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Kretzmann's Popular Commentary of the Bible Kretzmann's Commentary
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Hebrews 11". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ kpc/ hebrews-11.html. 1921-23.
Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Hebrews 11". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
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A Wonderful Epic on the Power of Faith.
Faith as a trust in that which is invisible and future:
v. 1. Now, faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
v. 2. For by it the elders obtained a good report.
The sacred writer here states the fundamental thought of this chapter, the most impressive section on the power of faith in his entire letter, if not in the whole Bible. He begins with a definition of faith: But faith is a conviction of mind concerning things hoped for, a certainty of things which are not seen. Faith, saving faith, that has accepted Jesus and His righteousness, is always and without exception a definite firmness of mind, a certain persuasion concerning the things which God has promised us in His Word for the purpose of having us place our hope upon them; it is an unalterable conviction of the heart regarding those things which we cannot see, which it is impossible for our eyes and for our reason and for our understanding to fathom and to know. Faith thus concerns things which are future, though they may have their beginning in this life; it is not an expectation of dreadful happenings, but a hope of blessed, glorious gifts; it keeps its peculiar form and characteristics, even when it is weak, a mere glowing taper; it is opposed to doubt and unbelief. Faith stands firm in all afflictions. Faith overcomes all weakness, for it is in the midst of tribulation and persecution that faith proves itself a persuasion of the heart that clings to God's promises. These qualities, or attributes, of faith the author now intends to bring out by referring to a number of examples of men and women of the Old Testament: For in this lay the commendation of the men of old. It was on the ground of their possessing faith that the leading men of the Old Testament received the commendation of God, their deeds being recorded for the benefit of ages to come, of the generations of the New Testament.
The example of Abel, Enoch, and Noah:
v. 3. 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.
v. 4. 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.
v. 5. 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.
v. 6. 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.
v. 7. 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.
The sacred writer begins his recital with a general reference, purposely ascribed, not to Adam or any individual believer, but to the believers of all times: By faith we perceive that the worlds have been framed by the word of God, that what is seen has not come into being out of things which appear. The existence of the world, its creation and preservation, is not a matter of conjecture, of idle guesswork, with the Christians, as it is with the heathen and with the unbelievers in general, who have astonished the world with theories that challenge the belief even of the credulous. We hold no such vain theories, the products of speculation based upon false assumptions. Had the visible universe really been formed out of materials which were subject to our inspection, or to the observation of any human beings, then our standpoint would bear the marks of foolish speculation. But the entire manner in which the world came into existence, all parts being adapted to one another and the whole to its purpose, is not a matter of reasonable consideration, but of faith. Faith is the knowledge which tells us that it was the almighty word of God which called things into being out of nothing, created something which was not there before. And the result of this creative act on the part of Almighty God is the existence and preservation of all things which make up the visible universe. Note: It is a matter of comfort to us to know that the same almighty God rules the universe today, and that His promise concerning the preservation of the world still stands, Genesis 8:22.
In taking up specific instances, the writer now mentions that of Abel first: By faith Abel offered to God a more adequate sacrifice than Cain, through which he was attested to as being righteous, God testifying upon his gifts; and through the same he, though dead, yet speaks. The better, the more excellent, the more adequate sacrifice of Abel, the peculiar value of his offering, was not due to the choice of the materials, but to the fact that he had faith, that he believed in the coming Messiah. It was on account of this faith, also, that God testified of him that he was righteous, Genesis 4:3-5; Matthew 23:35. God accepted the offering of Abel, indicating His complete satisfaction with the gift and the prayer which accompanied it; He had respect unto him and his offering, as the text in Genesis has it. Thus the faith of Abel was the reason why God imputed to him the righteousness of the coming Messiah, in whom he placed his hope. Just in what way God showed His acceptance of Abel's sacrifice, whether by having the smoke of its burning arise directly toward the sky, or by having fire fall down from heaven to devour his offering, or by revealing His attitude to Adam, as the priest of the family, we do not know. Of one thing we are sure, namely, that his offering was accepted because of his faith. And another fact is to be noted, namely, that the murder of Abel was not the end of his activity or influence. Though he is dead, yet he is ever speaking to us. His faith is a shining example to all men as to the manner of obtaining justification, as well as to the necessity of being faithful to the Lord, even if hatred and enmity on the part of the nearest relatives is the result, Genesis 4:10; Hebrews 12:24.
