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Hebrews 11

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Verse 1


(Hebrews 11:1-40)




Now faith is assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)

The preoccupation of scholars with their view of making this verse a logical definition of faith has resulted in the rendition before us, which is certainly no improvement on the KJV, and would even seem to be capricious, since the word translated "assurance" is the same word translated "substance" in Hebrews 1:3, and "confidence" in Hebrews 3:14. Milligan is undoubtedly correct in the observation that this is not a formal definition of faith at all, but "rather a plain statement with regard to its nature and province."[1]

Macknight said, "The word for `evidence' (or `assurance') denotes a strict proof or demonstration; a proof which thoroughly convinces the understanding and determines the will."[2] Adam Clarke followed the same line of thought, saying:

It is such a conviction as is produced in the mind by the demonstration (as to a proposition in geometry) of a problem, after which demonstration no doubt can remain, because we see from it that the thing is; that it cannot but be; and that it cannot be otherwise than as it is, as it is proved to be.[3]

Substance has several shades of meaning, including the thought of the GROUND that stands under a proposition; also, it means the ACTUAL SUBSTANCE as contrasted with the mere vision of a thing, this latter connotation making the passage mean that faith in the believer's soul actually brings reality into his existence, conveying the thought of an earnest, or pledge, of ultimate fulfillment.

Things hoped for are all of those blessings, temporal and eternal, that make up the inheritance of the faithful. Resurrection from the dead and the triumphal entry into the everlasting habitations are surely included.

Things not seen include everything in the whole area of faith, the creation of the universe, the incarnation of Christ, the judgment of the world by the deluge, the second advent of Christ, the final judgment, the ultimate reception by every man of the destiny, good or bad, that shall be assigned to him by God's enforcement of universal judgment, founded on justice and mercy. Unseen things are very strongly emphasized in this chapter, and repeated reference to them is made.

[1] R. Milligan, New Testament Commentary (Nashville: Gospel Advocate Company, 1962), Vol. 9, p. 298.

[2] James Macknight, Apostolic Epistles (Nashville: Gospel Advocate Company, 1960), p. 560.

[3] Adam Clarke, Commentary on the Holy Bible (New York: Carlton and Porter, 1829), Vol. 6, p. 762.

Verse 2

For therein the elders had witness borne to them.

Therein means "in faith just like that mentioned." "The elders" are the great and worthy patriarchs of the past, particularly of the Hebrew scriptures; and the "witness borne to them" is the witness of the scriptural records concerning them. Significantly, not a soul is mentioned in this chapter whose life was not verified by holy writ. It is what God writes of a man that alone is significant and consequential. Before proceeding with his discussion of those individuals, the writer goes back to the very beginning (Genesis 1:1) and makes the understanding of people regarding the creation also to be purely a matter of faith.

Verse 3

By faith we understand that the worlds have been framed by the word of God, so that what is seen hath not been made out of things which appear.

As was noted by Barmby,

Commentators who perceive here a reference either to the formless void (Genesis 1:2) out of which the present creation was evolved, or a reference to the Platonic conception of eternal ideas in the divine mind, read into the text what is not there.[4]

To be sure, "Aristotle held to the eternity of matter; and said that it was the common opinion of naturalists that `Nothing can be made out of nothing'"[5] Also, Greek speculation about the formation of the ordered world out of formless matter, according to Bruce,

had influenced Jewish thinkers like Philo and the author of the Book of Wisdom; (but) the writer of Hebrews is more Biblical in his reasoning and affirms the doctrine of "creatio ex nihilo", a doctrine uncongenial to Greek thought.[6]

God made the world out of nothing, a fact perceived through faith and by no other means; nor is there any support for a contrary view in the technical meaning of the word "framed." The word from which "framed" is translated actually means "produced," according to Macknight, who also admitted that the word can be used for the placing of the parts of any body or machine in their right order, as in Ephesians 4:12; but he also said that:

It means "to make" or "produce" simply (Hebrews 10:5; Matthew 21:16) ... In the passage under consideration this word is used to express, not the orderly disposition of the parts of the universe, but their "production."[7]

This verse coincides with Paul's words:

For in him were all things created, in the heavens and upon the earth, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things have been created through him and unto him (Colossians 1:16).

Boatman's paraphrase of Hebrews 11:3 is:

By faith in the divine revelations, we understand that the worlds were produced by the command of God from nothing; so that the things which are seen, the things which compose this visible world, were not made of things which then did exist, but without any pre-existent matter to form them of.[8]

This paraphrase expresses the true meaning; for, after all, the holy scriptures everywhere set forth the doctrine that God made the worlds out of nothing. From the Septuagint version (LXX), we have this beautiful example of such teaching:

By the word of Jehovah were the heavens made, And all the host of them by the breath of his mouth ... For he spake, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast (Psalms 32:6,9).

- This corresponds to the KJV's Psalms 33:6,9.

[4] J. Barmby, The Pulpit Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1962), Vol. 21, Hebrews, p. 298.

[5] R. Milligan, op. cit., p. 302.

[6] F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1967), p. 281.

[7] James Macknight, op. cit., p. 560.

[8] Don Earl Boatman, Helps from Hebrews (Joplin, Missouri: College Press, 1960), p. 343.

Verse 4

By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he had witness borne to him that he was righteous, God bearing witness in respect of his gifts: and through it he being dead yet speaketh.


First of all, there is in this verse the glaring omission of the name of Adam, the mighty progenitor of the human race, neither he nor Eve, the mother of all living, being mentioned; and the circumstances that makes this omission so eloquent is that the author of Hebrews is embarking on a kind of roll-call of all the heroes of the past. It would appear that the opening chapters of Genesis were before him as he wrote. First there is mention of creation, following that a reference to Adam's son, as in this verse; and later Sarah was mentioned along with Abraham; but there is absolutely no word regarding the first parents. Therefore it was by design that Adam was purposely bypassed in this catalogue of ancient heroes of faith. Clarke's perceptive words on this are very moving.

It is very remarkable that among the whole there is not one word concerning poor Adam and his wife, though both Abraham and Sarah were mentioned. There was no good report concerning them; not a word of their repentance, faith or holiness. Alas! alas! did ever such bright suns set in so thick a cloud? Had there been anything praiseworthy in their life after the fall, it had surely come out here; the mention of their second son Abel would have suggested it. But God has covered the whole of their spiritual and eternal state with a thick and impenetrable veil. Conjectures relative to their fate would be very precarious; little else than hope can be exercised in their favor; but as to them the promise of Jesus was given, so we may believe they found redemption in that blood which was shed from the foundation of the world. Adam's rebellion against his Maker was too great and too glaring to permit his name ever to be mentioned with honor or respect.[9]

God walked in the garden in the cool of the evening and called, "Adam, where art thou?" (Genesis 3:9); and both for Adam and his posterity, the words have come ringing down long centuries and milleniums of sin, darkness, bloodshed, wretchedness and sorrows innumerable; and they still flame like a fiery banner flung out of heaven over all the works and devices of men, "Adam, where art thou?" And where is he? He is lost, disinherited, sentenced to eternal death, tortured by the knowledge of what he should be haunting his pitiful consciousness of what he is. It is not of Adam that we speak, but of his race. "Where art thou?" The words live forever, calling people to consider, to view their hopeless estate, and to move toward that reconciliation that is possible through Christ.

By faith Abel offered unto God revealed the reason for his sacrifice being "more excellent" than that of Cain. See article below on "The Message of the Blood of Abel." It is a Biblical precept that "faith comes from hearing God's word" (Romans 10:17), and in the light of that it may be definitely concluded that Abel acted in accordance with God's command, whereas Cain did not.

A more excellent sacrifice, as these words stand in the common versions, is thought by scholars to be a reference to the number of offerings rather than to their quality, as explained by Macknight thus:

Accordingly, they observed that notwithstanding Cain ought to have offered a sin offering, he brought only of the fruit of the ground as an offering to the Lord, which was no proper sacrifice (because he omitted the sin offering); but Abel, "He also brought of the fattest of the firstlings of the flock, and of the fat thereof"; that is, besides the fruit of the ground, which was one of his gifts mentioned in the following verse, he also brought of the fattest of the firstlings of the flock; so that he offered a sin offering as well as a meat 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 firstfruits, or of the best of the fruits.[10]

Through which he had witness borne to him that he was righteous raises the question of how such witness was communicated, which could have been in the manner of God's accepting the sacrifice (as by fire, perhaps); or it could have been in the scriptural record, which is more likely. What is written in the Bible by God is the witness of Abel's righteousness; and the reason for this conclusion is the revelation that this witness is still going on, as implied by the words "yet speaketh." Nor does this rule out the thought that God might have accepted Abel's offering by fire, as in the case of Elijah on Mt. Carmel, and in the case of Gideon. If such did happen, and if it did not happen with reference to Cain's offering, the immediate discomfiture of Cain would be explained.

Through it he being dead yet speaketh should be compared with Hebrews 12:24, which has "The blood of sprinkling that speaketh better than that of Abel." Taken together, the expressions justify the conclusion that there is a divine message in the blood of Abel. Did not God himself speak of the voice of the blood of Abel, saying, of the blood of Abel, that it cried unto him "from the ground" (Genesis 4:10)? With all propriety, therefore, it may be inquired, "What does the blood of Abel say?"


The blood of Abel says that God takes account of the injustices perpetrated against the innocent and that one day they will be avenged. The Lord said to Cain, "The voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground" (Genesis 4:10). This foretells the hour when God in righteous wrath shall cast evil out of his universe, taking vengeance upon them that deserve it (Romans 12:19). It was sin that cut down this young man in the morning of the world; and there is a score to be settled with sin. Abel, being dead, yet speaketh; his blood crieth from the ground, and not merely his, but the blood of all the innocents ever slain from that primeval violence until the end of the ages.

God has appointed a day in which he will settle accounts, and nothing can show the necessity of such a thing any more than the blood of Abel. No punishment of Cain could bring Abel back. He sank into the grave while the swift centuries fled, while Cain went out to build a city and continue his posterity in the earth. What about Abel? How is justice ever to be had for him without a judgment day? And that is exactly what the blood of Abel says, that there will indeed be a day of reckoning, that God is keeping the score, that vengeance shall be meted out to the evil-doer, and that the faithful shall be rewarded. Unless this is true, there is no sense talking of eternal justice, for there could be none. If the wheels of justice may grind only in time, there are innumerable cases in which the wicked shall have the better of it. The blood of Abel warns the murderer, and every wrong-doer, that the Creator will yet require that the account be settled. This is the thread of eternal and universal justice that runs all the way from Eden to the City Foursquare. Every man ever born on earth shall confront that day and hour of judgment (2 Corinthians 5:10) when Abel, and all the righteous, shall receive their reward and when the unrighteous shall likewise receive theirs. Abel's blood shall never cease to cry to God until that is accomplished.

The blood of Abel says that the righteous are hated without cause.

For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another, not as Cain was of the evil one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his works were evil and his brother's righteous. Marvel not, brethren, if the world hateth you (1 John 3:11-13).

Other scriptures supporting this premise are Matthew 5:10-12; 1 Timothy 3:12; and John 15:18.

