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Analysis Of The Chapter
In the close of the previous chapter Hebrews 10:0, the apostle had incidentally made mention of faith Hebrews 10:38-39, and said that the just should live by faith. The object of the whole argument in this Epistle was to keep those to whom it was addressed from apostatizing from the Christian religion, and especially from relapsing again into Judaism. They were in the midst of trials, and were evidently suffering some form of persecution, the tendency of which was to expose them to the danger of relapsing. The indispensable means of securing them from apostasy was “faith,” and with a view to show its efficacy in this respect, the apostle goes into an extended account of its nature and effects, occupying this entire chapter. As the persons whom he addressed had been Hebrews, and as the Old Testament contained an account of numerous instances of persons in substantially the same circumstances in which they were, the reference is made to the illustrious examples of the efficacy of faith in the Jewish history. The object is, to show that “faith,” or confidence in the divine promises, has been in all ages the means of perseverance in the true religion, and consequently of salvation. In this chapter Hebrews 11:0, therefore, the apostle first describes or defines the nature of faith Hebrews 11:1, and then illustrates its efficacy and power by reference to numerous instances; Hebrews 11:2-40. In these illustrations he refers to the steady belief which we have that God made the worlds, and then to the examples of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and Rahab in particular, and then to numerous other examples without mentioning their names. The object is to show that there is power in faith to keep the mind and heart in the midst of trials, and that having these examples before them, those whom he addressed should continue to adhere steadfastly to the profession of the true religion.
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for - On the general nature of faith, see the notes on Mark 16:16. The margin here is, “ground or confidence.” There is scarcely any verse of the New Testament more important than this, for it states what is the nature of all true faith, and is the only definition of it which is attempted in the Scriptures. Eternal life depends on the existence and exercise of faith Mark 16:16, and hence, the importance of an accurate understanding of its nature. The word rendered “substance” - ὑπόστασις hupostasis - occurs in the New Testament only in the following places. In 2Co 9:4; 2 Corinthians 11:17; Hebrews 3:14, where it is rendered “confident” and “confidence;” and in Hebrews 1:3, where it is rendered “person,” and in the passage before us; compare the notes on Hebrews 1:3. Prof. Stuart renders it here “confidence;” Chrysostom, “Faith gives reality or substance to things hoped for.”
The word properly means “that which is placed under” (Germ. Unterstellen); then “ground, basis, foundation, support.” Then it means also “reality, substance, existence,” in contradistinction from what is unreal, imaginary, or deceptive (täuschung). “Passow.” It seems to me, therefore, that the word here has reference to something which imparts reality in the view of the mind to those things which are not seen, and which serves to distinguish them from those things which are unreal and illusive. It is what enables us to feel and act as if they were real, or which causes them to exert an influence over us as if we saw them. Faith does this on all other subjects as well as religion. A belief that there is such a place as London or Calcutta, leads us to act as if this were so, if we have occasion to go to either; a belief that money may be made in a certain undertaking, leads people to act as if this were so; a belief in the veracity of another leads us to act as if this were so. As long as the faith continues, whether it be well-founded or not, it gives all the force of reality to what is believed. We feel and act just as if it were so, or as if we saw the object before our eyes. This, I think, is the clear meaning here. We do not see the things of eternity. We do not see God, or heaven, or the angels, or the redeemed in glory, or the crowns of victory, or the harps of praise; but we have faith in them, and this leads us to act as if we saw them. And this is, undoubtedly, the fact in regard to all who live by faith and who are fairly under its influence.
Of things hoped for - In heaven. Faith gives them reality in the view of the mind. The Christian hopes to be admitted into heaven; to be raised up in the last day from the slumbers of the tomb, to be made perfectly free from sin; to be everlastingly happy. Under the influence of faith he allows these things to control his mind as if they were a most affecting reality.
The evidence of things not seen - Of the existence of God; of heaven; of angels; of the glories of the world suited for the redeemed. The word rendered “evidence” - ἔλεγχος elengchos - occurs in the New Testament only in this place and in 2 Timothy 3:16, where it is rendered “reproof.” It means properly proof, or means of proving, to wit, evidence; then proof which convinces another of error or guilt; then vindication, or defense; then summary or contents; see “Passow.” The idea of “evidence” which goes to demonstrate the thing under consideration, or which is adapted to produce “conviction” in the mind, seems to be the elementary idea in the word. So when a proposition is demonstrated; when a man is arraigned and evidence is furnished of his guilt, or when he establishes his innocence; or when one by argument refutes his adversaries, the idea of “convincing argument” enters into the use of the word in each case.
This, I think, is clearly the meaning of the word here. “Faith in the divine declarations answers all the purposes of a convincing argument, or is itself a convincing argument to the mind, of the real existence of those things which are not seen.” But is it a good argument? Is it rational to rely on such a means of being convinced? Is mere “faith” a consideration which should ever convince a rational mind? The infidel says “no;” and we know there may be a faith which is no argument of the truth of what is believed. But when a man who has never seen it believes that there is such a place as London, his belief in the numerous testimonies respecting it which he has heard and read is to his mind a good and rational proof of its existence, and he would act on that belief without hesitation. When a son credits the declaration or the promise of a father who has never deceived him, and acts as though that declaration and promise were true, his faith is to him a ground of conviction and of action, and he will act as if these things were so.
In like manner the Christian believes what God says. He has never seen heaven; he has never seen an angel; he has never seen the Redeemer; he has never seen a body raised from the grave. “But he has evidence which is satisfactory to his mind that God has spoken on these subjects,” and his very nature prompts him to confide in the declarations of his Creator. Those declarations are to his mind more convincing proof than anything else would be. They are more conclusive evidence than would be the deductions of his own reason; far better and more rational than all the reasonings and declarations of the infidel to the contrary. He feels and acts, therefore, as if these things were so - for his faith in the declarations of God has convinced him that they are so - The object of the apostle, in this chapter, is not to illustrate the nature of what is called “saving faith,” but to show the power of “unwavering confidence in God” in sustaining the soul, especially in times of trial; and particularly in leading us to act in view of promises and of things not seen as if they were so. “Saving faith” is the same kind of confidence directed to the Messiah - the Lord Jesus - as the Saviour of the soul.
For by it - That is, by that faith which gives reality to things hoped for, and a certain persuasion to the mind of the existence of those things which are not seen.
The elders - The ancients; the Hebrew patriarchs and fathers.
Obtained a good report - Literally, “were witnessed of;” that is, an honorable testimony was borne to them in consequence of their faith. The idea is, that their acting under the influence of faith, in the circumstances in which they were, was the ground of the honorable testimony which was borne to them in the Old Testament; see this use of the word in Hebrews 7:8, and in Hebrews 7:4 of this chapter. Also Luke 4:22; Acts 15:8. In the cases which the apostle proceeds to enumerate in the subsequent part of the chapter, he mentions those whose piety is particularly commended in the Old Testament, and who showed in trying circumstances that they had unwavering confidence in God.
Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed - The first instance of the strength of faith which the apostle refers to is that by which we give credence to the declarations in the Scriptures about the work of creation; Genesis 1:1. This is selected first, evidently because it is the first thing that occurs in the Bible, or is the first thing there narrated in relation to which there is the exercise of faith. He points to no particular instance in which this faith was exercised - for none is especially mentioned - but refers to it as an illustration of the nature of faith which every one might observe in himself. The “faith” here exercised is confidence in the truth of the divine declarations in regard to the creation. The meaning is, that our knowledge on this subject is a mere matter of faith in the divine testimony. It is not that we could “reason” this out, and demonstrate that the worlds were thus made; it is not that profane history goes back to that period and informs us of it; it is simply that God has told us so in his word. The “strength” of the faith in this case is measured:
(1)By the fact that it is mere faith - that there is nothing else on which to rely in the case, and,
(2)By the greatness of the truth believed.
After all the acts of faith which have ever been exercised in this world, perhaps there is none which is really more strong, or which requires higher confidence in God, than the declaration that this vast universe has been brought into existence by a word!
We understand - We attain to the apprehension of; we receive and comprehend the idea. Our knowledge of this fact is derived only from faith, and not from our own reasoning.
That the worlds - In Genesis 1:1, it is “the heaven and the earth.” The phrase which the apostle uses denotes a plurality of worlds, and is proof that he supposed there were other worlds besides our earth. How far his knowledge extended on this point, we have no means of ascertaining, but there is no reason to doubt that he regarded the stars as “worlds” in some respects like our own. On the meaning of the Greek word used here, see the notes on Hebrews 1:2. The plural form is used there also, and in both cases, it seems to me, not without design.
Were framed - It is observable that the apostle does not here use the word “make or create.” That which he does use - καταρτίζω katartizō - means to put in order, to arrange, to complete, and may be applied to that which before had an existence, and which is to be put in order, or re-fitted; Matthew 4:24; Mark 1:19; Matthew 21:6; Hebrews 10:5. The meaning here is, that they “were set in order” by the Word of God. This implies the act of creation, but the specific idea is that of “arranging” them in the beautiful order in which they are now. Doddridge renders it “adjusted.” Kuinoel, however, supposes that the word is used here in the sense of “form, or make.” It has probably about the meaning which we attach to the phrase “fitting up anything,” as, for example, a dwelling, and includes all the previous arrangements, though the thing which is particularly denoted is not the making, but the arrangemenent. So in the work here referred to. “We arrive at the conviction that the universe was prepared or arranged in the present manner by the Word of God.”
By the word of God - This does not mean here, by the “Logos,” or the second person of the Trinity, for Paul does not use that term here or elsewhere. The word which he employs is ῥῆμα rēma - “rema” - meaning properly a word spoken, and in this place “command;” compare Genesis 1:3, Genesis 1:6,Genesis 1:9, Genesis 1:11, Genesis 1:14, Genesis 1:20; Psalms 33:6. “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth.” In regard to the agency of the Son of God in the work of the creation, see the notes on Hebrews 1:2; compare the notes on John 1:3.
So that things which are seen - The point of the remark here is, that the visible creation was not moulded out of pre-existing materials, but was made out of nothing. In reference to the grammatical construction of the passage, see Stuart, Commentary in loc. The doctrine taught is, that matter was not eternal; that the materials of the universe, as well as the arrangement, were formed by God, and that all this was done by a simple command. The “argument” here, so far as it is adapted to the purpose of the apostle, seems to be, that there was nothing which “appeared,” or which was to be “seen,” that could lay the foundation of a belief that God made the worlds; and in like manner our faith now is not to be based on what; “appears,” by which we could infer or reason out what would be, but that we must exercise strong confidence in Him who had power to create the universe out of nothing. If this vast universe has been called into existence by the mere word of God, there is nothing which we may not believe he has ample power to perform.
By faith Abel offered - see Genesis 4:4-5. In the account in Genesis of the offering made by Abel, there is no mention of “faith” - as is true also indeed of most of the instances referred to by the apostle. The account in Genesis is, simply, that Abel “brought of the firstlings of his flock, and the fat thereof, and that the Lord had respect to Abel and his offering.” Men have speculated much as to the reason why the offering of Abel was accepted, and that of Cain rejected; but such speculation rests on no certain basis, and the solution of the apostle should be regarded as decisive and satisfactory, that in the one case there was faith, in the other not. It could not have been because an offering of the fruits of the ground was not pleasing to God, for such an offering was commanded under the Jewish Law, and was not in itself improper. Both the brothers selected what was to them most obvious; which they had reared with their own bands; which they regarded as most valuable.
Cain had cultivated the earth, and he naturally brought what had grown under his care; Abel kept a flock, and he as naturally brought what he had raised: and had the temper of mind in both been the same, there is no reason to doubt that the offering of each would have been accepted. To this conclusion we are led by the nature of the case, and the apostle advances substantially the same sentiment, for he says that the particular state of mind on which the whole turned was, that the one had faith, and the other not. “How” the apostle himself was informed of the fact that it was “faith” which made the difference, he has not informed us. The belief that he was inspired will, however, relieve the subject of this difficulty, for according to such a belief all his statements here, whether recorded in the Old Testament or not, are founded in truth. It is equally impossible to tell with “certainty” what was the nature of the faith of Abel. It has been commonly asserted, that it was faith in Christ - looking forward to his coming, and depending on his sacrifice when offering what was to he a type of him.
But of this there is no positive evidence, though from Hebrews 12:24, it seems to be not improbable. Sacrifice, as a type of the Redeemer’s great offering, was instituted early in the history of the world. There can be no reason assigned for the offering of “blood” as an atonement for sin, except that it had originally a reference to the great atonement which was to be made by blood; and as the salvation of man depended on this entirely, it is probable that that would be one of the truths which would he first communicated to man after the fall. The bloody offering of Abel is the first of the kind which is definitely mentioned in the Scriptures (though it is not improbable that such sacrifices were offered by Adam, compare Genesis 3:21), and consequently Abel may be regarded “as the recorded head of the whole typical system, of which fist was the antitype and the fulfillment.” Compare notes, Hebrews 12:24. “A more excellent sacrifice.” Πλείονα θυσίαν Pleiona thusian - as rendered by Tyndale, “a more plenteous sacrifice;” or, as Wicklift renders it more literally, “a much more sacrifice;” that is, a more full or complete sacrifice; a better sacrifice. The meaning is, that it had in it much more to render it acceptable to God. In the estimate of its value, the views of him who offered it would be more to be regarded than the nature of the offering itself.
(“By offering victims of the choice of his flock, Abel not only showed a more decided attachment to God, but there is great reason to suppose (as Abp. Magee on Atonement, p. 52, shows) that his faith was especially superior, as being not only directed to God alone (recognizing his existence, authority, and providence) but also to the Great Redeemer, promised immediately after the fall, Genesis 3:15 whose expiatory death was typified by animal sacrifice, by offering which Abel had evinced his faith in the great sacrifice of the Redeemer, prefigured by it: and then he obtained that acceptance from God, and witnessing of his offering, which was refused to Cain; see more in Macknight and Scott” - Bloomfield.
By which - By which sacrifice so offered. The way in which he obtained the testimony of divine approbation was by the sacrifice offered in this manner. It was not “merely” by faith, it was by the offering of a sacrifice in connection with, and under the influence of faith.
He obtained witness that he was righteous - That is, from God. His offering made in faith was the means of his obtaining the divine testimonial that he was a righteous man. Compare the notes on Hebrews 11:2. This is implied in what is said in Genesis 4:4. “And the Lord had respect unto Abel and his offering;” that is, he regarded it as the offering of a righteous man.
God testifying of his gifts - In what way this was done is not mentioned either here or in Genesis. Commentators have usually supposed that it was by fire descending from heaven to consume the sacrifice. But there is no evidence of this, for there is no intimation of it in the Bible. It is true that this frequently occurred when an offering was made to God, (see Genesis 15:17; Leviticus 9:24; Judges 6:21; 1 Kings 18:38), but the sacred writers give us no hint that this happened in the case of the sacrifice made by Abel, and since it is expressly mentioned in other cases and not here, the presumption rather is that no such miracle occurred on the occasion. So remarkable a fact - the first one in all history if it were so - could hardly have failed to be noticed by the sacred writer. It seems to me, therefore, that there was some method by which God “testified” his approbation of the offering of AbeL which is unknown to us, but in regard to what it was conjecture is vain.
