Wednesday, March 22nd, 2023
the Fourth Week of Lent
the Fourth Week of Lent
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Contending for the Faith Contending for the Faith
Contending for the Faith reproduced by permission of Contending for the Faith Publications, 4216 Abigale Drive, Yukon, OK 73099. All other rights reserved.
Contending for the Faith reproduced by permission of Contending for the Faith Publications, 4216 Abigale Drive, Yukon, OK 73099. All other rights reserved.
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Hebrews 11". "Contending for the Faith". https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ ctf/ hebrews-11.html. 1993-2022.
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Hebrews 11". "Contending for the Faith". https://www.studylight.org/
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Excellency and Accomplishments of Faith
The three major divisions of this chapter are a prologue setting forth the excellency of faith (verses 1-3), summaries of the life of faith (verses 4-7), and descriptions of the achievements of faith (verses 8-40). Faith is his predominant theme as Paul gives strong words of encouragement to recipients of this epistle to persevere until the end; he wants them to realize that a firm faith in the divine promises is essential for them to survive spiritually. He will present examples of victories of several Old Testament men and women of God who persevered. Without the same kind of faith, these Hebrews will fail; and with faith, they will survive. These heroic examples should be enough to encourage his readers to stand fast and survive their own personal trials.
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for: In this passage Paul is not defining what faith is; instead, he is describing faith and explaining what it does. Faith requires holiness in God’s people (12:14). For example, faith allows a person to be convinced of the reality of invisible things. The word "faith" (pistis) means "conviction (or) belief" (Thayer 512) concerning anything or anyone. In the New Testament, the word is generally used in the sense of divine things. The King James Version indicates that faith does not come from what is seen, but from what is not seen. Moses’ faith, for example, allowed him to see the invisible. In verse 27, Paul says, "By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible" (11:27).
Paul says faith is the "substance" of things hoped for. The word "substance" (hupostasis) refers to the foundation on which one builds his hope. A better translation would possibly be "confidence," as found in Hebrews 3:14 and in 2 Corinthians 9:4; 2 Corinthians 11:17; to denote what is "firm, trust, (or) assurance" (Thayer 645). Paul encourages his readers to be fully persuaded about "things hoped for" (elpizo), meaning to wait for, "salvation with joy and full of confidence" (Thayer 205). If one cannot be convinced of the unseen promises of God, he proves he does not have the faith necessary for salvation. Faith achieves impressive works through God’s authority. It tolerates every kind of affliction for the sake of God whose voice has been heard and whose reward has been seen through His written word.
the evidence of things not seen: By the word "evidence" (elegchos), Paul suggests that faith is the demonstration or "proof" (Thayer 202) of things that are invisible. In other words, "faith" is what causes a Christian to be persuaded of all things God has given in His word. Paul explains the source of faith: "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Romans 10:17). The "things" include the fulfillment of all spiritual promises. Paul’s words here are similar to his teaching to the Christians in Rome: "For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse" (Romans 1:20). Here in Hebrews, Paul refers to Christians’ being persuaded of the reality of things that are invisible or things that cannot be demonstrated by one’s senses. "Things future and things unseen must become certainties to the mind if a balanced life is to be lived. Faith mediating between man and the supersensible is the essential link between himself and God" (Dods 352). In short, "faith" is that which enables us to treat as real the things that are unseen. It appears by the expression "the evidence of things not seen" that Paul is not restricting his thoughts to faith in Jesus Christ only but also to faith in the gospel, faith in the eternal reward in heaven, faith in all things promised by God. To a true Christian, when God speaks, all controversy is settled.
For by it the elders obtained a good report.
By the words "by it," Paul is referring to the implementation of faith. The word "elders" (presbuteros) does not refer to the leaders of the Christian church. They were not distinguished from others because of their wisdom, talents, worldly achievements, or prosperity; rather, it refers to the "forefathers" of Paul’s readers, called simply "the fathers," the faithful men under the old dispensation (1:1). These men of God obtained a good report from the Father because of their obedient faith. They were men of God who were more concerned about the eternal things in heaven than about temporal things. The statement, "the elders obtained a good report," is illustrated in detail throughout the remaining verses of chapter eleven. Paul means that men and women of faith received approval from God; therefore, their examples from history have been preserved for God’s people down through the ages of time.
Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.
Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God: Before citing many examples of faith, Paul goes back to the creation of the world to show how one can have faith in that which is invisible (Genesis 1). To explain how faith is having confidence in things not seen, Paul mentions God’s creation of the world, believed by all Christians without any physical evidence. The term "worlds" (aion) is used "by metonomy of the container for the contained…(and denotes the creation of) the universe" (Thayer 19), in which they believed but could not prove by their senses. Paul’s readers, as all of God’s children, know the universe was "framed" (katartizo), meaning "to equip, put in order, arrange, (or) adjust" (Thayer 336), by God’s word. God’s word (rhema) means the world was created by what God "commanded (or) directed" (Thayer 562). Christians today "understand" many things, not because they witness the things or events but because of their faith in history. For example, they know George Washington was the first President of the United States. They do not know this fact by their senses since they did not see him become President, but they know it because of their faith in history. Similarly, even though no Christians personally witnessed the creation of the world, they believe God created it from nothing because of their faith in God and His word.
so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear: Paul does not attempt to explain how God can create something from nothing. Instead, from Old Testament writings, he affirms that God spoke and creation happened (see also Genesis 1:1). The result of the creation of the world by an invisible force (the word of God) is that which Paul mentions as being seen but "not made of things which do appear." If the world were created from materials that were subject to human examination, there would have been no room for faith:
Faith, then, accepts the testimony which God gives concerning creation; it establishes reason, intellect upon its throne in opposition to sense; it enables us to discover the evidences that the universe has sprung from the power and wisdom of God, instead of having its origin in material and sensible causes (Kendrick 146).
God did not create the world from matter that previously existed, but by His command it "was produced out of nothing; so that, at his fiat, the material creation was brought into existence, and formed into the things we see" (Bloomfield 529). Paul’s message is that faith gives recognition to God as being the grand power that binds the creation to the Creator. Kendrick’s thoughts about faith are right on target as he says:
Faith raises us from phenomenal to spiritual causes; from second and inefficient causes to the Supreme, the one great First Cause. Nothing can be simpler; and the passage thus interpreted is luminous and eloquent with a beautiful and fundamental truth (147).
Examples of Faith from the Past
By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh.
By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain: Cain and Abel were sons of Adam and Eve. Cain was the elder son, and Abel the second. Moses records this event when he says, "And she again bare his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground" (Genesis 4:2). There is not much said of Abel in the scriptures; however, his faith and his sacrifice are such an important action that they have been remembered in every generation. During his personal ministry, Jesus refers to the righteousness of Abel, saying, "That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar" (Matthew 23:35). Here Paul speaks of Abel’s faith that caused him to offer "a more excellent sacrifice than Cain." The word "excellent" (pleion) means "greater in quality" (Thayer 516). Abel’s sacrifice was more excellent than Cain’s because it was offered by faith; therefore, his sacrifice was superior to his brother’s. Abel is the first man recorded in the scriptures who offered his sacrifice by faith. He had no established precedent to follow and no example to imitate; therefore, his actions were not encouraged by popular custom nor regulated by his own rationale. It is not by faith alone but by faith put into action. There are two major views about Abel’s sacrifice: first, some believe Abel’s sacrifice is called more excellent because he offered an animal while his brother offered the fruit of the ground. This view seems to be correct because in the last part of this verse Paul speaks of "God testifying of his gifts (sacrifices)" (see below), suggesting God had given them instructions about the type of sacrifices to offer. An important lesson for us is that man’s works and activities are not right just because he calls them religious. They are right only when done in obedience to God’s instructions. As Samuel says, "Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams" (1 Samuel 15:22).
The second view is that Abel’s sacrifice is labeled more excellent, not because of the type of sacrifice but only because of his faith. The context of this chapter is predominately about "faith"; however, it is wrong to conclude that the sacrifice itself did not matter because it suggests Abel could have offered a sacrifice of the fruit of the ground, as his brother did; and, because he had faith, God would have accepted it. If Abel’s sacrifice had been from the earth as was his brother’s, God would not have accepted either sacrifice.
By applying to Abel what Paul says about faith, we understand that his sacrifice is considered "more excellent" because of his obedience when he offered an animal sacrifice. Since faith comes from hearing (implying obeying) the word of God, we understand that God instructed Cain and Abel to offer animal sacrifices when they worshiped Him. Offering his sacrifice "by faith" was essential; however, he also had to obey for his action to please God. Moses records the Lord’s instructions about animal sacrifices:
But the firstling of a cow, or the firstling of a sheep, or the firstling of a goat, thou shalt not redeem; they are holy: thou shalt sprinkle their blood upon the altar, and shalt burn their fat for an offering made by fire, for a sweet savour unto the LORD (Numbers 18:17).
Milligan comments on sacrifice: "Sacrifice is therefore, beyond all doubt, of Divine origin, and the superior excellence of Abel’s offering consisted simply in this: that in making it, he acted strictly in compliance with the revealed will of God" (389). The same is true with all of God’s children today. To please God in our worship, we must obey His instructions; otherwise, our actions are in vain, even though we call them worship. In rebuking the Scribes and Pharisees, Jesus called them hypocrites because of their actions in worship:
Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men (Matthew 15:7-9).
Vain worship, Jesus emphasizes, is to worship by "teaching for doctrines the commandments of men." One has a choice: to worship by faith, as Abel did, or to worship in vain, as Cain did. God rejected Cain’s offering because it was not offered by faith in that it was not done in obedience to God’s instructions. Faith demands adherence to an ethical standard that brings honor and glory to God. Moses writes:
And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering: But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell. And the LORD said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen? If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him (Genesis 4:3-7).
The only way God’s children can please Him is to worship by faith, that is, to worship according to His instructions instead of worshiping according to the instructions and commandments of men.
by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: God had respect to Abel’s offering and looked with satisfaction upon it; thus, God actually stood as a witness that Abel was righteous. Abel was righteous, not because of his own works, but because he worked to obey the commands of God. "Obtained witness" (martureo) is used emphatically here, meaning "to utter honorable testimony (or to) give a good report" (Thayer 391). The good report Abel obtained from God was that he was "righteous" (dikaios), meaning that in his actions he was "keeping the commandments of God" (Thayer 148); therefore, God was "testifying of his gifts." "Testifying" (martureo) is the same Greek word translated "obtained witness" and once again means "honorable testimony" (Thayer 391). It means that God gave a good report of Abel’s gifts. "Gifts" (doron) refers to the "sacrifices" (Thayer 161) that Abel offered to God by faith.
and by it he being dead yet speaketh: Abel’s death, at the hands of his brother Cain, does not end his teaching. By being "dead yet speaketh," Paul says Abel’s sacrifice by faith is an example for everyone to follow. Long after his death, Abel still speaks of the proper way to worship God and to please Him. Obviously, Abel is not literally speaking after his death, but he is speaking when Jesus mentions his actions in Matthew 23:35. Abel still speaks to us today in the twentieth-first century every time we remember his actions of righteousness in obeying God’s commandments, by which he obtained a good report from God.
By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.
By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death: Jude, the brother of James, informs us that Enoch was a prophet who warned the people, saying:
Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints, to execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him (Judges 1:14-15).
Jude also points out that Enoch was the seventh generation from Adam. He was born through Adam’s son, Seth. Adam’s family tree would show: Adam, Seth, Enos, Cainan, Mahalaleel, Jared, and then Enoch:
And Adam lived an hundred and thirty years, and begat a son in his own likeness, after his image; and called his name Seth: And the days of Adam after he had begotten Seth were eight hundred years: and he begat sons and daughters: And all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years: and he died. And Seth lived an hundred and five years, and begat Enos: And Seth lived after he begat Enos eight hundred and seven years, and begat sons and daughters: And all the days of Seth were nine hundred and twelve years: and he died. And Enos lived ninety years, and begat Cainan: And Enos lived after he begat Cainan eight hundred and fifteen years, and begat sons and daughters: And all the days of Enos were nine hundred and five years: and he died. And Cainan lived seventy years, and begat Mahalaleel: And Cainan lived after he begat Mahalaleel eight hundred and forty years, and begat sons and daughters: And all the days of Cainan were nine hundred and ten years: and he died. And Mahalaleel lived sixty and five years, and begat Jared: And Mahalaleel lived after he begat Jared eight hundred and thirty years, and begat sons and daughters: And all the days of Mahalaleel were eight hundred ninety and five years: and he died. And Jared lived an hundred sixty and two years, and he begat Enoch (Genesis 5:3-18).
