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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Hebrews 11

 

 

Other Authors
Introduction

Chapter 11 My Righteous Ones Shall Live By Faith.

The writer now takes up and expands on the word, ‘But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrink back, my soul has no pleasure in him,’ by outlining from Scripture the lives of those who have proved their righteousness by their faith. They were justified in God’s eyes by faith (Genesis 15:6) and they were then justified in men’s eyes by their works. They are intended to be a spur and encouragement to his readers as they consider the faith of those who have gone before, and see how it resulted in godly living.

He begins by analysing what the result of faith is, and the chapter then divides up into sections in general chronological order, giving examples of faith. These begin with creation, belief in which is foundational, and proceeds through two examples which illustrate both types of Christian, those who because of their faith will be martyred, and those who will not die but will be taken up to God (1 Thessalonians 4:17; 1 Corinthians 15:52). It then continues section by section, with each section having a different emphasis, although it must be stressed that each section glides into the next, and all emphasise faith in the promises of God. The division is partly made on the basis of the summaries that end sections 2 & 3, indicating a break, and partly on content and emphasis.

We may divide it as follows;

1) How true faith in God’s revelation of Himself reveals itself (Hebrews 11:1-2).

2) Faith as revealed in the Antedeluvian world from the very beginning. The foundations of faith in creation, and the certainty of the future for those who by faith die in God as illustrated by Abel (compare 1 Thessalonians 4:16), and for those who by faith will be translated without dying as illustrated by Enoch (compare 1 Corinthians 15:52; 1 Thessalonians 4:17). And these are then made the illustration of what faith is in the conclusion that follows (Hebrews 11:3-6).

3) This is then followed by examples of those who received the promises of God and specifically acted on them because they believed and because of the future that they were confident would spring from their actions, which is then summarised in the explanation that follows (Hebrews 11:7-16). These included Noah, Abraham and Sarah. The emphasis here is on those who because of a revelation from God immediately took up a course of action, the one against a background of judgment (as with Abel), the other in view of the prospect of a future hope (like Enoch). This is then summarised in terms of the future inheritance.

4) This is then followed by examples of those whose faith was in that future as promised by God, to which they looked in expectancy (Hebrews 11:17-22). These dwell not on present blessing but on future hope. The emphasis here is on their looking forward to God’s activity as He works out His purposes in the future. It includes the hopes of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph.

5) This is then followed by the supreme example of Moses life and all that it revealed about faith (Hebrews 11:23-28), resulting in the foundation of a people, Israel, made up of peoples of many nations (Exodus 12:38) but with its core made up of Abraham’s descendants.

6) This is then followed by examples of how this people received miraculous deliverances because of their faith, in the course of the fulfilment of God’s promises to give them a land (Hebrews 11:29-31). As a result they were delivered from bondage by the activity of God and were brought safely into the promised land, and we are given an example how others could join with them in their deliverance, as especially epitomised by Rahab (compare Exodus 12:48-49).

7) This is then followed by individual examples of faith which produced every variety of activity and endurance by those who were of that people, those who believed the promises of God, as they moved forward to the Messianic hope (Hebrews 11:32-38).

8) The Conclusion. That the promises of future hope to which these all looked had awaited the fulfilment now being enjoyed by his readers who must therefore have the same faith and willingness to face persecution, as those men of faith had right from the beginning (Hebrews 11:39-40).


Verse 1-2

True Faith Is Faith In God’s Promises (Hebrews 11:1-2).

Hebrews 11:1-2, ‘Now faith is assurance (hupostasis - ‘the substance’ or ‘the underpinning’ and therefore the ‘assurance’, the ‘guarantee within the heart’) of things hoped for, a proof (or ‘conviction’) of things not seen, for therein the elders had witness borne to them.’

Faith is to see as substantial fact what is hoped for on the basis of taking God’s promises seriously. It is to be assured of it, and to be convinced that what God has declared will be, seeing it as proved because He said it, even when it has not yet come about and is invisible. Thus it is to accept it as proved, on the basis of His word. Faith underpins hope in respect to what God has promised. Hope looks at what is to come with confidence, faith is satisfied that it will be so. The one who believes is satisfied that God has some better thing for him which is at present unseeable.

This was what believers of ancients times did and that is why we have a record of their lives. Faith is to hear God’s word spoken by His Spirit and to respond to it. These people did not act on a whim or a conjured up belief, but on the solid basis of revelations received from God, and of the word of God, sometimes spoken, sometimes written, as it was communicated through the prophets, Abraham, Moses, and the like (see Hebrews 1:1). They believed God and responded accordingly.

‘The elders, the ancients.’ These are those who lived in ancient times who had witness borne to them by God of things hoped for and things not seen, which they accepted as sure through their faith, and which they passed on down to us (Hebrews 1:1). Our faith is in part thus based on the valid religious experience of men as it has been established through history (Hebrews 1:1), religious experience which testifies to itself in our hearts. But additionally, in these last days, as the writer has been emphasising, it is faith in the Son Who has come and revealed Himself through His life and teaching, and through His death and resurrection (Hebrews 1:2-3; Hebrews 2:5-18).

Throughout his letter he has laid great emphasis on our hope (Hebrews 3:6; Hebrews 6:11; Hebrews 6:18-19; Hebrews 7:19), and now he confirms that having faith is living in response to that hope, because we see that it is a certain hope. It is having confidence in God’s promises. It is also having certainty about what God is, again as revealed through His word as spoken by the Holy Spirit (that the writer sees the Scriptures as the words of the Holy Spirit he has constantly reminded us, specifically in Hebrews 3:7; Hebrews 9:8 and more generally in every one of his many Biblical quotations).


Verse 3

‘ By faith we understand (know in our minds) that the worlds (the ages) have been framed by the word of God, so that what is seen has not been made out of things which appear.’

So it is by faith that we accept that the world which endures through the ages was created by God; that it was His word that framed things as we know them; and that matter, and things as they are, were not made up of things which can be seen, but were His creation out of what was invisible, and were His handywork.

It is through His revelation in the Scriptures that we know that God lies behind all, that there is an invisible creative power behind all things, God’s powerful creative word, on which all must continue to rely. And that all that we see, and touch, and feel was made by Him. For we have this declared in God’s revelation of Himself in Genesis 1. And it is by this that we know that the world has meaning and must also therefore come to a satisfactory conclusion.

And now having laid the foundation of faith in God, as the Creator and Sustainer and Goal of the Universe (see Hebrews 1:2-3), he will go on to describe how chosen men and women of God have responded to their Creator’s word throughout history. He does it by selecting positive acts of faith from the past as revealed in the Scriptures and in tradition. But before he does so he first selects two examples which demonstrate from the very beginning that for those who had faith, even in the beginning, their future is in God’s hands, and that life and death are also in His hands. Whether those who have faith die, or whether they are transformed while yet alive, their future is secure with God.


Verses 3-6

The Foundations of Faith In The Antedeluvian World (Hebrews 11:3-6).

Faith is seen as giving us an understanding of the world as it is, and why it is as it is. Faith says it is like it is because God created it and is its invisible basis, and because God has revealed it to be so through His prophet. It also enables us to recognise that whether men die through persecution (Abel), or are translated without dying (Enoch), they share the same hope. Here the writer establishes the foundations.