And by it he, being dead, yet speaketh - Margin, “Is yet spoken of.” This difference of translation arises from a difference of reading in the mss. That from which the translation in the text is derived, is λαλεῖ lalei - “he speaketh.” That from which the rendering in the margin is derived, is λαλεῖται laleitai - “is being spoken of;” that is, is “praised or commended.” The latter is the common reading in the Greek text, and is found in Walton, Wetstein, Matthzei, Titman, and Mill; the former is adopted by Griesbach, Koppe, Knapp, Grotius, Hammond, Storr, Rosenmuller, Prof. Stuart, Bloomfield, and Hahn, and is found in the Syriac and Coptic, and is what is favored by most of the Fathers. See “Wetstein.” The authority of manuscripts is in favor of the reading λαλεῖται laleitai - “is spoken of.” It is impossible, in this variety of opinion, to determine which is the true reading, and this is one of the cases where the original text must probably be forever undecided.
Happily no important doctrine or duty is depending on it. Either of the modes of reading will give a good sense. The apostle is saying that it is by faith that the “elders have obtained a good report” (Hebrews 11:2); he had said (Hebrews 11:4), that it was by faith that Abel obtained the testimony of God in his favor, and if the reading “is spoken of” be adopted, the apostle means that in consequence of that offering thus made, Abel continued even to his time to receive an honorable mention. This act was commended still; and the “good report” of which it had been the occasion, had been transmitted from age to age. A sentiment thus of great beauty and value may be derived from the passage - that true piety is the occasion of transmitting a good report - or an honorable reputation, even down to the latest generation. It is what will embalm the memory in the grateful recollection of mankind; that on which they will reflect with pleasure, and which they will love to transmit to future ages. But after all, it seems to me to be probable that the true sentiment in this passage is what is expressed in the common version, “he yet speaketh.” The reasons are briefly these:
(1) The authority of manuscripts, versions, editions, and critics, is so nearly equal, that it is impossible from this source to determine the true reading, and we must, therefore, form our judgment from the connection.
(2) The apostle had twice in this verse expressed substantially the idea that he was honorably testified of by his faith, and it is hardly probable that he would again repeat it so soon.
(3) There seems to be an allusion here to the “language” used respecting Abel Genesis 4:10, “The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground;” or utters a distinct voice - and the apostle seems to design to represent Abel as still speaking.
(4) In Hebrews 12:24, he represents both Abel and Christ as still “speaking” - as if Abel continued to utter a voice of admonition. The reference there is to the fact that he continued to proclaim from age to age, even to the time of the apostle, the great truth that salvation was only “by blood.” He had proclaimed it at first by his faith when he offered the sacrifice of the lamb; he continued to speak from generation to generation, and to show that it was one of the earliest principles of religion that there could be redemption from sin in no other way.
(5) The expression “yet speaketh” accords better with the connection. The other interpretation is cold compared with this, and less fits the case before us. On the faith of Noah, Abraham, and Moses, it might be said with equal propriety that it is still commended or celebrated as well as that of Abel, but the apostle evidently means to say that there was a voice in that of Abel which was special; there was something in “his” life and character which continued to speak from age to age. His sacrifice, his faith, his death, his blood, all continued to lift up the voice, and to proclaim the excellence and value of confidence in God, and to admonish the world how to live.
(6) This accords with usage in classic writers, where it is common to say of the dead that they continue to speak. Compare Virgil, Aeneid vi. 618.
Et magna testatur voce per umbras:
Discite justitiam moniti, et non temnere Divos.
If this be the true meaning, then the sense is that there is an influence from the piety of Abel which continues to admonish all coming ages of the value of religion, and especially of the great doctrine of the necessity of an atonement by blood. His faith and his sacrifice proclaimed from age to age that this was one of the first great truths made known to fallen man; and on this he continues to address the world as if he were still living. Thus, all who are pious continue to exert an influence in favor of religion long after the soul is removed to heaven, and the body consigned to the grave. This is true in the following respects:
(1)They speak by their “example.” The example of a pious father, mother neighbor will be remembered. It will often have an effect after their death in influencing those over whom it had little control while living.
(2)They continue to speak by their “precepts.” The precepts of a father may be re membered, with profit, when he is in his grave, though they were heard with indifference when he lived; the counsels of a minister may be recollected with benefit though they were heard with scorn.
(3)They continue to speak from the fact that the good are remembered with increasing respect and honor as long as they are remembered at all.
The character of Abel, Noah, and Abraham, is brighter now than it was when they lived, and will continue to grow brighter to the end of time. “The name of the wicked will rot,” and the influence which they had when living will grow feebler and feebler until it wholly dies away. Howard will be remembered, and will proclaim from age to age the excellence of a life of benevolence; the character of Nero, Caligula, and Richard III, has long since ceased to exercise any influence whatever in favor of evil, but rather shows the world, by contrast, the excellence of virtue: and the same will yet be true of Paine, and Voltaire, and Byron, and Gibbon, and Hume. The time will come when they shall cease to exert any influence in favor of infidelity and sin, and when the world shall be so satisfied of the error of their sentiments, and the abuse of their talents, and the corruption of their hearts, that their names, by contrast, will be made to promote the, cause of piety and virtue. If a man, wishes to exert any permanent influence after he is dead, he should be a good man. The “strength” of the faith of Abel here commended, will be seen by a reference to a few circumstances:
(1) It was manifested shortly after the apostasy, and not long after the fearful sentence had been pronounced in view of the sin of man. The serpent had been cursed; the earth had been cursed; woe had been denounced on the mother of mankind; and the father of the apostate race and all his posterity, doomed to toil and death. The thunder of this curse had scarcely died away; man had been ejected from Paradise and sent out to enter on his career of woes; and the earth was trembling under the malediction, and yet Abel maintained his confidence in God.
(2) There was then little truth revealed, and only the slightest intimation of mercy. The promise in Genesis 3:15, that the seed of the woman should bruise the head of the serpent, is so enigmatical and obscure that it is not easy even now to see its exact meaning, and it cannot be supposed that Abel could have had a full understanding of what was denoted by it. Yet this appears to have been all the truth respecting the salvation of man then revealed, and on this Abel maintained his faith steadfast in God.
(3) Abel had an older brother, undoubtedly an infidel, a scoffer, a mocker of religion. He was evidently endowed with a talent for sarcasm Genesis 4:9, and there is no reason to doubt, that, like other infidels and scoffers, he would be disposed to use that talent when occasion offered, to hold up religion to contempt. The power with which he used this, and the talent with which he did this, may be seen illustrated probably with melancholy fidelity in Lord Byron’s “Cain.” No man ever lived who could more forcibly express the feelings that passed through the mind of Cain - for there is too much reason to think that his extraordinary talents were employed on this occasion to give vent to the feelings of his own heart in the sentiments put into the mouth of Cain. Yet, notwithstanding the infidelity of his older brother, Abel adhered to God, and his cause. Whatever influence that infidel brother might have sought to use over him - and there can be no reason to doubt that such an influence would be attempted - yet he never swerved, but maintained with steadfastness his belief in religion, and his faith in God.
By faith Enoch was translated - The account of Enoch is found in Genesis 5:21-24. It is very brief, and is this, that “Enoch walked with God, and was not, for God took him.” There is no particular mention of his “faith,” and the apostle attributes this to him, as in the case of Abel, either because it was involved in the very nature of piety, or because the fact was communicated to him by direct revelation. In the account in Genesis, there is nothing inconsistent with the belief that Enoch was characterized by eminent faith, but it is rather implied in the expression, “he walked with God.” Compare 2 Corinthians 5:7. It may also be implied in what is said by the apostle Jude Jude 1:14-15, that “he prophesied, saying, Behold the Lord cometh with ten thousand of his saints,” etc. From this it would appear that he was a preacher: that he predicted the coming of the Lord to judgment, and that he lived in the firm belief of what was to occur in future times. Moses does not say expressly that Enoch was translated. He says “he was not, for God took him.” The expression “he was not,” means he was no more among people; or he was removed from the earth. “This” language would be applicable to any method by which he was removed, whether by dying, or by being translated. A similar expression respecting Romulus occurs in Livy (i. 16), Nec deinde in terris Romulus fuit. The translation of the Septuagint on this part of the verse in Genesis is, οὐχ εὑρίσκετο ouch heurisketo - “was not found;” that is, he disappeared. The authority for what the apostle says here, that he “was translated,” is found in the other phrase in Genesis, “God took him.” The reasons which led to the statement that he was transported without seeing death, or that show that this is a fair conclusion from the words in Genesis, are such, as these:
(1) There is no mention made of his death, and in this respect the account of Enoch stands by itself. It is, except in this case, the uniform custom of Moses to mention the age and the death of the individuals whose biography he records, and in many cases this is about all that is said of them. But in regard to Enoch there is this remarkable exception that no record is made of his death - showing that there was something unusual in the manner of his removal from the world.
(2) The Hebrew word used by Moses, found in such a connection, is one which would rather suggest the idea that he had been taken in some extraordinary manner from the world. That word - לקח laaqach - means “to take” - with the idea of taking “to oneself.” Thus, Genesis 8:20, “Noah took of all beasts and offered a burnt-offering.” Thus, it is often used in the sense of “taking a wife” - that is, to oneself Genesis 4:19; Genesis 6:2; Genesis 12:19; Genesis 19:14; and then it is used in the sense of “taking away;” Genesis 14:12; Genesis 27:35; Job 1:21; Job 12:20; Psalms 31:13; Jeremiah 15:15. The word, therefore, would naturally suggest the idea that he had been taken by God to himself, or had been removed in an extraordinary manner from the earth. This is confirmed by the fact that the word is not used anywhere in the Scriptures to denote a “removal by death,” and that in the only other instance in which it (לקח laaqach) is used in relation to a removal from this world, it occurs in the statement respecting the translation of Elijah. “And the sons of the prophets that were at Bethel, came forth to Elisha, and said to him, Knowest thou that the Lord “will take away” (לקח laaqach) thy master from thy head today?” 2 Kings 2:3, 2 Kings 2:5; compare Hebrews 11:11. This transaction, where there could be no doubt about the “manner” of the removal, shows in what sense the word is used in Genesis.
(3) It was so understood by the translators of the Septuagint. The apostle has used the same word in this place which is employed by the Seventy in Genesis 5:24 - μετατίθημι metatithēmi. This word means to transpose, to put in another place; and then to transport, transfer, translate; Acts 7:16; Hebrews 7:12. It properly expresses the removal to another place, and is the very word which would he used on the supposition that one was taken to heaven without dying.
(4) This interpretation of the passage in Genesis by Paul is in accordance with the uniform interpretation of the Jews. In the Targum of Onkelos it is evidently supposed that Enoch was transported without dying. In that Targum the passage in Genesis 5:24 is rendered, “And Enoch walked in the fear of the Lord, and was not, for the Lord did not put him to death” - לּה lo’ - ‘amiyt yityeh Yahweh. So also in Ecclesiasticus or the Son of Sirach (49:14), “But upon the earth was no man created like Enoch; for he was taken from the earth.” These opinions of the Jews and of the early translators, are of value only as showing that the interpretation which Paul has put upon Genesis 5:2 is the natural interpretation. It is such as occurs to separate writers, without collusion, and thus shows that this is the meaning most naturally suggested by the passage.
That he should not see death - That is, that he should not experience death, or be made personally acquainted with it. The word “taste” often occurs in the same sense. Hebrews 2:9, “that he should taste death for every man;” compare Matthew 16:28; Mark 9:1; Luke 9:27.
And was not found - Genesis 5:24, “And he was not.” That is, he was not in the land of the living. Paul retains the word used in the Septuagint.
He had this testimony, that he pleased God - Implied in the declaration in Genesis 5:22, that he “walked with God.” This denotes a state of friendship between God and him, and of course implies that his conduct was pleasing to God. The apostle appeals here to the sense of the account in Genesis, but does not retain the very “words.” The meaning here is not that the testimony respecting Enoch was actually “given” before his translation, but that the testimony relates to his having “pleased God” before he was removed. “Stuart.” In regard to this instructive fragment of history, and to the reasons why Enoch was thus removed, we may make the following remarks:
(1) The age in which he lived was undoubtedly one of great wickedness. Enoch is selected as the only one of that generation signalized by eminent piety, and he appears to have spent his life in publicly reproving a sinful generation, and in warning them of the approaching judgment; Jude 1:14-15. The wickedness which ultimately led to the universal deluge seems already to have commenced in the earth, and Enoch, like Noah, his great-grandson, was raised up as a preacher of righteousness to reprove a sinful generation.
(2) It is not improbable that the great truths of religion in that age were extensively denied, and probably among other things the future state, the resurrection, the belief that man would exist in another world, and that it was maintained that death was the end of being - was an eternal sleep. If so, nothing could be better adapted to correct the prevailing evils than the removal of an eminent man, without dying, from the world. His departure would thus confirm the instructions of his life, and his removal, like the death of saints often now, would serve to make an impression which his living instructions would not.
(3) His removal is, in itself, a very important and instructive fact in history. It has occurred in no other instance except that of Elijah; nor has any other living man been transported to heaven except the Lord Jesus. That fact was instructive in a great many respects:
(a) It showed that there was a future state - another world.
(b) It showed that the “body” might exist in that future state - though doubtless so changed as to adapt it to the condition of things there.
(c) It prepared the world to credit the account of the ascension of the Redeemer. If Enoch and Elijah were removed thus without dying, there was no intrinsic improbability that the Lord Jesus would be removed after having died and risen again.
(d) It furnishes a demonstration of the doctrine that the saints will exist hereafter, which meets all the arguments of the sceptic and the infidel. One single “fact” overturns all the mere “speculations” of philosophy, and renders nugatory all the objections of the sceptic. The infidel argues against the truth of the resurrection and of the future state from the “difficulties” attending the doctrine. A single case of one who has been raised up from the dead, or who has been removed to heaven, annihilates all such arguments - for how can supposed difficulties destroy a well-authenticated “fact?”
(e) It is an encouragement to piety. It shows that God regards his friends; that their fidelity and holy living please him; and that “in the midst of eminent wickedness and a scoffing world it is possible so to live as to please God.” The conduct of this holy man, therefore, is an encouragement to us to do our duty though we stand alone; and to defend the truth though all who live with us upon the earth deny and deride it.