"By faith" means it is "because of faith" in God (Thayer 513) that Enoch was translated and did not see death. When Enoch was 365 years old, his life on this earth ended; but it did not end in death. Because of his faith, he "was translated that he should not see death." The holy scriptures say:
And Enoch lived sixty and five years, and begat Methuselah: And Enoch walked with God after he begat Methuselah three hundred years, and begat sons and daughters: And all the days of Enoch were three hundred sixty and five years: And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him (Genesis 5:21-24).
Enoch walked with God. Like Elijah, he pleased God and lived such a devoted godly life that he was taken from earth, probably directly into heaven, without dying a natural death. Speaking of Elijah, the scriptures say:
And it came to pass, when the LORD would take up Elijah into heaven by a whirlwind, that Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal…And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven (2 Kings 2:1; 2 Kings 2:11).
Exactly what happened to Enoch, we do not know; even his family and friends did not know. Enoch simply disappeared one day because God had taken him away.
and was not found, because God had translated him: Paul suggests that after God had taken Enoch away, his family searched for him, but he "was not found." He was probably taken away in the same way that those who are alive when Jesus returns will be called up to meet Jesus. In Paul’s great teaching regarding the resurrection, he says:
Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality (1 Corinthians 15:50-53).
Any other explanation of what happened to Enoch would be pure speculation. All we know for certain is that he was "translated," meaning there was a "sudden change" made in Enoch. He was taken from this earthly life to the life beyond.
for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God: While we are not told exactly what happened to Enoch, we do know why God translated him. Paul says it is because of the testimony "that he pleased God." He pleased God because of his obedience to Him by faith. Enoch’s faith led to his having a close personal relationship with God.
But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.
But without faith it is impossible to please him: Faith in God and in Jesus are essential to pleasing God. Here, Paul emphasizes that those who please God will have faith; and if they have true faith, they will "come to God." And this faith involves obedience. All of Paul’s examples in this chapter speak of those who were obedient because of their faith in the Lord. All actions performed by God’s children that are not done in faith are sin and, therefore, not pleasing to Him. Paul says, "Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth. And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin" (Romans 14:22-23). Every action of a Christian—worship or daily services—must be guided by faith or else it is not pleasing to God. One may do many things that are good—feed the hungry, administer to the sick, clothe the poor, and teach the lost—but if these actions are not done because of faith in God and to God’s glory, they are not pleasing to Him.
for he that cometh to God must believe that he is: and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him: He that "cometh to God" is the same message Paul gives in chapters four and seven:
Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need...Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them (4:16; 7:25).
Coming to God is an action of faith and actually involves a twofold faith. The first faith involves the belief that God "is," that He exists. The second faith is the belief that God will reward those who "diligently seek him." All of the examples of faith are tied to the teaching in verse 1: faith is "the evidence of things not seen." In this verse, the message is that all must believe in the unseen God; they must believe that He is real and that He is a rewarder of those who continue searching for Him. God has no pleasure in anyone who has had this faith in the past but does not remain steadfast. The Hebrew Christians are on the verge of renouncing their faith and returning to their former beliefs. Paul teaches the same message earlier: "Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him" (10:38).
By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.
By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet: Paul refers to the occasion when man became so sinful that God repented that He had made man; He then decided to destroy man because of his wickedness. Moses records this event, saying:
And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them. But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD. These are the generations of Noah: Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God. And Noah begat three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. And God looked upon the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth. And God said unto Noah, The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth (Genesis 6:5-13).
Noah found grace in God’s sight because of his great faith (Genesis 6:8). The predominant idea of "faith" here is that Noah "trust(ed)" or " (had) confidence" (Thayer 513) in God and in His word. Noah, as all mankind, had a choice to make when God instructed him to warn of the coming of a great flood—something that had not been seen in the sixteen hundred years since the creation of the world.
Likewise, today, mankind has a choice to make in regards to God and His warnings about the final judgment—something that has never before been seen. The phrase "warned (chrematizo) of God" refers to Noah’s being "divinely commanded, admonished, (or) instructed" (Thayer 671) to do something. He chose to believe andobey what God said in spite of the mockery and laughter he received from his family, friends, and the entire community. Because of his faith in God, he turned his energy to doing what God said to do; and what he did was also the means of his life being saved. His faith in God and God’s warnings caused him to conduct his life in a way that saved him and his family in the end.
moved with fear: Noah’s moving with fear was not the result of being frightened of God nor fear of the catastrophe that was to come. His "fear" (eulabeomai) was based on reverence toward God. This form of fear refers to Noah’s obedience to God because he stood "in awe of... God’s declaration" (Thayer 259), that is, he respected God and His instructions and was astonished at the power of His word.
prepared an ark to the saving of his house: Because of Noah’s faith and reverential fear, he obeyed God and "prepared" an ark. The "ark" was a large boat built in the shape of a "box" (Thayer 346) or "wooden chest" (Vincent 516) similar to the Ark of the Covenant (9:4). God gives instructions for the actual proportions of the vessel, saying:
And this is the fashion which thou shalt make it of: The length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits, the breadth of it fifty cubits, and the height of it thirty cubits. A window shalt thou make to the ark, and in a cubit shalt thou finish it above; and the door of the ark shalt thou set in the side thereof; with lower, second, and third stories shalt thou make it (Genesis 6:15-16).
"Prepared" (kataskeuazo) involves the construction of the ark "with the included idea of adorning and equipping with all things necessary" (Thayer 337). Because of Noah’s faith in God, he built this ark for the saving of his family according to God’s specifications. Furthermore, he took on to the ark all of the items and animals that God told him to (Genesis 8:1-17).
Noah’s salvation did not come from building the ark; his salvation and the "saving of his house" came because of his faith in God, which led him to construct the ark precisely as God instructed.
by the which he condemned the world: "By the which" or "through which" (Robertson 421) refers to Noah’s faith. Because of Noah’s faith in God, his life and his obedience to God "condemned the world." Noah did not condemn the world through his preaching or through his words but through his actions. The word "condemned" (katakrino) means "by one’s good example to render another’s wickedness the more evident and censurable" (Thayer 332). The "world" (kosmos) condemned by Noah’s faith refers to "sinful humanity" (Robertson 421). Sinful man actually condemns himself; however, the righteousness of Noah highlights and embellishes the sinful actions of those who violate God’s instructions. Milligan says:
Every man, in fact, who gives heed to God’s warnings and admonitions, condemns by his faith and practice all who neglect to do so. Thus, Noah condemned his own disobedient contemporaries, and thus also he will, on the day of final reckoning, condemn millions of our own more highly favored generation (394).
and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith: Another result of Noah’s faith is that he "became heir of the righteousness," meaning "righteousness" (kikaiosune) was "according to (or) appropriate to, faith" (Thayer 150). Just as Noah’s salvation did not come from building the ark, but by faith (see above), likewise his righteousness did not come from what he did, but from faith that led him to build the ark. Milligan explains:
By his faith, he also became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith…Faith is the leading thought of the whole sentence, and the word faith is therefore properly made the governing word in construction. It should be observed, however, that the building of the Ark is included in the word faith, for it is not of faith in the abstract, but of faith in all its practical bearings that the Apostle is speaking…Indeed, the faith which God commends and requires is, in no case, a mere cold, lifeless, abstraction; it is a living, active, fruit-bearing principle, which is constantly manifesting and developing itself in the life as well as in the heart of the individual (394-395).
Paul’s message to the Hebrews is that to become the "heir of the righteousness," people must be like Noah and retain their working, obedient faith. Noah became "heir of the righteousness," and later the Apostle Peter will refer to him as "a preacher of righteousness" (2 Peter 2:5) because that is the message Noah declared while building the ark. By teaching "righteousness," Noah encouraged his hearers to live lives of "uprightness, correctness in thinking, feeling, and acting" (Thayer 149). Just as Enoch (verse 5) pleased God, so did Noah by his life and actions.
By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.
By faith Abraham: Abraham, whose original name was Abram, (Genesis 17:5) was born in Ur of the Chaldees, located in the Tigris-Euphrates Valley region. His father’s name was Terah. He had at least two brothers; however, Haran, the father of Lot, died at a young age according to Genesis 11:28. Abram married Sarai, whose name was eventually changed to Sarah (Genesis 17; Genesis 15), and she was called "a mother of nations" (Genesis 17:16) (see verse 11). Abraham was a man of great faith. His trust and confidence in God led him to be handpicked by God to become the father of "a great nation" (Genesis 12:2). Abraham’s faith was also mentioned when Nehemiah talked with God:
Thou art the LORD the God, who didst choose Abram, and broughtest him forth out of Ur of the Chaldees, and gavest him the name of Abraham; And foundest his heart faithful before thee, and madest a covenant with him to give the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Jebusites, and the Girgashites, to give it, I say, to his seed, and hast performed thy words; for thou art righteous (Nehemiah 9:7-8).
In writing to the Christians in Rome about justification by faith, Paul speaks of Abraham’s faith:
What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness...Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin. Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness. How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision. And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also: And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised. For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith (Romans 4:1-3; Romans 8-13).
Paul speaks of Abraham’s faith again when he writes to the churches of Galatia:
Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham (Galatians 3:6-9).
Paul has spoken of Abraham and his faithfulness previously in this epistle (2:16) and again when he gives the history of Melchizedek (7:1-10). He has also made mention of God’s promise to Abraham:
For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he sware by himself, Saying, Surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee. And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise (6:13-15).
when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance: This reference to Abraham is recorded in the first book of Moses:
Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed. So Abram departed, as the LORD had spoken unto him; and Lot went with him: and Abram was seventy and five years old when he departed out of Haran (Genesis 12:1-4).
Stephen, the martyr, in his defense speaks of Abraham’s being called out of his hometown:
And he said, Men, brethren, and fathers, hearken; The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran, And said unto him, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and come into the land which I shall shew thee (Acts 7:2-3).
God’s call to Abraham was a test of his faith. The proof of his faith and confidence in God was in his obedience when God told him to go to an unknown place (that is, Canaan) when he was "called." The word "called" (kaleo) means "to call out (or) call forth from" (Thayer 321) or to be summoned by God to a specific place, just as Joseph with his wife, Mary, and baby Jesus were commanded to leave Egypt. In Matthew 2:15 Matthew quotes the prophet Hosea, saying, "When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt" (Hosea 11:1).
obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went: Abraham was a man of righteousness (Genesis 15:6); therefore, he "obeyed" (hupakouo), indicating he "hearken(ed) to a command" (Thayer 638) from God when he went out, not knowing where he was going. God’s instruction for Abraham was to go to an unknown place, leaving his home, his family, his friends, and his comfort zone. Abraham was to change his life and let God take control.
As with the other great men of God discussed above, Abraham’s righteousness and acceptance by God came not by faith only or by works only, but by both: his acceptance was a result of his believing God and following God’s instructions; "he went out, not knowing whither he went." F.F. Bruce emphasizes that Abraham "would not have obeyed the divine call had he not taken God at his word; his obedience was the outward evidence of his inward faith" (quoted by Fudge 125).
