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the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
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Hebrews 11

Dummelow's Commentary on the BibleDummelow on the Bible

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Verses 1-40

Heroes of Faith

The Achievements of Faith, illustrated from the annals of Israel, beginning with the patriarchs and coming down to the martyrs. The writer has already mentioned faith as a necessary condition of a righteous life, and he now proceeds to illustrate the fact that it was by faith that the fathers of the race were able to work righteousness and to endure their trials. Their heroic example ought to encourage the Hebrews to stand fast. The primary purpose, therefore, of this long passage is a practical one. But it has also a place in the main argument of the Epistle. It has been shown that the earthly and visible things are but the types, copies, or shadows of heavenly realities: see Hebrews 8:5; Hebrews 9:22-23; Hebrews 10:1. The underlying thought of the preceding chapters is that, contrary to the ordinary way of thinking, it is the heavenly that is the real. But how are heavenly and invisible things to be realised with any assurance? It is by the operation of faith. Faith is that by which the invisible becomes real and the future becomes present. ’Faith gives a reality to things hoped for, and puts to the test things for the present unseen.’ It is no new principle in the world, because it was faith that inspired the heroism and self-sacrifice of the saints who lived under the old dispensation. We, having better promises and a better covenant than they, ought not to fall behind in the exercise of the same faith by which they lived.

1. RV renders, ’Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the proving of things not seen.’ The word represented here by ’assurance’ is rendered ’substance’ in Hebrews 1:3; RV and ’confidence’ in Hebrews 3:14. What is meant is that faith is that which gives assurance or certainty of things still in the future. They exist apart from faith, but it is by faith that they are realised. ’Proving’ means testing resulting in conviction.

2. The elders] i.e. the faithful men under the old dispensation. Obtained a good report] RV ’had witness borne to them,’ sc. by God in the Scriptures.

3. Faith enables us to perceive the invisible cause of the phenomenal world: cp. Romans 1:20, The writer begins with Genesis 1 before proceeding to give examples of the realising faith of the fathers,

4. Abel] The writer says that the greater excellence of Abel’s sacrifice was due to his faith, but in what particular the faith was manifested he does not say. It may have been a ’fallen consciousness of the claim of God to the best’.

Yet speaketh] ’Yet,’ i.e. still to us. The reference is to Genesis 4:10, where Abel’s blood is represented as crying from the ground after his death. By faith he overcame death.

5, 6. Enoch] The writer here follows the Greek Version of the OT. Enoch’s faith is an inference from the statement in Genesis that he ’walked with God’ (Gk. ’pleased God’), and his ’translation’ was the reward of his faith.

7. Noah] His faith rested on a direct revelation of ’things not seen as yet,’ viz. the destruction of the world and the means of salvation. Fear] is ’godly fear,’ as in Hebrews 5:7. He condemned the world] i.e. either because he warned the world of the impending doom (see 1 Peter 3:20; 2 Peter 2:5); or because his example took away from them any ground of excuse: cp. Matthew 12:41.

8. Abraham] By faith he realised the promises, and made a great surrender in obedience to God’s call. He was preeminently a man of faith, the first whose faith is definitely mentioned in the OT. (Genesis 15:6); he is the ’father of the faithful.’ All his life he ’sojourned, dwelling in tents,’ i.e. not actually receiving the promises, but waiting patiently for their fulfilment, and making therefore no attempt to settle permanently in Canaan. He looked for the invisible and heavenly ’city of God,’ as the fulfilment of the ideal which was to him the real.

11. Sara] RV ’Even Sarah herself,’ i.e. in spite of her earlier and natural incredulity: see Genesis 18:10-15.

12. Of one] i.e. Abraham.

13. The promises] i.e. the fulfilment of them. Persuaded of them, and embraced them] RV ’greeted them from afar.’ They looked forward by faith and saw the promises and ’saluted them,’ or hailed them, from afar, and lived here as in a foreign land, conscious that their true fatherland was not here, but in heaven. And God rewarded their faith by acknowledging them as His people, and providing a ’city’ for them above.

17. Abraham’s faith in offering Isaac: see Genesis 22. This was the supreme trial of Abraham’s faith. He was not allowed to slay Isaac, but he did actually offer him, i.e. surrender him to God, although he was the ’only-begotten,’ the child of promise and the only link in the chain of the promise. But faith in God’s promise made him superior to all seeming impossibilities in the way of realising the promises.

20-22. Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph were all alike in the fact that on their death-beds they looked by faith beyond death, and were confident of the future.

21. Top of his staff] The Heb. in Genesis 47:31 reads, ’the head of his bed.’ The difference is due to the same consonants being read with different vowels, mittah being ’bed,’ and matteh being ’staff.’

23-28. The faith of Moses and his parents.

23. Proper] i.e. goodly or beautiful. The appearance of the child is said here to have quickened their faith in God that He had destined the child for some great purpose, and their faith was shown in their daring disregard of the king’s commandment: see Exodus 1:16-22.

24. Moses’ faith was shown in his renunciation of all preferments at the court of Pharaoh, and in his espousing the cause of his afflicted brethren. The pleasures of sin were not vicious courses in themselves, but a life of worldly success, which would have been sin for him, conscious as he was of a call to a higher and harder life of duty.

26. The reproach of Christ] cp. Hebrews 13:13; Romans 15:3. The same reproach as Christ suffered in delivering His people: cp. Romans 2:10. There may, however, here be the deeper thought not merely of similarity, but of identity of suffering. Christ, who was from all eternity, may be conceived as actually the deliverer of Israel by the agency of Moses, and so as suffering Himself what Moses had to endure.

The recompence of the reward] see on Hebrews 11:1, and cp. the next v.

28. The keeping of the Passover was an act of faith, because it was the appointed means of deliverance from death, and the performance of it implied faith in God’s promise of safety.

31. Them that believed not] i.e. the people of Jericho who knew what Jehovah had done for Israel: see Joshua 2:9, Joshua 2:10.

33. Obtained promises] cp. Joshua 6:15.

5. Raised to life again] RV ’by a resurrection.’ This literal rendering of the original is necessary to bring out the contrast expressed in the words at the end of the v., ’a better resurrection,’ i.e. one to a life which would not, as in the former case, be again interrupted by death.

39. A good report] see on Hebrews 11:2.

40. There is here the answer to an implied objection, that the faith of these suffering heroes was all in vain, seeing they did not receive the fulfilment of the promises. But, the writer says, this is a wrong inference, the truth being that God has merely deferred then reward in order that they may enter along with us of a later age upon the realisation of the promised inheritance. They are waiting for us so that the whole number of the faithful may be perfected together. Cp. the petition in the Burial Service, ’beseeching Thee.. shortly to accomplish the number of Thine elect, and to hasten Thy kingdom; that we, with all those that are departed in the true faith of Thy holy Name, may have our perfect consummation and bliss...’

Bibliographical Information
Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Hebrews 11". "Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcb/hebrews-11.html. 1909.
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