Normally, I like to give a summary of where we have come from for context, but because I have chosen to handle Hebrews 11 in one big meal, so to speak, I will shorten that review so we may maximize the time we have in Chapter 11.
Up until now, we have been seeing how God in these last days (John calls these days “the last hour” in his first general epistle) has chosen to speak to us through the person of His Son, through whom He has disclosed Himself to mankind fully. That Son, we saw is none other than Jesus, the long-promised Messiah (Gk., Christ; Eng., Anointed One). Jesus had come as a better high priest of a better priesthood with a better sacrifice, that would give a better redemption, better resurrection, and better reward than that of the Levitical (or any other) priesthood, who we saw were mere types and shadows that spoke of Him in Old Testament Scripture. We in fact saw all that in great detail, and had opportunity to speak of Moses, of Abraham, of Melchizedek, and others, and what that all meant and pointed to in the New Testament or Covenant under Jesus. What seems to have emerged is that this is a Covenant that is received by faith, or in terms of the five solae of the Reformation, Sola Fide.
For the sake of conserving time so we may spend it in this incredible chapter, known as the “Hall of Faith” to many, we’ll jump right in.
[Chapter Summary Bible Study happens here.]
I broke the chapter down like this:
KV.6: Faith alone is the only way to please God
1-16: Desire a better country by faith alone
17-29: Your life continues by faith alone
30-38: Obstacles are overcome by faith alone
39-40: We are approved and gathered by God by faith alone
KV.6: Faith alone is the only way to please God
This chapter is full of stories of true faith in God that made a real difference in the lives of individuals listed here. It is in actuality a partial history from the beginning of Genesis and through the Old Testament Scriptures up to and including the New Testament in a way that can extend to include the present day. I know you have all heard me say this before – the model of salvation from the wrath of God to come is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone – this is laid out in the Scriptures alone, to the glory of God alone. This is the New Testament chapter that makes my case for me by going through many of the Old Testament examples that show this very thing.
Dear ones, the timing of the death of Christ is unimportant. We are not straight-forward dispensationalists here, although events did certainly occur in an order of some kind, representing God’s timetable. I have heard it said that covenantal theology required dispensationalism, and I think I kind of disagree with that, and I kind of agree with it. What I mean is that the covenants actually followed God’s timing, and if you want to call those dispensations of ages, I guess you could – but this is not a requirement of covenant theology. However, things DO happen in a logical order because it is God’s plan and He does work in order and through His own logic when He wants to do so. If you want to call that God working according to the dispensations or ages He Himself has set up, you are entitled to do so. However, please leave your charts outside.
All of that is to say that salvation has always required faith in a Messiah that would sacrifice Himself for our salvation. If it was before the event, the people involved were still regenerated by God, and in that regeneration they looked forward to that act of Messiah, the God the Son. If it was after the even as we are, it is certainly easier to understand – but it does not require the regeneration granted by God any less. All of this should lead us to the one inescapable conclusion that salvation has always required faith in its ultimate source, that is God Himself. This requires that we define the word faith, otherwise, we are no better that the catholic or universalist cults that have a very nebulous and non-specific definition. It is in fact my observation that such organizations seem in fact to have faith in faith – which is circular and certainly not what God meant. You will see as we get into the text.
1-16: Desire a better country by faith alone
There is a lot here, and we will as always take it in the easiest and best way possible – one verse at a time.
1: Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
- The very first thing that the author of Hebrews does here is give the word faith a definition. It is the word hupostasis in Greek, and it can mean substance, but is also able to be translated as steadiness or support, and that means assurance is my choice of translation. I’m making this point because I have heard two separate Word of Faith teachers, Kenneth Copeland and Jesse Duplantis, define it as a substance that coats things in itself when applied. Personally, I think that untrue. It seems exactly like something a money-grabber would tell people in order to sell their ideologies to the sheep they wish to shear. Shame on you, gentlemen, that’s just plain eisegesis – reading into the Scripture a meaning that is not really there.
- To really define faith, we first need to look at the Greek word used for it. This is the Greek word PISTIS, which is the noun form. PISTEO is the verb form, and is translated in the New Testament as “to believe.” that is an interesting point – faith and belief are the same thing based on the same Greek word. A fellow back after I first was saved tried to tell me that they were different, and for a while, not knowing any better, I listened. Then I learned some Koine Greek. I believe He was wrong about faith.
