Bible Commentaries
Hebrews 11

Gaebelein's Annotated BibleGaebelein's Annotated

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Verses 1-40



1. Faith in regard to creation and salvation (Hebrews 11:1-7 )

2. The patience of faith (Hebrews 11:8-22 )

3. The energy of faith (Hebrews 11:23-40 )

Hebrews 11:1-7

The disastrous effect of unbelief has been pointed out in the earlier part of this epistle (Hebrews 3:12 ; Hebrews 3:19 ; Hebrews 4:2 ) as well as the necessity of faith. After the great theme of the epistle, the sacrificial work and priesthood of Christ had been fully demonstrated, faith, in the closing verses of the previous chapter is mentioned once more “the just shall live by faith.” To live and walk by faith is inseparably connected with the possession and enjoyment of the good things which have come, the perfection the believer has in Christ. And now the Spirit of God gives a remarkable record of the saints of old and shows how prominent faith was in their lives and experiences. It is one of the great and marvelous chapters not only of this epistle, but of the whole Word of God.

There is a divine order here in the way the names are mentioned as well as many and deep spiritual lessons into which we cannot fully enter. (The purpose of our work makes this impossible. Saphir, A. Pridham and others will be helpful in a more analytical study of this chapter.) First three antedeluvians are mentioned--Abel, Enoch and Noah. The main part of the chapter is devoted to Abraham and his life of faith, trust and patience, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph are also mentioned. That those who lived before the inauguration of the law covenant and the levitical institutions are prominently used in this faith-chapter is not without meaning. These illustrious heads of the Hebrew nation had the promise; the grace-covenant had been established with them, the covenant which was to remain. They had no law and carnal ordinances, no tabernacle, no priest and yet they pleased God by their faith. And now in possession of the promise, fulfilled in Christ, these Hebrew Christians were to live in faith and manifest the patience of faith, even as Abraham (whom they called “our father Abraham”) did.

The first statement speaks of faith, not so much as a definition, but as a declaration of the action and power of faith. The Revised Version is better in its rendering than the King James translation. “Now faith is the assurance (or substantiation) of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Faith makes real to the soul that which we hope for and is a demonstration of that which we do not see. It is therefore assurance and a settled conviction respecting things hoped for, though unseen. “it is the soul’s hand that grasps the promised blessings and makes them its very own. Faith lays hold on what is future, but sure, and brings it into the life of the believer, so that in the presence and power of it he lives and walks. It is far-sightedness. It sees and foresees. It pierces into the unseen, it seizes the promised riches of God and makes them a present reality, and therefore the life of the believer may become opulent with noble deeds, because ruled and stimulated by a great motive.”

It is by faith we know that the worlds were framed by the Word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear. God called all things into existence. Matter is not eternal; the universe is not a producing cause. God has created all things by Him and for Him, who is the eternal Word (Hebrews 1:2 ; John 1:1 ). Man is unable by searching to solve the mystery of creation. How ridiculous have been the cosmogonies of ancient nations. The evolution theories are equally absurd.

(It would be a good thing if the men of science today would give heed to such a text as this. Take Darwin ‘s Origin of the Species, where he never gets, indeed, to the origin, and owns that he cannot prove that any species ever did originate after the fashion he decrees. And think of originating in his manner Eve out of Adam! Given even the rib, she could not have sprung out of that simply. There must have been what did not appear--the power of God. If it is not perfectly scientific to believe that in her case, we may as well give up Scripture at once, for you cannot expunge the miraculous out of it. If it be only a question of less or more, how unreasonable to measure out the power of God, and how enormous the pretence of being able to say just how much this power, or how or when it shall be fitting for it to be displayed!

(After all, Scripture is at once the most scientific and rational of books, while it is, besides, a miracle of the most stupendous kind, always ready to hand, and with its own power of conviction for any who will examine it. And this one may say in the face of all the higher critics in the world, who are simply the Darwinians of theology, and who, like them, theorize after the most stupendous fashion and then talk about the credulity of faith” Numerical Bible.)

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” This we believe that the worlds were framed by the Word of God. Abel is next mentioned. The truth of salvation is seen in his case. Sin and death had come in. By faith, trusting in the promise, acknowledging his true condition, he brought a more excellent sacrifice than Cain. He approached God with that more excellent sacrifice. He obtained witness that he was righteous. He was justified by faith. And Abel himself who died by the hand of his brother is a type of the Lord Jesus Christ and His sacrifice.

Enoch was translated by faith that he should not see death. In Abel the truth of righteousness by faith is illustrated. Enoch, walking with God, believing God and prophesying (Jude 1:14-15 ) went to heaven without passing through death. The power of death was destroyed in his case; the power of that life he possessed was manifested in his translation. How blessedly Abel and Enoch show forth that by faith righteousness and life are bestowed upon those who believe. The great sacrifice, typified by Abel’s more excellent sacrifice and also by his death, has conquered death, Through death Christ has destroyed him who had the power of death (Hebrews 2:14 ).

Enoch is a type of the Church. He prophesied of coming judgment (the deluge) but did not pass through that judgment. Even so the true Church, when the Lord comes, will be taken from earth to glory without dying, before tribulation, wrath and judgment come upon this age, which ends like the days of Noah. Enoch also received testimony before he was translated that he pleased God, for he walked in faith in His presence and in His fellowship. This is the walk into which all God’s people are called and which faith and the power of the indwelling spirit make possible. Without faith (a faith which clings close to Him, trusts in His word and is obedient) it is impossible to please Him.