By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise:
By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles: Abraham proved his faith in God when he obeyed God by living in tents as a stranger in a strange country. Paul describes the country as being "strange" (allotrios), meaning it was a country belonging to another, a "foreign" (Thayer 29) country. Even though the land was promised to him, Abraham did not settle for lavish living; but he lived in tents as is recorded by Moses.
with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: Isaac was Abraham and Sarah’s firstborn son born when Abraham was one hundred years old (Genesis 21:5). When Isaac was forty years old, he married Rebekah (Genesis 25:20). God blessed them with twin sons, Jacob and Esau, with the promise that they would be two nations (Genesis 25:23). Esau was the firstborn son, but Jacob held on to Esau’s heel and was born almost at the same time. Strife came between the two sons almost immediately because Esau was loved by Isaac, and Jacob was loved by Rebekah. The blessings from Abraham should have gone to the firstborn son, Esau; however, Esau sold his birthright to Jacob (Genesis 25:31-32). Many years of Abraham’s travels were with his son, Isaac, and grandson, Jacob. They are called heirs with Abraham, indicating they shared the same promise with him.
After strife broke out between Abraham and Lot’s herdsmen, they agreed to go in separate directions. After Lot left, God told Abraham that the promises made to him would include his heir:
And the LORD said unto Abram, after that Lot was separated from him, Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward: For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever. And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth: so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered. Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for I will give it unto thee. Then Abram removed his tent, and came and dwelt in the plain of Mamre, which is in Hebron, and built there an altar unto the LORD (Genesis 13:14-18).
From this point to the end of Abraham’s life, he was a wanderer, going from place to place as God instructed. Abraham’s salvation did not come from his blind travels, but from his faith and confidence in God.
For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
Instead of "a city," the Greek text shows the proper translation should be "the city," as it is more correctly translated in the Revised Standard Version. Throughout Abraham’s life and travels, he looked for the particular city prepared by God. Paul says it is a city "which hath foundations whose builder and maker is God." Abraham, therefore, knows that he personally would not live to receive the fulfillment of the earthly land promised him. Through his faith in God, however, he "looked" (ekdechomai), meaning to "wait for" (Thayer 193), the heavenly city of God, referring to heaven itself. Paul refers to this same "city" later in this epistle as "the city of the living God" and "the heavenly Jerusalem" (12:22).
Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised.
Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age: The phrase "Through faith" means "because of faith" (Thayer 513) and indicates Sarah was "faithful" to God and always diligent in the "execution of commands, (and) the discharge of official duties" (Thayer 514). Paul proves that through faith the impossible becomes possible. Because of her deep faith, God performed a miracle allowing Sarah to receive "strength" in her old age to become a mother. The term "strength" (dunamis) is also translated "violence" in verse 34 and means "inherent power, (or) power residing in a thing by virtue of its nature, or which a person or thing exerts and puts forth" (Thayer 159). Paul refers to the power of God’s miracle on Sarah to give her the ability to bear a child in her old age. The word "conceive" (katabole) refers to "a founding (laying down a foundation)" (Thayer 330). Specifically, Paul has reference to her becoming "a mother of nations" (Genesis 17:16). The word "seed" (sperma) means here the product of semen. Because of Sarah’s faithfulness, God blessed her with children, even though she was "past age" (para kairos), "beyond" (Thayer 478) the age or "opportune or seasonable time" (Thayer 318) of bearing children.
because she judged him faithful who had promised: It was "through faith" that Sarah delivered a child because "she judged him (God) faithful who had promised." The term "judged" (hegeomai) means "to consider, deem, account, think" (Thayer 276). Even though Sarah could not see how it was possible for her to give birth to a child because of her age, she recognized the promise of motherhood comes, not from her own power, but from the power of God who is faithful and powerful enough to make it happen. When Sarah laughed, she did not doubt God’s power; but she laughed at the human improbability of her giving birth at her age (Genesis 18:12-13). She knew she did not have that power. Clarke is probably correct in suggesting that "she appears to have…had the same feelings of those who, unexpectedly hearing of something of great consequence to themselves, smile and say, ’The news is too good to be true’ " (119).
Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead, so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable.
Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead: Abraham was as "good as dead" (nekroo), meaning that he "hyperbolically (was) worn out, (inferring that he was) an impotent old man" (Thayer 424). Paul writes of this matter about Abraham in his epistle to the church at Rome, saying:
Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all, (As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were. Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be. And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sara’s womb: He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform. And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness (Romans 4:16-22).
God’s promise that Abraham and Sarah would give birth to a son was fulfilled and recorded by Moses:
And the LORD visited Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did unto Sarah as he had spoken. For Sarah conceived, and bare Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him. And Abraham called the name of his son that was born unto him, whom Sarah bare to him, Isaac. And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac being eight days old, as God had commanded him. And Abraham was an hundred years old, when his son Isaac was born unto him. And Sarah said, God hath made me to laugh, so that all that hear will laugh with me. And she said, Who would have said unto Abraham, that Sarah should have given children suck? for I have born him a son in his old age (Genesis 21:1-7).
so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable: Through Abraham and Sarah, God proved that through man’s faithfulness impossible situations can develop. Paul is encouraging the Hebrews not to give up on their faith in Jesus, even though things may seem impossible. By God’s power and through their faith, Abraham and Sarah became the father and mother of a great nation that it was literally impossible to count—Paul emphasizes the enormous size of this nation by comparing them to the number of stars in the sky and the amount of sand on the seashore. Abraham’s family and the many generations that followed led to the birth of Jesus Christ, Himself (see Matthew 1:1-16).
These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.
These all died in faith, not having received the promises: The pronoun "these" refers to those previously mentioned, specifically to Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Jacob. Those referred to by Paul did not die "by faith," but instead they died "in faith." If they died "by faith," the meaning would be that they died because they had faith; however, Paul says they died "in faith," suggesting their faith in God and in His word remained with them until they died. "They died under the regimen of faith, and not of sight" (Vincent 521). Paul mentions these "all" who died in faith again in his epistle to the churches in Galatia, saying, "Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ" (Galatians 3:16). In this context, Paul refers to those who died without physically receiving the "promises" (epaggelia) or "blessings" (Thayer 227) that God made to them. The ones mentioned in these verses died before the promise of becoming a great nation was fulfilled.
but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them: Even though Abraham and his family did not physically receive the promises made, they knew the promises were in the future, for they had "seen them afar off" and were "persuaded" (peitho), "induced to believe" (Thayer 497), the promises would be fulfilled after their death. Because of their faith, they "embraced" (aspazomai), "acknowledged," them, meaning they were confident of their fulfillment. Jesus, speaking of Abraham, says, "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad" (John 8:56). Milligan, speaking of the promises made to Abraham, says:
These (God’s promises), the Patriarchs did not receive while here on earth; but through the telescope of faith they saw them afar off, and embraced them with joy and singleness of heart, confessing at the same time that they were strangers and pilgrims on earth (401).
and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth: Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Jacob "confessed" (homologeo) or "declared" (Thayer 446) they were "strangers" (xenos) or "foreigners" (Thayer 432) on this earth and that they were "pilgrims" (parepidemos) or people coming "from a foreign country into a city or land to reside…by the side of the natives" (Thayer 488). Paul’s reference is to Abraham’s discussion with the sons of Heth about burying Sarah when he said, "I am a stranger and a sojourner with you: give me a possession of a buryingplace with you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight" (Genesis 23:4). Christians today need to have the same attitude regarding this earthly life. Those having true faith recognize their home on earth is only temporary, and the permanent home will be with God and Jesus in heaven. Peter speaks similar words about Christians’ being strangers and pilgrims:
But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy. Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul" (1 Peter 2:9-11).
Fudge explains this passage well, saying:
Their faith saw what was invisible and the conviction it produced caused them to react with certain assurance. They embraced what they saw (literally "greeted" or "saluted"), and happily confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims (128).
The acknowledgment that they were strangers and pilgrims on this earth proved they had a strong faith that went beyond the present, looking to the unseen and enduring promises of God.
For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country.
The patriarchs "declare(d) plainly" (emphanizo) or "made known" (Thayer 209) that they understood they had not already received the promised country but they looked forward to that "country" (patris) they could call their "father-land" or their "own country" (Thayer 496). Instead of translating "that they seek a country," the Revised Version more clearly translates they were looking for "a country of their own." Christians today should consider our lives here on earth as living in a foreign country and traveling to reach our home that is in heaven.
And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned.
Without a doubt, if Abraham and his family "had been mindful" or if they had their hearts set on finding an earthly country during their lifetime, they would have had the opportunity to return to their ancestral land; but they did not; they preferred to remain as strangers and pilgrims, following God’s instructions and being satisfied with the promise of a home in heaven. There is nothing to suggest that God would have punished them or prevented them from returning to Chaldea or to Haran. They wondered from place to place because they were willing to do so. For example, there was an opportunity for Isaac to return to his original homeland to find a wife, but Abraham refused to allow him to return. Moses recorded this event, saying:
And the servant said unto him, Peradventure the woman will not be willing to follow me unto this land: must I needs bring thy son again unto the land from whence thou camest? And Abraham said unto him, Beware thou that thou bring not my son thither again. The LORD God of heaven, which took me from my father’s house, and from the land of my kindred, and which spake unto me, and that sware unto me, saying, Unto thy seed will I give this land; he shall send his angel before thee, and thou shalt take a wife unto my son from thence. And if the woman will not be willing to follow thee, then thou shalt be clear from this my oath: only bring not my son thither again (Genesis 24:5-8).
But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.
But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: Abraham no longer considered his previous homeland his permanent home. His "desire" (oregomai) was "to reach after" (Thayer 452) a "better" (kreitton) or a "more excellent" (Thayer 359) country that is a permanent home because it is a "heavenly" (epouranios) country (Thayer 247). Paul obviously is referring to the same "city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God" (11:10).
wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: Paul probably has reference to the words of Exodus 3:6, which say, "Moreover he said, I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God." With these words, Paul is alluding to the close association between God and the patriarchs. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were not perfect men; they made their mistakes; however, they trusted God and His word regarding a better country that awaited them. While they could have returned to their original home, they did not; therefore, Paul says, "God is not ashamed to be called their God." God often refers to Himself as their God as illustrated in the following scriptures:
Moreover he said, I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God (Exodus 3:6).
And God said moreover unto Moses, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, The LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: this is my name for ever, and this is my memorial unto all generations (Exodus 3:15).
That they may believe that the LORD God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath appeared unto thee (Exodus 4:5).
for he hath prepared for them a city: God proves He is not ashamed to be called their God when He "prepared" a heavenly city, the heavenly Jerusalem that they will possess someday. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob probably did not completely understand that their future promised home would be made available in and through the blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God; however, there is no doubt that God will provide this home, the eternal home in heaven.
By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son,
By faith Abraham, when he was tried: Having "faith" in God implies trusting and obeying Him, even when the activity seems to be contrary to other promises made. Abraham had faith in God, and his faith required him to do things he would not have otherwise done. The phrase "when he was tried" does not give the full intent of Paul’s meaning. The meaning is "while the trial is yet in progress, Abraham hath already offered up his son, before the trial has come to an issue, by the act of his obedient will, through faith in God" (Vincent 524). Abraham’s instructions from God can be looked upon as being "tried" (peirazo); Abraham was being "tried" or tested "to prove his character and the steadfastness of his faith" (Thayer 498). Abraham had faith. God, however, required him to prove his faith by his obedience, that is, by his works. James, the brother of the Lord, explains the importance of one’s proving his faith and teaches that one does not have faith without works to prove it. James says:
Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only (2:17-24).
offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son: Abraham had previously faced many trials (such as leaving his home, family, and friends; becoming a wanderer in a foreign land for the rest of his life; bearing a long delay for the fulfillment of the birth of Isaac), but the test of offering up Isaac was no doubt the most challenging of all. No greater test of faith and trust in God is possible than to offer up one’s only son. God promised Abraham that he would be "a father of many nations" (Genesis 17:5) and that his wife, Sarah, would be "a mother of nations" (Genesis 17:16). When Abraham was nearly one hundred years of age and his wife was about ninety, they still did not have a child (Genesis 17:17). However, when Abraham turned one hundred years old with his wife ninety, God says:
Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him (Genesis 17:19).
