11:1. In this chapter our author will illustrate that faith which saves the soul by pointing to men and women from Jewish history who possessed it. He begins, however, with a statement concerning this saving faith, which some have called its definition.
Faith is, on the one hand, the substance or confidence or courageous assurance (see the same word at 3:14) of things hoped for. This term expresses the sense well of the Hebrew word for faith used throughout the Old Testament. It is that confident and assured trust in God which enables one to endure with patience while moving toward the object of his hope.
Faith is, on the other hand, the evidence or proof, the absolute conviction, of things not seen with the physical eyes. This terminology expresses the sense of the Greek word for faith used in the New Testament. Saving faith, however, in every age and among all men, involves both these elements.
It is its own proof of the existence and active energy of unseen facts and realities, and able by its own immediate intuitions to dispense with the evidence of the senses and laborious proofs of reason. It carries the imperious conviction of the truth it holds within itself (Delitzsch).
Putting it more simply, such faith “is convinced of future good because it knows that the good for which it hopes already exists invisibly in God” (Barrett). In that conviction, faith rises to meet great occasions, accomplishes mighty works through God’s power, and endures every kind of suffering for the sake of Him whose voice it has heard and whose reward it has seen.
11:2. By it the elders or honorable men of the past obtained a good report or were well-attested by God. This general term will include heroes of faith from Abel the son of Adam through the Maccabean martyrs of the second century before Christ.
It was common practice among Greek orators, as among speakers now, to illustrate particular traits by calling attention to individuals in whom they have been particularly apparent. When Mattathias, the priestly father of the Maccabean brothers, encouraged his sons on his deathbed he said,
Now my children, be zealous for the Law, and give your lives for the covenant of your fathers. And call to mind the deeds of the fathers which they did in their generations, that ye may receive great glory and an everlasting name (I Maccabees 2:50-51).
He then reminded them of the faith and deeds of Abraham, Joseph, Phinehas, Joshua, Caleb, David, Elijah, Daniel and his three friends.
Another Jewish writing began with the following words a seven-chapter description of the merits of good men from Enoch to a Maccabean priest named Simeon:
Let me now hymn the praises of men of piety, of our fathers in their generations. No little glory did the Most High allot them, and they were great from the days of old (Sirach 44:1-2).
Our author is not unique in naming famous men. He is alone in calling attention to the clear quality of saving faith which has exemplified all who truly pleased God. This verse may give a capsule illustration of the first part of faith’s description in verse one. These elders were men who maintained a confidence and courage and assurance toward God in the face of whatever circumstance they encountered.
11:3. Through this same kind of faith we understand the origin of the universe although we have no physical evidence to support our understanding Paul uses understand in a similar statement in Romans 1:20. Here is just one example of the second part of the definition found in verse one.
The worlds (see 1:2) here refer to the space-time universe which is known by sensory perception, although the particular word literally means “ages.” All that is now seen was framed or came into being by the spoken word of God. Nothing came originally from what philosophers would call the phenomenal, but from God’s own invisible word and will.
The word of God here is not the same as in John 1:1ff. John uses a word which includes both rationality or thought and the speech by which that is expressed. Our author uses a term which emphasizes the act of speaking. The farmer may be included in his remark that what we see did not come from what is apparent, and in the implication that it came from the mind and thoughts of God — which are invisible — by means of the spoken word of God.
If Moses saw a pattern of the true tabernacle in heaven before he built the one on earth (8:5; 9:1), it is not surprising that the visible creation should have come from the thoughts of God and in the absence of any visible “stuff.”
On creation through God’s spoken word see also Genesis 1, 2; Psalm 33:6, 9 The important point is that through faith we understand this, and that we may have the same proof or evidence through faith that one might seek through physical senses.
11:4. The first example of faith is Abel, who by it offered a sacrifice which God regarded as more excellent than that offered by his brother Cain. The story is told in Genesis 4:3-7. A number of suggestions have been made as to why Abel’s offering pleased God when Cain’s did not.
Cain brought his fruit but Abel brought his firstfruits. Abel’s blood-offering may have signified a realization of his need for forgiveness, while Cain’s offering of produce showed no such insight or humility. Others have concluded that God prescribed the specific offering desired and that we have a simple contrast between obedience and disobedience. Our author says only that Abel’s acceptance was due to his faith. There seems to be a simpler explanation of these words than any yet mentioned
Faith which successfully approaches God by nature involves the heart. Our writer urges that the heart not be hardened (3:8), or evil and unbelieving (3:12) when judged by God’s word (4:12). It is rather to be inscribed with God’s laws (8:10; 10:16), sincere, with full assurance of faith (10:22) and strengthened by grace (13:9). The text here says that Abel’s offering was accepted because he presented it out of faith, and the Old Testament indicates a distinction between the hearts of Abel and his brother Cain (Genesis 4:7).
Calvin pointed to this factor in his comment that Abel’s sacrifice was accepted “because he himself was graciously accepted,” and Proverbs 15:8 affirms the same principle. As all righteous men of all time, Abel pleased God through faith. This faith which guided all his life caused him to be accepted, and the occasion of his offering gave God opportunity to acknowledge the acceptance of his faith. This was in contrast to Cain’s rejection, because of disbelief.
