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To Live By Faith (I)
You’re at the beginning of a wonderful and an enormously encouraging chapter. Plentiful examples of persons, who has lived by faith, are written down in this chapter. Their lives have proven the power and the working of faith. Therefore the whole chapter speaks about nothing else than faith. All these examples are quoted by the writer, in order to show the Hebrews and also you what a person who lives by faith, is capable of.
This faith is not different from the one that brought you to God and with which you put your confidence in God for the forgiveness of your sins. That was the beginning of your faith. But faith always remains active. Faith in God is: trusting Him, regarding Him as faithful; having the assurance that He helps and that He does what He says. The future becomes present by faith and in that way the invisible also becomes visible. And the difficulties you are faced with are the challenges for faith. Difficulties are, as it were, food for faith; difficulties are the very causes for faith to prove itself.
Hebrews 11:1. This verse has also been called the definition of faith, but I think that this is not correct. Faith is not to be defined. Faith is the effective power in view of the future and in view of the present. Faith fixes the eye forward, to what has been promised and is absolutely sure that it will be achieved: it “is the assurance of [things] hoped for”. Faith fixes the eye up, to God and Christ: it is “the conviction of things not seen”. In other words: faith looks forward and upward.
In the Hebrews 11:1-Judges : you see that faith is the most important thing in the relationship between man and God and indeed from the beginning till the end. It deals with creation, sin and offering; life and walking to the pleasure of God; the testimony towards the world; the judgment over the world and finally the millennial kingdom of peace. In all these aspects the Son is central. Creation shows the Son as Creator. The offering shows the Son as Redeemer. A life and a walk to the pleasure of God is perfectly seen in the Son. In the world He perfectly testified Whom God is. The Son will judge the world and He will also establish the millennial kingdom of peace.
Furthermore creation points forward to the recreation of which the Son is the heir. On the basis of the offering all things will once be submitted to the Son. In the taking of Enoch (Hebrews 11:5) you see the picture of the rapture of the church, the heavenly people of God. The church is related to the Son and partakes of everything that is the part of the Son and what He will receive in the millennial kingdom of peace. Noah (Hebrews 11:7) is a type of the earthly people in the millennial kingdom, of the believers who will inherit the world through judgments.
The common thread through everything is faith. This theme connects everything together. When you summarize the Hebrews 11:1-Judges :, you can say the following. Faith sees: that the visible things came from what is not visible; that the offering is the only ground in order to exist before God; that a walk to the pleasure of God is possible by believing that He is (looking upward) and that a new world is awaiting (looking forward).
Hebrews 11:2. This is the faith that “the men of old”, the faith heroes from the Old Testament, the former generations of Israel, had. They demonstrated again and again that they were sure of what they hoped for and were convinced of what they did not see. Therefore they received the testimony from God. God gave in their conscience His approval. God still does that in everyone who lives in daily confidence in Him whatsoever the circumstance.
Hebrews 11:3. After the first two introductory verses you get examples of the effect of believing. The first example implies that only by believing you are able to understand how the worlds were framed, namely by God’s Word. There is here no mention yet of faith heroes from the Old Testament. Here it is about you, about your insight in the preparation of the world. Everything you see, is not made of something else that is seen, but emerged from the Invisible. This principle goes for everything that has to do with the practice of faith. In the life of faith nothing emerges from something that is seen around us, but only emerges from the unseen God Who also framed the worlds.
God has spoken and therefore all the visible has emerged. That’s how it works when God speaks. His speaking is full of authority and effect. He commands and it is (Genesis 1:3 etc.; Psalms 33:9). In that way He “prepared” the worlds (the world of the stars, the world of angels, the world of men), which means that He has put them in order, classified them; He put everything in its right place. The only way to “understand” this or to see it spiritually (inwardly) is by faith. Faith determines that God placed everything exactly there where He wanted it to be (Revelation 4:11). There is no mention of a gradual development (evolution) at all, concerning creation.
In this third verse all the erroneous arguments of the human spirit, who have endlessly looked for and are still looking for the existence of things, are being judged and eliminated in one phrase. The one invented system is still more foolish than the other in order to explain the things that become perfectly simple when faith acknowledges God. The universe is not a cause that is creating. It has been created itself and it functions through a law which God has imposed on it.
Hebrews 11:4. God uses His creation as a platform on which the working of faith is being displayed. Then He created man on that platform. With that man He created He wanted to have fellowship, to have contact. Through sin that has entered the world, this fellowship is cruelly disturbed. Due to this man was not able anymore to draw near to God. But even worse: man who fell into sin could not exist before God.
God should remove him from this platform. But in His love and mercy God gave a way. He made a Lamb available as a sacrifice for the fallen man, so that on this righteous ground he could still exist before the face of God. And now in Abel the example of the power of faith in the sacrifice is being presented.
Abel had the insight of someone with a conscience that was taught by God. He acknowledges God’s judgment over sin. He goes to God and confesses to be a sinner. But he comes with a substitute: an offering which he, as it were, places between himself and God. In this way he obtains the witness that he was righteous. This witness is in accordance with the righteous judgment of God. God had to exert judgment. He judged the offering and due to that Abel could go free. Not only the offering is being accepted, but Able himself too who came with the offering.
When you draw near to God through the offering of the Lord Jesus, God witnesses of the offering that it is righteous and He also witnesses to you that you are righteous. Your righteousness has the value and the perfection of the offering, which means of Christ Who offered up Himself to God. To God you are now according to the perfection of the work of Christ. What that means you already have read comprehensively in this letter.