Verse 4

‘By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he had witness borne to him that he was righteous, God bearing witness in respect of his gifts. And through it he being dead yet speaks.’

The first to reveal his faith was Abel. He was a ‘righteous one’ (Matthew 23:35) who ‘lived by faith’, and because he was righteous he offered a more excellent sacrifice than Cain who did not ‘do well’ (Genesis 4:7). Abel offered the firstlings and the fat. He made his many offerings as soon as he received blessing, and he offered much and of the best. His heart was right towards God. Cain’s life on the other hand was not satisfactory to God, and we are probably to see his offering as grudging in the same way as his attitude towards God was seen to be. He was a schemer who brought what he offered to God with a view to how it would benefit him, but he did not ‘do well’. His life was not pleasing to God. And when he did not receive what he thought he ought to have done, he turned sour.

It was not the content of Abel’s sacrifices that was more excellent. Meal offerings were as welcome as blood offerings, and a meal offering could also in fact be a sin offering (Leviticus 5:11). Furthermore the word used of Abel’s offering is that usually applied, not to sacrifices, but to the meal offering. But it was the spirit of loving faith and gratitude in which they were offered, thus testifying to his righteousness. God bore witness in respect of his gifts by prospering Abel. And the point made is that because of his faith, even though he died at the hands of a persecutor, his offering and his faithful life speak on because God has borne witness to him. He lived on as a witness, and he is a witness even today in many pulpits, as his life is used as an illustration of a true and righteous man, one who was acceptable to God through his faith, and through his offerings offered in faith, with that faith an inspiration to all.

It should be noted that both offered an ‘offering’ (minchah - gift). This is the regular word used for the meal offering and rarely for burnt offerings and sacrifices. Abel’s was thus a primitive offering under this name. An official cult did not commence until Genesis 4:26. ‘Minchah’ can be used of a gift or token of friendship (Isaiah 39:1), or as an act of homage (1 Samuel 10:27; 1 Kings 10:25), or as payment of tribute (Judges 3:15; Judges 3:17 ff), or as appeasement to a friend wronged (Genesis 32:13; Genesis 32:18), or for procuring favour or assistance (Genesis 43:11 ff; Hosea 10:6), any or all of which ideas might be seen as included in Abel’s offering. But there is never any suggestion anywhere that Abel’s ‘gift’ was more acceptable because it included the shedding of blood. One might feel that to anyone who accepts the nuances of Scripture it could not have been made more clear that Abel’s offering was not to be seen as similar to later blood offerings such as burnt offerings or sin offerings. It was a freewill love offering.

‘And through it he being dead yet speaks.’ But Abel’s life was abruptly cut short by a persecutor, representing the unbelieving world. He should because of his righteousness have lived long and prospered. But he did not. For we are to see that even from the beginning the unrighteous persecuted the righteous.

However, for him death was not the end. His life continued to speak on. Persecutors cannot destroy those who are God’s. And so his life speaks on now to those who are being similarly dealt with. He is the first of many who witness to God’s people (Hebrews 12:1). His death says, ‘Do not be afraid of what the world can do to you. For you are God’s and your usefulness will live on. Death is not the end. God is in control’

So death did not prove that he was displeasing to God. Rather it proved, because it was at the hand of a persecutor, that God was with him. Thus can all who face persecution look to Abel, who was faithful unto death.

‘He being dead yet speaks.’ There may be a hint here that to the writer he lives on in fact, for he is seen as having a message for the present generation.

The bearing of witness may also refer to the shedding of his blood, seen as acting as a witness to the fact that all martyrdoms will finally bring down God’s vengeance on their perpetrators, for we are told that his blood cried from the ground for justice, and it is elsewhere seen as acting as a witness to the necessity for justice (Genesis 4:10; Matthew 23:35; Luke 11:51; Hebrews 12:24). But that is not the stress here. The thought is rather that his faith speaks out to all. So Abel was from the beginning a witness to true righteousness, a righteousness which springs from faith (Genesis 15:6), and to true justice, and now speaks through the ages.


Verse 5

‘By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and he was not found, because God translated him: for he has had witness borne to him that before his translation he had been well-pleasing to God.’

Enoch too was a ‘righteous one’. He too was well-pleasing to God. He walked with God (Genesis 5:22). In Genesis 5:21; Genesis 8:9 LXX translates ‘walked with God’ as ‘was well pleasing to God’, so the ideas were seen as similar. He was thus not of those who draw back in whom God has no pleasure (Hebrews 10:38).

But unlike Abel he did not die. Rather he just ‘disappeared’. It is not said of him that he died. He was rather ‘translated’ (repeated three times) and God took him (compare Colossians 1:13). But all testified to his righteous life as being pleasing to God. And this all occurred because of his faith. So whether through death for His sake (Hebrews 11:4) or through life for His sake (Hebrews 11:5), those who trust God are blessed and their future is secure.

There is surely intended here the contrast between those who were martyred and await the resurrection, and those who will be taken up to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). This was a contrast much more emphasised in the early days of the church, when death was looked on as an unfortunate happening for those Christians to whom it happened prior to His anticipated coming. It is declaring that whether through death, or anticipated rapture, men of faith will go to God.


Verse 6

‘And without faith it is impossible to be well-pleasing to him; for he who comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of those who seek after him.’

The introduction to the chapter and these examples bring out that without such faith we cannot please God. The one who comes to God must believe that He exists and is interested in those who are His, and must believe that He responds graciously to those who seek Him, because He has revealed it to be so. They must believe in God’s interest and goodness towards them, and in His final reward. They must look to Him personally. It is these things that will keep them firm. Thus those who would please him do so by responsive faith, and those who draw back, in whom He has no pleasure, do but reveal that their faith is not genuine.


Verse 7

‘By faith Noah, being warned of God concerning things not seen as yet, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house, through which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith’.

Noah was another who believed God. He was a righteous man in his generation (Genesis 6:9). And he believed that God watched over his future, and that in spite of threatened judgment he had a future. For when God warned him of things not yet seen, but soon coming, a great flood that would destroy the world, he was moved with godly fear and prepared the ark which resulted in the saving of ‘his house’, not only his family but ‘the house’ that would result (compare for this ‘the house of Israel’). He took God at His word and obeyed Him in all He commanded. He revealed the fullness of his faith. And through his act he condemned the world. For the very building of the ark was its own declaration of the judgment that was coming on their sin, and we cannot doubt that to it were added his words as men came to question what he was doing. He could not help but become a ‘preacher of righteousness’ (2 Peter 2:5).

The ark took a long time in building, and we are left to speculate on the jeering, and the anger and the ridicule that was heaped on him, and the many opportunities that he had for preaching. But he persevered because he believed God.

Every piece of material added to the ark added also to his future blessing, for it was evidence of his faith. And thus he too was set to inherit the righteousness which comes through faith, looking forward in figure by a sacrifice (the first known ‘burnt offering’ - Genesis 8:20-21), to the cross by which righteousness was to be bestowed (Romans 3:25). He was thus accepted by God through his faith. Abel had witness borne to him that he was righteous, that he was acceptable to God, because his offerings (his gifts and tribute) were accepted. They revealed a faith that enabled him to be accounted righteous (Genesis 15:6). Noah entered into the inheritance of the future righteousness that would be made available through the cross to every man of faith. He too is revealed as acceptable to God through faith. He too was declared a ‘righteous one’ (Genesis 6:9) who lived by faith.