It is even here the case that faith comes by hearing the word of God, but Abel’s faith responded to God’s word in general and regularly, not simply on this occasion. The key to his accepted offering is not the offering itself but his heart. God was pleased to accept the offering because of the faith which prompted the man who brought it.
By the same faith Abel obtained witness from God that he was righteous. If one construes the which here as referring to the sacrifice instead of the faith, the point remains unchanged. For, if by the sacrifice Abel obtained witness from God, it was only in God’s testimony that he was known to be righteous — but he was righteous because of his faith.
That Abel was righteous is stated by our Lord Himself (Matthew 23:35) as well as by the apostle John (1 John 3:12). Josephus also states that Cain and Abel
were pleased with different courses of life; for Abel, the younger, was a lover of righteousness, and, believing that God was present at all his actions, he excelled in virtue. . . . But Cain was not only very wicked in other respects, but was wholly intent upon getting.
God testified that Abel was righteous by receiving his gifts. Whether He indicated this reception by a divine word or by sending fire upon the altar (see Leviticus 9:23-24; Judges 6:21ff; 13:19-23; I Kings 18:30-39; II Chronicles 7:1) we are not told.
Though Abel had been long dead even when Hebrews was written, by his faith he yet speaketh. His message is not only a cry to God for vengeance (Genesis 4:10; Hebrews 12:24), but is particularly a word to all God’s people that they may find divine favor through faith.
11:5. If Abel died as a result of his faith, the next witness found life through his. By faith Enoch was translated when God took him (Genesis 5:24; see II Kings 2:3, 5, 10), which our author interprets as meaning that he did not see death. When Enoch’s associates searched for him he was not found (see II Kings 2:15-17). But before his translation Enoch had received this testimony or witness that he pleased God.
The Greek Old Testament says that Enoch “was well-pleasing to God,” where the Hebrew text says he “walked with God.” These terms are applied by the Old Testament to Noah as well as to Enoch, but to no other man (Genesis 6:9). Jude indicates that Enoch’s contemporaries were anything but pleasing to God (verses 14-15), and one piece of uninspired Jewish literature had him “caught away lest wickedness should change his understanding or guile deceive his soul” (Wisdom 4:11). Again, what is important is that Enoch pleased God through his faith.
11:6. Although the Old Testament does not state that Enoch was a man of faith, our writer argues that he must have been. For without faith it is impossible to please God, yet Scripture says that Enoch did. What is true of Enoch is true in general. Any person who comes to God (the same Greek word used in Hebrews 4:16; 7:25 and 10:1, 22 of approaching God) must believe or have a two-fold faith. First, that God is or exists; second, that he becomes a rewarder to those who diligently seek him by faith.
Both these are in keeping with the nature of faith as described in verse one. Faith believes that God is, although He is not seen, and that He will give those seeking Him the reward for which they hope. Only with such faith is God pleased, He has no pleasure in those who draw back in disbelief (10:38). Those who received this epistle needed just such a faith if they were to receive their reward (10:35). Those who read it today need the same.
11:7. Noah was also a man of faith. Like Abel, he was righteous; like Enoch, he walked with God or pleased Him (Genesis 6:9). When warned of God Noah prepared an ark, for his faith provided evidence of things not seen as yet. He moved with godly fear or piety (see the same word at 5:7; 12:28), itself a companion of faith, which resulted in the saving of his house.
By faith, Noah condemned the world which did not have faith. He became an heir of the only righteousness God recognizes, that which is according to faith. Noah was saved by faith. His faith showed itself by acting in assurance of the unseen, through confidence in the God who had promised.
11:8. The next five verses speak of Abraham’s faith, noted by Old Testament writers (Genesis 15:6; Nehemiah 9:8) as well as New (Romans 4, Galatians 3:6-9). Our writer has already discussed Abraham twice (he is mentioned in 2:16); once in connection with God’s faithfulness (6:13-15) and once in giving historical background to Melchizedek (7:1-10). Here Abraham’s faith is in the spotlight.
By faith Abraham obeyed the call of God to go out, not knowing where he would go. He knew only that God had commanded. “Faith and obedience are inseparable in man’s relation to God.” Abraham “would not have obeyed the divine call had he not taken God at his word; his obedience was the outward evidence of his inward faith” (Bruce).
Abraham was to receive a promise of the land as an inheritance, but that promise was not given until after he had initially obeyed (Genesis 12:1-7). The promise concerning an inheritance was itself a reward for his initial faith, not the original motive for his obedience. That rested on his faith alone.
11:9. By faith Abraham sojourned or lived as a stranger who was passing through a strange country, although in fact he was in the land which according to God’s promise would someday belong to his descendants. He lived with Isaac, who was born when Abraham was 100 years old (Genesis 21:5), and Jacob, born when he was 160 (Genesis 25:26), for fifteen years (Genesis 25:7) in tabernacles or tents.
As semi-nomads (Genesis 26:12; 33:17) the patriarchs did not settle for the luxuries of any city around them. The metropolitan areas of Sodom and Gomorrah were by no means alone in Palestine and Syria of Abraham’s day. Jericho had been a fortified city already for more than 5,000 years. Yet the patriarchs remained intentional strangers, looking for a special kind of city which only God could prepare.
