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Bible Commentaries

Hampton's Commentary on Selected Books

Hebrews 11

Verses 1-3

Understanding Faith

"Now faith is assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not seen" ( Heb_11:1 A.S.V.). It appears the King James translators got the full meaning of the word "substance" from the rest of the chapter. They said that it is the substance of things hoped for and, to the man of faith, it is like a substance that can be grasped.

Similarly, the word "conviction," which suggests something based on firm evidence, presents the fuller meaning of the word translated "evidence" in the King James. Notice, the "elders," or people of older times, such as Abel, Enoch, Noah, etc., received a good report from God by exhibiting faith. Through faith men who trust in God know how the worlds came into existence. By it, such men also know this earth was made out of nothing. All that was created came from God. God spoke everything into existence ( Heb_11:2-3 ).

Verses 4-7

Faith From Creation to the Flood

The faith of Abel is seen through his actions ( Gen_4:3-5 ; 1Jn_3:11-12 ). Since Paul says faith comes by hearing God's word ( Rom_10:17 ), it is clear that Abel was obedient to God's command. Milligan believes it was this obedient attitude which made Abel's sacrifice a better one ( 1Sa_15:22 ), causing him, in the words of Milligan, to act "strictly in compliance with the will of God." It was through that faith that Abel obtained his witness and God acknowledged that faith. Abel still speaks today through his example of faith ( Heb_11:4 ).

Enoch is spoken of in Gen_5:21-24 and Jud_1:14-16 . Genesis says that "God took him." Coupled with Heb_11:5 , it would appear that he was translated to heaven much as Elijah was ( 2Ki_2:1-12 ). Enoch did not have to experience death as other men do, but was taken up from the earth, not to be found on it any longer. God could testify to the fact that Enoch had pleased him. One must believe, or have faith, in God before he can set out to please Him. I would not obey someone who was not my superior or someone that I did not think deserved my obedience. One would simply not obey God if he did not believe in Him. Also, our coming to God is based on our belief in his promises of a reward ( Heb_11:6 ; Joh_14:1-6 ).

The story of Noah is found in Gen_5:32 ; Gen_6:1-22 ; Gen_7:1-24 ; Gen_8:1-22 . It is pointed out that Noah's faith caused him to act as God told him to and build an ark. There was no sign at that time that there would be a flood. By his actions of trust, or faith, in God, Noah saved his household. By those same actions, he condemned a world that did not believe God's word. Noah also became the “heir of the righteousness” through his actions of faith ( Heb_11:7 ; Gen_9:8-17 ).

Verses 8-12

The Faith of Abraham

Like Noah, Abraham displayed actions of faith when he received the call from God ( Gen_12:1-3 ), even though he was to leave the safety of his homeland and go to a place unknown to him. He moved by faith and was promised the land as an inheritance ( Gen_12:7 ). Fudge says Abraham's faith is mentioned in other Bible references (see Gen_15:6 ; Neh_9:8 ; Rom_4:1-25 ; and Gal_3:6-9 ). He acted by faith as he lived in a land that was not truly to become his people's homeland for generations ( Gen_15:12-21 ; Act_7:5 ). Isaac, his son, and Jacob, his grandson, also lived in tents, which were not permanent dwellings, accepting that homeless life so that they could receive a better one. They chose not to live in the cities of their day and chose to be a semi-nomadic people ( Gen_16:11 ; Gen_33:17 ) looking forward to a better city ( Heb_11:8-9 ; Gen_16:11 ; Gen_33:17 ).

Abraham left his own home and was willing to live in tents because he looked forward to a heavenly home, not an earthly one. Since Isaac and Jacob also lived in tents, it seems they too had this goal in mind. Remember, Abraham and Sarah lacked the needed faith to believe they would have a child. Despite God's promise to make of him a great nation in Gen_12:1-3 , Abraham questioned whether a servant would be his heir ( Gen_15:1-4 ). Abraham and Sarah tried to help God out by using Sarah's handmaid Hagar in Gen_16:1-16 . In Gen_18:12-15 , Sarah laughed to herself at the thought of bearing a child. However, the writer of Hebrews indicates that Sarah's doubts were overcome by her faith. Remember, all of this occurred when she was barren and past child-bearing age ( Heb_11:10-11 ; Gen_17:15-21 ).

Because of Abraham and Sarah's faith ( Rom_4:18-21 ), they, though dead in the reproductive sense, were able to bear that son of promise. His descendants were to be many and would obtain the land of promise ( Heb_11:12 ; Gen_12:1-3 ; Gen_15:5 ; Gen_22:17 ; Isa_51:1-2 ; Eze_33:24 ).

Verses 13-16

The Hope of Heaven

Milligan points out the meaning of the expression "these all died in faith," saying, "they died as they had lived, in faith." He goes on to say that the all referred to includes Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Jacob. God had made several promises to Abraham ( Gen_12:1-3 ), but he only saw their fulfillment in the future, through the eye of faith. Through their actions, these said that they were seeking a country of their own. Everyman desires a place to call home and these were no exception. There was nothing to prevent them from returning to their earthly home, but they never exhibited that desire. In fact, they did not seek an earthly home, but a better place than any earthly home, heaven. Because of their faith and the things they sacrificed through that faith, God prepared a home for them. God was not ashamed of them, as he identified himself with them ( Heb_11:13-16 ; Exo_3:15 ; Mat_22:32 ; Rev_21:3 ).