So the first faith hero is Abel. In him you see a believer who actively presents himself to God on the ground of a substitutionary offering. Also his brother Cain is mentioned. He also brought an offering, but the offering of Abel was better or more than that of Cain. Abel’s offering had added value. The added value was the fact that Abel killed an offering according to the example that God had given after the fall of man (Genesis 3:21), while Cain came with his own good works that also came from a cursed earth.
Abel’s offering was, as it seems, not because of a special sin, but he offered it up because of the awareness that man could only exist before God on that ground. The offering of Abel was accepted. Possibly the fire from God fell on it, visibly, like what happened at the tabernacle (Leviticus 9:24), at the temple (2 Chronicles 7:1) and with the offerings from David and Elijah (1 Chronicles 21:26; 1 Kings 18:38).
Cain acknowledged the existence of God and desired to gain His favor, but he did not acknowledge to be a sinner. He turned his back to God. The difference between the persons who brought the offerings is faith. Abel’s faith and his offering made God declare him righteous.
Abel had to pay his life of faith with his death by the hand of a murderer. His testimony on earth was ended that way, but the message that was sent through it did not. That echoes through the ages in a way that was not possible in another way. God uses the work of satan entirely against the will of satan for the further glory of His Name.
Now read Hebrews 11:1-4 again.
Reflection: What do you do with faith? How does that affect you?
To Live By Faith (II)
Hebrews 11:5. In the example of Abel you have seen that the death of an innocent substitute was the means that God accepted you. With Enoch you see a next step. He who is declared righteous, walks in faith. The name Enoch means ‘taught’. He who is taught in the value of the offering, learns how to walk by faith and is being taken away through that same faith. As a principle you are freed from the power of death through the offering of the Lord Jesus. Everything that belongs to the old man, is taken away by that offering (Romans 6:6). The devil, who had the power of death, is destroyed (Hebrews 2:14). The victory over death is that perfect that if it pleases God you can go to heaven without passing through death.
That happened to Enoch and that’s what will happen to the church at the rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:15-Esther :). Elijah also went to heaven without dying (2 Kings 2:1; 2 Kings 2:11). Enoch and Elijah both lived in a time of great ungodliness. Like Elijah Enoch was a prophet of judgment (Jude 1:14-Ezra :). In the first place this judgment came by the flood. But its prophecy extends to the end of time, the return of Christ. A person who lives with God, obtains understanding of the future where Christ is the Centre.
Now it is said of Enoch here “that he was pleasing God”. When you read in Genesis 5 what is said about Enoch, you read that He walked with God (Genesis 5:24). As he does more often the writer quotes in this letter the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint. In the Septuagint ‘walking with God’ is translated into ‘pleasing God’. The writer copies that under the guidance of God’s Spirit. That implies that ‘walking with God’ is synonymous with ‘pleasing God’.
When you think of walking you should think of the whole way of living. Enoch involved God in all aspects of his life. God was the object of his walk. It also has been presented in such a way that Enoch in his walk with God had come that close to heaven that God said: ‘Come in now.’ I believe that we should also be like that as members of the church. We ought not to be surprised by the rapture of the church, but it ought to be along the lines of a walk with God. A walk with God can only bring you closer to heaven.
Enoch obtained the witness of God that he pleased Him “before his being taken up”. His faith was revealed during his life that preceded his being taken away.
Hebrews 11:6. Without faith a walk like that of Enoch is impossible. A person who does not believe is absolutely incapable of walking in a way that God looks at with joy. The walk of Enoch pleased God because that walk reminded Him of the walk of the Lord Jesus when He was on earth. (To God the future is present.) Therefore He reports it. This is how it ought to be with every believer (1 Thessalonians 4:1).
You can only walk with God when you believe “that He is”. That is something different and goes much further than believing that He is there. Demons also believe that God is there, that He exists (James 2:19), but that doesn’t affect their evil resistance against God at all. To believe ‘that God is’, means that you really experience His presence in your life and that His presence is the main thing in your life. It means that you believe that He is interested in your walk and knows about your walk. You draw near to Him and you seek Him because you trust Him and know that He rewards those who diligently seek Him. Seeking fellowship with the Lord is being abundantly rewarded.
Hebrews 11:7. The characteristic of the faith of Enoch is that he had a hidden relationship with God. With Noah you see how his faith made him a public witness of God towards the world. God gave Noah an indication about things he couldn’t observe with his natural eyes (yet). God told him about the flood He was planning to bring upon the world, because of the incorrigible and evil conduct of man. When Noah heard that, he became a preacher of righteousness (2 Peter 2:5; 1 Peter 3:19). At the same time he continued to listen to God.
The result of that was that he not only preached, but he indeed took action. His testimony existed of a deed of obedience. On God’s command he built the ark. That was a remarkable testimony that he didn’t expect anything from this world anymore, for it was going to perish by the waters of judgment. By building the ark he also showed that he fixed his hope on a new world. He could see both the judgment and the new world only by faith. That made him “an heir of the righteousness” that is characteristic for a world that is purified from evil through the judgment of God. He was going to inherit the world as a truly righteous man (Psalms 37:29).
This example was to encourage the Hebrew believer (Hebrews 2:5) and us. The Hebrews were possibly asking themselves why they were a minority if they were right. The example of Noah was meant to encourage them. Only eight people were saved (1 Peter 3:20), while the rest of the world perished. Noah and his family are therefore a picture of the Jewish remnant. They represent the remnant of Israel that will go through the great tribulation (presented in the flood) and with the coming of the Lord Jesus will enter the millennial kingdom of peace. These events will follow in the history of salvation after the rapture of the church that is presented in Enoch.