Isaac, Abraham and Sarah’s son, was finally born in their old age; however, one son was a long way from Abraham’s being called "a father of many nations" as God had promised. To make this situation more difficult, God tested Abraham again by instructing him to kill his son and offer him as a sacrifice:
And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am. And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of (Genesis 22:1-2).
Isaac, according to Josephus, was around twenty-five years of age when Abraham was instructed to offer him as a sacrifice. Josephus says:
Now Isaac was twenty-five years old. And as he was building the altar he asked his father what he was about to offer, since there was no animal there for an oblation: to which it was answered, "That God would provide himself an oblation, he being able to make a plentiful provision for men out of what they have not, and to deprive others of what they already have, when they put too much trust therein; that, therefore, if God pleased to be present and propitious at this sacrifice, he would provide himself an oblation" (55).
Abraham’s faith led him to "offer up" (prosphero), that is, to "immolate" (Thayer 550) Isaac as a sacrifice. His willingness to commit this act was proof of his faith. When Abraham rose up early and prepared for the journey to offer up his son as a sacrifice, he was mindful "that (he) had received (anadechomai) the promises." So when God gave him instructions to offer up Isaac, he "embrace(d) them with faith" (Thayer 37). He obeyed God, even though he did not know what God had planned.
Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: Not only was Isaac Abraham’s firstborn, he was also known to be his only begotten son. Abraham did, in fact, have another son, Ishmael, whose mother was Hagar, Sarah’s maid. Ishmael was born before Isaac; however, Isaac was said to be Abraham’s only begotten son because he was the son promised by God to Abraham and Sarah. Abraham was also aware that God had promised that "in Isaac shall thy seed be called." In other words, even though Abraham eventually had other sons who legitimately were the descendants of Abraham, it was Isaac and his descendants whom God promised would be known as Abraham’s seed, leading to the birth of Jesus, the Messiah. The expression "be called" (kaleo) means "to bear a name or title… one whose posterity shall obtain the name and honor of thy descendants" (Thayer 322). Abraham’s faith is seen when he was willing to obey God in taking Isaac’s life by offering him as a sacrifice, even though God promised that a great nation would becreated through the lineage of Isaac and that a new everlasting covenant would come through him:
And God said, Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him…But my covenant will I establish with Isaac, which Sarah shall bear unto thee at this set time in the next year (Genesis 17:19; Genesis 17:21).
Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure.
Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead: Abraham did not question or doubt God’s instruction to offer Isaac on the altar. Because of Abraham’s faith, he was willing, without reservation, to obey God and offer up his son Isaac as a sacrifice. He actually went through the motions with the full intent of sacrificing Isaac. He prepared the altar, the fire, the knife, and everything needed; however, because of his faith he thought in his heart that God would prepare a lamb to be offered instead of Isaac, or in some way make other provisions. We see the confidence in Abraham and the trust he had in God. When he saw the place where the sacrifice was to be offered; he told the young men travelling with him to stay at a certain place and that only he and his son Isaac would continue to the altar. In this conversation it is clear that Abraham fully expected Isaac to return with him: "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" (Genesis 22:5). Isaac, however, had started wondering about the offering and questioned his father about it:
And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering? And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together (Genesis 22:7-8).
Again, because of Abraham’s faith, he not only went through the motions of killing his son, he actually was prepared to offer him as a sacrifice if that was God’s plan. Everything was prepared: the altar, the fire, Isaac bound and placed on the altar, Abraham’s stretched out hand with a knife to kill his son (Genesis 22:10). He was in the process of offering up his son as God instructed until he was stopped:
And the angel of the LORD called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I. And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me. And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son (Genesis 22:11-13).
Abraham proved his faith in God by being willing to offer up his only begotten son as a sacrifice. He was willing to do so because he knew that even if he killed his son God would raise him up again. The Apostle Paul says of Abraham that he was sure "God was able to raise him up, even from the dead." "Accounting" (logizomai) means "by reckoning up all the reasons to gather or infer"…to consider, take account, weight, meditate on" (Thayer 379). That is, after carefully thinking about all the possibilities, Abraham knew that if his son died God would raise him from the dead. He was confident that Isaac would be spared because of his faith in God’s promise that a covenant would establish with Isaac. God, speaking to Abraham about Ishmael and Isaac’s future, said:
And God said, Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard thee: Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation. But my covenant will I establish with Isaac, which Sarah shall bear unto thee at this set time in the next year (Genesis 17:19-21).
from whence also he received him in a figure: The words "from whence" has reference to the faith that Abraham had in God’s power and promises. God had promised that a covenant would be set up through Isaac; therefore, Abraham knew, by his faith, that God would allow Isaac to live, even if he were offered as a sacrifice. In this sense Abraham "received him in a figure." The word "received" (komizo) means Abraham would "get back, receive back, (or) recover" (Thayer 354) his son if he obeyed God. Abraham did indeed get Isaac back in a "figure." The expression "in a figure," (parabole) is a metaphor, or the "comparison of one thing with another, likeness, similitude" (Thayer 479). Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac; however, God plan was different and Isaac did not actually die—he died symbolically in the offering of the ram prepared by God. Bloomfield concurs:
Abraham believed that God could recall his son to life; wherefore (because of this faith) he also in like manner (i.e. as it were raised from the dead) received him back [safe]; for Isaac was in a manner dead,–i.e. in his father’s opinion and his own,–and was restored to his father, as it were from the gates of the grave (533).
By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come.
The term "faith" (pistis), implying something "prompted (or) actuated by faith" (Thayer 513), was exhibited in imparting Isaac’s blessing to his two sons, Jacob and Esau, regarding future events. The fact that these blessings were "concerning things to come" or things in the future prove that Isaac was acting from faith regarding things that he had not witnessed. Isaac would never again see the land of Canaan; however, God promised that he would return; therefore, "by faith" Jacob and Esau were "blessed" (eulogeo) or "had the blessings (invoked) upon them nearing the point of Isaac’s death" (Thayer 259). This blessing regarded the future lives of Jacob and the nation of Israel and Esau with the nation of Edom. It was an important blessing because generally the blessing of the father would automatically go to the oldest son which would have been Easu; however, in this particular situation the younger son, Jacob, received the first blessing from his father. Receiving the blessing was extremely important because this blessing was leading to the birth of Jesus, the Messiah. However, part of the "things to come" involved their journey back to Canaan when they would be led there many years later by Moses. Isaac’s blessings to Jacob and Esau came about because of deceitfulness that caused Esau to hate his brother Jacob (Genesis 27:1-41).
Isaac’s blessings upon Jacob and Esau shaped the future of the many generations that followed until the children of Israel (Jacob) were led from Egypt through the wilderness to Canaan. At first, Esau, Isaac’s elder son, prospered more than the younger son, Jacob. Jacob’s family were slaves in Egypt; however, Esau’s family had kings of their own who reigned in Edom many years before Jacob’s ancestors would leave Egypt. The inspired writer says, "Thus dwelt Esau in mount Seir: Esau is Edom…And these are the kings that reigned in the land of Edom, before there reigned any king over the children of Israel" (Genesis 36:8; Genesis 36:31).
By faith Jacob, when he was a dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph; and worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff.
By faith Jacob: Jacob was like his father, Isaac, and grandfather, Abraham, in that he was a man of faith; he was Isaac’s second son. The name "Jacob" (Iakob) means "heel-catcher." He was so named because he and his brother, Esau, were twins, born almost at the same time. When Esau left his mother’s womb, Jacob grabbed hold of Esau’s heel and followed him out.
when he was a dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph: Joseph, Jacob’s eleventh son, was also blessed; however, Paul skips him and speaks about Joseph’s two sons. Just as Isaac had blessed Jacob, his younger son, Jacob also blessed his youngest grandson, Ephraim, the son of Joseph, instead of Joseph’s oldest son, Manasseh. After leaving Canaan because of the seven-year drought, Jacob lived in Egypt for seventeen years before his death. As he was nearing death, he asked Joseph to arrange for his bones to be returned to Canaan when God’s people returned. On the day of Jacob’s death, Joseph took his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, to Jacob’s bedside to be blessed with the inheritance (Genesis 48:1-22).
and worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff: As Jacob passed the blessing on to his grandsons, he worshiped, "leaning upon the top of his staff." His body was weak and his life was about to end, but he worshiped God. The "staff" (rhabdos) sometimes refers to "a walking-stick" (Thayer 560). In this context; however, the writer probably is referring to his having to worship from his bed or having to "lean back upon the head of the bed" (Meyer’s 682) or the "bed’s head" (Bloomfield 533).
The sense bed’s-head is far more suitable than that of staff (walking-stick), since, at the time in question, Israel was, doubtless, confined to his bed. On this, then, it appears he was reclining with his arm, and towards this, in aiming at the kneeling posture appropriate to worship, he would necessarily be turned. The worshipping here spoken of may be supposed to have been an act of devout thankfulness to that God, who had protected him through life, and ordained that his bones should rest in that land of promise, whither he, with the eye of faith, looked forward to the removal of his posterity (Bloomfield 534).
By faith Joseph, when he died, made mention of the departing of the children of Israel; and gave commandment concerning his bones.
By faith Joseph: "Joseph" (Ioseph) was "the eleventh son of Jacob" (Thayer 311). He, like Abraham, Isaac, and his father, Jacob, was also a man of great faith. Joseph’s faith was recognized from the time he was a small child (approximately seventeen years of age) when he was sold by his brothers and taken to Egypt until near the time of his death. Joseph’s instructions to his sons proved he trusted God and was convinced God would keep His word about their return to Canaan.
when he died, made mention of the departing of the children of Israel; and gave commandment concerning his bones: As Joseph was dying, he showed his faith like his father, Jacob, by calling his sons to him and telling them about the future when they would leave Egypt and return to Canaan. Among other instructions, he told them to return his bones to their homeland, Canaan; he gave a "commandment" (entellomai), meaning an "order" (Thayer 218):
And Joseph dwelt in Egypt, he, and his father’s house: and Joseph lived an hundred and ten years. And Joseph saw Ephraim’s children of the third generation: the children also of Machir the son of Manasseh were brought up upon Joseph’s knees. 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. 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. So Joseph died, being an hundred and ten years old: and they embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt (Genesis 50:22-26).
Joseph gave instruction about returning his bones to Canaan:
But God led the people about, through the way of the wilderness of the Red sea: and the children of Israel went up harnessed out of the land of Egypt. And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him: for he had straitly sworn the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you; and ye shall carry up my bones away hence with you (Exodus 13:18-19).
After the children of Israel entered the land of Canaan under the leadership of Joshua, he allowed each tribe to go to its own home. The scripture says, "So Joshua let the people depart, every man unto his inheritance" (Joshua 24:28). After Joshua died, Joseph’s bones were reburied in Shechem:
And the bones of Joseph, which the children of Israel brought up out of Egypt, buried they in Shechem, in a parcel of ground which Jacob bought of the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for an hundred pieces of silver: and it became the inheritance of the children of Joseph (Joshua 24:32).
Earlier God had promised Abraham that his descendants would return to Canaan after the fourth generation: (1) Abraham, (2) Isaac, (3) Jacob, and (4) Joseph:
And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance. And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age. But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full (Genesis 15:13-16).
By faith Moses, when he was born, was hid three months of his parents, because they saw he was a proper child; and they were not afraid of the king’s commandment.
By faith Moses, when he was born, was hid three months of his parents, because they saw he was a proper child: Paul jumps from a discussion of those living in the patriarchal age to those living during the time of Moses and the Judges. It was actually Moses’ "parents" who showed faith by hiding Moses. Moses’ father, Amram, is not often spoken of in the scriptures; but he had a godly ancestral lineage. He was the grandson of Levi, and the great, great, great, great grandson of Abraham. Amram married Jochebed, a close relative (his father’s sister) (Exodus 6:20). They had three children: Moses, the youngest; Miriam, who was seven years older than her brother Moses; and Aaron, who was three years older than Moses: "And the name of Amram’s wife was Jochebed, the daughter of Levi, whom her mother bare to Levi in Egypt: and she bare unto Amram Aaron and Moses, and Miriam their sister" (Numbers 26:59).