‘Heir of the righteousness which is according to faith’. Compare ‘heirs of salvation’ (Hebrews 1:14), those who will experience the fullness of salvation. So Noah would experience the fullness of the righteousness which resulted from faith.


Verses 7-16

Faith Revealed In Positive Present Action By Those Who Believed The Promises Of God’s Future Reward For His Own In The Light Of The Future Hope (Hebrews 11:7-16).

The essential of this next section is that faith resulted in positive action in the very circumstances of these people’s lives as they looked forward to the future hope promised by God. They believed God and therefore they acted according to His word in the most unusual ways, the first in order to proclaim judgment while himself escaping it along with his family, in order to build up a new people for the future, and the second in order to begin the process which would lead to the final receiving of an inheritance and to the establishment of the city of God. One revealed the negative side of God’s purposes, the passing away of the old, although there was also the positive; the other the positive side, the coming in of the new. But the faith of both revealed their acceptability to God.


Verse 8

‘By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed to go out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance, and he went out, not knowing where he went.’

Noah’s faith pointed to judgment on the world, and preserved alive a remnant to go into the future. But now arose one who would offer hope to the whole world (Genesis 12:3). Abraham also believed God, and believed that He would reward his faith. And his faith was counted for righteousness (Genesis 15:6). For when he was called by God to go to a strange and unknown country, simply on the basis that he was promised that he would receive it as an inheritance, he went, not knowing where he was going. Because he believed God, he trusted Him implicitly and was fully obedient. He too was a man of faith in God.

It is quite probable that his faith had been built up by studying the tablets which were in his father’s house, which contained information about his family’s past, much as we find them today in the first eleven chapters of the book of Genesis. For someone kept them faithfully in order that they might be used by Moses in his great work at the birth of the nation of Israel. But it also resulted from his direct encounters with God, some of which are described for us in Genesis.


Verse 9-10

‘By faith he became a sojourner in the land of promise, as in a land not his own, dwelling in tents, with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise, for he looked for the city which has the foundations, whose builder and maker is God.’

Furthermore he continued to exercise that faith in that land, for he lived there as an alien without a home, even though it was the land of promise, and he established no city but dwelt in tents all his life, as did Isaac and Jacob his sons after him, for they too awaited the fulfilment of the promise. Only tiny portions of the land became theirs (Genesis 23:3-20; Genesis 33:19-20) but they trusted God totally that one day the promise would become a reality. They were happy to play their part in God’s purposes even though their fulfilment awaited the future. For they knew on the basis of God’s promise that that future was certain, and that one day the land would belong to their descendants, and they were willing patiently and trustfully to wait.

‘For he looked for the city which has the foundations, whose builder and maker is God.’ And this was all because he looked for what God would finally provide. He was confident that one day the land would belong to his seed and that God would build a great city with everlasting, God-established, permanent foundations, which would establish them as God’s people for ever, a permanent home with sound foundations, of which God would be the architect and builder.

This was something greater than the literal Jerusalem, which already existed (Genesis 14), and that is never suggested in Scripture to be that visualised by Abraham. Although such a city as visualised by Abraham may be traced in the spiritual expectations of the prophets, an everlasting city with an everlasting sanctuary, which itself was as symbolised by Jerusalem (Psalms 48:2-3; Psalms 48:8; Isaiah 2:2-4; Isaiah 4:3-6; Isaiah 11:9; Isaiah 24:23; Isaiah 26:1-4; Isaiah 51:11; Isaiah 66:20-23; Joel 3:20; Ezekiel 37:24-28; Ezekiel 48:30-35).

It was to be something designed and built by God, which to some extent might be compared with the staircase seen by Jacob in his dream. This dream showed that the patriarchs did recognise contact between Heaven and the promised land. That Abraham had some such vision is certain even if not articulated for he knew that kings were to arise from his seed, and he would therefore expect there finally to be a city, but he saw it as no ordinary city because it would be from God, and would connect up to God. Meanwhile he did not try to forestall God. It knew by faith that it would come in God’s time. He did not attempt to forestall God. One of the elements of faith is being willing to wait on God’s timing.

It is vain to look further into the mind of Abraham, for we must not read our conceptions into him, but the writer certainly has in mind more than that, for he knew what Abraham probably did not know, that that city would finally be founded not on earth but in Heaven, and would finally have its part in the new earth (Hebrews 12:22; Revelation 21-22). Thus must his readers by faith also have confidence in their part in that city and like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, persevere and not miss out on it as a future potential.

Note the emphasis on Abraham’s first call and obedience, followed by the emphasis on his continuing perseverance to the end, something the writer is stressing to his readers.


Verse 11-12

‘By faith even Sarah herself received power for the laying down of seed when she was past age, since she counted him faithful who had promised, for which reason also there sprang of one, and him as good as dead, so many as the stars of heaven in multitude, and as the sand, which is by the seashore, innumerable.’

And we must remember that the women also had their full part. From now on the writer introduces women deliberately into each section. Here it is Sarah. Sarah finally believed God on the basis of His promise, and the result was the coming to life again of her womb so that she could bear a child, she ‘received power’. And as a result, by Abraham ‘laying down his seed’, from the laying down of the seed from one who appeared almost dead because of his great age (compare Romans 4:19), sprang through Isaac a great multitude of descendants, as many as the stars of heaven and the sand by the seashore. Out of apparent death God produced abundance of life because they believed perseveringly.

There is here a slight problem with the Greek. Having ‘power for the laying down of seed’ usually refers to the action of the male. Yet on the basis of comparison with ‘by faith’ as used elsewhere in the chapter we expect ‘Sarah herself’ (which immediately follows ‘by faith’) to be the subject of the sentence. Furthermore in most texts ‘Sarah herself’ is separated from ‘she was past age’ in such a way as to make it unlikely that the whole is a paranthetical clause.

Thus the thought may simply be that because her womb ‘received power’, being transformed by God’s power, it put her in a position where Abraham could lay down his seed. Or alternatively that she received from Abraham his activity in using his ‘power for the laying down of seed’, that is, Abraham used his power to lay down his seed, which Sarah received. The reference to his appearing almost dead because of his great age may be seen as supporting the alternative. This at least takes the majority Greek text as it stands, even though we have no exactly comparable example elsewhere, and can be seen as arising because of the desire for putting the whole activity modestly. Others, however, translate that ‘Sarah received the power to establish (lay down) a seed (a posterity)’.

It should be noted here, as will become clear later, that while the sequence in the chapter is generally chronological it is not rigidly so, for having moved forward to Isaac and Jacob we have now moved back to Sarah and the birth of Isaac.


Verse 13

‘These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having confessed that they were strangers and sojourners on the earth.’

‘These all died in (literally ‘according to’) faith.’ They walked in the path of faith in the promises of God. ‘These’ may refer to those from Hebrews 11:7 onwards, for the chapter may be seen as divided into sections by the small summary that follows each section. But more probably it refers to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Sarah, for it is they of whom it is said that they wandered as strangers and sojourners in the earth. The point is that, although they had not received the promises, they did not turn back, but believed to the end. They walked the way of faith.