Next is cited the example of Enoch: By faith Enoch was translated so that he did not see death, and he was not found because God had translated him; for before his translation he had had this testimony, that he was well pleasing to God. Of Enoch very little is said in Scriptures, See Genesis 5:22-24; Jude 1:14-15. Since the earliest days the children of God, the descendants of Adam that trusted in the mercy of the coming Messiah, had caused the proclamation of this Gospel-truth to be made in their midst, and had taught it to their children. Thus Enoch had learned the truth and the way of salvation, thus had he come to faith; and therefore he was well-pleasing to God. In his case, therefore, the Lord determined to manifest His good pleasure in a particularly extraordinary way. He removed him from the earth, in order that he might not see death; in some form or manner the Lord took his body away, up to the abode of the blessed. And all this because he believed and led a godly life in agreement with his faith, because he walked with God, as the Hebrew text has it, Genesis 5:22-24. He was translated, he was removed, he was no longer found. It may well be that his relatives searched for him, as the children of the prophets did for Elijah, 2 Kings 2:16, and that they eventually received information from the Lord as to the method of their relative's removal from the earth. All this was the result of his faith: For without faith it is impossible to please God well; for he that comes to God must believe that He exists, and that He becomes a rewarder to those that diligently seek Him. The author again uses the picture of a priest's or a worshiper's drawing nigh to God, Hebrews 7:25; Hebrews 10:22. Such a person that worships God in truth will not only believe in the existence of God, but will know also that God will in mercy reward those that seek Him, that His gift to them is eternal life through Jesus Christ the Savior. It is he whose Christianity is not a matter of mere form and of outward ceremonies, but a true matter of the heart, he whose faith is of the kind that does not grow weary in seeking the Lord and His holy will, that will become a partaker of the Lord's merciful reward.
The example of Noah teaches the same lesson: By faith Noah, after being informed by God concerning that which was as yet not seen, with pious reverence constructed an ark for the saving of his household; by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith. Genesis 6:8-22; Genesis 7:1-24; Genesis 8:1-22; Genesis 9:1-29. Noah was perfect in his generations, in the midst of a world which blasphemed the Lord and scorned His Word: he walked with God and found grace in the sight of the Lord. For this reason the Lord gave him information, issued a warning to him concerning the plans which he had with regard to the world and its punishment. While Noah, at God's command, constructed the ark, it was always with trust in things which had as pet not come to pass. It is very probable that he had to endure the scorn and derision of the unbelievers on all sides for his act of building a ship on dry ground. But Noah continued his work in pious reverence, combined with cautious forethought, knowing that this ark would serve for the saving of his household, or family, for since the Lord had first spoken with him, he had married, and his three sons had grown up and taken wives also. By this exhibition of his faith, Noah condemned the unbelieving children of the world, for by this time the congregation of believers had dwindled down to include only his family. The faith of Noah made the unbelief of the scoffers stand out all the more strongly. Incidentally it made him an heir of the righteousness which is given to men by faith. He became the possessor, the owner of its spiritual blessings, the righteousness of the coming Savior was imputed to him by God, not being earned by the act of his faith, but being accepted by this faith. It is the very same process which obtains today in bringing salvation to men.
The example of Abraham and Sarah:
v. 8. 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.
v. 9. 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;
v. 10. for he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
v. 11. Through faith also Sarah 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.
v. 12. 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 seashore innumerable.
Since he was the father of the Old Testament believers, the example of Abraham is treated at length, no fewer than five points in which his faith stood out prominently being given in this chapter: By faith Abraham, being called to go forth to a place which he was destined to receive as an inheritance, obeyed, and he went out, not knowing where he was going. Genesis 12:1-4. When the Lord issued His special call to Abraham, the latter was living with his father Terah at Haran. The call of God influenced his heart and mind to such an extent that he was no longer identified in any manner with the idolatry practiced in his father's house, and that his faith wrought in him a strong obedience to the call of the Lord. It may not have been an easy matter for Abraham, who at that time was already seventy-five years old and possessed great wealth, to leave the home of his father for an unknown country, where, moreover, idolatry was practiced just as badly as in Mesopotamia. But his faith in the promise of the Messiah gave him power to believe also the promise concerning the land of his inheritance on earth.