The inclusion of Moses’ parents in Paul’s honor roll of faith is important because the time period was near the end of Israel’s slavery in Egypt. Many Israelites had turned their backs on God; however, Amram and Jochebed had not. They gave birth to two sons (Aaron and Moses) who played an important role in bringing God’s people back to Him and who led them across the wilderness toward their promised home, Canaan.
The faith of Moses’ parents was demonstrated in their evading a new law by the Egyptian king. Because the Israelite population had grown so large, Pharaoh enacted a law requiring that all newborn sons of the Israelites be put to death immediately; the parents concealed Moses for three months after his birth. The scriptures record:
And the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty; and the land was filled with them. Now there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph. And he said unto his people, Behold, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we: Come on, let us deal wisely with them; lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that, when there falleth out any war, they join also unto our enemies, and fight against us, and so get them up out of the land. Therefore they did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh treasure cities, Pithom and Raamses. But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew. And they were grieved because of the children of Israel. And the Egyptians made the children of Israel to serve with rigour: And they made their lives bitter with hard bondage, in morter, and in brick, and in all manner of service in the field: all their service, wherein they made them serve, was with rigour. And the king of Egypt spake to the Hebrew midwives, of which the name of the one was Shiphrah, and the name of the other Puah: And he said, When ye do the office of a midwife to the Hebrew women, and see them upon the stools; if it be a son, then ye shall kill him: but if it be a daughter, then she shall live. But the midwives feared God, and did not as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the men children alive. And the king of Egypt called for the midwives, and said unto them, Why have ye done this thing, and have saved the men children alive? And the midwives said unto Pharaoh, Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are lively, and are delivered ere the midwives come in unto them. Therefore God dealt well with the midwives: and the people multiplied, and waxed very mighty. And it came to pass, because the midwives feared God, that he made them houses. And Pharaoh charged all his people, saying, Every son that is born ye shall cast into the river, and every daughter ye shall save alive (Exodus 1:7-22).
When Moses was born, his parents immediately recognized that he was different from other children. The scriptures describe him as "a proper child." The word "proper" (aasteios) means Moses was "elegant (of body), comely, fair" (Thayer 791). The Exodus account of his birth says, "And the woman conceived, and bare a son: and when she saw him that he was a goodly child, she hid him three months" (Exodus 2:2). Moses’ being "a goodly child" is also the translation of Hebrews 11:23 by the American Standard Version. Other translations record Moses is "a beautiful child" (NASV); "the child (is) comely" (Young’s Literal Translation); or that he is "no ordinary child" (NIV). Stephen says, "In which time Moses was born, and was exceeding fair, and nourished up in his father’s house three months" (Acts 7:20). Physical beauty or height was sometimes looked upon as a sign from God that the person was special or had an extraordinary purpose in God’s plan. Other examples are:
Saul, who would become the first king: And he had a son, whose name was Saul, a choice young man, and a goodly: and there was not among the children of Israel a goodlier person than he: from his shoulders and upward he was higher than any of the people (1 Samuel 9:2).
David, the second king: And he sent, and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and withal of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look to. And the LORD said, Arise, anoint him: for this is he (1 Samuel 16:12).
and they were not afraid of the king’s commandment: Something about Moses’ appearance apparently convinced his parents that God had special plans for this handsome child; therefore, they violated the king’s "commandment" (diatagma), the king’s "mandate" (Thayer 142), and hid Moses in their home for three months. They knew they would face severe punishment if they were caught violating this law; however, "they were not afraid of the king’s commandment." They were willing to take that risk because Moses appeared to be such a special child.
Because of their courage, Moses grew into adulthood and was available to lead God’s people out of bondage. It had been approximately four hundred years since the death of Joseph, and the Israelites had grown larger in number than those to whom they were enslaved; thus, the Egyptians feared them. The historian Josephus, in discussing the antiquities of the Jews, writes that God’s people were forced into hard labor but that they were still growing in number; therefore, the king set up a plan for the eventual extinction of the Israelites:
And 400 years did they spend under these afflictions; for they strove one against the other which should get the mastery, the Egyptians desiring to destroy the Israelites by these labours, and the Israelites desiring to hold out to the end under them.
While the affairs of the Hebrews were in this condition, there was this occasion offered itself to the Egyptians, which made them more solicitous for the extinction of our nation. One of those sacred scribes, who are very sagacious in foretelling future events, truly told the king, that about this time there would a child be born to the Israelites, who, if he were reared would bring the Egyptian dominion low, and would raise the Israelites; that he would excel all men in virtue, and obtain a glory that would be remembered through all ages. Which thing was so feared by the king, that, according to this man’s opinion, he commanded that they should cast every male child, which was born to the Israelites, into the river, and destroy it; that besides this, the Egyptian midwives should watch the labours of the Hebrew women, and observe what is born, for those were the women who were enjoined to do the office of midwives to them; and by reason of their relation to the king, would not transgress his commands. He enjoined also, that if any parents should disobey him, and venture to save their male children alive, they and their families should be destroyed. This was a severe affliction indeed to those that suffered it, not only as they were deprived of their sons, and, while they were the parents themselves, they were obliged to be subservient to the destruction of their own children; but as it was to be supposed to tend to the extirpation of their nation, while upon the destruction of their children, and their own gradual dissolution, the calamity would become very hard and inconsolable to them: and this was the ill state they were in. But no one can be too hard for the purpose of God, though he contrive ten thousand subtle devices for that end; for this child, whom the sacred scribe foretold, was brought up and concealed from the observers appointed by the king; and he that foretold him did not mistake in the consequences of his preservation, which were brought to pass after the manner following (Josephus 81-82).
From what Josephus writes here, Moses’ parents may have known of the coming of a child who would lead God’s people out of slavery. Moses was thus protected so that he could accomplish what God had in store for him.
By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter;
By faith Moses: Moses’ faith was proved many times during his life as the Israelites’ leader, and the next few verses point out several evidences of that faith.
In the previous verse, Paul writes of the faith of Moses’ parents, a faith they demonstrated when his mother removed him from her home to save his life. Knowing she could no longer hide him at home, she placed him in a basket among the reeds along the bank of the Nile River. Pharaoh’s daughter found the child, had compassion on him, and decided to bring him up as her own son. Moses had all the privileges of the king’s grandson.
By the providence of God, Pharaoh’s daughter selected Moses’ own mother, Jochebed, to nurse and care for him:
And the daughter of Pharaoh came down to wash herself at the river; and her maidens walked along by the river’s side; and when she saw the ark among the flags, she sent her maid to fetch it. And when she had opened it, she saw the child: and, behold, the babe wept. And she had compassion on him, and said, This is one of the Hebrews’ children. Then said his sister to Pharaoh’s daughter, Shall I go and call to thee a nurse of the Hebrew women, that she may nurse the child for thee? And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, Go. And the maid went and called the child’s mother. And Pharaoh’s daughter said unto her, Take this child away, and nurse it for me, and I will give thee thy wages. And the woman took the child, and nursed it. And the child grew, and she brought him unto Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. And she called his name Moses: and she said, Because I drew him out of the water (Exodus 2:5-10).
As Moses grew, Jochebed taught him about the Hebrews and the ways of God. She demonstrated her own faith by the way she trained Moses whose faith developed as a result of her training. The first proof of Moses’ faith was that he "refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter." Moses’ refusal was, no doubt, influenced by Pharaoh’s cruel treatment of the Israelites: "And it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out unto his brethren, and looked on their burdens: and he spied an Egyptian smiting an Hebrew, one of his brethren" (Exodus 2:11).
refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter: The first noticeable evidence of Moses’ faith is seen in the choices he made. His first significant decision was that he chose to identify with his own people instead of being called the son of Pharaoh’s daughters. The term "Pharaoh" is not the name of the king but is a title; therefore, we do not know his name or his daughter’s name. Because he was raised in the palace by the Pharaoh’s daughter, Moses had everything he wanted in life; but because of his great faith in God, he "refused" (arneomai) (rejected) the life of ease he could have had (Thayer 74).
Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season;
Moses had to make a choice between two options: to live a life of ease in the house of Pharaoh, and even possibly become Pharaoh, or to become a slave and live a life of turmoil in following God and becoming a leader to God’s people. He knew, at least to some degree, what he was getting into because he saw firsthand the cruel treatment of his Hebrew brethren. He proved his faith by choosing "to suffer affliction" (sugkakoucheo), signifying that he was willing to "share persecutions or come into a fellowship of ills" (Thayer 592) with the people of God rather than to live a life of pleasure for a "season" (proskairos) or on a "temporary" basis (Thayer 546). The expression, "the people of God," refers to the Israelites. Moses, probably from the teaching of his mother, already knew the choice was between earthly temporary enjoyment of sin in Egypt or permanent pleasures in an eternal home that God had promised his great, great, great, great, great grandfather, Abraham, many years earlier.
Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward.
Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: The "reproach of Christ" refers to the suffering of Christ that would take place hundreds of years later. Paul mentions the effects of the "reproach of Christ" even in the life of Moses to draw his Hebrew readers’ attention to the importance of not abandoning Christ or His message, which they are on the verge of doing; he wants them to keep focusing on the eternal reward in heaven. Paul makes a final appeal with this same message near the end of this epistle when he says:
Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate. Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach. For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come (13:12-14).
When Moses examined the choices he had, he concluded the "reproach in Christ" consisted of greater riches than all the treasures that could be found in Egypt. The "reproach of Christ" in reference to Moses is Paul’s way of indicating that Moses accepted God’s call to be a type of Christ and that he, just as Jesus Christ would years later, willingly suffer for the believers in God. In this sense, Moses is a type of Jesus Christ. He also knew and prophesied about the coming of Jesus:
And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began. For Moses truly said unto the fathers, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you. And it shall come to pass, that every soul, which will not hear that prophet, shall be destroyed from among the people. Yea, and all the prophets from Samuel and those that follow after, as many as have spoken, have likewise foretold of these days. Ye are the children of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying unto Abraham, And in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed. Unto you first God, having raised up his Son Jesus, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities (Acts 3:20-26).
The Lord God promised and Moses records: "I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him" (Deuteronomy 18:18). This Prophet who was to come from their brethren is none other than Jesus Christ. Years later, Jesus, speaking to the Jews who hated him and sought to kill Him, says:
Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust. For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words? (John 5:45-47).
In many ways, Moses represented Jesus Christ from the time he led God’s people from Egypt through their many trials in the wilderness. Moses taught them and rebuked them when they complained against God, but he was also always ready to help bring them back to God:
Beyond all preceding believers, Moses typified Christ. He was the Old Testament apostle, the commissioned one of God. He was the Old Testament deliverer, the rescuer of God’s people from bondage. He was the human founder of the Old Testament household of God. And in all these capacities he was the direct antitype of our Lord. He wrote and prophesied of Christ. In him the Messianic promise arose on the world with a fullness and clearness which it had not assumed before. The typical character of the Old Testament history was deepening, and all the relations of Moses were pregnant with Messanic significance. In a sense, therefore, which could be attributed to none of his predecessors, the shame and reproach into which Moses entered were the shame and reproach of Christ (Kendrick 158).
for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward: "Respect" (apoblepo) indicates he intentionally "looked away" (Vincent 528) and decided to place his allegiance with God. "Recompence of the reward" (misthapodosia) or "payment of wages due" (Thayer 415) refers to the final reward in heaven.
Paul’s message is to look forward to the final reward in heaven and not to dwell on the earthly pleasures.
By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible.
By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: As proof of Moses’ faith, "he forsook Egypt." "Forsook" (kataleipo) means "to depart from, (or to) leave" (Thayer 333). Moses departed from Egypt on two major occasions; therefore, (1) does Paul refer to Moses’ temporarily leaving Egypt and moving to the land of Midian; or (2) does he refer to his permanently leaving Egypt after returning from Midian and leading all the Israelites from Egypt toward the promised land? Moses left Egypt, "not fearing the wrath of the king." "Fearing" (phobeo) means to "be afraid" (Thayer 655) of the "wrath" (thumos) or the "passion (and) angry heat" (Thayer 293) of the king. Moses obviously did fear the king after he killed the Egyptian who beat one of his brethren. After this event, he left Egypt and went into Midian to live for a period of time. God then instructed him to leave Midian and return to Egypt to deliver the Israelites from Egyptian bondage.
