Hebrews 11

The Life of Faith: A Great Cloud of Witnesses
Hebrews 11
Hebrews 11. Having brought out the principle of Hab. 2:4 that “the just shall live by faith”, the writer enters into a digression on the subject of the life of faith. The principle that a believer can only continue for God’s pleasure in the world by faith is nothing new. It is true of Old and New Testament saints alike. This chapter gives us numerous examples of faith in the lives of Old Testament saints. Remarkably, these examples give us God’s side of history, where failures are not mentioned, and in many cases the faith that only God can see is revealed. What we have in Hebrews 11 is not really a definition of faith, but rather a description of what faith does in a believer.12 A nice definition of faith is given in John 3:33, even though the word “faith” is not used; “He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true”. The chapter has been into three sections after the introductory verses. Each section deals with a different character of the life of faith. In vv.3-7 we have the intelligence of faith, wherein the soul is able to grasp a number of vital principles in Divine things. In vv.8-22 we have the patience of faith, wherein the soul walks as a stranger and pilgrim through this world, making certain sacrifices, because they have believed and are waiting patiently for the promises of God. In vv.23-38 we have the energy of faith, wherein the soul by faith acts according to the mind of God to overcome challenges or endure trials.3 Another way to state this would be the chapter gives us in order the principles, patience, and power of faith! The examples given generally follow chronologically through the Old Testament from Genesis 1 through the prophets!

Introduction: What Faith Does (11:1-2)

Now faith is the substantiating of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 For in the power of this the elders have obtained testimony. vv.1-2 What Faith Does. In the very beginning of this wonderful chapter, which gives many examples of faith, we are told what faith does in the broadest terms. Faith is “the substantiating of things hoped for”. This means that faith is what makes the Word of God real to the soul. God has promised us things in His Word that we believe with no outward proof of their fulfillment. Faith gives substance to those things, and makes the Word of God real to us. Further, faith is “the conviction of things not seen”. We have never seen the Father, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, heaven, or hell, and yet as believers we know these things are real; “for we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). It is not merely a high probability in our minds, but a firm conviction or assurance in our soul. The conviction of faith leads to action, as the rest of the chapter unfolds, and as the writer encapsulates with the statement, “For in the power of this the elders have obtained testimony”. The “elders” of course refers to Old Testament saints, who God commended in His Word because they had faith. This is interesting, because throughout the book of Hebrews we have had many contrasts between Judaism and Christianity, but now the point is made that saints from all ages have something in common: they walk by faith. Israel had the tabernacle with its visible representation of heavenly things which they did not understand, but faith was still required to lay hold what God had revealed about Himself, and to enable a righteous walk here in this world. Many examples follow, but the main principle is that faith is the vital link between the soul and God, leading to a walk that is pleasing to Him.

The Intelligence of Faith: Apprehending Divine Principles (11:3-7)

The first section of the character deals with a particular character of the life of faith. In vv.3-7 we have the intelligence of faith, wherein the soul is able to grasp a number of vital principles in Divine things, and act on them.4 This character of faith is seen in the saints who lived before the flood.

Faith Apprehends the Truth of Creation – Genesis 1 (v.3)

3 By faith we apprehend that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that that which is seen should not take its origin from things which appear. v.3 The Truth of Creation. The first great principle is not connected with any one Old Testament saint, as we have with the following examples, because it is universally true of the family of faith. “By faith we” – all believers included – “apprehend that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that that which is seen should not take its origin from things which appear”. This refers to Genesis 1:1, the creation of the universe when nothing material existed.5 We are not told when or how God did this, except that it was by His Word. The witness of creation from every vantage point cries out that the universe has an infinite, eternal, all-knowing, all-powerful Creator! But without faith, man cannot receive the truth of creation. Hence, the unbelieving world is full of false theories of the origin of the universe, but these are just foolish attempts by man to avoid acknowledging that he has a Creator to whom he is morally responsible. The history of the heathen shows where man’s mind leads him apart from the revelation of the Word of God and faith to apprehend it. The most honest of unbelieving minds can only reach the point that that Athenians reached when they erected an altar to “the unknown god” (Acts 17). Even science cannot reveal God, although true science points to the existence of God. But the Word reveals the truth plainly, and faith lays hold of the profound yet simple fact that God created everything by the power of His word!

Faith Understands Sin and Sacrifice – Abel (v.4)

4 By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained testimony of being righteous, God bearing testimony to his gifts, and by it, having died, he yet speaks. v.4 Sin and Sacrifice. The next great principle that faith apprehends is that of sin and sacrifice. Unbelievers do not understand why death and blood-shedding are required, but faith does! In the garden, the Lord was free to come down to walk with man in the cool of the day (Gen. 2). After the fall (Gen. 3), because of sin, fallen man must approach God on the basis of sacrifice. Cain offered first, then Abel. The ground had been cursed, yet Cain chose to bring fruit out of a cursed earth, by the labor of his own hands, for God. He never took to heart that the ground was cursed. God had provided coats of skin for Adam and Eve, which required the death of an innocent animal – a life offered up. Cain ignored this too! Abel chose to bring of the first-lings of his flock, which required the slaying of an animal, and the shedding of its blood. Abel brought a burnt offering – the “more excellent sacrifice” – and God accepted it. Abel believed what God had said about the cursed ground and the coming Seed. He acknowledged that he was fallen, and by his sacrifice confessed his guilt. He took to heart the lesson of the animal skins, and offered accordingly. This is faith; hearing the Word of God, taking it to heart, and putting it into practice. It isn’t that Abel was a better person then Cain, nor did the sacrifice make Abel righteous. It says that by his sacrifice Abel “obtained witness that he was righteous”. He was “righteous” in the sense that he acted consistently with the revealed mind of God. Cain’s offering was not accepted, because God cannot be pleased with the efforts of the first man. The sacrifices of Cain and Abel represent two approaches to God. All down through human history, there have only been two approaches. The first approach is to come to God seeking acceptance on the ground of our own works; a bloodless sacrifice. Jude speaks of this as “the way of Cain”. The second approach is to come to God on the value of a life offered up in death. Our chapter reveals that this was an act of faith; “by faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain”. The last clause says “and by it, having died, he yet speaks”. This refers of course in the first place to Abel’s blood that cried from the ground, but further to his enduring testimony recorded in the Word of God. What Abel believed and stood for could not be silenced by his murdering brother!