Abraham's faith was put to a severe test at this time: By faith he sojourned in the Land of Promise as in a foreign country, living in tents, with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; for he was waiting for the city having foundations, whose architect and builder is God. All these facts are recorded in the Book of Genesis. Having come into the Land of Promise, the land of Canaan, Abraham, instead of being given the country for his possession as he might have expected from the words of the Lord, did not get so much as a foot of land to call his own, being even obliged, at the death of Sarah, to buy a place of burial for her from the children of Heth. He lived the life of a nomad, dwelling in tents, and moving from one place to another as occasion offered. This was the lot also of his son Isaac and of his grandson Jacob. They lived in the land which God had promised to them as their inheritance, and yet it was a strange land to them, a country in which they were merely suffered as sojourners. This surely was a strong test for the faith of the patriarchs. But Abraham was equal to the test. Although possessing not a foot of soil in Canaan for more than fifty years and then only a small cave with the adjoining land, he looked upon this country as his possession and would not permit Eliezer to suggest taking Isaac back to Mesopotamia. In this faith Abraham was sustained by his firm hope of the future glory, which he knew to be his by virtue of the Messiah's merits. He might be obliged, as long as he lived here on earth, to live the life of a nomad, but this did not shake his firm hope of entering the heavenly Jerusalem, the city which was designed and built by God for those that love Him. That is the hope of the believers of all times; for they have here no continuing city, but they seek the one to come.
The faith of Abraham was shared also by his wife Sarah, though not in the same measure: By faith also Sarah received strength to conceive and was delivered of a son though past the usual age, since she counted Him faithful that had promised. Genesis 18:12-15. When Abraham came to Canaan, Sarah was about sixty-five years old and had not only been barren, but was now past the age when she might expect to bear a child in agreement with the course of nature, Genesis 18:11. For twenty-four years she waited for the promise of God to be fulfilled, and her faith was sometimes not equal to the strain, as when she gave Abraham her maid Hagar as a second wife, and when she laughed at the final definite announcement of the Lord, Genesis 18:12-13. But the Lord's gentle rebuke upon this last occasion seems to have had the beneficial effect of banishing all doubts from her heart, simply because she relied upon God's promise. It was this faith, growing, as it did, out of the true faith in the promised Messiah, which was ever connected with God's announcement to Abraham, that gave her strength to become a mother at the age of eighty-nine, against the course of nature.
The result of this unwavering reliance upon God's word and promise was truly remarkable: Wherefore also there were begotten of one, and of one as good as dead, these (descendants) as the stars of the heaven for multitude, and as the sand which is by the seashore innumerable. In such a miraculous manner there was founded through Sarah, herself by nature doubly incapable for that purpose, a family. And another strange point is this, that Abraham at that time also was beyond the age when a man is ordinarily able to beget children; his generative power, according to the usual course of nature, had waned. Because God's promise, however, was so certain, the result was that the descendants of Abraham, through Isaac, the children of Israel, finally were like the stars of the sky or the sand at the seashore for multitude. Genesis 21:2; Genesis 22:17; Genesis 32:12. Thus was the faith of both Abraham and Sarah vindicated most wonderfully.
An application of the truths here offered:
v. 13. 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.
v. 14. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country.
v. 15. And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned.
v. 16. 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.
The sacred writer here shows that his definition of faith applies well in the case of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Jacob: These all died in keeping with their faith, although they had not become partakers of the promises, but had seen them from afar and hailed them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. As the patriarchs had believed during their lives, so they died in their faith, as it behooved men that had seen the day of the Lord, the coming salvation, from afar, through the promises of the Lord, John 8:56. They were so firmly persuaded that God would fulfill His word in every particular that they actually saw the fulfillment. They hailed the promises from afar, as people on board of a ship may wave recognition to a group of friends on shore. The fact that the Gospel-promises were not fulfilled while they lived, and that they did not see the Messiah in person, did not influence their faith. They cheerfully confessed and called themselves strangers and pilgrims here on earth, a fact for which their being sojourners in the Land of Promise was a type. See Genesis 23:4; Genesis 47:9; Psalms 39:12; 1 Peter 1:1; 1 Peter 2:11.