11:10. Abraham, and apparently Isaac and Jacob as well (see verses 13-16), looked for the city which hath the foundations. Both definite articles are present in the original, adding emphasis to the uniqueness of the city for which they searched. The following verses tell us that they were trusting God for a home in the heavenly city. This verse calls it the city with the foundations, whose builder or craftsman or architect and maker or constructor is God.
In addition to other references in Hebrews (12:22; 13:14), the new or heavenly Jerusalem is mentioned in Galatians (4:25-26) and Revelation (3:12; chapters 21, 22) At times it is a present reality, distinguished from earthly Jerusalem as the spiritual is distinguished from the physical, and is discernible by faith. At the same time, it is to be distinguished in a temporal sense as the inheritance not-yet-given which awaits the people of God. In Hebrews, notes Bruce, “it is the heavenly Jerusalem, the commonwealth of God in the spiritual and eternal order, now effectively made accessible by the completion of Christ’s high-priestly work, to which all the men and women of faith come to be enrolled as free citizens” (see also Philippians 3:20).
11:11. The text used by the King James translators notes that by faith Abraham’s wife Sarah was enabled to bear a son although past the normal age. A problem arises here, however, because the Greek word translated conceive seed is not the word for the mother’s part in conception at all, but the father’s. In addition, Sarah is pictured in the Old Testament, not as believing God’s promise, but laughing at it in scorn and disbelief (Genesis 18:12-15). Finally, the statement that Sarah was delivered of a child is not in the better Greek manuscripts or the later English versions.
A solution may not be far away. The original words here represented as Sarah herself received strength to conceive seed, may, by remarking the vowels, be translated “He also, with Sarah, received strength to begat a child, when he was past age.” This reading is suggested in the margin of the Westcott and Hort Greek text and is noted with approval in the lexicons translated by Thayer and by Arndt and Gingrich. It does not do violence to the original text, either, for vowels in it were not marked. This reading not only accounts for the particular Greek word used, it fits the facts of the Old Testament and makes the present passage far more readable By faith Abraham went out (verse eight), sojourned (verse nine), with Sarah had a son (verse 11), and offered Isaac (verse 17).
The fulfillment of this promise, impossible by human calculations, became possible by the faith of Abraham. He exemplified that highest quality of faith which judges God to be faithful in all that He has promised, and acts accordingly.
11:12. Not only Isaac, but eventually a multitude as numerous as the stars in the sky (Genesis 15:5; 22:17) or the grains of sand by the shore (Genesis 22:17) came from the one man Abraham (Isaiah 51:1-2; Ezekiel 33:24). To this add that he was as good as dead so far as producing offspring when Isaac was promised. The text literally says that he had long been dead in this sense. Paul uses the same form of this word in Romans 4:19. There he insists that saving faith is faith in a God who is able to raise the dead, and he develops that point with reference to Christian faith in the gospel concerning Christ (see also verse 19 in this chapter).
11:13. These sojourning worthies — Abraham (and Sarah), Isaac and Jacob — all died just as they had lived, in the sphere where faith is the motivating principle. Although they did not during their lifetime receive the object of the promises given them, by faith they had seen them as if from a distance. Their faith saw what was invisible and the conviction it produced caused them to react with certain assurance. They embraced what they saw (literally “greeted” or “saluted”), and happily confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims — not only in that land but on the earth itself (see verse ten).
Abraham confessed that he was a stranger and pilgrim (Genesis 23:4), as did Jacob (Genesis 47:9). David, a later man of faith, made the same confession in his day (Psalm 39:12; 119:19; I Chronicles 29:15). Peter urges Christians to have the same attitude (I Peter 1:17; 2:11), as does our writer in making the present point
11:14. They that say that they are strangers and pilgrims on this earth declare plainly that they are looking for a country or fatherland of their own The patriarchs did say such things and we may know that was their quest.
11:15. The country they sought was not one from which they came out, whether Haran or Chaldea. When on one occasion a servant suggested that Isaac return to Haran to acquire a wife, Abraham was urgent in insisting against it (Genesis 24:5-8). God had called him away from that country; his mind was not set on it and he did not return even when he had opportunity. These men were pilgrims, not leaving a former home only, but travelling toward a future one. They were immigrants to the heavenly city, as well as emigrants from one on earth.
11:16. They wanted a heavenly country better than any earth could provide. They were not perfect mortals by any standard, but they were men who trusted God and took Him at His word. For this reason he is not ashamed to be called their God (Genesis 28:13; Exodus 3:6; see Mark 12:26-27). For the same reason He has prepared that heavenly city for which they looked during their lives.
Just as the true Sabbath rest is fulfilled only in the eternal realm of realities entered after death by the faithful (4:1-11; Revelation 14:13), so the faith-pilgrim finds his city only in the dimension of perfected existence.
An unknown writer from perhaps the third century after Christ had the same thought in mind when he described Christians in these words.
They live in their own homelands, but as foreigners. They share in everything as citizens, hut endure everything as aliens. Every foreign country is their homeland, but every homeland is a strange country to them. They spend their time on the earth, but their citizenship is really in heaven (Epistle to Diognetus, my translation).