- That brings me to the meaning of the word in noun or verb form. Faith, it seems, is a firm persuasion or opinion held about a subject matter. I could have faith about a chair, that it will support my weight as I sit in it. When I sit down, I am believing, or having faith that it will support my weight. Once, I sat in a lighter camp chair and found out that my faith was misplaced! My wife and kids helped me out of that chair and helped me clean off from the dust. You see, the object of my faith was not enough to ensure that the chair would support me. I had faith – I believed well enough – but the object was unequal to the task.
- The object of our faith is the Lord Jesus Christ – and He is more than equal to any task. Remember, Chapter 10 say one sacrifice for all sins for all time for those who will place their faith in Him. So we see that faith and belief are the same Greek work – one is the noun, one is the verb – and both will lead to obedience to Jesus because it is the conviction of things not seen.
- The HOPED for things – this is the adjectival form of elpis, and as you will recall it is a sure expectation, not a wish for things that may or may not happen – the things hoped for are a done deal for those who have this faith, the firm persuasion about Jesus Christ.
- The conviction of things not seen. The Greek word for conviction gives the sense of a test that has been passed, that is to say proof has been given and the test is passed for all time, hence the word conviction. Conviction in English merely speaks of being convinced of something, but this is more – the is an absolute knowledge that the proof we have sought is there and the test is aced, as we said in university when we took exams. So why is a clear understanding of all this important?
2: For by it the men of old gained approval.
- And who were these men who gained approval? The Greek word here is presbuteros, that is, the elders, so we’re talking literally about the Patriarchs in the mind of the Hebrew audience. These Elders or Patriarchs of the faith obtained a good testimony by means of this faith/belief/obedience in which they participated, the margin tells us. What is a “good testimony?” Well, it comes from the Greek marturion, where we get our English word martyr, but it literally means witness. We can be a witness to things like events, or we can use the verb form where we give witness, that is we report what we saw or know. The Elders of the faith obtained a good witness. I think the word should be used in primarily two ways here – first that they gave a good witness about God and His power and working in their lives, second that God (and the world) witnessed them do what witnesses do best – give testimony.
- Because that testimony was good, these elders of the faith gained approval – and in very short order, the Holy Spirit is about to inspire the author of Hebrews to start listing them off in historical order in 2 verses! Why would He do that?
3: By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible.
- Well, it seems that the Spirit of God wants US to understand that we have God’s revealed knowledge that is not readily available from nature. He has given us his special revelation from the Scriptures. That’s right in the teext here if you ask me – “By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God.” Now that word “worlds” in Greek actually means a specific period of time, the ages, and it is plural, meaning more than one of them. However, you pure dispensationalists need to hold on to your diagrams – that is not scriptural proof of what you believe. There are certain periods of time, it is true – but to view them as specific dispensations (time units) under which the laws of God work differently cannot be correct, because the same God of the Old Testament is present in the New Testament, and dispensationalism can be used as a means of disconnecting the Old Testament from the New Testament. Marcion was the first to peddle that heresy in the early second century. Let’s not make that error too. Covenantal theology still recognizes periods of time, but it applies the same principles to all covenants, because all older covenants point to the New Covenant. That’s not really the point.
- What is seen is not made out if things which are visible. We must understand that God created everything out of nothing. Current theories of the universe are logically impossible. Chance cannot create things because chance is not a causal factor, it is a statistical measure. Some causal factor renamed chance I’ll buy, but God does nothing by chance, and that means you’ve given God the wrong name.
4: By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts, and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks.
- And here begins that historical list of sorts. You know, we only read about Abel in two places – here and in Genesis 4. And what does it say? By faith Abel offered the better sacrifice. He obtained the testimony that he was righteous – and though he died by his brothers hand, Abel’s life and sacrifice still speak of humble submission to God.
5: By faith Enoch was taken up so that he would not see death; and he was not found because God took him up; for he obtained the witness that before his being taken up he was pleasing to God.
