Hebrews 11

Hebrews 11  •  14 min. read  •  grade level: 8
WE NOW ARRIVE at the passage which is pre-eminently the faith chapter of the Bible, and it is easy to see how thoroughly it fits into its place in the whole scheme of this Epistle. Judaism as a religious system largely appealed to sight, whereas the great realities of Christianity are unseen and only appeal to faith. The object of the Epistle being to deliver the converted Hebrews from the grave-clothes of Judaism which clung to them, and to establish them in the liberty of Christianity, the Holy Spirit naturally dwells long upon faith.
How fitting all this is! We do well to dwell long upon it, that the wonder of Divine inspiration may more and more appear to us. We may notice also how the great love chapter of the Bible is 1 Cor. 13, and the great hope passage is 1 Thess. 4:1313But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. (1 Thessalonians 4:13)—5:11. Now 1 Corinthians is as we may term it, the Epistle of the local assembly, and it is just in the local assembly that all the friction is created amongst believers, and the trying disagreements and disagreeables take place, and consequently love is so much needed. So also 1 Thessalonians is the Epistle where the saints are seen suffering at the hands of the world, and in these circumstances nothing sustains the heart more than hope.
The whole of our chapter is like a commentary on that little sentence from Habakkuk—“The just shall live by faith” (ch. 10:38). We are shown that from the very outset of the world’s history that which pleased God in His people was the outcome of faith. This may seem very obvious to us, but it doubtless was a rather revolutionary idea to the average Jew, for he had accustomed himself to consider that what pleased God was the ceremonials and sacrifices of Judaism, and the works of the law connected therewith. But here the Spirit of God goes behind the activities of these Old Testament believers to bring to light the faith that moved and inspired them. Their works were not the works of the law, but the works of faith. In this connection you might do well to refresh your memories as to the contents of Rom. 4 and James 2, noticing well how Paul excludes the works of the law from our justification, and how James insists on the works of faith as evidencing the vitality of the faith we profess.
The first verse defines, not what faith is in the abstract, but what it does in practice. It is “the substantiating of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (ch. 11:1). The New Translation gives this rendering together with a footnote saying that the words “assurance,” or “firm conviction,” might be substituted for “substantiating.” Faith then is the telescope that brings into our view the unseen verities of which God speaks; making them real to us, giving us assurance of them, and turning them into solid substance in our hearts.
Before however we are led to review how faith wrought in “the elders,” we find one word is to ourselves. Verse 3 begins, “Through faith WE understand..” (ch. 11:3). and the things seen in creation are brought before us. This is a very significant statement! In apostolic clays it was evidently the common faith of Christians that “the worlds were framed by the Word of God” (ch. 11:3). Is it the faith of all Christians today? We have just seen that faith is “the conviction of things not seen” (ch. 11:1). We now discover that only faith can give us a proper understanding of the things that we do see. Nineteen centuries ago the philosophic world was full of weird theories as to the origin of creation. Equally weird theories fill philosophic minds today. All these theories, both ancient and modern, take it for granted that things that are seen were made of things that do appear; and the process, by which they think they were made, has received the name of evolution. The philosophers are very clever men, and they have provided themselves—especially in these modern days—with a really wonderful equipment for their researches. They only lack one thing. But that one thing is the only thing that counts! They lack the faith that enables anyone to understand. Through faith we understand the origin of creation. Without faith we do not understand it at all.
All the readers of this little paper have, we trust, the faith that understands creation, and so we are prepared to understand the faith which actuated the elders, the recital of which begins with verse 4.
The story seems naturally to fall into three parts. First, we have in verses 4 to 7 the three great worthies of the antediluvian world, and in them faith is seen as that which sets in right relation with God, and consequently saves. Second, we have the patriarchs of the postdiluvian world before the law was given. They illustrate faith as that which brings into view unseen things—the faith that sees. Third, beginning with Moses, the law-giver, we find the faith that gives energy in spite of all obstacles—the faith that is prepared to suffer. In so saying we merely allude to that which seems to be the prominent thought of the Spirit in each section, for of course no one can have faith at all without its effects being known in all three ways.
Abel’s faith led to the “more excellent sacrifice” (ch. 11:4) and to the knowledge that he was righteous before God; which knowledge he got by faith in God’s testimony. He offered his sacrifice, not by chance nor by some happy inspiration, but by faith. Faith in what? we may ask. Doubtless in that which God had already shown as to the value of the death of a sacrifice by the coats of skins, about which we read in Gen. 3:2121Unto Adam also and to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins, and clothed them. (Genesis 3:21). God testified to the value of his gift by accepting his sacrifice; and Abel knew that in accepting his sacrifice God declared him righteous. Many a professing Christian today is saying that it is impossible in this life to have the knowledge of sins forgiven; but lo! here is a man living some four thousand years before Christ, and he possessed this very thing. And may not we possess it who live nearly two thousand years after the great atoning work has been done?