‘Not having received (the fulfilment of) the promises.’ This confirms that all along it is faith in God’s word that is in question. They did not believe in a vacuum. They believed because of God’s revelation, even though they did not receive the final consequences of those promises (although the point is later made that they would eventually - Hebrews 11:40).

‘But having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having confessed that they were strangers and sojourners on the earth’ (see Genesis 23:4). They saw ahead the substance of that on which they had set their hope, on the basis of their belief in God’s revelation. And by faith they welcomed it. They did not attempt to participate in the lives of those around them. They did not try to build a city. They were willing to accept that they had no settled place on earth because they looked ahead to what God was going to do. And they testified to the fact that they were God’s people awaiting what He had promised to give them.

This continued emphasis demonstrates that the writer saw Christians as being similar. They too walk as strangers and sojourners on the earth, having no real home, awaiting the fulfilment of God’s purposes (1 Peter 2:11). Though Christ’s coming may delay, they wait with patient endurance and with confidence. They do not turn back to the things of earth. They do not look at the things that are seen, but at the things which are not seen (2 Corinthians 3:17-18). They have their minds firmly set in Heaven (Colossians 3:1; Philippians 3:20; John 14:1-3; Ephesians 2:6). ‘For yet a very little while, He who comes will come, and will not tarry’ (Hebrews 10:37).


Verse 14

‘For they that say such things make it manifest that they are seeking after a country of their own.’

For they who declare such things, that they are ‘strangers’ and ‘sojourners’ (as those who live in a foreign land and with no permanent possession or right of citizenship), are looking forward in faith and certain hope to the great blessings that God has in store for them, and reveal quite clearly that they are seeking a country of their own. A place where they can worship God fully and obey Him. A place where they will enjoy His continual blessing and presence. A place where the world will affect them no longer. A place of peace, love and security. A place which is God’s inheritance. A place which they have not yet entered. This is true of all who say such things, whether then or now.


Verse 15-16

‘And if indeed they had been mindful of that from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly, for which reason God is not ashamed of them, to be called their God. For he has prepared for them a city.’

Indeed had they been so minded they had every opportunity to return to whence they came. Had they desired to do so, they could have done so. They could have turned back from their hope. Their family was still there and they could have joined them. (Abraham in fact specifically had to forbid his servant to take Isaac back to the old land (Genesis 24:6), while Jacob’s troubles began when he did for a time settle in the old land, only for God to put pressure on him to return again to the land of promise (Genesis 31:3)). But their desire was for something better, for something heavenly. Jacob’s dream of a stairway between heaven and earth confirms that they had some idea of the heavenly as connecting with earth. They believed in contact between earth and Heaven. Possibly they saw God’s land as where earth and heaven would meet (as Jacob’s dream might well have been seen as suggesting). And their faith was set on that.

And the same was true for his readers. They too must not be ‘mindful’ of returning to the old ways. Their eyes must be fixed on the something better that He has revealed to them, on that which is heavenly. And if they do so fix their eyes, like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Sarah, God will not be ashamed of them. He will remember them and will continue to fulfil His promises towards them. For let them recognise this, God has already prepared for them a city. What their hope is set on is already a certainty. It awaits them in heaven (Hebrews 12:22). Let them not then return to the old ways.

Note On The City And Country That They Sought.

There was in Abraham’s day no concept of Heaven in the way we know of it today through New Testament revelation. Their ideas were closely tied to this world, although with heavenly connections, as Jacob’s dream makes clear. Thus the city and country they looked for would have been conceived of, in so far as it was conceived of at all, as being on this earth, although of an unusual nature and resulting from the activity of God. Abraham would have felt at one with Isaiah’s picture of a city whose sanctuary reached up into the heavens (Isaiah 2:2-4). But it is doubtful if the concept would in fact have been thought out in any detailed way. They just knew that it would be something wonderful, which would be enjoyed by their descendants, something directly from God. It would be God’s city in God’s country. The writer, however, as a result of later revelation, recognises quite clearly that it would be a heavenly country, and says so. He makes no suggestion that it will be on earth at all. He links it with the New Testament view of the future in the ‘heavenly’ realm (see also Hebrews 12:22-23).

These views of the patriarchs tie in with the many prophetic promises in the Old Testament which appear to suggest a city and a country on earth, with heavenly connections. Again there was no conception in those days of a life in Heaven. That awaited future revelation. Thus they portrayed their dreams in earthly terms. But they certainly looked to the future kingdom as being everlasting. Not for them the idea of a restricted Millennium.

Thus we need to recognise in our interpretation of the Old Testament prophecies that they were visions of the future put in the terms that men and women could understand and appreciate. Even Isaiah’s description of the resurrection assumes a resurrection to a seeming life on earth (Isaiah 25:6-8; Isaiah 26:19). Just as the primitive eskimo would, if it was to have any meaning to him, have needed to be taught about the eternal future in terms of igloos and seals, so did the people of the Old Testament have to be taught that eternal future in terms of an earthly country and an earthly city (although with close heavenly connections). They had no other way of conceiving of them. The representations were symbolic representations of a greater reality. For we should note that there is no suggestion in any New Testament letters of a Millennium. (Revelation 20 should be interpreted in the light of that fact. In fact a careful exegesis of it demonstrates that the thousand years was a symbolic representation of the current age, as it was in 2 Peter 3:8).

The New Testament writers believed that the end was ‘imminent’. It surely therefore requires us to have a strange idea of them if we think that they ignored something so important as a Millennium which they believed was almost on them. Can anyone imagine modern Bible teachers who believe in the Millennium writing about the Lord’s coming and never once mentioning the Millennium? They seem unable to get away from it.

Careful thought will reveal that what we are saying must be so. Literal interpretation results in the need for a reoccurrence of the Old Testament sacrifices in a propitiatory sense. Any suggestion of so-called ‘memorial sacrifices’ is purely a modern invention. That is not the impression given by Scripture. (Thus the view of such interpreters is that when interpreting literally we do not have to interpret too literally). Memorial sacrifices are nowhere suggested in the Old Testament, and the coming future ritual is always depicted as being exactly the same as the ritual at the time, although in greater measure. But the levitical priests with their sacrifices were copies and shadows which were past their time. And this is precisely what the writer to the Hebrews has declared has been done away. He would never have countenanced the revival of the levitical priesthood. It was to be done away. Nor would such ‘memorial sacrifices’ fit into a world where there was no more killing of animals (Isaiah 11:6-9). If that were so only man would be shedding blood in an otherwise perfect world!

End of note.


Verses 17-19

‘By faith Abraham, being tested, offered up Isaac. Yes, he who had gladly taken on himself the promises was offering up his only begotten son, even he to whom it was said, In Isaac shall your seed be called, accounting that God is able to raise up, even from the dead. From whence he did also in a figure receive him back.’

But an even greater example of faith was when Abraham was called on to offer up his ‘only son’, that is the only son borne of his true wife, in whom all the promises were centred (see Genesis 22). Here was a test indeed. Isaac was a ‘miracle baby’, born when all hope had been given up, and through him God had promised the fulfilment of all His promises. And now he who had taken on himself the promises was being called on to offer up the one who was the future hope as a burnt offering, as a sacrifice. But his faith in God was such that he did not question it. He went obediently about the dreadful task set for him and was about to offer him, even having the sacrificial knife in his hand ready to slay him, when God stayed his hand, and he then offered up a ram in his place. In this way was Isaac was ‘offered up’. The firm intention was read as the fact.

