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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Hebrews 11

 

 

Other Authors
Verse 1

Hebrews 11:1. Knowing that the believing Hebrews had been, and still were exposed to persecution on account of the gospel, and fearing lest they should be thereby cast down, and moved from their steadfastness, the apostle had endeavoured to support them in their adherence to Christ and his cause by suggesting the declaration whereby the prophet Habakkuk had directed and encouraged the Jews on the approach of the Chaldean invasion, namely, the just shall live by faith. He now proceeds to illustrate and improve that saying, by bringing into the view of these Hebrews examples from their own Scriptures of persons who, by a strong faith in God and in his promises, resisted the greatest temptations, sustained the heaviest persecutions, were preserved in imminent dangers, performed most difficult acts of obedience, and at length obtained a distinguished reward. This beautiful discourse, therefore, may be considered as an animated display of the triumphs of faith over the allurements and terrors of the world. But first, to prevent all mistakes, and to show that the noble grace which he speaks of is attainable by men in every age and country, he gives a concise but clear description of it in the following words.

Now faith — As if he had said, Now that you may understand what the faith is of which I speak, and may be encouraged to exercise it, and to persevere in so doing, consider its excellence and efficacy. It is the substance of things hoped for — The word υποστασις, here rendered substance, is translated confidence, (Hebrews 3:14,) and may be rendered subsistence, which is its etymological meaning, and also ground, basis, or support. The meaning of the clause seems to be, that faith is a confidence that we shall receive the good things for which we hope, and that by it we enjoy, as it were, a present subsistence or anticipation of them in our souls. It also gives a foundation or ground for our expecting them; because by it we are justified, adopted into God’s family, and born of God’s Spirit, and, therefore, being his children, are heirs of the things for which we hope; namely, of happiness with Jesus immediately after death, of the glorious resurrection of the body at the time of Christ’s second coming, of acquittance and a gracious reception at his judgment-seat, and felicity and glory with him in the new heavens and new earth for ever. The evidence — ελεγχος, the conviction, persuasion, or demonstration, wrought in the mind; of things not seen — Of things invisible and eternal, of God and the things of God; giving us an assurance of them in some respects equal to that which our outward senses give us of the things of this visible and temporal world. “The word ελεγχος,” says Macknight, “denotes a strict proof, or demonstration; a proof which thoroughly convinces the understanding, and determines the will. The apostle’s meaning is, that faith answers all the purposes of a demonstration, because, being founded on the veracity and power of God, these perfections are to the believer complete evidence of the things which God declares have happened, or are to happen, however much they may be out of the ordinary course of things.” The objects of faith, therefore, are much more numerous and extensive than those of hope: the latter are only things future, and apprehended by us to be good; whereas those of faith are either future, past, or present, and those either good or evil, whether to us or others: such as “the creation of the world without any pre-existing matter to form it of, the destruction of the old world by the deluge, the glory which Christ had with his Father before the world began, his miraculous conception in the womb of his mother, his resurrection from the dead, his exaltation in the human nature to the government of the universe, the sin and punishment of the angels, &c. All which we believe on the testimony of God, as firmly as if they were set before us by the evidence of sense.” The reader will easily observe, that though the definition of faith here given, and exemplified in the various instances following, undoubtedly includes or implies justifying faith, yet the apostle does not here speak of it as justifying, or treat of justification at all, but rather shows the efficacy and operation of faith in them who are justified. Faith justifies only as it refers to, and depends on Christ, and on the promises of God through him; in which light it is represented Romans 4., where the apostle professedly describes it. But here is no mention of him as the object of faith: and in several of the instances that follow no notice is taken of him or his salvation, but only of temporal blessings obtained by faith; and yet most of these instances maybe considered as evidences of the power of justifying faith, and of its extensive exercise in a course of steady obedience amidst trials and troubles, difficulties and dangers of every kind. Before we proceed to the particular instances of the power of faith here recorded, it may be proper to remark, that it is faith alone which, from the beginning of the world, under all dispensations of divine grace, and all the alterations which have taken place in the modes of divine worship, hath been in the church the chief principle of living unto God, of obtaining the promises, and of inheriting life eternal.


Verse 2

Hebrews 11:2. By it the elders — Our forefathers, or the pious of former ages; obtained a good report — εμαρτυρηθησαν, received testimony, of God’s approbation of them, or were borne witnesses to by God as persons accepted of him. The word is very comprehensive, implying that God gave a testimony, not only of them, but to them, and they received his testimony, as if it had been the things themselves, of which he testified, Hebrews 11:4-5; Hebrews 11:39. Hence they also gave testimony to others, and others testified of them. This chapter is a kind of summary of the Old Testament, in which the apostle comprises the designs, labours, sojournings, expectations, martyrdoms of the ancients. The former of them had a long exercise of their patience; the latter suffered shorter, but sharper trials.


Verse 3

Hebrews 11:3. Through faith we understand that the worlds — Although the expression, τους αιωνας, generally signifies the ages, yet here the subsequent clause determines its signification to the material fabric of the world, comprehending the sun, moon, and stars, &c., (called by Moses the heaven and the earth, Genesis 1:1,) by whose duration and revolutions time, consisting of days, months, years, and ages, is measured; were framed Formed, fashioned, and finished, as the word κατηρτισθαι implies, properly signifying to place the parts of any body or machine in their right order, Ephesians 4:12. It, however, also signifies to make, or produce, as Hebrews 10:5, where it is applied to the body made for Christ. And that it here signifies, not merely the orderly disposition of the parts of the universe, but their production, is plain from the following clause. By the word of God — The sole command of God, without any instrument or preceding matter. The word ρημα, here used, properly signifies a word spoken, or a command. It is nowhere used in Scripture to denote the Son of God. His proper title is ο λογος, the Word. That the worlds were made by the word, order, or command of God, is one of the unseen things which cannot be known but by divine revelation. The apostle, therefore, doubtless refers to the Mosaic account of the creation, Genesis 1:3, &c., where Moses informs us, God said, let there be light, and there was light, &c. As the creation is the fountain and specimen of the whole divine economy, so faith in the Creator is the foundation and specimen of all faith; so that the things which are seen — The earth and heavens, with all that they contain; were not made of things which do appear — Or, of things appearing, or which did appear, as φαινομενων may be properly rendered; that is, they were not made of any pre-existing matter, but of matter which God created and formed into the things which we see; and having formed them, he placed them in the beautiful order which they now hold, and impressed on them the motions proper to each, which they have retained ever since. “This account of the origin of things, given by revelation, is very different from the cosmogony of the heathen philosophers, who generally held that the matter of which the worlds were composed was uncreated and eternal; consequently, being independent of God, and not obedient to his will, they supposed it to be the occasion of all the evil that is in the world. But revelation, which teaches us that the things which are seen were not made of matter which did appear before they were made, but of matter which God had brought into existence; by thus establishing the sovereignty of God over matter, hath enlarged our ideas of his power, and strengthened our faith in his promises concerning the felicity of good men in the life to come. For the creation of the new heavens and the new earth, and the glories of the city of the living God, do not, in order to their formation, require more power than the creation of the present universe; and therefore, if we believe that the worlds were formed by the word of God from nothing, every other exercise of faith will be easy to us.