Abel died; but in the case of Enoch, the next on the list, translation took place and he never saw death. And further he had the testimony, not merely of being right with God, but of pleasing God. In this connection we are reminded that without faith we cannot please God at all. Faith is the root out of which spring all those fruits that delight Him: just as in 1 Tim. 6:1010For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. (1 Timothy 6:10), by way of contrast, money is said to be a root out of which every kind of evil springs.
In the case of Noah we see faith which saved from judgment and condemned the world. When warned of coming judgment he took God at His word. When instructed to build the ark he yielded the obedience of faith. Thereby he was separated from the world. He received righteousness and reached God through sacrifice in the renewed earth, while the world was cut off in judgment.
The case of Abraham occupies verses 8 to 19, with the exception of one verse which is occupied with Sarah, for had she not been a woman of faith Isaac, the promised seed, had never been born. Abraham’s faith was so exceptional that the Apostle Paul speaks of him as “the father of all them that believe” (Rom. 4:1111And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also: (Romans 4:11)); so it is not surprising that in this chapter more is said as to him than of any other individual. What is said seems to fall under three heads. First, the faith that led him to respond to the call of God at the outset. He started forth from a city of civilization and culture without knowing where he was going. When he did know it proved to be a land of less culture than the one he had left. Yet all this mattered not. Canaan was the inheritance God had chosen for him, and he moved at the call of God. GOD was before his soul. That is faith!
Second, when in the land of promise he had no actual possession therein. He sojourned there as a stranger and pilgrim, content to dwell in tents. Finally he died in the faith of the promises without ever receiving them. His course was indeed a most remarkable one; and what accounted for it? Faith—the faith that endows a man with spiritual eyesight. He not only desired a better and heavenly country, but he “looked for” a heavenly city far more enduring than Ur of the Chaldees. Verse 13 tells us that he saw the promises, though they were far off as we count time.
Third, his faith seemed to reach a climax and express itself most fully when he “offered up his only begotten son” (ch. 11:17). Isaac was a child of resurrection even as to his natural birth: he became doubly so after this event. Yet the faith was the faith of Abraham, who reasoned that the God who could bring into the world a living child from parents who were physically dead, could and would raise him from the dead. When Abraham believed in the Lord and He counted it to him as righteousness, as Gen. 15:66And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness. (Genesis 15:6) tells us, he believed in a God who could raise the dead, as the end of Rom. 4 shows. The offering up of Isaac demonstrated this faith of his in the clearest fashion. It was the special work in which his faith wrought, as the latter part of James 2 declares.
After Abraham we find Isaac, Jacob and Joseph mentioned. In each case of the three only one detail in their lives is mentioned, and in two cases out of the three that detail is the closing one. Reading Genesis we should hardly recognize any faith at all in the blessing that Isaac bestowed upon his sons, and we might not see much in the way Jacob blessed his grandsons; yet the keen eye of the Spirit of God discerned it, and He notes it for our encouragement. If He had not a keen eye like this, would He discern faith in the details of our lives? We may well ask ourselves this.
The case of Joseph is more distinct. Egypt was the land of his glory, but he knew by faith that Canaan was to be the land of Messiah’s glory, so he commanded that ultimately his bones were to rest not in Egypt but in Canaan.
Verse 23 speaks of the faith of Moses’ parents rather than of Moses himself. The faith of Moses occupies verses 24 to 28. The first great display of it was when he refused to continue any longer in the splendid circumstances into which the providence of God had brought him. Faced with the alternative of suffering along with the people of God or enjoying the temporary pleasures of sin, he deliberately chose the former. He cast in his lot with the people of God, though he knew that, being at that moment just down-trodden slaves, it meant reproach for him. Indeed he esteemed that reproach as treasure, even greater than the treasures of Egypt, and how great those treasures were recent discoveries have reminded us. The reproach Moses endured was in character the reproach of Christ, inasmuch as it was a faint foreshadowing of the infinitely greater stoop of Christ when He came down from heaven and identified Himself with a poor and repentant people on earth, as we see for instance in Matthew 3:13-27.
We saw that in the case of Abraham faith acted like a telescope, bringing into his view things that otherwise he had never seen. We now discover that in the case of Moses it acted like an X-ray apparatus, bringing to light things that lay beneath the surface and enabling him to see through the tinsel glory of Egypt. In this way he got down to the real root of things, and he found that “the recompense of the reward” was the only thing worth considering. It was evidently this that governed him in the whole of his remarkable career.