It appears in this passage that Paul has reference to Moses’ leaving Egypt the second time when he became the leader of the Israelite people. He had no fear of the king as he appeared before him several times before organizing the people for their exodus. Moses records this event:
And the LORD said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows; And I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey; unto the place of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Now therefore, behold, the cry of the children of Israel is come unto me: and I have also seen the oppression wherewith the Egyptians oppress them. Come now therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth my people the children of Israel out of Egypt (Exodus 3:7-10).
Even though Moses did not fear the king, he did have other fears that God quieted:
1. Moses feared that he was no one special and that he was not the right person to be their leader. God quieted this fear by promising to be with him. Moses records:
Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt? And he said, Certainly I will be with thee; and this shall be a token unto thee, that I have sent thee: When thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve God upon this mountain (Exodus 3:11-12).
2. Moses feared that the Israelites would not believe him or believe that God had spoken to him. God removed this fear also by performing three miracles and then giving Moses the ability to do these same miracles:
And Moses answered and said, But, behold, they will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice: for they will say, The LORD hath not appeared unto thee. And the LORD said unto him, What is that in thine hand? And he said, A rod. And he said, Cast it on the ground. And he cast it on the ground, and it became a serpent; and Moses fled from before it. And the LORD said unto Moses, Put forth thine hand, and take it by the tail. And he put forth his hand, and caught it, and it became a rod in his hand: That they may believe that the LORD God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath appeared unto thee. And the LORD said furthermore unto him, Put now thine hand into thy bosom. And he put his hand into his bosom: and when he took it out, behold, his hand was leprous as snow. And he said, Put thine hand into thy bosom again. And he put his hand into his bosom again; and plucked it out of his bosom, and, behold, it was turned again as his other flesh. And it shall come to pass, if they will not believe thee, neither hearken to the voice of the first sign, that they will believe the voice of the latter sign. And it shall come to pass, if they will not believe also these two signs, neither hearken unto thy voice, that thou shalt take of the water of the river, and pour it upon the dry land: and the water which thou takest out of the river shall become blood upon the dry land (Exodus 4:1-9).
3. Moses feared that he did not have the ability to speak eloquently enough to influence people to follow him. The Lord removed this fear in a three-step process. First, God reminded Moses that He had made man’s mouth; therefore, He could give him the ability to convince others that he is speaking for God. Secondly, He agreed to allow Moses’ brother, Aaron, to speak for Moses; and thirdly, God gave Moses a special rod so that he could perform miracles when necessary to sway the people. Moses records these events:
And Moses said unto the LORD, O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since thou hast spoken unto thy servant: but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue. And the LORD said unto him, Who hath made man’s mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the LORD? Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say. And he said, O my Lord, send, I pray thee, by the hand of him whom thou wilt send. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Moses, and he said, Is not Aaron the Levite thy brother? I know that he can speak well. And also, behold, he cometh forth to meet thee: and when he seeth thee, he will be glad in his heart. And thou shalt speak unto him, and put words in his mouth: and I will be with thy mouth, and with his mouth, and will teach you what ye shall do. And he shall be thy spokesman unto the people: and he shall be, even he shall be to thee instead of a mouth, and thou shalt be to him instead of God. And thou shalt take this rod in thine hand, wherewith thou shalt do signs (Exodus 4:10-17).
After God removed all of these fears, Moses returned to Egypt, "not fearing the wrath of the king," to begin the task of delivering God’s people from Egyptian slavery. He knew God was on his side and God would give him instructions about what to do and when to do them:
And the LORD said unto Moses in Midian, Go, return into Egypt: for all the men are dead which sought thy life. And Moses took his wife and his sons, and set them upon an ass, and he returned to the land of Egypt: and Moses took the rod of God in his hand (Exodus 4:19-20).
for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible: "Endured" (kartereo) means "steadfast" (Thayer 326). Moses’ faith was proved in his steadfastness to God’s word. He lived and acted as though he could see "him who is invisible," referring to God. The contrast here is that Moses refused to serve under the visible king, Pharaoh, choosing instead to serve under the invisible King, God, the Creator. Paul, in writing to the Christians in Colosse, speaks of Jesus "Who is the image of the invisible God" (Colossians 1:15). He writes similar words to the evangelist Timothy, saying, "Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen" (1 Timothy 1:17).
Through faith he kept the passover, and the sprinkling of blood, lest he that destroyed the firstborn should touch them.
Through faith he kept the passover: Another event in the life of Moses where faith manifests itself is in the Passover that led to the exodus of the Israelites. Paul says Moses "through faith," that is, "because of faith" (Thayer 513), "kept the passover." The word "kept" (poieo) signifies that Moses "instituted the passover" (pascha), indicating it is the first "paschal festival…extending from the fourteenth to the twentieth day of the month Nisan" (Thayer 494). In the Greek language, the perfect tense is used and "indicates the continued significance of the service down to the time of writing" (Vincent 528) or the "permanent nature of the feast" (Robertson 427). The Passover was something new; it had never before been observed; but because of Moses’ faith, he was confident the celebration of the Passover would save God’s people. The Passover was not only a memorial of the Israelite’s deliverance but also a typical prefiguring of our salvation by the death of Jesus Christ. Paul, writing to the Christians in Corinth, encourages them to live godly lives and shows how Jesus Christ is a Christian’s Passover. He says, "For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us" (1 Corinthians 5:7).
and the sprinkling of blood: The "sprinkling of blood" was an act of faith and obedience to God in which originally the blood was placed on the door posts, as the Lord instructed:
And they shall take of the blood, and strike it on the two side posts and on the upper door post of the houses, wherein they shall eat it…And ye shall take a bunch of hyssop, and dip it in the blood that is in the bason, and strike the lintel and the two side posts with the blood that is in the bason; and none of you shall go out at the door of his house until the morning (Exodus 12:7; Exodus 12:22).
The "sprinkling of blood" was always an act of service when the Passover was celebrated or when sacrifices were offered. "In the post-Exodus legislation the blood which in the original institution, was sprinkled on the door-posts and lintels was thrown upon the altar" (Vincent 529).
And Moses wrote all the words of the LORD, and rose up early in the morning, and builded an altar under the hill, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel. And he sent young men of the children of Israel, which offered burnt offerings, and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen unto the LORD. And Moses took half of the blood, and put it in basons; and half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar (Exodus 24:4-6).
The blood of animals in the Old Testament is a representation of the blood of Jesus in the New Testament. When Jesus, as a perfect sacrifice, died on the cross, the sprinkling of blood of animals was no long necessary. Paul writes earlier in this epistle:
For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (9:13-14).
lest he that destroyed the firstborn should touch them: The purpose of the "sprinkling of blood" was to protect the firstborn in that house. Paul says the sprinkling of blood was done so that the destroyer would not "touch" the firstborn. "Touch" (thiggano) means "to do violence to" (Thayer 291). The firstborn died in houses where the "sprinkling of blood" was not found. Death entered the house regardless of whether those in the house were Israelites or Egyptians. Moses instructed all the Israelites about this coming catastrophe. The only way to keep the destroyer from causing death in a home was obedience through faith. Moses’ teaching the Israelites what the Lord required of them proved his faith in God:
For the LORD will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when he seeth the blood upon the lintel, and on the two side posts, the LORD will pass over the door, and will not suffer the destroyer to come in unto your houses to smite you (Exodus 12:23).
The firstborn that was to die included the firstborn of man and of animals. Moses gives detailed instructions about this plague of death. His faith gave him confidence that God would protect those who obeyed Him:
For I will pass through the land of Egypt this night, and will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the LORD. And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye are: and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt. And this day shall be unto you for a memorial; and ye shall keep it a feast to the LORD throughout your generations; ye shall keep it a feast by an ordinance for ever (Exodus 12:12-14).
By faith they passed through the Red sea as by dry land: which the Egyptians assaying to do were drowned.
By faith they passed through the Red sea as by dry land: Turning from a discussion of Moses’ faith, Paul speaks of the faith of the Israelites under Moses’ leadership. When the Israelites left Egypt, the entire nation of Israel, having witnessed the plagues God placed on the Egyptians, had faith in God; however, they often lost their faith when challenges faced them.
The exodus from Egypt was well organized. The people did not leave in a panic nor go in different directions; instead, they followed a route designated by God. The Lord told Moses, "Speak unto the children of Israel, that they turn and encamp before Pihahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, over against Baalzephon: before it shall ye encamp by the sea" (Exodus 14:2). As they left Egypt, they were confident God would guide them to freedom; however, as they came near the Red Sea, they began to lose their confidence. They realized Pharaoh had changed his mind and had sent his army after them. Their reaction was only natural. They saw the Egyptians with their horses and chariots quickly approaching from the rear, and they saw the waters of the Red Sea in front of them. They thought they were about to die. What they did not know was that the Lord God had set up this plan to prove the power of faith. God had caused Pharaoh to change his mind to let the Israelites and the Egyptians once again see the power of God. The Lord tells Moses, "And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, that he shall follow after them; and I will be honoured upon Pharaoh, and upon all his host; that the Egyptians may know that I am the LORD. And they did so" (Exodus 14:4). Moses records the events:
And the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he pursued after the children of Israel: and the children of Israel went out with an high hand. But the Egyptians pursued after them, all the horses and chariots of Pharaoh, and his horsemen, and his army, and overtook them encamping by the sea, beside Pihahiroth, before Baalzephon. And when Pharaoh drew nigh, the children of Israel lifted up their eyes, and, behold, the Egyptians marched after them; and they were sore afraid: and the children of Israel cried out unto the LORD. And they said unto Moses, Because there were no graves in Egypt, hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness? wherefore hast thou dealt thus with us, to carry us forth out of Egypt? Is not this the word that we did tell thee in Egypt, saying, Let us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians? For it had been better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness (Exodus 14:8-12).
As they complained to Moses about their dire situation, Moses comforted them:
Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will shew to you to day: for the Egyptians whom ye have seen to day, ye shall see them again no more for ever. The LORD shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace. And the LORD said unto Moses, Wherefore criest thou unto me? speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward: But lift thou up thy rod, and stretch out thine hand over the sea, and divide it: and the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea (Exodus 14:13-16).
As the Red Sea divided and dry land appeared, the Israelites’ faith in God was restored; and they crossed the sea on dry land. Words cannot describe what the Israelites saw that day. The waters of the Red Sea walled up on the left side and on the right side, and the ground beneath them became instantly dry. It must have been an amazing, miraculous sight and at the same time a fearful sight as they saw the powerful waters staying in place on each side; however, they knew this was a great miracle by God. By their faith they were saved as they obeyed God and passed through the Red Sea on dry land.
which the Egyptians assaying to do were drowned: The Egyptians, even though they did not have faith in God, were "assaying" (peira), meaning they were "attempting" (Thayer 498) to cross the Red Sea in the same way as the Israelites. All the Egyptian soldiers, their horses, and chariots followed the same path as the Israelites, and they obviously were about to overtake them; however, God performed another miracle, causing the wheels to fall off the Egyptians’ chariots. The Egyptians then knew God was on the side of the Israelites:
And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground: and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left. And the Egyptians pursued, and went in after them to the midst of the sea, even all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen. And it came to pass, that in the morning watch the LORD looked unto the host of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and of the cloud, and troubled the host of the Egyptians, And took off their chariot wheels, that they drave them heavily: so that the Egyptians said, Let us flee from the face of Israel; for the LORD fighteth for them against the Egyptians (Exodus 14:22-25).
The Egyptians, under the direction of Pharaoh, attempted to retreat, but it was too late. They did not have faith in God, and they all drowned when the waters collapsed around them. The Israelites were saved from Egyptian bondage (Exodus 14:26-31).