The blood of Abel says that it does make a difference how people worship God, that some things will pass in divine worship and that others will not. This was the principle overlooked by Cain to his eternal discredit; and yet the great majority of mankind in the twentieth century after Christ seem not to know this. Certainly, the New Testament leaves no doubt whatever on this point. In John 4:24; Mark 7:7; Acts 17:24,25; Revelation 22:18ff; 2 John 1:1:9; Matthew 15:6; and in 1 Corinthians 4:6, it is overwhelmingly plain that the great message of the new covenant on the subject of divine worship is in perfect agreement with the message of the blood of Abel, to the effect that the only acceptable way to worship God is in the manner God has commanded. In fact, from the beginning of time, only two ways appear in which God can be worshipped, the true way, and man's way, the one good, and the other evil; and man has before him only two choices, namely: (1) to worship as God has commanded, or (2) to worship in a manner that man supposes to be just as good! Cain should be sufficient warning that the second choice is folly.

Cain was the first innovator, and from that beginning he became a murderer and then a liar; and this provides a powerful emphasis upon the nature of the frightful sin of presumptuous intrusion by man into the sacred business of HOW he worships God. Millenniums have come and gone since those Adamic brothers stood the test in the shadow of the gates of Paradise, one of them to fail ignobly, the other to succeed gloriously (and pay the price of it with his blood); and yet, after the passing of those long generations, no man can show anything wrong with Cain's offering except this, it was Cain's choice and not God's order that prompted it. With all the specious logic of modern innovators, Cain might have tried to justify himself, saying, "If God wants smoke, my stack of wheat has that lamb outclassed a hundred ways; if God wants value, my wheat will buy two lambs; and, as for all that messy blood, I never liked that anyway. Surely God can save us if we never go near a drop of blood. Surely, God couldn't care about a thing like THAT; it's the spirit of the thing that counts anyway!" Cain could never have spoken like this? His spiritual descendants do; and there is reason to suppose he might have fortified his disobedience with some form of rationalism, even as sinful men do today. If the reader does not believe it, let him read the arguments that are advanced for changing the ordinance of Christ, called baptism, which every scholar on earth knows to have been originally the immersion of a penitent believer in water unto the remission of his sins, into other ceremonies bearing little or no resemblance to the true ordinance as practiced by the apostles and inspired evangelists of the new covenant; and, if still in doubt, let the reader peruse the dissertations of those who would introduce instruments of music into the worship of God, or who would hold to the doctrine of purgatory, or elevate Mary the mother of Jesus to a throne in heaven. The blood of Abel cries down six thousand years of recorded history that it does make a difference how people worship God, whether they accept and practice the commandments of the Father, or decide to walk after their own traditions.

The blood of Abel says that faith is the key to true and acceptable worship. (See Hebrews 11:6) "By faith" is the expression used over and over in this remarkable anthology of Biblical heroes. Although supported by intelligent reasoning, faith is superior to reason. Dr. George Buttrick once said, "Faith is still the strong man that carries the little child REASON upon his shoulders."[11] The manner in which this is true is illustrated by the example of Abel. From our vantage point, removed by thousands of years from that of Abel, people today can understand why God prescribed that a lamb should be sacrificed as a sin offering. It was a type of the "Lamb slain from the foundation of the world," and was a key factor in the long chain of evidence by which God would truly identify the Messiah when he should, at last, come into the world; and, although this is plain enough to us, it could never have been plain to Abel and Cain, because faith was the only instrument by which it was possible for them to have pleased God or understood his purpose. But if there was a reason then, there is a reason now, why people should do what God has decreed, and not merely what they suppose might serve just as well.

The blood of Abel says that the only true righteousness is in obeying the commandments of God. "All thy commandments, O God, are righteousness" (Psalms 119:151). The commandments of the gospel are righteousness (Romans 1:15,16). Our Lord obeyed an ordinance of God which technically did not apply to him, and from which he might justly have claimed exemption, since he was sinless; but he was baptized in order to "fulfill all righteousness" (Matthew 3:16). The righteousness of Zacharias and Elizabeth consisted of this, that "They walked in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord, blameless" (Luke 1:6). In a generation given to scoffing at "ordinances," it is well to behold in all of God's commandments and ordinances the sole basis of the only true righteousness. This was the fundamental lapse of ancient Israel, that they, "being ignorant of God's righteousness (that is, God's commandments), and seeking to establish their own righteousness (that is, their own religious traditions), they did not submit themselves to the righteousness of God" from Romans 10:3). The scriptural meaning of the term "righteousness" is extremely important, because thousands of thousands today are falling into the error of ancient Israel and are walking in their own ways instead of God's. To all such persons, the Master addressed the question, "Why call ye me Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?" (Luke 6:46).

Since the expression "by faith" or its equivalent "through faith" or "in faith" is so frequently used in this chapter, a more particular focus on the subject of walking by faith is appropriate.


Since faith comes by hearing God's word (Romans 10:17), it follows that walking by faith means walking as directed by God's word. Negatively, it means: (1) that we should not walk by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7); (2) that we should not be guided by our own fallible, human feelings and emotions (Romans 8:4); (3) that we should not rely merely upon what seems right in our own eyes (Proverbs 14:12); (4) that we should not be guided by human traditions (Mark 7:9); (5) that we ought not to be influenced in our religious convictions and practices by the opinions of human majorities (Matthew 7:14); (6) that we must not allow the views and customs of our ancestors to be determinative (1 Peter 1:18); and (7) that we have no business consulting merely our own desires and pleasures where sacred things are involved, "For Christ pleased not himself" (Romans 15:3).

[9] Adam Clarke, op. cit., p. 762.

[10] James Macknight, op. cit., p. 560.

[11] Quotation from a sermon during "The Cole Lectures," Vanderbilt University, 1950.

Verse 5

By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and he was not found, because God translated him: for he hath had witness borne to him that before his translation he had been well-pleasing to God.

This verse casts a great deal of light on the Genesis account of the phenomenon of Enoch's translation. There, it is merely stated that God translated him, but here it is learned what translation meant, namely, that he was received into eternal fellowship with God without being obligated to pass through the experience of death. Of all the souls ever to live on earth, only Elijah and Enoch enjoyed the blessed privilege of translation (Genesis 5:24; 2 Kings 2:17). The character of Enoch was summed up by Moses who said simply that "Enoch walked with God." This means that all of his earthly sojourn was enacted with constant respect to the divine presence of God; and it was doubtless in consideration of his holy and blameless life (in a relative sense) that God saw fit to reward him in this near-unique manner. It is strange that in both these examples of translation, it was accomplished privately. Friends and loved ones sought to find their bodies but did not. People may only conjecture as to why God elected to honor these men, and only these two, in that particular way; but it might have been to give all people hope of entering at last into fellowship with God IN THEIR BODIES. Paul testified in his writings that the redeemed shall have celestial bodies (1 Corinthians 15:40ff); but it is plainly declared that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God. Nevertheless, from the fact of the redeemed having bodies, related to the body that dies (for that body shall be raised), and from the fact of the disappearance of the bodies of Elijah and Enoch, and from the further fact of our Lord's resurrection in the glorified body that was slain - from all these considerations come the substantial conviction that people's earthly bodies, purified and changed in the resurrection, shall be their eternal possession in that upper and better world.

Enoch was translated at a much younger age than that attained by most of the other great patriarchs of that period; and from this, it has been supposed, came the proverb that "The good die young"! However, Enoch did not die at all.

Macknight observed that:

Enoch's translation by faith is mentioned by the apostle, not to raise in believers an expectation of being translated into heaven, as he was, without dying, but to excite them to imitate his faith, in the assurance of being admitted into heaven in the body after the resurrection.[12]

Will others be translated? Yes. 1Cor. 15:52,1 Thessalonians 4:17 teach that "all who are alive and remain" until the coming of the Lord shall be translated, changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. Of course, the promise is to the saved.

As an example of faith, Enoch is introduced by the author of Hebrews; but the Genesis account merely states that he walked with God, making no mention of his faith; however, it must be accepted as certainty that he could not have so walked without faith. In fact, the very next verse seems to have been written to cover that very point. There is no evidence that Enoch, any more than Elijah, was a sinless person; but he was doubtless of those mentioned by Paul, whose sins God "passed over," for sufficient reason (Romans 3:25ff). That he was evidently blameless should be understood relatively, that is, in his relationship to his contemporaries.

Verse 6

And without faith it is impossible to be well-pleasing unto him; for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that seek after him.

Westcott noted that the faith described here has two elements: (1) the belief that God is, and (2) that he is morally active; in other words, it is a faith in the existence of God and in the moral government of God.[13] Furthermore, the expression "seek after him" as in the English Revised Version (1885), falls short of the power of the KJV rendition which reads, "diligently seek him." Although the word "diligently is not in the text, the meaning assuredly is; for, as Westcott wrote, "Wherever it occurs in the New Testament in the sense of `searching' (the word for SEEK) suggests the notion of strenuous endeavor."[14] In the light of this, a preference for the KJV rendition of this verse is not amiss.

[13] Brooke Foss Westcott, op. cit., p. 356.

[14] Ibid.

Verse 7

By faith Noah, being warned of God concerning things not seen as yet, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; through which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.

By faith Noah, these words introduced the man who built the ark (Genesis 5 through Genesis 10). Noah was in the tenth generation from Adam, descending from Seth through his father Lamech. His name means "rest"; and the scriptures give a favorable account of his life, bearing witness that he was just and upright, and that he found grace in the eyes of the Lord. God revealed to Noah his purpose of destroying mankind, except for a remnant, and gave detailed instructions for the building of the ark and the preservation of Noah and his family, along with specimens of lower orders of life in the animal kingdom. The faith of Noah was truly great in his acceptance of God's word "concerning things not seen as yet." It was a new and utterly different thing that God would do in the flood, no precedent for such a thing ever having been heard of; because, up to that time, no rain at all, much less a flood, had ever fallen upon the earth, all vegetable life being watered by a mist rising from the ground (Genesis 2:5,6).

Moved with godly fear indicates that part of Noah's motivation was fear; and because it is called here "godly fear," the validity of that type of response to God's word is indicated. All human motivation classifies, generally, under three headings of love, hope of reward, and fear; and, significantly, ALL THREE are summoned in the sacred scriptures to urge and persuade people to obey the Lord. True, the apostles spoke of perfect love casting out fear (1 John 4:18), but "godly fear," as in this verse is a totally different thing. Man's first duty is to fear God (Ecclesiastes 12:13); and Christ taught the same thing, saying, "But I will warn you whom ye shall fear: fear him who after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him" (Luke 12:5). Precious and wonderful as motivation through love alone must be, man also needs his love reinforced and buttressed by the powerful collateral motives of hope and fear. Man's concept of love can never be more than fragmentary, anyway; and his love of God should be expanded to include the vision of a God who is angry with the wicked every day (Psalms 7:11), whose wrath is revealed from heaven "against all unrighteousness and ungodliness of men" (Romans 1:18), and who will "by no means clear the guilty"! (Exodus 34:7).

Noah prepared an ark ... This shows that Noah was not saved by faith alone, but that he worked out his own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). Saved "by faith" is Biblical and true; "saved by faith alone" is anti-Biblical and untrue.

To the saving of his house focuses attention on the family saved with Noah in the ark, including Shem, Ham and Japheth, and their respective wives, along with Noah and his wife, making eight souls in all.

Through which he condemned the world ... Noah condemned the world preaching the truth to an unbelieving generation; for the truth will either save or condemn them that hear it, the same being true of the gospel itself. Paul called attention to this thus,

For we are a sweet savor of Christ unto God, in them that are saved, and in them that perish; to the one a savor from death unto death; to the other a savor from life unto life (2 Corinthians 2:15,16).

Noah's condemnation of the world, therefore, was no presumptuous usurpation of the prerogatives of judgment upon his contemporaries, no heartless denunciation of wretched and sinful men; but it was the result of his preaching a true message which they scornfully rejected (2 Peter 2:5).