- We read of Enoch in genesis 5, and it simply says that he walked with God, and because he walked in faith with god, it pleased God, and God took him – right to heaven apparently – and Enoch walked on Earth no more. Would that I could have that kind of faith – and I might, depending on a certain harpazo event we have previously studied in 1 and 2 Thessalonians. The Hebrew of the word is laqach and means pretty much the same thing.
- I will say a word about it here, though it does not bear directly on this passage, because this and the Gen. 5 text are used as part of a proof text that says Enoch is one of the two witnesses that will come from Heaven during Revelation. I cannot agree with it. The reasoning is that it is given to man to die once and then comes judgement. The argument goes that because Enoch never died, he has to be the one that comes with all the powers that are attributed to Moses so that He has his chance to die with Elijah, the only other man that was taken to heaven directly without dying. Strangely, these people are dispensationalists that believe in a secret rapture event (I don’t think it will be a secret). You would think that they would know better, because when Paul describes this harpazo (where we get the English word rapture from the Latin equivalent raptio), he tells us that the dead in Christ will rise first, and then “we who are alive and remain” will all meet the Lord in the air. There are a select number of people that will not die but be transformed into our glorified state directly. This has always to me been a bit of a sore point, because I came out of a personality cult. That’s right folks, yours truly sat under the ministry of one George Geftakys, with a lot of other really sincere Christians. I not only met him, I typeset a poem he wrote, and we were on a first name basis and all that implies. But then he started to spout nonsense like this doctrine of Enoch. He would never be dogmatic on things like this, but he would try to beat you down with reason, or lacking reason, with proof texts. If he lacked proof texts, he would try to baffle you with baloney, and I caught him at it more than once. I even confronted him about it once. I think that’s the day I fell out of favour with the leadership of the local gathering I was attending. To repeat my point, Enoch is NOT likely one of the two witnesses in Revelation, though I suppose anything is possible. It’s just that when Jesus met with two Old Testament saints on the mount of transfiguration, it was Moses and Elijah, and I think it was a staff meeting. Enough of that.
6: And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.
- This is really one of the main points about faith for the author of Hebrews. Without faith, it is impossible to please God. This is one of those times where the text means exactly what it says. I could go into the word pictures here, but it would serve no purpose but to over-spiritualize for the purposes of making me seem smarter than I am – and for all my IQ, I’m not all that smart. But then faith is not always a matter for the intellect alone. I’m not saying one should have blind faith, that’s just being gullible. Faith, that is that firm persuasion or opinion that we have discussed, should be built upon logic and reason, which in my firm persuasion, reflect the character and nature of God.
- Two qualifications are mentioned here that line up to me with the Gospel. The first of those is that the one coming to God must believe that He is. That in itself is a mouthful. Certainly, belief in the existence of God is required, but not only that. My question here is, “Can your worldview support an all-powerful, all-knowing, everywhere-present supreme being who is King of the universe? That is the God of the Bible.
- The second of those is that God rewards those that honestly pursue Him. This involves a little more of that reason, so bear with me. If God is who He claims to be in Scripture, and we are really just ants compared to Him (or less), worse, we are ants that ruined the picnic, should we not be sorry and seek His forgiveness? I think so, and if you’re being honest and logical with me, I think you are also. Or you might just think that it’s all there by random chance and came into being about nothing and is headed for the same. If you really want to ant-thropomorphize everything, I guess that’s up to you. I would rather seek forgiveness for my own wrongdoings (and we have all done wrongs) and make peace with such a God. I want to repent.
- Did you sort through all that? The message of the Gospel is repent and believe. This verse covers both of those options. On with the list.
7: By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.
- Here comes Noah. In those days, the Scriptures tell us, God told Noah that it was going to rain. We take that kind of weather for granted these days, but in Noah’s day it had not yet rained. Place yourself for a moment in that position. God causes a mist from the ground to rise and water the plants, much like a global sprinkler system. God tells you that He wants you to make a huge floating box called a boat, because in 120 years, it is going to rain. Water will fall from the sky so heavily that it will drown everyone and everything that is not on that boat. You can’t even picture it – God has to show it to you to impress upon you the level of destruction it will be. What do you do? Well, for the next 120 years, I’d be building that boat.