It was not fear and anguish that made Noah to build the ark, but his respect for God’s Word. In the same way your walk in faith should also be as a result of the respect that you have for what God has said. From your walk it will be apparent how you respond to what God says to you in His Word.
Another remarkable thing is that Noah does not only prepare an ark for himself, but for his household. This implies that God wants to save a person and his whole household. That is an extra responsibility for the head of the family.
This particular verse about Noah delivers a number of aspects of faith that are worthy of being mentioned:
1. First there is the ground of his faith: he is warned by God.
2. Then you read about the territory on which his faith is focused: things that were not yet seen.
3. Then you notice the practice of his faith: he was moved with reverence for God.
4. Then you see the work of his faith: he prepared an ark for himself and his household.
5. Then the result of his faith follows: he saved his household.
6. His whole conduct was a witness of faith: he was judging the world.
6. Finally he received a reward of faith: he became an heir of righteousness.
You could say that in the Hebrews 11:1-Judges : in the several events and people the general principles of faith are being presented. In the section that now follows, the Hebrews 11:8-Song of Solomon :, the main point is the perseverance of faith. The examples show believers who walk as pilgrims in the power of faith that God shall fulfill His promises, even though that fulfillment still seems to be so far away.
You read in this section seven times the expression “by faith”. The examples that the writer brings forward are the patriarchs who were very familiar to the Hebrews. Concerning Abraham you read four times about faith. That was
1. with his call and obedience (Hebrews 11:8),
2. in connection with his sojourning (Hebrews 11:9-2 Samuel :),
3. when it comes to life from death (Hebrews 11:11-2 Kings :) and – after a parenthesis in the Hebrews 11:13-Nehemiah : –
4. when he is being tested (Hebrews 11:17-Psalms :).
The other three times are
1. about the faith of Isaac who by faith proves his knowledge of God’s ways (Hebrews 11:20),
2. about the faith of Jacob at the end of his path of faith, which was full of experiences (Hebrews 11:21) and
3. about the faith of Joseph who looks forwards to the redemption of God’s people (Hebrews 11:22).
The application on the Hebrews and also on you, is clear. Each faith hero from the past illustrates certain aspects of faith that should also characterize the Hebrews. It altogether refers to the future age and particularly to the heavenly side of it.
Hebrews 11:8. The previous faith heroes were not called to abandon anything, but Abraham has to do that. When God calls him, he goes, even though he doesn’t know where he will end up. The faith of Abraham shows a full confidence in God. He had nothing to focus on, he knew nothing nor a name of anything or any particularities of the land he was guided to. God was sufficient for him. He did not ask: ‘Where do I go?’ His faith was not mixed with his own calculations. He trusted on the word of the God Who cannot deceive.
The life of Abraham is the great example of the New Testament believer (Romans 4:11) who is also called (Romans 8:30; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 1 Peter 2:9). The crucial point of the calling is the promise. To obtain the promise you have to give up everything. You only do that when you trust that He Who calls you, is everything and that He has a better world for you: a world filled with His glory in Christ.
The obedience of Abraham was immediate. It was not rooted in any charm of what was presented to him, but in the glory of Him Who spoke (Acts 7:2).
Now read Hebrews 11:5-8 again.
Reflection: Which aspects of faith do you encounter in this section and which of them are of importance to you?
To Live By Faith (III)
Hebrews 11:9. When Abraham arrives at the place where God guided him to, he doesn’t receive anything (Acts 7:5). That is a new faith exercise. That same faith exercise you have too. You have converted and know that it implies that you belong to the Lord Jesus Who has all power in heaven and on earth. But what do you see of that at this moment? At this moment you are a stranger on earth without civil rights. This is not your home. An English song we very often sing with youngsters reflects it well: ‘This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through’. You could surely look forward to what’s coming when the Lord Jesus will take the world into possession. Then you will possess the world together with Him.
Until that time the promise of that possession gives you the strength to live here as a stranger. The sojourning of Abraham is being underlined because he dwelt in tents. A house is the symbol of a permanent residence, while a tent indicates the temporary character of a dwelling place. Also his son Isaac and his grandchild Jacob were living like that. They also, as fellow heirs of the same promise, have not received what was promised. In case Abraham expected that they would receive the fulfillment, it would then be a new exercise of faith.
Hebrews 11:10. Abraham is not discouraged by that. He stays focused on what the Lord has promised. Although he has nothing, his affections have a firm character. He longs for a better land and clings directly and completely to God. When you trust in God and give up everything for His sake you will always gain more and you will learn more from the ways of His might. Abraham has learnt by faith to look for something beyond a fulfillment in his days that is better than a possession on earth. Hadn’t he seen the God of glory (Acts 7:2)? That caused an unprecedented, and in the Old Testament not revealed, extent to his faith. That’s what you see here. Abraham looked farther beyond an earthly nation and an earthly land. He saw a heavenly city, that is the heavenly center of the future age, the millennial kingdom of peace.
It is a “city which has foundations”. This stands opposite to dwelling in tents on earth. Of that city God is both the “architect” (or technician, creative artist, designer, somebody who designs building plans) and the “builder”. Then it must be a perfect city. This cannot be other than that every grandiosity of nowadays cities, designed by imperfect people, fades and loses every appeal thereby. It must be very desirable and pleasing too to live in God’s city. Every citizen will feel at home there. All things of and in that city bears the character of its Designer and Builder.