Verse 4

Hebrews 11:4. By faith — In the divine command or appointment, signified unto him by some supernatural revelation, and by faith in the future Redeemer; Abel offered a more excellent sacrifice — The firstlings of his flock, implying both a confession of what his own sins deserved, and a desire of sharing in the great atonement; than Cain — Whose offering testified no such faith, but was merely a bare acknowledgment of God as the Creator. Macknight, after Kennicott, translates πλειονα θυσιαν, more sacrifice, observing, “In this translation I have followed the critics, who tell us that πλειονα, in the comparative degree, signifies more in number rather than more in value.” Accordingly it is said, (Genesis 4:4,) Abel ALSO brought of the firstlings of his flock, and of the fat thereof; “that is, beside the fruit of the ground, which was one of his gifts, he also brought the fattest of the firstlings of his flock; so that he offered a sin-offering as well as a meat or bread-offering, and thereby showed both his sense of the divine goodness, and of his own sinfulness. Whereas Cain, having no sense of sin, thought himself obliged to offer nothing but a meat-offering; and made it, perhaps, not of the first-fruits, or of the best of the fruits.” By which faith Abel obtained both righteousness, and a testimony of it, God testifying visibly that his gifts were accepted. Moses does not say in what manner God testified his respect to Abel and his offering, but from Cain’s being very wroth, as we learn Genesis 4:5, we may believe it was by some outward visible sign. And as in after-times God testified his acceptance of particular sacrifices by sending down fire upon them to consume them, it is probable that he bore witness to Abel’s in that way, thus giving a token that justice seized on the sacrifice instead of the sinner. It is of importance to observe, that God’s acceptance of Abel’s sin-offering is a proof that propitiatory sacrifices were of divine appointment, otherwise his offering, being will-worship, must have been offensive to God, and rejected. Besides, as Hallet justly observes, flesh not being permitted to be eaten by men till after the flood, Abel must have thought it unlawful to kill any animal, unless God had ordered it to be killed as a sacrifice. And by it — By his faith; he, being dead, yet speaketh — That a sinner is accepted only through faith in the great Sacrifice. See notes on Genesis 4:3-5.


Verse 5-6

Hebrews 11:5-6. By faith — That is, his firm faith in the being and perfections of God, especially his omnipresence, omniscience, omnipotence; his truth, justice, mercy, and goodness; and in consequence of that exemplary holiness which was the fruit of this faith; Enoch was translated ΄ετετεθη, was removed, namely, in a miraculous manner, from among men, God taking him out of this sinful and miserable world to himself. See notes on Genesis 5:22-24. That he should not see death — He was changed probably in a moment, as Elijah afterward was, and as those saints shall be that are found alive at Christ’s second coming; and was not any longer found — Among men; an expression which implies he was translated privately, and that some (his relations and friends, doubtless) sought for him, as the sons of the prophets sought for Elijah; (2 Kings 2:17;) because God had translated him — To what place these holy men were translated is not said; but their translation in the body, as Macknight observes, is recorded for an example, to assure believers that, in due time, they also shall live in the heavenly country in the body, and to excite them in that assurance to imitate Enoch’s faith.

For before his translation he had this testimony — From God in his own conscience; that he pleased God — The verb ευαρεστησαι, here used, occurs only in this epistle, namely, in this and the following verse, and in chap. Hebrews 13:16, in the passive voice, where it is rendered, God is well pleased. Three things are included in our pleasing God; that our persons be accepted; that our duties be approved of; and that we have a testimony that we are righteous or justified, as Abel and Enoch had, and as all true believers have. This is that pleasing of God which is appropriated to faith alone, and which alone shall receive an eternal reward. In a lower sense, however, there may be many acts and duties with which, as to the matter of them, God may be pleased, and which he may reward in this world without faith; as the destruction of the house of Ahab by Jehu. Enoch walked with God, and therefore is said to please him; that is, he set God always before him, and thought, spoke, and acted as one that considered he was always under God’s eye, and he made it his daily business to worship and serve him acceptably.

But without faith — In the being, attributes, superintending providence, and grace of God; it is impossible — For a fallen, sinful, and weak creature, such as man is, and such as Enoch undoubtedly was; to please him — Though no particular revelation is mentioned as the object of Enoch’s faith, yet from Moses’s telling us that he walked with, or pleased God, it is certain that his faith in those doctrines of religion, which are discoverable by the light of nature, and which are mentioned in this verse, must have been very strong, since it led him habitually to walk with God, so as to please him; for he that cometh to God — In prayer, or any other act of worship, or who endeavours to serve him; must believe that he is — That he exists, and that he is a rewarder of them who diligently seek him — And therefore, that he is wise and mighty, holy, just, and good. “By representing the existence of God and his government of the world as objects of faith, the apostle hath taught us, that the truths of natural religion are equally the objects of faith with the truths of revelation. And this doctrine is just. For the evidence by which the truths of natural religion are supported, being of the same kind with the evidence which supports the truths of revelation, namely, not demonstrative, but probable evidence, the persuasion produced by that kind of evidence in matters of natural religion, is as really faith as the persuasion which the same evidence produces in matters of revelation. Further, the faith or persuasion of the truths of natural religion which men attain, being as much the effect of attention, impartial search, and prayer, as the faith which they attain of the truths of revelation, it is as much a matter of duty, and as pleasing to God, [as far as it extends,] as faith in the truths of revelation.” — Macknight.