This open confession of the patriarchs, as evidenced in their lives, is further discussed: For they that say such things plainly show that they are in search of a fatherland. The acknowledgment and confession of the patriarchs that they were strangers and sojourners here on earth, that this world was not their home country, made it very evident that the true homeland must be elsewhere, that they are eagerly awaiting their entrance into that promised place. They think of, have in view, and are making for, a land which they can call their own, which is their own by the gift of God. Their entire attitude agreed with this state of mind: And if, indeed, they had cherished memories of that land which they had left, they would have had opportunity to return; but now they aspire after a better one, which is the heavenly one. If at any time during their sojourn in Canaan and also in Egypt the patriarchs had had regrets on account of their having left Mesopotamia, if they had cherished fond memories of that earthly country from which Abraham had gone forth, if their sighing had concerned itself with a mere earthly paradise, then it would have been an easy matter for them to return to their former homeland. But it was not an earthly country that their faith was aspiring after with such eager sighing, but the promised heavenly land, the city whose possession was assured by virtue of the Messiah's merits. Thus the cordial relationship between God and them is brought out: Wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them. Because the faith of the patriarchs in the promises of God was so implicit, because they credited His promises even though they themselves did not actually become partakers of them while living here on earth, therefore God was not ashamed of them, did not hesitate to confess them, was willing to be called their God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Exodus 3:15. For this reason, also, He was preparing for them a city, the heavenly Jerusalem, the mansions above, which would in every way satisfy the hopes and expectations they had held all their lives, John 14:1-3. This is also the goal of the hopes, the expectation of the faith, of all believers to this day Jerusalem, the city fair and high.
The example of the patriarchs:
v. 17. By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac; and he that had received the promises offered up his only-begotten son,
v. 18. of whom it was said, that in Isaac shall thy seed be called;
v. 19. accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence he also received him in a figure.
v. 20. By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come.
v. 21. By faith Jacob, when he was a-dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning upon the top of his staff.
v. 22. By faith Joseph, when he died, made mention of the departing of the children of Israel, and gave commandment concerning his bones.
The history of Abraham was by no means exhausted by the incidents mentioned in the preceding paragraphs. There is another lesson recorded here: By faith Abraham offered up Isaac when he was put to the test, and he that had received the promises sacrificed his only-begotten, to whom it had been said that through Isaac shall the offspring be reckoned to thee; since he concluded that God was able to raise also from the dead, whence he also received him in type. Genesis 22:1-24. God had given Abraham the promise after the birth of Isaac: In Isaac shall thy seed be called, Genesis 21:12. Ishmael was thus ruled out, as were the children of Abraham by Keturah, who were born later. Isaac, therefore, was the only-begotten son of Abraham, the son of promise, the father having received the promises of God with a believing heart; the descendants of Isaac were to be known as the true seed, the heirs of the promise. But now God determined to test Abraham's trust and faith by a trial of such severity as to have daunted every other heart. Abraham was to offer up, to sacrifice, this only son to the Lord. And this he prepared to do exactly in accordance with God's instructions, as the account in Genesis tells us. This he could do only because his faith had taught him to come to the conclusion, to hold the opinion, that even from the dead God is able to raise up. It was this firm belief in the almighty power of God, together with faith in His promises, that enabled Abraham to deliver his only son to death. This faith God rewarded at once; for the father received his son back from the very jaws of death, he snatched him out of death, "not actually, because Isaac had not been dead, but virtually, because he had been given up to death. He had passed through the likeness of death, and his restoration to Abraham was a likeness of resurrection" (Dods). How gloriously was the faith of Abraham here established!
Of the other patriarchs similar demonstrations of faith are recorded: By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning future things. Genesis 27:1-46. It had been a matter of some dispute between Isaac and Rebecca as to which son was to receive the Messianic promise. When, therefore, Isaac determined to give his blessing to his sons before his death, he instructed Esau to appear before him first. But through the dispensation of God it was Jacob that received the blessing of the first-born, a fact which was acknowledged by Isaac when he refused to change the blessing, giving to Esau, instead, a blessing concerning his well-being in this world only. It was the faith of Isaac which caused him to confirm the blessing which he had laid upon Jacob as the Lord's choice for the bearer of the Messianic blessing, Genesis 28:3. The same faith lived also in Jacob almost a hundred years later: By faith Jacob, dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bending in prayer over the head of his staff. Shortly before the aged Jacob died, in the land of Goshen, he had Joseph bring his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, in order to transmit to them the blessing of his own children. Genesis 48:1-20. He gave each an individual blessing, crossing his hands in spite of Joseph's protest, SO that his right hand rested upon the head of the younger and his left upon the head of the older. In the distinction thus made in the blessing as it was afterward verified in the destiny of their descendants, in their inheritance of the Promised Land, Jacob showed his faith. Note: There is an addition to the story as related in Genesis, since we are here told that Jacob, shortly before his death, not only bowed himself upon the bed's head in an attitude of worship, but did so while leaning upon his staff. Of Joseph, finally, it is said: By faith Joseph, when he died, made mention of the exodus of the children of Israel and gave commandment concerning his bones. Genesis 50:24-25. The fact that Joseph, in such a solemn manner, assured his brothers that they would not be left in Egypt, but that God would lead them forth thence into the land which He had promised to their fathers, and that he, for his own person, relied so firmly in the promise of the Lord that he gave orders concerning the transfer of his mummy to the land of Canaan at the time of that deliverance, shows that Joseph shared the faith of his fathers in the Messianic promises, which included the possession of the land of Canaan for the children of Israel. His faith in the coming Messiah caused him to trust implicitly in the other promise connected with the assurance of His coming.