- More, can you imagine the conversations that would be had? “Hey Noah! Whatcha doin’?” What would you even reply? “I’m building a boat to escape the wrath that God is bringing upon the earth.” Now what do you think the response would be? Something involving men in white coats and special jacket for you with its arms that fasten behind you, no doubt. Let me put that in a more modern context. “Hey Ger, what are you doing bowing your head for a moment before you eat?” “Oh, I’m giving thanks to God for my food, because I’m a Christian.” “Don’t preach to me. How dare you tell me that homosexuality is a sin?” I’ve had conversations that sound almost exactly like that.
- Yet what does it say about Noah? Well, his behaviour (act of faith and obedience) not only condemned the world, but it made him an heir of the righteousness that only comes by faith, the exact subject of this chapter. Moving right along. I’m going to have to say less about each verse, aren’t I. It isn’t really a question.
8: By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going.
- Here is Abraham called out of his own home to move across hundreds of miles on foot with His wife and family to receive a land that God had showed him. People today would have said Abraham had a mental health situation and needed serious medication. Why? He didn’t know where he was going. He still went. That isn’t insanity, friends, that’s faith leading to obedience, and it is VERY different.
9: By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise;
- Still speaking of Abraham, the author tells us that he lived as an alien in a foreign land, even though he found the land that God promised to him. He in fact lived in tents with his son and even his grandson because they too were chosen by God (elected) as fellow heirs of the same promise. More obedience in faith.
10: for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
- The author of Hebrews is here giving us a clue as to why? Abraham was looking for something that God built, and NOTHING of what society had built or become. I have to admit, I know where he was coming from. I know they accuse us of doing it, but really its they who shove their religion down our throat, isn’t it. Again, that is not a question.
11: By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised.
- Here it is a word about Sarah. If you know the story, Sarah had been unable to conceive, and when Abraham was 99 (and Sarah was about 85), God came and “opened her womb” and she became pregnant. Folks, we know what activity causes that! That’s actually kind of encouraging to me in my 50s, to be honest, but God did this. It isn’t the only time in Scripture we see Him open a womb either. It happens with Rachel, and in later history it happens with Hagar. Why? Sarah considered the God who promised it to be true to His word. And He was! Just ask Isaac, her son.
12: Therefore there was born even of one man, and him as good as dead at that, as many descendants as the stars of heaven in number, and innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore.
- And this eventually became a nation that at one point ruled all of the known earth under Solomon, and will again under Jesus, son of David, Son of God. Scripture is very clear by the way – those that believe are considered part of the “Israel of God,” and not all Israel can say that. We’ll come to that.
13: All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.
- Now here is the earthly appearance of things. Every one of these people (except Enoch) died in faith, that is, being convinced of those promises so much that it changed the course of their lives (and that includes Enoch). They all knew to a person that they were just “strangers and pilgrims” here on earth, as the KJV says. And some of us are pretty strange, pilgrim… [hahahahahaha]
14: For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own.
- This is to say that the difference in their lives was detectable and visible! There is a worldly-wisdom type saying here on earth – “He who dies with the most toys wins.” All those who are changed in their speech and behaviour to obey the Lord see it differently. “He who dies with the most toys is dead – twice.” Once at physical death. Twice at the Great White Throne Judgement where God will cast all those who would not believe into the Lake of Fire and everlasting torment. No, believers, those who are persuaded, are looking for something else.
15: And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return.
- What is this saying? Well, it helps me that the verbs are in the past tense. If these ones who obeyed in faith (the context is the text itself) had been thinking of that country from which they went out – that is, if they had their minds on earthly and worldly things – they would have had opportunity to return to those things.
- And some have. They began well enough I suppose – but they eventually reveal themselves by their actions and displayed attitudes about things. Some have gone back to the world for money. Demas was that guy in Paul’s day. Today it is my fear for Kanye West, as he appears this weekend at Joel Osteen’s gathering (I won’t call it a church, I know what that word means). Rumour has it Kanye West will receive $300,000 for his appearance there. I’m hoping personally that it will be the first time that Osteen’s “congregation” will ever hear the Gospel, though I won’t hold my breath.