Verse 7

Hebrews 11:7. By faith Noah — The third person mentioned in Scripture, to whom testimony was particularly given that he was righteous; and therefore, the apostle brings him forward as a third example of the power and efficacy of faith, declaring also wherein his faith wrought and was effectual. Being warned of God χρηματισθεις, literally, being admonished by a divine oracle, or by a particular and express revelation; of which see Genesis 6:13; of things not seen as yet — That is, not only as being future, but of such a nature that no one had ever seen or heard of any thing like them, namely, the dissolution of the world by a flood, and the destruction of all its inhabitants; yet this discovery Noah received with faith, a discovery which had two parts; the first, a declaration of the purpose of God to destroy the whole world; the second, a direction respecting the steps which Noah was to take for the preservation of his family from the impending ruin. Accordingly it had a two-fold effect on Noah; producing, 1st, Fear from the threatening; 2d, Obedience in building the ark, according to the direction. The application of this example of Noah to these Hebrews was highly proper and reasonable; for they stood now on their trial, whether they would be influenced by faith or unbelief; for here they might see, as in a glass, what would be the effect of the one and the other. Moved with fear ευλαβηθεις, a religious, reverential, and awful fear; prepared an ark — Doubtless amidst many insults of profane and wicked men, the preparing of such a vessel, or any thing like it, being a new thing on the earth, and not to be effected without immense labour and cost; to the saving εις σωτηριαν, for the salvation; of his house — We have here an instance in which salvation signifies a temporal deliverance. By the which δι ης, by which faith, or by which ark, for the relative may agree with either; he condemned the world — Who neither believed nor feared. Persons are said, in other places of Scripture, to condemn those against whom they furnish matter of accusation and condemnation. See Titus 3:11. It appears, from 2 Peter 2:5, that during the time in which the ark was building, Noah was a preacher of righteousness to the people of that generation, calling them to repentance, and warning them of approaching destruction, if they remained impenitent; and that on the ground of the revelation which God had made to him, with which he doubtless acquainted them. But all the time of warning, being carnally secure, and unmoved by his threatenings, they continued to be unbelieving, impenitent, and disobedient, even to the last hour, Matthew 24:38-39; for which cause they were not only destroyed temporally, but shut up in the everlasting prison, 1 Peter 3:19-20. And became heir — A partaker of; the righteousness which is by faith — And entitled to the rewards thereof in a future and eternal world, of which his temporal deliverance, though so amazing, was only an emblem. “The faith of Noah is proposed for our imitation, to assure us that they who believe and obey God shall be safe in the midst of a fallen world, while the wicked shall be condemned and destroyed.”

The apostle has now passed through the first period of Scripture records from the beginning of the world to the flood; and therein hath considered the examples of all, concerning whom it is testified in particular that they pleased God; and he hath shown, that they all pleased him, and were righteous, by faith; and that their faith was effectual to preserve them in that state of divine favour, by enabling them to persevere in the practice of all the duties required of them, notwithstanding the difficulties and oppositions they met with. Hereby he confirms his doctrine respecting the necessity and efficacy of faith, and proves to these Hebrews, that if they did not persevere in their profession, it was because of their unbelief, seeing that true faith would certainly render them steadfast in their adherence to it, whatever difficulties they should have to encounter. Hence he proceeds to the next period, (extending from the renovation of the world in the family of Noah to the giving of the law,) to manifest that in every state of the church the way of pleasing God was one and the same; as also that faith still retained its efficacy under all economical alterations. The person whom, in this period, he first speaks of as having a testimony in the Scripture of being righteous, is Abraham; on whose example, by reason of the eminence of his person, the relation of the Hebrews to him, (deriving from him, under God, all their privileges, temporal and spiritual,) the efficacy of his faith with the various successful exercises of it, he dwells at large from hence to the end of Hebrews 11:18.


Verse 8

Hebrews 11:8. By faith — In the divine promises; Abraham when he was called — The call here intended is referred to Genesis 12:1; to go out — From his father’s house and native land; into a place far distant, which God promised he should afterward receive for an inheritance — Without disputing or murmuring, obeyed; and — Relying on the power and veracity of God; went out, not knowing whither he went — Although he did not know the country to which he was going, nor whether it was a good or a bad land.


Verse 9-10

Hebrews 11:9-10. By faith, &c. — Believing that Canaan was promised to him and his seed only as a type of a better country, he acquired no possessions therein except a burying-place, and built no houses there; but sojourned in the land of promise as in a strange country αλλοτιαν, a country belonging to others, dwelling in tents, as a sojourner; with Isaac and Jacob — Who by the same manner of living showed the same faith. Jacob was born fifteen years before the death of Abraham, as is evident from the account of the lives of the patriarchs given in Genesis. Isaac and Jacob are said to be heirs with Abraham of the same promise, because they all had the same interest therein; and Isaac did not receive this inheritance from Abraham, nor Jacob from Isaac, but all of them from God. In saying that Abraham dwelt in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the apostle does not mean that they all three dwelt together in one family, and one place, while they were in Canaan; for Abraham and Isaac had separate habitations when Jacob was born. But he means that, while in Canaan, they all dwelt in tents; and by applying this observation to the two latter, as well as to Abraham, the apostle praises their faith likewise. For, since Canaan belonged to them as joint heirs with their father, by dwelling there in tents as sojourners, they showed that they also knew the true meaning of the promise, and looked for a better country than Canaan. For he looked for — He expected at length to be led on to; a city which hath foundations — Whereas a tent hath none. Grotius thinks Abraham hoped that his posterity should have, in the land of promise, a city that God would prepare for them, in a special manner, namely, Jerusalem. But such an interpretation Isaiah , 1 st, Expressly contrary to the exposition given by the apostle himself of this expression, Hebrews 11:16 : 2d, It is not suitable to God’s dealing with Abraham, and to the nature and effects of the holy patriarch’s faith, that he should have nothing to encourage him in his pilgrimage but a hope that, after many generations, his posterity should have a city to dwell in, in the land of Canaan, wherein the condition of most of them was not better than his in tents: 3d, To suppose that this was only an earthly city, not to be possessed by his posterity until eight hundred years afterward, and that but for a limited time, is utterly to overthrow his faith, the nature of the covenant of God with him, and his being an example to gospel believers, as he is here proposed to be. This city, therefore, which Abraham looked for, is that heavenly city, that everlasting mansion, which God hath prepared for all true believers with himself after this life; it being the place of their everlasting abode, rest, and refreshment, and that with the expectation of which Abraham and the following patriarchs comforted and supported themselves amidst all the toil and labour of their pilgrimage. Whose builder and maker is God — Of which God is the sole contriver, former, and finisher. “The word τεχνιτης, translated builder, denotes one who constructs any house or machine; an architect. But the other word, δημιουργος, signifies one who forms a people by institutions and laws. The apostle joins this term to the other to show that God is both the Founder and the Ruler of that great community of which the spiritual seed of Abraham is to make a part. From God’s being both the Founder and Ruler of the city which the seed of Abraham are to possess, it may justly be inferred that the glory, security, privileges, and pleasures of their state are such, that in comparison of them, the advantages or security found in any city or commonwealth on earth are nothing, and but of a moment’s duration.” — Macknight.