The example of Moses:
v. 23. 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.
v. 24. By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter,
v. 25. choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season;
v. 26. esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt, for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward.
v. 27. By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured, as seeing Him who is invisible.
v. 28. Through faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, lest he that destroyed the first-born should touch them.
v. 29. By faith they passed through the Red Sea as by dry land; which the Egyptians as saying to do, were drowned.
The first incident from the history of Moses is that which illustrates the faith of his parents: By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was well formed, and they did not fear the order of the king. Exodus 2:2. Moses was born at the time when a new dynasty had arisen in Egypt, and Pharaoh the king had, for political reasons, given orders that all male children among the children of Israel should be thrown into the Nile to die. But the parents of Moses, having in mind always the promise of deliverance out of Egypt, which was connected with the Messianic promise, and seeing that their new-born son seemed to be intelligent as well as well formed, defied the command of the king, Jochebed, the mother of Moses, therefore kept him at home for three months, managing to conceal him from the many spies of Pharaoh. Eventually the life of Moses was preserved in a miraculous manner. But this act of the parents of Moses was an act of faith and a fine example for all times.
Moses proved himself worthy of such parents: By faith Moses, when he had reached adult age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, preferring rather to suffer with the people of God than to have the enjoyment of sin for a time, since he considered the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he steadily kept in view the reward. Exodus 2:3-10. When the daughter of Pharaoh found the child Moses at the river's brink, his own mother became his nurse, thus receiving an opportunity to instruct him as to his descent. The instruction which Moses received in his early years was not driven out of his heart by all the subsequent studies which he took up as the adopted son of Pharaoh's daughter. When he had grown up, at about the age of forty years, Acts 7:23, he renounced his adoption as the son of Pharaoh's daughter. He preferred to suffer ill usage and persecution with his countrymen rather than to have a short-lived enjoyment of sin. In his position as the adopted prince of the land he could have satisfied his highest ambitions and gratified all his finer tastes. But his stay at the Egyptian court brought him into daily contact with idolatry and sins of every description. His faith, which had been implanted in his heart through the teaching of his mother, caused him to hold that God would surely fulfill His promise to His people, even though the outlook at that time was rather gloomy. It would mean disgrace for him, so far as this world was concerned, but he was willing to bear this scorn, this reproach, since it came upon him for the sake of the Messiah, in whose coming he believed. Although he saw Christ only in hope, yet the riches which his faith brought him even so were immeasurably greater than everything that the civilization of Egypt was able to offer him instead. So he resolutely turned away from the glittering promises of this reward and steadfastly fixed his eyes upon, constantly directed them to, the reward which the promise of God held out to him. Such an action, to forsake an apparently certain enjoyment of all that this world has to offer for an uncertain and hazy promise, as the children of unbelief see it, that is the characteristic of faith to this day.
A second incident from the life of Moses is held up as an example: By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king, for he bided his time as seeing Him who is invisible. What Moses had openly confessed in renouncing his adoption as the son of Pharaoh's daughter he just as openly carried into execution by casting his lot with his own people. He not only left the court of Pharaoh and Egypt proper, but he also made his home in Goshen, where his countrymen lived. By faith he braved the king's wrath, because he saw an invisible monarch greater than Pharaoh on his side. He could afford, then, to bide his time, to wait till the Lord would show him what step to take next. That opportunity came after his flight to, and sojourn in, Midian: Through faith he celebrated the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, so that the destroyer might not touch their first-born sons. Here again it required simple faith and trust in the word of the Lord to make all the necessary preparations for the first Passover in the history of Israel. It was a case of simply obeying the order of the Lord concerning the lamb and the entire Passover meal, and especially the act of painting the door-posts and the upper lintel of the doors with the blood of the slaughtered animal, Exodus 12:7-22. The Lord had stated that the object of this sprinkling, or painting, of blood was to keep the great destroying angel, the angel who, by God's command, went through the land of Egypt and slew the first-horn in every family, from the houses of the children of Israel. It certainly was no small act of faith which caused Moses confidently to promise the people security in the midst of the general destruction.