11:17. It was also by faith that Abraham was offering Isaac, having already offered him in his own heart and mind, when an angel of God stopped him short of the actual deed. The story is given in Genesis 22:1-14. Jewish traditions had Isaac 23, 25 or even 37 years old at the time, and credited him with the same faith as his father, but the Genesis account leaves the impression that Isaac was much younger.
The tense of the first verb offered up indicates an action completed in the past with results carrying into the present. Abraham’s faith was so real that he regarded Isaac as already having been offered. Apparently, God did as well. But Abraham’s faith was not limited to his mind, for he was in the process of carrying out this act (as the tense of the second offered up suggests) when stopped by God. Faith is what justifies, not the act it prompts; yet justifying faith will always be acting in obedience to God.
Scripture refers to this incident as a test by which Abraham’s faith was tried (Genesis 22:1, 12). An ancient Jewish work called The Book of Jubilees told of a confrontation behind the scenes between God and a demon, details borrowed, no doubt, from the Biblical story of Job.
11:18. There could be no doubt as to the crisis: it was to be in or through Isaac that the race which would be called the seed of Abraham would have its origin (Genesis 21:12). The test of Abraham’s faith lay in the realization that God’s promises to him depended on this very only begotten son whom God now commanded to be offered as a sacrifice. What does one do when God’s promises seem to contradict His clear commands? Abraham’s example would say that faith suspends human reasoning and obeys, trusting that God is both able and faithful to carry out His promises.
11:19. If God could raise one up from the dead by a miraculous birth to aged parents (verse 12; Romans 4:17-22), He was certainly able to raise Isaac from the death Abraham was now commanded to inflict. This much Abraham knew, and he seems to have believed that God would do this very thing (Genesis 22:5).
Because Isaac was already dead in Abraham’s faithful mind (see verse 17), our author says that is what did happen; not literally, but in a figure. Abraham’s faith was approved. He received his son alive as a reward.
Because figure here is literally “parable,” some have taken the phrase to mean that what happened to Isaac was a figure or parable of Jesus who was to come. Whether or not that was in our author’s mind, a number of parallels are apparent. Isaac was Abraham’s only begotten son (verse 17; see John 3:16). He was a child of promise through whom God would bless the world. He was born of a miraculous conception.
Isaac carried the wood for his own death, as Jesus carried His own cross. Isaac was received back as from the dead, as our Lord was in fact. In Isaac’s place, God provided a ram for the sacrifice, caught in a thicket by his horns. Jesus Himself was the Lamb of God, but died with a crown of thorns on His head. Both events involve a test of faith. Man is now asked to place all hope of salvation in the crucified and risen Jesus, a proposition as troubling to human reason as the dilemma faced by Abraham.
11:20. By faith this same Isaac, when he was old and blind, blessed his sons Jacob (Genesis 27:26-29; 28:1-4) and Esau (Genesis 27:39-40) concerning things which were to come in the distant future. These blessings involved the fortunes of two nations, Israel and Edom, and they came to pass as foretold. That Isaac spoke by faith implies more in the blessings than a fatherly prediction. What he said must have been based on a word from God.
The measure of faith required from Isaac is seen in the very circumstance of the blessing. Jacob had reversed the ordinary prophecy through common deceit, and the blessings were given unwillfully by Isaac. Yet Isaac was confident that God would carry out His purposes
God is all-knowing and all-powerful, and faith trusts Him to accomplish His will in spite of all human obstacles. No circumstance may arise through human sin which God cannot use for His own glory. This is the confident conviction of everyone who believes that God is and that He becomes a rewarder to those who seek Him.
11:21. Many years later, Jacob acted by faith when he blessed Ephraim and Manasseh, the two sons of Joseph (Genesis 48:1-22). See the comments regarding the patriarchal blessing above.
The same faith was evident in Jacob when he made Joseph swear to have him buried some day in the land of promise, then leaned in reverence upon the top of his pilgrim’s staff and worshipped the God of his fathers (Genesis 47:29-31).
God’s promise to Abraham had included affliction in a strange country, but also a great deliverance after four generations (Genesis 15:13-16). In that promise alone Jacob placed all his confidence now. In spite of “the exhaustion of approaching death, he summoned all his bodily powers, and placed his aged limbs as well as he could in the position of profoundest adoration” (Delitzsch).
It may be noticed that Genesis has “bed” where our author has “staff.” The same consonants in Hebrew may be either; our author is using a Greek translation which had “staff.” The faith of Jacob remains the same in either ease, and that is the point.
The writer of Hebrews may reverse the chronological order of the two events in this verse for smoother transition from Isaac’s blessing (verse 20) to Jacob’s blessing (verse 21), and from Jacob’s death-bed (verse 21) to Joseph’s (verse 22).
11:22. Dying Joseph acted by faith when he spoke of the divinely promised departing of the children of Israel (see notes on verse 21), and gave a commandment concerning the future burial of his bones (Genesis 50:24-25). His faith in God’s promise was vindicated many years later when his bones were carried up out of Egypt (Exodus 13:19) and laid to rest at Shechem (Joshua 24:32).