- Some have turned aside to attack the church with Gnosticism, like all those today that would subscribe to Critical Race Theory (originally a Marxist idea) and Intersectionality. These people redefine words like “white” or “black” to mean something apart from their original meanings. What do I care? I’m a red man. And in Christ there is not Jew or Greek, no circumcision or uncircumcision, no man or woman, no barbarian or Scythian (worse than barbarian), no slave or free (see Col. 3:11 for example). Why define spirituality by the concentration of melanin in your skin? Makes no sense at all.
- Whatever the reason someone turned back, I think it can be fairly said that they did not have that real faith that drove them to obedience by act of keeping their cleansed conscience clean before a holy God. In my opinion there are as many reasons to turn back as there are people that turn back and away. However, the point that the author of Hebrews is making here is that THESE people DID NOT turn back. Why not?
16: But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.
- They desire something better. Here it is called a country, and it is certainly a place of citizenship: “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ…” as it says in Philippians 3:20. Romans 8:29-30 puts it this way. Those whom He foreknew, He predestined; those whom He predestined, He also called; and those He called He also justified; and those He justified He also glorified.” All in the past tense. It was done at the same time as the foreknowing and predestinating (is that even a word?). As a result of those actions in eternity past, at the right time, God regenerated those whom He foreknew and predestined and called them, justifying them, and will ultimately glorify them all – every single one.
- This renewal of spirit and cleansing and forgiving of sins causes all those who have been so saved to desire that better country, that heavenly realm where we are even now His subjects, living now in exile here. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be identified with His chosen and cleansed and forgiven people. It is for those of us that will persevere that He will preserve to that holy city that He has already prepared for us – and it accessible all by faith alone, which comes through grace alone, made available by the sacrifice of Christ alone, as seen in the Scriptures alone, to the glory of God alone. Oh beloved, desire THAT country – it is that better country.
17-29: Your life continues by faith alone
As much as the previous thought unit or paragraph was about the starting point call and faith that caused people to go the way that God showed them, or to do the thing that God showed them, this one has a certain attachment to persevering in hard times specifically. I mention this here, because it was dealt with in the previous one in a general sense. Here, it begins to break down into specifics, giving examples of those citizens of heaven that persevered through their hard times and did not turn back as v.15 suggests they had opportunity if they had wanted it.
Faith is how one enters into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. Faith is also how it continues. It is quite simply a spiritual progression designed by God. Many people through history have likened the Christian life as a baby that is born (again), and from that point begins to mature. Baby Christians do not remain babies, they become toddlers, then children, adolescents, and finally adult (and hopefully mature) believers. This next paragraph talks about how faith sustains us when troubled times or personal hardship comes.
17: By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son;
- The author takes a few verses to make his point here. Here he describes the great trial of Abraham’s life. God had promised him a son that would give Abraham a family that more members than the sky had stars or the beach has sand grains. And God called Abraham very clearly to offer THAT son up as a sacrifice to God. To be fair, I don’t believe that God would have allowed one hair to be harmed on Isaac’s head. He did, after all, save the boy – but Abraham had no way of knowing that would happen.
18: it was he to whom it was said, “IN Isaac your descendants shall be called.”
- This is just to make the point that it was THAT son Isaac.
19: He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type.
- Abraham had to make a decision based on what He believed (had faith about, remember, it is the same Greek word used, he form is different) about this God that revealed Himself to Abraham and Sarah. What it comes down to is that Abraham knew by faith that God could reverse the death of his only son. God already knew He could do that – the one(s) that needed to learn was Abraham (and us). The author of the book even references how Abraham offering his only son became a type of what God was going to do for His people.
20: By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau, even regarding things to come.
- Following historical order, the author moves on to Isaac. He leaves out all the political family details here, but is clear to mention that both sons were blessed by faith regarding their futures. Because He left it out, so will I, there are 40 verses to go through and we are only now halfway through.
21: By faith Jacob, as he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff.
- Now through the grandson of Abraham, son of Isaac, he mentions that He blessed his son’s sons and worshipped. If you know the story, it was in my mind beautiful – the blessing was a bit different, because Jacob crossed his hands and gave the younger, Ephraim, the better blessing than Manasseh, the older one, but it was intentional, and Jacob said it was God who did it. Then at the end of the worship of Jacob, God takes him home. There was no fear of death, there was no family politics in the scene, and his whole family was there to say their final goodbyes. Even in death, God sustains us. I find that comforting on a personal level.
