CSB: By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come.
NLT: It was by faith that Isaac promised blessings for the future to his sons, Jacob and Esau.
KJV: By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come.
NKJV: By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come.
Verse Commentary:
In this passage, the writer of Hebrews continues to demonstrate that godly faith is trust, not merely agreement. We demonstrate faith in God when we rely on Him to keep His word, even when we cannot see or understand all of the details (Hebrews 11:1–3). Earlier, examples were given of faith in the face of general doubts, such as Noah (Hebrews 11:7) and Sarah (Hebrews 11:11). Now, the emphasis is on those who faced more immediate, personal moments of testing. The ultimate example of this is Abraham (Hebrews 11:17–19), who exemplified trust in God through his obedience regarding his son, Isaac (Genesis 22:1–14).

A key point being made is that many of the promises given by God have an eternal perspective (Hebrews 11:10). Not all of the figures mentioned in this chapter saw those promises come to full fruition in their earthly lives (Hebrews 11:13). And yet, those very promises were fulfilled, on earth, through their descendants. Others will be fulfilled in the future, as God completes His plans. This is part of the point of their faith: recognizing that their earthly lives were not the end of God's ability to fulfill His purposes.

Following this pattern, Isaac received the promises God had given to Abraham (Genesis 21:12), and passed them along to his children. Despite not seeing how or when they would come true, and dealing with considerable family strife (Genesis 27:1–40), Isaac exhibited faith and obeyed God, though he was extremely old and had not seen a total fulfillment of the divine plan.
Verse Context:
Hebrews 11:17–31 makes a subtle shift from the prior verses. Earlier, the writer had given examples of faithful obedience leading to God's blessings. Those cases were mostly general, where a willingness to trust God was weighed against an uncertain future. In this passage, however, we are shown men and women who chose to trust God despite immediate, personal hardships. This, as well, is a crucial aspect of faith, which the writer has already defined as a confident trust in God.
Chapter Summary:
True, godly faith is defined as trust, relying on God when looking to the future, and obeying even when we don't fully understand all details. The great figures of the Old Testament, such as Abraham, Moses, and David, all lived according to this type of faith. Ultimately, that means trusting God's intent to make good on His promises from an eternal perspective. The model of faith presented by those people, in light of the struggles they faced, ought to inspire Christians towards a more confident, purposeful faith.
Chapter Context:
Up to this point, the book of Hebrews has given extensive evidence proving that Jesus Christ, and the new covenant He brought about, is God's ultimate plan for mankind's salvation. Chapter 10 provided an additional warning about the danger of falling away from this truth. Chapter 11 begins by clarifying the meaning of the word ''faith,'' primarily by listing examples of Old Testament figures who exemplify it. The ultimate application of this knowledge should be a motivation to ''hold fast'' to the gospel, despite hardships. That encouragement is a major theme of chapter 12.
Book Summary:
The book of Hebrews is meant to challenge, encourage, and empower Christian believers. According to this letter, Jesus Christ is superior to all other prophets and all other claims to truth. Since God has given us Christ, we ought to listen to what He says and not move backwards. The consequences of ignoring God are dire. Hebrews is important for drawing on many portions of the Old Testament in making a case that Christ is the ultimate and perfect expression of God's plan for mankind. This book presents some tough ideas about the Christian faith, a fact the author makes specific note of.
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