Verse 11-12

Hebrews 11:11-12. Through faith also Sara — Though at first she laughed at the promise through unbelief; received strength εις καταβολην σπερματος, for the conception of seed; and was delivered of a child when she was past age — That is, beyond the due time of age for such a purpose, when she was ninety years old, and in the course of nature absolutely incapable of being a mother. “I believe,” says Dr. Owen, “that this was not a mere miraculous generation, but that she received a general restoration of her nature for the production of a child, which was before decayed, as Abraham afterward, who, after his body was in a manner dead, received strength to have many children by Keturah.” Because she judged him faithful who had promised — And that, as he could, so he would fulfil his promise, whatever difficulties might stand in the way of its fulfilment. Therefore — By this mighty principle of faith in her and in Abraham; sprang there even of one — Of one father; and him as good as dead

Till his strength was supernaturally restored; so many as the stars of the sky in multitude — This expression was first used by God himself, who brought Abraham forth abroad, and bade him look toward heaven, and number the stars, if he were able; and then said, So shall thy seed be. It is evident that at the first view, as they were shown to Abraham, not being reduced into constellations, there can perhaps be no greater appearance of what is innumerable, than the stars. Probably too in this comparison not only their number, but their beauty and order were intended. In the other allusion, as the sand which is by the sea-shore, they are declared to be absolutely innumerable. It is not said that they shall be as many as the sand by the sea-shore, but as innumerable, to which the event wonderfully corresponded.


Verse 13

Hebrews 11:13. These all — Namely, Abraham and Sarah, with their children, Isaac and Jacob; died in faith — Believing that God would fulfil his promises; but not having received the promises — That is, the things promised, for which the word promises is here put by a usual metonymy. For the promises being made to Abraham personally, and to his immediate descendants, the apostle could not say of them that they died, not having received the promises; but he might justly say, they died not having received the things promised. For they neither received the possession of Canaan before their death, nor the actual exhibition of Christ in the flesh, with the privileges granted to the church in consequence thereof, which the apostle had so fully set forth in the four preceding chapters. This was that better thing provided for us under the New Testament, that they without us should not be made perfect. But having seen them afar off — At a great distance of time; as sailors, says Chrysostom, who after a long voyage, descry at a great distance, with much joy, their intended port. This makes it further evident that the things promised, and not the promises themselves, are intended; for the promises were not afar off, but present with them. They saw the things promised in that they had the idea of them in their minds, understanding in general the mind of God in his promises. And were persuaded of them — Namely, that such things as they had an idea of were promised, and that the promises would be fulfilled in due time; and embraced them — With the most cordial affection and greatest ardour of mind. The original word denotes the affectionate salutations and embracings of friends after a long separation. We then embrace the promises, and promised blessings, when our hearts cleave to them with confidence, love, complacency, and delight, the never-failing fruit of faith in them. This, and not a mere naked barren assent to divine revelation, was the faith whereby the elders obtained a good report. And confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth — That their interest, hopes, and enjoyments were not in this world, but in another which they expected. In other words, These heavenly-minded men, knowing well that a better country than any on earth was promised to them under the figure of Canaan, considered their abode in Canaan and on the earth as a pilgrimage at a distance from their native country; and to show what their expectations were, they always spake of themselves as strangers and pilgrims. See the passages referred to in the margin.


Verses 14-16

Hebrews 11:14-16. For they that say such things — That speak of themselves as strangers and pilgrims; declare plainly that they seek a country — Different from that in which they dwell. Or rather, that they seek their own, or their father’s country, as πατριδα, the word here used, signifies. They show that they keep in view, and long for, their eternal home. And truly if they had been mindful of that country — Ur, of the Chaldees; from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned — From the call of Abraham to the death of Jacob there were two hundred years, so that they had time enough for a return if they had had a mind to it; there was no external difficulty in their way by force or opposition; the way was not so far, but that Abraham sent his servant thither out of Canaan, and Jacob went the same journey with his staff. The fact is, all love to, and desire after their native country, was so mortified in these holy men, by faith influencing them to act in obedience to the call of God, that no remembrance of their first enjoyments, no impressions from their native air and soil, no bonds of consanguinity among the people, nor difficulties they met with in their wanderings, could kindle in them any peculiar love and attachment of their native place. Abraham in particular considered the very thought of returning into Chaldea as a renunciation of his interest in the promises of God; and therefore he made his servant Eliezer swear, that on no pretence whatever would he carry Isaac into Chaldea, Genesis 24:5-8. This absolute renunciation of Chaldea, notwithstanding God gave Abraham none inheritance in Canaan, no, not so much as to set his foot on, (Acts 7:5,) is a strong proof of his knowledge of the true meaning of the promises, and of his faith in them. But now they desire — Or desired, rather; ορεγονται, they strongly desired, they lounged after; a better country — Than Chaldea; that is, a heavenly — Which God hath promised to them. This is a full, convincing proof that the patriarchs had a revelation and promise of eternal life and felicity in heaven. Wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God — Which, speaking after the manner of men, he would have been, if he had provided nothing better for them than what he gave them to enjoy on earth. Or if they had been content with, and attached to, earthly things. But since by faith they sought after a better inheritance, on the possession of which they entered partly at death, and shall more fully enter when their bodies are conformed to Christ’s glorious body, therefore God counts it no disparagement to or reflection upon his greatness and majesty, to own himself to be a God in covenant with them, since he has provided eternal life, felicity, and glory for them. Or, as Macknight states the case, “He might have been ashamed of the name [of their God] if Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to whom as their God he had promised Canaan, but who had died without receiving the possession of it, are not to be raised from the dead to enjoy the country promised under the emblem of Canaan. The reason is, in the sense which the name of God bears in the covenant, he cannot be the God of the dead; he can neither bestow the possession of Canaan, nor of the country prefigured by Canaan, on persons who are dead. But he is the God of the living; he can bestow that country on living persons who, by the reunion of soul and body, are capable of enjoying it. And that he can restore to Abraham and to his seed their bodies, to enable them to enjoy the [heavenly] Canaan, is undeniable; because all who now live in the body, live merely by his will and power; all live by him.”


Verse 17-18

Hebrews 11:17-18. By faith — Namely, by believing that God would perform his promise of giving him a numerous issue, notwithstanding that the command here referred to seemed to contradict and preclude the performance of it; Abraham, when he was tried — When God made that glorious trial of him, recorded Genesis 22:9-10; offered up Isaac