Verses 17-22

The Faith of the Fathers

God asked Abraham to take that son of promise, Isaac, and offer him up as a sacrifice ( Heb_11:17 ; Gen_22:1-14 ), thus causing his faith to be tested to its fullest. Yet, Abraham was ready to obey God completely, even to the sacrificing of this son of promise. Remember, Isaac was the only son of his kind ( Gen_17:14-21 ) and only through him could the promises of God be kept.

Lightfoot writes, "The word translated offered is in the perfect tense, while the expression was ready to offer up is in the imperfect. The imperfect tense vividly portrays unfinished action: Abraham was in the act of offering Isaac when God intervened. The perfect tense expresses the idea that the demands in the sacrifice were fully met, and that, from an ideal standpoint and as far as Abraham was concerned, the offering was a completed action." Though Abraham had other children, God had decreed Isaac would be the only one considered as being from the regular line of descent ( Gen_21:12 ; Gen_25:4-5 ).

The greatness of Abraham’s faith is seen in his belief that God could raise Isaac from the dead. Milligan suggests, in agreement with other commentators, that Abraham did receive Isaac figuratively raised from the dead and this is that of which the end of the verse speaks ( Heb_11:18-19 ). In Abraham's mind, or figuratively, Isaac was already dead, so he figuratively received him back alive. I would say that Jesus Christ was very much like Isaac and could very well serve as the antitype of Isaac who was thus raised up.

Isaac did indeed bless his sons through faith ( Gen_27:27-40 ), since he could not see the way his sons' lives would be lived. It was also in faith that Jacob blessed Joseph's sons ( Gen_48:1-20 ) setting Ephraim, the youngest, before Manasseh. He also worshipped, believing that Joseph would bury him as promised ( Gen_47:29-31 ). Joseph died in faith, just as his father had. He believed that God would deliver His people as promised and, because of that belief, made his relatives promise to carry his bones with them ( Heb_11:20-22 ; Gen_50:22-26 ).

Verses 30-37

Those Who Overcame by Faith

It is by faith that the walls of Jericho fell ( Jos_6:1-21 ). Only faith that obedience of Jehovah and his servant would work could have destroyed such a city in such a way. They showed faith by obeying God and believing He would keep His promise. Because she believed in God's power and hid the spies ( Jos_2:1-21 ), Rahab was not destroyed along with the city of Jericho. She became the wife of Salmon and bore a son named Boaz, both of whom are included in the Messianic line ( Heb_11:30-31 ; Mat_1:5 ).

The writer then explained he could go on but would stop for lack of time. He then listed several men of faith who would be familiar to his readers ( Judges 6:11-18; 4:1-5; 13:1-16; 31 ; 1Sa_16:1 - 1Ki_2:12 ; 1Sa_1:1-7 ). Through faith Barak conquered the Canaanites ( Jdg_4:4-24 ), Gideon defeated the Midianites ( Jdg_7:1-23 ), Jephthah subdued the Ammonites ( Jdg_11:1-33 ), and Samson slew the Philistines ( Jdg_13:24-25 ; Jdg_14:1-20 ; Jdg_15:1-20 ; Jdg_16:1-31 ). Fudge says Samuel and David both "wrought righteousness by the public administration of divine justice." ( 2Sa_8:15 ; Psa_101:1-8 ). Canaan was received because of faith ( Jos_21:43-45 ; 1Ki_8:56 .) The lions mouths were stopped because of Daniel's faith ( Dan_6:1-28 ).

Fire's violence was quenched for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego ( Dan_3:1-30 .) Elijah "escaped the edge of the sword” ( 1Ki_19:1-21 ), as did Elisha and Jeremiah ( 2Ki_6:1-33 ; Jer_36:1-32 ). Gideon would fit the remainder of the descriptions ( Heb_11:32-34 ). Fudge notes the case of the widow of Zarephath ( 1Ki_17:17 ff.), the Shunamite woman ( 2Ki_4:17 ff.), and Eleazar, the scribe of 2 Maccabees 6:18-31, as some of the characters referred to in Heb_11:35 . These could have escaped the pain and suffering they endured had they been willing to deny God. Instead, they chose to suffer and be raised to a heavenly home later. Some of the hardships they had to endure are listed in verse 36. This could have been an encouragement for people who were also to face times of trial. Milligan mentions the mockings of Samson ( Jdg_16:25 ) and the beatings, bonds, and imprisonment of Jeremiah ( Jer_20:2 ; Jer_20:7 ; Jer_32:2-3 ). He then went on to site 2Ch_24:20-22 ; the works of Josephus; Jer_26:23 ; 1Ki_17:3-9 ; 1Ki_19:3-14 ; and other accounts of the prophets' lives to show some of the other things described by the writer ( Heb_11:37 ).

Verses 38-40

A Better Thing Is Provided for Those Following Christ

The way the men and women of faith lived set them above the people around them, much like Noah who was also a man of faith ( Gen_6:1-22 ; Gen_7:1-24 ; Gen_8:1-22 ; Gen_9:1-29 ). The writer went on to conclude this brief commentary on their lives by noting all of these people lived by faith, yet none of them saw the promised coming of the Messiah. Despite that fact, they lived lives of good report and were known for their acts of faith.

So, the Hebrew Christians who read this book had a better thing provided for them. They had seen, or knew of, the coming of the Messiah and they had a better covenant ( Luk_10:24 ). Their sins could not be completely removed without Christ, but neither could the men of faith fully reach perfection until Christ had died. So, the men of faith were faithful to the end, yet we have something better than they. For this reason, the writer called on his readers to be, at least, as faithful as the men previously listed ( Heb_11:38-40 ).

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Bibliographical Information
Hampton, Gary. "Commentary on Hebrews 11". "Hampton's Commentary on Selected Books". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghc/hebrews-11.html. 2014.