The Book of Hebrews
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.
By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.
By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.
By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death: “He could not be found, because God had taken him away.” For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith.
By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.
All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.
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 concerning the burial of his bones.
By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.
By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible. By faith he kept the Passover and the application of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel.
By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned.
By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the army had marched around them for seven days.
By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.
And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.
These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.
As we have seen, our writer has used the last 10 chapters of this letter to the Hebrews, with passion and urgency, to explain to these 1st century new believers the difference between the insufficiency of the old covenant and the completeness of the better new covenant. The old covenant, based on obedience of the Law of the 10 commandments, was a covenant motivated by fear and obligation, whereas in stark contrast, the new covenant is based on faith in God’s promise of redemption, and a desire to please Him. In chapter 11, the writer proceeds to define for his audience what this faith is: “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not yet see.” However, his definition does not stop at words but continues with the use of the record of acts recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures. By so doing he is calling faith a verb—an action word. In his litany of examples, he goes as far back as creation and basically summarizes the Old Testament and the gospels. This treatise in Hebrews 11 is sometimes referred to as the “Hall of Fame of Faith.”
Look for the definition of faith in these recollections:
By faith, God spoke the universe into existence from things not visible.
By faith Abel, believing God would provide for him, gave his best, while Cain gave out of obligation to satisfy a requirement, rather than to please God.
By faith, Noah, in response to God’s word about a coming flood, by faith built an ark during a drought!
By faith, Abraham, regarded as the father and champion of faith, responded to God’s call to leave his father’s family home in Ur- (now Tehran), not knowing where he was going. By faith he and Sarah’s reproductive capabilities were made alive well beyond child bearing years because Abraham believed God and that He would fulfill His promise of a son. Having finally received his promised son Isaac 25 years later, God asked Abraham to give him back as a burnt offering when Isaac was in his teens. A burnt offering was a sacrifice of worship. As Abraham, by faith approached the altar with his son, Isaac asked: “Father, behold the fire and the wood but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham answered, “God will provide for himself the lamb for the burnt offering my son.” Abraham was confident that God would find a way to fulfill His promise. This story was another foreshadowing of the better sacrifice of Christ, which was to come.
By faith, Moses, believed God would deliver His people and for that he chose to suffer with them enslaved in Egypt, rather than enjoy the passing pleasures of royalty in Pharaoh’s palace.
By faith, Rahab the prostitute was spared in Jericho because she believed Joshua’s men and helped them.
At verse 32, the writer as though taking a deep breath, says: ‘I could go on, and tell you all the acts of faith by all your ancestors, but, I would not have enough time!’ He proceeds by just mentioning the types of acts without the names and indicates that all these acts, whether by well-known or unknown people, were acts of faith focused on God that He exists and that He rewarded those who earnestly sought Him. Although many of them died without seeing what was promised to them, still, because of their faith they are rewarded by inclusion in the ultimate promise of redemption through Jesus death, burial and resurrection.
Questions to ponder:
- Knowing the difference in concept, how do you blend the old and new covenant in your own life?
- All these heroes of faith were imperfect sinners, yet they are in the “Hall of Fame of Faith.” Why?
- Citing these examples of faith, can you think of a time when you have needed to have that kind of faith in your own life?