“In this trial of Abraham’s faith, there was the highest wisdom. For God, to whom all his creatures belong, and who may justly take away the life of any of them by whatever means or instruments he thinks fit, ordered Abraham with his own hands to sacrifice his only son Isaac, in whom all the promises were to be fulfilled, that the greatness of Abraham’s understanding, faith, and piety, becoming conspicuous, future generations might know with what propriety God made him the pattern of the justification of mankind, and the father of all believers, for the purpose of their receiving the promises in him. The sacrifice of Isaac was commanded also for the purpose of being a type of the sacrifice of Christ.” Isaac, indeed, was not sacrificed: but Abraham, in the full resolution of obeying God’s command, proceeded so far as to show that if he had not been hindered by God himself, he would actually have obeyed it. For he bound Isaac, laid him on the altar, stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son, Genesis 22:10. Now, though Abraham was restrained from killing Isaac, his firm purpose to offer him was considered by God as equivalent to the actual offering of him, Genesis 22:16 : Because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son. But if Abraham, at God’s command, was willing himself to slay his only son, how much more willing should we be to part with our beloved children and friends when God himself takes them from us by death? And he that had received the promises — That his seed should be as the stars, and should inherit Canaan, and that all the nations of the earth should be blessed in his seed; offered up his only-begotten — Isaac is so called, because Abraham had no other son by Sarah, his legitimate wife; of whom it was expressly said, (Genesis 21:12,) In Isaac shall thy seed be called — From him shall the blessed seed spring; and in him all the promises which I have made to thy seed shall be fulfilled. Observe here, reader, “1st, Faith must be tried; and of all graces it is most suited to trial: 2d, God proportions trials, for the most part, to the strength of faith: 3d, Great trials, in believers, are an evidence of great faith, though not understood, either by themselves or others, before such trials: 4th, Trials are the only touchstone of faith, without which men must want the best evidence of its sincerity and efficacy, and the best way of testifying it to others. Wherefore, 5th, We ought not to be afraid of trials, because of the admirable advantages of faith by them. See James 1:2; James 1:4; 1 Peter 1:6-7. And 6th, Let them be jealous over themselves who have had no special instances of the trial of their faith: 7th, True faith, being tried, will in the issue be victorious.” — Owen.


Verse 19

Hebrews 11:19. Accounting λογισαμενος, reasoning, or concluding, after weighing all circumstances; that, notwithstanding the apparent contradiction in the divine revelations; God was able to raise him up —

Although he should be burned to ashes; and would raise him even from the dead — Though, so far as we can learn, there never had been one single instance of a resurrection from the dead in the world. From whence also he received him in a figure — That is, Figuratively speaking, or in a figure or resemblance of the resurrection from the dead, as being hindered from slaying him. For Abraham having fully purposed to sacrifice him, and his intention and action being considered by God as a real offering of him up, he might with propriety be said to receive him from the dead when he was stopped from slaying him. This is a much more natural interpretation of the clause than to understand it, as many do, of his receiving him at his birth by a kind of miracle, as it were, from the dead bodies of those who, in a course of nature, had no hope of children; for this could with no propriety be termed a resurrection, or a receiving him from the dead, as he had had no prior existence. To this may be added, that the miraculous birth of Isaac was not so proper a type of a resurrection as his deliverance from death was; being rather an image of a creation than of a resurrection. It may not be improper to observe here, that the phrase εν παραβολη, which we render in a figure, and which is literally, in, or for a parable, is understood by Warburton to signify, that this whole transaction was parabolical, or typical, of the method God would take for the salvation of mankind, namely, in giving up his only-begotten Son to be a sacrifice for the expiation of human guilt. And certainly, when all the circumstances of this extraordinary fact are considered, Abraham’s offering up Isaac will appear to be a most apt emblem of the sacrifice of the Son of God. “Isaac was Abraham’s only-begotten. This only-begotten son he voluntarily gave unto death at the commandment of God: Isaac bare the wood on which he was to be burned as a sacrifice, and consented to be offered up; for he made no resistance when his father bound him, which shows that Abraham had made known to him the divine command. Three days having passed between God’s order to sacrifice Isaac, and the revoking of that order, Isaac may be said to have been dead three days. Lastly, his deliverance, when on the point of being slain, was, as the apostle observes, equal to a resurrection. In all these respects, this transaction was a fit emblem of the death of the Son of God as a sacrifice, and of his resurrection on the third day. And it is probable that after Isaac was offered, when God confirmed his promises to Abraham by an oath, he showed him that his seed, in whom all the nations of the earth were to be blessed, was to die as a sacrifice for the sin of the world; and that he had commanded him to offer up Isaac to prefigure that great event, and to raise in mankind an expectation of it. How, otherwise, can we understand our Lord’s words to the Jews, Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day, and he saw it, and was glad? For Christ’s day denotes the things done by Christ in his day, and especially his dying as a sacrifice for sin.” — Macknight.


Verse 20-21

Hebrews 11:20-21. By faith — By firmly believing what God had revealed unto him concerning the future state of his children; Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau — Prophetically foretold the particular blessings they should receive, preferring the younger before the elder. See notes on Genesis 27:6-40. By faith Jacob, when a dying — That is, when near death, believing that God would make good his promise of giving his posterity the land of Canaan; blessed both the sons of Joseph — Foretelling that two tribes should spring from these two sons; and that the tribe of Ephraim, the younger, should be more powerful than the tribe of Manasseh, the elder; and worshipped — Acknowledged God’s goodness to him, which he had so long experienced; leaning — Or bowing down; on the top of his staff — In the passage referred to, (Genesis 47:31,) it is said, according to our version: Israel bowed himself upon his bed’s head; but the apostle says here, He worshipped upon the top of his staff; which agrees with the Greek and Syriac translation. It seems, as Hallet observes, the word משׂה, used in Genesis, signifies either a bed or a staff; and the passages may be reconciled by supposing that he was sitting on the side of the bed when he blessed these sons of Joseph, and leaned on the top of his staff for support, being very old and feeble.


Verse 22

Hebrews 11:22. By faith — In God’s promise, to give Canaan to the posterity of Jacob; Joseph, when he died τελευτων, ending his life; made mention of the departing of Israel — Namely, out of Egypt, as an event which would certainly take place; and gave commandment concerning his bones — To be carried into the land of promise, thereby testifying his joint interest with them in the promises of God.


Verse 23

Hebrews 11:23. By faith Moses — As if he had said, The parents of Moses believing, when he was a child, that God would make use of him at a future period, for some extraordinary service to his people; hid him three months — In their own house, to preserve him from falling a sacrifice to the cruelty of Pharaoh. It appears by this, that both his parents were engaged in the work of concealing him, although his mother only is mentioned, Exodus 2:2; because they saw he was a proper child — Greek, ειδον αστειον το παιδιον, they saw the child beautiful; and doubtless through a divine presage of things to come, and not merely from his beauty, believed that God had designed him for some singular usefulness. And they were not afraid of the king’s commandment — Requiring all Israelitish parents, on pain of death, to give up their male children that they might be thrown into the river. Of Moses’s beauty, see note on Acts 7:20.