Faith has Fellowship with God and Is Rewarded – Enoch (vv.5-6)

5 By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him; for before his translation he has the testimony that he had pleased God. v.5 Fellowship with God Rewarded. The next individual that comes before us is Enoch, the seventh from Adam in the line of Seth. The striking event in Enoch’s path was the end, although the key to his end was how he walked. Rather than die as all his predecessors had, of whom it was said, “and he died… and he died, etc.”, Enoch “was translated that he should not see death”. Mark the abruptness of Enoch’s end. The genealogical account in Genesis 5 is interrupted with a man who did not keep his appointment with death! Enoch was taken out of this world by God without seeing death. Exemption from death was the greatest triumph an Old Testament saint could know, prior to the “appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who has annulled death, and brought life and incorruptibility to light by the gospel” (2 Tim. 1:10). For those who belong to Christ, Paul could reveal that mystery, “We shall not all sleep but we shall all be changed” (1 Cor. 15:51-52). Like Enoch, when the Lord comes, many Christians will be glorified without passing through the article of death! We have a life that is beyond the reach of death, and our portion, “whether we wake or sleep” (1 Thess. 5:10), is to live with Christ in heaven! In Genesis 5 it says that Enoch “walked with God”, and this resulted in “the testimony that he had pleased God”. He sought the fellowship of God, and drew near to Him, walking with Him each day. His life was an example of godliness to the godless world around him, and he carried a prophetic message concerning the world that Christ was coming (Jude 14-15). That character of faith was rewarded with a singular event: his translation, that he might bypass death and go to be with the One he loved. His walk was associated with heaven, and God rewarded him by taking him to heaven! 
Enoch and Elijah. Another man to experience such a thing was Elijah, who was taken up to heaven in a whirlwind. Both Enoch and Elijah lived in times of great and growing wickedness, both were prophets of judgment, and both were translated without going through death (Genesis 5:24, 2 Kings 2:11). In the same way, the translation of Enoch and Elijah typify the rapture. Elijah might speak of the individual believer being taken up, and Enoch might picture the Church collectively being translated. There was a flood coming on the world, but Enoch was taken out before it came. Likewise, the church will be taken out before the tribulation. Also, Enoch did not see his own death! He was exempted from death. In a similar way, the Church’s hope is not death, but the return of the Bridegroom to take us up to be with Himself, in the Father’s house.
6 But without faith it is impossible to please him. For he that draws near to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them who seek him out. v.6 Faith and Nearness to God. A little addendum is added to the example of Enoch’s faith, because his life is a wonderful illustration of a vital truth: “without faith it is impossible to please him”. The axiom is explained in the rest of the verse. A life that pleases God is a life of fellowship with God, and it is impossible to draw near to God if you do not believe in Him. Two things must be believed: (1) that God exists, and (2) that He is good, “he is a rewarder of them who seek him out”. Some never come to the first step, of believing that “he is”.  Others stop short of knowing His heart, and thus never enjoy fellowship with God. His heart is toward man, seeking fellowship with man. He will abundantly reward those who “seek him out” as He did with Enoch over 5000 years ago!

Faith Believes What God Says About the Future – Noah (v.7)

7 By faith, Noah, oracularly warned concerning things not yet seen, moved with fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his house; by which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith. v.7 Faith Believes What God Says About the Future. The next example of faith is that of Noah. God warned Noah “concerning things not yet seen”. The flood was a judgment at that time totally foreign to human experience, but Noah believed God anyway; “And Noah did it; according to all that God had commanded him, so did he” (Gen. 6:22). Noah’s faith was more that casual belief; he was “moved with fear” so much that he devoted over a century to prepare the ark so that his family might be saved from the flood. For “a hundred and twenty years” (Gen. 6:3) God pleaded with man through His preacher of righteousness” (2 Pet. 2:5). This pleading is what we read of in 1 Pet. 3:19, that Jehovah’s Spirit, through Noah as an instrument, “went and preached unto the spirits in prison”. None but the eight souls were saved, but Noah’s faith was a condemnation of the unbelieving world which was covered with the flood. Noah “became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith” in that he was justified by faith. Noah and his family are a type of the Jewish remnant who will pass through the flood of God’s judgments in the tribulation, sheltered miraculously by providential means. This is a contrast to Enoch who was taken out (caught up) before the judgment fell. Abel is a type of Christ rejected, Enoch is a type of the Church, and Noah is a type of the faithful Jews. Like Noah, we too have been told of things to come – e.g. prophecy is a secret that Christ has has confided to us as His friends (John 15:15) – and by faith we believe.

The Patience of Faith: Waiting for the Promises (11:8-22)

To illustrate another character of faith, the writer next takes up the saints who lived after the flood, to whom God gave wonderful promises, and whose lives reflected that they believed what God had promised. We might call this the patience of faith.6

Faith Takes the Place of Strangership – Abraham and Sarah (vv.8-16)

8 By faith Abraham, being called, obeyed to go out into the place which he was to receive for an inheritance, and went out, not knowing where he was going. v.8 Abraham’s Answer to the Call of God. Abraham was called by God to leave Ur of Chaldees to go hundreds of miles to a foreign land he had never seen, leaving all the constructs of social support, and from every other claim on him. Trusting God, Abraham obeyed, “not knowing whither he was going”. He obeyed without questioning, reasoning, or calculating. God would not show Abraham the land until he obeyed the call. Abraham was called individually by God, just as the believer today is called. Abraham walked without a visible, tangible object before him. The Christian does too; “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). The Hebrews were being called out of Judaism, a system full of things to touch, taste, and see, into Christianity where the only senses are spiritual.
9 By faith he sojourned as a stranger in the land of promise as a foreign country, having dwelt in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; 10 for he waited for the city which has foundations, of which God is the artificer and constructor. vv.9-10 Abraham’s Strangership and Patience. The Spirit of God sets Abraham forth as an apt type of the Christian, who is called to a life of faith. Abraham was promised the land of Canaan as an inheritance for his children, yet “by faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles”. As Christians, we are co-heirs with Christ, and we know that this world as well as the whole universe is our inheritance! Yet we are left here to live as “strangers and pilgrims” (1 Pet. 2:11), living in tents, so to speak, without putting down roots. We are NOT to live here as kings, although we are royalty. We are fully persuaded of the promises, yet we are willing to confess that, as our Savior was rejected, we are strangers and pilgrims on the earth. Abraham lived one hundred years in tents, i.e. in a temporary dwelling! What motivated Abraham to live as a stranger was that he was sure of the promise. It is nice to see that Abraham lived “with Isaac and Jacob”, showing that Jacob had the influence of a godly grandfather! They were “heirs with him of the same promise”, because the promise made to Abraham was repeated to Isaac and Jacob, but not others (e.g. Joseph). Perhaps this is why He is called “the God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob”. After Jacob it was not reiterated, but Joseph enters into it by faith, and it was extended to the nation (Acts 2:39; Rom. 9:4). Yet it is remarkable to see that Abraham was looking for something permanent that God would provide him, in contrast to tents. He somehow was looking beyond the earth to a heavenly home (Heb. 12:22)! Like Abraham, we look for “the city which has foundations”. Though we have a material inheritance, we have a higher aim still – a heavenly country (v.16; Heb. 13:14)! This would be a powerful example to Abraham’s descendants, the Hebrews, who were called to leave Judaism with its earthly hopes in exchange for Christianity with its superior, heavenly hopes. The believer can look into the life of Abraham with great interest, because it typifies the pathway of faith. The dangers and failures, the successes and joys, are full of meaning for us who look for a city which hath foundations, “whose builder and maker is God”.
His call we obey,
Like Abram of old,
Not knowing our way,
But faith makes us bold;
For though we are strangers,
We have a sure guide,
And trust in all dangers
The Lord will provide.7
11 By faith also Sarah herself received strength for the conception of seed, and that beyond a seasonable age; since she counted him faithful who promised. 12 Wherefore also there have been born of one, and that of one become dead, even as the stars of heaven in multitude, and as the countless sand which is by the sea shore. vv.11-12 Sarah’s Faith in the Promise, Received Strength to Conceive. The patience of faith is seen in Sarah as well as Abraham. It is quite interesting to compare v.11 with what we have in Genesis 18. There the Lord repeated His promise to Abraham that Sarah would have a son, but did so in Sarah’s hearing. This was something that seemed totally impossible. She was “beyond a seasonable age” and he was “as good as dead”. Naturally speaking, conception was totally out of the question. God waited until it was medically impossible for both Sarai and Abram to reproduce. He waited until all human efforts were exhausted. God will allow man no part in the accomplishment of His promises. It is all grace! Hearing this promise at the tent door, Sarah “laughed within herself”. It was a laugh of unbelief, and when the Lord pointed it out, “Sarah denied, saying, I did not laugh; for she was afraid. And he said, No; but thou didst laugh” (Gen. 18:15). Sarah tried to deny that she had laughed. She was ashamed because she knew it was wrong. It was a mistake she made once, and never repeated, as far we we know. We wouldn’t know it from Genesis 18, but in the months that followed this visit, Sarah’s unbelief was changed to faith, and her faith (not her failure) is recorded in Hebrews 11. It is very specific; “Sarah herself” (c.p. v.23). It was in the strength of this faith that she was able to conceive and deliver the child, “because she judged him faithful who had promised”. When Isaac – whose name means ‘laughter’ – was born, Sarah laughed again, but it was the laugh of joy as opposed to the laugh of unbelief! The writer of Hebrews could reflect that God had indeed kept His promise, and from Abraham sprang multitudes as the stars of heaven and the sand of the sea shore. Read more…
13 All these died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them from afar off and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and sojourners on the earth. 14 For they who say such things shew clearly that they seek their country. 15 And if they had called to mind that from whence they went out, they had had opportunity to have returned; 16 but now they seek a better, that is, a heavenly; wherefore God is not ashamed of them, to be called their God; for he has prepared for them a city. vv.13-16 Summary of the Patience of Faith. In summary of the particular character of faith that Abraham and Sarah represent, the Spirit of God brings out the fact that these men and women lived their entire lives in expectation of the promises, and “died in faith”. By faith, they saw the promises afar off, and “embraced them”, meaning that they were convinced that God would keep His word. The conviction of this led to a particular character of lifestyle for these ones; “and confessed that they were strangers and sojourners on the earth” (e.g. Gen. 23:4). They didn’t feel the need to hold onto things around them, because they were seeking another country, a “fatherland” (W. Kelly translation). Their minds weren’t dwelling on the country they were called out from (an earthly country) but instead were seeking a “heavenly” country. To “return” (v.15) would be apostasy. In some way, although no doubt it was with limited understanding, these men and women of faith were looking forward to heaven. Their faith laid hold of the promise, but it also longed for heaven. That is the kind of faith that God delights in; “wherefore God is not ashamed of them, to be called their God; for he has prepared for them a city” (see Heb. 13:14). He loves to identify Himself with them (Ex. 3:6).
We are but strangers here;
Heaven is our home!
Earth is a desert drear;
Heaven is our home!
Dangers and sorrows stand
Round us on every hand;
Heaven is our fatherland,
Heaven is our home!8

Faith Has Confidence in the Promises – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph (vv.17-22)

17 By faith Abraham, when tried, offered up Isaac, and he who had received to himself the promises offered up his only begotten son18 as to whom it had been said, “In Isaac shall thy seed be called:” [Gen. 21:12] 19 counting that God was able to raise him even from among the dead, whence also he received him in a figure. vv.17-19 Abraham Offered Up Isaac. The crowning act of faith in Abraham’s life was when he obeyed God and offered his son on Mount Moriah. The event is a vivid type of the sacrifice of Christ, and it is perhaps the most outstanding example of faith in the Word of God, except for the faith of Christ Himself as a man on earth.9 Abraham was “tried” or tested by God in a way that no other Old Testament saint was tested. It was a trial of Abraham’s faith (1 Pet. 1:7). The test for Abraham was staggering. He was to take his “only begotten”, whom he loved, and offer him as a burnt offering to Jehovah. Abraham’s heart must had shuddered at the thought of sacrificing his son. He had waited so long for a son. Why was God asking him to do this? His mind must have gone back to the promises of God, in which Isaac was named as the one through whom the promises would be fulfilled. “Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called”. How then could Isaac be sacrificed? Nevertheless, Abraham obeyed. His conclusion was not that God had changed His mind about the promises. His conclusion was that God would make a way to keep His word regardless of every barrier, including physical death. Abraham came to the belief that God would raise Isaac from the dead; “accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure”. God stopped Abraham before he killed Isaac, but God viewed the act as good as done. Abraham had already made the sacrifice in his heart and mind.
God Who Raises the Dead. Abraham had never seen a person raised from the dead before, but he had experienced the power of resurrection in his own life. Romans 4:17-22 reveals that in Genesis 15, Abraham believed in the God who raises the dead. His own body and Sarah’s womb were as good as dead, yet he “hesitated not at the promise of God through unbelief; but found strength in faith, giving glory to God”. His faith was in “the God whom he believed, who quickens the dead, and calls the things which be not as being”. Many years later, the same faith is tested in a different way. Once again, Abraham chose to believe God in spite of all the circumstances, and even against the paternal pleadings of his own heart. He was fully persuaded that God would give Isaac back to him, and he was committed to go through with the sacrifice. There is no higher test of faith in the Old Testament. But while Abraham had seen resurrection power before in his life, in this trial his obedience rose to new heights. Although as a sacrifice, Isaac is the type of Christ, yet there is a certain sense in which Abraham is a type of Christ.10 Christ was in Himself the depositary of the promises. Going to the cross, Christ put His faith in God, counting that God would raise Him from the dead, and that the promises would not be in vain. Similar way to how Abraham trusted God to raise Isaac, Christ trusted God to raise Him from the dead once the sacrifice was complete!
Only Begotten. The expression “only-begotten” is one word in the Greek; ‘monoganes’. It is an expression that confers the thought of uniqueness. A modern English equivalent is “one and only”. Most notably, “only-begotten” is used to convey the special place that the Son has in relation to God the Father. The use of the term in Hebrews 11:17 and its equivalent in Gen. 22:2 helps us to see this. Abraham had another son, Ishmael. But Isaac was his “only-begotten”. The term “only-begotten” has the sense of ‘one of a kind’, and it is used in this way with regard to Isaac. There was only one Isaac. It has to do with the son’s place of affection in the heart of the father. Read more… 
20 By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come. v.20 Isaac Blessed Jacob and Esau. The crowning act of faith in Isaac’s life seems to be the time when he “blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come”. We might wonder that such a statement could be made considering that Genesis 27, where the events took place, is a chapter of blindness, guile, and suspicion. We are familiar with the treachery of Jacob and the trickery of Rebecca in which they fooled Isaac, his eyes dim with age, into thinking Jacob was Esau. Isaac blessed Jacob thinking he was Esau. Then, when Esau returned just after Jacob had left, he was totally unaware of all that had transpired. Isaac was confused at first, but on hearing Esau’s voice, he knew that he had been fooled. We cannot help but wonder where was ‘faith’ in all of this? There wasn’t faith in Isaac’s being deceived. But we read that “Isaac trembled with exceeding great trembling”. He must have realized the seriousness of not only the deceit of Jacob, but of his own intention to bless the wrong son “concerning things to come”. God had intervened and stopped Isaac from doing what he intended to do: to greatly bless the older son according to the claims of nature. Furthermore, Isaac told Esau “yea, he shall be blessed.” Isaac accepted the intervention of God, and did not try to thwart it. This was the activity of faith!11 Isaac then went on to confer the inferior blessing on the broken-hearted Esau (Gen. 27:39-40). As our chapter highlights, Isaac was looking forward to “things to come”. He was sure that the blessing he conferred would be fulfilled in time. This shows his faith. We too are living for the future, not the present; “While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18). How gracious God is to recognize faith, faint though it may be, wherever He finds it.
21 By faith Jacob when dying blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshipped on the top of his staff. v.21 Jacob Blessed the Sons of Joseph. As with his father, so the crowning act of faith in Jacob’s life seems to be at the end, “when dying blessed each of the sons of Joseph”. In blessing the sons of Joseph, Jacob demonstrated once and for all that he had learned the lesson God was seeking to teach him throughout his lifetime (Gen. 48:5-14). Jacob was conferring the double portion of the firstborn on Joseph via his two sons. Jacob’s eyes were physically dim with age, but spiritually his sight had never been keener! Compare with Isaac. The natural order would be for Manasseh to be by Jacob’s right hand as the eldest, to receive the blessing of the eldest, and Ephraim toward the left hand as the youngest. Joseph directed the boys according to that order, but Jacob “guided his hands wittingly” such that his right hand was on the head of the younger. Jacob had learned the lesson that God had been seeking to teach him. God’s ways are not man’s ways. Joseph interrupted Jacob in the middle of the blessing, after the general blessing was given, and before the first-born’s extra portion was given. Joseph thought his father was making a mistake, and tried to correct him, but Jacob in turn corrected Joseph! In his response, Jacob communicated a great depth of understanding; “I know, my son, I know”. Jacob understood that God works according to His own sovereign will, and this is in spite of (or sometimes against) the flow of nature. He had been given wisdom from God to give the greater blessing to the younger son. Jacob had a wisdom that could not be conferred or explained. He just knew it. It was the intelligence of faith, perhaps with a wisdom that had been deepened by years of trial followed by years of reflection and worship; “and worshipped on the top of his staff”. The staff speaks of dependence. A much younger Jacob sought to merit the blessing of God by his own strength. By discipline, most of which he made for himself, Jacob learned that blessing is God’s prerogative, and man’s place is to lean on Him in dependence (Gen. 32:31). Jacob made divine application of what God had taught him in His school, and this was the expression of his faith.
22 By faith Joseph when dying called to mind the going forth of the sons of Israel, and gave commandment concerning his bones. v.22 Joseph Gave Commandment Concerning His Bones. The event that the Spirit of God selected to encapsulate the faith of Joseph is recorded in Gen. 50:24-25. Although Joseph was prosperous in Egypt, and enjoyed rest and a flourishing family, he never forgot God’s promise. Egypt was not his home, and he was sure that God would keep his promise. Joseph made his brethren promise to carry up his bones into Canaan; “the land that he swore unto Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob”. Note that Jacob made a similar request (Gen. 47:29-31), but it was a much greater act of faith for Joseph the governor of Egypt to do this than for Jacob the impoverished shepherd! When the day finally came of God’s deliverance for the children of Israel, Moses did indeed carry up Joseph’s bones; “And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him” (Ex. 13:19). It is quite something to think that all through the wilderness on Israel’s journey, not only were the people accompanied by the pillar of cloud and the smitten rock, etc., but also the bones of Joseph. It was an enduring reminder of the faith of their ancestors. In times of doubt, when many in Israel were tempting Jehovah with their murmurings, etc., the faithful could look at that coffin and be encouraged that, many years before, Joseph was convinced of the surety of God’s promises! But those bones were also a symbol of something else; Joseph’s ultimate separation from Egypt. The grandeur of that world had not dimmed his spiritual eyesight! We too live in a world that is constantly trying to drag us down to its level, but faith patiently waits for the promise, and remembers that we are strangers and pilgrims on the earth.

The Energy of Faith: Overcoming Obstacles (11:23-39)

Another character of faith is turned to next; the energy of faith seen in the saints overcoming obstacles in the path. To illustrate this, the writer next takes up the saints from Moses through the prophets who faced challenges and trials. These ones acted by faith according to the mind of God to overcome the obstacle or challenge.12

Faith That Overcomes Danger and Hardship – Moses (vv.23-27)

23 By faith Moses, being born, was hid three months by his parents, because they saw the child beautiful; and they did not fear the injunction of the king. v.23 Faith Gives us to Fear God rather than Man. In the series of verses that deal with Moses, the first attribute of faith is illustrated by Moses’ parents. The king of Egypt had commanded that all male babies be thrown into the river at birth (Ex. 1:22). When Moses was born, his parents saw that he was “fair” or “beautiful” (Stephen says, “and was exceeding fair” or “fair to God”, Acts 7:20). They knew that it was God’s plan to raise up a deliverer (perhaps looking forward to the woman’s seed) and by faith knew it was God’s mind to preserve the child’s life. They didn’t have a clear commandment from God, but they had the instincts of faith. It is clear that it was not human affection for the child that caused them to hide him, but it was something they did by faith. For three long months they hid the child, and when they could no longer hide him they put him in an ark in the river, and the rest of the marvelous history is well known. In Exodus 2:2 we only read of the action of Moses’ mother, and in Acts 7 it speaks only of his father, but here in Hebrews we get the faith of both parents! Faith gave them courage to “obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
24 By faith Moses, when he had become great, refused to be called son of Pharaoh’s daughter; 25 choosing rather to suffer affliction along with the people of God than to have the temporary pleasure of sin; 26 esteeming the reproach of the Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt, for he had respect to the recompense. vv.24-26 Faith Makes Us Sacrifice Worldly Advantages. When Moses, who was raised in the court of Pharaoh, “had become great”, he chose to identity himself with the Hebrew people, called here “the people of God”. He had great worldly advantages in the court of Pharaoh by the providence of God. Moses could even say “The Lord provided this for me”. But he saw the condition of the children of Israel, and knew that they were the Lord’s people. Perhaps he could’ve tried to use his position in their  court to negotiate the freedom of the Hebrew slaves. But Moses would not stand aloof from them in their suffering. He had to make a choice: on one hand “to suffer affliction along with the people of God”, or on the other hand to “have the temporary pleasure of sin”, which is what abandoning his people for worldly advantages would have been. There is pleasure in sin, but it is only for a season (c.p. Psa. 16:11). The fact that Israel was enslaved and cruelly treated cast a dark shadow on the advantages of Egypt. For us, the true character of the world is seen at the cross where Christ was rejected, and thus the cross jades our view of the world, and rightly so (Gal. 6:14). Pharaoh’s daughter might speak of the “warmth” of the world, i.e. the praise and affection that the world gives to those it wants to claim for its own subjects. He refused to be called her son, and instead he chose a place of association with the people of God. It was a once-and-for-all refusing and choosing. No doubt the time when Moses was nursed by his mother had a profound impact on him, but he had to make the choice for himself.
History shows how vast the splendor of Egypt was, and this was nothing small to give up, according to a worldly valuation. But faith in Moses caused him to have a different set of values. He esteemed “the reproach of the Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt”. Why would it say “the reproach of Christ” if Moses lived long before the Messiah came? The reproach of Christ is the reproach that Christ felt on being rejected, and which God’s people feel in association with Him as rejected. Moses, by faith experienced the feeling of association with a rejected Christ – the coming woman’s Seed, for Whom he looked – when he took his place among the enslaved Hebrews! These were the people of God, and it was a precious privilege to suffer with them. Moses was looking forward to “the recompense”, which is a vague reference to faith’s anticipation of the reward God will give those who follow Him, not in this lifetime, but in a time to come. So we have in this account of Moses two things that encouraged him in his step of faith: the present privilege of suffering reproach with the people of God (called “riches”, Acts 5:51; 1 Pet. 4:14), and anticipation of a future portion (called “recompense”, Matt. 5:12).
Moses in the Wilderness. When Moses began to come to his senses about who he was and who he wanted to be associated with, he thought he could immediately be used to God to deliver the people. However he had to find out painfully that this was premature. God had a special tuition for him on the backside of the desert, forty years where he would unlearn much of what he had learned in Egypt. This is all passed completely over in Hebrews 11, as is the forty years of Israel’s wandering, which is absent between v.29 and v.30. The wilderness was necessary because of unbelief, and so it is passed over. But what is needed for the wilderness is given in chapter 12.
27 By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he persevered, as seeing him who is invisible. v.27 Faith Separates from the World, Seeing God. It would seem that v.27 refers to the exodus, rather than Moses’ flight in Ex. 2:15, even though that would fall chronologically between v.26 and v.28. The reason is that Moses flight in Exodus 2 was in fear of Pharaoh, who had discovered Moses’ actions, and v.27 says “By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king”.13 Pharaoh did not want to let Moses leave Egypt, taking with him the children of Israel, but he persevered through much conflict (the ten plagues), and at last forsook Egypt. Pharaoh’s anger was real, but Moses lived in sight of a greater King; “him who is invisible”. Faith caused him to go courageously into the presence of the most powerful monarch on earth and say “Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Let my people go” (Ex. 5:1). When threatened with death, he could boldly answer, “Thou hast spoken well, I will see thy face again no more” (Ex. 10:28, 29). The decision Moses made in vv.24-26 is brought to a culminating action in v.27. Faith gives us spiritual eyesight, which gives us the ability to apprehend the “invisible God” (Col. 1:15), and to live in fear of Him, displacing the fear of man (Psa. 118:6).
Naught can stay our steady progress,
More than conquerors we shall be,
If our eye, whate’er the danger,
Looks to Thee, and none but Thee.15

Faith That Trusts God and Leans on Divine Resources – Egypt to Canaan (vv.28-31)

Three Obstacles. In the verses that follow we have three great obstacles that faced the children of Israel: (1) their sin in the presence of God’s justice as seen in the Passover, (2) the power of sin and Satan as seen at the Red Sea, and (3) the opposition of the world to the enjoyment of the inheritance as seen at Jericho. What overcame each of these obstacles was faith!
28 By faith he celebrated the passover and the sprinkling of the blood, that the destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them. v.28 Faith Trusts the Efficacy of the Blood (Passover). The next great aspect of the life of faith is that it lays hold of God’s provision for the issue of sin. In the tenth plague there was no difference between Israel and the Egyptians; all are sinners. It was a matter of obedience for Moses – it is put in the singular “he” – to command the people to keep the Passover as the Lord had told him. Death would either fall on the firstborn or on the lamb as a substitute for the firstborn. The Passover is a type of Christ; “For even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us” (1 Corinthians 5:7). The Passover speaks of the death of Christ in the aspect of screening us from the judgment of God which hung over us because of our sins. The sprinkling of the blood is the application of the work of Christ to the believer through simple, saving faith. The blood is what has efficacy before God. Faith apprehends God first as a Judge (v.28), Christ being the sacrifice, then as a Savior (v.29).
29 By faith they passed through the Red sea as through dry land; of which the Egyptians having made trial were swallowed up. v.29 Faith Experiences the Power of Redemption (Red Sea). The next obstacle Israel faced was the Red Sea, and the approaching army of Pharaoh who was come to bring them back to Egypt. The Passover and the Red Sea really illustrate two sides of one work of redemption. The deliverance of the Passover (Exodus 12) pictures the deliverance of the soul from the penalty or guilt of our sins. The deliverance of the Red Sea (Exodus 14) pictures the deliverance of the soul from the power of sin. One was a deliverance by blood, the other by power. After the Passover, Israel was safe, but not saved. At the Red Sea, God showed Israel that He was for them. It was the “salvation of the Lord”, and therefore not by Israel’s efforts (Ex. 14:13), but it was still a demonstration of faith. There was a mixed multitude that went up (1 Cor. 10:5), but many of them had faith. The children of Israel were in an impossible situation. It was the very worst place for a fleeing people to be found when pursued by an army. They were locked in between two mountains with the sea in front of them. But God ordered this so that His power would be greatly displayed! He opened a way “through the Red sea as through dry land”. It was an inexplicable path (Job 28:7). The Egyptians tried to follow Israel through the sea, but they were “swallowed up” in the process. Only faith can experience this power of redemption. We too are faced with circumstances that sometimes seem impossible, and the temptation at that time is to give in to the desires of the flesh. Walking daily in the Spirit (Gal. 5:16) is a continual demonstration of the life of faith, and of the practical victory the believer has through the death and resurrection of Christ!
30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell, having been encircled for seven days. v.30 Faith Sees Difficulties Disappear (Jericho). The entire wilderness journey of Israel – that which was necessary as discipline because of unbelief – is passed over, as well as crossing the Jordan. We next read of the the walls of Jericho that rose up before the people, standing as a barrier to their entrance into the promised inheritance. Those walls, thick and strong, were far beyond the strength of the people. We know about the instructions to the people for the men to march around the city each day for six days, seven times on the seventh day with the priests blowing trumpets, and the people’s great shout. There was no logical sense to all of this. The strategy must have appeared foolish to the inhabitants of Jericho. But Israel’s success required obedience to the Word of God, and nothing else. Faith lays hold of the Word of God, and sees barriers like the walls of Jericho fall down! “Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you” (Matt. 17:20). We are not to take from this that the Lord will simply deliver us from every difficult circumstance if we have enough faith. The remainder of the chapter bears this out (“and others…”, vv.35-39). Often the Lord will give us the grace to pass through the trial (2 Cor. 12:9), and this is His way of delivering us! The point is this: Israel had to learn at the very outset of the conquest of Canaan that success in conflict is only had through unquestioning obedience to the Word of God.
31 By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish along with the unbelieving, having received the spies in peace. v.31 Faith Identifies with the People of God. The inhabitants of Jericho had the testimony of what the Lord had done for Israel; “For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red sea for you, when ye came out of Egypt; and what ye did unto the two kings of the Amorites,” etc. (Jos. 2:10). However, only “Rahab the harlot” had the faith to receive the spies and identify herself, and all her house, with the people of God. Apart from faith, she would not have done this. All the inhabitants of Jericho were terrified, but only she surrendered to Joshua. Many sinners are afraid of death and judgment, but only those of faith will come forward and submit to the Lord Jesus. Rahab was a Gentile, a stranger to the children of promise, and a woman with an immoral occupation and reputation. But God worked by grace in her heart and she believed the report before the judgment fell; therefore she acted in faith when the two spies came to her house. “Was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?” (Jas. 2:25). She was willing to be faithful to the Lord at the expense of betraying her country. She and her house were saved when Joshua took the city. As a testimony to the grace of God, Rahab was brought into the royal line, from which the Messiah came! In order to be saved, Rahab had to leave her former association, and identify herself with the alien people. In a similar way, the Hebrews were being called to separate from Judaism, and instead associate themselves with a heavenly calling.

Faith Under Various Characters: Two Classes (vv.32-39)

32 And what more do I say? For the time would fail me telling of Gideon, and Barak, and Samson, and Jephthah, and David and Samuel, and of the prophets: 33 who by faith overcame kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped lions’ mouths, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, became strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, made the armies of strangers give way. 35a Women received their dead again by resurrection; vv.32-35a Faith of Those who had Miraculous Lives: The Power of Faith. The Spirit of God now covers the history of Israel in the land without going into specific details, simply because of the lack of time! The order is not chronological; i.e. Gideon before Barak, or David before Samuel. Perhaps the order has more to do with the character of faith, in declining order, but still there was real and precious faith. In each of these cases, we have examples of faith that resulted in miraculous victory. Those from the era of the judges four are mentioned, “Gideon, and Barak, and Samson, and Jephthah”, all had failure in their administration. Gideon failed in discernment (making the golden ephod), Barak failed to take the lead, Samson was blinded by love for Philistine women, and Jephthah failed in his rashness. Yet no mention is made of these failures, but only of their faith. Each experienced great victories. From the era of the kings one is mentioned. David was the first of the proper kings. Samuel was the last of the judges but first of the successive prophets, and he is placed after David in connection with the other prophets. The Old Testament record of David and Samuel’s lives is full of examples of faith! The faith of “the prophets” is mentioned, spanning the whole period of time from Samuel to Malachi, if not later.
In vv.33-35a we have a number of general references to acts of faith without names given, although we can find names that fit. Joshua “overcame kingdoms” by military conquest, and Esther turned the empire of Persia around through relationships! Ones who “wrought righteousness” individually would include Noah, Daniel, and Job (Ezek. 14:14), and kings like Hezekiah and Josiah did so administratively. One who “obtained promises” in the sense of being given a promise was Phinehas when he received the everlasting covenant of the priesthood, and Israel “obtained promises” in the sense of seeing them fulfilled (Jos. 23:14). One who “stopped lions’ mouths” was Daniel (also David and Samson), and those who “quenched the power of fire” include Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. One who “escaped the edge of the sword” was Jeremiah, but it could also be said of David and Elijah. One who “became strong out of weakness” was Gideon, and another was the left-handed Ehud. Those who “became mighty in war” would include David’s mighty men. Those who “made the armies of strangers give way” would include the armies under Joshua, Gideon, and David. Women who “received their dead again by resurrection” would include the widow of Zarephath and the Shunamite woman. These are all examples of those who, by faith, saw the power of God active in their lives to deliver them from difficult circumstances!
35b and others were tortured, not having accepted deliverance, that they might get a better resurrection; 36 and others underwent trial of mockings and scourgings, yea, and of bonds and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, were sawn asunder, were tempted, died by the death of the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, destitute, afflicted, evil treated, 38 (of whom the world was not worthy,) wandering in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caverns of the earth. vv.35b-38 Faith in Those who Suffered Greatly: The Endurance of Faith. But God does not always deliver His people from the trial, and faith is seen also in the endurance God gives the believer to pass through a trial without giving up! This is more that character of faith that is needed in Christianity, as the Hebrews had learned. In v.35b we have the untold numbers of the martyrs, who had a chance to compromise their testimony to get a temporal, earthly deliverance, but instead endured torture and death “that they might get a better resurrection”. A “better resurrection” is what the saints look forward to! The Old Testament saints didn’t know of the rapture, nor of the mystery of 1 Cor. 15:51-52. But faith looks on to a brighter tomorrow, when the sufferings of this life are a distant memory. Those who endure great suffering by faith do not see the power of God visibly in their lives in the same outward way as others (vv.32-35), though it is still there in a different way, as a power that preserves the soul. Yet they will see that power visibility in their own bodies at the resurrection! No doubt there is some connection here with the thought of reward (2 Tim. 2:11-12).
There were those who were “tortured”, like Micaiah at the hands of Ahab (1 Kings 22:27). However, the word is ‘tumpanizō’, and it implies the use of a drum or wheel as a mechanism of torture. We have no specific examples of this in scripture, but some did pass through it. There were those who “underwent trial of mockings” like Samson (Jdg. 16:25), “sourgings” like Jeremiah (Jer. 20:2; 37:15), “of bonds and imprisonment” like Jeremiah (Jer. 38:6) and Daniel (Dan. 6). In these things we are also reminded of the sufferings of the Lord Jesus. Some were “stoned” like Zechariah (2 Chron. 24:21), and others were “sawn asunder”, as perhaps was Isaiah the Prophet at the direction of Manasseh, according to Jewish tradition.16 They were “tempted”, like Abram and Job. Many died “by the death of the sword”  and others were dispossessed of their homes, driven out of society, and forced to live as animals. The world cast them out as unfit for society, but the Spirit of God gives us the perspective of heaven; “of whom the world was not worthy”.