And became the heir of the righteousness which is according to faith means that even godly Noah was not sufficiently good to be saved by his own works or merit. His faithful obedience pleased God who made him an heir of the righteousness yet to be revealed in the Lord Jesus Christ who, in the fullness of time, would appear and indeed fulfill all righteousness." Noah was the very first man in the Bible to be designated "righteous"; and even then, it was not a righteousness from within himself but from above. As Westcott noted,

The righteousness was something which came to him as having its source without, and yet according to a certain law. It was his by an unquestionable right: it corresponded with the position of a son; and this position Noah showed by his conduct to be his.[15]


It is not proper to leave this study of the patriarch Noah without exploring a most remarkable reference to him in the New Testament, as follows:

When the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is eight souls were saved through water: which also after a true likeness doth now save you, even baptism, not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the interrogation of a good conscience toward God, through the resurrection of Christ (1 Peter 3:20,21).

(See article, "Concerning the Conscience" under Hebrews 9:14.) In this place the object of study is to discern the type and the antitype, Noah and his salvation being the type, and the redemption of Christians being the antitype: (1) Noah and his family were delivered from an old world to a new one; in the antitype, Christians are delivered out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of the Son of God's love (Colossians 1:12). (2) In both cases, the deliverance must be seen as contingent upon the faith and obedience of them that were saved. (3) Noah's salvation was accomplished "through water," a reference to the fact that it was the water that bore up the ark and made it safe. The Christian's salvation is also "through water" in that the new birth includes baptism in water. (4) The same water that saved Noah and his house destroyed the disobedient world without the ark, thus fulfilling another Biblical analogy. The same Red Sea which delivered the children of Israel overwhelmed the Egyptians with destruction. Moreover, the great commission (Mark 16:15,16) makes baptism to be the line of demarcation between the saved and the unsaved. (5) It was Noah's "water" experience that passed him from an old way of life to a new one; and, in the antitype, the Christian's "water" experience (baptism) moves him from the old ways into "newness of life" (Romans 6:4). (6) After passing through the flood, Noah lived under a new covenant, that of the rainbow (Genesis 9:13). In the antitype, Christians, after their baptism, live under the new covenant. (7) After the flood, Noah built the first recorded altar (Genesis 8:20) and worshipped God; this corresponds to the Christians' worshipping in a new way after their baptism. (8) Although delivered to a new world with all its privileges, Noah and his family were yet on probation, as certain of their sins quickly demonstrated; similarly, Christians, though redeemed through God's unspeakable gift, are nevertheless still in the days of their probation.


The church is often called the "ark of safety," and a number of analogies support such a comparison: (1) Both were built according to specifications provided by God himself. (2) God closed and opened the door of the ark; and God alone opens or closes the door of his church, there being only one in each case (Revelation 3:7). (3) Both clean and unclean were in the ark; and alas, both wheat and tares grow in the same field (Matthew 13:26). (4) Safety was in the ark alone; and so it is with the church. (5) The faithful within the ark were delivered from the ruin of the ancient world; the faithful within the church shall be delivered from the final destruction of the world. (6) The ark had one window, one source of light; the church has one source of spiritual illumination, the word of God only. (7) God providentially guided the ark to its destination; and, in the great antitype, the church is providentially guided in the same way, as promised by Christ who promised to be with his disciples "always, even unto the end of the world" (Matthew 28:18-20).

Verse 8

By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed to go out unto a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.

Lockyer noted that:

Abraham's place in the Bible portrait gallery is altogether unique and unapproachable. He stands out as a landmark in the spiritual history of the world. Chosen of God to become the father of a new spiritual race, the file leader of a mighty host, the revelation of God found in him one of its most important epochs.[16]

Alone, of all the worthies who ever lived, Abraham is called the father of the faithful and even "the friend of God" (Isaiah 41:8). Three great segments of humanity recognize Abraham as a sacred person, and three worldwide religions claim him as their common ancestor. The Muslim, the Jew, and the Christian alike think of themselves as the "seed of Abraham." The Muslim world traces its connection with Abraham through Hagar and Keturah; the Jewish race came through Isaac, and Abraham's wife Sarah; and the Christians are the seed of Abraham by faith in Christ who was Abraham's promised "seed," and through being baptized into him (Galatians 3:26-28).

By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed. Here again, as invariably in this chapter, it was not mere faith, but obedient faith, that commended its possessor to God and stands a stimulating example for people today.

He went out, not knowing whither he went. One hesitates to use the term "blind" faith; but there is a sense in which it applies. A factor often seen in the examples given here is the utter and unquestioning trust with which each received the word of God and acted upon it. Nothing in Noah's experience made the thing God said he would do appear likely, or even possible; but he believed it and prepared an ark. So it was with Abraham who promptly obeyed God's call without the slightest idea of where it would lead. It was thus with all the others mentioned in this great chapter. They invariably had the attitude expressed in the hymn.

Lead kindly light, amid th' encircling gloom; The night is dark, and I am far from home; Lead thou me on. Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see The distant scene - one step enough for me.[17]

[16] Herbert Lockyer, All the Men of the Bible (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1958), p. 28.

[17] "Lead Kindly Light," a popular hymn.

Verse 9

By faith he became a sojourner in the land of promise, as in a land not his own, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise.

Sojourner in the land of promise was the only status Abraham ever had in Canaan. Although God had indeed promised it to him, he never pretended to possess it. When beloved Sarah died, he insisted on weighing out 400 shekels of silver to Ephron the Hittite of the children of Heth for the purchase of the cave of Machpelah as a burial place, the only part of Canaan to which Abraham ever had an earthly deed or title (Genesis 23:16). It was squarely here, in his de-emphasis of the present world, that the glory of Abraham chiefly centered. God was his inheritance, his shield, his exceeding great reward; and, as related in the following verse, Abraham looked to the eternal city, the city that hath the foundations, in that upper and better kingdom for the realization of all his hopes. He treated the world as a mere bridge, something to pass over, but not a place to dwell. That remarkable attitude of God's friend reminds one of a certain "unwritten saying" of our Lord; and, without placing any confidence in such so-called unwritten sayings, we recall one related by David Smith which is so suggestive of the true teachings of Christ that it could well be authentic. It is given herewith as an illustration of Abraham's evaluation of the world.

In the year 1849, the Scottish missionary, Dr. Alexander Duff, in the course of a journey up the river Ganges, visited the town of Futeh-pur-Sikri, twenty-four miles west of Agra. It is a ruinous place, but it retains one imposing edifice, the Muslim mosque, which is one of the largest in the world. Its principal gateway is a magnificent structure, 120 feet in both height and breadth; and inside the gateway, on the right, as one enters, Dr. Duff observed an Arabic inscription in large characters. To his surprise and delight, it proved to be a (reputed) saying of our Lord, which, rendered into English runs thus: "Jesus on whom be peace, has said: `The World is merely a bridge: ye are to pass over it, and not build your dwellings upon it'."[18]

Certainly, Abraham, a tent-dweller, qualified as one who did not regard the earth as a permanent residence; and there is a genuine sense in which this earth is not the true home of the soul. The New Testament teaches that the Christian's citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20), that his treasure is above (Matthew 6:19), that his Lord is there (John 14:3), that his hope is in heaven (Hebrews 6:19), and that even his name is inscribed above (Luke 10:20). But do people live as though they received this truth? What is the world to the Christians of our day? Is it the pathway, or an end in itself?. As the years pass, are the world and its treasures being more and more diminished in our eyes, and is the Lord Jesus Christ growing ever more and more wonderful and desirable in our esteem? God grant that it might indeed be so for all whom Christ has saved and who have set out like Abraham of old to seek the city that hath foundations.

Verse 10

For he looked for the city that hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.

In Genesis 22:7, God promised Abraham that his seed should possess the gates of their enemies, meaning that their cities should be taken over by Israel; but this was only a metaphor of a still more important city that shall be possessed by the redeemed, the spiritual seed of Abraham; and this verse indicates that Abraham fully understood the spiritual reality of the Eternal City that cometh down from God out of heaven (Revelation 21:2), also called the heavenly Jerusalem. Regarding that city, Macknight noted that:

Believers, after the judgment, shall all be joined in one society or community with the angels. It is called a city which has firm foundations, because it is a community which is never to be dissolved.[19]


The city that comes down from God out of heaven, called the City Foursquare, is beautifully described in Revelation 21-22, a truly magnificent passage, brimming with metaphor, and richly embellished with brilliant symbols. It appears that the very science of language as a vehicle of communication breaks down under the weight of the joys and glories there described. The city is represented as walled, strong, impregnable, eternal, protected, and safe. Only happiness, serenity, and superlative joy are found therein. God's presence is the light of it; his throne is the center of it; his worship is the occupation of it; and his people are the citizens of it. There is no death, no pain, no tears, no mourning, no suffering, and no sorrow. The tree of life grows there on either side of the river of life that flows out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. The tree bears its fruit twelve seasons in the year; and its leaves are for the healing of the nations. Each of the twelve gates is a single pearl; its twelve foundations, inscribed with the names of the twelve apostles, are each a precious stone. Its streets are pure gold. The king and rulers of the earth bring their riches and glory into it; and its gates shall never close. Nothing impure or offensive shall ever enter it. "And there shall be night no more; and they need no light of lamp, neither light of sun; for the Lord God shall give them light; and they shall reign for ever and ever" (Revelation 22:5).

The gross literalization of this masterpiece would be a mistake; however, it should never be forgotten that the eternal dwelling place of the soul is real, genuine, and certain. It is not a mere poetic abstraction; but it is undergirded with eternal stability, for God is the maker of it. Yet, after all this is understood, it should be plain to all that any true comprehension of ALL THAT CITY IS must await man's final entry into it. Much of the descriptive language is related more to principles of spiritual reality than to material objects. For example, when each gate of the city is described as a single pearl, it is quickly apparent that a pearl, caused by an annoyance to an oyster, is the most beautiful illustration in all the natural world of changing a hardship or obstacle into a blessing. Further, the street of gold absolutely compels the student to seek a spiritual explanation, that is, a metaphorical explanation. Does the inspired writer intend to convey the thought that such things as the urban traffic problems of our earthly cities shall be resolved eternally by such a device as gold metal streets in the place of asphalt and concrete? Indeed, is it intended that we shall understand any traffic at all in such a place as heaven? Is it not rather far more likely that the inspired author wishes that we shall understand that the base yellow metal which people worship in this age, and for the possession of which every crime ever known is daily perpetrated - that in THAT CITY, wealth, even pure gold, shall at last have found its proper place, not as an idol god to be sought and worshipped at any cost of sin or shame, but as something UNDERFOOT, gold no longer supreme, but beneath everything? It has long been the conviction of this writer that the spiritual implications of Biblical descriptions of such things as the City Foursquare are indeed profound, and that what they symbolize is a million times more wonderful than any strictly literal meaning could ever be. The scriptures plainly say that "It is not yet made manifest what we shall be" (1 John 3:2), and there is far more than a hint that man's imagination itself is incapable of projecting any adequate concept of such a thing as heaven.

Things which eye saw not, and ear heard not, And which entered not into the heart of man, Whatosever things God prepared for them that love him (1 Corinthians 2:9).

Verse 11

By faith even Sarah herself received power to conceive seed when she was past age, seeing she counted him faithful who had promised.

When three angels appeared in human form to Abraham who received them and fed them, they promised that Sarah should bear a son; but Sarah who was listening laughed within herself, utterly rejecting the very possibility of such a thing at her age; but the angelic spokesman quickly made Abraham and Sarah realize his heavenly nature by revealing to both of them what Sarah had said within her heart. After being thus made aware of who promised them a son, Sarah, believed it; hence the truth of these words, "By faith even Sarah, etc."