By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, after they were compassed about seven days.
After the death of Moses, the Lord instructed Joshua to lead the Israelites across the Jordan River and into the promised land of Canaan. There they still had victories to win before the land would be theirs. One of the first obstacles after crossing the Jordan River was to conquer Jericho. Joshua, like Moses, was a man of faith, but he still had to be encouraged to stand firm and follow God. The Lord God says to Joshua:
Be strong and of a good courage: for unto this people shalt thou divide for an inheritance the land, which I sware unto their fathers to give them. Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest (Joshua 1:6-7).
"By faith" means "because of faith" (Thayer 513). Because of the faith of the Israelites, the walls of Jericho fell down. As the Red Sea had stood between the Israelites and victory, so now the great walls of Jericho stood between them and victory. God once again instructed His people to do something that made no sense to them. He did not tell them to penetrate the walls to win a victory; neither did He provide them some visible force to cause the walls to fall because such a victory would have been their victory and would not have glorified God. Instead, He told them to march around the walls of Jericho thirteen times over a seven-day period and blow their horns and shout and then the walls would fall. There was no human reasoning or logic as to why the walls would fall; however, the Israelites, because of their faith, obeyed God and marched around the city as God had instructed; as a result, the walls came down. Their obeying God proved their faith. The rulers of Jericho feared the Israelites; therefore, they sealed the wall and refused to allow anyone to go into or out of the city. Even while the walls were standing, the Lord told Joshua He had given Jericho into his hands:
And the LORD said unto Joshua, See, I have given into thine hand Jericho, and the king thereof, and the mighty men of valour. And ye shall compass the city, all ye men of war, and go round about the city once. Thus shalt thou do six days. And seven priests shall bear before the ark seven trumpets of rams’ horns: and the seventh day ye shall compass the city seven times, and the priests shall blow with the trumpets. And it shall come to pass, that when they make a long blast with the ram’s horn, and when ye hear the sound of the trumpet, all the people shall shout with a great shout; and the wall of the city shall fall down flat, and the people shall ascend up every man straight before him (Joshua 6:2-5).
By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace.
Before the walls of Jericho fell, Joshua sent two spies to investigate the city and the surrounding land. They entered the home of Rahab, a harlot, and the king of Jericho heard about the two Israelite men. He sent word to her to bring them to him; however, she refused and hid them:
And the king of Jericho sent unto Rahab, saying, Bring forth the men that are come to thee, which are entered into thine house: for they be come to search out all the country. And the woman took the two men, and hid them, and said thus, There came men unto me, but I wist not whence they were (Joshua 2:3-4).
Rahab proved her faith by hiding the spies. She believed in God and in His power because of past Israelite victories. By faith, she knew God was with the Israelites and that they would overthrow Jericho; therefore, she talked with the spies and pleaded with them to save her and her family. The spies agreed, and she "let them down by a cord through the window" so that they could escape (Joshua 2:9-15).
Because of her faith in God and His word, she did not perish when the Israelites leveled the walls of Jericho and destroyed the king and his armies. When the Israelites entered Jericho, every person and everything was destroyed except Rahab and her family. Joshua gave strict commands about what his army was to do:
And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword. But Joshua had said unto the two men that had spied out the country, Go into the harlot’s house, and bring out thence the woman, and all that she hath, as ye sware unto her. And the young men that were spies went in, and brought out Rahab, and her father, and her mother, and her brethren, and all that she had; and they brought out all her kindred, and left them without the camp of Israel. And they burnt the city with fire, and all that was therein: only the silver, and the gold, and the vessels of brass and of iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the LORD. And Joshua saved Rahab the harlot alive, and her father’s household, and all that she had; and she dwelleth in Israel even unto this day; because she hid the messengers, which Joshua sent to spy out Jericho (Joshua 6:21-25).
No doubt, there are many examples of faith of other people in Canaan who helped the Israelites; however, God chose Rahab, the harlot, to be remembered. She became the wife of Salmon and the mother of Boaz who is found in the genealogy of Jesus Christ. Matthew records, "And Salmon begat Booz of Rachab; and Booz begat Obed of Ruth; and Obed begat Jesse" (1:5).
Many years later James, the brother of the Lord, teaching on the uselessness of faith without works, uses Rahab as an example of a person of faith; but her faith alone was not enough—she had to prove her faith by her works. James says:
Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also (2:17-26).
And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gideon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets:
And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me: These words are similar in meaning to the words John writes about the many events in Jesus’ life as he closes his account of the gospel, saying, "And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen" (John 21:25). Likewise, Paul is saying there are many other examples of biblical heroes of faith, but space and time will not allow him to write more. Without giving details, he names four judges, then a king, and finally the prophets without naming specific ones. He uses no special order in naming them.
to tell of Gideon: Gideon was the fifth judge of Israel. The example of Gideon (sometimes in the KJV spelled with the Greek spelling, Gedeon) is recorded, beginning in Judges 6. The Israelites had again done evil in the sight of God; thus, He delivered them to the Midianites for seven years. The Israelites finally recognized they needed to return to God and pleaded with Him to deliver them from their troubles:
And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD: and the LORD delivered them into the hand of Midian seven years. And the hand of Midian prevailed against Israel: and because of the Midianites the children of Israel made them the dens which are in the mountains, and caves, and strong holds. And so it was, when Israel had sown, that the Midianites came up, and the Amalekites, and the children of the east, even they came up against them; And they encamped against them, and destroyed the increase of the earth, till thou come unto Gaza, and left no sustenance for Israel, neither sheep, nor ox, nor ass. For they came up with their cattle and their tents, and they came as grasshoppers for multitude; for both they and their camels were without number: and they entered into the land to destroy it. And Israel was greatly impoverished because of the Midianites; and the children of Israel cried unto the LORD (Judges 6:1-6).
and of Barak: The children of Israel again violated God’s instructions and became evil in His sight. When they recognized their need to return to God, Barak was called to become the leading force to save the Israelites from the hands of Jabin, the king of Canaan. Barak, the son of Abinoam of the tribe of Naphtali and a captain for Deborah, the prophetess, refused to obey Deborah’s order to go into battle unless she agreed to go with him. Having faith and confidence in God, Barak and Deborah took ten thousand men to fight Sisera with his nine hundred chariots of war and won the victory, freeing the Israelites; the Lord helped them by spreading terror throughout Sisera’s army:
And the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD, when Ehud was dead. And the LORD sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan, that reigned in Hazor; the captain of whose host was Sisera, which dwelt in Harosheth of the Gentiles. And the children of Israel cried unto the LORD: for he had nine hundred chariots of iron; and twenty years he mightily oppressed the children of Israel. And Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, she judged Israel at that time. And she dwelt under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in mount Ephraim: and the children of Israel came up to her for judgment. And she sent and called Barak the son of Abinoam out of Kedeshnaphtali, and said unto him, Hath not the LORD God of Israel commanded, saying, Go and draw toward mount Tabor, and take with thee ten thousand men of the children of Naphtali and of the children of Zebulun? And I will draw unto thee to the river Kishon Sisera, the captain of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his multitude; and I will deliver him into thine hand. And Barak said unto her, If thou wilt go with me, then I will go: but if thou wilt not go with me, then I will not go. And she said, I will surely go with thee: notwithstanding the journey that thou takest shall not be for thine honour; for the LORD shall sell Sisera into the hand of a woman. And Deborah arose, and went with Barak to Kedesh. And Barak called Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh; and he went up with ten thousand men at his feet: and Deborah went up with him (Judges 4:1-10).
and of Samson: Samson, the son of Manoah, was from the tribe of Dan. The thirteenth judge of Israel, he is possibly best known by most Biblical students as one of the strongest men ever to live. He often lived a sinful and careless life and did not allow his faith to sustain him; however, near the end of his life, he returned to God. The children of Israel again found disfavor in God’s sight and were delivered into the hands of the Philistines for forty years (Judges 13:1). Samson’s faith in God was proved when he prayed to God and said, "O Lord GOD, remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes" (Judges 16:28). This prayer proved Samson’s confidence that God can do what is ordinarily impossible:
And Samson took hold of the two middle pillars upon which the house stood, and on which it was borne up, of the one with his right hand, and of the other with his left. And Samson said, Let me die with the Philistines. And he bowed himself with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords, and upon all the people that were therein. So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life. Then his brethren and all the house of his father came down, and took him, and brought him up, and buried him between Zorah and Eshtaol in the buryingplace of Manoah his father. And he judged Israel twenty years (Judges 16:29-31).
and of Jephthae: Jephthae, the son of Gilead, was the ninth judge of Israel. His victories over the Ammonites distinguished him over some of the other judges (Judges 11, 12). He did not live a perfect life; in fact, he was reckless in keeping vows he made to God. Even though he did not always live an exemplary life, he was one known for his confidence in God. Paul’s message is that "faith" does not make one perfect; however, when one has faith in God and returns to obey Him, God forgives.
of David also: David, the son of Jesse and the second king of Israel, was a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22). His faith is often spoken of in 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, and 1 Chronicles. David often spoke of his difficult times and of his confidence in God in the book of Psalms (see Psalms 18:1-24).
and Samuel: Samuel, the fifteenth and final judge of Israel, is considered the first in a long line of prophets who instructed the Israelites how to live to please God. He lived his life in such a way that others recognized his faithfulness to God:
And Samuel grew, and the LORD was with him, and did let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan even to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of the LORD. And the LORD appeared again in Shiloh: for the LORD revealed himself to Samuel in Shiloh by the word of the LORD (1 Samuel 3:19-21).
and of the prophets: There are many prophets of God whom Paul could have named as examples of true faith: Elisha and Elijah, as well as at least sixteen others such as Hosea, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, Daniel, and Habakkuk, whose Old Testament books bear their names. These prophets are those who were moved by the Spirit of God and became His spokesmen. They declared what God revealed to them and encouraged the Israelites to live godly lives of obedience.
Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions.
Who through faith subdued kingdoms: The phrase "through faith" means "by the help of faith" (Thayer 513) they realized certain victories. Paul does not mean that every example of those who had faith "subdued" (katagonizomai) kingdoms. To subdue means "to overcome" kingdoms (Thayer 331). His intent is to teach that at least one or more of these people did at least one of these things. For example, Gideon subdued the Midianites, Barak subdued the Canaanites, Jephthah subdued the Ammonites, and David subdued the Ammonites, Syrians, Moabites, Edomites, and possibly others. All of the following expressions are general statements proposed to illustrate how and when the final promises were to be obtained.
wrought righteousness: The expression "wrought righteousness" (ergazomai) means "to work" (Thayer 247) "righteousness" (dikaiosune), that is to "work or live lives of thinking, feeling, and acting…to perform completely whatever is right" (Thayer 149). This trait is a characteristic of every person named by Paul and every person who is not named but lived a life of faithfulness to God. The Apostle Peter emphasizes the same message, saying, "Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him" (Acts 10:34-35). "Faith showed itself in the association of righteousness with power" (Vincent 532).
obtained promises: Paul mentions that people of faith "obtained promises." He is not indicating they received the fulfillment of the promises made, but instead, that each one received the promises of spiritual blessing. Each one was promised an eternal home in heaven if he persevered in faithfulness and righteousness.
stopped the mouths of lions: There were often many different forms of punishment for people who put God first in their lives or who obeyed God instead of the rulers of some wicked countries. Some were thrown in with lions to be devoured by them; however, because of their faith, God "stopped the mouths of lions." Samson is an example of one who was saved multiple times from the mouth of lions as he withstood the Philistines:
But his father and his mother knew not that it was of the LORD, that he sought an occasion against the Philistines: for at that time the Philistines had dominion over Israel. Then went Samson down, and his father and his mother, to Timnath, and came to the vineyards of Timnath: and, behold, a young lion roared against him. And the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon him, and he rent him as he would have rent a kid, and he had nothing in his hand: but he told not his father or his mother what he had done (Judges 14:4-6).