(4) The removal of Enoch shows that the same thing would be “possible” in the case of every saint. God could do it in other cases, as well as in his, with equal ease. That his friends, therefore, are suffered to remain on the earth; that they linger on in enfeebled health, or are crushed by calamity, or are stricken down by the pestilence as others are, is not because God “could” not remove them as Enoch was without dying, but because there is some important “reason” why they should remain and linger, and suffer, and die. Among those reasons may be such as the following:
(a) The regular operation of the laws of nature as now constituted, require it. Vegetables die; the inhabitants of the deep die; the fowls that fly in the air, and the beasts that roam over hills and plains die; and man, by his sins, is brought under the operation of this great universal law. It would be “possible” indeed for God to save his people from this law, but it would require the interposition of continued “miracles,” and it is better to have the laws of nature regularly operating, than to have them constantly set aside by divine interposition.
(b) The power of religion is now better illustrated in the way in which the saints are actually removed from the earth, than it would be if they were all transported. Its power is now seen in its enabling us to overcome the dread of death, and in its supporting us in the pains and sorrows of the departing hour. It is a good thing to discipline the soul so that it will not fear to die; it shows how superior religion is to all the forms of philosophy, that it enables the believer to look calmly forward to his own certain approaching death It is an important matter to keep this up from age to age, and to show to each generation that religion can overcome the natural apprehension of the most fearful calamity which befalls a creature - death: and can make man calm in the prospect of lying beneath the clods of the valley, cold, dark, alone, to moulder back to his native dust.
(c) The death of the Christian does good. It preaches to the living. The calm resignation; the peace; the triumph of the dying believer, is a constant admonition to a thoughtless and wicked world. The deathbed of the Christian proclaims the mercy of God from generation to generation, and there is not a dying saint who may not, and who probably does not do great good in the closing hours of his earthly being.
(d) It may be added that the present arrangement falls in with the general laws of religion that we are to be influenced by faith, not by sight. If all Christians were removed like Enoch, it would be an argument for the truth of religion addressed constantly to the senses. But this is not the way in which the evidence of the truth of religion is proposed to man. It is submitted to his understanding, his conscience, his heart; and in this there is of design a broad distinction between religion and other things. Men act in other matters under the influence of the senses; it is designed that in religion they shall act under the influence of higher and nobler considerations, and that they shall be influenced not solely by a reference to what is passing before their eyes, but to the things which are not seen.
But without faith it is impossible to please him - Without “confidence” in God - in his fidelity, his truth, his wisdom, his promises. And this is as true in other things as in religion. It is impossible for a child to please his father unless he has confidence in him. It is impossible for a wife to please her husband, or a husband a wife, unless they have confidence in each other. If there is distrust and jealousy on either part, there is discord and misery. We cannot be pleased with a professed friend unless he has such confidence in us as to believe our declarations and promises. The same thing is true of God. He cannot be pleased with the man who has no confidence in him; who doubts the truth of his declarations and promises; who does not believe that his ways are right, or that he is qualified for universal empire. The requirement of faith or confidence in God is not arbitrary; it is just what we require of our children, and partners in life, and friends, as the indispensable condition of our being pleased with them.
For he that cometh to God - In any way - as a worshipper. This is alike required in public worship, in the family, and in secret devotion.
Must believe that he is - That God exists. This is the first thing required in worship. Evidently we cannot come to him in an acceptable manner if we doubt his existence. We do not see him, but we must believe that he is; we cannot form in our mind a correct image of God, but this should not prevent a conviction that there is such a Being. But the declaration here implies more than that there should be a general persuasion of the truth that there is a God. It is necessary that we have this belief in lively exercise in the act of drawing near to him, and that we should realize that we are actually in the presence of the all-seeing Jehovah.
And that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him - This is equally necessary as the belief that he exists. If we could not believe that God would hear and answer our prayers, there could be no encouragement to call upon him. It is not meant here that the desire of the reward is to be the motive for seeking God - for the apostle makes no affirmation on that point; but that it is impossible to make an acceptable approach to him unless we have this belief.
By faith Noah - It is less difficult to see that Noah must have been influenced “by faith” than that Abel and Enoch were. Everything which Noah did in reference to the threatened deluge, was done in virtue of simple faith or belief of what God said. It was not because he could show from the course of events that things were tending to such a catastrophe; or because such an event had occurred before, rendering it probable that it would be likely to occur again; or because this was the common belief of men, and it was easy to fall into this himself. It was simply because God had informed him of it, and he put unwavering reliance on the truth of the divine declaration.
Being warned of God - Genesis 6:13.” The Greek word used here means divinely admonished; compare Hebrews 8:5.
Of things not seen as yet - Of the flood which was yet future. The meaning is, that there were no visible signs of it; there was nothing which could be a basis of calculation that it would occur. This admonition was given an hundered and twenty years before the deluge, and of course long before there could have been any natural indications that it would occur.
Moved with fear - Margin, “Being wary.” The Greek word - εὐλαβηθεὶς eulabētheis - occurs only here and in Acts 23:10, “The chief captain fearing lest Paul,” etc. The noun occurs in Hebrews 5:7, “And was heard in that he feared,” (see the note on that place), and in Hebrews 12:28, “With reverence and godly fear.” The verb properly means, “to act with caution, to be circumspect,” and then “to fear, to be afraid.” So far as the “word” is concerned, it might mean here that Noah was influenced by the dread of what was coming, or it may mean that he was influenced by proper caution and reverence for God. The latter meaning agrees better with the scope of the remarks of Paul, and is probably the true sense. His reverence and respect for God induced him to act under the belief that what he had said was true, and that the calamity which he had predicted would certainly come upon the world.
Prepared an ark to the saving of his house - In order that his family might be saved. Genesis 6:14-22. The salvation here referred to was preservation from the flood.
By the which - By which faith.
He condemned the world - That is, the wicked world around him. The meaning is, that by his confidence in God, and his preparation for the flood, he showed the wisdom of his own course and the folly of theirs. We have the same phrase now in common use where one who sets a good example is said to “condemn others.” He shows the guilt and folly of their lives by the contrast between his conduct; and theirs. The wickedness of the sinner is condemned not only by preaching, and by the admonitions and threatenings of the Law of God, but by the conduct of every good man. The language of such a life is as plain a rebuke of the sinner as the most fearful denunciations of divine wrath.
And became heir of the righteousness which is by faith - The phrase “heir of righteousness” here means properly that he acquired, gained, or became possessed of that righteousness. It does not refer so much to the “mode” by which it was done as if it were by inheritance, as to the “fact” that he obtained it. The word “heir” is used in this general sense in Romans 4:13-14; Titus 3:7; Hebrews 1:2; Hebrews 6:17. Noah was not the “heir” to that righteousness by “inheriting” it from his ancestors, but in virtue of it he was regarded as among the heirs or sons of God, and as being a possessor of that righteousness which is connected with faith. The phrase “righteousness which is by faith” refers to the fact that he was regarded and treated as a righteous man. notes on Romans 1:17. It is observable here that it is not said that Noah had specific faith in Christ, or that his being made heir of the righteousness of faith depended on that, but it was in connection with his believing what God said respecting the deluge.
It was “faith or confidence” in God which was the ground of his justification, in accordance with the general doctrine of the Scriptures that it is only by faith that man can be saved, though the specific mode of faith was not what is required now under the gospel. In the early ages of the world, when few truths were revealed, a cordial belief of any of those truths showed that there was real confidence in God, or that the “principle” of faith was in the heart; in the fuller revelation which we enjoy, we are not only to believe those truths, but specifically to believe in him who has made the great atonement for sin, and by whose merits all have been saved who have entered heaven. The same faith or confidence in God which led Noah to believe what God said about the deluge would have led him to believe what he has said about the Redeemer; and the same confidence in Godwhich led him to commit himself to his safe keeping in an ark on the world of waters, would have led him to commit his soul to the safe keeping of the Redeemer, the true ark of safety. As the “principle” of faith, therefore, existed in the heart of Noah, it was proper that he should become, with others, an “heir of the righteousness which is by faith.”
(If this righteousness which is by faith be the same with that in Romans 1:17; Romans 3:21; and of this there can be no doubt - if it be the same with what forms the ground of the sinner’s justification in every age, namely, the glorious righteousness which Christ has worked out in his active and passive obedience - then clearly there is no way of getting possession of this, but by faith in Jesus, And, without doubt, by “this” faith, Noah was saved. It is absurd to suppose that the doctrine of salvation by the Redeemer was unknown to him. Was not the ark itself a type and pledge of this salvation? 1 Peter 3:21. Was Noah ignorant of the promise concerning the Messiah? Dr. Owen can scarce speak with patience of the view that excludes Christ as the specific object of Noah’s faith,” That in this faith of the patriarchs no respect was had unto Christ and his righteousness, is such a putid figment, is so destructive of the first promises, and of all true faith in the church of old, is so inconsistent with, and contrary to the design of the apostle, and is so utterly destructive of the whole force of his argument, that it deserves no consideration.” The idea indeed seems to derogate from the glory of Christ as the alone object of faith and salvation in every age; see also Scott. Bloomfield, McLean.)
In regard to the circumstances which show the strength of his faith, we may make the following remarks:
(1) It pertained to a very distant future event. It looked forward to what was to happen after a lapse of an hundred and twenty years. This was known to Noah Genesis 6:3, and at this long period before it occurred, he was to begin to build an ark to save himself and family; to act as though this would be undoubtedly true. This is a much longer period than man now is required to exercise faith before that is realized which is the object of belief. Rare is it that three score years intervene between the time when a man first believes in God and when he enters into heaven; much more frequently it is but a few months or days; not an instance now occurs in which the period is lengthened out to 120 years.
(2) There was no outward “evidence” that what Noah believed would occur. There were no appearances in nature which indicated that there would be such a flood of waters after more than a century had passed away. There were no breakings up of the fountains of the deep; no marks of the far distant storm gathering on the sky which could be the basis of the calculation. The “word of God” was the only ground of evidence; the only thing to which he could refer gainsayers and revilers. It is so now. There are no visible signs of the coming of the Saviour to judge the world. Yet the true believer feels and acts as if it were so - resting on the sure word of God.
(3) The course of things was much against the truth of what Noah believed. No such event had ever occurred. There is no evidence that there had ever been a storm of rain half sufficient to drown the world; or that there had ever been the breaking up of the deep, or that there had been ever a partial deluge. For sixteen hundred years the course of nature had been uniform, and all the force of this uniformity would be felt and urged when it should be alleged that this was to be disturbed and to give place to an entire new order of events. Compare 2 Peter 3:4. The same thing is now felt in regard to the objects of the Christian faith. The course of events is uniform. The laws of nature are regular and steady. The dead do not leave their graves. Seasons succeed each other in regular succession; people are born, live, and die, as in former times; fire does not wrap the earth in flames; the elements do not melt with fervent heat; seed-time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter follow each other, and “all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.” How many probabilities are there now, therefore, as there were in the time of Noah, against what is the object of faith!
(4) It is not improbable that when Noah proclaimed the approaching destruction of the world by a deluge, the “possibility” of such an event was strongly denied by the philosophers of that age. The fact that such an event could have occurred has been denied by infidel philosophers in our own times, and attempts have been gravely made to show that the earth did not contain water enough to cover its surface to the height mentioned in the Scriptures, and that no condensation of the vapour in the atmosphere could produce such an effect. It is not improbable that some such arguments may have been used in the time of Noah, and “it is morally certain that he could not meet those arguments by any philosophy of his own.” There is no reason to think that he was endowed with such a knowledge of chemistry as to be able to show that such a thing was possible, or that he had such an acquaintance with the structure of the earth as to demonstrate that it contained within itself the elements of its own destruction. All that he could oppose to such speculations was the simple declaration of God; and the same thing is also true now in regard to the cavils and philosophical arguments of infidelity. Objections drawn from philosophy are often made against the doctrine of the resurrection of the body; the destruction of the earth by the agency of fire; and even the existence of the soul after death. These difficulties may be obviated partly by science; but the proof that these events will occur, does not depend on science. It is a matter of simple faith; and all that we can in fact oppose to these objections is the declaration of God. The result showed that Noah was not a feel or a fanatic in trusting to the Word of God against the philosophy of his age; and the result will show the same of the Christian in his confiding in the truth of the divine declarations against the philosophy of “his” age.
(5) It is beyond all question that Noah would be subjected to much ridicule and scorn. He would be regarded as a dreamer; a fanatic; an alarmist; a wild projector. The purpose of making preparation for such an event as the flood, to occur after the lapse of an hundred and twenty years, and when there were no indications of it, and all appearances were against it, would be regarded as in the highest degree wild and visionary. The design of building a vessel which would outride the storm, and which would live in such an open sea, and which would contain all sorts of animals, with the food for them for an indefinite period, could not but have been regarded as eminently ridiculous. When the ark was preparing, nothing could have been a more happy subject for scoffing and jibes. In such an age, therefore, and in such circumstances, we may suppose that all the means possible would have been resorted to, to pour contempt on such an undertaking. They who had wit, would find here an ample subject for its exercise; if ballads were made then, no more fertile theme for a profane song could be desired than this; and in the haunts of revelry, intemperance, and pollution, nothing would furnish a finer topic to give point to a jest, than the credulity and folly of the old man who was building the ark. It would require strong faith to contend thus with the wit, the sarcasm, the contempt, the raillery, and the low jesting, as well as with the wisdom and philosophy of a whole world. Yet it is a fair illustration of what occurs often now, and of the strength of that faith in the Christian heart which meets meekly and calmly the scoffs and jeers of a wicked generation.
(6) All this would be heightened by delay. The time was distant. What now completes four generations would have passed away before the event predicted would occur. Youth grew up to manhood, and manhood passed on to old age, and still there were no signs of the coming storm. That was no feeble faith which could hold on in this manner, for an hundred and twenty years, believing unwaveringly that all which God had said would be accomplished. But it is an illustration of faith in the Christian church now. The church maintains the same confidence in God from age to age - and regardless of all the reproaches of scoffers, and all the arguments of philosophy, still adheres to the truths which God has revealed. So with individual Christians. They look for the promise. They are expecting heaven. They doubt not that the time will come when they will be received to glory; when their bodies will be raised up glorified and immortal, and when sin and sorrow will be no more.
In the conflicts and trials of life the time of their deliverance may seem to be long delayed. The world may reproach them, and Satan may tempt them to doubt whether all their hope of heaven is not delusion. But their faith fails not, and though hope seems delayed, and the heart is sick, yet they keep the eye on heaven. So it is in regard to the final triumphs of the gospel. The Christian looks forward to the time when the earth shall be full of the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea. Yet that time may seem to be long delayed. Wickedness triumphs. A large part of the earth is still filled with the habitations of cruelty. The progress of the gospel is slow. The church comes up reluctantly to the work. The enemies of the cause exult and rejoice, and ask with scoffing triumph where is the evidence that the nations will be converted to God? They suggest difficulties; they refer to the numbers, and to the opposition of the enemies of the true religion; to the might of kingdoms, and to the power of fixed opinion, and to the hold which idolatry has on mankind, and they sneeringly inquire at what period will the world be converted to Christ? Yet in the face of all difficulties, and arguments, and sneers, “faith” confides in the promise of the Father to the Son, that the “heathen shall be given to him for an inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for a possession,” Psalms 2:8. The faith of the true Christian is as strong in the fulfillment of this promise, as that of Noah was in the assurance that the guilty world would be destroyed by a flood of waters.