Verse 12

Wherefore also there sprang of one, and him as good as dead, so many as the stars of heaven in multitude, and as the sand which is by the seashore, innumerable.

And him as good as dead indicates that not merely Sarah, but Abraham also, was past the time of life when any children might have been expected of him; and although God, true to his promise, gave them strength for the birth of Isaac, it was plainly through the intervention of the divine will. If that was the case, the question arises, how then could Abraham have later married Keturah and have fathered by her numerous sons (Genesis 25)? The explanation is that Moses, in giving a history of Keturah and her sons, did not do so chronologically; but, as the best historians do, he dealt with the primary line of Isaac first, though Isaac was the last of Abraham's sons. Keturah was probably one of the many concubines that Abraham owned.

Abraham was a wealthy oriental patriarch who already had "three hundred eighteen servants" born in his own house (Genesis 14:14), as early in his career as the rescue of Lot; and since those were not Sarah's children, they must have belonged to his concubines. Some commentators, notably Hallet, think Keturah was among the souls "they had gotten in Haran" (Genesis 12:5); and it has been suggested that Keturah was the mother of Eliezar (Genesis 15:2,3), the apparent heir of Abraham for many years, suggesting that Eliezar was the oldest of the sons of the concubines. The number of concubines, though not given, was certainly plural (Genesis 25:6). The events relative to Hagar do not contradict the above view. Sarah, earnestly desiring a child, did not desire one by any of Abraham's concubines, as they were viewed as Abraham's servants, not hers; it was thus something different when she proposed that Abraham beget a child by her maid, Hagar, which would thus give her a child she could emotionally identify with, as being hers. There is an element of speculation in this explanation; but surely it is preferable to the supposition that when God rejuvenated Abraham for the birth of Isaac, he revived his powers for such a long while afterward. If the latter had been the case, why did it not also occur in the case of Sarah and permit her to bear other children in addition to Isaac? In view of all this, it would seem that Hallet's view of the problem is correct; and to this also agrees the comment of Macknight.[20]

Stars of heaven in multitude ... innumerable represents that Abraham's posterity should be innumerable, a prophecy which, of course, has come to pass. The holy writer's making the sands of the seashore an example of HOW innumerable Abraham's seed should be is easily understood; but it is amazing that he should also have pressed "the stars of heaven" into the comparison, since, for ages, people had believed the stars to be numerable and, in fact, comprising only five or ten thousand, or some such number, in the ancient view. It must, then, have been by divine inspiration that the author of Hebrews understood the number of stars as unlimited at such a long time before the invention of the telescope disclosed such to be indeed the truth. Modern astronomy has indeed shown the number of stars to be beyond all human calculation, their numbers being reckoned in terms of billions of billions, with countless other billions lying beyond the range of the most powerful telescopes. This suggests another bit of astronomical information provided by Paul's statement that "one star differeth from another star in glory" (1 Corinthians 15:41), a revealed truth far in advance of the modern astronomy which has so astoundingly confirmed it.

Verse 13

These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.

These all, in this place, is not a reference to Abel, Enoch, and Noah, mentioned above, but to Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, and their children, this being a necessary inference from Hebrews 11:15, and from the fact that the first three mentioned did not receive the promise of entering Canaan, as did Abraham and his posterity.

These all died in faith should never be separated from the essential lesson that it is DYING in the faith that counts. "Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord" (Revelation 14:13) is another statement of the same principle. In the Master's wonderful parable of the laborers in the vineyard, the payoff came in the twilight, "when even was come"; and every laborer in the vineyard of Jesus should stay with the task until the evening of life has approached, the twilight has descended, and the night has come, that is, until death (Matthew 20:8).

Not having received the promises means "not receiving things promised." In other words, they did not receive physical possession of the land of Canaan, nor the eternal city of which Canaan was the type, the valid reason for this being clearly stated in Hebrews 11:39-40 at the end of this chapter.

Having seen them and greeted them from afar is said of the trust of those faithful ones in God's ultimate fulfillment of his promise to them; and it was their glory, and the basis of their being such good examples for us, that they accepted the abeyance in which their inheritance was held, freely confessing that it was in another world that they expected its rich fulfillment.

Having confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. These words refer to Abraham's dwelling in tents, considering himself as one passing through the world, and not as making a permanent dwelling in it. In view of the great wealth of the patriarchs, it still, after so many centuries, astonishes one to think they never built a house. They accepted and made themselves content in their status as sojourners, strangers in an alien country; and, in this verse, the word "pilgrims" is added for additional description. "Pilgrim" literally means "one who crosses the field," and it came into wide usage during the time of the crusades, when all across Europe, it was nothing unusual for settled citizens to see a lonely traveler crossing a clearing or a field on the way to the Holy Land. The word came to have a very rich connotation of one who, leaving all other considerations behind, pressed onward toward some sacred goal. The word is particularly fitting as applied to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Verse 14

For they that say such things make it manifest that they are seeking after a country of their own.

This verse shows that the status of being a pilgrim, or sojourner, is not something that was imputed to Abraham by his admirers of a later age, but that he said these things concerning himself, as in Genesis 23:4. It will also be remembered that when aged Jacob appeared before Pharaoh, he said, "The days of the years of my pilgrimage (sojournings) are a hundred and thirty years" (Genesis 47:9); and King David of Israel wrote, "Hear my prayer, O Lord, and give ear unto my cry; hold not thy peace at my tears: for I am a stranger with thee, and a sojourner, as all my fathers were" (Psalms 39:12). Needless to say, this is the only proper attitude of Christians, for Paul declared that "While we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord" (1 Corinthians 5:6 KJV); and Peter admonished Christians to "pass the time of your sojourning in fear" (1 Peter 1:17).

Verse 15

And if indeed they had been mindful of that country from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return.

The patriarchs were volunteers! The inspired writer flatly declared that they could have gone back home if they had so desired; and this reminds one of the challenge addressed by our Lord to the apostles when he bluntly asked them, "Would ye also go away?" (John 6:67). Every Christian needs to keep this fact in focus at all times, that no one has conscripted him to serve the Lord, and that if one prefers the world and what it may offer to the eternal things of God, he is surely free to take it, along with the consequences. The wonderful promises of God are sure and certain; they are more to be desired as one's possession than any or all of the earth's fleeting joys. And, as for the world and its treasures, the scriptures warn people over and over again of the ultimate incapacity of such material things to satisfy the seeking heart of man. It is ever true that "Man shall not live by bread alone" (Matthew 4:4). Among the most bitterly frustrated people on earth are those who sought the world alone; and if they found it, or they did not, the result was negative either way. Such persons remind one of the tourist who was warned that a bridge was out on the main highway, and he was directed to take a very unattractive detour. The road ahead was straight and clear, and he went right ahead, thinking to himself, "That must be an old sign; surely the bridge is not out NOW!" Thirteen miles farther on, he came to the missing bridge, turned around and headed back to the detour; and almost at once, after turning around and heading back, he came to a well-painted sign, "It Sure Was, Wasn't It?" In spiritual things, those who take the broad and easy road, instead of the way of the Cross, shall at last know that all that God said is true.

Verse 16

But now they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed of them, to be called their God; for he hath prepared for them a city.

The implicit trust of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in all that God had promised, along with their accounting themselves strangers and pilgrims, was well-pleasing to God; and God was not ashamed of them (although, judged in regard to some of their sinful actions, God might well have had ample reason to be ashamed of some of them), even consenting to be known historically as "the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob" (Exodus 3:6).

For he hath prepared for them a city is in the prophetic tense; that is, a future thing that God will do is spoken of as already done. Another example is "I loved him and called my son out of Egypt" (Hosea 11:1). Speaking of the same city mentioned here, long centuries afterward, Jesus said, "I go to prepare a place for you" (John 14:2). That the city of the redeemed, mentioned by Jesus, and the one mentioned here as the inheritance of the patriarchs, are only one city, and not two, is evident from Luke 13:28ff.

God's not being ashamed of his servants is, of course, contingent upon their not being ashamed of God, nor of Christ, nor of the gospel, nor of the church, nor of anything the Lord has taught in the scripture. See Romans 1:16; 2 Timothy 1:8; and Mark 8:38.

Verse 17

By faith Abraham, being tried, offered up Isaac: yea, he that had gladly received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; even he of whom it was said, In Isaac shall thy seed be called: accounting that God is able to raise up, even from the dead; from whence he did also in a figure receive him back.

Without question, these verses refer to the most astounding demonstration of true faith in God to be found in the entire history of faith. Abraham's faith had already been cited by the author of Hebrews, but in these verses is an even more overwhelming example of it. Students of God's word in all ages have marveled at it; and, in the words of Albert Barnes, "It is the strongest illustration of faith, undoubtedly, which has ever been evinced in our world."[21]

Abraham, being tried is a reference to the remarkable test of his faith recorded in Genesis 22:1ff. It is said there that God did "tempt" Abraham, but the word "tried" is the true meaning. Although the word here rendered "tried" is translated "tempted" no less than 57 times in the New Testament, such a translation here would be erroneous; because as Barnes noted:

It does not mean here, as it often does, to place inducements before one to lead him to do wrong, but to subject his faith to a trial in order to test its genuineness.[22]

That God never tempts any man in the sense of an inducement to evil is certain: "For God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempteth no man" (James 1:13). The factors in this supreme test of faith included an APPARENT CONTRADICTION in the word of God himself who had promised Abraham that all of the wonderful promises of the covenant were to be realized through the posterity of Isaac, called here his "only begotten son" (which he was, as far as children by his legitimate wife were concerned); but who then was commanded to be offered up as a sacrifice to God. Any man of ordinary faith would have concluded that the two aspects of God's word were irreconcilable and would have rejected the command to offer up Isaac, such a command being contrary to every instinct of Abraham's heart and which seemed, on its face, to nullify the promise of an innumerable posterity through Isaac. The manner in which Abraham reconciled God's apparently contradictory messages constitutes the glory of his faith. See articles below on "Apparent Contradictions" and "Concerning Human Sacrifice."

Offered up Isaac. Isaac's faith is singled out for more particular attention in Hebrews 11:20; and yet there are a number of considerations which force it upon our attention here as a vital part of the trial of Abraham. When God commanded Abraham to offer up Isaac, he was a man of some 130 years of age, and Isaac was in the prime of life. Josephus declares him to have been 25,[23] and others have fixed his age at 36;[24] but the conclusion of Adam Clarke that he was 33[25] is in all probability correct, it being implicit in Isaac's status as a type of Christ that he should have been, when offered, of about the same age as our Lord when he was crucified. The common Sunday school card presentation of Isaac as a beautiful little boy when Abraham offered him is ridiculous. Being in the prime and vigor of life, the heir apparent of all that Abraham had, and possessing without doubt the loyalty of every servant Abraham owned, Isaac would most certainly have had the power to frustrate Abraham's purpose if he had chosen to do it. His consent was therefore just as vital a part of that great demonstration of faith as was Abraham's willingness to obey.