Hebrews 11:11. Here the question is whether it is about the faith of Abraham or about that of Sarah. For a long time there has been the thought that it is about Sarah, though it seems not impossible that it is about Abraham. Because I find it difficult to make a well-founded choice, I would like to say something of both.
When Sarah heard the message that she was going to give birth to a child, she did not immediately prove to have faith in the promise (Genesis 18:12). After all, she was ninety years old (Genesis 17:17) and therefore too old to even be able to become pregnant. But in the description of the birth of Isaac you read that is was Yahweh Who took care of Sarah and He did for her as He had spoken (Genesis 21:1-Exodus :). It therefore also looks like Sarah after all indeed had faith in the promise of God. In his first letter Peter supports that thought by presenting her as a woman who trusted in God (1 Peter 3:5-Joshua :). Her faith drew its strength from the faithfulness of God to His promise. Therefore she gained strength to receive the seed of Abraham.
But from this occasion also the faith of Abraham becomes apparent. Of him you don’t read that he had any doubt about God’s promise. In fact you read that he did not doubt the promise of God (Romans 4:19-Ecclesiastes :). He himself was very well aware that conceiving a child was impossible. After all, he was a hundred years old (Genesis 17:17; Genesis 21:5). However, for his faith that was not a hindrance at all to trust God that He was able to provide him with descendants. No, on the contrary, because the fulfillment of the promise of descendants was physically impossible, he focused himself on God alone. Abraham accounted God to be faithful and able, for He had promised it.
Hebrews 11:12. Therefore this one man (“one” is masculine in Greek and therefore must refer to Abraham) received innumerable descendants. Of this one it is also underlined that he was “as good as dead”. That emphasizes that God gives life from death. The son of Abraham, the son of the promise, comes, as it were, from the death and by that therefore also all his descendants.
This points forward to what God has done with the resurrection of Christ. The resurrection of Christ is the beginning of an entirely new situation, the beginning of the fulfillment of God’s promises altogether that will find their accomplishment in the millennial kingdom of peace. Then the descendants that are in the heavens (“stars”) and on the earth (“sand”), will enjoy God’s blessings altogether in full size.
Hebrews 11:13. As it is said, the writer interrupts his argument in Hebrews 11:13 to continue that in Hebrews 11:17. In this interruption he makes some remarks about the faith of life of the patriarchs. They not only lived in faith, they died in faith too. During their life they did not receive what was promised to them. Nevertheless they did not lose what was promised when they died. They took that along with them into their graves. “Having seen them … from a distance.” Their faith saw forward and they embraced in faith what they saw in faith. They also witnessed to that. They “confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth”, which means that they openly came out for this faith; they did not keep it for themselves (Genesis 23:4; Psalms 119:19).
In their way of life you see that they had no home on earth, but that they were strangers and visitors there. They did not demand their rights, for they didn’t have any and they neither pretend to have any. That is totally different with many Christians.
Hebrews 11:14. The confession of those who died in faith was not a lip confession which was contradicted by their practice. In their practice you saw what they confessed with their mouth. They clearly showed what they were looking for, which means that they were longing for, a homeland. You only do that when you’re sure that you haven’t arrived there yet.
Hebrews 11:15. Their pursuit did not make them think of returning to the homeland they had left. The lusts of the flesh, the attractions of the world, the obligations of family relationships, the daily business worries of life, could have altogether been in different ways and on different times enough reason for them to return, but they did not.
The difference between Lot and Abraham is a good example of this. Lot went on the journey with Abraham to the land that was promised by God. But he had no desire for it. If he has arrived there, but sees another beautiful area, he chooses that one (Genesis 13:10-1 Kings :). Abraham could have returned, for he was not thrown off his country. He freely departed from there. Nevertheless, Abraham remains longing for the city of God.
Hebrews 11:16. The patriarchs did not desire to go back to their old homeland, but they were looking forward to a heavenly, that is a better homeland. By longing for that, they honored God. He offered them a better prospect and they believed what He said. Their faith was that great that they became aware that His promises meant more than the literal description it indicated. Behind the description of the wonderful promises they saw Him Who will fulfill them and Who is at the same time the center of it.
Many things in Christendom are ‘better’ than in Judaism, whereby now also ‘a better country’. This country is not heaven. It is about the resurrection. It is the place where the resurrected and glorified saints will live to eternity. Within the framework of this letter this heavenly country is the ‘future world’, or ‘the future age’, and actually the heavenly side of it. This is the millennial kingdom of peace, the day of the Lord Jesus, which the patriarchs have been looking forward to (John 8:56). The faith of the patriarchs saw reality, not just something vague.
God is not ashamed of such believers. He joyfully bears their name as ‘family name’, so to speak. It is after all true when you read that He is the ‘God of Abraham’. Do you think that He would joyfully bear your name as ‘family name’ also? He surely would if you also see the reality of that heavenly country and heavenly city and if you live up to that. His city is ready to welcome you. God took care of that. It is the inheritance that is prepared in the heavens and that is well reserved for you there (1 Peter 1:4).
Now read Hebrews 11:9-16 again.
Reflection: Which characteristics of faith are reflected in Abraham’s life and what can you learn from that?
To Live By Faith (IV)
Hebrews 11:17. After the parenthesis of the Hebrews 11:13-Nehemiah : the writer is now going to say something about the individual patriarchs and how they believed God. The first is again Abraham. You have already paid attention to several proofs of his faith. Those are impressive proofs, don’t you think? But the writer quotes now an example of his faith, which is of an unprecedented size. This proof of his faith is again related to the son he and Sarah received.