And there is only one explanation for this in Abraham’s mind. On the one hand God called him to slay his son. On the other God had promised that through this son his future descendants would be born (Genesis 21:12). Thus clearly God would raise him up again. ‘He accounted that God was able to raise him even from the dead.’ And indeed that was, in all but fact, what God did. It was as though Abraham received his son back from the dead. He did what he did because he had faith in a resurrecting God and in His promises.

‘From whence he did also in a figure receive him back.’ The meaning would seem to be that the way in which he received Isaac back (‘from the dead’) was a figure, a picture, pointing to resurrection and the future hope, and to what God could and would do in the future.

So however great the trials of his readers might be, those trials could not even begin to approach that of Abraham in this example, and his success was on the basis of fully believing the promises.


Verses 17-22

Faith Revealed By Those Whose Eyes Were On the Certainty of the Future Fulfilment of the Promises of God With Their Eyes On Things To Come (Hebrews 11:17-22).


Verse 20

‘By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau, even concerning things to come.’

Similarly by faith Isaac proclaimed the future hopes of his sons in his blessings. His confidence in God and what He had revealed was such that he pronounced their futures hopes because God had promised them (Genesis 27:27-29; Genesis 27:39-40), even to the point of finally recognising that God’s greater blessing would come through the younger. It was irrelevant that he did not know that Jacob was not Esau. He was not fortune-telling, he was declaring what God had promised to his seed.


Verse 21

‘By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshipped on the top of his staff.’

In the same way did Jacob in his old age, when he was no longer able to physically support himself, bless the two sons of Joseph and proclaimed their futures as revealed by God, putting Ephraim in the place of the firstborn (Genesis 48:1-20). This was something he insisted on because of the revelation he had received from God. He was confident in the promises of God and therefore in their futures. The stress is on God’s providence. It is He Who determines ‘future history’ for us all.

‘On the top of his staff.’ Compare ‘Israel (Jacob) bowed himself on the bed’s head’ (Genesis 47:31), which appears to connect with the making of an oath to Joseph, for the Hebrew consonants for ‘the bed’s head (rosh-ha-mittah), can in fact also (by repointing) be translated as ‘the top of his staff’ (rosh-ha-matteh) as in LXX, which the writer then probably connects with ‘dwelling on the bed (mittah; or matteh - staff)’ in Genesis 48:2. If this be so it demonstrates that he sometimes used the (unpointed) Hebrew text. The staff represented a man’s authority. Thus Jacob is seen as passing on something of his own God-given authority in his act of blessing and worship. The sons born in Egypt of an Egyptian mother were brought into the chosen line.

(Note. The Old Testament Hebrew text at the time of Jesus was ‘unpointed’. That is, it was mainly made up of consonants and had limited vowels. The vowels, which showed how the words were pronounced, were added centuries after the time of the New Testament. They were not thus seen as part of the inspired Scripture. So either of the above translations of the Hebrew consonants is correct).


Verse 22

‘By faith Joseph, when his end was near, mentioned the departure of the children of Israel, and gave commandment concerning his bones.’

Many examples from the life of Joseph could have been chosen as examples of faith but he centred on Joseph’s confidence about the future of God’s people, his faith in the promises of God in connection with the promised land. This was because it not only demonstrated his trust in God but also that he believed the promises about the future and looked for ‘the country’ that his fathers had also sought (Hebrews 11:14). In all the examples in this section the stress has been on God’s fulfilment of His promises, what He would accomplish in the far future, in which they firmly believed. Each held firmly to the future hope. They were in fact men looking forward to the Messianic hope.

The incident is described in Genesis 50:24-25, and its carrying out in Exodus 13:19 and Joshua 24:32.


Verse 23

‘By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw he was a goodly child, and they were not afraid of the king's commandment.’

First was revealed the faith of his parents (the Hebrew text in Exodus 2:2 stresses the mother’s part, but LXX refers to both parents). He came of believing stock. They saw in him someone for whom God had a purpose, ‘a goodly child’, one whose very appearance promised great things in the future, and so they hid him for three months before finally leaving him prayerfully by the river to be found by the Egyptian princess. In all this they defied the kings’ commandment, being unafraid because of their faith. There was great danger for them but their faith overcame their fears because they believed that God was in it. In their faith they looked forward to the future hope.


Verses 23-28

Faith As Revealed In Connection With The Life of Moses (Hebrews 11:23-28).

But then after a gap in time arose the one who would begin to solidify the promises. He would establish the nation of Israel and return them to their promised land. His name was Moses, and the life of Moses revealed his steadfast faith in a variety of ways.


Verses 24-26

‘By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to share ill treatment with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season, accounting the reproach of the anointed one (Christ) greater riches than the treasures of Egypt: for he looked to the recompense of reward.’

The same faith was found in Moses. Once he had grown up he had to choose between the privilege and glory of being Pharaoh’s daughter’s son, with all the glorious future that held for him together with all the pleasures that came with it, the pleasures resulting from sin (the sin being that of disloyalty to God), or being faithful to God and to His people, God’s anointed ones (Psalms 105:15). He had to choose between what offered temporary temporal benefit, or what offered eternal reward. In a smaller way this choice faces all men and women.

‘Refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to share ill treatment with the people of God, (resulting in everlasting reward), than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.’ He made his choice by faith in the promises of God. He refused his high position and chose to identify himself with his oppressed people. Rather than being disloyal to God and enjoying the pleasures of Egypt, he chose to share his people’s mistreatment.

This would certainly seem to have in mind the time when he first visited his people and killed the Egyptian, thus rejecting his position of loyalty to Pharaoh, but that was not really a positive choice of suffering ill-treatment with the people of God. At that time nothing was probably further from his mind. That was thus not really such an act of faith. The act of faith came when as a result he fled and later chose (rather unwillingly, but in obedience to God which revealed his faith) to return to Egypt to live among his people and share their ill-treatment.

‘Accounting the reproach of Christ (or ‘of the anointed one’) greater riches than the treasures of Egypt.’ This may be interpreted in a number of ways.

1) By translating as ‘the reproach of the anointed one’ with Moses as the anointed one. This might suggest that the writer is indicating that at God’s calling Moses chose to be leader of God’s people, ‘the anointed one’, sharing their reproach, rather than being a prince of Egypt. God’s people were called ‘the anointed ones’ (Psalms 105:15). And those whom God chose to rule over them were anointed with oil to demonstrate that they were God’s ‘anointed one’ (LXX ‘Christ’). See Psalms 2:2; 1 Samuel 2:10; 1 Samuel 2:35. So the concept of being an ‘anointed one’ (a ‘Christ’) was linked with being the chosen of God and leader of His people. The writer may therefore here be saying that Moses chose the ignominy of being God’s ‘anointed one’ (His Christ) over His people rather than the glory of being a prince of Egypt. He treasured reproach for God’s sake through being His anointed, rather than all that Egypt could offer him. Faith in God and His promises rendered all else comparatively unimportant, and he recognised no higher honour than to be ‘the one anointed by God’ as watcher over His people, even though to be over such a people could only bring reproach. (The language, of course, being the writer’s in the light of later Old Testament Scriptures and not Moses’).