11:23. By faith, Moses, who has been commended already for faithfulness in God’s house (3:2, 5), was hid three months (Exodus 2:2) by his parents Amram and Jochebed (Exodus 6:20). Their act was in violation of the king’s commandment that Hebrew male infants should be destroyed (Exodus 1:22). To say that Moses was a proper child is to say he was urbane, stately or well-favored (see Acts 7:20). Jewish tradition said that Moses’ parents were informed of God’s plans for Moses, through either a dream of Amram or a prophetic utterance by Moses’ sister Miriam. Scripture states simply that they acted from faith.
11:24. When Moses was mature or come to years, he acted by faith and refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, by whom he had been adopted as an infant (Exodus 2:9-10). The refusal may have taken the form of a dramatic confrontation or it may have been by identification with the enslaved Hebrews through incidents such as that recorded in Exodus 2:11-12 (see also Acts 7:23-25).
The identity of Pharaoh’s daughter must remain a present mystery. The designation “Pharaoh” is of no help, since it was not a personal name but the ancient royal title meaning “The one who lives in the great house.” Josephus says the Pharaoh’s daughter was named Thermuthis, and the Jewish Book of Jubilees called her Tharmuth. Both are names of a daughter of Rameses II, who lived during the thirteenth century before Christ. Another daughter of Rameses II, Meri, has also been suggested as the princess of Exodus.
Conservative scholarship has generally preferred an earlier date for Moses, and some writers have suggested that this princess was Hatshepsut, a powerful daughter of Thutmose I. Hatshepsut later became “king” herself, and even wore the ceremonial beard of the pharaoh. She ruled during the fifteenth century before Christ.
Our historical curiosity must wait for further evidence from archaeology, but our appreciation of the faith of Moses remains unaffected. Whenever he lived, his worldly position warred against his faith. To his eternal credit Moses trusted God instead of appearances, and of his alternatives our author now speaks.
11:25. Moses could have known a powerful position in Egypt, perhaps even becoming Pharaoh. Instead he cast his lot with a race of slaves. His faith looked behind the scenes and calculated it better to suffer affliction with the people of the eternally existent and rewarding God than to enjoy all the conceivable pleasures of sin which were temporary (see this same word at II Corinthians 4:18). By faith, Moses “looked through the deceptive appearances of worldly good things, to their inward and essential nothingness, and to their fearful end” (Delitzsch).
11:26. The treasures of Egypt were fantastic, as demonstrated by a few small caches uncovered in certain royal tombs. The treasures of King “Tut” (Tutankhaton, fourteenth century before Christ) are well known; that much or more might have belonged to Moses. But faith appraised the alternatives and pronounced reproaches with God’s people to he the greater riches!
Moses chose the reproaches (see 10:33) of Christ. Suffering accepted for God’s sake binds together saints of both testaments and identifies them all with Christ (Philippians 1:29; Colossians 1:24; II Timothy 2:10). David so spoke in Psalm 69:7-9, in words later seen to refer also to Christ (John 2:17; Romans 15:3). In another psalm, Ethan spoke of his sufferings as for the sake of God’s anointed one (the literal meaning of “Christ,” 89:50-51). Moses endured reproaches, as Christ was to do, he was a type of Christ (Deuteronomy 18:18; Acts 3:20-23). His suffering was one link in the great chain of events by which God directed history to its focal point in Christ.
11:27. By faith Moses forsook Egypt for Midian (Exodus 2:15). Lest the Exodus account be misunderstood, our author adds that this flight was not prompted by the wrath of the king. Like his parents before him (verse 23), Moses was well aware of Pharaoh’s wrath, but also like them he acted through positive faith in God and not through fear. Fear might have led a slave rebellion — which would have been crushed at once. Faith quietly retreated to the desert to be molded forty years for God’s great deliverance.
In this particular crisis and thereafter, Moses endured the consequences of his faith by looking toward God who is invisible. Again we are reminded that faith believes that God is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. The faith of Moses stood against the unbelief of Pharaoh, who Philo says “did not acknowledge any deity apart from those that could be seen.” The plagues on Egypt were judgments against its many visible gods (Exodus 12:12).
Some relate this verse to the Exodus rather than to Moses’ earlier flight to Midian, but at least four objections may be raised to that view. First, the order here is reversed. The Passover preceded the Exodus but is mentioned in the verse following this one. Second our writer does not mention the faith of Israel here, as he does regarding the Red Sea (verse 29) and as one might expect if this refers to the Exodus. Third, Pharaoh of the Exodus was not the king from whom Moses fled, yet our author has to deny that fear prompted the flight under consideration (Exodus 2:23). Fourth, Israel did not leave Egypt under fear, but at the urging of Pharaoh and the Egyptians (Exodus 12:31-33).
11:28. By faith (the word here is exactly that translated “try faith” elsewhere in the chapter), Moses kept the Passover for the first time and left it as a perpetual celebration (Exodus 12:1-20). Faith prompted the sprinkling of the lamb’s blood; it was rewarded in Israel’s deliverance when the firstborn of Egypt’s men and animals were destroyed by God (Exodus 12:21-30).
Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper at a Passover meal. His selection of bread and fruit of the vine as the elements of His covenant meal also demonstrates the continuity between old and new testaments
John’s Gospel presents Jesus’ death against a background of the slaying of Passover lambs in the temple (John 19:31, 36). Paul makes the unleavened bread of passover week a type representing moral purity among Christians, whose Lamb is Christ (I Corinthians 5:6-8). Our author does not use passover typology He stresses the Day of Atonement and its perfect fulfillment in the self-offering of Christ. For additional references on Christ as God’s Lamb, see notes on 9:24.