22: By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the exodus of the sons of Israel, and gave orders concerning his bones.
- Faith brings supernatural foresight it would seem. God told Joseph what was going to happen, and he was able to leave instructions for his family to bring his bones with them so he would not remain entombed in Egypt.
23: By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful child; and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.
- Now the narration picks up with the parents of THE major figure in Israel for the next 1500-2000 years, Moses. At the time, they don’t know that he will become the Lawgiver and the Leader that will help ALL of them escape the horrendous persecution the nation will undergo. In fact, all they knew was that the king (Pharaoh Ramses I) was trying to exterminate all the newborn sons. And I don’t think it was the faith of Moses that is presented here. I think rather it is the faith of his parents, and maybe that of his older brother Aaron, and older sister Miriam. By faith, it tells us, they were not afraid of the king’s edict. They chose to trust God that He would protect them as they willfully disobeyed it to protect the life of their innocent son. Now THAT’S faith.
- Beloved, I need to pause here and say this before I forget later – there WILL come a time when we have to choose between our own safety and obedience to God. Only by faith will we be willing to face the consequences for those actions.
24: By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter,
- For all the protection that Moses would have had as a member of the royal family, for all the wealth and ease it would have brought, he refused it when he became old enough to do so. Why?
25: choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin,
- Because THAT is the precise choice that is set before all of us. Is it worth the enduring of the ill-treatment of the world? The laughter of unbelievers when you attempt to share Christ with them? The mocking words when you attempt to engage with so-called atheists when you try to help them avoid eternal damnation? The physical threats and social shunnings of homosexuals when you try to warn them that their sin, like everyone else’s sin, will lead to their destruction in hell? That weak moment you have when you face a choice to either satisfy your own desires or trust the Lord that He will meet those desires and better when He returns?
26: considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward.
- Moses clearly thought so. And what was HE looking for? The same thing WE are – the reward for having faith placed in Christ, the perfect object of power and faithfulness for the ages! And He tells us His reward is with Him (Rev. 22:12). Even so, come Lord Jesus. Help me to keep THAT thought foremost in my own mind when the trials intensify here in Canada for believers.
27: By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured, as seeing Him who is unseen.
- Now this is interesting – this is not leaving Egypt finally. This is after he killed an Egyptian man for abusing a countryman. I have seen a number of dramatic depictions of this, all of them with Moses being afraid of the news being found out by Egyptian authorities. Here it says it was faith that caused him to leave Egypt and go live in the Midian desert for 40 years. I know a burning bush was involved, but it was the one that was NOT consumed, not the one Snoop Dogg smoked in that ERB Video. Maybe that’s where his faith began, I don’t know. But he endured for 40 years because God revealed Himself to Moses.
28: By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of the blood, so that he who destroyed the firstborn would not touch them.
- This is after Moses’ return to Egypt after Ramses II took the throne. Moses and Aaron had attended Pharaoh many times to request that Israel be allowed to go out into the desert on a 3-day journey to worship God. Time and again, Pharaoh had refused. Finally, God touched all the firstborn of Egypt, any who had not been, get this, covered by the sacrifice of the Lamb of God and marked by its blood. Gee, does THAT sound familiar! That destroyer is still waiting today to harm all those not marked with the mark God will place on His servants.
29: By faith they passed through the Red Sea as though they were passing through dry land; and the Egyptians, when they attempted it, were drowned.
- After verse 28, Pharaoh let them go. And they left. And Pharaoh changed his mind again and went after them to either recapture or destroy them. And then they crossed the Red Sea because Moses parted the waters so that Israel could walk across on dry ground. When the Egyptians followed on war chariots, The walls being held up by the will of God collapsed and they all drowned, including Pharaoh.
From this part of the text, we can see that faith sustains people as they go through incredible trials. Sometimes the details from the author are a little vague, but every one of these stories is available to read in the Old Testament. Perseverance is the key here, to believe/have faith/obey that God will work on your behalf because He has a better perspective – an eternal one – on your situation. Now the author gives a bunch of specific examples.