When he and Sarah were too old to beget children he persisted in believing that God was still able to give him a son. God after all promised that, didn’t He? And because God is faithful to what He promises, it is a matter of waiting for His time to provide in what He has promised. For him it became a reality that what is impossible with men is possible with God (Mark 10:27). But now God is asking him to offer up his son. That is a test of unprecedented gravity.
The first time he was promised a son, which he received by faith. Now God is asking him to sacrifice this son, though this son was the heir through whom God was going to realize His promises. This couldn’t be true?! This test of his faith was yet much heavier than the previous one. Still Abraham offered his son up as a burnt offering when God asked him to (Genesis 22:1-2 Samuel :). With this offering Abraham put all promises he had accepted on the altar. He was promised to have descendants and also a land, but he gave this all back to God in Isaac when He asked for it. He offered up “his only begotten son” (Genesis 22:2).
Hebrews 11:18. He did not do that impulsively. He pondered on the question God asked him. He must have struggled with the question how God could ask him that. It did not match with the former commitments God made with him, did it? God was going to realize His promises through Isaac, wasn’t He? And not through another son, for example Ishmael, was it? No, God explicitly mentioned the name of Isaac when He said: “In Isaac your descendants shall be called.” Therefore he had considered, that is: he had formed a conviction by consideration and calculation.
Then the conclusion was that there was only one possibility and that is that God was going to raise Isaac from the dead. Therefore he says in Genesis 22: “And I and the lad will go over there; and we will worship and return to you” (Genesis 22:5). That means that he believed in the power of God, a power that great by which He can “even” raise dead people.
Therefore Abraham’s faith is that great, because we don’t know if Abraham had an example of someone being raised from death. Because of his consideration on what God had said about His might to carry out His word he came to this conclusion. A genuine faith is absolutely no ‘wishful thinking’ or a visualization of things to get what you want, as long as your imagination is strong and persistent enough. A genuine faith always clings to some statement of God in His Word. God is being honored by such a faith.
Hebrews 11:19. When Abraham tied up his son Isaac on the wood and took the knife to slay his son he did not know that God was going to tell him that he did not need to offer Isaac up (Genesis 22:11-2 Kings :). To God the proof was delivered of the faith of Abraham in Him as the God of the resurrection. In a certain way Abraham received Isaac back from death. It is true that God spared Abraham a pain that He did not spare Himself. God gave His Son in death.
To the Hebrews this example of Abraham’s faith is of great encouragement. After all they also lived that long in faith that their miraculous national inheritance was a gift from God. Now they are to abandon that. They moved away out of it, but what they had abandoned was still alluring them. To really separate from it and to abandon it it is necessary to believe in a God Who had better promises for them than everything they had abandoned.
Hebrews 11:20. Also Isaac has done things that were only possible through faith. He has blessed his sons concerning future matters. From the blessings he blessed each of his sons with, his faith in God’s promises becomes apparent. It appears from the blessing he blessed Jacob with that Jacob is in the line of the promises. He transfers the blessing of Abraham to Jacob: the promise to posterity and to the land.
He also blesses Esau, but with another blessing. From the blessing to Esau it appears that Isaac kept him out of the line of the promise consciously. That too testified to his faith. Although in his weakness he preferred Esau to Jacob, regarding the blessing, he associated to God’s thoughts. It is important not to be guided by human weakness in your judgment on God’s promises, but by God’s thoughts. Then you will always end up well.
Hebrews 11:21. With Jacob his faith also appears from the blessing he blesses with. Jacob too blesses two sons. They were not his own sons, but they were two of his grandchildren, the sons of Joseph. And like Isaac he blesses the younger with a greater blessing than the elder. Those are the sons of Joseph, the elected among his brethren (Genesis 49:26; Deuteronomy 33:16) and who was declared to be the firstborn (1 Chronicles 5:1-Exodus :). In the blessing of both his sons Jacob gave Joseph the double blessing of the firstborn (Deuteronomy 33:17). Joseph is a wonderful picture of the Lord Jesus, the Firstborn Whom God will bring into the world (Hebrews 1:6) soon.
In relation with Joseph Jacob becomes a worshipper. In faith he sees how the counsel of God and His ways, lead to the fulfillment of His counsel, coinciding in the true Joseph. It is God’s intention that the Hebrews and we honor and worship Him for the fulfillment of His counsel and the ways He goes for that. The rod of Jacob is the symbol of his long history. He leant on it as a pilgrim and as a cripple. At the end of his life he still leans on it, not to walk anymore though, but to worship. Our life path comes out with the Lord. Then we shall worship Him for all the grace with which He surrounded us, in order to bring us into the land He promised us.
Hebrews 11:22. Was Jacob’s faith related to the person of the true Joseph, the faith of Joseph was related to God’s people and God’s land. In faith he saw the redemption of the people from Egypt and the entrance into the land of Canaan. All the glory he had in Egypt became nothing, compared to the coming glory of Israel under the government of the Messiah Whom he saw forward in faith. He wanted to be there and with that in view he commanded that his bones were to be taken from Egypt to the promised land. What a proof of his faith in the resurrection!
The Hebrews also had to learn to forsake the world (of which Egypt is a picture) and to look forward to everything they gained through their relation with the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And that applies also for you, doesn’t it? His death is your death and His resurrection is your resurrection. In His resurrection all will be made alive who are related to Him to share in His kingdom (1 Corinthians 15:20-Hosea :).