By faith Abraham - There is no difficulty in determining that Abraham was influenced by faith in God. The case is even stronger than that of Noah, for it is expressly declared, Genesis 15:6, “And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness.” Compare notes, Romans 4:1-5. In the illustrations of the power of faith in this chapter, the apostle appeals to two instances in which it was exhibited by Abraham, “the father of the faithful.” Each of these required confidence in God of extraordinary strength, and each of them demanded a special and honorable mention. The first was that when he left his own country to go to a distant land of strangers (Genesis 15:8-10); the other when he showed his readiness to sacrifice his own son in obedience to the will of God, Hebrews 11:17-19.
When he was called - Genesis 12:1, “Now the Lord had said unto Abraham, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will show thee.”
Into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed - To Palestine, or the land of Canaan, though that was not indicated at the time.
And he went out, not knowing whither he went - Genesis 12:4. Abraham at that time took with him Sarai, and Lot the son of his brother, and “the souls that they had gotten in Haran.” Terah, the father of Abraham, started on the journey with them, but died in Haran; Genesis 11:31-32. The original call was made to Abraham, Genesis 12:1; Acts 7:2-3, but he appears to have induced his father and his nephew to accompany him. At this time he had no children Genesis 11:30, though it seems probable that Lot had; Genesis 12:5. Some, however, understand the expression in Genesis 12:5, “and the souls they had gotten in Haran,” as referring to the servants or domestics that they had in various ways procured, and to the fact that Abraham and Lot gradually drew around them a train of dependents and followers who were disposed to unite with them, and accompany them wherever they went. The Chaldee Paraphrast; understands it of the proselytes which Abraham had made there - “All the souls which he had subdued unto the law.” When it is said that Abraham “went out, not knowing whither he went,” it must be understood as meaning that he was ignorant to what country he would in fact be led. If it be supposed that he had some general intimation of the nature of that country, arid of the direction in which it was situated, yet it must be remembered that the knowledge of geography was then exceedingly imperfect; that this was a distant country; that it lay beyond a pathless desert, and that probably no traveler had ever come from that land to apprize him what it was. All this serves to show what was the strength of the faith of Abraham.
By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country - The land of Canaan that had been promised to him and his posterity. He resided there as if he were a stranger and sojourner. He had no possessions there which he did not procure by honest purchase; he owned no land in fee-simple except the small piece which he bought for a burial-place; see Genesis 23:7-20. In all respects he lived there as if he had no special right in the soil; as if he never expected to own it; as if he were in a country wholly owned by others. He exercised no privileges which might not have been exercised by any foreigner, and which was not regarded as a right of common - that of feeding his cattle in any unoccupied part of the land; and he would have had no power of ejecting any other persons excepting what anyone might have enjoyed by the pre-occupancy of the pasture-grounds. To all intents and purposes he was a stranger. Yet he seems to have lived in the confident and quiet expectation that that land would at some period come into the possession of his posterity. It was a strong instance of faith that he should cherish this belief for so long a time, when he was a stranger there; when he gained no right in the soil except in the small piece that was purchased as a burial-place for his wife, and when he saw old age coming on and still the whole land in the possession of others.
Dwelling in tabernacles - In tents - the common mode of living in countries where the principal occupation is that of keeping flocks and herds. His dwelling thus in moveable tents looked little like its being his permanent possession.
With Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise - That is, the same thing occurred in regard to them, which had to Abraham. “They” also lived in tents. They acquired no fixed property, and no title to the land except to the small portion purchased as a burial-place. Yet they were heirs of the same promise as Abraham, that the land would be theirs. Though it was still owned by others, and filled with its native inhabitants, yet they adhered to the belief that it would come into the possession of their families. In their moveable habitations; in their migrations from place to place, they seem never to have doubted that the fixed habitation of their posterity was to be there, and that all that had been promised would be certainly fulfilled.
For he looked for a city which hath foundations - It has been doubted to what the apostle here refers. Grotius and some others suppose, that he refers to Jerusalem, as a permanent dwelling for his posterity, in contradistinction from the unsettled mode of life which Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob led. But there is no evidence that Abraham looked forward to the building of such a city, for no promise was made to him of this kind; and this interpretation falls evidently below the whole drift of the passage; compare Hebrews 11:14-16; Hebrews 12:22; Hebrews 13:14. Phrases like that of “the city of God,” “a city with foundations,” “the new Jerusalem,” and “the heavenly Jerusalem” in the time of the apostle, appear to have acquired a kind of technical signification. They referred to “heaven” - of which Jerusalem, the seat of the worship of God, seems to have been regarded as the emblem. Thus, in Hebrews 12:22, the apostle speaks of the “heavenly Jerusalem,” and in Hebrews 13:14, he says, “here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come.”
In Revelation 21:2, John says that he “saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God, out of heaven,” and proceeds in that chapter and the following to give a most beautiful description of it. Even so early as the time of Abraham, it would seem that the future blessedness of the righteous was foretold under the image of a splendid city reared on permanent foundations. It is remarkable that Moses does not mention this as an object of the faith of Abraham, and it is impossible to ascertain the degree of distinctness which this had in his view. It is probable that the apostle in speaking of his faith in this particular did not rely on any distinct record, or even any tradition, but spoke of his piety in the language which he would use to characterize religion of any age, or in any individual. He was accustomed, in common with others of his time, to contemplate the future blessedness of the righteous under the image of a beautiful city; a place where the worship of God would be celebrated for ever - a city of which Jerusalem was the most striking representation to the mind of a Jew. It was natural for him to speak of strong piety in this manner wherever it existed, and especially in such a case as that of Abraham, who left his own habitation to wander in a distant land,
This fact showed that he regarded himself as a stranger and sojourner, and yet he had a strong expectation of a fixed habitation, and a permanent inheritance. He must, therefore, have looked on to the permanent abodes of the righteous; the heavenly city; and though he had an undoubted confidence that the promised land would be given to his posterity, yet as he did not possess it himself, he must have looked for his own permanent abode to the fixed residence of the just in heaven. This passage seems to me to prove that Abraham had an expectation of future happiness after death. There is not the slightest evidence that he supposed there would be a magnificent and glorious capital where the Messiah would personally reign, and where the righteous dead, raised from their graves, would dwell in the second advent of the Redeemer. All that the passage fairly implies is, that while Abraham. expected the possession of the promised land for his posterity, yet his faith looked beyond this for a permanent home in a future world.
Whose builder and maker is God - Which would not be reared by the agency of man, but of which God was the immediate and direct architect. This shows conclusively, I think, that the reference in this allusion to the “city” is not to Jerusalem, as Grotius supposes; but the language is just such as will appropriately describe heaven, represented as a city reared without human hands or art, and founded and fashioned by the skill and power of the Deity; compare the notes on 2 Corinthians 5:1. The language here applied to God as the “architect” or framer of the universe, is often used in the classic writers. See Kuinoel and Wetstein. The apostle here commends the faith of Abraham as eminently strong. The following “hints” will furnish topics of reflection to those who are disposed to inquire more fully into its strength:
(1) The journey which he undertook was then a long and dangerous one. The distance from Haran to Palestine by a direct route was not less than four hundred miles, and this journey lay across a vast desert - a part of Arabia Deserta. That journey has always been tedious and perilous; but to see its real difficulty, we must put ourselves into the position in which the world was four thousand years ago. There was no knowledge of the way; no frequented path; no facility for traveling; no turnpike or rail-way; and such a journey then must have appeared incomparably more perilous than almost any which could now be undertaken.
(2) He was going among strangers. Who they were he knew not; but the impression could not but have been made on his mind that they were strangers to religion, and that a residence among them would be anything but desirable.
(3) He was leaving country, and home, and friends; the place of his birth and the graves of his fathers, with the moral certainty that he would see them no more.
(4) He had no right to the country which he went to receive. He could urge no claim on the ground of discovery, or inheritance, or conquest at any former period; but though he went in a peaceful manner, and with no power to take it, and could urge no claim to it whatever, yet he went with the utmost confidence that it would be his. He did not even expect to buy it - for he had no means to do this, and it seems never to have entered his mind to bargain for it in any way, except for the small portion that be needed for a burying-ground.
(5) He had no means of obtaining possession. He had no wealth to purchase it; no armies to conquer it; no title to it which could be enforced before the tribunals of the land. The prospect of obtaining it must have been distant, and probably he saw no means by which it was to be done. In such a case, his only hope could be in God.
(6) It is not impossible that the enterprise in that age might have been treated by the friends of the patriarch as perfectly wild and visionary. The prevailing religion evidently was idolatry, and the claim which Abraham set up to a special call from the Most High, might have been deemed entirely fanatical. To start off on a journey through a pathless desert; to leave his country and home, and all that he held dear, when he himself knew not whither he went; to go with no means of conquest, but with the expectation that the distant and unknown land would be given him, could not but have been regarded as a singular instance of visionary hope. The whole transaction, therefore, was in the highest degree an act of simple confidence in God, where there was no human basis of calculation, and where all the principles on which people commonly act would have led him to pursue just the contrary course. It is, therefore, not without reason that the faith of Abraham is so commended.
Through faith also Sarah herself received strength to conceive seed - The word “herself” here - αὐτὴ autē - implies that there was something remarkable in the fact that “she” should manifest this faith. Perhaps there may be reference here to the incredulity with which she at first received the announcement that she should have a child; Genesis 18:11, Genesis 18:13. Even “her” strong incredulity was overcome, and though everything seemed to render what was announced impossible, and though she was so much disposed to laugh at the very suggestion at first, yet her unbelief was overcome, and she ultimately credited the divine promise. The apostle does not state the authority for his assertion that the strength of Sarah was derived from her faith, nor when particularly it was exercised. The argument seems to be, that here was a case where all human probabilities were against what was predicted, and where, therefore, there must have been simple trust in God. Nothing else but “faith” could have led her to believe that in her old age she would have borne a son.
When she was past age - She was at this time more than ninety years of age; Genesis 17:17; compare Genesis 18:11.
Because she judged him faithful who had promised - She had no other ground of confidence or expectation. All human probability was against the supposition that at her time of life she would be a mother.
Therefore sprang there even of one - From a single individual. What is observed here by the apostle as worthy of remark, is, that the whole Jewish people sprang from one man, and that, as the reward of his strong faith he was made the father and founder of a nation.
And him as good as dead - So far as the subject under discussion is concerned, To human appearance there was no more probability, that he would have a son at that period of life, than that the dead would have.
So many as the stars in the sky ... - An innumerable multitude. This was agreeable to the promise; Genesis 15:5; Genesis 22:17. The phrases used here are often employed to denote a vast multitude, as nothing appears more numerous than the stars of heaven, or than the sands that lie on the shores of the ocean. The strength of faith in this case was, that there was simple confidence in God in the fulfillment of a promise where all human probabilities were against it. This is, therefore, an illustration of the nature of faith. It does not depend on human reasoning; on analogy; on philosophical probabilities; on the foreseen operation of natural laws; but on the mere assurance of God - no matter what may be the difficulties to human view, or the improbabilities against it.
These all died in faith - That is, those who had been just mentioned - Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Sarah. It was true of Abel and Noah also that they died in faith, but they are not included in “this” declaration, for the “promises” were not particularly entrusted to them, and if the word “these” be made to include them it must include Enoch also, who did not die at all. The phrase used here, “these all died in faith,” does not mean that they died in the exercise or possession of religion, but more strictly that they died not having possessed what was the object of their faith. They had been looking for something future, which they did not obtain during their lifetime, and died believing that it would yet be theirs.
Not having received the promises - That is, not having received the “fulfillment” of the promises; or “the promised blessings.” The promises themselves they “had” received; compare Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4; Acts 2:39; Galatians 3:14, and Hebrews 11:33, Hebrews 11:39. In all these places the word “promise” is used by metonymy “for the thing promised.”
But having seen them afar off - Having seen that they would be fulfilled in future times; compare John 8:56. It is probable that the apostle here means that they saw “the entire fulfillment” of all that the promises embraced in the future - that is, the bestowment of the land of Canaan, the certainty of a numerous posterity, and of the entrance into the heavenly Canaan - the world of fixed and permanent rest. According to the reasoning of the apostle here the “promises” to which they trusted included all these things.And were persuaded of them - Had no doubt of their reality.
And embraced them - This word implies more than our word “embrace” frequently does; that is, “to receive as true.” It means properly “to draw to oneself;” and then to embrace as one does a friend from whom he has been separated. It then means to greet, salute, welcome, and here means a joyful greeting of those promises; or a pressing them to the heart as we do a friend. It was not a cold and formal reception of them, but a warm and hearty welcome. Such is the nature of true faith when it embraces the promises of salvation. No act of pressing a friend to the bosom is ever more warm and cordial.
And confessed that they were strangers - Thus, Abraham said Genesis 23:4, “I am a stranger and a sojourner with you.” That is, he regarded himself as a foreigner; as having no home and no possessions there. It was on this ground that he proposed to buy a burial-place of the sons of Heth.
And pilgrims - This is the word - παρεπίδημος parepidēmos - which is used by Abraham, as rendered by the Septuagint in Genesis 23:4, and which is translated “sojourner” there in the common English version. The word “pilgrim” means properly “a wanderer, a traveler,” and particularly one who leaves his own country to visit a holy place. This sense does not quite suit the meaning here, or in Genesis 23:4. The Hebrew word - תּושׁב towshaab - means properly one who “dwells in a place,” and particularly one who is a “mere” resident without the rights of a citizen. The Greek word means a “by-resident;” one who lives by another; or among a people not his own. This is the idea here. It is not that they confessed themselves to be wanderers; or that they had left their home to visit a holy place, but that they “resided” as mere sojourners in a, country that was not theirs. What might be their ultimate destination, or their purpose, is not implied in the meaning of the word. They were such as reside awhile among another people, but have no permanent home there.
On the earth - The phrase used here - ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς epi tēs gēs - might mean merely on the land of Canaan, but the apostle evidently uses it in a larger sense as denoting the earth in general. There can be no doubt that this accords with the views which the patriarchs had - regarding themselves not only as strangers in the land of Canaan, but feeling that the same thing was true in reference to their whole residence upon the earth - that it was not their permanent home.
For they that say such things ... - That speak of themselves as having come into a land of strangers; and that negotiate for a small piece of land, not to cultivate, but to bury their dead. So we should think of any strange people coming among us now - who lived in tents; who frequently changed their residence; who became the purchasers of no land except to bury their dead, and who never spake of becoming permanent residents. We should think that they were in search of some place as their home, and that they had not yet found it. Such people were the Hebrew patriarchs. They lived and acted just as if they had not yet found a permanent habitation, but were traveling in search of one.