The typical importance of Isaac is seen in the following: (1) He was supernaturally the son of Abraham; Christ's birth also was supernatural. (2) He was the "only begotten" of his father (in the sense noted above), and Christ was the only begotten Son of God (John 3:18). (3) Both Isaac and Jesus consented to be sacrificed. (4) Both of them bore the wood, Isaac the firewood, Jesus the cross. (5) Both were sacrificed by their fathers, Isaac by Abraham, and Jesus by the heavenly Father. (6) The sacrifice of each of them occurred upon the very same location, one of the mountains of Moriah.[26] (7) Both were in the prime vigor of life when offered, and very likely of the same age. (8) Isaac (in a figure) was dead three days and nights, this being the time lapse between God's command that he be offered and their arrival at Moriah, during which time, to all intents and purposes, Isaac was already dead; Christ also was dead and buried three days and nights. (9) Isaac was a model of love and affection for his wife, symbolizing the great love of Christ for the church. (The student desiring to pursue this thought further will find an astonishing number of typical things in Rebekah as a pre-figuration of the church. Isaac courted her through a messenger as Christ woos people through a messenger; for Rebekah there was a water test, as there is for the church in baptism; Rebekah wore a veil as she went to meet Isaac, as the church, too, sees through a veil darkly; Rebekah's endowment with many gifts benefited her whole house who likewise received gifts, just as the world receives many prime benefits through God's blessing on his church; and in a number of other instances, the analogies are too strong to be overlooked.) See Genesis 24.

God is able to raise up, even from the dead. Here is the secret that explains Abraham's willingness to offer up Isaac. The knowledge of this in his heart enabled Abraham to reconcile what otherwise was a contradiction. God had promised through Isaac an innumerable posterity; and yet at a time when Isaac had no child, or even a wife, God commanded him to be sacrificed. Is such a contradiction? Not to Abraham, who only concluded that God intended to raise him from the dead! Two things of great importance come to light here, and both shall be noticed more fully; these are the problems of apparent contradictions and the doctrine of the resurrection.


Abraham had no doubt whatever that the One who had given the great promises to be fulfilled through Isaac was at the time of his trial requiring him to offer Isaac as a sacrifice. Since God's promise required the survival of Isaac in order to its fulfillment, and since Isaac was then to die, how could God's promise be true? Many writers have dwelt impressively upon the turmoil in Abraham's heart over such a dilemma; but the astonishing fact is that there seemed to be no such turmoil in Abraham. It simply was not there! As Bruce noted:

The impression that we get from the Biblical narrative is that Abraham treated it as God's problem; it was for God, not for Abraham, to reconcile his promise and his command. So when the command was given, Abraham promptly set about obeying it; his own duty was clear, and God could safely be trusted to discharge his responsibility in the matter.[27]

It was, to be sure, Abraham's faith in God's power of resurrection that enabled him to reconcile the promise and the command, this being evident from Genesis 22:5, where Abraham is said to have promised his servants that both he and Isaac would return, AFTER they worshipped God. (Note: the Hebrew in that verse should be rendered, "We will come again.") Below is a discussion of the resurrection; but of concern at the moment is the problem of seeming contradictions in God's word.

The requirements imposed by so tremendous a task as identifying the God-man, the Messiah, Christ, when he should come into the world, plainly demanded that seemingly contradictory things should be foretold concerning him. Thus, on the one hand, he was hailed as Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, Lily of the Valley, Fairest of Ten Thousand, the Bright and Morning Star, and the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, etc.; while, at the same time, the Scriptures described him as despised and rejected by men, a root out of dry ground, with no beauty or comeliness that people should desire him, and as being chastised, pierced, encompassed by the wicked, and crucified. Certainly, such apparent contradictory prophecies were an enigma to the Pharisees; and it was evidently in reference to this that Jesus raised his famous question of how David's son could be David's Lord (Matthew 25:45,46). Significantly, had the Pharisees been true sons of Abraham, they would, like Abraham, have believed all that God said, even the seemingly contradictory things; and the very fact that the ancestor of all the Jews had given so astounding an example of doing that very thing makes the Pharisees all the more culpable in their guilt. No less than the ancient Pharisees, people today need Abrahamic faith with reference to all God has spoken, even regarding the things which appear contradictory.

Another example of this same problem, but with opposite results, is the case of Ahab, who was warned by the prophet of God that in the very place where the dogs had licked the blood of Naboth, they would lick his blood, even Ahab's (1 Kings 21:19). Later, another one of God's prophets told Ahab that if he went up to Ramoth-gilead, he would not return at all! Ahab surely must have considered these prophecies contradictory. He might easily have reasoned, "How is it that I shall shed my blood where Naboth died, if I am going to get killed at Ramoth-gilead?" At any rate, he embarked on the venture at Ramoth-gilead, where, of course, he was slain. And what about the dogs licking his blood in Samaria, where Naboth died? The king bled to death, the blood running down in the chariot; and they took him, chariot and all, down to Naboth's home in Samaria, where they buried him;

And one washed the chariot in the pool of Samaria (now the harlots washed themselves there); and the dogs licked up his blood; and they washed his armour; according to the word of the Lord which he spake (1 Kings 21:19; 1 Kings 22:37,38).

Let it be taken forever into account that God's word is never, in a true sense, contradictory, although instances of its seeming so are plentiful. In the matter of God's promise and command to Abraham, the contradiction was only an apparent one. The greatness of Abraham's faith is that regardless of how they seemed, he believed both; and the basis of Abraham's being able to do this was another thing God had revealed to him, the doctrine of the resurrection. Lenski said:

Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac has been used to illustrate the supposed fact that our faith must believe things that are contradictory to the word of God; for, does not God say two things to Abraham that are absolutely contradictory? This is shown to be an imperfect deduction, one that is made by faulty reasoning on our part. Abraham HARMONIZED the apparent contradiction and thus removed the contradiction; he did not do this by means of his own reason or on the basis of human ideas but by means of the doctrine of the resurrection and the infinite power of God. When we are told, then, not to combine one doctrine with another, not to let the light of one doctrine fall on another in aid of faith, but to accept each separately, the example of Abraham directly upsets such derogatory ideas about the teachings of God's word, NONE OF WHICH ARE CONTRADICTORY.[28]


Abraham believed that "God is able to raise up from the dead." The insinuation of some, therefore, that the doctrine of the resurrection arose long afterward among the Jews, probably introduced to them from Persia, is false. Faith in the resurrection antedates even the time of Job and his faith in it (Job 19:25-27), for Abraham was before Job, as also is Genesis. The certainty that Abraham did believe in the resurrection derives from the plain import of these words, and also from the deduction that unless he had so believed, it would have been impossible for him to have acted as he did in the offering of Isaac. Moreover, the whole concept of looking "for the city that hath the foundations," and counting himself a sojourner and pilgrim in the earth (Genesis 23:4), is absolutely incompatible with any lack of true faith in the resurrection of the dead.

True, it is properly said that our Lord brought "life and immortality to light through the gospel" (2 Timothy 1:10); but nevertheless, the Old Testament is not without its sure and certain witness of the resurrection. "For thou wilt not leave my soul in Sheol (that is, `the grave'); neither wilt thou suffer thy Holy One to see corruption" (Psalms 16:10). This is nothing if not a prophecy of resurrection. Also, Daniel said, "Many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to everlasting shame and contempt" (Daniel 12:2).

Our Lord, to be sure, went far beyond all of the marvelous intimations of immortality, resurrection, and eternal life found in the Old Testament, and flatly declared that all the dead, good and bad, small and great, shall be raised from the graves to confront God in the judgment. The entire teaching of Christ is oriented to the doctrine of the resurrection. The author of Hebrews makes it one of the fundamentals of the faith (Hebrews 6:1ff); also see John 5:24-29; Matthew 25; and especially three instances in which Christ actually raised the dead. These were the raising of Jairus' daughter (Mark 5:35ff), the raising of the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:11ff), and the resurrection of Lazarus after he was dead four days (John 11:11ff). The entire fabric of the New Testament is woven upon the sturdy warp of the doctrine of the resurrection. See more on this under "Six Fundamentals" in Hebrews 6.


The moral problem imposed by the fact of God's commanding Abraham to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice is easily resolved in the light of a number of considerations. God never approved human sacrifice and summarily intervened and forbade Abraham to carry forward the execution of even God's order requiring it. Even the contemplation of so terrible a thing, and the near accomplishment of it, as enacted by Abraham under God's directive, we may be certain, was founded in the very greatest necessity on God's part to instruct more adequately the human family in regard to redemption, especially the means and cost of it. As Adam Clarke expressed it,

Abraham earnestly desired to be let into the mystery of redemption; and God, to instruct him in the infinite extent of divine goodness to mankind, who spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, let Abraham feel by experience what it was to lose a beloved son, the son born miraculously when Sarah was past child-bearing, as Jesus was miraculously born of a virgin.[29]

Surely, it must have been in that very experience that Abraham received a vision of the day of Christ, as John wrote: "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day; and he saw it and was glad" (John 8:56). God provided in Isaac a type of our Lord, as noted in the article above; and it was inherently required in such a thing that the type resemble as nearly as possible him who was the great Antitype, hence the necessity of Isaac's being offered. Macknight wrote in this connection, "The sacrifice of Isaac was commanded also for the purpose of being a type of Christ."[30]

Further, it was imperative that the family of mankind should understand with what propriety God had chosen Abraham to be the father of the faithful, in whom all subsequent generations of the saved should be reckoned as Abraham's seed; but, as almost everywhere throughout the ancient pagan world, human sacrifice was extensively practiced, with great kings sacrificing even their own sons (as Manasseh did), and since that abominable pagan practice was so influential in the ancient order (Jeremiah 32:25), and because in such sacrifices, as awful as they were, there was a germ of the sublime truth regarding the cost of salvation - for all these reasons, it was a matter of eternal consequence that the faith of Abraham be demonstrated as SUPERIOR to the faith of pagans IN EVERY PARTICULAR. Barmby wrote that the offering of human sacrifice was

due, we may say, to the perversion of a true instinct of humanity - that which suggests the need of some great atonement, and the claim of the Giver of all to our best and dearest, if demanded from us.[31]

Indeed, in another sense, human sacrifice is yet required of them that would truly serve God, not killing of victims, of course, but the relegation of every loved one to a secondary place in believing hearts, the first place being reserved to Christ alone. Did not Jesus say, "If any man cometh unto me, and hateth not his own father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:26)?

As for the slander that God, in any sense, approved of human sacrifice, Jeremiah's words, alluded to above, are ample refutation. "And they built the high places of Baal which are in the valley of the sons of Hinnon, to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire unto Molech; which I commanded them not, neither came it into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin" (Jeremiah 32:35), these being, of course, the words of God himself.

Whence he did also in a figure receive him back ... is a reference to Abraham's faith in God's power to raise the dead; but some have erroneously thought this to be a reference to Isaac's supernatural birth and not to his being slain in the purpose of Abraham; but, as Boatman said it, "Some think this refers to Isaac's supernatural birth, but this is poor exegesis. Abraham received him back from the altar as one raised from the dead."[32] Lenski also observed the same thing, saying

It is stated that this is a reference to Hebrews 11:12, the miraculous birth of Isaac from parents who were as good as dead; but few will think such a thing in a connection that deals with something that is so entirely different.[33]

[21] Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1963), Vol. Hebrews, p. 272.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Josephus, Life and Works of, translated by William Whiston (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston), p. 49.

[24] Adam Clarke, op. cit., Vol. 1, p. 138.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid., p. 139.

[27] F. F. Bruce, op. cit., p. 311.

[28] R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of the Epistle to the Hebrews and the Epistle of James (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Augsburg Publishing House, 1938), p. 402.

[29] Adam Clarke, op. cit., p. 136.

[30] James Macknight, op. cit., p. 563.

[31] J. Barmby, op. cit., p. 302.

[32] Don Earl Boatman, op. cit., p. 364.

[33] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 403.

Verse 20

By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau, even concerning things to come.

