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By Faith June 1, 2015

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on Hebrews 11.

Summary: The author begins by asserting that justifying faith gives the good things that are promised in the future a real substance in the minds and souls of believers. Indeed, all true believers from the foundation of the world until the end of the dispensation of the old testament were commended because of their justifying faith.

Then, the author asserts that by faith, believers assent to the fact that God spoke and the universe was made; they are assured that the things that their senses and reason can understand were made by the invisible power of God.

Now the author furnishes the following examples of true believers in the Old Testament:

  • Abel responded to God’s command and promise by offering a sacrifice – along with 1) a sense of sin and guilt and 2) a trust in the way of redemption and recovery that God had provided; thus, God accepted his sacrifice and spoke well of it, and he is well-known in all generations
  • Enoch was translated from a state of faith and obedience – here in this world – to a state in the next world of enjoying God, and this occurred without the intervention of death; indeed, without faith one cannot be well-pleasing to God, as He only rewards those who are diligently seeking Him
  • when God told Noah that He would destroy the world, Noah had a reverential fear about His warnings, and he built an ark according to His directions; thus, the faith he exercised and his obedience condemned the world, and he was freely adopted by God – obtaining righteousness
  • when God transferred the right and title to Canaan to Abraham and told him to go there, he wholly committed himself to God’s faithfulness and goodness, even though he did not have the least encouragement about Canaan
  • moreover, Abraham sojourned in Canaan – as did Isaac and Jacob, since God specifically made the same promise to them both that he would transfer the right and title to Canaan to them; this stems from the fact that Abraham looked for heaven, as God is the artificer and maker of that settled, quiet habitation
  • Abraham and Sarah were equally involved in the divine revelation concerning the birth of Isaac; thus, although Abraham’s natural body had died – in terms of procreation – his seed became like the stars of heaven due to their faith.

Next, the author asserts that the aforementioned believers persevered in faith to the end; indeed, even though it was a long space of time before God’s promises to them were fulfilled, they greeted them with love and delight. They knew that they were just passing through the world, and they declared their beliefs plainly. If they had desired their own countries, they could have returned to them; instead, they longed for heaven.

Then, the author returns to the examples of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and asserts that:

  • when God commanded Abraham to offer Isaac as a burnt offering, he fully obeyed Him even though He had earlier stated that the promise of his offspring would be fulfilled in Isaac; Abraham’s faith reconciled that promise with God’s command, and so God gave Isaac back to him
  • Isaac authoritatively applied God’s promises to Jacob and Esau
  • as Jacob died, he worshiped God – leaning on the top of his staff; also, he authoritatively applied God’s promises to the two sons of Joseph.

Now the author furnishes additional examples of true believers in the Old Testament:

  • as Joseph died, he focused on the fulfillment of God’s promise – in terms of land – to his forefathers; thus, he put his brothers and their children under oath regarding his funeral arrangements
  • the parents of Moses preserved his life – as a baby – due to their strong faith
  • Moses lived and worked by faith, as he crucified his heart to his outward enjoyments, the riches of Egypt and their attendant advantages; since he believed in Christ and focused on the fulfillment of God’s promise in Him, he was distressed with evil things that destroy nature
  • Moses delivered the people out of Egypt – despite the fact that he had in front of him a bloody tyrant
  • Moses observed the Passover along with the ordinance where one would dip a bunch of hyssop in a bowl containing the blood of a lamb and then use the hyssop to strike the sides and tops of the doorframes of their house; thus, the angel whom God used to execute His judgments did not destroy the firstborn of Israel
  • when God parted the waters of the Red Sea, the children of Israel passed through it; when the Egyptians also tried to pass through it, they were swallowed up
  • the children of Israel marched around the high and strong walls of Jericho for seven days; thus, God allowed them to take and destroy that city
  • Rahab received the Israelite spies, concealed them, gave them intelligence and arranged for their safe escape; thus, God exempted her from the denounced doom of her race, even though she had given herself up to the vilest of sins.