And truly if they had been mindful of that country ... - If they had remembered it with sufficient interest and affection to have made them desirous to return.
They might have had opportunity to have returned - The journey was not so long or perilous that they could not have retraced their steps. It would have been no more difficult or dangerous for them to do that than it was to make the journey at first. This shows that their remaining as strangers and sojourners in the land of Canaan was voluntary. They preferred it, with all its inconveniences and hardships, to a return to their native land. The same thing is true of all the people of God now. If they choose to return to the world, and to engage again in all its vain pursuits, there is nothing to hinder them. There are “opportunities” enough. There are abundant inducements held out. There are numerous frivolous and worldly friends who would regard it as a matter of joy and triumph to have them return to vanity and folly again. They would welcome them to their society; rejoice to have them participate in their pleasures; and be willing that they should share in the honors and the wealth of the world. And they might do it. There are multitudes of Christians who could grace, as they once did, the ball-room: who could charm the social party by song and wit; who could rise to the highest posts of office, or compete successfully with others in the race for the acquisition of fame. They have seen and tasted enough of the vain pursuits of the world to satisfy them with their vanity; they are convinced of the sinfulness of making these things the great objects of living; their affections are now fixed on higher and nobler objects, and they “choose” not to return to those pursuits again, but to live as strangers and sojourners on the earth - for there is nothing more “voluntary” than religion.
But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly - That is, at the time referred to when they confessed that they were strangers and sojourners, they showed that they sought a better country than the one which they had left. They lived as if they had no expectation of a permanent residence on earth, and were looking to another world. The argument of the apostle here appears to be based upon what is apparent from the whole history, that they had a confident belief that the land of Canaan would be given to “their posterity,” but as for “themselves” they had no expectation of permanently dwelling there, but looked to a home in the heavenly country. Hence, they formed no plans for conquest; they laid claim to no title in the soil; they made no purchases of farms for cultivation; they lived and died without owning any land except enough to bury their dead. All this appears as if they looked for a final home in a “better country, even a heavenly.”
Wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God - Since they had such an elevated aim, he was willing to speak of himself as their God and Friend. They acted as became his friends, and he was not ashamed of the relation which he sustained to them. The language to which the apostle evidently refers here is what is found in Exodus 3:6, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” We are not to suppose that God is ever “ashamed” of anything that he does. The meaning here is, that they had acted in such a manner that it was fit that he should show toward them the character of a Benefactor, Protector, and Friend.
For he hath prepared for them a city - Such as they had expected - a heavenly residence; Hebrews 11:10. There is evidently here a reference to heaven, represented as a city - the new Jerusalem - prepared for his people by God himself; compare the notes on Matthew 25:34. Thus, they obtained what they had looked for by faith. The wandering and unsettled patriarchs to whom the promise was made, and who showed all their lives that they regarded themselves as strangers and pilgrims, were admitted to the home of permanent rest, and their posterity was ultimately admitted to the possession of the promised land. Nothing could more certainly demonstrate that the patriarchs believed in a future state than this passage. They did not expect a permanent home on earth. They made no efforts to enter into the possession of the promised land themselves. They quietly and calmly waited for the time when God would give it to their posterity, and in the meantime for themselves they looked forward to their permanent home in the heavens.
Even in this early period of the world, therefore, there was the confident expectation of the future state; compare the notes on Matthew 22:0:3l-32. We may remark, that the life of the patriarchs was, in all essential respects, such as we should lead. They looked forward to heaven; they sought no permanent possessions here; they regarded themselves as strangers and pilgrims on the earth. So should we be. In our more fixed and settled habits of life; in our quiet homes; in our residence in the land in which we were born, and in the society of old and tried friends, we should yet regard ourselves as “strangers and sojourners.” We have here no fixed abode. The houses in which we dwell will soon be occupied by others; the paths in which we go will soon be trod by the feet of others; the fields which we cultivate will soon be plowed and sown and reaped by others. Others will read the books which we read; sit down at the tables where we sit; lie on the beds where we repose; occupy the chambers where we shall die, and from whence we shall be removed to our graves. If we have any permanent home, it is in heaven; and that we have, the faithful lives of the patriarchs teach us, and the unerring word of God everywhere assures us.
By faith Abraham - The apostle had stated one strong instance of the faith of Abraham, and he now refers to one still more remarkable - the strongest illustration of faith, undoubtedly, which has ever been evinced in our world.
When he was tried - The word used here is rendered “tempted,” in Matthew 4:1, Matthew 4:3; Matthew 16:1; Matthew 19:3; Matthew 22:18, Matthew 22:35, and in twenty-two other places in the New Testament; “prove,” in John 6:6; “hath gone about,” in Acts 24:6; “examine,” 2 Corinthians 13:5; and “tried,” in Revelation 2:2, Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:10. 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 and strength. The meaning here is, that Abraham was placed in circumstances which showed what was the real strength of his confidence in God.
Offered up Isaac - That is, he showed that he was ready and willing to make the sacrifice, and would have done it if he had not been restrained by the voice of the angel; Genesis 22:11-12. So far as the intention of Abraham was concerned, the deed was done, for he had made every preparation for the offering, and was actually about to take the life of his son.
And he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son - The promises particularly of a numerous posterity. The fulfillment of those promises depended on him whom he was now about to offer as a sacrifice. If Abraham had been surrounded with children, or if no special promise of a numerous posterity had been made to him, this act would not have been so remarkable. It would in any case have been a strong act of faith; it “was especially” strong in his ease from the circumstances that he had an only son, and that the fulfillment of the promise depended on his life.
Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called; - Genesis 21:12. A numerous posterity had been promised to him. It was there said expressly that this promise was not to be fulfilled through the son of Abraham, by the bondwoman Hagar, but through Isaac. Of course, it was implied that Isaac was to reach manhood, and yet notwithstanding this, and notwithstanding Abraham fully believed it, be prepared deliberately, in obedience to the divine command, to put him to death. The phrase “thy seed be called” means, that his posterity was to be named after Isaac, or was to descend only from him. The word “called” in the Scriptures is often equivalent to the verb “to be;” see Isaiah 56:7. To “name” or “call” a thing was the same as to say that it was, or that it existed. It does not mean here that his “spiritual” children were to be called or selected from among the posterity of Isaac, but that the posterity promised to Abraham would descend neither from Ishmael nor the sons of Keturah, but in the line of Isaac. This is a strong circumstance insisted on by the apostle to show the strength of Abraham’s faith. It was shown not only by his willing hess to offer up the child of his old age - his only son by his beloved wife, but by his readiness, at the command of God, to sacrifice even him on whom the fulfillment of the promises depended.
Accounting that God was able to raise him up even from the dead - And that he would do it; for so Abraham evidently believed, and this idea is plainly implied in the whole narrative. There was no other way in which the promise could be fulfilled; and Abraham reasoned justly in the case. He had received the promise of a numerous posterity. He had been told expressly that it was to be through this favorite child. He was now commanded to put him to death as a sacrifice, and he prepared to do it. To fulfil these promises, therefore, there was no other way possible but for him to be raised up from the dead, and Abraham fully believed that it would be done. The child had been given to him at first in a supernatural manner, and he was prepared, therefore, to believe that he would be restored to him again by miracle. He did not doubt that be who had given him to him in a manner at first so contrary to all human probability, could restore him again in a method as extraordinary. He, therefore, anticipated that he would raise him up immediately from the dead. That this was the expectation of Abraham is apparent from the narrative in Genesis 22:5, “And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you;” in the plural - ונּשׁובּה אליכם wanaashuwbaah 'alēykem - “and we will return;” that is, I and Isaac will return, for no other persons went with them, Hebrews 11:6. As Abraham went with the full expectation of sacrificing Isaac, and as he expected Isaac to return with him, it follows that he believed that God would raise him up immediately from the dead.
From whence also he received him in a figure - There has been great difference of opinion as to the sense of this passage, but it seems to me to be plain. The obvious interpretation is that he then received him by his being raised up from the altar as if from the dead. He was to Abraham dead. He had given him up. He had prepared to offer him as a sacrifice. He lay there before him as one who was dead From that altar he was raised up by direct divine interposition, as if he was raised from the grave, and this was to Abraham a “figure” or a representation of the resurrection. Other interpretations may be seen in Stuart in loc. - The following circumstances will illustrate the strength of Abraham’s faith in this remarkable transaction.
(1) The strong persuasion on his mind that God had commanded this. In a case of this nature - where such a sacrifice was required - how natural would it have been for a more feeble faith to have doubted whether the command came from God! It might have been suggested to such a mind that this must be a delusion, or a temptation of Satan; that God “could not” require such a thing; and that whatever might be the appearance of a divine command in the case, there must be some deception about it. Yet Abraham does not appear to have reasoned about it at all, or to have allowed the strong feelings of a father to come in to modify his conviction that God had commanded him to give up his son. What an example is this to us! And how ready should we be to yield up a son - an only son - when God comes himself and removes him from us.
(2) The strength of his faith was seen in the fact that in obedience to the simple command of God, all the strong feelings of a father were overcome. On the one hand there were his warm affections for an only son; and on the other there was the simple command of God. They came in collision - but Abraham did not hesitate a moment. The strong paternal feeling was sacrificed at once. What an example this too for us! When the command of God and our own attachments come into collision, we should not hesitate a moment. God is to be obeyed. His command and arrangements are to be yielded to, though most tender ties are rent asunder, and though the heart bleeds.
(3) The strength of his faith was seen in the fact, that, in obedience to the command of God, he resolved to do what in the eyes of the world would be regarded as a most awful crime. There is no crime of a higher grade than the murder of a son by the hand of a father. So it is now estimated by the world, and so it would have been in the time of Abraham. All the laws of God and of society appeared to be against the act which Abraham was about to commit, and he went forth not ignorant of the estimate which the world would put on this deed if it were known. How natural in such circumstances would it have been to argue that God could not possibly give such a command; that it was against all the laws of heaven and earth; that there was required in this what God and man alike must and would pronounce to be wrong and abominable! Yet Abraham did not hesitate. The command of God in the case was to his mind a sufficient proof that this was right - and it should teach us that whatever our Maker commands us should be done - no matter what may be the estimate affixed to it by human laws, and no matter how it may be regarded by the world.
(4) The strength of his faith was seen in the fact that there was a positive promise of God to himself which would seem to be frustrated by what he was about to do. God had expressly promised to him a numerous posterity, and had said that it was to be through this son. How could this be if he was put to death as a sacrifice? And how could God command such a thing when his promise was thus positive? Yet Abraham did not hesitate. It was not for him to reconcile these things; it was his to obey. He did not doubt that somehow all that God had said would prove to be true; and as he saw but one way in which it could be done - by his being immediately restored to life - he concluded that that was to be the way. So when God utters his will to us, it is ours simply to obey. It is not to inquire in what way his commands or revealed truth can be reconciled with other things. He will himself take care of that. It is ours at once to yield to what he commands, and to believe that somehow all that he has required and said will be consistent with everything else which he has uttered.
(5) The strength of the faith of Abraham was seen in his belief that God would raise his son from the dead. Of that he had no doubt. But what evidence had he of that? It had not been promised. No case of the kind had ever occurred; and the subject was attended with all the difficulties which attend it now. But Abraham believed it; for, first, there was no other way in which the promise of God could be fulfilled; and second, such a thing would be no more remarkable than what had already occurred. It was as easy for God to raise him from the dead as it was to give him at first contrary to all the probabilities of the case, and he did not, therefore, doubt that it would be so. Is it less easy for us to believe the doctrine of the resurrection than it was for Abraham? Is the subject attended with more difficulties now than it was then? The faith of Abraham in this remarkable instance shows us that the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead, not withstanding the limited revelations then enjoyed, and all the obvious difficulties of the case, was early believed in the world; and as those difficulties are no greater now, and as new light has been shed upon it by subsequent revelations, and especially as in more than one instance the dead have been actually raised, those difficulties should not be allowed to make us doubt it now.
By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come - see Genesis 27:26-40. The meaning is, that he pronounced a blessing on them in respect to their future condition. This was by faith in God who had communicated it to him, and in full confidence that he would accomplish all that was here predicted. The act of faith here was simply what believes that all that God says is true. There were no human probabilities at the time when these prophetic announcements were made, which could have been the basis of his calculation, but all that he said must have rested merely on the belief that God had revealed it to him. A blessing was pronounced on each, of a very different nature, but Isaac had no doubt that both would be fulfilled.
By faith Jacob, when he was a dying - Genesis 47:31; Genesis 48:1-20. That is, when he was about to die. He saw his death near when he pronounced this blessing on Ephraim and Manasseh, the sons of Joseph.
And worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff - This is an exact quotation from the Septuagint in Genesis 47:31. The English version of that place is, “and Israel bowed himself upon the bed’s head,” which is a proper translation, in the main, of the word מטּה miTTah. That word, however, with different vowel points - מטּה maTTeh, means a branch, a bough, a rod, a staff, and the translators of the Septuagint have so rendered it. The Masoretic points are of no authority, and either translation, therefore, would be proper. The word rendered “head” in Genesis 47:31 - “bed’s head” - ראשׁ ro'sh, means properly head, but may there mean the top of anything, and there is no impropriety in applying it to the head or top of a staff. The word rendered in Genesis 47:31 as “bowed” - וישׁתחו wayishtachuw - implies properly the idea of “worshipping.” It is bowing, or prostration for the purpose of worship or homage.
Though the Septuagint and the apostle here have, therefore, given a somewhat different version from that commonly given of the Hebrew, and sustained by the Masoretic pointing, yet it cannot be demonstrated that the version is unauthorized, or that it is not a fair translation of the Hebrew. It has also the probabilities of the case in its favour. Jacob was tenderly affected in view of the goodness of God, and of the assurance that he would be conveyed from Egypt when he died, and buried in the land of his fathers. Deeply impressed with this, nothing was more natural than that the old man should lean reverently forward and incline his head upon the top of his staff, and adore the covenant faithfulness of his God. Such an image is much more natural and probable than that he should “bow upon his bed’s head” - a phrase which at best is not very intelligible. If this be the true account, then the apostle does not refer here to what was done when he “blessed the sons of Joseph,” but to an act expressive of strong faith in God which had occurred just before. The meaning then is, “By faith when about to die he blessed the sons of Joseph; and by faith also he reverently bowed before God in the belief that when he died his remains would be conveyed to the promised land, and expressed his gratitude in an act of worship, leaning reverently on the top of his staff.” The order in which these things are mentioned is of no consequence, and thus the whole difficulty in the case vanishes. Both the acts here referred to were expressive of strong confidence in God.
By faith Joseph, when he died - When about to die; see Genesis 50:24-25.