See under preceding verses for discussion of Isaac's faith and his typifying the Christ. Before us is another example of remarkable faith on Isaac's part, in that contrary to his own personal feelings, for he certainly preferred Esau, he gave the blessing to Jacob; and, even after learning that it had been by means of a shameful deception that he had been tricked into so doing, he confirmed the destiny regarding both his sons, thus revealing the uttermost faith in the inspired words of blessing which he had spoken concerning them. In the article above under "Isaac a Type of Christ," it was noted in such an analogy that Rebekah corresponds to the church. In such a comparison, there being a conflict in her very womb between Jacob and Esau, and her crying out, "Why am I thus?" (Genesis 25:22), must stand as a type and prophecy of both bad and good in the visible body of the church, tares and wheat in the same field, and good fishes and bad fishes in the same net that represents the kingdom of God.

Verse 21

By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph; and worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff.

Jacob's blessing the two sons of Joseph to the effect that they should become two tribes, with Ephraim being more powerful and greater than the tribe of Manasseh, is the incident here referred to; and, as in the case of Jacob's fathers, this blessing which he gave by faith concerned "things to come," or things not seen as yet.

And worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff ... This incident is not in chronological sequence, the author of Hebrews making a prior event the last mentioned, this being done possibly for the sake of emphasis on the patriarchal blessing as conferred by Isaac, just mentioned, and then in the case of Jacob here. The event connected with Jacob's worshipping while leaning on the top of his staff (Genesis 47:29-31) was a great demonstration of Jacob's faith; because it was there that he made Joseph swear that Jacob's body should not be buried in Egypt but in the cave of Machpelah. The circumstance that highlighted this act of faith was that Jacob was apparently settled in Egypt; but, despite this, Jacob knew by faith that the true dwelling place of Israel was Canaan and that in time God would bring them into it. Thus, "the things not seen as yet" continued to be the chief motivation of the patriarchs of Israel, a phenomenon frequently noted in this chapter.

And Israel bowed himself upon the bed's head ... This is the language of the KJV (Genesis 47:31); and students of the New Testament have long been perplexed by the rendition of this verse, but the explanation is simple. "The Hebrew words for `staff' and `bed' differ only in punctuation."[34] The word of inspiration did not give the punctuation, that being added by uninspired men. Thus, it is permissible to choose the meaning most obviously required by the context; and, because there was no mention of Jacob's being or being in bed, until the following chapter; and added to that, the choice of meaning by the author of Hebrews, it becomes obvious that the proper rendition is "leaning upon the top of his staff." Milligan noted that:

Now as these points (punctuation) were added by uninspired men, there is really no ground whatever for the allegation that there is a discrepancy between the readings of the original Hebrew and Greek ... for on no condition can we concede, as some have done, that the apostle here has followed an incorrect version of the original. He never does this; but always expresses the thoughts of the Holy Spirit in words which the Holy Spirit teacheth.[35]

One other thing demands notice with reference to this problem text, and that is the rendition of it in the Rheims version, "By faith, Jacob dying, blessed every one of the sons of Joseph, and adored the top of his rod"! Thus they would make the text support image worship. Such is nothing but a bastard translation, called by Adam Clarke, "too contemptible for refutation!"[36] The reasons why no such translation can be legitimate are set forth by Clarke as follows:

Here (in the Rheims version) the preposition "upon" is wholly suppressed to make it favor the corrupt reading of the Vulgate. This preposition (making the Rheims version impossible to support) is found in the Hebrew text, in the Greek version of the Seventy (The Septuagint), the printed Greek text of the New Testament, and in every manuscript of this text yet discovered. It is also found in the Syriac, Ethiopic, Arabic, Coptic: in which languages the connection necessarily shows that it is not an idle particle: and by no mode of construction can the text be brought to support image worship, any more than it can to support transubstantiation.[37]

Therefore, it is certain that Jacob did not worship the top of his staff, but was LEANING upon it!

[34] Thomas Whitelaw, The Pulpit Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1962), Vol. 21, Hebrews, p. 515.

[35] R. Milligan, op. cit., p. 317.

[36] Adam Clarke, op. cit., Vol. 6, p. 766.

[37] Ibid.

Verse 22

By faith Joseph, when his end was nigh, made mention of the departure of the children of Israel; and gave commandment concerning his bones.

This was in the same spirit of faith exhibited by Jacob when he gave a similar commandment concerning his remains, requiring that he be buried in Canaan, not in Egypt; Joseph's bones were brought along. "And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him; for he had straitly sworn the children of Israel saying, God will surely visit you; and ye shall carry up my bones away hence with you" (Exodus 13:19).

Verse 23

By faith Moses, when he was born, was hid three months by his parents, because they saw he was a goodly child; and they were not afraid of the king's commandment.

The events in view here are recorded in Exodus in the first two chapters, where it is told that another king having arisen, "who knew not Joseph," and the Egyptians deciding for policy's sake to reduce the number of their slaves, the king decreed that all male children should be destroyed. Amram and Jochebed, the parents of Moses, disobeyed the king's order, prompted by the unusually beautiful appearance of their son Moses, and the further fact that they did not fear the Pharaoh. The king's decree had only one practical effect; it bounced Moses out of the Nile river, where his parents had at last placed him, into the lap of the princess who adopted him as her own son. This provided Moses all of the education, training and experience which would be so necessary in his great mission of deliverance for the Hebrews. The author of Hebrews enrolled the parents of Moses among the immortals of faith. David in the Psalms, said, "When my father and mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up"; and such a word might well have been written with the story of Moses in mind. Certainly, this is what happened to Moses.

Verse 24

By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter.

Like parents, like son! It is now shown that the faith of Amram and Jochebed was contained and carried forward in the life of Moses. Significantly, the first great act of Moses' faith came in the form of an astounding refusal.


There are four royal persons in the Bible each of whom made a notable refusal, these being Moses, David, Daniel, and Jesus. Moses refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter; David refused Saul's armor (1 Samuel 17:39); Daniel refused the king's meat (Daniel 1:8) and Jesus refused the popular efforts to make him an earthly king (John 6:15).

Are these the four great refusals in history? Due to the conditions surrounding each of these great crisis decisions, and to the epic results that flowed out of each one of them, they must be hailed as decisive victories of the human soul over temptation, making them stand forever as inspirational examples of the Christian who, in the probation of life, often finds the dreadful difficulty of saying, "No"! Each of the four refusals noted here was made by a young man in the vigor of life, and each involved a rejection of royalty. Moses rejected the royal adoption, David the royal armor, Daniel the royal table and Jesus the royal crown.

From the human viewpoint, how unthinkable is what Moses did! He must indeed have loved the gentle daughter of Pharaoh who had rescued him as an infant from the terrible death by drowning in the great river and then had brought him up as her own child; and it must have cut squarely across every instinct he had to reject her, to refuse her loving affection, and to accept the scorn and hatred of them who had clothed and fed and educated him, to say nothing of the sacrifice of all the wealth, honor, power, and glory that would have come to him, and which accompanied his status as the heir presumptive to the throne of Egypt. His decision, therefore, is impossible to understand, except on the basis of what is said here, that it was "by faith" that he did so. This means that God communicated to Moses the desire and command that Moses should make the great refusal. It is an act of nearly incredible faith that he did it.

Profound lessons come from a study of these refusals. Christians too must forbear the world's adoption and must not be fashioned according to the world (Romans 12:2); they must not understand the world as other than evil (1 John 5:19), nor allow themselves to be spotted by it (James 1:27), nor be enamored with its wisdom (1 Corinthians 3:19), nor love it (1 John 2:15), nor become a friend of it (James 4:4), for the world is crucified unto Christians (Galatians 6:14). The world's adoption must be rejected by them that would receive the "adoption of sons" through Jesus Christ (Galatians 4:6; Ephesians 1:5).

Like David, Christians should reject the armor of this world, preferring "the whole armor of God" (Ephesians 6:14); like Daniel, they should reject the world's dainty fare, and like Jesus, any crown the world might offer, preferring the "incorruptible" crown (1 Corinthians 9:25), the "crown of righteousness" (2 Timothy 4:8), the crown "of glory" (1 Peter 5:4), and the "crown of life" (Revelation 2:10).

Verse 25

Choosing rather to share treatment with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.

With the people of God ... Ah, there is another secret of Moses' choice. God was not with the idolatrous Egyptians; and, although Moses might indeed have indulged himself with all the luxury, vice, and tinsel glory of such an association, he believed the promises of God with reference to the covenant with Abraham and that promised "seed" in whom all nations would be blessed. When the moment came, he made the right decision, viewing the pleasures of sin in their true character as ephemeral, and at last unsatisfying. The greatness of such a decision "by faith" is implicit in the fact that even today so few find the power really to make it. Too many are unaware that the triumph of the wicked is short (Job 20:5), and that the righteous shall be held in everlasting remembrance (Psalms 112:6).

Verse 26

Accounting the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt: for he looked unto the recompense of reward.

The reproach of Christ is variously understood by commentators, some believing that: (1) it is the same kind of reproach that Christ suffered; (2) it is the reproach suffered for one's faith in Christ; (3) it is the reproach that fell on Moses as the type of Christ; or (4) it is the reproach that Christ had to bear in his own person and also in the person of every believer in Christ. To this writer, it seems that all of these things are in the reproach of Christ mentioned here. Both the ancients who believed God's promise, acting accordingly, and anticipating the coming of the Holy One; and also the present believers who likewise accept the promise of the Holy One, as already manifested in the flesh in the person of Christ - both and all of these, ancient and modern, or whenever, when they suffer as invariably happens when righteousness encounters the inherent antagonism of evil, all such indeed do suffer the reproach of Christ.

For he looked unto the recompense of reward. This is a clear reference to the eternal reward of faith, everlasting life; and, as this chapter develops, it is more and more apparent that it was the SUPERNATURAL which Abraham and his posterity so devoutly believed in and which motivated them in all their astounding deeds of faith. See more on this below. Surely, not in a million years could Moses have supposed that his reward as a volunteer deliverer of a nation of slaves could ever have approached the kind of temporal rewards that he already enjoyed in Egypt, especially since Moses, like Christ, was rejected by his brethren, was the butt of their continual objecting and complaining, and was often vexed by their obstinate and unappreciative behavior. It was Moses' respect to the heavenly reward that sustained and motivated his magnanimous life of unselfish love and service of the Hebrew nation. That alone could have strengthened him to endure all the trials experienced in his deliverance of them from bondage.

Verse 27

By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured as seeing him who is invisible.

Here is another instance of the recurring theme of this chapter, "the invisible." Even the creation was made of things "invisible" (Hebrews 11:3); Noah was warned of "things not seen as yet" (Hebrews 11:7); Abraham's inheritance was invisible at the time he went out (Hebrews 11:8); the eternal city is invisible (Hebrews 11:10). So it was also for the blessings of Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, as conveyed in succession to their sons, and always with regard to things invisible; and here it is recorded that Moses' epic adventures of faith were achieved by means of a strong buttressing faith in the invisible God. Thus, this sublime roll-call of faith is presented for the primary purpose of showing the means of their triumph, faith in the invisible, which is but another way of saying faith in the supernatural. The appropriate nature of this discussion is seen in the fact that the Christian too is confronted with exactly the same challenge. Even Christ is invisible (1 Timothy 6:16; 1:17; Colossians 1:15; Romans 1:20).

The result of Moses' faith in the invisible God was that the king of Egypt no longer inspired him with fear, thus proving that the more people fear God the less they fear any man, however powerful.

Verse 28

By faith he kept the passover, and the sprinkling of blood, that the destroyer of the firstborn should not touch them.