2) That ‘the reproach of Christ’ was used in the sense that Moses deliberately chose to share the reproach of the nation from whom would come the Messiah, the future Messianic people. The people of God were God’s anointed ones (messiahs) - Psalms 105:15). And they were in embryo the people of Messiah, the great Anointed One Who was coming. They were the ‘anointed’ people of the future hope, who looked ahead for the coming king promised by God (Genesis 49:10), so that all raised up by God on their behalf to rule them would be His ‘anointed ones’ (compare Psalms 2:2; 1 Samuel 2:10; 1 Samuel 2:35) until the final ‘Anointed One’ came. The idea is then that Moses, aware of this in part, chose to be within the Messianic line of promise and to suffer reproach for it.

This would indicate that it was Moses’ faith in the promises concerning God’s people, and his faith in God’s promise of a future Great King (Genesis 49:10), (what we and the writer would call Messianic promises), that made him opt to choose leadership of the people of God rather than princely authority in Egypt. He did it because his faith was in the living God of Israel and His promises. So, like the Messiah would after him, he chose to bear reproach for God’s people as being God’s ‘anointed one’ (as David would be later), prefiguring what Messiah Himself too would suffer. He looked for and believed for the fulfilment of the promises through his suffering, and to the reward that would be his when his people were safely established in God’s inheritance, which would be a recompense for all that he had given up. For if God’s people ceased so would the ‘Messianic’ promise of Genesis 49:10. That is why he could be said to bear the reproach of the Messiah (compare 1 Peter 1:10-11).

In the same way are the readers of this letter, having seen the actual fulfilment of the Messianic hope, to welcome the reproach of Christ rather than the commendation of the world, for it leads to a full recompense of reward (Hebrews 10:35).

3) That the thought is similar to 1) but with ‘the anointed’ being the people as a whole. Moses would share the reproach of God’s anointed (Psalms 105:15), His firstborn (Exodus 4:22).

4) ‘The reproach of Christ.’ The writer may however by this simply mean, ‘reproach similar to that poured out on Christ’, reproach for obedience to the will of God.

5) Or he may be seeing Christ (as God’s Son or as ‘the Angel of Yahweh’) as having been with His people in the Exodus and in the journeying through the wilderness (compare 1 Corinthians 10:4) so that Moses was seen as serving Christ there and bearing reproach for His sake (see Exodus 14:19; Exodus 23:20; Exodus 23:23; Exodus 32:34; compare Daniel 3:25 : Joshua 2:4; Joshua 5:14 for a similar idea).

Whichever way we see it, the final purpose of the writer in this is to encourage those to whom he is writing also to bear the reproach of Christ because they believe God’s promises.

‘For he looked to the recompense of reward.’ What Moses had in mind was the future hope compared with the temporary pleasures of Egypt. From Moses’ point of view the recompense of the reward was the promise of God’s inheritance in Canaan. That was what motivated him. He looked to see the people of God established in God’s wondrous land flowing with milk and honey, under God’s rule for ever. But the writer sees further ahead to the Kingly Rule of God in Heaven, which Moses would enjoy, as would all who are faithful to Christ.

So the emphasis here is on what, because of his faith, he was willing to put aside and sacrifice, and what he was willing to endure, as he looked to the great recompense that would come from trusting and following God. This is now followed by emphasis on his boldness in facing up to the greatest power on earth.


Verse 27

‘By faith he left behind/set to one side Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king, for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible.’

Whereas previously the emphasis has been on the choice he had to make, the emphasis here is on the outstanding courage which resulted from his faith.

‘He left behind/set to one side Egypt.’ This may refer to the Exodus, with Hebrews 11:28 then being seen as the first stage in this final forsaking of Egypt. (In looking at the issue we might perhaps note here that chronological exactness must not be seen as ruling the passage, as we have seen with the mention of Sarah, for the judges are later listed in an order which was deliberately not chronological. Chronology is maintained overall but not in the detail). This would then make it the next stage after refusing to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, and therefore rejecting his princedom and his loyalty to Pharaoh, followed by his receiving ill-treatment with the people of God.

But it may rather have in mind his whole behaviour and attitude towards Egypt. He had the courage (by faith) to turn his back on Egypt’s jurisdiction, setting it to one side, and to choose God’s way, and thus face up to Pharaoh, the great and mighty king of Egypt in God’s name. In the course of it he rejected the privilege of Egyptian princedom, despite the anger that that would entail and the future conflict it would necessarily incur, so as to follow the invisible God. It is the natural follow up to refusing to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter.

We may therefore see the writer as including in the idea his interest in his fellow-countrymen, his decisive action in slaying the Egyptian taskmaster resulting in his fleeing the land, his return, and his follow-up actions against Pharaoh in the bringing of the Plagues when with the backing of the invisible God he continually outfaced him, all seen as the result of his ‘setting Egypt to one side’ and trusting the One Who is invisible. This also adds greatly to the significance of the fact that ‘he endured’. We might put it, ‘he turned his back on all that Egypt was with its might and power and set it to one side, entering into continual conflict with it, and enduring through it all because of his faith in the invisible God’.

There is a strong claim for this latter view in that nothing was more an evidence of his faith than his prolonged battle against Pharaoh for the release of God’s people in which he persevered and constantly outfaced Pharaoh because he knew that he was backed by the invisible God.

Some have referred it solely to his fleeing from Egypt to Midian, but that seems less likely unless seen as being a decisive moment as part of the whole. Firstly because that might be seen as already covered in his refusal to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, being the first result of his doing so, secondly because the fleeing in itself was not a supreme act of faith but one of necessary discretion, it was in truth an ignominious flight and it certainly revealed fear of the king, (although the act of faith might be seen as having sided with his countrymen and having slain the Egyptian taskmaster), and thirdly because it seems unlikely that that would be seen as an outstanding act of faith, when compared with the whole of his brave return and his courageous battle with Pharaoh through the Plagues.

It might, however, be accepted if it is seen as symbolic of Moses’ whole rejection of Egypt, that ‘by faith he forsook Egypt with all that followed’. The point is surely that by faith he became so courageous that he chose to turn his back on his upbringing and privileged position, an act of open rebellion against Pharaoh and Egypt, and chose rather from that moment on to follow the invisible God.

Whichever way we see it the point is that Moses had to choose between God and Pharaoh, between the very visible lord of Egypt with all his visible splendour and glory, and the invisible God of Israel, and was unafraid. And the reason that he was not afraid of the wrath of the king of Egypt, the most powerful man in his world, was because his eyes were fixed on the invisible God, and on all that He had promised, and through faith he therefore rather feared Him, and endured for His sake. So should all who truly believe be ready to endure for what they know to be true through His word.

Note how this fulfils the fact that faith is to ‘believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek after Him’ (Hebrews 11:6).

The thought of ‘seeing Him Who is invisible’ was of especial importance in as far as the people to whom he was writing were concerned, for they were in danger of turning from the One Who is now in Heaven, far superior but invisible, to the very visible things on earth, the temple, the priesthood and the sacrifices, all soon to disappear, although they did not know it.


Verse 28

‘By faith he kept the passover, and the sprinkling of the blood, that the destroyer of the firstborn should not touch them.’