Made mention of the departing of the children of Israel - Margin, “remembered.” The meaning is, that he called this to their mind; he spake of it. “And Joseph said unto his brethren, I die; and God will surely visit you, and bring you out of this land unto the land which he sware to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” This prediction of Joseph could have rested only on faith in the promise of God. There were no events then occurring which would be likely to lead to this, and nothing which could be a basis of calculation that it would be so, except what God had spoken. The faith of Joseph, then, was simple confidence in God; and its strength was seen in his firm conviction that what had been promised would be fulfilled, even when there were no appearances that to human view justified it.
And gave commandment concerning his bones - Genesis 50:25. “And Joseph took an oath of the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you, and ye shall carry up my bones from hence.” He had such a firm belief that they would possess the land of promise, that he exacted an oath of them that they would remove his remains with them, that he might be buried in the land of his fathers. He could not have exacted this oaths, nor could they have taken it, unless both he and they had a sure confidence that what God had spoken would be performed.
By faith Moses, when he was born - That is, by the faith of his parents. The faith of Moses himself is commended in the following verses. The statement of the apostle here is, that his parents were led to preserve his life by their confidence in God. They believed that he was destined to some great purpose, and that he would be spared, notwithstanding all the probabilities against it, and all the difficulties in the case.
Was hid three months of his parents - By his parents. In Exodus 2:2, it is said that it was done “by his mother.” The truth doubtless was, that the mother was the agent in doing it - since the concealment, probably, could be better effected by one than where two were employed - but that the father also concurred in it is morally certain. The concealment was, at first, probably in their own house. The command seems to have been Exodus 1:22, that the child should be cast into the river as soon as born. This child was concealed in the hope that some way might be found out by which his life might be spared.
Because they saw he was a proper child - A fair, or beautiful child - ἀστεῖον asteion. The word properly means “pertaining to a city” - (from ἄστυ astu, a city); then urbane, polished, elegant; then fair, beautiful. In Acts 7:20, it is said that he was “fair to God,” (Margin,); that is, exceedingly fair, or very handsome. His extraordinary beauty seems to have been the reason which particularly influenced his parents to attempt to preserve him. It is not impossible that they supposed that his uncommon beauty indicated that he was destined to some important service in life, and that they were on that account the more anxious to save him.
And they were not afraid of the king’s commandment - Requiring that all male children should be given up to be thrown into the Nile. That is, they were not so alarmed, or did not so dread the king, as to be induced to comply with the command. The strength of the faith of the parents of Moses, appears:
(1)Because the command of Pharaoh to destroy all the male children was positive, but they had so much confidence in God as to disregard it.
(2)Because there was a strong improbability that their child could be saved. They themselves found it impossible to conceal him longer than three months, and when it was discovered, there was every probability that the law would be enforced and that the child would be put to death. Perhaps there was reason also to apprehend that the parents would be punished for disregarding the authority of the king.
(3)Because they probably believed that their child was destined to some important work. They thus committed him to God instead of complying with the command of an earthly monarch, and against strong probabilities in the ease, they believed that it was possible that in some way he might be preserved alive. The remarkable result showed that their faith was not unfounded.
By faith Moses - He had confidence in God when he called him to be the leader of his people. He believed that he was able to deliver them, and he so trusted in him that he was willing at his command to forego the splendid prospects which opened before him in Egypt. “When he was come to years.” Greek “being great;” that is, when he was grown up to manhood. He was at that time forty years of age; see the notes on Acts 7:23. He took this step, therefore, in the full maturity of his judgment, and when there was no danger of being influenced by the ardent passions of youth.
Refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter - When saved from the ark in which he was placed on the Nile, he was brought up for the daughter of Pharaoh; Exodus 2:9. He seems to have been adopted by her, and trained up as her own son. What prospects this opened before him is not certainly known. There is no probability that he would he the heir to the crown of Egypt, as is often affirmed, for there is no proof that the crown descended in the line of daughters; nor if it did, is there any probability that it would descend on an adopted son of a daughter. But his situation could not but be regarded as highly honorable, and as attended with great advantages. It gave him the opportunity of receiving the best education which the times and country afforded - an opportunity of which he seems to have availed himself to the utmost; notes, Acts 7:22. It would doubtless be connected with important offices in the state. It furnished the opportunity of a life of ease and pleasure - such as they commonly delight in who reside at courts. And it doubtless opened before him the prospect of wealth - for there is no improbability in supposing that he would be the heir of the daughter of a rich monarch. Yet all this, it is said, he “refused.” There is indeed no express mention made of his formaliy and openly refusing it, but his leaving the court, and identifying himself with his oppressed countrymen, was in fact a refusal of these high honors, and of these brilliant prospects. It is not impossible that when he became acquainted with his real history, there was some open and decided refusal on his part, to be regarded as the son of the daughter of this pagan monarch.
Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God - With those whom God had chosen to he his people - the Israelites. They were then oppressed and down-trodden; but they were the descendants of Abraham, and were those whom God had designed to be his special people. Moses saw that if he cast in his lot with them, he must expect trials. They were poor, and crushed, and despised - a nation of slaves. If he identified himself with them, his condition would be like theirs - one of great trial; if he sought to elevate and deliver them, such an undertaking could not but be one of great peril and hardship. Trial and danger, want and care would follow from any course which he could adopt, and he knew that an effort to rescue them from bondage must be attended with the sacrifice of all the comforts and honor which he enjoyed at court. Yet he “chose” this. He on the whole preferred it. He left the court, not because he was driven away; not because there was nothing there to gratify ambition or to he a stimulus to avarice; and not on account of harsh treatment - for there is no intimation that he was not treated with all the respect and honor due to his station, his talents, and his learning, but because he deliberately preferred to share the trials and sorrows of the friends of God. So every one who becomes a friend of God and casts in his lot with his people, though he may anticipate that it will be attended with persecution, with poverty, and with scorn, prefers this to all the pleasures of a life of gaiety and sin, and to the most brilliant prospects of wealth and fame which this world can offer.
Than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season - We are not to suppose that Moses, even at the court of Pharaoh, was leading a life of vicious indulgence. The idea is, that sins were practiced there such as those in which pleasure is sought, and that if he had remained there it must have been because he loved the pleasures of a sinful court and a sinful life rather than the favour of God. We may learn from this:
(1) That there is a degree of pleasure in sin. It does not deserve to be called happiness, and the apostle does not call it so. It is “pleasure,” excitement, hilarity, merriment, amusement. Happiness is more solid and enduring than “pleasure;” and solid happiness is not found in the ways of sin. But it cannot be denied that there is a degree of pleasure which may be found in amusement; in the excitement of the ball-room; in feasting and revelry; in sensual enjoyments. All which wealth and splendour; music and dancing; sensual gratifications, and the more refined pursuits in the circles of fashion, can furnish, may be found in a life of irreligion; and if disappointment, and envy, and sickness, and mortified pride, and bereavements do not occur, the children of vanity and sin can find no inconsiderable enjoyment in these things. They say they do; and there is no reason to doubt the truth of their own testimony in the case. They call it a “life of pleasure;” and it is not proper to withhold from it the appellation which they choose to give it. It is not the most pure or elevated kind of enjoyment, but it would be unjust to deny that there is any enjoyment in such a course.
(2) It is only “for a season.” It will all soon pass away. Had Moses lived at the court of Pharaoh all his days, it would have been only for a little “season.” These pleasures soon vanish, because:
(a) life itself is short at best, and if a career of “pleasure” is pursued through the whole of the ordinary period allotted to man, it is very brief.
(b) Those who live for pleasure often abridge their own lives. Indulgence brings disease in its train, and the volaries of sensuality usually die young. The art has never been yet discovered of combining intemperance and sensuality with length of days. If a man wishes a reasonable prospect of long life, he must be temperate and virtuous. Indulgence in vice wears out the nervous and muscular system, and destroys the powers of life - just as a machine without balance-wheel or governor would soon tear itself to pieces.
(c) Calamity, disappointment, envy, and rivalship mar such a life of pleasure - and he who enters on it, from causes which he cannot control, finds it very short. And,
(d) compared with eternity, O how brief is the longest life spent in the ways of sin! Soon it must be over - and then the unpardoned sinner enters on an immortal career where pleasure is forever unknown!
(3) In view of all the “pleasures” which sin can furnish, and in view of the most brilliant prospects which this world can hold out, religion enables man to pursue a different path. They who become the friends of God are willing to give up all those fair and glittering anticipations, and to submit to whatever trials may be incident to a life of self-denying piety. Religion, with all its privations and sacrifices, is preferred, nor is there ever occasion to regret the choice. Moses deliberately made that choice; nor in all the trials which succeeded it - in all the cares incident to his great office in conducting the children of Israel to the promised land - in all their ingratitude and rebellion - is there the least evidence that he ever once wished himself back again that he might enjoy “the pleasures of sin” in Egypt.
Esteeming the reproach of Christ - Margin, “For;” that is, on account of Christ. This means either that he was willing to bear the reproaches incident to his belief that the Messiah would come, and that he gave up his fair prospects in Egypt with that expectation; or that he endured such reproaches as Christ suffered; or the apostle uses the expression as a sort of technical phrase, well understood in his time, to denote sufferings endured in the cause of religion. Christians at that time would naturally describe all sufferings on account of religion as endured in the cause of Christ; and Paul, therefore, may have used this phrase to denote sufferings in the cause of religion - meaning that Moses suffered what, when the apostle wrote, would be called “the reproaches of Christ.” It is not easy, or perhaps possible, to determine which of these interpretations is the correct one, The most respectable names may be adduced in favour of each, and every reader must be left to adopt his own view of what is correct. The original will admit of either of them. The general idea is, that he would be reproached for the course which he pursued. He could not expect to leave the splendours of a court and undertake what he did, without subjecting himself to trials. He would be blamed by the Egyptians for his interference in freeing their “slaves,” and in bringing so many calamities upon their country; and he would be exposed to ridicule for his folly in leaving his brilliant prospects at court, to become identified with an oppressed and despised people. It is rare that men are zealous in doing good without exposing themselves both to blame and to ridicule.
Greater riches - Worth more; of greater value. Reproach itself is not desirable; but reproach, when a man receives it in an effort to do good to others, is worth more to him than gold, 1 Peter 4:13-14. The scars which an old soldier has received in the defense of his country are more valued by him than his pension; and the reproach which a good man receives in endeavoring to save others is a subject of greater joy to him than would be all the wealth which could be gained in a life of sin.
Than the treasures in Egypt - It is implied here, that Moses had a prospect of inheriting large treasures in Egypt, and that he voluntarily gave them up to be the means of delivering his nation from bondage. Egypt abounded in wealth; and the adopted son of the daughter of the king would naturally be heir to a great estate.
For he had respect unto the recompense of the reward - The “recompense of the reward” here referred to must mean the blessedness of heaven - for he had no earthly reward to look to. He had no prospect of pleasure, or wealth, or honor, in his undertaking. If he had sought these, so far as human sagacity could foresee, he would have remained at the court of Pharaoh. The declaration here proves that it is right to have respect to the rewards of heaven in serving God. It does not prove that this was the only or the main motive which induced Moses to abandon his prospects at court; nor does it prove that this should be our main or only motive in leading a life of piety. If it were, our religion would be mere selfishness. But it is right that we should desire the rewards and joys of heaven, and that we should allow the prospect of those rewards and joys to influence us as a motive to do our duty to God, and to sustain us in our trials; compare Philippians 3:8-11, Philippians 3:13-14.
By faith he forsook Egypt - Some have understood this of the first time in which Moses forsook Egypt, when he fled into Midian, as recorded in Exodus 2:0; the majority of expositors have supposed that it refers to the time when he left Egypt to conduct the Israelites to the promised land. That the latter is the time referred to is evident from the fact that it is said that he did “not fear the wrath of the king.” When Moses first fled to the land of Midian it is expressly said that he went because he did fear the anger of Pharaoh for his having killed an Egyptian; Exodus 2:14-15. He was at that time in fear of his life; but when he left Egypt at the head of the Hebrew people, he had no such apprehensions. God conducted him out with “an high hand,” and throughout all the events connected with that remarkable deliverance, he manifested no dread of Pharaoh, and had no apprehension from what he could do. He went forth, indeed, at the head of his people when all the power of the king was excited to destroy them, but he went confiding in God: and this is the faith referred to here.
For he endured - He persevered, amidst all the trials and difficulties connected with his leading forth the people from bondage.
As seeing him who is invisible - “As if” he saw God. He had no more doubt that God had called him to this work, and that he would sustain him, than if he saw him with his physical eyes. This is a most accurate account of the nature of faith; compare notes on Hebrews 11:1.
Through faith he kept the passover - Greek, “he made - πεποίηκε pepoiēke - the passover,” which means more, it seems to me, than that he merely kept or celebrated it. It implies that he instituted this rite, and made the arrangements for its observance. There is reference to the special agency, and the special faith which he had in its institution. The faith in the case was confidence that this would be the means of preserving the first-born of the Israelites, when the angel should destroy the first-born of the Egyptians, and also that it would be celebrated as a perpetual memorial of this great deliverance. On the passover, see the notes on Matthew 26:2.
And the sprinkling of blood - The blood of the paschal lamb on the lintels and door-posts of the houses; Exodus 12:22.
Lest he that destroyed the first-born should touch them - The first-born of the Egyptians; Exodus 12:23. The apostle has thus enumerated some of the things which illustrated the faith of Moses. The strength of his faith may be seen by a reference to some of the circumstances which characterized it.
(1) It was such confidence in God as to lead him to forsake the most flattering prospects of worldly enjoyment. I see no evidence, indeed, that he was the heir to the throne; but he was evidently heir to great wealth; he was encompassed with all the means of worldly pleasure; he had every opportunity for a life of literary and scientific pursuits; he was eligible to high and important trusts; he had a rank and station which would be regarded as one of the most honored and enviable on earth. None of those who are mentioned before in this chapter were required to make just such sacrifices as this. Neither Abel, nor Noah, nor Enoch, was called to forsake so brilliant worldly prospects; and though Abraham was called to a higher act of faith when commanded to give up his beloved son, yet there were some circumstances of trial in the case of Moses illustrating the nature of faith which did not exist in the case of Abraham. Moses, in the maturity of life, and with everything around him that is usually regarded by people as objects of ambition, was ready to forego it all. So wherever true faith exists, there is a readiness to abandon the hope of gain, and brilliant prospects of distinction, and fascinating pleasures, in obedience to the command of God.