Verses 24-26

Hebrews 11:24-26. By faith Moses — None in the old world was more signalized by Providence in his birth, education, and actions, than Moses; hence his renown was both then and ever after very great; when he was come to years ΄εγας γενομενος, when he became great; Syriac, when he was a man. The word may respect either state and condition, or time of life and stature. To become great, is in Scripture and common speech, to become so in wealth, honour, or power, and so Moses was become great in the court of Pharaoh; and hence the greatness of his self-denial here commended. But although this is true, and is a circumstance which greatly commends his faith, yet it is not primarily intended in this expression; for having declared the faith of his parents, and the providence of God toward him in his infancy, in the foregoing verse, the apostle here shows what his own disposition and practice was, after he was grown up to years of understanding. The expression is the same with that used by the LXX. Exodus 2:11, where we read, In those days when Moses was grown. The time referred to seems to have been that mentioned by Stephen, Acts 7:7, when he left the court of Pharaoh, and visited his brethren, being learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and full forty years old; refused to be called — Any longer, as he had before been; the son of Pharaoh’s daughter — It is not said in the history that Moses made this refusal formally, but he did it in effect by his actions; he boldly professed himself an Israelite, and interposed to vindicate his brethren from their oppression; at the same time leaving Pharaoh’s court, and (after killing the Egyptian who had smitten a Hebrew) fleeing into the land of Midian. And though he afterward returned to Egypt, he did not reside with Pharaoh’s daughter as formerly, but went among his afflicted brethren, and never afterward forsook them; choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God — Greek, συγκακουχνεισθαι, to be evil entreated, or pressed with things evil and grievous. What the afflictions and sufferings of the people of God were at that time in Egypt is well known: but it does not appear that it was required of Moses to work in the kilns and furnaces with his brethren; but considering their woful condition he sympathized with them, and was willing to suffer with them whatever they might be exposed to in the course of divine providence. To account for this exercise of faith in Moses; we must suppose that in his childhood and youth he had often conversed with his parents and with the Israelites, of whom he knew himself to be one by his circumcision; and that they had given him the knowledge of the true God, the God of their fathers, and of the promises which God had made to their nation as his people. Than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season προσκαιρον εχειν αμαρτιας απολαυσιν, literally, to have the temporary fruition, or enjoyment of sin. The enjoyment of sin is therefore said to be temporary, or for a season, because it is subject to a thousand interruptions and reverses in this life, unavoidably ends with it, and is followed, if repentance prevent not, with everlasting misery. Thus were things truly represented to the thoughts of Moses; he did not shut his eyes on calamities to be endured on the one hand, nor suffer himself to be imposed upon by flattering appearances on the other. He omitted no circumstance that might produce a right choice. He considered the worst thing belonging to the people of God, which is their affliction, and the best of the world, which is but the vanishing pleasure of sin; and he preferred the worst of the one above the best of the other. Esteeming the reproach of Christ — So he terms the infamy that he was or might be exposed to, by acknowledging himself one of the Israelites, whom Christ had been pleased to take under his special protection. Or he may mean the scoffs cast on the Israelites for expecting the Messiah to arise among them: greater riches than the treasures of Egypt — Though then a very opulent kingdom. It is here intimated, that if Moses had continued in the court of Egypt, as a son of Pharaoh’s daughter, he might have had the free use of the king’s treasures, and therewith might have procured to himself every sensual enjoyment. For he had respect unto — απεβλεπε, he looked off, from all those perishing treasures, and beyond all those temporal hardships; unto the recompense of reward — Not to an inheritance in Canaan: he had no warrant from God to look for this, nor did he ever attain it; but what his believing ancestors looked for, a future state of happiness in heaven.


Verse 27

Hebrews 11:27. By faith — Namely, in the power of God to preserve and conduct him and them, notwithstanding Pharaoh’s rage and threatening; he forsook Egypt — Taking all the Israelites with him; not fearing the wrath of the king — As he did many years before, when he fled from Egypt into Midian: see Exodus 2:14-15. For he endured — Continued resolute and immoveable; as seeing him who is invisible — Keeping the eye of his mind continually fixed on that great invisible Being, whose presence and friendship is of such importance, that the person who fixes his regards on him, will never by any consideration be influenced knowingly to offend him, nor be much impressed with the fear of any person or thing that would tempt him to do this. This character of God is here given with peculiar propriety. Moses was now in that condition, and had those difficulties to encounter, wherein he continually stood in need of divine power and assistance: whence this should come he could not discern by his senses: his bodily eye could behold no present assistant; for God was invisible: but he saw him by faith, whom he could not see with his bodily eyes, and thus seeing him he found him a present help, no less than if he had been manifest to his senses. A double act of Moses’s faith is intended herein; 1st, A clear, distinct view and apprehension of God’s omnipresence, power, and faithfulness; and, 2d, A steady trust in him on account of these perfections. This he relied on, to this he trusted, that God was everywhere present with him, able to protect and assist him, and faithful to his promises. Of these things he had as certain a persuasion, as if he had seen God working with him and for him with his bodily eyes. This sense of God he continually had recourse to in all his hazards and difficulties, and thereby endured courageously to the end.


Verse 28-29

Hebrews 11:28-29. Through faith — From a lively apprehension and firm persuasion of the benefits signified and sealed thereby, and especially that God would assuredly send his angel on the vindictive design predicted, and would spare the houses properly distinguished; see Exodus 12:12; Exodus 12:23; he kept the passover and the sprinkling — Or pouring forth, rather; of blood — Namely, that of the paschal lamb, which he sprinkled on the lintels and the posts of the doors, as the mark of committing those who dwelt under such roofs to the divine protection; that he who destroyed the firstborn — That is, the angel, whom God employed in that work as the executioner of his judgments, as he did afterward in the destruction of Sennacherib’s army, and of Sodom; should not touch them — That is, the Israelites or their cattle. By faith they — Moses, Aaron, and the Israelites; passed through the Red sea — That part of the Ethiopic ocean which lies between Egypt and Arabia. In the Hebrew it is constantly called ים שׂו Š, the sea of sedges, reeds or canes, from the multitude growing on its shore, as to this day. The Greeks called it ερυθραιος, or ερυθρα, red, not from the red colour of the waters, appearing so from the sand or the sun, but because it washed the borders of Edom, which signifies red: as by dry land — As sedately as if they had marched on dry land, while its waters, by the divine command, divided and left the channel bare to them, so that they easily completed their march through it, and arrived safely on the opposite shore: which the Egyptians, assaying to do, were destroyed κατεποθησαν, were drowned, swallowed up. This attempt of the Egyptians was the greatest height of folly and presumption that ever obdurate sinners arrived at in this world. They had seen all the mighty works which God had wrought in behalf of his people among them; they and their country were almost consumed with the plagues and judgments that were inflicted on them; and yet now, beholding this wonderful work of God in opening the sea to receive his people from their pursuit, they would make a venture, (as the original expression, πειραν λαβοντες, signifies,) to follow them into it. Vain and desperate attempt! and a high evidence of infatuation! It is one of the most signal examples of blindness of mind, confirmed by judicial hardness of heart, that is upon record in the whole book of God; nor is there any monument of equal folly and infatuation among the annals of time. Thus far the examples are cited from Genesis and Exodus; those that follow are from the former and the latter prophets.