The ruler of Egypt had repeatedly resisted the will of God concerning the freedom of Israel; and finally God, as a terminal wonder, decided to slay the firstborn of man and beast. As the tragic night drew near when God would do so terrible a thing, the Lord devised a plan by which the Israelites were spared in this awful visitation through their observance of the passover. On the tenth day of the month Nisan, three days before the catastrophe, each family selected a perfect lamb or kid from the flock and kept it up until the fourteenth day of the month when it was slain between the two evenings, that is, about 3:00 o'clock in the afternoon. Shortly after sunset, each family of Israel gathered indoors, sprinkled the blood of the lamb upon the posts of the door, and ate the Passover lamb, each man being fully clothed with shoes, and staff in hand. The lamb was roasted perfectly whole with fire, not a bone of it being broken. No one went outdoors until morning.

That the Passover recorded in the Bible is a truly historical event is attested by its invariable observance for nearly three millenniums by the Jews, this being one of the most impressive memorial services in all the history of the world. It is thus certain that there was a great deliverance from a great catastrophe and that the deliverance of Israel was a divine act of God himself. There cannot possibly be any other adequate explanation of such a thing as the Jewish Passover. It is equally certain that the extraordinary, even unique, conditions surrounding the destructive wonder and the miraculous deliverance of the Jews, were consciously designed by God himself to point the minds of people to the true Passover, Christ.

The great significance of the Passover for Christians is that Christ is our passover (1 Corinthians 5:7,8), there being a number of typical circumstances linking the passover lamb slain by the Israelites on that dark night of the Exodus with that "Lamb slain from the foundation of the world," even the Lord Jesus Christ. Note the following: (1) the perfection of the lamb (1 Peter 1:19); (2) that no bone was broken (Psalms 34:20); (3) that it was slain at 3:00 p.m., the hour Christ died; (4) that it was eaten with unleavened bread (1 Corinthians 5:7,8); and (5) that there was no safety for them not under the protection of the blood. Thus the Passover was an extension and refinement of a type already in existence, even from the gates of Paradise, in the use of the lamb as a sin offering. John the Baptist hailed Jesus as "the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29); and the KJV rendition of Revelation 13:8 has "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world."

In the matter of the Passover, Moses' faith in the invisible is again in evidence. No one saw the death angel that night of the Passover; and no one could possibly see, then or now, how the killing of a lamb and the sprinkling of its blood could have made any difference. There was no physical evidence of impending disaster, no precedent to lead people to expect it, and no possible way of explaining just how such a thing could come to pass; but by faith Moses knew in advance what others could know only when the cry of agony arose at midnight when the firstborn of man and beast throughout the land of Egypt expired, as God said they would.

Verse 29

By faith they passed through the Red sea as by dry land: which the Egyptians assaying to do were swallowed up.

Though the faith of Moses appears in this, it is also the faith of the people that enabled them to go into the sea at God's command and trust in a deliverance, which from the human point of view was impossible. There are several things of great interest here: (1) The same sea which delivered Israel swallowed the Egyptians. (2) All Israel were baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea (1 Corinthians 10:2). (3) The agency by which God wrought that wonder is revealed as a "strong east wind" (Exodus 14:21). The Red sea deliverance stands as a type of Christian baptism, marking the boundary between the Egypt of sin and the wilderness of probation, realized in the church. The great victory of God's people in that experience is memorialized in the "Song of the sea" (Exodus 15:1ff) and commemorated in Isaiah 51:9-11, in terms of God's primeval triumph over the forces of evil. The author of Hebrews treats the Red sea deliverance as an actual historical event with utterly no hint of there being anything mythical or legendary about it.

Verse 30

By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, after they hade been compassed about for seven days.

Again it was the faith of Israel in the supernatural and invisible that sustained them and produced the victory. Just think of the frustrations of marching around a walled city, the soldiery and priests both in the procession, and the priests carrying the ark of the Lord and blowing on all those ram's horn trumpets! But Jericho fell, just as God promised (Joshua 6). But note that no Israelite could have "seen" how it would fall, or even could fall; and for that matter, after all those intervening centuries, there is no clear view yet as to what, exactly, happened; but FALL the city did and became the first possession of the new Commonwealth of Israel. In this example too there is the factor of all the people participating in the victory; for, if they had not had faith, they would not have followed the Lord's instructions.

Verse 31

By faith Rahab the harlot perished not with them that were disobedient, having received the spies with peace.

The moral reason for God's destruction of Jericho and the dispossession of the kingdoms of Canaan and their being supplanted by Israel is apparent in this verse. It was not from any perfection in Israel, nor as a capricious favor to them apart from a benevolent purpose for all mankind; but it was because of the moral corruption, decadence, and sin out of control in those cities described here as "disobedient."


This is an appropriate place to study a phenomenon in divine revelation which gives a great deal of concern to some Bible students, and which, if improperly understood, leads to very unwholesome thoughts regarding the all-wise and benevolent Creator of mankind. In the verse before us, it is categorically revealed that the citizens of Jericho were consigned to death, the reason of their sentence appearing simply as their "disobedience." That disobedience on their part must not be understood as merely an occasional lapse, or some intermittent outbreak of lustful wickedness, common to all people, Israel also, in that sense, being disobedient; but it was a state of reprobacy in which they had fallen through long practice of shame and debauchery, a terminal condition of utter rebellion against God, which had resulted in the depravity of the people, making them, in effect, a cancer upon the body of humanity, and requiring, as a means of preserving the race itself, that those reprobate and depraved people be not partially, but absolutely, cut off.

In the analogy of a cancer, people readily accept this principle for a human body, even their own; and it is not intelligent to deny the justice of God's acting upon the same principle where the total body of the human race is concerned. Near Moffatt Tunnel through the continental divide in Colorado, where the great switchbacks once carried the transcontinental trains over the vast mountains, one may still see those impressive tracks with a DERAIL device at the apex of every turn. That derail device was to enable the operator to destroy any train that got out of control on the deadly slopes of the great mountain; because, once out of control, a train was doomed anyway, and its destruction was the only hope of saving the entire system and the village below. At various times in human history, cities or nations have become terminal in their sins, and God has thrown the derail switch for them in order to preserve man himself as a race upon the earth. The cities of Canaan, dispossessed by the Jews, are an example of this. Other examples are the generation that perished in the flood, the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, and Tyre, Babylon, and Nineveh, to name only a few. In all of such examples there was the same pattern of excessive sin, reprobacy, judgment, and destruction; nor was Israel itself exempt from the same righteous judgment. Matthew 22:6,7 reveals that the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. was a judgment of God upon that people for their rejection of Christ. (See further discussion of this in Commentary on Matthew.)[38]

It is the fashion of some to write off the historical judgments of God upon depraved peoples as pertaining to a less enlightened age, and to assume that no such judgment is possible for our present "enlightened" (!) generation of godless rebels against God; but the hand of God may be suspected as having a part in the destruction of Germany within our own day; and the record of God's past dealings with nations gives the strongest assurance that he will at last punish those societies that reject his holy sovereignty.


As a citizen of a doomed city, Rahab rose to unprecedented heights of faith, believing in the God of Israel, and furnishing the most amazing demonstration of it, as recorded in Joshua 2 and Joshua 6. Her faith is the first mentioned after the author of Hebrews skipped the entire period of the wilderness wanderings, finding for that entire forty years no special example of Israel's faith to be cited. That this Gentile harlot was included with the immortals of faith may be viewed as an earnest of God's loving concern for the Gentiles as well as for the Jews, and of his ultimate purpose of redeeming all human beings.

Bruce said:

There can be little doubt that she is the Rahab who appears in Matthew 1:5, as the wife of Salmon, prince of Judah, the mother of Boaz, the ancestress of King David, and therefore also of our Lord ... Clement of Rome recounts the story of Rahab to illustrate the virtues of faith and hospitality, and makes her a prophetess to boot, since the scarlet rope by which she let the spies down from her window on the city wall, and by which her house was identified at the capture of the city, foreshadowed that "through the blood of the Lord all who trust and hope in God shall have redemption."[39]

Spurgeon said of this eleventh chapter that it "recites the victories of faith";[40] and then he goes ahead to enumerate Enoch's victory over death, Abraham's over natural affection, Sarah's over infirmity, Moses' over wealth and glory, etc. It would seem that the faith of Rahab overcame practically everything. It was truly a triumph: (1) over sin, her occupation being one that would not predispose her to righteousness; (2) over patriotism, her own city and race being rejected as a consequence of her decision; (3) over fear of death, a death she must have viewed as inevitable, no matter what happened, from her own people, perhaps, if her act became known, and from the wreckage of the city if the walls fell, her house being located on the wall, and from the possibility that Israel would not honor the commitment they had made to her (Could she really count on the Israelites not to kill her, no matter what they promised?); (4) over unpopularity, the cause of Israel being anathema to all the people of Jericho; (5) over meager information, because no prophet had appeared to teach her the truth; her information consisted only of rumor, and some of that forty years old; yet she believed! (6) over the religious convictions of her loved ones, or over their irreligion if that was their state; and (7) over wild alarm. Think of it. Her covenant required her to remain in the house; and as the entire complex of city walls came tumbling down, what must have been her basic urge to flee? In the presence of such violent and alarming danger, she remained exactly as she promised, within her house. She believed!

Certain characteristics of Rahab's faith are commendable: (1) It was stable in spite of many temptations to waver, as, for example, when the Israelites were marching for days around the city with no visible result. (2) It was evangelistic, leading her to reach out for the salvation of others, all of her loved ones being saved through her efforts. (3) It was redemptive and elevating, regarding her character, because she did not continue as a harlot, but as a wife of a prince. (4) It was sacrificial, because, in the fall of Jericho, which she aided, there was the loss of everything that she had.

How strange that Jericho's harlot should be such a singular example of faith, and that the entire preceding generation of the wandering Israelites, except Caleb and Joshua, should have provided nothing to compare with it. Christ found the same incredible paradox in that "the publicans and harlots" were nearer to God's kingdom than the religious leaders (Matthew 21:31).

[38] James Burton Coffman, Commentary on Matthew (Abilene, Texas, ACU Press, 1968), chapter 22.

[39] F. F. Bruce, op. cit., p. 329.

[40] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Spurgeon's Sermons (New York: Funk and Wagnalls Company), Vol. 3, p. 269.

Verse 32

And what shall I more say? for the time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah; of David, Samuel and the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions.

This brings us to a break in the author's method, as he leaves off a more or less detailed reference to various outstanding exponents of faith and speaks more generally of a whole group of the faithful, covering the period after Israel's entry into Canaan during the time of the judges, and extending to the time of the monarchy. A summary of the significant deeds of each of those mentioned will be given, with special regard of how each fits into the list of the exemplars of faith.

Gideon destroyed the altar of Baal, and with only a handful of men, delivered Israel from the ravages of the Midianites (Judges 6-7). Gideon was visited and encouraged by an angel, and followed closely the instructions leading to his great victory.

Barak (Judges 5) is a surprise in the list, since he refused to take the field of battle against Sisera unless the prophetess Deborah went with him; yet, as Bruce says:

His very refusal may have been in its way a token of faith; his insistence on having Deborah was perhaps an expression of his faith in God whose servant and spokeswoman Deborah was.[41]

Samson (Judges 13-16) was born in answer to prayer and the promise of an angel who appeared to his parents; he was a Nazarite from birth and was moved by the spirit of the Lord, to whom he prayed, and by whose special powers he performed feats of superhuman strength throughout his tragic life.