30-38: Obstacles are overcome by faith alone
Now we see that not only do we need to have faith in general, and in trials generally, but here are a list of examples of people having faith that makes a difference. Faith, as we have come to see, is obedience to the persuasion or opinion that God will save His people, and that He knows how to bring each one home in an individual sense. Let’s look at them.
30: By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days.
- The first example in the list is when Joshua, the successor of Moses lead the people into the promised land across the Jordan River from the east. The very first city that was encountered was the fortress of Jericho. Joshua and his ragtag group had no siege machines, though they were equipped for hand to hand combat, I believe. God gave instructions – march around the city once a day for 7 days. On the 7th day, they were to march around the city 7 times, and then shout and God would deliver the city into the hands of Israel. When they shouted, the city walls collapsed. Did you know archaeologists have found that ancient city of Jericho? Those walls collapsed OUTWARD. Friends, GOD did that. And I can only think in physics terms of the level of explosion THAT would take – and there is still more to that story.
31: By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish along with those who were disobedient, after she had welcomed the spies in peace.
- Before the fall of Jericho, a prostitute by the name of Rahab hid two Israeli spies and arranged to defect to the Lord and His people. She made a deal to protect her and her family if they could be saved from the destruction of Jericho. When the explosion that leveled the walls of the city happened, her little place on the wall remained intact and God saved her and anyone that was with her. And interestingly, Rahab became a part of the lineage of Messiah.
32: And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets,
- And here, I think the author senses that he is running out of time to speak about these things. Each name here has a story, and each story would have been well known to those Hebrews in the audience. Each tells a story of faith and trust in the reliability of God and how that in waiting for Him to work somehow perfected the faith of each individual.
33: who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions,
- And so the author begins to tell in general terms the kinds of things that these faithful [adjectival form of pistis, meaning “full of faith”] witnesses said and did because of the genuine faith that God Himself gave them. The text itself explains.
34: quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.
- And such deeds of power they accomplished as they placed their trust in God and He worked in and through them.
35: Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection;
- And one phrase in, this whole list takes a somewhat dark turn. Yes, some received their dead back, resurrected. Some did NOT. Some were tortured, and were not released, and were killed (otherwise why speak of a better resurrection). Beloved, I don’t want to be accused of not handling the word of truth accurately here. Not everyone that believed had a happy ending here on earth. We need to realize that if we are here now, and things take the bad turn here in the west that it seems to be taking, God is still on His throne. It may be that we will face these very same things. Think of the man that just a couple of weeks ago was beaten in a NYC subway for quietly sharing Christ with people that were not objecting – right up until that lady took of her shoe and beat him senseless with it. I know what some of you are thinking, because I’m human too. Bring it on, you say. I’ll beat her right back. I know because I have thought things like that. But what God has shown me in the New Testament is that the response of His ambassadors is one of peace and resignation to what He brings us to. Or do you not think that He is in full control? That He is not truly sovereign? Brethren! “If anyone is destined for captivity, to captivity he goes; if anyone kills with the sword, with the sword he must be killed. Here is the perseverance and the faith of the saints.” (Rev. 13:10)
36: and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment.
- See what these saints, these holy ones experienced. Mockings. People making fun of them. Just this last week that happened to me! Scourgings. People physically beat people up, like that brother in NYC. Sometimes chains and imprisonment. Brother Tony Miano has been arrested and jailed for preaching the gospel in Scotland, of all places, land of John Knox! Other UK preachers have been put in jail for hate speech because some sinner won’t admit their sin offends God. And don’t think they don’t know it – and if you think that, read Romans 1:18 again.
37: They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated
- Stoned? Jeremiah, the weeping prophet himself was stoned to death. Sawn in two? The great prophet Isaiah was sawn in two on the orders of King Manasseh. Tempted? Who can say they have never been tempted to compromise? Maybe some of us have and regret it. Put to death by the sword? The Apostle James.
- They went about in sheepskins? The garb of the shepherd, those who LEAD the people of God. Goatskins? The garb of the prophet, those who SPEAK for God. It says something very interesting to me here – because I come from a Word of Faith background. These men were destitute. That is a very specific Greek word, and it means they HAD NO MONEY! Why do these leaders and spokesmen for God have no money?