By faith he obeyed God and ‘kept the Passover’, calling on the people in the face of the promises of God to observe the Passover in their houses, clothed ready to leave for the land of promise, and by faith he ordered them to sprinkle the blood on their doorposts and lintels, an open testimony to their faith in what God would do. For he knew that the Destroying angel was coming to slay all the firstborn, and this was so that ‘the Destroyer of the firstborn’ might not touch them (compare 1 Corinthians 10:10). He had faith to believe that they would be spared from the Destroying angel through the shed blood. See Exodus 12:1-30.

So should his readers also reveal their faith in God’s Passover Lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7), the Messiah, and in His shed blood (Hebrews 9:14), and in its sprinkling (Hebrews 12:24), and the security that it offered in the face of all opposition.

‘He kept the Passover.’ Literally ‘he did (made) the Passover’, a phrase used in LXX when speaking of the observation of the Passover (Exodus 12:48; Numbers 9:2; 2 Kings 23:21). The perfect tense indicates that it was kept and continued to be kept. Some see the phrase as meaning that he ‘established’ the Passover, although there is no example of this usage in LXX. It should be noted that the keeping of this Passover contained within it the fact that that day (the morning after the evening which to Israel began the day) they would leave Egypt.


Verse 29

‘By faith they passed through the Red Sea as by dry land, which the Egyptians attempting to do were swallowed up.’

Note the change from ‘he’ to ‘they’, made more emphatic by the fact that he could have previously said ‘they kept the Passover’ rather than ‘he kept the Passover’, for the Passover revealed their faith as well as his. This thus represents a specific and deliberate change in emphasis. Here all the people are seen as being drawn in and involved. Moses’ part was done. Attention is now drawn to the faith of the people as a people. This ‘faith of the people’ did not mean that all truly believed. It is the faith of the whole seen as one. ‘Israel’ as a whole had faith, even though some within Israel did not.

Concentration is now on the faith of the many and it is contrasted with the Egyptians. Israel believed. Egypt (the representative of the world in its opposition to God) did not. Through the faith of Moses the Red Sea opened up before Israel, and through their combined faith they passed through it on dry land, while the Egyptians who lacked true faith were all swallowed up and drowned (see Exodus 14:15-31). We are to see here the faith of Moses absorbed into the resulting faith of the people in what God was doing. On being tested they did not finally return to Egypt, even though many did waver, because they held their trust in the promises of God. Their resultant increased faith is stressed in Exodus 14:31.

For not all who perished in the wilderness were unbelievers. Many were true believers, even though they were yet weak and disobedient. Indeed this is confirmed by the fact that neither Aaron nor Moses reached the promised land. Yet they were still people of faith. So it turned out that many also were disobedient believers who had to face the consequences of their disobedience and yet were not excluded from God’s final mercy.


Verses 29-31

Faith That Received Miraculous Deliverances in the Course of the Fulfilment of God’s Promises (Hebrews 11:29-31).


Verse 30

‘By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, after they had been encompassed about for seven days.’

The same faith was revealed at the end of the journey by a new generation, led by a new leader Joshua, when they trusted God’s promises and daily walked round the walls of Jericho for seven days in silence, following it with a great shout of victory. What a faith was that! And the result was that the walls of Jericho fell down. So also will all difficulties finally collapse for those who steadfastly believe God.

This example was significant for it indicated the faith of Israel in entering in to take possession of ‘the land of promise’. In a sense it covered all the subsequent faith of those in that generation who truly believed and who went forward at God’s command. Jericho was the initial success which confirmed that God was with them indeed, if only they would continually exercise faith.

It is possibly significant that no mention has been made of the wilderness journey, for that was the writer’s prime example of unbelief (Hebrews 3:7-19). But having commented on the faith of many of the wilderness generation at the Red Sea, he now stresses the faith of the new generation who had not been disobedient. As a group they had faith, even if there were some in the group that did not.


Verse 31

‘By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish with those who were disobedient, having received the spies with peace.’

And there was another who had the same faith as Israel that God would deliver Jericho into the hands of Israel, a Gentile who became one with Israel (Joshua 6:25), Rahab the prostitute inn-owner. She listened to what she was told of the promises of God, and by faith received the spies as friends, and refused to join in with the disobedience of her fellows, thus escaping destruction. Both Israel and this God-fearing Gentile believed God at this same time. And through her faith her life was changed. She, and probably her whole family, became one with the people of God because she believed His promises. ‘Received the spies with peace.’ That is as a welcome friend and not an enemy. If the Rahab through whom Boaz the ancestor of David was born was the same Rahab (see Matthew 1:5; the fact of the mention of the unusual mention of a woman’s name confirms that she was a well known woman) she also became the ancestress of Christ.

An adulterous innkeeper who was part of the larger idolatrous and unbelieving mass of people, who by faith turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, would be seen as a perfect example of those Gentiles who in the writer’s time did exactly the same. For that was how the Gentile world appeared to believers; idolatrous, adulterous and unbelieving. Her turning to God and coming within the covenant was a sign of God’s welcome for all Gentiles who would seek Him truly.

So were his readers, both Jew and Gentile, to hear and believe the words of God and be true to the people of God in the face of all opposition.


Verses 32-34

The Faith of Many Through The Ages (Hebrews 11:32-38).

‘And what shall I more say? For the time will fail me if I tell concerning Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah; of David also and Samuel and of the prophets, who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, waxed mighty in war, turned to flight armies of aliens.’

He now lists a panoply of men of faith, who wrought mighty things because they believed the promises of God, selecting them out from a larger number (Joshua has already been included in ‘they’ in Hebrews 11:30-31), and all in the process of looking for the future hope. The order of the first four may be in terms of esteemed worthiness, with the noble Gideon first, followed by the worthy general, the prankster, and the harlot’s son who in one way or another offered up his daughter (see our commentary on Judges for a discussion on the question); for this general order compare 1 Samuel 12:11. David possibly comes before Samuel because Samuel as both war-leader and prophet connects David with the prophets; although David was also seen as a prophet. So again the order may be of esteemed worthiness and prominence, and of the movement from the particular to the general.

Their accomplishments are grouped in threes; three positive virtues in forwarding God’s purposes, three describing escaping through tribulation, which is thus seen as a necessary part of those purposes, and the final three depicting God’s strengthening of them to victory as they grew in potential. It is saying that God’s purposes go forwards, this necessitates tribulation, but in the end the weak are made strong and are victorious.

Gideon, Barak, Jephthah, David and Samuel all ‘subdued kingdoms’, and Samson played his part against the Philistines; David, Samuel and the prophets especially wrought righteousness; Daniel shut the lions' mouths (Daniel 6:17-22), as did Samson (Judges 14:5-6), David (1 Samuel 17:34-37), and Benaiah (1 Chronicles 11:22). Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego escaped fiery deaths (Daniel 3:23-27). David, Elijah, Elisha, and Jeremiah escaped the edge of the sword, as did Gideon whose elder brothers had been slain, and Samson before the Philistines, and many others. But the writer is drawing on their overall experiences, not seeking to particularise.

‘Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises.’ This first trilogy describes the growth of God’s purposes. First the establishment of God’s kingdom by subduing the enemy (e.g. 2 Samuel 7:9; 2 Samuel 8:11-12), then establishing justice in that kingdom (e.g. 2 Samuel 8:15), and finally obtaining thereby many of the promises of God (e.g. Joshua 23:14; 1 Kings 4:21 compare Exodus 23:31; Joshua 1:4). This could be seen as very much the pattern of David’s activities, and also to a lesser extent those of the judges including Samuel.