11:29. The Israelites were represented by Moses in the previous verse. Here they are mentioned as a company. It is striking that examples of faith are drawn from individuals, usually persons who were faithful when all around them were not. The nation is used to illustrate disbelief (3:9-11; 3:16-4:11; I Corinthians 10:1-12). This great moment of Israel’s faith immediately precedes forty years of unbelief in the wilderness.
By faith Israel passed through the midst of the divided Red Sea (Exodus 14:21-22), though God divided the sea with a strong east wind which came at a signal from Moses (Exodus 14:21). The Egyptians lacked faith, (literally) “made a trial of” the sea, and were drowned.
The Hebrew Old Testament calls this the Sea of Reeds. English versions generally agree with the Greek Old Testament in calling it the Red Sea. Exodus 14:2 indicates that the crossing took place at a northern extension of what is now the Gulf of Suez. This mighty act of divine deliverance was immediately celebrated in a song of praise (Exodus 15:1-21); still later it was used to represent God’s great power to accomplish His covenant purposes (Isaiah 11:15-16; 51:10-11). Paul used this crossing as a type of Christian baptism, and argued from it that those once in fellowship with God may forfeit their blessing through loss of faith (I Corinthians 10:1ff).
11:30. The capture of Jericho (Joshua six) involved what we call psychological warfare; the inhabitants must have been terrified after six days of encirclement by a silent army who marched behind blowing trumpets. But the walls fell down on the seventh day — and that by the faith which prompted the past week’s strange behavior. On Israel’s part the six days of marching demonstrated the perseverance of true faith — an element close to our writer’s mind as he pens this chapter (10:35-39; 12:1, 3).
An archaeologist named Garstang thought he had uncovered the very walls which fell before Joshua, but dating based on later work of Kathleen Kenyon made that identification very unlikely. Such matters are of interest, but the truthfulness of the biblical story does not depend on the excavator’s spade. The same God whom Israel’s faith touched that day thousands of years ago stands now behind our written account of that event, and the same kind of faith which trusted His direct word then places confidence now in His word that is written.
11:31. When the walls of Jericho fell and Israel stormed the city, Rahab and her family were the only survivors (Joshua 6:22-25). Her salvation was the result of her faith, which had been demonstrated earlier in hiding the two Israelite spies (Joshua 2). Her act was of faith because she had heard of God’s past deeds for Israel and she behaved from a reverent recognition of His power and purposes (Joshua 2:10-11).
Rahab is contrasted here with them that believed not. The word translated “believe” here implies obedience that comes from a persuasion of faith (the same word is used at 3:18). James uses Rahab as an illustration of that saying faith which does not merely profess but obeys (2:25). Clement of Rome, an early Christian author whose work was not inspired, used Rahab as an example of hospitality and faith (I Clement 12:1).
Some pious Jews of antiquity tried to make Rahab an innkeeper or a seller of food, instead of a harlot, but the word used in both Old and New Testaments demands that she be just that. Nor is this the word for a cultic or pagan temple prostitute, but an ordinary harlot. In spite of her former way of life, Rahab was transformed through the power of faith. She later was to marry a Hebrew and bore a son named Boaz to become a chosen vessel in the ancestry of our Lord (Matthew 1:5).
11:32. Using a Greek phrase common to orators, our author notes that his time would fail if he detailed every example of faith, and draws his list to a close.
The first four names are selected from the period of the Judges, and carry the Old Testament story from the time of Joshua to the time of the kings. Gideon delivered Israel from marauding Midianites who used the speed of camels to make their plundering attacks (Judges 6-8). Gideon is also called Jerubbaal (Judges 6:32).
As Deborah’s war-captain, Barak shared in the deliverance of the northwestern tribes from a confederacy of Canaanite kings who used chariots long before they were a common vehicle of war. The story in Judges 4-5 does not indicate Barak’s faith, unless it is to be seen in his agreement to assist Deborah with prospects of no personal glory (4: 8-9). Chronologically Barak comes before Gideon, but in importance the order is here reversed.
The exploits of Samson against Philistine occupation-troops are familiar to the Bible student (Judges 13-16). Samson’s faith was not always strong or active, but it came to the fore on the occasion of his death.
Jephthah was instrumental in delivering the eastern tribes from Ammon (Judges 11-12). Though he is now remembered chiefly for a rash vow, his general behavior was grounded in a knowledge of God’s past acts on behalf of Israel and a confidence that He would act once more for His own people (11:14-27). Jephthah also illustrates the fact that God may use ignoble individuals to accomplish great things (Judges 11:1-3).
It is possible that these four individuals were grouped together soon after their own times. First Samuel 12:11 speaks of Jerubbaal (Gideon) and Bedan (the Greek and Syriac versions have Barak) and Jephthah and Samuel (the Syriac version has Samson, but that seems to be a change that is unwarranted).
Time would fail, indeed, to give details of the faith of David (I Samuel 16-31; II Samuel; I Chronicles 11-29). The man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22) who served God’s purpose in his own generation (Acts 13:36) must have been characterized by exceptional faith, for without faith it is impossible to please God at all.