Hebrews 11:23. The section we have had, has shown faith in action with the view to the future, which means faith as the “assurance of [things] hoped for” (Hebrews 11:1). In the next section in Hebrews 11:23-Zechariah :, the writer presents a number of examples of faith that clarify how faith operates as “conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). In other words: after faith that looks forward, we now have faith that looks upward.
Faith that looks upward trusts that God is present in hardships and that He gives strength to endure. Here you see the energy of faith that rests in God in the midst of circumstances. This faith overcomes the power of the devil and the charms and difficulties of the world.
The first example is that of Moses. A comparison between the faith of Moses and that of Abraham makes the difference between ‘forward faith’ and ‘upward faith’ wonderfully clear. You may say that the faith of Abraham was related to the future world and that of Moses to the present world. The faith of Abraham looked forward to the future world and the faith of Moses overcame the present world. The similarity is that neither has experienced the fulfillment of God’s promises in their lives.
Before he goes into details regarding the faith of Moses, the writer refers to the faith of Moses’ parents. By their faith they encountered the command of the mighty pharaoh. Ordinarily people are to obey legal law, but this is a situation that God is to be obeyed rather than men (Acts 4:19; Acts 5:29). The faith of the parents discovered in this child something exceptional to God. “They saw he was a beautiful child”, not beautiful just like that, but beautiful to God (Acts 7:20). Therefore they did not deliver him into the hands of murderers, but they hid him at home.
That was not an easy thing to do, especially because their home was, as it seems, very close to the palace of the king. Nevertheless, they counted on it that God was going to take care of him.
This is a beautiful example for all young parents who are aware of the bloodthirstiness of the world wherein they live and wherein their children also have to learn to find their way. Faith counts on God for protection and makes effort to protect and guide the child on its life path.
Now read Hebrews 11:17-23 again.
Reflection: Which aspects of faith confidence in God, regarding the future, are presented here? What do you learn from that for the practice of your faith life?
To Live By Faith (V)
Hebrews 11:24. By faith the parents of Moses overcame the fear for the world. Moses grew up in a totally different environment and situation than his parents. Nevertheless you see in his life that the same faith is active that you’ve seen in his parents. Because his circumstances were that different, his faith appeared differently. His great enemy was the favor of the world and his faith overcame that enemy.
You see that the first years of his education by his God fearing parents has had profound effect on him. Therefore when he “had grown up” – that indicates both his maturity and his high position at the courtyard of pharaoh – he refused “to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter”. This refusal is not a sign of ‘ungratefulness’ for everything he had enjoyed at the courtyard. He was stolen and was turning back to his roots, because that was the place where God wanted to use him and not at the courtyard.
Natural feelings or rational considerations did not keep him at the courtyard. He did not reason that God had regulated everything so wonderfully that he ended up in such an influential position. That couldn’t have been for nothing. He could have used his influence at the courtyard in favor of his people, couldn’t he? But Moses did not want to be a favorite of the pharaoh while his people were being oppressed and killed. He wanted to be with his people, to be one of them.
It was put like this once: ‘The providence of God brought him at the courtyard of pharaoh and his faith brought him out of it.’ With the expression ‘the providence of God’ is meant that God guides events and circumstances. This is how Moses ended up at the courtyard of pharaoh. But the departure of Moses is not a result of the providence of God. Moses departs from the courtyard of pharaoh on the basis of a choice that is based on his faith.
Hebrews 11:25. Moses refused something, but he also chose for something. In faith he chose the path of God’s people. He was convinced that the future was to that nation and not to Egypt. Visibly he chose for the worst he could choose: for the most despised people of the country; for unwanted strangers who were oppressed and had to do heavy slave labor. The people themselves were at their wits’ end.
Moses saw the sorrow, the shame and the suffering of Israel in the light of God’s choice. Faith chooses always where God has chosen for. It always stands on the side of God, even though the choice seems to produce only losses. Faith chooses for God, because it knows God’s intentions of goodness for His people and it knows that He saves them for the day of might and glory.
Moses could have enjoyed sin, for sin is something you can enjoy. But he was conscious that sin is only temporary, passing and never gives real satisfying joy. The sins that are meant here are not what we call ‘gross sins’, but sins that are coherent to a successful life in the world. Think of enjoying respect, of having might, influence, fame and wealth.
Hebrews 11:26. You will only forsake those sins when you replace them for something different and something greater. That is what Moses did. He exchanged the treasures of Egypt for “the reproach of Christ”. He found the reproach of Christ “greater riches than the treasures of Egypt”. What an insult for pharaoh and what a victory for Christ! But what would you prefer? That your name is engraved on an Egyptian tombstone or that you’re noted in the book of God? It is evident what Moses has chosen. Therefore he became a famous man of God instead of a mummy.
Moses made that choice, because he fixed his eyes on nothing else than “on the reward” alone. He looked ahead to the heavenly land of promise. In that light he learnt to discern between the material treasures of Egypt and the spiritual treasures in Christ. Therefore to be with Christ on earth means to be reproached, but in Him God made all the promises yes and amen (2 Corinthians 1:20). Therefore when you choose for the suffering of reproach of and with Christ you’re on the right side and on the right path to the right aim. Reproach goes hand in hand with the path to the fulfillment of the promises.
Hebrews 11:27. Faith is the inner power that enables to overcome both hindrances (the wrath of the king, the Red Sea, Jericho) and the lusts (the pleasures of sin, the riches of Egypt). Faith realizes the mediation of God without seeing Him and in that way it liberates from all fears for the power of man. That faith caused Moses to leave Egypt, after he killed the Egyptian man.