But just as the people, as a whole, had joined Moses in the keeping of the first Passover in the manner enjoined by God, so the Israelites showed their faith soon after: By faith they passed through the Red Sea as if on dry land, of which the Egyptians, making trial, were swallowed up, Exodus 14:22-23; Exodus 15:4. The Red Sea proved the first hard test of the faith of the Israelites after they had left Egypt. Before them was the sea, behind them was the army of Pharaoh; they seemed doomed to extinction. It was then that the Lord commanded the people through Moses to keep their peace, since they were going forward. In this promise they trusted, and when the sea opened up before them, the water forming solid walls on the right and on the left, they forgot the doubt and distrust with which they had been battling and boldly went forward under God's protecting arm, passing over to the other side in safety. The Egyptians, however, that had no such trust, but were enemies of the true God, challenged the sea by their pursuit of the Israelites, the result being that they all perished, being swallowed up as the water once more followed the law of nature. Again a victory of faith.
The achievements of faith in the times of Joshua and later:
v. 30. By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they were compassed about seven days.
v. 31. By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace.
v. 32. And what shall I more say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthah; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets;
v. 33. who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions,
v. 34. quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to fight the armies of the aliens.
v. 35. Women received their dead raised to life again; and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection;
v. 36. and others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment;
v. 37. 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;
v. 38 ( of whom the world was not worthy;) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
After the children of Israel had finally crossed the Jordan by another miracle, they were given an opportunity to show their faith in the Lord at the siege of Jericho: By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, having been compassed about for seven days, Joshua 6:1-27. It must have been no easy matter for the soldiers of the army of Joshua to march around the city day after day without so much as touching their hands to a weapon, pursued, moreover, by the taunts of the besieged. Worse still, when they, on the seventh day, marched around the city time and again, and yet were kept back from using violence before the time appointed by the Lord, this was undoubtedly a sore trial of their faith. Yet they continued until the word of the Lord was literally fulfilled and they could annihilate their enemies.
An incident that is recorded in connection with the same siege is that in which the harlot Rahab was concerned: By faith Rahab, the harlot, did not perish with the unbelievers after she had received the spies with peace. Even when Joshua was encamped at Shittim, before the people crossed the Jordan, he had sent two men to view the land which he intended to subdue first of all, Joshua 2:1-2. In performing the work assigned to them, these men came to the house of Rahab, the chances being that they could get the information which they sought at this place. Rahab, however, though formerly a harlot, a notorious sinner, had been struck by the reports of the Lord's fighting for Israel and had been converted to belief in Him. Accordingly, she received the spies in peace and saved their lives. This act of faith later saved her own life and that of her entire household, because she did not perish with her disobedient and unbelieving countrymen. She afterward became a member of God's people, and her name appears in the list of the forefathers of Jesus.
But there are so many individual examples of faith in the records of the Old Testament that the inspired author summarizes: And what do I say further? For time would fail me while recounting of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David and Solomon, and the prophets, who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, extinguished the force of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were restored out of weakness, became mighty in battle, routed the armies of strangers. The writer purposely does not observe a fixed order of narration, in order to indicate the great number and variety of examples which he might enumerate if he but had the time and the space to do so. There was Gideon, who with only three hundred men routed the mighty army of the Midianites, Judges 7:1-25. There was Barak, who with the aid of the prophetess Deborah routed Sisera and his host, after which Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, killed the invader as he lay asleep, Judges 4:1-24. There was Samson, also one of the judges of Israel, who gained a number of victories over the Philistines, Judges 14:1-20; Judges 15:1-20; Judges 16:1-31. There was Jephthah, who conquered the Ammonites, Judges 11:1-40. The great deeds of David and Solomon in behalf of the children of Israel, the people of God, are so well known that they are also merely referred to, 2 Samuel 5:17-25; 2 Samuel 8:1; 2 Samuel 21:15-22; 2 Samuel 10:1-19; 2 Samuel 12:26-31. Some of these men and others subdued kingdoms, those of all the nations of the Canaanites being recorded; they ruled their people with righteousness and equity, 2 Samuel 8:15; they obtained promises, not only Messianic promises, 2 Samuel 7:1-29, but also some of a general nature, Joshua 21:45; Judges 7:7; Judges 13:5; 1 Kings 8:56; they stopped the mouths of lions, not only Samson and David, but also Daniel, Daniel 6:22; Judges 14:6; 1 Samuel 17:34-36; the very power of fire to burn and destroy they extinguished, as in the case of the three men in the fiery furnace, Daniel 3:1-30; they escaped the edge of the sword, 1 Samuel 18:11; 1 Samuel 19:10; 1 Kings 19:1-3; they were restored after an attack of weakness, Judges 16:28-30; they became mighty in battle; the Lord being on their side, they were enabled to overcome all the resistance of their enemies. Such were the victories of faith.