Samuel was the last of the judges and the first of a chain of prophets who would instruct Israel through the rest of the Old Testament period (I Samuel 19:20). Although be preceded David, he is here placed more naturally with the prophets who followed him. Samuel’s own birth was in answer to a prayer of faith (l Samuel 1:10-20, and his personal ministry early included a total trust in the word God revealed to him (I Samuel 3).
The prophets include Elijah, Elisha, Micaiah and other non-writing prophets, as well as the sixteen whose books bear their names. One does not have to look far to be impressed by their faith. He needs only to consider the mighty works of Elijah and Elisha, the patient and trying service of Hosea or Jeremiah. the holy boldness of Micaiah or Amos or Daniel, the unquestioning obedience of Ezekiel, or the confident reliance which Habakkuk expresses so beautifully in his poetic third chapter These men all, along with a host of God’s holy ones whose faith will be celebrated only in the resurrection, eloquently illustrate the many-faceted qualities of that faith which is unto the saving of the soul.
11:33. Through faith men have subdued kingdoms. Joshua, the judges and David come to mind at once. Others have wrought righteousness by the public administration of divine justice. This is noted of Samuel (I Samuel 12:4) and David (II Samuel 8:15; Psalm 101). Faith has obtained the fulfillment as well as the word of promises: of the Exodus, of Canaan’s possession, of great territories, of God’s care and protection of Jerusalem, of a captivity that ended as predicted and a return home
Faith has stopped the mouths of lions, by death (Judges 14:5-6; I Samuel 17: 34-36), but especially when Daniel had been delivered to hungry lions by his enemies and God de livered him from their jaws (Daniel 6).
11:34. Faith has sometimes quenched the violence of fire, most notably in the case of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (Daniel 3). Peter’s mention of “fiery trials” may suggest that such persecution was a possibility in the case of those who first read this epistle (I Peter 4:12).
Elijah (I Kings 19), Elisha (II Kings 6) and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 36) all escaped the edge of the sword by faith, but others by faith met the steel (Hebrews 11:37).
Out of weakness men and women of faith were made strong. Gideon was the most insignificant member of his family, but God used him mightily. Neither Saul nor David claimed personal merit when God called for service. Both responded to that call in faith, and in personal weakness found God’s strength. Others already discussed in this chapter were enabled by faith to accomplish what would otherwise have been impossible.
God has never depended on numbers, nor has He valued man’s appraisals of strength and weakness (see Deuteronomy 32:30; Leviticus 26:8; Joshua 23:10; II Corinthians 1:9-10; 12:9-10). To consider the examples in this chapter is more frequently than not to see God working in spite of the very instruments He chooses to use, overcoming men’s own weaknesses and mistakes to bring about His eventual glory. This lesson is always needed in the church, for men constantly face the temptation to view life through human values rather than with the clear and certain lens of faith.
By faith other waxed valiant in fight and turned the armies of the aliens to flight. Old Testament characters could be adduced here, but these terms also fit the heroic men of faith who lived between the testaments. The book of I Maccabees is not inspired, but it tells of numerous victories which faith brought the sons of Mattathias in their godly struggle against the pagan Syrian ruler Antiochus Epiphanies.
11:35. Women who had lost loved ones received them to life again through the power of faith. We think of the widow of Zarephath (I Kings 17:17ff) and the Shunemite woman (II Kings 4:17ff); perhaps there were others.
Tortured here translates a word which describes quite literally an extremely cruel persecution in which an individual was stretched on a rack then beaten to death. Second Maccabees is not quite so reliable as the first book, but it tells of a godly scribe named Eleazar who died in this very manner for his faith in Jehovah 16:18-31).
When Eleazar was captured, he was offered deliverance if he would eat swine’s flesh. This he refused, in hope of a better resurrection. Whether our author has him in mind or not, Eleazar’s dying words are characteristic of those who are intended here. “The Lord, who hath holy knowledge, understandeth that although I might have been freed from death, I endure cruel pains in my body from scourging and suffer this gladly in my soul, because I fear Him.”
One Jewish mother of the period was forced to watch the torture and murder of her seven sons, but tenderly encouraged each in his turn to be faithful to God. Their dying words eloquently illustrate this verse. One said, “Thou dost dispatch us from this life, but the King of the world shall raise us up, who have died for His laws, and revive us to life everlasting.” Another extended his limbs for torture with the words, “These I had from heaven; for His name’s sake I count them naught; from Him I hope to get them back again.” When all the others had died, the youngest son was offered riches and a position of state if he would deny God. He answered,
These brothers, after enduring a brief pain, have now drunk of everflowing life, in terms of God’s covenant; but thou shalt receive by God’s judgment the just penalty of thine arrogance. I, like my brothers, give up body and soul for our fathers’ laws, calling on God [these deaths are related in II Maccabees 7).
11:36. Others faced the test of mockings by many cruel and sportive tortures. They endured scourgings or whippings; they suffered bonds and imprisonment. The recipients of our epistle had endured some trials of faith early in their Christian lives and had shared with others who were imprisoned for Christ (10:32-34). Jeremiah had know imprisonment for the word of God (Jeremiah 20:2; 37:15; 38: 6), as had Joseph for his faithfulness to God (Genesis 39).