Having a view of the divine recompense he was able to form a correct estimate of Egypt’s treasures and he ranked them far below the reproach of Christ. If Egypt’s glory is not to be compared to the reproach of Christ, how will it look in comparison with the glory of Christ? Faith’s penetrating sight led to faith’s estimation, and this in its turn led to faith’s choice and faith’s refusal.
From Moses we pass on to the people of Israel in verse 29 and to Joshua-though he is not named-in verse 30, and we reach Rahab, a Gentile, one of an accursed race, in verse 31. Had it not been for this verse we might never have discerned that faith was the root of her actions and words. Reading Josh. 2 we might have supposed that she was a woman of poor morals and no principle, who was anxious to escape her doom. But the fact was that her eyes had been opened to see God. The Canaanites merely saw Israel. “Your terror is fallen upon us,” (Josh. 2:99And she said unto the men, I know that the Lord hath given you the land, and that your terror is fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land faint because of you. (Joshua 2:9)) said she, “all the inhabitants of the land faint because of you” (Josh. 2:99And she said unto the men, I know that the Lord hath given you the land, and that your terror is fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land faint because of you. (Joshua 2:9)). Her attitude however was this: —“I know that the Lord hath given you the land” (Josh. 2:99And she said unto the men, I know that the Lord hath given you the land, and that your terror is fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land faint because of you. (Joshua 2:9)). This was faith; and her actions expressed the fact that she dared to side with the God of Israel. This courageous faith did not mean suffering for her since God was at once intervening in power.
Usually, however, God does not intervene at once and then suffering is entailed. So after the mention of Rahab we have a list of names in verse 32 and a further recital of the triumphs of faith and then especially of the sufferings of faith. Multitudes of saints, of whom the world was not worthy, have been through every conceivable form of persecution and suffering. They endured, not accepting deliverance which might have reached them had they recanted or compromised. Faith suffered, but it carried them through.
Verse 39 brings us back to the point from which in verse 2 we started. They obtained a good report when their “term time” was over. They emerged “the finished article,” from God’s school. An intimation of the recompense that awaits them in the great “prize-giving day” is furnished by the statement that although they suffered at the world’s hands, the world was not worthy of them. They were infinitely its superior.
And yet they, one and all, did not receive the things promised. In due time, according to God’s wise plan, another company was to be gathered and constituted, spoken of as “us” in the last verse of our chapter. Note the contrast between the “they” and the “us”—between Old Testament and New Testament saints. The saints of old days had much, but “some better thing” (ch. 11:40) is provided for Christians, and we shall all reach final perfection in glory together. The perfecting in glory of Old Testament believers waits for the completion of the church and the coming of the Lord.
This verse makes it abundantly plain that God’s people are found in more families than one. The saints of Old Testament times form one family; Christians form another. Saints of the coming age, when the church has been removed, will form a third. We find different companies distinguished in such passages as Rev. 4:4; 7:3-8; 7:9-17; 14:1-5; 19:7, 94And round about the throne were four and twenty seats: and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold. (Revelation 4:4)
3Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads. 4And I heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel. 5Of the tribe of Juda were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Reuben were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Gad were sealed twelve thousand. 6Of the tribe of Aser were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Nepthalim were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Manasses were sealed twelve thousand. 7Of the tribe of Simeon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Levi were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Issachar were sealed twelve thousand. 8Of the tribe of Zabulon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Joseph were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Benjamin were sealed twelve thousand. (Revelation 7:3‑8)
9After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; 10And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb. 11And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God, 12Saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honor, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen. 13And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they? 14And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them. 16They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. 17For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes. (Revelation 7:9‑17)
1And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father's name written in their foreheads. 2And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder: and I heard the voice of harpers harping with their harps: 3And they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders: and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth. 4These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb. 5And in their mouth was found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God. (Revelation 14:1‑5)
7Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. (Revelation 19:7)
9And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God. (Revelation 19:9)
. Much depends upon the revelation of God, in the light of which we live, and upon the purpose of God in regard to us, according to which is the calling wherewith we are called. Here however, the contrast is between that which God purposed for the saints who lived before Christ came, and for those whose great privilege is it to live after.
In Christianity the “better thing” has come to light. Indeed the word “better” is characteristic of this epistle, since, as we have seen, the great point of it is to show that proper Christianity wholly transcends Judaism. Already we have had before us, a BETTER Apostle, Priest, hope, covenant, promises, sacrifice, substance, country and resurrection. Run over the chapters and note these things for yourselves.
The copyright for this material is assigned to Scripture Truth Publications. Used by permission.