In the book of Exodus his departure is described as being on the run. He fled out of fear for pharaoh, because he killed the Egyptian man. At the same time the killing of the Egyptian man was the public confession of Moses that he belonged to God’s people. Seen from that point of view he forsook the courtyard in faith, “not fearing the wrath of the king”. The slaying of a man made him flee, the faith in God and his solidarity with the people made him leave. He openly acted as an Israelite and was therefore exposed to the same wrath of the king as the people were.
However, he did not fear the wrath of the king, because he was seeing “Him who is unseen”, Who is endlessly much greater than the king of Egypt. He “endured” as seeing Him Who is Invisible all those years that he was in Midian. All this time he carried on trusting God to fulfill His promises. For you here also is the power to persevere on the path of faith, together with the other members of God’s people who also had to endure the reproach and wrath of the world.
Hebrews 11:28. As a final achievement of Moses’ faith the writer mentions the celebration of the Passover. It is remarkable that the celebration of the Passover is not ascribed here to the faith of Israel but to that of Moses. Could it be that the writer wants to make clear that Israel celebrated the Passover on the basis of Moses’ faith?
The celebration of the Passover by Moses in Egypt was a unique deed. All other times that it was celebrated later on, happened outside the country, by a redeemed nation and as a remembrance. That one first time happened because of the actual threat of the judgment of God. God had given this means to escape from it. It seemed despicable and useless, but in reality this was the only way that true protection could be realized against the judgment. Only he who believed God did use it.
Attached to the celebration of the Passover was “the sprinkling of the blood”. The sprinkling did not happen in Egypt; there the blood was ‘put’. The putting of the blood happened only once and later on it was changed for the sprinkling in the offering service. The meaning in both cases is to put under the value of the blood, in order to be protected against the judgment in this way. In Egypt the firstborn were protected against the judgment. As firstborn also the Hebrews and all believers (“the church of the firstborn”, Hebrews 12:23) have escaped from the judgment on the basis of the blood.
Hebrews 11:29. Next are two facts of faith concerning God’s people. The first fact happened at the beginning of the journey through the wilderness and the second fact happened at the end of it. The journey in the wilderness itself is not mentioned. That was in fact not the result of faith, but on the contrary, the result of unbelief.
Faith brought them out of slavery and in the land of the promise. The people did not only need the Passover lamb to be absolutely free from the judgment, they also needed to pass through the Red Sea to be definitely and absolutely liberated from Egypt. When Israel was passing through the Red Sea, it was because of faith. When the Egyptians did that, it was the arrogance of the flesh. The enemy is being swallowed by the judgment exactly at the same place where the people find their redemption. The place where the judgment occurs is also the place of redemption. You see this on the cross where Christ died.
Hebrews 11:30. When the redemption is accomplished and the liberation is achieved it does not mean that the difficulties are conquered. But for God the difficulties have disappeared. What is a difficulty to man, to God it isn’t. Israel has experienced it when they entered the promised land. Jericho was the obstacle for Israel to occupy the land. In that way there were hindrances for the Hebrews (and there are for you) on the path of faith that are to be conquered on the road to the promised land. Those victories are also only achieved by believing in what God says.
When the walls of Jericho fell down, it was not because they just encircled the city for seven days. The walls fell down because they encircled the city on the basis of faith in God’s Word. After seven days the walls were still that thick and impregnable like on the first day. But they fell down only after seven days because they had believed in God.
Now read Hebrews 11:24-30 again.
Reflection: What characteristics of faith do you see in this section and what can you learn from it?
To Live By Faith (VI)
Hebrews 11:31. Not only is the faith of the people and its effect seen at Jericho. The capture of Jericho is also the cause for the revelation of the faith of one individual from that city. The faith of Rahab shows that she chooses for the people of God, while the power of her people was still fully maintaining and there was nothing to be seen of the assumed victory with the people of God. But Rahab felt that God was with them. That determined her choice: a choice that was against the natural choice for her own people. In that way she is an example for the Hebrews who also had to choose for the apparently weak people of God and against their unbelieving, disobedient fellow countrymen.
What Rahab does, looks like treason, but it is a deed of faith. In that way she turns away from the world and from a life in sin, in order to join the people of God. Her people knew from the great deeds of God, but they did not want to bow their knees to Him (Joshua 2:10). They resisted and rebelled. She disassociated herself from that. She made peace with the people of God by taking action to protect the spies. In that way she identified with them and disassociated herself from her fellow countrymen who are here called “those who were disobedient”. By accommodating the spies, she put her own life at risk. She related her own fate to that of them. Her faith was abundantly rewarded. She even received a place in the book of generation of the Lord Jesus (Matthew 1:5).
Hebrews 11:32. The writer could be going on like that, but he doesn’t pay attention to details anymore. He would lack for time if he did. Guided by the Spirit he mentions in general sense a number of examples. In those examples it becomes apparent how persevering their faith has been in many ways and how it has enabled many souls in several ways of suffering to keep on going. One thing they all have in common: no one of them has received anything of what has been promised, as that also applied to the Hebrews to whom this letter is addressed.
Because the writer of the letter only mentions the names, I therefore don’t want to address in detail the history of the persons he mentions. You should read their history. Then it will often become clear to you why he mentions them. Sometimes it will also surprise you, after you have read their history, that he mentions them. But when God’s Spirit quotes names of believers from the Old Testament in the New Testament, it is – with one exception (that of Elijah, Romans 11:3-Numbers :) – always in a positive way. God sees further than what is described in outward history. He sees what is in the heart for Him, even when its practice sometimes stays behind.