- They were afflicted. This is specifically “trouble that comes upon them from without.” This includes physical illnesses, by the way, but also means persecution – and this is part of the OFFICE! God allows this in the lives of your PASTORS, people! And it is a sign that God has allowed them to be in that office!
- They are ill-treated. I can tell you about what this means. It means that when you do a good deed for somebody, it does not go unpunished! And people think when they malign us who are called to this position of leader and spokesman for God that they are doing God and the church a favour.
- Now if that’s true of the leaders and spokesmen that God gives the church, how is it POSSIBLE to believe that God has commanded the health, wealth, and prosperity of all His children? My point here is that He doesn’t. If the prosperity gospel is true, then why does Hebrews end this way?
38: (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground.
- And it isn’t done yet. These broke, sick, mistreated servants of Almighty God wander around in deserts – dry places where there is no water in a spiritual sense. Caves where darkness and dankness dampen the spirit and seek to extinguish all light. Holes in the ground where there is no roof, high walls, it is often muddy, and difficult to climb out of – like depression. Did you know that many servants of God struggle with depression? I have, Charles Spurgeon did, even Elijah, who God took up to heaven alive struggled with depression. And for all that, what does the Word of God say about these individuals? THE WORLD WAS NOT WORTHY OF THEM. I wonder if it is worthy of you and I. Not a question.
The point in this section is that faith can help us overcome all obstacles. I am not taking Philippians 4:13 out of context here when I say that in trials and tribulations, things that require us to trust in God’s working on our behalf, in learning how to be content with what God provides, that “I can do all [these] things through Him who strengthens me.” That is called “walking by faith.”
39-40: We are approved and gathered by God by faith alone
Last two verses. Friends, if we want to be those who are able to have it said of us that the world was not worthy of us, then we must be approved and gathered by God alone through faith alone by grace alone in Christ alone as it says in the Scriptures alone. These five “alone” statements formed the core of the Protestant Reformation, and they should form a core today of how we walk and how we form our worldview.
39: And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised,
- Who are “these” as a group? “These” are the group of people that were being spoken of earlier in the chapter. We went over them in as much detail as time has allowed us, and though it is useful to consider each mentioned individual and situation in detail as it is mentioned, I do not believe that was the entire point of the Apostle. None of these ever saw that promise fulfilled completely in their lifetimes. Their firmly held persuasion that God would provide a Messiah and that He would Himself deal with our sins allowed them to gain the pardon of God in both Old and New Testament – the way of salvation has always been faith through grace as a gift from God – helped them obtain a testimony [margin]. And although they did not receive what God promised, I can include a little word that makes it all worthwhile – “yet.” They have not received that promise YET.
40: because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect.
- Why have they not received the promise of God? One thing I can tell you is that it isn’t because they didn’t have enough faith. No, it is because God made that promise to others. Beloved, He made those promises also to US! And THEY are waiting for US – so that when we get there, we will all be made perfect together.
What is this really saying? It is saying that you must be approved, that is you must obtain a testimony, by faith in God. You must believe the Gospel! That is, you must believe that God became one of us to pay the price of our redemption from sin. If you miss out on that, you miss the whole thing. If you believe that, then God WILL gather you to others that He has also so approved so that He will make us all perfect together. Say what you want about how you don’t have to gather with the church – but that isn’t what I’m reading here.
If God did not approve you, you are NOT approved. If God didn’t gather you to His church with others of like precious faith, then I don’t care what gathering you attend, you are essentially attending a social club with no eternal benefit. Your group may even want to “play church,” and make constitutions and bylaws (like a worldly corporation). You can vote on things, and try to change that “church” to fit into the society and “stay current” with the times. But if you never had that firm persuasion about Jesus, it is all just window dressing, and you are on your way to eternal torment. Sadly, that is the lot of many churches and many ministers to day.
However, God is calling His people to come out of that and gathering them to Himself. For those that want to walk with the Lord as all of the people mentioned in this chapter did, we can expect deprivation, persecution, and depression to face us here – and yet be filled with His joy at what He has promised each and every one of us – that come that day, we will be made like our Lord Jesus Christ, and though we do not understand what all of that means yet, we know it is true, because it was promised by our unchangeable God, who cannot lie – who will bring us all safe home.
And that’s chapter 11!