(2) Moses entered on an undertaking wholly beyond the power of man to accomplish, and against every human probability of success. It was no less than that of restoring to freedom two millions of down-trodden, oppressed, and dispirited. slaves, and conducting aged and feeble men, tender females, helpless children, with numerous flocks and herds, across barren wastes to a distant land. He undertook this against the power of probably the most mighty monarch of his time; from the midst of a warlike nation; and when the whole nation would be kindled into rage at the loss of so many slaves, and when he might expect that all the power of their wrath would descend on him and his undisciplined and feeble hosts. He did this when he had no wealth that he could employ to furnish provisions or the means of defense; no armies at his command to encircle his people on their march; and even no influence among the people himself, and with every probability that they would disregard him; compare Exodus 3:11; Exodus 4:1. He did this when the whole Hebrew people were to be aroused to willingness to enter on the great undertaking; when there was every probability that they would meet with formidable enemies in the way, and when there was nothing human whatever on which the mind could fix as a basis of calculation of success. If there ever was any undertaking commenced opposed to every human probability of success, it was that of delivering the Hebrew people and conducting them to the promised land. To human view it was quite as hopeless and impracticable as it would be now for a stranger from Africa, claiming to be a native prince there, and to have a commission from God to liberate the two and a half millions of slaves in the U. States and conduct them to the land of their fathers. In all the difficulties and discouragements of the undertaking of Moses, therefore, his only hope of success must have arisen from his confidence in God.
(3) It was an undertaking where there were many certain trials before him. The people whom he sought to deliver were poor and oppressed. An attempt to rescue them would bring down the wrath of the mighty monarch under whom they were. They were a people unaccustomed to self-government, and as the result proved, prone to ingratitude and rebellion. The journey before him lay through a dreary waste, where there was every prospect that there would be a want of food and water, and where he might expect to meet with formidable enemies. In all these things his only hope must have been in God. It was he only who could deliver them from the grasp of the tyrant; who could conduct them through the wilderness, who could provide for their wants in the desert; and who could defend a vast multitude of women and children from the enemies which they would be likely to encounter.
(4) There was nothing in this to gratify ambition, or to promise an earthly reward. All these prospects he gave up when he left the court of Pharaoh. To be the leader of a company of emancipated slaves through a pathless desert to a distant land, had nothing in itself that could gratify the ambition of one who had been bred at the most magnificent court on earth, and who had enjoyed every advantage which the age afforded to qualify him to fill any exalted office. The result showed that Moses never designed to be himself the king of the people whom he led forth, and that he had no intention of aggrandizing his own family in the case.
By faith they passed through the Red sea as by dry land - Exodus 14:22, Exodus 14:29. That is, it was only by confidence in God that they were able to do this. It was not by power which they had to remove the waters and to make a passage for themselves; and it was not by the operation of any natural causes. It is not to be supposed that all who passed through the Red sea had saving faith. The assertion of the apostle is, that the passage was made in virtue of strong confidence in God, and that if it had not been for this confidence the passage could not have been made at all. Of this no one can entertain a doubt who reads the history of that remarkable transaction.
Which the Egyptians assaying to do, were drowned - Exodus 14:27-28. Evidently referred to here as showing the effects of not having faith in God, and of what must inevitably have befallen the Israelites if they had had no faith. The destruction of the Egyptians by the return of the waters in accordance with natural laws, showed that the Israelites would have been destroyed in the passage if a divine energy had not been employed to prevent it. On the passage through the Red sea, see Robinson’s Biblical Researches, vol. 1, pp. 81-86.
By faith the walls of Jericho fell down ... - Josephus, Hebrews 6:12-20. That is, it was not by any natural causes, or by any means that were in themselves adapted to secure such a result. It was not because they fell of themselves; nor because they were assailed by the hosts of the Israelites; nor was it because there was any natural tendency in the blowing of horns to cause them to fall. None of these things were true; and it was only by confidence in God that means so little adapted to such a purpose could have been employed at all; and it was only by continued faith in him that they could have been persevered in day by day, when no impression whatever was made. The strength of the faith evinced on this occasion appears from such circumstances as these: - that there was no natural tendency in the means used to produce the effect; that there was great apparent improbability that the effect would follow; that they might be exposed to much ridicule from those within the city for attempting to demolish their strong walls in this manner, and from the fact that the city was encircled day after day without producing any result.
This may teach us the propriety and necessity of faith in similar circumstances. Ministers of the gospel often preach where there seems to be as little prospect of beating down the opposition in the human heart by the message which they deliver, as there was of demolishing the walls of Jericho by the blowing of rams’ horns. they blow the gospel trumpet from week to week and month to month, and there seems to be no tendency in the strong citadel of the heart to yield. Perhaps the only apparent result is to excite ridicule and scorn. Yet let them not despair. Let them blow on. Let them still lift up their voice with faith in God, and in due time the walls of the citadel will totter and fall. God has power over the human heart as he had over Jericho; and in our darkest day of discouragement let us remember that we are never in circumstances indicating less probability of success from any apparent tendency in the means used to accomplish the result, than those were who encompassed this pagan city. With similar confidence in God we may hope for similar success.
By faith the harlot Rahab - She resided in Jericho; Joshua 2:1. When Joshua crossed the Jordan, he sent two men as spies to her house, and she saved them by concealment from the enemies that would have destroyed their lives. For this act of hospitality and kindness, they assured her of safety when the city should be destroyed, and directed her to give an indication of her place of abode to the invading Israelites, that her house might be spared; Joshua 2:18-19. In the destruction of the city, she was accordingly preserved; Joshua 6:0. The apostle seems to have selected this case as illustrating the nature of faith, partly because it occurred at Jericho, of which he had just made mention, and partly to show that strong faith had been exercised not only by the patriarchs, and by those who were confessed to be great and good, but by those in humble life, and whose earlier conduct had been far from the ways of virtue. “Calvin.”
Much perplexity has been felt in reference to this case, and many attempts have been made to remove the difficulty. The main difficulty has been that a woman of this character should be enumerated among those who were eminent for piety, and many expositors have endeavored to show that the word rendered “harlot” does not necessarily denote a woman of abandoned character, but may be used to denote a hostess. This definition is given by Schleusner, who says that the word may mean one who prepares and sells food and who receives strangers to entertain them. Others have supposed that the word means “an idolatress,” because those devoted to idolatry were frequently of abandoned character. But there are no clear instances in which the Greek word, and the corresponding Hebrew word - זונה zownah - is used in this sense. The usual and the fair meaning of the word is what is given in our translation, and there is no good reason why that signification should not be retained here. It is not implied by the use of the word here, however, that Rahab was an harlot at the time to which the apostle refers; but the meaning is, that this had been her character, so that it was proper to designate her by this appellation. In regard to this case, therefore, and in explanation of the difficulties which have been felt in reference to it, we may remark:
(1) That the obvious meaning of this word here and of the corresponding place in Joshua 2:6 is, that she had been a woman of abandoned character, and that she was known as such. That she might have been also a hostess, or one who kept a house of entertainment for strangers, is at the same time by no means improbable, since it not unfrequently happened in ancient as well as modern times, that females of this character kept such houses. It might have been the fact that her house was “known” merely as a house of entertainment that led the spies who went to Jericho to seek a lodging there. It would be natural that strangers coming into a place should act in this respect as all other travelers did, and should apply for entertainment at what was known as a public house.
(2) There is no improbability in supposing that her course of life had been changed either before their arrival, or in consequence of it. They were doubtless wise and holy men. Men would not be selected for an enterprise like this, in whom the leader of the Hebrew army could not put entire confidence. It is not unfair then to suppose that they were men of eminent piety, as well as sagacity. Nor is there any improbability in supposing that they would acquaint this female with the history of their people, with their remarkable deliverance from Egypt, and with the design for which they were about to invade the land of Canaan. There is evidence that some such representations made a deep impression on her mind, and led to a change in her views and feelings, for she not only received them with the usual proofs of hospitality, but jeoparded her own life in their defense, when she might easily have betrayed them. This fact showed that she had a firm belief that they were what they professed to be - the people of God, and that she was willing to identify her interests with theirs.
(3) This case - supposing that she had been a woman of bad character, but now was truly converted - does not stand alone. Other females of a similar character have been converted, and have subsequently led lives of piety; and though the number is not comparatively great, yet the truth of God has shown its power in renewing and sanctifying some at least of this, the most abandoned and degraded class of human beings. “Publicans and harlots,” said the Saviour, “go into the kingdom of God;” Matthew 21:31. Rahab seems to have been one of them; and her case shows that such instances of depravity are not hopeless. This record, therefore, is one of encouragement for the most abandoned sinners; and one too which shows that strangers, even in a public house, may do good to those who have wandered far from God and virtue, and that we should never despair of saving the most abandoned of our race.
(4) There is no need of supposing that the apostle in commending this woman approved of all that she did. That she was not perfect is true. That she did some things which cannot be vindicated is true also - and who does not? But admitting all that may be said about any imperfection in her character, (compare Joshua 2:4), it was still true that she had strong faith - and that is all that the apostle commends. We are under no more necessity of vindicating all that she did, than we are all that David or Peter did - or all that is now done by those who have the highest claims to virtue.
(5) She had strong faith. It was only a strong belief that Yahweh was the true God, and that the children of Israel were his people, which would have led her to screen the strangers at the peril of her own life; and when the city was encompassed, and the walls fell, and the tumult of battle raged she showed her steady confidence in their fidelity, and in God, by using the simple means on which she was told the safety of herself and her family depended; Joshua 6:22-23.
With them that believed not - The inhabitants of the idolatrous city of Jericho. The margin is, “were disobedient.” The more correct rendering, however, is, as in the text, believed not. They evinced no such faith as Rahab had, and they were therefore destroyed.
Received the spies with peace - With friendliness and kindness; Joshua 2:1 ff.
And what shall I more say? - There are numerous other instances showing the strength of faith which there is not time to mention.
For the time would fail me to tell - To recount all that they did; all the illustrations of the strength and power of faith evinced in their lives.
Of Gedeon - The history of Gideon is detailed at length in Judges 6–7, and there can be no doubt that in his wars he was sustained and animated by strong confidence in God.
And of Barak - Judges 4:0. Barak, at the command of Deborah the prophetess, who summoned him to war in the name of the Lord, encountered and overthrew the hosts of Sisera. His yielding to her summons, and his valour in battle against the enemies of the Lord, showed that he was animated by faith.
And of Samson - see the history of Samson in Judges 14–16. It is not by any means necessary to suppose that in making mention of Samson, the apostle approved of all that he did. All that he commands is his faith, and though he was a very imperfect man, and there were many things in his life which neither sound morality nor religion can approve, yet it was still true that he evinced, on some occasions, remarkable confidence in God, by relying on the strength which he gave him. This was particularly true in the instance where he made a great slaughter of the enemies of the Lord, and of his country; see Judges 15:16; Judges 16:30.
And of Jephthae - The story of Jephtha is recorded in Judges 11:0. The mention of his name among those who were distinguished for faith, has given occasion to much perplexity among expositors. That a man of so harsh and severe a character, a man who sacrificed his own daughter, in consequence of a rash vow, should be numbered among those who were eminent for piety, as if he were one distinguished for piety also, has seemed to be wholly inconsistent and improper. The same remark, however, may be made respecting Jephtha which has been made of Samson and others. The apostle does not commend all which they did. He does not deny that they were very imperfect men, nor that they did many things which cannot be approved or vindicated. He commends only one thing - their faith; and in these instances he particularly alludes, doubtless, to their remarkable valour and success in delivering their country from their foes and from the foes of God. In this it is implied that they regarded themselves as called to this work by the Lord, and as engaged in his service; and that they went forth to battle, depending on his protection and nerved by confidence in him as the God of their country.
Their views of God himself might be very erroneous; their notions of religion - as was the case with Jephtha - very imperfect and obscure; many things in their lives might be wholly inconsistent with what we should now regard as demanded by religion, and still it might be true that in their efforts to deliver their country, they relied on the aid of God, and were animated to put forth extraordinary efforts, and were favoured with extraordinary success from their confidence in him. In the case of Jephtha, all that it is necessary to suppose, in order to see the force of the illustration of the apostle is, that he had strong confidence in God - the God of his nation, and that, under the influence of this, he made extraordinary efforts in repelling his foes. And this is not unnatural or improbable, even on the supposition that he was not a pious man. How many a Greek, and Roman, and Goth, and Muslim, has been animated’ to extraordinary courage in battle, by confidence in the gods which they worshipped! That Jephtha had this, no one can doubt; see Judges 11:29-32.
(It is not likely that Jephtha’s faith would have found a record here, had it been of no higher kind than this. Peirce admits his unnatural crime, but supposes him to have repented. “It must be owned,” says he, “that if Jephtha had not repented of this very heinous wickedness, he could not have been entitled to salvation. The apostle, therefore, who has assured us of his salvation, must undoubtedly have gone upon the supposition that Jephtha actually repented of it before he died. That he had time to repent is beyond dispute, because he lived near six years after this. For it is expressly said he judged Israel six years, Judges 12:7, and it is as certain he made this vow in the beginning of his government. What evidence the apostle had of Jephtha’s repentance I cannot say. He might know it by the help of old Jewish histories, or by inspiration.”)
Even in the great and improper sacrifice of his only daughter which the obvious interpretation of the record respecting him in Judges 11:39, leads us to suppose he made, he did it as an offering to the Lord, and under these mistaken views of duty, he showed by the greatest sacrifice which a man could make - that of an only child that he was disposed to do what he believed was required by religion. A full examination of the case of Jephtha, and of the question whether he really sacrificed his daughter, may be found in Warburton’s Divine Legation of Moses, book 9, notes, in Bush’s Notes on Judges 11:0; and in the Biblical Repository for January 1843. It is not necessary to go into the much litigated inquiry here whether he really put his daughter to death, for whether he did or not, it is equally true that he evinced strong confidence in God. If he did do it, in obedience as he supposed to duty and to the divine command, no higher instance of faith in God as having a right to dispose of all that he had, could be furnished; if he did not, his eminent valour and success in battle show that he relied for strength and victory on the arm of Yahweh. The single reason why the piety of Jephtha has ever been called in question has been the fact that he sacrificed his own daughter. If he did not do that, no one will doubt his claims to an honored rank among those who have evinced faith in God.
Of David also - Commended justly as an eminent example of a man who had faith in, God, though it cannot be supposed that all that he did was approved.
And Samuel - In early youth distinguished for his piety, and manifesting it through his life; see 1 Sam.
And of the prophets - They were men who had strong confidence in the truth of what God directed them to foretell, and who were ever ready, depending on him, to make known the most unwelcome truths to their fellow man, even at the peril of their lives.
Who through faith subdued kingdoms - That is, those specified in the previous verses, and others like them. The meaning is, that some of them subdued kingdoms, others obtained promises, etc. Thus, Joshua subdued the nations of Canaan; Gideon the Midianites; Jephtha the Ammonites; David the Philistines, Amalekites, Jebusites, Edomites, etc.
Wrought righteousness - Carried the laws of justice into execution, particularly on guilty nations. They executed the great purposes of God in punishing the wicked, and in cutting off his foes.
Obtained promises - Or obtained “promised blessings” (Bloomfield, Stuart); that is, they obtained as a result of their faith, promises of blessings on their posterity in future times.
Stopped the mouths of lions - As Samson, Judges 14:6; David, 1 Samuel 17:34 ff; and particularly Daniel; Daniel 6:7, following To be able to subdue and render harmless the king of the forest - the animal most dreaded in early times - was regarded as an eminent achievement.