Verse 30

Hebrews 11:30. By faith — The faith of Joshua and the Israelites in God’s promise; the walls of Jericho fell down — Being smitten by the hand of God, without any human force; after they were compassed about — In solemn silence, according to the divine command; seven days — How absurd a spectacle soever their procession might appear to the besieged. “As the land of Canaan belonged to the Israelites by a grant from God, the possessor of heaven and earth, it was proper that the first city which resisted them should be taken in such a manner as to demonstrate the truth of their title. And therefore God did not order them to attack Jericho with engines of war, but he ordered the priests, his immediate ministers, to carry the ark, containing the tables of his covenant, round the city daily for seven days, Joshua 6:13; and to sound trumpets of rams’ horns, as summoning the inhabitants in the name of the God of Israel to surrender; the armed men going before, and the rearward following. And on the seventh day, having surrounded Jericho seven times, they raised a great shout, upon which the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city every man straight before him, Hebrews 11:20. Thus were the inhabitants of Jericho and all the Canaanites made to know the supremacy and power of the God of Israel, and how vain it was to make any resistance.” — Macknight.


Verse 31

Hebrews 11:31. By faith — Expressed in her words, recorded Joshua 2:9-11, I know that the Lord hath given you the land, &c.; the harlot Rahab — That is, who had once been a harlot; but after she believed in the true God, it is reasonable to think she amended her manners, as well as repented of the lie by which she deceived the king of Jericho’s messengers. For that faith in the true God, which made her hazard her life in receiving and concealing the spies, must, when she attained to more knowledge, have wrought in her a thorough reformation; perished not with them that believed not — With the rest of the Canaanites in that city, among whom she dwelt; when she had received the spies — Hospitably, and dismissed them in peace, when an alarm was taken by her fellow-citizens, and they searched for them to destroy them.


Verse 32

Hebrews 11:32. And what shall I more say — On this copious, this inexhaustible subject? For the time would fail me — If I should attempt to discourse at large; of Gideon — Who with a small band of men cut off so many thousands of the Midianites; and Barak — Who, through faith in the prophecy of Deborah, freed Israel from the oppression of Jabin, and routed Sisera his general; and Samson — Who, through faith in the power of God, slew so many thousands of the Philistines with the jaw-bone of an ass, and performed many other astonishing achievements; and of Jephthae — Who, through believing God’s promise to Abraham, that his posterity should possess the land of Canaan, (see 11:24,) and through obeying the divine impulse, which moved him to fight against the Ammonites, obtained a great victory over these enemies of God’s people. Of David also — Whose faith was manifested, as in his many other heroic acts, so especially in his combat with Goliath: and even of Samuel — Who, though a prophet and a judge, yet led on the armies of the Lord on a remarkable occasion, to an illustrious victory: and of the prophets — After Samuel, the prophets are properly mentioned: David also was a prophet, but he was a king too. By the prophets he especially intended Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, &c., including likewise the believers who lived in their days.


Verse 33-34

Hebrews 11:33-34. Who through faith subdued kingdoms — As Joshua, the Judges, David, and others; wrought righteousness — Lived righteous and holy lives, and administered justice impartially, 1 Samuel 12:3-5. Obtained promises — Namely, of particular mercies, as Sarah, Hannah, Manoah, and the prophets in general, both for themselves, and to deliver to others; stopped the mouths of lions — By their faith prevailed with God to do it, as Daniel, Daniel 6:22 : quenched the violence of fire — As Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, Daniel 3. He does not say they quenched fire, which may be done by natural means, but they took off, restrained the violence, the power of fire with respect to themselves. The fire continued still, and retained its burning power, for it slew the men that cast them into the furnace. But by faith they disarmed it of its power to hurt themselves, so that not one hair of their heads was singed. To these examples, whence the nature of faith clearly appears, those more ancient ones are subjoined, (by a transposition and in an inverted order,) which receive light from these. Jephthae escaped the edge of the sword; Samson out of weakness was made strong; Barak became valiant in fight; Gideon put to flight the armies of the aliens. Faith animates to the most heroic enterprises, both civil and military. Faith overcomes all impediments, effects the greatest things, attains to the very best, and inverts, by its miraculous power, the very course of nature. One thing, however, is necessary to be observed by the reader, namely, that these celebrated worthies are not represented by the apostle as being justified by their faith, but only as performing miracles, and heroic, valiant actions by it: nor are they all commended for their good conduct in general; for several of them failed in their duty in divers instances, through the want of an abiding principle of faith and holiness in their hearts, even as the Israelites in general, who by faith had passed through the Red sea, lost their faith, rebelled, and were doomed to die in the wilderness.


Verse 35-36

Hebrews 11:35-36. Women, naturally weak, received their dead children raised to life again — Compare 1 Kings 17:22-23; 2 Kings 4:36-37; and others — Particularly seven children and one pious and holy mother; were tortured — In the most inhuman manner, to compel them to renounce their religion, and be guilty of idolatry. See the margin. Thus from those who acted great things the apostle rises higher, even to those who showed the power of faith by suffering; not accepting deliverance — When it was offered them on sinful terms, nor even riches and preferments added to the proposal; that they might obtain a better resurrection — A resurrection to a better life than that they were to lose, and a higher reward than they could have received had they not endured these afflictions; seeing the greater their sufferings, the greater would be their felicity and glory hereafter; and others — In the same glorious cause; had trial of cruel mockings — As Samson before Dagon, when the Philistines had put out his eyes; and doubtless hundreds of others, whose names and trials have not been recorded; and scourgings — Jeremiah was beaten by Pashur, Jeremiah 20:2; and by the princes, Jeremiah 37:15 : but scourging was so frequent a punishment, both alone and before a capital execution, that it is probable it was inflicted on many pious persons; moreover, of bonds and imprisonments — Joseph was cast into a prison, Jeremiah was let down into a dungeon full of mire, Jeremiah 37:13; Jeremiah 37:16; Jeremiah 38:6; and Micaiah was imprisoned by Ahab, 1 Kings 22:27.