Hebrews 11:7 speaks of Noah and his faith. In this verse we find mentioned the ground of faith (warned of God); the realm of faith (things not seen); the exercise of faith (he feared); the work of faith (he prepared an ark); the result of faith (he saved his house); the testimony of faith (he condemned the world) and the reward of faith (heir to righteousness). It is the most remarkable verse in the whole chapter. Enoch was caught up to heaven before the deluge came. Noah was warned of the unseen judgment to come (which Enoch had warned would come) and was roused with godly fear. He is a type of the godly remnant of Jews at the end of this present age, who will pass through tribulation and judgment, after the true Church has left the earth, and having passed through the judgment, as Noah did, will inherit the earth. Noah represents the faith and exercise of this Jewish remnant, which will be saved out of the judgments at the close of this age.

Hebrews 11:8-22

The obedience and patience of faith is the theme of Hebrews 11:8-22 . Obediently Abraham went out, not knowing whether he was going. He obeyed the voice, believed the promise of God. Faith made of him a stranger in the land of promise as in a foreign country. He had no permanent place, but as a pilgrim he dwelt in tents with Isaac and Jacob--”for he waited for the city which hath foundations, whose architect and maker God is.” God revealed to him the heavenly city and in patience he waited for that city, and while he waited he dwelt there content in perfect reliance on God. It was by faith that Sarah received strength to conceive seed “because she counted Him faithful that promised.” And then they died in faith “not having received the promise, but having seen them (by the eyes of faith) afar off and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on earth.” This faith in its power and action is exemplified. By faith Abraham offered up Isaac. He manifested in this act that absolute confidence in God, which, at His command, can renounce even God’s own promises as possessed after the flesh, confident that God would restore them through the exercise of His power, overcoming death. “Observe here that, when trusting in God and giving up all for Him, we always gain, and we learn something more of the ways of His power: for in renouncing according to His will anything already received, we ought to expect from the power of God that He will bestow something else. Abraham renounces the promise after the flesh. He sees the city which has foundations; he can desire a heavenly country. He gives up Isaac, in whom were the promises: he learns resurrection, for God is infallibly faithful. The promises were in Isaac: therefore God must restore him to Abraham, and by resurrection, if he offered him in sacrifice” Synopsis of the Bible.

By faith Isaac and Jacob acted. And Joseph, a stranger in a strange land, yet believing the promises as to the land, reckoned in faith on their fulfillment and thus gave commandment concerning his bones (Genesis 50:25 ).

Hebrews 11:23-40

Faith in this section illustrates the energy connected with it which surmounts any obstacle and difficulty, and, trusting, brings forth the manifestations of God’s power in deliverance. Such was the faith of the parents of Moses. They hid the child and were not afraid. “Faith does not reason; it acts from its own point of vision and leaves the result to God.” And how this energy of faith is illustrated in Moses himself. His faith renounced the wealth, power, glory and splendor of Egypt. He gave up a princely position, the possibility of an earthly throne and identified himself with the people who had become slaves, because he believed them to be the people of God. Faith taught him not to fear the wrath of the king; faith fears nothing, but God and faith has nothing to fear. The secret was “he endured as seeing Him who is invisible.” By faith he celebrated the passover and the sprinkling of blood, that the destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them.

And what more? The Red Sea, the walls of Jericho, the harlot Rahab. “Rahab the harlot! Those who seek for proofs of the divine authorship of Scripture may find one here. Was there ever an Israelite who would have thought of preferring that woman’s name to the names of David and Samuel and the prophets, and of coupling it with the names of the great leader and prophet of the Jewish faith ‘whom the Lord knew face to face?’ And what Jew would have dared to give expression to such a thought!” Sir R. Anderson, K.C.B.

God’s power opened the way to faith through the Red Sea for the salvation of His people while the unbelieving Egyptian perished. Jericho ‘s walls fall and Rahab’s house, standing upon the wall, is preserved because she believed. And then Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets and the heroes of faith which follow. Their names are not given, but God knows them all as well as the countless thousands of martyrs who are constantly added to this list. “The strongest thing in the world is faith--it has an eagle’s eye and lion’s heart. It has a lion’s heart to confront dangers and hardships, and an eagle’s eye to descry the unseen glories and the sure victory. The heroism of faith is a wonderful thing. It may suffer indescribable tortures and agonies, as often it has, but it is unconquerable, invincible. Some were tortured (tympanized, i.e., stretched in a wheel as the drumhead), ‘that they might obtain a better resurrection,’ as were the mother and her seven sons who were put to death one after the other, and in sight of each other, by the Syrian monster, Antiochus Epiphanes ( 2Ma 7:1-42 ). Some were stoned, as Zechariah (2 Chronicles 24:1-27 ) and Jeremiah, according to tradition. Some were sawn asunder, as was Isaiah under Manasseh. Some were slain with the sword, as Urijah, (Jeremiah 26:23 ), and James the brother of John (Acts 12:1-25 ). They might have rustled in silks and velvets and luxuriated in the palaces of princes had they denied God and believed the world’s lie. Instead, they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, themselves accounted no better than goats or sheep, nay, they like these reckoned fit only for the slaughter. The world thought them unworthy to live here, while God thought them worthy to live with Him in glory” Professor Moorhead).

“God having provided some better thing for us, that not apart from us should they be made perfect.” The Old Testament saints who died in faith have not yet been raised from among the dead; their spirits are in His presence. New Testament saints constituting the Church, the body of Christ, have provided for themselves some better thing.” But the Spirit of God does not here enlarge upon this and only gives the information that the perfection of the Old Testament saints in resurrection from among the dead will not be apart from us, the New Testament saints. And that will be when the Lord comes for His saints with the shout (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 ).

Bibliographical Information
Gaebelein, Arno Clemens. "Commentary on Hebrews 11". "Gaebelein's Annotated Bible". 1913-1922.