Conclusion: Some Better Thing (11:39-40)

39 And these all, having obtained witness through faith, did not receive the promise, 40 God having foreseen some better thing for us, that they should not be made perfect without us. vv.39-40 Old and New Testament Faithful. “All these” refers to the Old Testament saints who “obtained witness through faith”, meaning God honored them by associating Himself with them, as we see in this chapter; “God is not ashamed of them, to be called their God” (v.14). But they died in faith without receiving the promise. The full good of the promises made to them will not be realized until those saints are “made perfect” in resurrection! But God has seen fit to make those dear saints wait, “having foreseen some better thing for us”, the Christian saints. The “better thing” is the full revelation of God in the Person of His Son, which the believer lays hold of by faith, and which the Hebrew saints had been called into. The perfection of the Old and New Testament saints, which takes place when our bodies are glorified, will happen together; “that they should not be made perfect without us”. This hints that the Old Testament saints will be “made perfect” (glorified, including raised bodies) at the same time as Christians who have died. By comparing with 1 Thessalonians 4, we know this will take place at the rapture.17 To this we add 1 Corinthians 15:23, which says, “But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming.” In 1 Thessalonians 4 it is “the dead in Christ”, which would be Christians strictly. But in 1 Corinthians 15, it is “they that are Christ’s”, which is broader, including all those of faith who have died.18 Old Testament Saints are part of the “twenty-four elders” in Revelation 4-22, who witness the judgments of the earth from heaven, seated around the throne of God. But neither Old nor New Testament saints can come into their full blessing until Him who is at the center of all the promises of God comes into His (2 Cor. 1:20)!
  1. It is not a definition of this principle, that the epistle gives us at the commencement of Hebrews 11, but a declaration of its powers and action. – Darby, J.N. Synopsis of the Books of the Bible.
  2. Some have made a difficulty for themselves by the mistaken assumption that we have here a definition of faith. This is clearly not the object, but rather a description of its power, range, and effect. Faith scripturally in itself is simply believing God, accepting His word because He says it, not on visible evidence or on reasoning but on God’s authority. – Kelly, W. The Epistle to the Hebrews.
  3. In general we may say that verses 8-22 are faith resting assured on the promise, the patience of faith: verse 23 to the end, faith resting on God for the activities and difficulties faith leads to, the energy of faith. – Darby, J.N. Synopsis of the Books of the Bible.
  4. … the great fundamental principles of faith in action… – Darby, J.N. Synopsis of the Books of the Bible.
  5. There is not universal agreement on this point among expositors. Some feel this refers to the reconstruction of Gen. 1:3-31. “This is a reference to the reconstruction of the earth and the heavens outlined in Genesis 1:3-31. The word “framed” in the Greek (“katartizo”) means “repaired,” or “mended” (Strong’s), or “to put in order again” (Liddell and Scott), or “adjusted” (Nestle). The same word is translated “mending,” in the KJV in Matthew 4:21 and Mark 1:19. And it is also translated “restore,” in Galatians 6:1. Hence, this verse indicates that God mended or restored that which He had previously created.” – Anstey, B. The Epistle to the Hebrews.
  6. Abraham gives occasion to a large and varied scope of faith, and stands at the head of those who illustrate its patience, rather than its energy which wrought in Moses and those that follow. And this is the true moral order: first, waiting on God who had promised; secondly, overcoming difficulties and dangers in His power. – Kelly, W. The Epistle to the Hebrews.
  7. Newton, J. Though Troubles Assail. Little Flock Hymnbook #160.
  8. Taylor, J.R. We Are but Strangers Here. Little Flock Hymnbook #180.
  9. Nowhere in the Old Testament do we find such absolute trust in God, as when the father was proved willing to sacrifice his only son, with whom were bound up all God’s promises and his own expectations. To man death is the end of hope; to God it is but the occasion to exercise the power of resurrection. – Kelly, William. Abram, the Friend of God.
  10. It is thus that Christ renounced His rights as Messiah, and went even into death, committing Himself to the will of God and trusting in Him; and received everything in resurrection. And this the Hebrew Christians had to do, with respect to the Messiah and the promises made to Israel. – Darby, J.N. Synopsis of the Books of the Bible.
  11. Isaac’s trembling very exceedingly was on the discovery, not only of the guilt of Jacob, but of his own will against God who had overruled him; whereon he says emphatically that he had blessed him, “yea, he shall be blessed.” Nature in Isaac sought to bless otherwise, and had seemed all but to prevail; but “by faith Isaac, blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come” according to God. – Kelly, William. An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews.
  12. Now comes a fresh series in the display of the power of faith no matter what the enemies, the dangers, or the difficulties; Moses has a place as marked in its power as Abraham had in its patience. – Kelly, W. The Epistle to the Hebrews.
  13. Another forty years intervenes between verses 26 and 27, during which Moses had learned in solitary experience, in “the backside of the desert,” that all the wisdom of Egypt was nothing to God. Then God called him to return to Egypt and lead the children of Israel out of it.
  14. 14Williams, W. Savior! Lead Us by Thy Power. Little Flock Hymnbook #42A.
  15. Talmud, Yevamot tractate
  16. “…before the Lord comes, when we and all the O.T. saints shall be perfected in the likeness of His body of glory, and go to meet Him on high.” – Kelly, W. Exposition of Hebrews.
  17. “…those saints who are dead must be raised for that. When I say “saints,” I mean all the saints, those of the Old Testament, as well as those under the New Testament, dispensation.” – Darby, J.N. Lectures on the Second Coming of Christ.