Let us take a look at the list. When the people are in the land, the time of the judges commences. Four of them are mentioned. Gideon and Barak have done their faith job in little strength. Also Samson and Jephthah have dealt in faith, but their work was obviously not flawless. In both couples the most important one is mentioned first, while chronologically the order is the other way around. Of all judges it is common that their liberations were only temporary. None of them were able to create a lasting peace.
After the time of the judges the time of the prophets and kings follows. Of the prophets Samuel is mentioned and of the kings David is mentioned. Here also the chronology is reversed. First David is mentioned, then Samuel. David was the king after God’s heart and Samuel was his forerunner.
The prophets spoke to the conscience of the people. They rather died than preaching a lie and they rather went with a good conscience to heaven than that they lived with a bad conscience on earth.
Although David was a king after God’s heart, he too didn’t manage to bring the people into the rest (Hebrews 4:7-Ruth :). The ultimate rest was for him also a matter of faith, whereof the fulfillment was going to happen through Him, Who was both his Son (Matthew 1:1) and his Lord (Matthew 22:41-Romans :).
Hebrews 11:33. After these names a number of deeds follows that were done by faith. I will try to add an example to each deed:
1. “conquered kingdoms”: judges and David;
2. “performed [acts of] righteousness”: maintaining righteousness by judges and kings;
3. “obtained promises”: this is possibly obtaining what was promised, but also to be promised something;
4. “shut the mouths of lions”: Daniel (Daniel 6:22-Isaiah :), Samson, David, Benaiah;
5. Hebrews 11:34. ”quenched the power of fire”: the three friends of Daniel (Dan 3) who indeed quenched the power of the fire, but not the fire itself, for others were consumed by it;
6. “escaped the edge of the sword”: David, Elijah (while others were killed by the sword, Hebrews 11:37);
7. “from weakness were made strong”: Gideon, Jonathan; they proved that the weakness of God is stronger than men;
8. “became mighty in war”: Asa, Jehoshaphat;
9. “put foreign armies to flight”: many judges and kings;
10. Hebrews 11:35 “Women received [back] their dead by resurrection”: the widow of Zarephath, the Shunammite.
In the just mentioned situations faith appeared to be effective in favor of the believers and sometimes even in a miraculous way. Now examples of situations follow wherein faith is also effective for those who heavily suffer and are even killed. This suffering and death would be foolishness if death was the real end of everything:
1. They “were tortured, not accepting their release”: enduring cruel torture, while to faith an unacceptable offer to cease the torture is being refused; they believed in “a better resurrection” and were looking forward to that;
2. Hebrews 11:36. “experienced mockings and scourgings”; Jeremiah, heroes from the Maccabees;
3. “chains and imprisonment”: Jeremiah; Joseph;
4. Hebrews 11:37. “were stoned”: Stephen, Zechariah, Naboth;
5. “were sawn in two”, according to tradition: Isaiah by king Manasseh;
6. “were tempted”: were put under severe mental or physical pressure to deny their faith; were forced to compromise or to abjure something, in any case to deny their Lord;
7. “were put to death with the sword”: mass murder by the sword (Daniel 11:33; Acts 12:1; Jeremiah 26:23, while other escaped from the sword, Hebrews 11:34;
8. “went about in sheepskins, in goatskins”: Elijah, John;
9. “being destitute”: hunger and thirst;
10. “afflicted”: were ruled by strangers;
11. “ill-treated”: general torture;
12. Hebrews 11:38. “of whom the world was not worthy”: the world didn’t show any value to people who lived like that;
13. “wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground”: they accommodated many heroes of faith who had no home, with a hiding place, while those were hunted for as if they were savage animals.
Hebrews 11:39. God has seen and noticed that all these believers persevered in faith till the end. They didn’t receive on earth what they were promised. They still don’t have, even not in paradise where they are now.
Hebrews 11:40. They shall obtain what is promised only when the Hebrews and we also will obtain it. And when will that be? When Christ comes and establishes the millennial kingdom of peace. That is “something better” what God has forecasted. The ‘better’ is always related to Christ as the glorified Man in heaven. He obtained that place there from God, while He is rejected on earth.
To that Christ you are related, while you live on earth. Abraham lived in faith on earth with a heavenly mind in his heart, while he was looking forward to a heavenly city. But he was not related to heaven through a Christ Who is really seated there in glory and he didn’t share the rejection of Christ on earth. That is our share. Therefore the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than the greatest among those who preceded (Matthew 11:11). Therefore God has waited to fulfill His promises. He didn’t want the Old Testament believers to be made perfect without us, which means to come to the wonderful place of taking part in the kingdom of Christ.
It is the privilege of all believers of all times to partake in the kingdom of Christ. But it is first of all the privilege of those who have partaken in the rejection of Christ. Those are only the believers who are partakers of the church and not the believers from the time of the Old Testament or from the time after the rapture of the church.
The writer doesn’t go into detail about the special position of those believers. That is not the issue in this letter. From other letters we know that the church is related to the Lord Jesus in a special way (e.g. Ephesians 1:10-1 Kings :). In that way all who have lived in faith will be made perfect and God will fulfill His unchangeable promises to each of them.
Now read Hebrews 11:31-40 again.
Reflection: How did people manage to do such deeds of faith? How do you manage to do such deeds of faith?
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Hebrews 11". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany