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Bible Commentaries

Henry Mahan's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament
Hebrews 11

 

 

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Verses 1-6

The nature of faith

Hebrews 11:1-6

In the preceding chapter, Paul wrote about true persevering faith by which men are united with Christ and draw not back but believe to the salvation of their souls. In this chapter, he speaks of the nature, works, and response of faith and proceeds to illustrate it with examples of Old Testament saints.

Hebrews 11:1. A two-fold definition of faith (or the nature of faith).

1. ‘Faith is the substance of things hoped for.’ What are the things hoped for? Eternal salvation and deliverance, perseverance in Christ, eternal glory, and fellowship with God. Faith is the ground, foundation, and support of these things. Because of our confidence in God and his word, faith gives us possession of these things beforehand. Faith gives them reality to us. They are certain, but our faith gives us confidence (Romans 4:17-25; Acts 27:21-25).

2. ‘The evidence of things not seen’ (2 Corinthians 4:18). Things which were done in eternity–the council, covenant, and purpose of God. Things which were done in time–incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ. Things which are done now–intercession, providence, work of the Spirit. Things in the future–resurrection, judgment, eternal glory. These are all unseen, but faith gives the heart proof and evidence of these unseen things. His word, his Spirit, his work in us are all in all (Romans 10:17; Hebrews 13:5-6).

Hebrews 11:2. These elders were men of faith who lived in ancient times--Abel, Job, Enoch, Noah. These men were justified and accepted by their faith and not because of their deeds. Paul mentions this to take from these Hebrews any esteem for the elders because of who they were and what they did. They were justified by faith; and unless we have the same faith, it is useless to boast of our elders (John 8:39).

Hebrews 11:3. A man of faith understands how all things were created. The visible creation was formed from nothing. It all came into existence by the command of our God, who made all things out of nothing and gave it form as it pleased him! (John 1:1-3; Colossians 1:16-18.)

From Hebrews 11:4 through the rest of the chapter, Paul gives examples of faith among the Old Testament believers –before the flood, from the flood to Moses, from Moses to the prophets, kings, and judges.

Hebrews 11:4. Abel offered the sacrifice of blood because he believed God! Abel, by nature, was not more excellent than Cain; but his sacrifice was because it typified and pointed to Christ. It was a lamb, the firstling of the flock; it died and shed its blood. Cain's offering was one of works which had no reference to Christ at all. Abel was not righteous by nature, nor by his faith, but by Christ to whom his offering looked.

He received the witness of this acceptance in his conscience by the Spirit of God. He is dead, but his faith and example are yet spoken of. In these two men the world's two religions are pictured –salvation by Christ or salvation by human works! (Genesis 4:3-5.)

Hebrews 11:5. Enoch was caught up to heaven, not temporarily as Paul, but like Elijah, there to continue. He was changed from mortality to immortality without dying. Several things are seen here:

1. The close relationship between this life and glory. He walked with God on earth, and one day he didn't return. God took him to glory (Philippians 1:21-23; 2 Corinthians 5:1-8).

2. Old Testament believers knew, expected, and enjoyed eternal life through faith, just as we do (Romans 4:3).

3. He went to heaven as some shall at the coming of Christ, without dying (1 Corinthians 15:51-52).

4. The resurrection of all believers is shown. He went to glory body and soul! (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 1 Corinthians 15:42-44.)

Enoch walked with God in faith! It is faith that pleases God (John 6:28-29).

Hebrews 11:6. Without faith it is impossible to please God, for those without faith are without Christ (Romans 8:8; Ephesians 2:12-14). Christ is our peace, our righteousness, and our sanctification! Someone said that in Hebrews 11:6 are the two fundamental truths of religion. He that cometh to God in Christ:

1. Must believe that God is, not only that there is a God but that God is who he says he is –Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as revealed in the blessed Scriptures. He is holy, eternal, unchangeable, love, mercy, and truth. He is the God of creation, providence, and grace.

2. Must believe he will fulfill every promise and purpose toward believers in Christ Jesus. There is but one way to seek God, and that is in Christ. True faith actually believes and is confident that God will give us all that Christ purchased (Romans 8:31-34; 1 Corinthians 1:30).


Verses 7-16

Examples of faith

Hebrews 11:7-16

Hebrews 11:7. Our example begins with Noah's faith; but the Scriptures begin with God's grace, by which Noah believed (Genesis 6:5-8). Noah and his family were the exceptions to the general apostasy. God always reserves a remnant for himself even in the worst times (Romans 11:5). ‘Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.’ This shows that he was not without sin, or he would have had no need for grace. ‘But Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet,’ such as rain, flood, destruction of all men, and the building of a ship (that is agreeable to the apostle's definition of faith in Hebrews 11:1), Noah believed God! He believed the word of God and prepared an ark as he was instructed. By his faith, his works, and his words of warning, he both passed judgment on their unbelief and wickedness, and he made their unbelief and rebellion more obvious. Unbelief is evil enough, but it appears more evil and deliberate in the presence of faith. This faith made him an heir of the righteousness of Christ (Romans 4:3).

Hebrews 11:8. Again, our example of faith spotlights the faith of a man (which is our subject –examples of faith). But God's grace and call came to Abram down in Ur of the Chaldees, a land of idolatry (Genesis 12:1-4; Joshua 24:2-3). Abram believed God and journeyed to a land he had not seen. God changed his name to Abraham (Genesis 17:1-5) fifteen years after he left Ur. God leads his people in ways known to him but not known to them. Faith follows the Lord when it knows not where, how, or why! (Acts 27:21-25.)

Hebrews 11:9-10. It was by faith that Abraham lived in Canaan, the land of promise, for a little over 75 years. He believed that God would give this land to his seed though he never had an inheritance in it (Acts 7:4-5). When he died, Isaac was 75, Jacob was 15, and they dwelled in tents. Israel later possessed the land. Abraham looked for a permanent abode in heaven. His hopes and expectations were upon the world to come, and it was this faith which moved him to obey the word of God and to do and to suffer what God required (Romans 8:17-18).

Hebrews 11:11. When God announced to Abraham that he would have a son by Sarah, who was nearly 90 years old, she seemed to be in a state of unbelief (Genesis 18:9-15). Abraham was guilty of the same doubts (Genesis 17:15-19). It is evident from our text that Sarah, like Abraham, was brought to a full belief in the promised son; for Paul said that by faith she received physical power to conceive a child.

Hebrews 11:12. So from one man, Abraham (though he was physically as good as dead), there have sprung descendants whose number is as the stars of heaven and as countless as the innumerable sands on the seashore, as was promised to Abraham by our Lord (Genesis 15:5-6).

Hebrews 11:13. ‘These all died in faith,’ not all the seed of Abraham, but all of the believers such as those mentioned–Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah. They died as other men die a corporeal death; but they died sustained and controlled by faith in their people possessing the land of Canaan, faith in the promised Messiah, and faith in an eternal inheritance in heaven.

‘Not having received the tangible fulfillment of the promises,’ only having seen them by faith in his word. This goes back to the definition of faith in Hebrews 11:1.

Looking forward to the fulfillment of God's promises, they were confident of them, embraced them, anticipated them as their chief source of happiness, and were not ashamed to confess that they were only pilgrims traveling through this world with no desire to settle or remain here.

Hebrews 11:14-16

1. People who talk this way (that their treasure, satisfaction, and affection are not of this world –that they are strangers here –that they seek a heavenly country and an eternal inheritance) show plainly that they have seen some things by faith that the natural man does not see and that they are sincerely seeking that inheritance (1 Corinthians 2:8-15).

2. It is true, also, that if they had been homesick for those countries and the gods they left, they had plenty of opportunity to return to them (John 6:66-68).

3. But the real truth is that they had their hearts set on the inheritance of Christ and would not be denied nor turned about. Because of that faith and confidence, God is not ashamed to be called ‘the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.’ He has prepared an inheritance for them and for all believers, which proves he is not ashamed of the relation he stands in to them (Hebrews 2:11).


Verses 17-26

Examples of faith
(continued)

Hebrews 11:17-26

Hebrews 11:17-19. Of all the trials of Abraham's faith, this was the most difficult. He had left his homeland, divided the land in Lot's favor, resisted the riches of pagan kings, waited for the birth of Isaac, turned Ishmael out of his house, and now God commanded him to offer Isaac as a burnt offering. Abraham proceeded to do as he was commanded (offer his only son unto God) because he believed that God could and would raise Isaac from the dead.

1. He knew that God had said, ‘In Isaac shalt thy seed be called.’ This promise of a great nation through Isaac must be fulfilled (Genesis 15:4-6; Genesis 21:12).

2. God had already done what was equivalent to raising Isaac from the dead, for he had come from the dead womb of Sarah.

3. Abraham actually did offer Isaac! It was done when he determined in his heart to do it! All of the rest was done for example, picture, and teaching. In the sacrifice of the ram in Isaac's place, we have a picture of our Lord's taking our place and dying for our sins (Genesis 22:8; Genesis 22:14). But in the mind and heart of Abraham, Isaac was as good as dead; and when God spared Isaac, it was like receiving him from the dead. The issues of faith and life are settled in the heart (Romans 4:20-22).

Hebrews 11:20. Read Genesis 27:26-33. Isaac said, ‘I have blessed him and he shall be blessed.’ You might ask, ‘How could Isaac, by faith, bless Jacob when he was deceived?’ He thought that he was blessing Esau, but it was the will of God that he bless Jacob (Romans 9:11-13). Therefore, he knew (though he was not aware that he blessed Jacob) that the person he blessed in the name of the Lord would be blessed! Man supposes, but God disposes. The man who believes God believes that the sovereign purpose of God will be accomplished, even though he does not understand it (Ephesians 1:11; Genesis 50:20).

Hebrews 11:21. Genesis 48:13-19. The patriarchs blessed their sons and grandsons in the name of the Lord, usually during their last days. Jacob crossed his hands and gave the greater blessing to the younger son of Joseph. This he did because he believed that the blessing he delivered would be fulfilled. He worshipped God and gave praise and glory to God that he was permitted to see Joseph again and his grandsons.

Hebrews 11:22. Joseph and the people of Israel were well situated in Egypt, but Joseph believed God and knew that someday the children of Israel would be leaving Egypt and going to the land God had promised them. He commanded that his bones be taken to Canaan (Genesis 50:24-26).

Hebrews 11:23. This verse speaks of the faith of the parents of Moses. Pharaoh had commanded that all male Hebrew babies should be killed, but Moses' parents were not awed by the king's decrees. They believed in the providence and protection of the Lord God and perhaps saw in Moses the deliverer of God's people out of Egypt, so they hid him at the risk of their own lives.

Hebrews 11:24-26. Moses was 40 years old, educated, wealthy, and apparently designed by his mother to be the Pharaoh's successor. But he knew that he was an Israelite, and by faith and choice he refused the honors of Egypt in order to be identified with the Lord God and his oppressed people. He believed the promises of God to be better than the in-hand possessions of Egypt. He esteemed the reproaches and afflictions of the people of God better than the sinful pleasures of Egypt. God's promises are eternal; all here is temporary.

Christ was made known to Old Testament believers (Isaiah 53:1-6; John 5:46; Deuteronomy 18:15). They believed in him, in his coming, and in his deliverance. He was typified in their sacrifices and spoken of by their prophets. His inheritance was expected by them. Moses chose to be identified with God and his people because by faith he looked beyond that day to the reward of Christ.


Verses 27-40

Examples of faith
(continued)

Hebrews 11:27-40

As we study these examples of faith, we need to continually go back to Verse One of this chapter and review the definition of faith. True saving faith receives as fact and reality that which is not revealed to the natural senses. It is the assurance of all that we hope for in Christ and the proof and reality of things we do not see. Faith believes that God IS and that God will do all that he says, regardless of the circumstances. Where there is true faith, there are always two things present:

1. The grace of God. Faith is the gift of God, not the product of the natural heart.

2. The word of God, which is the foundation of faith. We can only believe what God has said and has revealed to us (Isaiah 8:19-20; Romans 10:17).

Hebrews 11:26-29. Moses fled from Egypt, not simply because he had killed an Egyptian and feared Pharaoh, but because he believed God. He knew of the promises of God to Israel, and he was willing to endure the afflictions and reproaches of Christ because by faith he saw him.

It was by faith that he instructed the people of Israel to slay the lamb and put the blood on the door, which was typical of the blood of Christ being sprinkled on the hearts and consciences of his people.

It was by faith that he believed that God would make a passage through the Red Sea and deliver them from the Egyptians (Exodus 14:10-14).

Hebrews 11:30. Marching around the walls of Jericho seven times, blowing the trumpets, and shouting seemed a useless activity; but they believed God and did as he commanded. The walls fell (Joshua 6:1-25).

Hebrews 11:31. The harlot Rahab (Joshua 2:10-15; Joshua 2:18) hid the spies of Israel and dropped the scarlet line from the window. She believed God. Some say that the scarlet line gave birth to the red light, but is it not a picture of the red blood of redemption?

Hebrews 11:32. By faith, Gideon marched against a huge army with only three hundred men (Judges 7:15). By faith, Barak engaged in battle under the sole direction of a woman, Deborah, giving God the glory (Judges 4:14; Judges 5:1-3). By faith, Samson, in the last act of his life, destroyed the Philistines (Judges 16:28-30). By faith, Jephthah returned to Israel (from which he had been cast out because he was the son of a harlot, Judges 11:1-40) to deliver Israel from her enemies. By faith, David slew Goliath (1 Samuel 17:20-29). By faith, Samuel was always ready to hearken to the voice of God.

Hebrews 11:33. By faith, they subdued kingdoms. Believers have no reason to fear wicked rulers or their powers. Our God is King and reigns over all (Proverbs 21:1).

By faith, they wrought righteousness or administered justice, for righteousness is the fruit and evidence of faith. Our faith is not our righteousness (Christ is our righteousness, and faith brings us into union with Christ), but true faith produces righteous acts and attitudes (James 2:18).

By faith, they obtained promises. Their faith was not the cause of the promises being made nor the cause of the promises being fulfilled. God's purpose, love, and grace give and fulfill all promises; but their faith received them, believed them, waited for them to be fulfilled, and even enjoyed them before they became a reality!

By faith, they stopped the mouths of lions. A lion was slain by Samson and by David, and the mouths of lions in Daniel's den were closed. This may refer also to stopping the mouth of Satan, who is a roaring lion (1 Peter 5:8).

Hebrews 11:34-38. All these are examples of faith without reference to particular persons. They did great things, suffered great things, and endured great things because they believed God!

Hebrews 11:39. Christ is the promise, for he is the fulfillment of all things provided in God's purpose and grace. In him all of the promises center. The Old Testament believers rested in the promise of Christ and life in him, though he came to earth after they had died.

Hebrews 11:40. They had Christ in promise; we have himself! They had him in type; we have him in reality! They believed and were saved by looking to him who was to come; we believe and are saved by him who has come. They were justified and perfected, not in the law, but in Christ. And so they were not made perfect without us nor we without them, for all believers in all dispensations are one church and general assembly.

 


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Bibliography Information
Mahan, Henry. "Commentary on Hebrews 11:4". Henry Mahan's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/hms/hebrews-11.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, December 8th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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