Quenched the violence of fire - As Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did; Daniel 3:15-26. “Escaped the edge of the sword.” As Elijah did when he fled from Ahab, 1 Kings 19:3; as Elijah did when he was delivered from the king of Syria, 2 Kings 6:16; and as David did when he fled from Saul.
Out of weakness were made strong - Enabled to perform exploits beyond their natural strength, or raised up from a state of physical infirmity, and invigorated for conflict. Such a case as that of Samson may be referred to, Judges 15:15; Judges 16:26-30; or as that of Hezekiah, 2 Kings 20:0 who was restored from dangerous sickness by the immediate interposition of God; see the notes on Isaiah 38:0.
Waxed valiant in fight - Became valiant. Like Joshua. Barak, David, etc. The books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings supply instances of this in abundance.
Turned to flight the armies of the aliens - The foreigners - as the invading Philistines, Ammonites, Moabites, Assyrians, etc.
Women received their dead raised to life again - As in the case of the woman of Zarephath, whose child was restored to life by Elijah, 1 Kings 17:19-24; and of the son of the Shunamite woman whose child was restored to life by Elisha; 2 Kings 4:18-37.
And others were tortured - The word which is used here - τυμπανίζω tumpanizō - to “tympanize,” refers to a form of severe torture which was sometimes practiced. It is derived from τύμπανον tumpanon - “tympanum” - a drum, tabret, timbrel; and the instrument was probably so called from resembling the drum or the timbrel. This instrument consisted in the East of a thin wooden rim covered over with skin, as a tambourine is with us; see it described in the notes on Isaiah 5:12. The engine of torture here referred to, probably resembled the drum in form, on which the body of a criminal was bent so as to give greater severity to the wounds which were inflicted by scourging. The lash would cut deeper when the body was so extended, and the open gashes exposed to the air would increase the torture; see 2 Macc. 6:19-29. The punishment here referred to seems to have consisted of two things - the stretching upon the instrument, and the scourging; see Robinson’s Lexicon and Stuart in loc. Bloomfield, however, supposes that the mode of the torture can be best learned from the original meaning of the word τυμπανον tumpanon - “tympanum” - as meaning:
(1)A beatingstick, and,
(2)A beating-post which was in the form of a T, thus suggesting the posture of the sufferer. This beating, says he, was sometimes administered with sticks or rods; and sometimes with leather thongs inclosing pieces of lead. The former account, however, better agrees with the usual meaning of the word.
Not accepting deliverance - When it was offered them; that is, on condition that they would renounce their opinions, or do what was required of them. This is the very nature of the spirit of martyrdom.
That they might obtain a better resurrection - That is, when they were subjected to this kind of torture they were looked upon as certainly dead. To have accepted deliverance then, would have been a kind of restoration to life, or a species of resurrection. But they refused this, and looked forward to a more honorable and glorious restoration to life; a resurrection, therefore, which would be better than this. It would be in itself more noble and honorable, and would be permanent, and therefore better. No particular instance of this kind is mentioned in the Old Testament; but amidst the multitude of cases of persecution to which good men were subjected, there is no improbability in supposing that this may have occurred. The case of Eleazer, recorded in 2 Macc. 6, so strongly resembles what the apostle says here, that it is very possible he may have had it in his eye. The passage before us proves that the doctrine of the resurrection was understood and believed before the coming of the Saviour, and that it was one of the doctrines which sustained and animated those who were called to suffer on account of their religion. In the prospect of death under the infliction of torture on account of religion, or under the pain produced by disease, nothing will better enable us to bear up under the suffering than the expectation that the body will be restored to immortal vigour, and raised to a mode of life where it will be no longer susceptible of pain. To be raised up to that life is a “better resurrection” than to be saved from death when persecuted, or to be raised up from a bed of pain.
And others had trial of cruel mockings - Referring to the scorn and derision which the ancient victims of persecution experienced. This has been often experienced by martyrs, and doubtless it was the case with those who suffered on account of their religion, before the advent of the Saviour as well as afterward. Some instances of this kind are mentioned in the Old Testament 2 Kings 2:23; 1 Kings 22:24; and it was frequent in the time of the Maccabees.
And scourging - Whipping. This was a common mode of punishment, and was usually inflicted before a martyr was put to death; see the notes on Matthew 10:17; Matthew 27:26. For instances of this, see Jeremiah 20:2; Jeremiah 2:0 Macc. 7:1; 5:17. “Of bonds.” Chains. Genesis 39:20.
And imprisonment - see 1 Kings 22:27; Jeremiah 20:2.
They were stoned - A common method of punishment among the Jews; see the notes on Matthew 21:35, Matthew 21:44. Thus, Zechariah, the son of Jehoiada the priest, was stoned; see 2 Chronicles 24:21; compare 1 Kings 21:1-14. It is not improbable that this was often resorted to in times of popular tumult, as in the case of Stephen; Acts 7:59; compare John 10:31; Acts 14:5. In the time of the terrible persecutions under Antiochus Epiphanes, and under Manasseh, such instances also probably occurred.
They were sawn asunder - It is commonly supposed that Isaiah was put to death in this manner. For the evidence of this, see introduction to Isaiah, 2. It is known that this mode of punishment, though not common, did exist in ancient times. Among the Romans, the laws of the twelve tables affixed this as the punishment of certain crimes, but this mode of execution was very rare, since Aulius Gellius says that in his time no one remembered to have seen it practiced. It appears, however, from Suetonius that the emperor Caligula often condemned persons of rank to be sawn through the middle. Calmet, writing above a hundred years ago, says, “I am assured that the punishment of the saw is still in use among the Switzers, and that they put it in practice not many years ago upon one of their countrymen, guilty of a great crime, in the plain of Grenelles, near Paris. They put him into a kind of coffin, and sawed him lengthwise, beginning at the head, as a piece of wood is sawn; “Pict. Bib.” It was not an unusual mode of punishment to cut a person asunder, and to suspend the different parts of the body to walls and towers, as a warning to the living; see 1 Samuel 31:10, and Morier’s Second Journey to Persia, p. 96.
Were tempted - On this expression, which has given much perplexity in critics, see the notes of Prof. Stuart, Bloomfield, and Kuinoel. There is a great variety of reading in the mss. and editions of the New Testament, and many have regarded it as an interpolation. The difficulty which has been felt in reference to it has been, that it is a much milder word than those just used, and that it is hardly probable that the apostle would enumerate this among those which he had just specified, as if to be tempted deserved to be mentioned among sufferings of so severe a nature. But it seems to me there need be no real difficulty in the case. The apostle here, among other sufferings which they were called to endure, may have referred to the temptations which were presented to the martyrs when about to die to abandon their religion and live. It is very possible to conceive that this might have been among the highest aggravations of their sufferings. We know that in later times it was a common practice to offer life to those who were doomed to a horrid death on condition that they would throw incense on the altars of a pagan god, and we may easily suppose that a temptation of that kind, artfully presented in the midst of keen tortures, would greatly aggravate their sufferings. Or suppose when a father was about to be put to death for his religion, his wife and children were placed before him and should plead with him to save his life by abandoning his religion, we can easily imagine that no pain of the rack would cause so keen torture to the soul as their cries and tears would. Amidst the sorrows of martyrs, therefore, it was not improper to say that they were tempted, and to place this among their most aggravated woes. For instances of this nature. see 2 Macc. 6:21, 22; 7:17, 24.
Were slain with the sword - As in the case of the eighty-five priests slain by Doeg 1 Samuel 22:18; and the prophets. of whose slaughter by the sword Elijah complains; 1 Kings 19:10.
They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins - Driven away from their homes, and compelled to clothe themselves in this rude and uncomfortable manner. A dress of this kind, or a dress made of hair, was not uncommon with the prophets, and seems indeed to have been regarded as an appropriate badge of their office; see 2 Kings 1:8; Zechariah 13:4.
Being destitute, afflicted, tormented - The word “tormented” here means tortured. The apostle expresses here in general what in the previous verses he had specified in detail.
Of whom the world was not worthy - The world was so wicked that it had no claim that such holy men should live in it. These poor, despised, and persecuted people, living as outcasts and wanderers, were of a character far elevated above the world. This is a most beautiful expression. It is at once a statement of their eminent holiness, and of the wickedness of the rest of mankind.
They wandered in deserts ... - On the Scripture meaning of the word “desert” or wilderness, see the notes on Matthew 3:1. This is a description of persons driven away from their homes, and wandering about from place to place to procure a scanty subsistence; compare 1 Macc. 1:53; 2 Macc. 5:27; 6:7. The instances mentioned in the Books of Maccabees are so much in point, that there is no impropriety in supposing that Paul referred to some such cases, if not these very cases. As there is no doubt about their historic truth, there was no impropriety in referring to them, though they are not mentioned in the canonical books of Scripture. One of those cases may be referred to as strikingly illustrating what is here said. “But Judas Maccabeus with nine others or thereabout, withdrew himself into the wilderness, and lived in the mountains after the manner of beasts, with his company, who fed on herbs continually lest they should be partakers of the pollution;” 2 Macc. 5:27.
And these all, having obtained a good report through faith - They were all commended and approved on account of their confidence in God; see the notes on Hebrews 11:2.
Received not the promise - That is, did not receive the fulfillment of the promise; or did not receive all that was promised. They all still looked forward to some future blessings; notes, Hebrews 11:13.
God having provided some better thing for us - Margin, “foreseen.” That is, “God having provided, or determined on giving some better thing than any of them realized, and which we are now permitted to enjoy.” That is, God gave them promises; but they were not allowed to see their fulfillment. We are permitted now to see what they referred to, and in part, at least, to witness their completion; and though the promise was made to them, the fulfillment more particularly pertains to us.
That they without us should not be made perfect - That is, complete. The whole system of revelation was not complete at once, or in one generation. It required successive ages to make the system complete, so that it might be said that it was finished, or perfect. Our existence, therefore, and the developments in our times, were as necessary to the perfection of the system, as the promise made to the patriarchs. And as the system would not have been complete if the blessings had been simply conferred on us without the previous arrangements, and the long scheme of introductory measures, so it would not have been complete if the promises had been merely given to them without the corresponding fulfillment in our times. They are like the two parts of a tally. The fathers had one part in the promises, and we the other in the fulfullment, and neither would have been complete without the other. The “better things” then referred to here as possessed by Christians, are the privilege of seeing those promises fulfilled in the Messiah; the blessings resulting from the atonement; the more expanded views which they have under the gospel; the brighter hopes of heaven itself, and the clearer apprehension of what heaven will be, which they are permitted to enjoy. This, therefore, accords entirely with the argument which the apostle is pursuing - which is, to show that the Christians whom he addressed should not apostatize from their religion. The argument is, that in numerous instances, as specified, the saints of ancient times, even under fiery trials, were sustained by faith in God, and that too when they had not seen the fulfillment of the promises, and when they had much more obscure views than we are permitted to enjoy. If they, under the influence of the mere promise of future blessings, were enabled thus to persevere, how much more reason is there for us to persevere who have been permitted, by the coming of the Messiah, to wittess the perfection of the system!
There is no part of the New Testament of more value than this chapter; none which deserves to be more patiently studied, or which may be more frequently applied to the circumstances of Christians. These invaluable records are adapted to sustain us in times of trial, temptation, and persecution; to show us what faith has done in days that are past, and what it may do still in similar circumstances. Nothing can better show the value and the power of faith, or of true religion, than the records in this chapter. It has done what nothing else could do. It has enabled people to endure what nothing else would enable them to bear, and it has shown its power in inducing them to give up, at the command of God, what the human heart holds most dear. And among the lessons which we may derive from the study of this portion of divine truth, let us learn from the example of Abel to continue to offer to God the sacrifice of true piety which he requires, though we may be taunted or opposed by our nearest kindred; from that of Enoch to walk with God, though surrounded by a wicked world, and to look to the blessed translation to heaven which awaits all the righteous; from that of Noah to comply with all the directions of God, and to make all needful preparations for the future events which he has predicted, in which we are to be interested - as death, judgment, and eternity - though the events may seem to be remote, and though there may be no visible indications of their coming, and though the world may deride our faith and our fears; from that of Abraham to leave country, and home, and kindred, if God calls us to, and to go just where he commands, through deserts and wilds, and among strange people, and like him also to be ready to give up the dearest objects of our earthly affection, even when attended with all that can try or torture our feelings of affection - feeling that God who gave has a right to require their removal in his own way, and that however much we may fix our hopes on a dear child, he can fulfil all his purposes and promises to us though such a child should be removed by death; from that of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to regard ourselves as strangers and pilgrims on earth, having here no permanent home. and seeking a better country; from that of Moses to be willing to leave all the pomp and splendour of the world, all our brilliant prospects and hopes, and to welcome poverty, reproach, and suffering, that we may identify ourselves with the people of God; by the remembrance of the host of worthies who met danger, and encountered mighty foes, aud vanquished them, let us learn to go forth in our spiritual conflicts against the enemies of our souls and of the church, assured of victory; and from the example of those who were driven from the abodes of human beings, and exposed to the storms of persecution, let us learn to bear every trial, and to be ready at any moment to lay down our lives in the cause of truth and of God. Of all those holy men who made these sacrifices, which of them ever regretted it, when he came calmly to look over his life, and to review it on the borders of the eternal world?
None. Not one of them ever expressed regret that he had given up the world; or that he had obeyed the Lord too early, too faithfully, or too long. Not Abraham who left his country and kindred; not Moses who abandoned his brilliant prospects in Egypt; not Noah who subjected himself to ridicule and scorn for an hundred and twenty years; and not one of those who were exposed to lions, to fire, to the edge of the sword, or who were driven away from society as outcasts to wander in pathless deserts or to take up their abodes in caverns, ever regretted the course which they had chosen. And who of them all now regrets it? Who, of these worthies, now looks from heaven and feels that he suffered one privation too much, or that he has not had an ample recompense for all the ills he experienced in the cause of religion? So we shall feel when from the bed of death we look over the present life, and look out on eternity.
Whatever our religion may have cost us, we shall not feel that we began to serve God too early, or served him too faithfully. Whatever pleasure, gain, or splendid prospects we gave up in order to become Christians, we shall feel that it was the way of wisdom, and shall rejoice that we were able to do it. Whatever sacrifices, trials, persecution, and pain, we may meet with, we shall feel that there has been more than a compensation in the consolations of religion, and in the hope of heaven, and that by every sacrifice we have been the gainers. When we reach heaven, we shall see that we have not endured one pain too much, and that through whatever trials we may have passed, the result is worth all which it has cost. Strengthened then in our trials by the remembrance of what faith has done in times that are past; recalling the example of those who through faith and patience have inherited the promises, let us go cheerfully on our way. Soon the journey of trials will be ended, and soon what are now objects of faith will become objects of fruition, and in their enjoyment, how trifling and brief will seem all the sorrows of our pilgrimage below!
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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Hebrews 11". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany