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Bible Commentaries

Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament

Hebrews 11

Verse 1

General remarks. The point has been frequently emphasized that the outstanding subject of this book is the disturbances of the Judaizers. There would seem to be a shift now to the subject of unbelief. And yet it is not so much of a change at the base. All failure to do that which is right may be charged up against unbelief. In 1 Corinthians 10 Paul enumerates a number of misdeeds that contributed to the overthrow of the Israelites in the wilderness. But in Heb 3:19 where he has the same history in mind, the apostle says they could not enter in because of unbelief. By the same token, the mistake of rejecting Christ for the sake of going back to the old law may truly be attributed to unbelief. Much has been said against the denominational teaching of "faith alone," and justly so. At the same time we should be careful not to under- estimate the importance of belief or faith. It is true that we cannot be saved by faith alone, neither can we be saved without it. We cannot be saved by "faith only," but we can be lost by unbelief only. That is because it requires all the items of the plan of salvation to please God, while the omission of one fundamental item is enough to displease Him. This is especially true of such a principle as faith which is the motive power of all our actions as the present chapter will show. Heb 11:1. Substance is from a word that means basis or foundation on which something rests. Faith constitutes such a basis for our hope since it is produced by testimony. Even things not seen but desired may be expected and thus hoped for when we have the evidence of their truthfulness.

Verse 2

Heb 11:2. Elders is from PREBUTEROS and Thayer defines it at this place as "forefathers." Good report is used in the sense that they obtained a good reputation by their faith that was "put into practice."

Verse 3

Heb 11:3. Through faith does not mean that the following things of this verse were accomplished by faith. for God does not have to act on faith. He knows what he can do. It is through faith that we understand about it. Worlds is defined by the lexicon at this place, "The worlds, the universe," and framed is defined, "To fit out, equip, put in order, arrange, adjust." Are seen and do appear are both in the present tense, and made is from a Greek word that means "caused to be." The sentence means that the universe which we see was not made out of anything else that appears to us. But that does not say that God "made something out of nothing." Such a notion is not taught in any scripture that I have read. Just because we cannot see what God made the universe of does not prove that He made it out of nothing. Word is from RHEMA. which Thayer defines at this place, "The word by which some thing is commanded, directed, enjoined." This agrees with Psa 33:9, which says, "He spake and it was done; he commanded and it stood fast." Also the phrase "and God said" occurs nine times in the first chapter of Genesis.

Verse 4

Heb 11:4. By faith Abel. Rom 10:17 says faith comes by hearing the word of God. Hence Abel had been told by the Lord what to do or he could not have done it by faith. When he offered an animal by faith, therefore, it was because God had told him to do so. That made it a more excellent (superior) sacrifice than the one Cain offered, for God had not told him to offer the fruit of the ground. Obtained witness means that testimony was borne him that he was a righteous man. Dead yet speaketh. Although Abel is dead physically, yet the record of his righteous performance is preserved down to the present time, and it speaks or testifies to the good deed that was done through his faith in the word of God.

Verse 5

Heb 11:5. Translated . . not see death. The last phrase explains the first word, and was not found any more on earth because he was taken to Heaven. Had this testimony. It is recorded in Gen 5:24 that Enoch walked with God, which means he walked or conducted himself according to the "word of God" which produces faith.

Verse 6

Heb 11:6. The apostle interrupts his line of special instances to state the general principle of faith. Regardless of whatever apparent good there might be in one's actions, it will not be pleasing to God unless he has authorized it. Believe that He is means to believe in the existence of God. Furthermore, unless a man believes that God will reward a diligent seeker, lie will not make any effort to come to Him.

Verse 7

Heb 11:7. The flood of which Noah was warned was over a century in the future (Genesis G:3). yet he prepared an ark according to the Lord's instructions. That was because he believed what God told him and acted accordingly. To the saving of his house from the flood that destroyed the rest of mankind. Condemned the world. Thayer defines the first word at this place as follows: "By one's good example to render another's wickedness more evident and censurable." Heir of righteousness. The last word is what is done and not inherited, hence the phrase means to inherit the reward that comes to one whose faith leads him to seek a righteous life.

Verse 8

Heb 11:8. The main point that showed Abraham's faith was his obedience even when he did not know where he was going. But God promised that it was to be towards a place which he should some day inherit.

Verse 9

Heb 11:9. Strange means "belonging to another"; Abraham considered himself a sojourner which means a temporary dweller. That is why he lived in tabernacles (or tents) because he regarded himself as well as his immediate descendants as heirs only. He believed the land would sometime be actually possessed by the nations coming from him.

Verse 10

Heb 11:10. Abraham did not expect to possess personally the land of Canaan, hence he did not provide himself any permanent building for a home. He believed that his descendants would finally get possession of it. As for himself, he chose to be faithful to God while sojourning in the land, then finally enter the city with foundations, which means the permanence of the Eternal City or Heaven.

Verse 11

Heb 11:11. Being delivered of a child was not the miracle in this case, but it was the ability to conceive one to begin with. Sarah was ninety years old and thus was past the usual age of child-bearing. She also had been barren all her life so that she was not at any time able to conceive by the natural process of reproduction. Hence she would have felt no urge to cooperate with her husband in carrying out their part of God's plan. But on account of her faith in the promise of God she acted and was rewarded with the strength (ability) to conceive.

Verse 12

Heb 11:12. As good as dead. The second word is not in the original as a separate term. The phrase is used figuratively because all appearances were that way. We know Abraham's reproductive powers were not gone, for at least thirty-seven years later he married the second time and begat six sons (Gen 23:1 Genesis 25 Genesis 1, 2). There is no evidence that a miracle was performed to enable him to beget these sons. Besides, they were not needed to fulfill the promise made in the beginning. Stars and sand are used to indicate the vast number of his descendants.

Verse 13

Heb 11:13. These means Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, who never lived to see the fulfilment of the promises. Died in faith means that their faith remained with them as long as they lived. Seen them afar off (by the eves of faith). Being strangers and pilgrims (temporary dwellers), they did not expect to possess the land personally, but they never doubted that their descendants would according to the promises.

Verse 14

Heb 11:14. The faith described in the preceding verse implies a belief in some other country than was then visible.

Verse 15

Heb 11:15. The country from whence they came out (Mesopotamia) was visible and would require no faith to realize it. Moreover, it was still obtainable and had they been mindful of it or cared for it, they could have returned to that place, although in so doing they would have lost their favor with God.

Verse 16

Heb 11:16. This verse expresses the same hope mentioned of Abraham in verse 10. God is pleased to own people who are trusting Him, and as a reward he will admit them into the heavenly city in the "sweet by and by." Such a home will be a better country than the one from which they came, or even than the one in which they were "sojourners."

Verse 17

Heb 11:17. When he was tried means when his faith was put to a test. Offered up Isaac. Abraham did not literally sacrifice his son, but he went as far as the Lord permitted him to go. Not knowing that God would change the order, Abraham was put to as strong a test of his faith as if he had slain his son. His only begotten son is mentioned to emphasize the severity of the test.

Verse 18

Heb 11:18. Regardless of how many other sons he might have had, that would not have lessened the severity of the test for the promise was restricted to Isaac..

Verse 19

Heb 11:19. Abraham never doubted God's ability and faithfulness in fulfilling the promise, even though his only son should die. The reason for that faith is explained in this verse in that he expected God to bring his son back to life. Received him in a figure; this may be regarded in two senses. The performance came so near to actual death for Isaac that the change in God's order was virtually the same to Abraham's mind as if the son had died. It was in the nature of a case where it is said that one "is snatched from the jaws of death." Another phase is the truth that it all was a figure or type of the restoration of the Son of God from death after having been slain and made an offering at the cross.

Verse 20

Heb 11:20. This blessing is recorded in Genesis 27, and it pertains to favorable experiences that were to come to his sons in the future. Being a patriarch, Isaac could speak as by a revelation from God, but he would not have done so had it not been for his faith in the declarations of God.

Verse 21

Heb 11:21. Jacob was another patriarch and could speak by the Lord's instruct ion. The favorable predictions he made for Joseph's sons are re- corded in Genesis 48.

Verse 22

Heb 11:22. When Joseph was taken into Egypt it was said that "the Lord was with him" (Gen 39:2), and He continued to be with him all the time. Hence he was able to make the prediction (by faith) that is mentioned here and at Gen 50:24-25.

Verse 23

Heb 11:23. It should be understood that it was the parents of Moses who had the faith. They were true servants of God and believed that He would protect their child if they did what they could to help him live. Not afraid means they were not frightened by what the king of Egypt had ordered to be done to the infants.

Verse 24

Heb 11:24. Come to years corresponds with "full forty years old" in Act 7:23. At that time he repudiated his relation to the daughter of Pharaoh in order to join himself with the Hebrews. The circumstance of becoming related to Pharaoh's daughter referred to here is recorded in Exo 2:5-10.

Verse 25

Heb 11:25. Pleasures of sin refers to the life he was connected with while a part of the royal family of Egypt. A season would be the comparatively short time in this world, for sinful pleasures will all cease at the judgment and endless punishment will follow. On the other hand the faithful people of God, though afflicted by the enemy in this life. will enjoy endless pleasure in the world to come.

Verse 26

Heb 11:26. Reproach of Christ. Moses did not yet know the full system of salvation of which Christ is the central figure, but Paul considers any suffering endured in service to God as also being for the sake of Christ. Treasures in Egypt were the luxuries experienced by the royal group of Egyptians. (See comments at verse 25.)

Verse 27

Heb 11:27. Forsook Egypt. This was forty years later than the preceding verse, referring to the time he led the Israelites out of the land. Not fearing the wrath means notwithstanding the wrath of the king. Seeing (by the eye of faith) him. who is invisible to mortal eyes.

Verse 28

Heb 11:28. This event is recorded in Exodus 12, where the sprinkling of blood was to save them from death. Since such a means could not naturally prevent death, the observance of It was necessarily done through faith as an act of obedience.

Verse 29

Heb 11:29. There was no natural cause for the Red Sea to open up and stand as walls, hence the Israelites marched down between them because they believed God would hold them up until His people were passed over. Egyptians assaying (trying) to go through the same passage were drowned because God was not with them.

Verse 30

Heb 11:30. There was no physical force in the marching and shouting of the Israelites to bring down the walls of Jericho. The power of God brought them down, but it would not have been done had they not believed in God who told them (through Joshua) to march around. The power was in God as in other cases, but He would not have used it had the people lacked the faith to obey.

Verse 31

Heb 11:31. Jos 6:25 says that Rahab was preserved "because she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho." But she hid them because she believed the reports of the favorable things the Lord had done for His people. Acting on that faith she cooperated with the messengers in escaping the wrath of the king of Jericho. As a reward for her faith she was permitted to dwell with the Israelites, and was honored by being permitted to be in the line of ancestors of Christ. (See Jos 6:25; Mat 1:5.)

Verse 32

Heb 11:32. What shall I more say! Why go into details further in illustrating the fruits of faith by the lives of ancient worthies? Time would fail me. This is an accommodative expression, meaning that the time that would be used in going on into the same details concerning the following cases individually, would be more than is suitable to an epistle of the length of this one. Paul therefore groups a number of outstanding characters and also groups a list of things they did among them. The remainder of the chanter will be devoted to a descrip-tion of heroic deeds performed through the incentive of faith. If the reader wishes to get the details of the particular persons named he may see Gideon at Jdg 6:11 : Barak at Jdg 4:6; Samson at Jdg 13:24; .Tephthah at Jdg 11:1 :David at 1Sa 16:1; Samuel at 1Sa 1:20.