Another example of one who "stopped the mouths of lions" was David. As he was about to fight the giant Goliath, he told King Saul of an incident where he fought a bear and a lion, but God saved him:
And David said unto Saul, Thy servant kept his father’s sheep, and there came a lion, and a bear, and took a lamb out of the flock: And I went out after him, and smote him, and delivered it out of his mouth: and when he arose against me, I caught him by his beard, and smote him, and slew him. Thy servant slew both the lion and the bear: and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be as one of them, seeing he hath defied the armies of the living God. David said moreover, The LORD that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine. And Saul said unto David, Go, and the LORD be with thee (1 Samuel 17:34-37).
Another example of a man of faith who was saved from lions is Daniel. King Darius passed a law that mandated that no one could pray to God for thirty days; if they did, they would be killed by being thrown into a den of lions. The prophet Daniel refused to obey the king’s royal statute:
All the presidents of the kingdom, the governors, and the princes, the counsellors, and the captains, have consulted together to establish a royal statute, and to make a firm decree, that whosoever shall ask a petition of any God or man for thirty days, save of thee, O king, he shall be cast into the den of lions…Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime…Then these men assembled unto the king, and said unto the king, Know, O king, that the law of the Medes and Persians is, That no decree nor statute which the king establisheth may be changed. Then the king commanded, and they brought Daniel, and cast him into the den of lions. Now the king spake and said unto Daniel, Thy God whom thou servest continually, he will deliver thee. And a stone was brought, and laid upon the mouth of the den; and the king sealed it with his own signet, and with the signet of his lords; that the purpose might not be changed concerning Daniel. Then the king went to his palace, and passed the night fasting: neither were instruments of musick brought before him: and his sleep went from him. Then the king arose very early in the morning, and went in haste unto the den of lions. And when he came to the den, he cried with a lamentable voice unto Daniel: and the king spake and said to Daniel, O Daniel, servant of the living God, is thy God, whom thou servest continually, able to deliver thee from the lions? Then said Daniel unto the king, O king, live for ever. My God hath sent his angel, and hath shut the lions’ mouths, that they have not hurt me: forasmuch as before him innocency was found in me; and also before thee, O king, have I done no hurt (Daniel 6:7; Daniel 6:10; Daniel 6:15-22).
Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.
Quenched the violence of fire: "Quenched" (sbennumi) means "to extinguish" (Thayer 572), not just the fire but the "violence" (dunamis) of fire or the "power" of fire (Thayer 159). Some people who had faith in God were cast into a fire pit or burned at the stake for their faithfulness. An example is the three Hebrew children, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who refused to honor the demands of King Nebuchadnezzar to fall down and worship the golden image (see Daniel 3:12-27).
escaped the edge of the sword: Several men of God were saved from being killed by the sword. For example, David was saved from the wrath of King Saul on different occasions:
And the evil spirit from the LORD was upon Saul, as he sat in his house with his javelin in his hand: and David played with his hand. And Saul sought to smite David even to the wall with the javelin; but he slipped away out of Saul’s presence, and he smote the javelin into the wall: and David fled, and escaped that night. Saul also sent messengers unto David’s house, to watch him, and to slay him in the morning: and Michal David’s wife told him, saying, If thou save not thy life to night, to morrow thou shalt be slain. So Michal let David down through a window: and he went, and fled, and escaped. And Michal took an image, and laid it in the bed, and put a pillow of goats’ hair for his bolster, and covered it with a cloth. And when Saul sent messengers to take David, she said, He is sick. And Saul sent the messengers again to see David, saying, Bring him up to me in the bed, that I may slay him. And when the messengers were come in, behold, there was an image in the bed, with a pillow of goats’ hair for his bolster. And Saul said unto Michal, Why hast thou deceived me so, and sent away mine enemy, that he is escaped? And Michal answered Saul, He said unto me, Let me go; why should I kill thee? So David fled, and escaped, and came to Samuel to Ramah, and told him all that Saul had done to him. And he and Samuel went and dwelt in Naioth (1 Samuel 19:9-18).
Other men of God, such as Elisha (2 Kings 6), Elijah (1 Kings 19), and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 36:26), are also examples of godly men who escaped death from the sword.
out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens: Probably every man and woman of faith can be said to have been made strong in their weakness. This phrase suggests they recognized their own personal inabilities to overcome a punishment, but they recognized that God could save them from any situation if they had faith in Him. An example of this situation is Samson who, though blind, destroyed the Philistines. (See Judges 16:28-31).
turned to flight the armies of the aliens: The "armies of the aliens" refer to any foreign enemy. By faith, men of God entered into battle, knowing a victory would be won because God was on their side.
Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection:
Women received their dead raised to life again: Paul is possibly referring to the widow whose son unexpectedly died, and Elijah prayed that God would restore his life (see 1 Kings 17:17-24).
and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: Others, Paul says, were "tortured" rather than turning against God. The word "tortured" (tumpanizo) "represent(s) cruel torture in general" (Vincent 533); specifically, however, it refers "to torture with tympanum (that is) an instrument of punishment" (Thayer 632) used to "stretch…and beat to death" a person (Strong 73).
And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment:
The word "trial" (peira) refers to those men and women of faith who "experienced" (Thayer 498) cruel "mocking" (empaigmos) or "scoffing" (Thayer 207) and "scourging (mastix), that is, they were beaten with "a whip" (Thayer 392). Others, Paul says, were in "bonds and imprisonments." There are many examples of these forms of punishments. Samson, for example, was made fun of by the Philistines:
Then the lords of the Philistines gathered them together for to offer a great sacrifice unto Dagon their god, and to rejoice: for they said, Our god hath delivered Samson our enemy into our hand. And when the people saw him, they praised their god: for they said, Our god hath delivered into our hands our enemy, and the destroyer of our country, which slew many of us. And it came to pass, when their hearts were merry, that they said, Call for Samson, that he may make us sport. And they called for Samson out of the prison house; and he made them sport: and they set him between the pillars (Judges 16:23-25).
We can read of the imprisonment of Hanani as an example:
For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him. Herein thou hast done foolishly: therefore from henceforth thou shalt have wars. Then Asa was wroth with the seer, and put him in a prison house; for he was in a rage with him because of this thing.
And Asa oppressed some of the people the same time (2 Chronicles 16:9-10).
The prophet Jeremiah is also an example of imprisonment and beatings:
Now Pashur the son of Immer the priest, who was also chief governor in the house of the LORD, heard that Jeremiah prophesied these things. Then Pashur smote Jeremiah the prophet, and put him in the stocks that were in the high gate of Benjamin, which was by the house of the LORD. And it came to pass on the morrow, that Pashur brought forth Jeremiah out of the stocks (Jeremiah 20:1-3).
They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented;
They were stoned: Being "stoned" (lithazo) "was a Jewish mode of punishment" (Thayer 378) for those who expressed their faith in God. An example of this form of death is seen in Zechariah, the son of Jehoiada:
And the Spirit of God came upon Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest, which stood above the people, and said unto them, Thus saith God, Why transgress ye the commandments of the LORD, that ye cannot prosper? because ye have forsaken the LORD, he hath also forsaken you. And they conspired against him, and stoned him with stones at the commandment of the king in the court of the house of the LORD. Thus Joash the king remembered not the kindness which Jehoiada his father had done to him, but slew his son. And when he died, he said, The LORD look upon it, and require it (2 Chronicles 24:20-24).
As many godly men in the Old Testament were stoned, so also were Christians in the New Testament. Stephen is an example of one who was stoned for the cause of Christ (Acts 7:55-60).
they were sawn asunder: Being cut in two with a saw is a barbarous act. No recorded cases appear in scripture where this form of punishment was used; however, historians like Josephus tell of occasions where it was. For example, according to tradition, Isaiah was sawn asunder.
were tempted: "Tempted" (peirazo) refers to "inflict(ing) evils upon one in order to prove his character and the steadfastness of his faith" (Thayer 498). It is not surprising that God’s people would be tempted to deny their faith in God. Jesus Himself faced temptations when He was physically weak. For example, He was tempted when He was hungry after fasting forty days:
Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred. And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.
Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him (Matthew 4:1-11).
were slain with the sword: In verse 34, Paul writes of those who, because of their faith "escaped the edge of the sword"; however, there were others who, having faith, faced death by the sword; they did not escape, but instead, they died. Urijah, a man of God, died by the sword by the hands of King Jehoiakim:
And they fetched forth Urijah out of Egypt, and brought him unto Jehoiakim the king; who slew him with the sword, and cast his dead body into the graves of the common people (Jeremiah 26:23).
they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented: Living a godly life is not a guarantee of living a life of ease and pleasure. Living a godly life with the expectation of a better, heavenly home is generally met with earthly hardships. Some, Paul says, "wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins" instead of royal clothing; others were "destitute" (hustereo), meaning they were often "in want of" essential things (Thayer 646). Some, Paul says were "afflicted" (thlibo), meaning they were in "distress" probably from being exposed to the elements (Thayer 291). Moses serves as an example of one who wandered about in this manner instead of living lavishly in Pharaoh’s courts (see verses 24-26). Elijah serves as an example of one who lived destitute and was probably tormented because of it; therefore, he lived in caves and slept under trees (see 1 Kings 19:1-14). Finally, Paul says some were "tormented" (kakoucheo) meaning they were "maltreated" or "plague(d) (Thayer 320).
(Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. (Of whom the world was not worthy:): This parenthetical expression indicates the devoutness and godliness of these men and women of faith. Even though they lived plain lives and were often destitute, the world was not "worthy" (axios), that is, the world was not deserving to be in "fellowship" with them (Thayer 53).
they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth: Godly men, like Moses who left Egypt, lived in deserts, mountains, dens, and caves. Paul makes the point that Moses (and other men and women of faith) volunteered to be destitute and live homeless lives, if necessary, to live a life pleasing to God.
And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise:
Every example Paul refers to in verses 4 through 38 "obtained a good report" (martureo), that is they received "honorable testimony" (Thayer 391) because of their faith if they remained steadfast, even though they "received not the promise." They did not live long enough to witness the promise of the coming of the Messiah and His new covenant. All of these people of faith believed in God (just as Paul’s readers do); however, they did not always remain faithful. Paul speaks of these when he says:
Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; And did all eat the same spiritual meat; And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ. But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted. Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand. Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents. Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer. Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall (1 Corinthians 10:1-12).
Paul warns his readers not to forsake Jesus and not to return to the Old Testament practices, but to remain true and faithful to Christ. If they fail to remain true to Him, God will reject them, just as He did the Israelites, even though they at one time had faith in Him.
God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.
God having provided some better thing for us: The words "having provided" (problepo) mean "foreseen from far" (Dean Alford’s Greek Testament 549). Paul apparently is answering an objection implying that all those who suffered in the Old Testament did so in vain since they did not receive the promise. God provided a "better thing" for Christians than the promises made to believers of the Old Testament. The Old Testament examples named by Paul received some of the earthly promises. For example, Abraham and Sarah were promised a son, and Isaac was born; however, they did not receive the "better" (kreitton) promise of seeing the coming of the Messiah and His New Covenant that provides salvation and a home in heaven. Jesus speaking to His disciples privately says:
…Blessed are the eyes which see the things that ye see: For I tell you, that many prophets and kings have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them (Luke 10:23-24).
that they without us should not be made perfect: The pronoun "they" refers to the believers who lived and died before the dispensation of Jesus, and the pronoun "us" refers to those living in the Christian age. Without the redeeming blood of Jesus, that made possible the Christian age, everyone would be lost. With His blood, the benefits we receive by living in the Christian age reach back to those in previous ages.
By the words "they without us should not be made perfect" indicates that God holds up the promise of heaven for all of His faithful followers regardless of when they lived. On the other hand, Paul’s readers (referred to by the pronoun "us") do receive the "better thing"—Jesus. Many of them may have actually seen and spoken with Jesus, the Messiah.
Paul’s overall purpose in this letter is to convince his readers they should not leave Jesus because He is the true Messiah. He emphasizes to them the importance of diligently living a Christian life so they may obtain the future blessing. He wants them to be assured of a future time in which they and the people of faith in the Old Testament will share a home in heaven.