Jephthah is usually remembered for his rash vow (Judges 11-12); but it is his faith that comes to the mind of the author. Jephthah spoke one word that should be the motto of every believer on earth, "I have opened my mouth unto the Lord, and I cannot go back" (Judges 11:35).

David the man after God's own heart, is the only king of Israel in the list; and his deserving to be so stems not from his flagrant sin, but from his willingness, in humility and penitence, to confess it and seek God's forgiveness. If one compares David's behavior in the matter of his adultery with Bathsheba and Nathan's rebuke of it, with that which might have been universally expected in those times of any oriental despot, he will be impressed with the superiority of David's actions in accepting God's law and making it apply to himself as well as to his subjects. It is to that ancient king of Israel that people are yet indebted for the concept that not even a king is above the law. David was inspired of God, uttered great prophecies of the coming Messiah, wrote the marvelous book of Psalms, and gathered the material for the construction of Solomon's temple. On the whole, he was an inspiring example of faith.

Samuel is another of the noblemen of faith, born in response to prayer to the service of God from earliest childhood, and one who lived a remarkably blameless life, almost his only sin being parental indulgence of his godless sons (1 Samuel 8:1-5).

And the prophets is an inclusion of all those inspired men through whom the word of the Lord was delivered to men for the purpose of shedding light on the moral and religious problems of their own times, as well as for the enlightenment of people regarding the coming of God's Holy One, the Messiah, into the world in the fullness of time. The words of the prophets were providentially designed to make a positive and certain identification of Jesus Christ as God's Son when he should appear on earth. See "Faith of the Prophets" below.

Subdued kingdoms is not to be understood as the work of each man mentioned in this verse; but, as Milligan said, this means only "that they all did these things as a class of men distinguished by their faith in God."[42] Gideon, for instance, subdued the kingdom of the Midianites. Others were distinguished in other ways. The same applies to the whole catalogue of deeds listed here.

Wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions - refers to general achievements of the above mentioned group of men, all but the last achievement being characteristic of the whole group of men, and the latter having reference to the exploits of at least three of them, David (1 Samuel 17:36), Samson (Judges 14:6), and Daniel (Daniel 6:22); but, from the particular words, it would seem that Daniel especially was in the author's mind, though not mentioned, except as included in "the prophets."

[41] F. F. Bruce, op. cit., p. 332.

[42] R. Milligan, op. cit., p. 326.

Verse 34

Quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, waxed mighty in war, turned to flight armies of aliens.

Although the great heroes who achieved the remarkable things mentioned in this list are left anonymous in this reference to them, a familiarity with the Old Testament reveals the identity of many of them. Thus, it was Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (Daniel 1-2) who through faith quenched the power of fire. Their faith was so strong that although they confessed that God might not choose to deliver them, they nevertheless refused to worship the king's image, knowing they would certainly be thrown into the fiery furnace. Of those who escaped the edge of the sword must be reckoned Elijah (1 Kings 19:2ff), Elisha (2 Kings 6:31ff), and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 36:19,26) who escaped, in turn, the swords of Jezebel, Jehoram, and Jehoiakim. Alas, some did not escape, as Hebrews 11:37 indicates.

From weakness were made strong brings to mind the progression of Gideon from being the least in his father's house to becoming the deliverer of all Israel, and Jephthah's promotion from the status of a despised son of a harlot to that of Israel's judge, and many others.

Waxed mighty in war is a tribute to practically all the great commanders of Israel's armies who, with God's power, preserved and defended Israel throughout its long history. It was their faith in God that made the difference, enabling a hundred to chase ten thousand (Leviticus 26:8), thus turning to flight alien foes.

Verse 35

Women received their dead by a resurrection: and others were tortured, not accepting their deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection.

Old Testament instances of women receiving back their dead in a resurrection are those of the widow of Sarepta (1 Kings 17:17-24), whose son was raised by Elijah; and the Shunamite woman (2 Kings 4:18-37), whose son was raised by Elisha. From the New Testament, of course, may be added the widow of Nain, whose son Jesus raised (Luke 7), and the sisters of Lazarus (John 11), whose brother Lazarus was raised by Jesus.

Others were tortured, not accepting their deliverance - scholars usually cite examples of things suggested here as written in the apocryphal books, as in 2 Maccabees 6-7; and it is quite possible, without receiving such books as inspired, to accept as historical some of the events mentioned. One such happening is related of one, Eliazar, who was tortured for not eating swine's flesh, refusing the deliverance he might have had through compliance with the order to eat it. The word "torture" as used in this verse means a very particular kind of torture, described by Milligan thus,

TORTURED means properly to stretch and torture upon the TYMPANUM; an instrument of torture in the shape of a large drum, or wheel, on which criminals were stretched in order to be beaten to death with sticks and rods.[43]

That they might obtain a better resurrection - these words raise the question, "better than what?" Some believe it means an eternal resurrection, rather than a resurrection to a mere continuation of earthly life, like that received by the loved ones of the women just mentioned. Others think it means a better resurrection in eternity than would have been theirs in case they yielded to temptation in order to prolong their earthly lives. This view would make the better resurrection to be the resurrection of the just, as contrasted with that of the unjust. Along with Milligan, Bruce, and others, this writer accepts the latter explanation as being more probably the correct one.

Verse 36

And others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, they were tempted, they were slain with the sword: they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, (of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves, and holes of the earth.

The whole list of atrocities given here can be only a partial account of all the inhumanities and indignities heaped upon God's children by unbelievers through the long centuries during which the light shone in the darkness and the darkness overcame it not (John 1:5). Many whose names none shall ever know until the judgment have suffered these or similar trials. Some of the names of such persons are preserved in the Old Testament. Samson (Judges 16:25); Micaiah (1 Kings 22:27), Hanani (2 Chronicles 16:10), and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 22:2ff; 32:2ff) were all victims of such treatment. In the historical book of 2Maccabees are the accounts of many such things that doubtless happened; and it is possible that the author of Hebrews here has reference to such things which were so well known among all the Jews. There were terrible atrocities practiced against many faithful Jews during the long centuries between the Old Testament and New Testament; and through the apocryphal writings, the Jews who received Hebrews doubtless had great familiarity with all of them.

Zechariah was stoned (2 Chronicles 24:20); Isaiah was sawn asunder, being placed between two boards to expedite it, according to the Talmud; Urijah was slain by the sword (Jeremiah 26:23); Elijah wandered about in a sheepskin, this fact coming to light from the translation of the word "mantle" (2 Kings 2:13), used to describe Elijah's clothing.

Of whom the world was not worthy. This seems to be a proverbial expression thrown in here, parenthetically, to denote the holiness of the heroes of faith as contrasted with the godlessness of the vast majority of their contemporaries; and it has its application to the faithful children of God in every generation.

Wandering in deserts, mountains, caves, ... is a reference to the flight of the righteous from the normal habitations of people in order to avoid moral pollution of the age in which they lived; and the fact that many indeed did live as indicated here is proved by the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls within our own times, and in just such a place as these described here.


The prophets, being particularly mentioned in this chapter as outstanding examples of faith, it is appropriate to inquire more specifically into the manner of faith's exhibition by them. Their endurance of hardship, suffering, privation, persecution, trials, and martyrdom, they had in common with all the ancient worthies; but at one point their faith encountered a unique test, in that they did not always themselves understand the meaning of the words the Lord gave them to speak, although they exerted the greatest diligence to do so. Peter said of them,

Concerning which salvation the prophets sought and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: searching what time or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did point unto, when it was testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glories that should follow them. To whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto you did they minister these things, which now have been announced unto you by the Holy Spirit sent forth from heaven; which things angels desire to look into (1 Peter 1:10-12).

In the light of this, the character of a prophet had to be of the most rugged and positive nature. There could be no going back to procure a softening or alteration of the message, as in the case of the guilty Balaam (Numbers 22:19). There was no choice on the prophet's part, permitting him to expound that part of God's word that he thought he understood, and omitting to proclaim what was arcane or not understood at all. The importance of these things lies in the fact that here is the answer to the question of whether God's word is verbally inspired or not; and it is evident that the only kind of inspiration there is is verbal; by that, it is meant that God actually gave the words to the prophets which they were commanded to speak. There is no example whatever of God's ever giving the prophets ideas, or thoughts, and trusting them to convey such in their own words. God gave the words; and the prophets delivered them, often not knowing, in any sense, what they meant. Nor was that phenomenon confined to the Old Testament seers. Peter himself uttered words on the Day of Pentecost which, if he had understood them, would have made it absolutely unnecessary for God, later on, to perform a miracle to reveal to Peter the truth of what Peter had already said. Thus, on Pentecost, Peter said the promise of God was to them "afar off," a manifest reference to the Gentiles; but it took the direct interposition of a vision from heaven to get him to go down to the house of Cornelius, a Gentile, years after he had so spoken.

Verse 39

And these all having had witness borne to them through their faith, received not the promise God having provided some better thing concerning us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.

Received not the promise should be studied in connection with other references in this chapter to the "promise," or the "promises." "Promise," in the singular, is a reference to the Great Promise of true and total redemption in the true and only seed of Abraham, which is Christ. Faithful as the ancient heroes were, the fullness of time had to arrive before they could obtain THAT promise. "The promises," in the plural, as in Hebrews 11:13, is also a reference to this same Great Promise, the plural taking into account the renewal of the promise and the reiteration of it to several of the patriarchs. Back in Hebrews 10:36 our author had written, "Ye have need of patience, that having done the will of God, ye may receive the promise."

Then, what is that Great Promise which none of the ancients could receive, even though righteous; and which, apart from us, they shall never receive? And have either we or they received it now? The answer is both "Yes" and "No." Certain aspects of the Great Promise have already been received by the faithful in Christ. The Christ has indeed appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself; and the great atonement has already been made. Every obedient believer has received the discharge of his sins through the blood of Christ, an earnest of the Holy Spirit in his heart, the communion of the fellowship of the saints in Christ, the blessed privileges of prayer and reliance upon the providence of God, and the sure and certain hope of the resurrection of our bodies from the grave, and of the final entry into the home of the soul on high. But other aspects of the Great Promise shall await the consummation of all things. Lenski's words on this are simply beautiful. He said,

It is the final and supreme fulfillment, the consummation at the last day, the ultimate of all we are hoping for, of all that is not seen (Hebrews 11:1). It is the final approving testimony of Christ before the whole universe (Matthew 25:34-40), when Christ shall confess us, who have confessed him before men, before his Father (Matthew 10:32) and before the angels (Revelation 3:5). It includes the resurrection and glorification of our bodies ("a better resurrection," Hebrews 11:35), when Christ shall appear in the second epiphany to those who are expecting him for salvation. Thrice Jesus promised, "I will raise him up at the last day" (John 6:40,44,54; Philippians 3:21). All that this promise contains - "the things hoped for, the things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1), to be apprehended until they arrive only by faith pure and simple. It is the city that has the foundations (Hebrews 11:10), the new heaven and the new earth, when the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, comes down from God out of heaven (Revelation 21:1,2), which event is described at length in Revelation 21:10-27)."[44]

There is no contradiction between the assertion here that none of the ancients received the promise and the statement in Hebrews 6:15 that Abraham did "obtain the promise"; for, in that instance, the reference is to God's revealing the promise to him and confirming it with an oath, and perhaps also to Abraham's having received a certain typical fulfillment of it; but in the larger sense of having actually carried off the promise, that shall come for all the redeemed simultaneously, as Paul said,

Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give to me, at that day; and not to me only, but also to all them that have loved his appearing (2 Timothy 4:8).

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Hebrews 11". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.