Then, the author describes the faith of other true believers in the Old Testament, including Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets. These true believers:

  • subdued kingdoms
  • wrought righteousness
  • observed the fulfillment of God’s specific promises to them
  • put a stop to the mouth of a lion so that it could not hurt anyone
  • committed themselves to God’s sovereignty in a blazing furnace
  • fled from two-edged swords
  • overcame moral and bodily infirmities
  • were armed with strength for battle and defeated foreign armies
  • raised children from the dead – giving them into their mothers’ arms.

The author also asserts that some true believers were:

  • steadfast under torture, as they longed for the resurrection that leads to eternal life
  • mocked and subject to a servile punishment used on vagabonds and the vilest of men
  • imprisoned
  • killed – for example, some were beheaded
  • in a poor and mean condition, and they were in need of friends; they were tormented and pressured by great dangers that were continually brought on them.

Regarding the true believers who escaped death, the author states that even though they sheltered in uninhabited wastes and hollow places where wild beasts sheltered, the world was not worthy of having them live in it.

Now the author asserts that while true believers under the old testament had obtained witness through their faith, the promise of the manifestation of Christ for the redemption of the church was not fulfilled during that time. The author concludes by asserting that this promise has been fulfilled under the Gospel dispensation; thus, his readers are in a preeminent state.

Thoughts: In verse 7, Noah is commended by God for demonstrating his faith in response to His divine warnings and instructions. Owen offers some insights on this point:

These were not yet seen when Noah warned about them, nor were they “seen” a hundred years later. The cause of the flood, the wickedness of the world, and the destruction of the world, through God’s power, was invisible. So it was an act of pure faith for Noah to believe what he had no evidence for, except through divine revelation, especially since the thing itself seemed so incredible.

Clearly Noah demonstrated amazing faith in his unique circumstances. I would certainly like to meet him in the next life and learn how he meticulously designed and constructed the ark, successfully gathered a large group of animals and managed to place them in the ark, and successfully convinced his family to assist him in this massive project. How did he continue working on this project in spite of the insults and hostility of his neighbors? How did he maintain his faith in God’s promise to judge the world while sin continued to reign in his society? Did he feel vindicated when God finally judged the world with the flood, or was he affected by the fact that most of the world had been punished for eternity?

While all of the examples of faith in this passage are cogent, I was particularly struck by the faith of those who had to address life-or-death situations. For example, how did Abraham find the strength to prepare to offer Isaac as a burnt offering, even though he and Sarah had finally gained him as their promised descendant in their old age? How did Moses’ parents find the strength to preserve his life as a baby, even though Pharaoh could have executed them for disobeying his orders? How did Moses find the strength to defy Pharaoh and prove the superiority of the God of Israel to the gods of Egypt, even though Pharaoh could have ended his life with a simple order to his guards? How did Rahab find the strength to assist the Israelite spies, even though she could have been executed for treason? It is truly amazing that God can enable ordinary people to place His interests above the value of their lives.

In verses 35-38, the author cites examples of faithful believers in the Old Testament who endured great suffering. Owen offers some insights on this point:

The apostle now gives a different set of examples, which are more readily suited to the condition of the Hebrews. For hearing about the previous ten glorious examples they might think that they had nothing to do with them. For their condition was poor, persecuted, exposed to all evils and to death itself for the profession of the Gospel. They wanted to know: what will faith do when people are exposed to persecution and martyrdom?

The author provides an inspiring list of examples to encourage the Hebrews in the midst of their difficult circumstances – as they were strongly tempted to return to the apparent safety and comforts of Judaism. This passage reminded me of 2 Corinthians 11:16-33, where Paul provides a similarly impressive list of the difficulties that he endured for the sake of preaching the Gospel message. Clearly the list of examples in this passage would be fodder for an epic film; of course, a major caveat is that none of those believers are mentioned by name. In any event, this list challenges modern-day believers to keep themselves from growing complacent in this world. This list shows us that genuine believers draw closer to their true calling in Christ by drawing away from this world. Thus, we must seek to rise above the world around us; this is extremely difficult, though, as we are inclined to sink into the world around us. We need divine grace and strength so that we can internalize the transitory nature of this life and prepare for the permanence of the next life.

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