Verse 37-38

Hebrews 11:37-38. They were stoned — As Zechariah, the son of Jehoiada, 2 Chronicles 24:21. See also Matthew 23:31; they were sawn asunder — As, according to the tradition of the Jews, Isaiah was by Manasseh; were tempted — With offers of deliverance; but remaining steadfast, were then slain with the sword — As also were the eighty-five priests slain by Doeg, 1 Samuel 22:18; and the prophets, of whose slaughter by the sword Elijah complains, 1 Kings 19:10. Or, as επειρασθησαν may be rendered, they were tried, and that in every possible way; by threatenings, reproaches, tortures, the variety of which cannot be expressed: and again by promises and allurements. They wandered about in sheepskins and goat-skins — Their outward condition was poor, mean, and contemptible; their clothing being no better than the unwrought skins of sheep and goats. Nothing is here intimated of their choosing mean clothing, as a testimony of mortification, but they were compelled by necessity to use such as they could find or obtain. Thus have the saints of God, in sundry seasons, been reduced to the utmost extremities of poverty and want. But there is such a satisfaction in the exercise of faith and obedience, and such internal consolation attending a state of suffering for the sake of truth and godliness, as quite overbalance all the outward evils that can be undergone for the profession of them: and there is a future state of eternal rewards and punishments, which will set all things right, to the glory of divine justice, and the everlasting honour of the sufferers. Being destitute — That is, as Dr. Owen interprets it, of friends, and of all means of relief from them; afflicted — Various ways; the former word declares what was absent, what they had not as to outward supplies and comforts; this declares what was present with them, the various evils and positive sufferings inflicted on them; tormented κακουχουμενοι, malè habiti, or malè vexati, badly treated; that is, in their wandering condition they met with bad treatment continually, all sorts of persons taking occasion to vex and press them with various evils. Of whom — Of whose society, example, prayers, instructions; the world was not worthy — It did not deserve so great a blessing. The world thinks them not worthy of it, to live in it, or at least to enjoy any name or place among the men of it; but whatever they think, we know that this testimony of the apostle is true, and the world will one day confess it to be so. The design of the apostle is to obviate an objection, that these persons were justly cast out, as not worthy of the society of mankind, and this he does by a contrary assertion, that the world was not worthy of them; not worthy to have converse with them, or of those mercies and blessings which accompany this sort of persons, where they have a quiet habitation. They wandered in deserts, &c. — Being driven from cities, towns, and villages, and all inhabited places, partly by law, and partly by force, these servants of the living God were compelled to wander in such as were solitary, wild, and desert, and to take up with dens and caves for their shelter. And instances of the same kind have been multiplied in the pagan and antichristian persecutions of the churches of the New Testament; but that no countenance is here given to an hermetical life, voluntarily chosen, much less to the horrible abuse of it under the papacy, is too evident to need being here insisted on.


Verse 39

Hebrews 11:39. These all, having obtained a good report ΄αρτυρηθεντες, being witnessed unto, as persons who did or suffered great things by faith. The expression does not imply that all the Israelitish judges, captains, and other worthies mentioned in this chapter, as well as the ancients, were truly righteous persons, justified by their faith, and made heirs of eternal salvation; for the apostle’s design in this part of his epistle being to show, by examples from the Jewish Scriptures, the influence which faith in the divine revelations and promises hath to excite men to perform those difficult and dangerous enterprises which he assigns to them in particular, the witness which was borne to some of them means only the praise which was given to them in Scripture on account of the faith which they showed in performing these particular great actions. Received not the promise — The great promised blessings, namely, Christ the promised seed, come in the flesh, as the accomplishment of all the types and shadows, whether of the Mosaic or the patriarchal dispensation. They received the promise that the Messiah should come, as is said of Abraham, (Hebrews 11:17,) but did not receive the accomplishment of it. This the apostle positively asserts; but that the Christians in his days had received it, as is signified Hebrews 11:40. “It is therefore not only untrue and unsafe,” as Dr. Owen observes, “but contrary to the fundamental principles of our religion, the faith of Christians in all ages, and the design of the apostle in this whole epistle, to interpret this promise, as some do, of any thing but the coming of Christ in the flesh, of his accomplishment of the work of our redemption, with the unspeakable privileges and advantages that the church hath received thereby. That this promise was made to the elders from the beginning of the world, that it was not actually accomplished to them, being necessarily confined to one season, called the fulness of time, and that herein lies the great difference of the two states of the church, that under the Old Testament and that under the New, with the prerogative of the latter above the former, are such weighty sacred truths, that without an acknowledgment of them no important doctrine, either of the Old Testament or of the New, can be rightly understood. This then was the state of believers under the Old Testament; they had the promise of the exhibition of Christ, the Son of God, in the flesh, for the redemption of the church; this promise they received, saw afar off, as to its actual accomplishment, were persuaded of the truth of it, and embraced it, Hebrews 11:13. The actual accomplishment of it they desired, longed for, and looked after, (Luke 10:24,) inquiring diligently into the grace of God contained therein, 1 Peter 1:11-13. Hereby they enjoyed the benefits of it, even as we do; yet they received not its actual accomplishment in the coming of Christ, the reason of which the apostle gives in the next verse.


Verse 40

Hebrews 11:40. God having provided some better thing for us — Believers under the gospel, than any bestowed upon them, which better thing is Christ himself manifest in the flesh, with the various privileges and blessings of the gospel dispensation, far exceeding those of the two dispensations that preceded it. For, as the divine last quoted further observes, “It ought to be put out of question with all Christians, that it is the actual exhibition of the Son of God in the flesh, the coming of the promised seed, with his accomplishment of the work of redemption, and all the privileges of the church, in light, grace, liberty, spiritual worship, with the boldness of access to God that ensued thereon, which is intended. For were not these the things which they received not under the Old Testament? Were not these the things which were promised from the beginning; which were expected, longed for, and desired by all believers of old, who yet saw them only afar off, though through faith they were saved by virtue of them? And are not these the things whereby the church state of the gospel was perfected; the things alone wherein our state is better than theirs? For, as to outward appearances of things, they had more glory, costly ceremonies, and splendour in their worship, than is appointed in the Christian Church; and their worldly prosperity was, for a long season, very great, much exceeding any thing that the Christian Church enjoyed in the apostle’s days. To deny, therefore, these to be the better things that God provided for us, is to overthrow the faith of the Old Testament and the New.” That they without us should not be made perfect — The expression without us, is the same as without the things which are actually exhibited to us, the things provided for us, and our participation of them. They and we, that is, the believers under the old dispensations, and those under the new, though distributed by divine appointment into distinct states, yet, with respect to the first promise, and the renewal of it to Abraham, are but one church, built on the same foundation, and enlivened by the same Spirit of grace. Wherefore until we, that is, Christian believers, with our privileges and blessings, were added to the church, it could not be said to be made perfect, or to have attained that perfect state which God had designed and prepared for it in the fulness of times, and which the believers in those ages foresaw should be granted to others, but not to themselves. See 1 Peter 1:11-13. “I cannot but marvel,” says Dr. Owen, “that so many have stumbled in the exposition of these words, and involved themselves in difficulties of their own devising; for they are a plain epitome of the whole doctrinal part of the epistle; so as that no intelligent judicious person can avoid the sense which the words tender, unless he divert his mind from the whole scope and design of the apostle.”

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Hebrews 11:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/hebrews-11.html. 1857.


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Friday, July 21st, 2017
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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