Verse 33

Heb 11:33. Subdued kingdoms. An Instance of it is in 2 Samuel 8 whore David overcame the Philistines; God gave him the victory because of his faithfulness. Wrought righteousness means to do righteous work through the motive of faith. Obtained promises means they obtained the fulfillment of them because they had the faith to comply with the conditions on which the promises were made. Stopped the mouths of lions. This was done directly by Samson in Jdg 14:5-6, and by Daniel indirectly in Daniel 6. In each case God gave the victory because of the faith of the men.

Verse 34

Heb 11:34. Quenched the violence of fire occurred when the three companions of Daniel were cast into the fiery furnace (Daniel 3). Escaped the edge of the sword. Instances of this are too numerous to mention all, but a notable one is in 1 Samuel 20. Out of weakness were made strong. An outstanding instance was that of Samson in Jdg 16:2 S-30. where his strength was given back to him because of his returning faith and dependence upon God. Waxed valiant means the servants of God were strong and brave in their contests with the enemies of God. The unassisted strength of man is a failure when faced with the might of worldly hosts, but God rewards his faithful servants with victory when the attack is made. Aliens refers to those of another nation. Gideon routed the Midi-anites in connection with his war cry, "The sword of the Lord and Gideon" (Jdg 7:20-23).

Verse 35

Heb 11:35. The phrase raised to life again and the word resurrection are from the Greek word ANASTASIS, and the phrase is a good definition of the word. Two cases of such a favor shown to women are in 1Ki 17:17-24 and 2Ki 4:18-37. Were tortured. This was done to force the servants of God to renounce their faith. They were promised relief from the torture if they would turn against the Lord, but they would not accept deliverance on such terms. Their motive for such resistance was that they might obtain a better resurrection. All mankind will be resurrected. but only those who are faithful till death will come forth to a happy life (Dan 12:2; Joh 5:29.)

Verse 36

Heb 11:36. Not all the persecuted ones were mit to death. but they were mistreated in various ways. Jeremiah was placed in prison (Jer 37:15-21, and afterward was nut into the dungeon (Jer 33:1-6).

Verse 37

Heb 11:37. They were stoned. Two Instances of this are recorded in 1Ki 21:1-14 and 2Ch 24:21-22. Sawn asunder. This is a correct translation according to Thayer, and he says that an ancient tradition claims that the prophet Isaiah was put to death in that way. This was one manner in which the ancient worthies were tempted or put to a test of their faith. Others were put to death by having their head severed from their body, or by being thrust through the bowels. The reason for their wandering in sheepskins and goatskins is explained by the next phrase, namely, being destitute. Of course the condition of destitution was brought about by the cruelty of their enemies, who afflicted and tormented them in whatever way they could devise.

Verse 38

Heb 11:38. Of whom the world was not worthy. The world of mankind that mistreated those faithful servants of God was not fit to have their presence. They wandered in these places to escape their enemies. (See Jdg 6:2 and 1Sa 13:6.)

Verse 39

Heb 11:39. Good report signifies they were well spoken of on account of their faith. The passage says they received not the promise which refers to the promise of the seed of Abraham who was to bless the nations of the world. It means they did not live to see the fulfillment of the promise, but their confidence in the promises of God was so strong that they maintained their faith until death.

Verse 40

Heb 11:40. The better thing is the New Covenant established on "better promises" (chapter 8:6), that was to be brought into the world through Christ. God's purpose was to provide this institution for vs (Christians). Because of such a plan He did not bring the fulfillment of the promise in the lifetime of those worthies. Not be made perfect or complete, denotes that the scheme that was started in their days could not be completed until the time of us (Christians).
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Bibliographical Information
Zerr, E.M. "Commentary on Hebrews 11". Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/znt/hebrews-11.html. 1952.