Others includes individuals not yet mentioned, and perhaps unknown to us, but known to the original readers. The tortures endured by the seven faithful brothers already mentioned compare in severity and depravity with any atrocities of times nearer ourselves. The tormentors tore out the tongue of the oldest brother, scalped and mutilated him in the presence of his younger brothers and his mother, then fried his body, maimed but still alive, in a huge cauldron (II Maccabees 7:15). The others suffered similar agonies, but we will follow the advice of the final verse in that chapter and “let this suffice” for “the excesses of barbarity.”
11:37. Long before Stephen, men of God had been stoned to death for their faithfulness. When Joach was king of Judah and the nation turned from God, a prophet named Zechariah came to testify against the people. “And they conspired against him and stoned him with stones at the commandment of the king in the court of the house of the Lord” (II Chronicles 24:17-21).
Tradition has Jeremiah stoned to death by the Jews who took him into Egypt after the captivity of Judah (see Jeremiah 42-44). Nor was he the only man of God to meet this fate from those who were called God’s people (Matthew 23:37; II Corinthians 11:25).
Others for their faith were sawn asunder. Very ancient Jewish traditions say that Isaiah was killed with a wooden saw under the reign of Manasseh. Scripture does not confirm this story, but one can well imagine such an act from a king who offered his own children in pagan sacrifice (II Chronicles 33:6) and who made the people of Judah “do worse than the heathen” (verse nine).
Faithful saints were tempted in many ways, but held fast their confidence in the God they could not see. It has been suggested that the word here translated tempted might, by the change of one letter, he translated “met death by fire.” This was the fate of some faithful ones during the time of the Maccabees (II Maccabees 6:11), but textual evidence does not appear to warrant such a change here.
Some were slain with the sword for their faith, although others by faith escaped this death (verse 34) Elijah was Spared when others died (I Kings 19:10). Jeremiah escaped the sword when Urijah was slain (Jeremiah 26:23-24). Herod killed James with the sword but Peter was spared (Acts 12:2ff). Only God knows why some died and others did not, but the faith of each will have its reward.
Because they walked by faith, God’s people have sometimes lost their homes and have been forced to wander about in sheepskins and goatskins. While it is true that Elijah (II Kings 1:8), John the Baptist (Mark 1:6) and perhaps others (Zechariah 13:4) wore hairy garments, our author speaks of a condition brought on by force, not choice, and apparently intends some others than these.
11:38. Godless crowds have cried that faithful saints were unfit for this world (Acts 22:22). With this our author agrees, though with an opposite meaning! Of such the world was not worthy, so they lived in deserts, mountains, caves or dens while they waited for their heavenly city and eternal homeland
We see Elijah hiding at Horeb, Elisha at Carmel, or 100 prophets in caves. During the period between the testaments, many of the faithful were forced to forsake their homes to seek safety in remote areas. E.M. Zerr believes the prophecies of Daniel 11:31-36 were fulfilled in the persecutions of that period; Keil includes the Maccabeean heroes but only in a larger picture.
11:39. What was said earlier of the patriarchs (verse 13) is said now of all these faithful men and women. They obtained a good report or were subjects of good testimony regarding their faith – whether directly from God (verse four) or by later men of faith (verse two). Yet they received not the particular promise which faith always grasps — that final and complete inheritance from the invisible God who is trusted to be a rewarder.
We must not take this to mean that these ancient saints were outside the provisions of divine grace or that they will not be among the glorified faithful with Christ eternity (see notes on 12:23). Indeed they were justified by faith — they had this testimony — and the offering of Christ declares that God was righteous in accepting them because of their faith (9:15; Romans 3:25-26).
11:40. The fact that their faith was unrewarded in life is not a sign that faith is ineffective or that God is unfaithful. It is rather a pointer to the unity of all men of faith in every dispensation or age. They who lived by faith before Christ were not perfect or complete without those of us who know God through Christ in the new covenant. “Christ himself is the essential bond of union which binds together the saints of all ages” (Milligan).
At the same time, God has provided something for us that is better than anything they were given. This is the knowledge of a high priest who has offered a perfect sacrifice for sins once far all, who now sits at God’s right hand making intercession for His people, who has opened the way into heaven by His own life and death, and who has promised to return to His people to, share the glory with them He has already acquired as their representative
Better is a key word in Hebrews and is characteristic of the new covenant with all it offers particularly in contrast to the former covenant and institutions. It is used of Christ’s name or position (1:4), His dedicatory sacrifices of the heavenly sanctuary (9:23), the New Testament (7:22) or covenant (8:6), the Christian hope (7:19), resurrection (11:35), country (11:16), substance (10:34) and message of Christ’s blood (12:24). It is also used of the behavior these blessings should elicit from Christ’s people (6:9).
The verb make perfect is also a frequent one in this epistle. It is used both of Christ (2:10; 5:9; 7:28) and of those covered by His sacrifice (7:19; 9:9; 10:14; 12:23). Such perfection is given through faith: faith that accomplishes great feats but also faith that suffers and endures. Perhaps most of all it is the faith that endures. That is our author’s chief point now as he urges the lesson on his readers.
Next: Chapter Twelve