‘Stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword.’ This second trilogy emphasises the strength revealed by individuals when facing persecution and tribulation. This especially occurred during the period of Israel’s weakness.

‘From weakness were made strong, waxed mighty in war, turned to flight armies of aliens.’ This third trilogy might be seen as indicating growth in potential; made strong from weakness, resulting in waxing mighty in war, resulting in putting the enemy to flight. Gideon, Barak, Samson, David and Samuel may have been especially in mind, but the general idea applies to all. Gideon and Barak felt so weak that they sought to avoid their calling, and led comparatively weak armies, compared with their foes, to victory; Samson was a strange enigma, standing alone but finally triumphing; David and Samuel first came to notice as but lads, but grew to be victorious leaders. But all were mighty examples of faith in God’s promises and of God’s ability to strengthen His people until they finally triumphed. They all triumphed by faith over enemies who were outwardly far stronger than themselves.

Thus this ninefold description of the results of faith, divided into three threes to signify total completeness, covers both the advance of God’s kingdom, and the resulting need to be strong when the kingdom deteriorated spiritually.

Some see in these nine a picture of the advancement of salvation history. The first establishing of the kingdom, and of justice, and of confidence in God’s promises; the following deterioration and defeat of the kingdom with its resulting persecutions for God’s people; and the final re-establishment of the kingdom through the activities of the Maccabees and others. However, the parts of the salvation history to which these descriptions could apply can be multiplied, as we have seen above. We must therefore beware of simply trying to fit them into one situation, for the writer may have seen things very differently from the way we do, and what mattered to him was the triumph of those who believed not a resume of history.


Verse 35

‘Women received their dead by a resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection.’

It is noteworthy that he deliberately keeps on including women (note Sarah (Hebrews 11:11), Moses’ mother (Hebrews 11:23) and Rahab (Hebrews 11:31) and now here). They are represented in each section. Both men and women equally exercised faith in God’s promises, although in different ways.

Women received their dead back because they believed God could and would do what He had promised (compare 1 Kings 17:17-24; 2 Kings 4:17-37). Other believers accepted death through torture (literally by being ‘placed on a rack and beaten to death’. See 2 Maccabees 6:19; 2 Maccabees 6:28; 2 Maccabees 6:30 where this happened to Eleazar) because they were confident of a better resurrection (see 2 Maccabees 7:9; 2 Maccabees 7:14; 2 Maccabees 7:29). Whether in life or death their faith was in God and His promises.


Verses 36-38

‘And others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, they were tested, they were slain with the sword, they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves, and the holes of the earth.’

The whole of the faithful in past history are summed up here. Every conceivable insult was poured on them, every conceivable violence was shown to them, they regularly endured the loss of all their possessions and of their homes, and had to survive in hiding, but they held firm in faith because they believed the promises of God. See for examples Judges 6:2; Judges 8:18-19; Judges 16:25; 1 Samuel 13:6; 1 Kings 18:4; 1 Kings 18:13; 1 Kings 19:14; 1 Kings 21:10; 1 Kings 21:13; 1 Kings 22:27; 2 Kings 1:8; 2 Kings 2:23; 2 Chronicles 16:10; 2 Chronicles 24:21; 2 Chronicles 30:10; 2 Chronicles 36:16; Jeremiah 20:2; Jeremiah 20:7; Jeremiah 32:2; Jeremiah 36:5; Jeremiah 37:15-21; Jeremiah 38:6; Jeremiah 38:13; etc). But examples from tradition might well also be in mind, probably including the time of the Maccabees. However, cruel treatment was a regular feature of life for those who displeased monarchs and their representatives. Compare 2 Samuel 12:31 for such an example.

According to Rabbinic sources Isaiah suffered death at the hands of King Manasseh by being sawn in two, because he was enraged when Isaiah prophesied the destruction of the Temple. He may thus have been in mind. But not necessarily so for the use of saws, among other things, for killing people appears to have been regular practise in the time of David (2 Samuel 12:31). Yet if this was a sudden switching back to Isaiah’s fate it demonstrates that chronology was not of prime importance to the writer, except when greater issues were in question. It reminds us that the incidents cover a wide range of centuries and cannot in the main be dated. Most occurred again and again throughout a number of centuries.

‘Of whom the world was not worthy.’ Thus does he summarise his view of these gallant men and women of faith. They were citizens of Heaven (Philippians 3:20) and the world was not worthy of such people as they revealed themselves to be, as men and women of faith. In these seven words is summed up God’s verdict on these people of faith. Of those who are born of women there were no greater than these.


Verse 39-40

The Conclusion (Hebrews 11:39-40).

‘And these all, having had witness borne to them through their faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided (literally ‘foreseen’) some better thing concerning us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.’

This summary brings together what has been the emphasis of the chapter. It describes men and women of faith, and it emphasises that they were looking for the fulfilment of the promises, for it was those on which their faith was centred. For it was not faith in just a general sense that they revealed, it was faith in the fact that God is, and that His promises are totally reliable.

Yet none of these heroes of faith, although they had witness borne to them through their faith (for God Himself bore witness to them and they were entered in the records of God’s people by the Holy Spirit), received the fulfilment of the promise of the Messiah. They had believed, and they had persevered against all odds on the basis of a future expectation, confident that God would not fail in His promise. Yet they had not received the very best. They did die in hope, for they are to be made perfect along with us. But this great privilege of entering into the promise had been reserved for the time when the writer was writing, and for those to whom he was writing, and for their fellow-Christians, and for us who follow on who enjoy the ‘better thing’ which God has foreseen and provided for us. In the words of Jesus, ‘Blessed are the eyes which see the things that you see, for I say to you that many prophets and kings desired to see the things that you see, and saw them not, and to hear the things which you hear, and heard them not’ (Luke 10:23-24). How responsive they and we should therefore be. How ready to face up to the persecution and opposition of the world.

But now, says the writer, all that was pre-purposed in the purposes of God has come about. Thus are we privileged to be one with them in making up the complete number of those who are truly God’s as we await the final fulfilment of the coming of the Messiah.

‘God having provided (literally ‘foreseen’) some better thing concerning us.’ For we have received a better thing. We have received what was contained in the promise of the Messiah, for which they could only continually look in faith. We now have Jesus Christ Himself. So if they persevered then, without seeing the fulfilment, how then can we who have entered into that fulfilment, fail to also persevere in faith? For we have received the something better. For, as we have seen throughout the letter, ‘better’ is the description regularly used for what Christ has brought.

‘That apart from us they should not be made perfect.’ Here is the cap on all that he has said. They with us, though not without us, will be made perfect. For while the spirits of righteous men made perfect (Hebrews 12:23) are now in Heaven, they are not ‘complete’ in full perfection until we join them, and none of us are complete until the bodily resurrection has taken place and we are all finally united with Christ in His glory, and God is all in all (1 Corinthians 15:20-58 compare Revelation 6:9-11; Revelation 7:9-17; Revelation 21:22 to Revelation 22:5).

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Hebrews 11:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/hebrews-11.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, November 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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