But faith is equally strong in overcoming misery and suffering of every kind: Women received their dead by resurrection; others, however, were beaten to death, not accepting the deliverance, in order to obtain a better resurrection; but others endured the trial of mockings and scourgings, and still further of bonds and imprisonment; they were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were cut to pieces, they died in the slaughter of the sword, they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, suffering want, being abused, enduring affliction, of whom the world was not worthy, wandering over deserts and mountains, and in caves and in the holes of the earth. It is a long recital, which will fit practically every age of persecution in its principal points. Women, like the widow of Sarepta and the Shunammite, received their dead back from the embrace of death. In the case of others it is related (and the truth of history is here substantiated) that they were beaten to death, probably by being broken on a wheel, 2 Maccabees 6:17-28, and that they accepted this rather than perform a deed which conscience would not permit them to become guilty of; they knew, even if they died under the torture, a better resurrection awaited them at the end of time. Mockings and scourgings were endured by some of the martyrs at the time of the Maccabees, 2 Maccabees 7:1-7, and it happened often, as in the case of Jeremiah, that men were thrown into chains and imprisoned, Jeremiah 38:9. They were stoned, as is related of Zechariah, son of Jehoiada, 2 Chronicles 14:15, and of Jeremiah, the latter incident, however, not being verified in Scriptures. The most cruel death of being sawn asunder while still alive was inflicted on some of the Old Testament believers, 2 Samuel 12:31; Amos 1:3, an apocryphal account stating this also of Isaiah. Others were cut to pieces, ruthlessly murdered with the sword, and tortured in other ways, as some accounts of the Maccabean period relate. Being driven from their homes, they were obliged to cover themselves against the inclemencies of the weather by donning sheepskins or goatskins and living out in the deserts and in the mountains, wherever a cave or even a mere hole in the rock afforded them some shelter, 1 Kings 18:4; 1 Kings 18:13; 1 Kings 19:4-13; 1 Kings 1:1-53 Maccabees 2:28-29; 2 Maccabees 5:27; 6:11; 10:6. All these sufferings their faith enabled them to endure. Surely the remark that the world was not worthy of them gives us the estimate which the Lord places upon the steadfastness of these martyrs.
The author's conclusion:
v. 39. And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise,
v. 40. God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.
In this respect the believers of old serve as excellent examples: And these all, although they were testified to through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that without us they should not be perfected. It is true, indeed, these heroes of the Old Testament are excellent examples; God Himself gave testimony in their behalf that their faith was of the genuine kind which He expects from all men that confess Him. Their salvation, therefore, will be as perfect as that of any of the Christians of the New Testament. And yet the inspired writer says that God has provided something better for us; for, whereas all these believers of whom he has written were living in the time of type and prophecy, we Christians are living in the time of the fulfillment. Our knowledge of Christ is not obtained from figures and signs and sacrifices, but we have the full account of His life, His ministry, His Passion, His death, His resurrection and ascension to the right hand of power: we have the perfect revelation of the Son, in His perfect covenant and His perfect sacrifice. Surely, if the faith of the patriarchs and prophets and all the true Israelites of old was so firm and steadfast, how much more ought we, to whom God has given the perfect revelation, be examples of faith to all men!
The inspired author gives a brief definition of faith, citing the example of the patriarchs and of many of the prophets and kings of the Old Testament in corroboration of the truths offered, as an incitement to the Christians of the New Testament.