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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
Hebrews 11

 

 

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Introduction

Hebrews 11:1-40. The exhortation to faith is interrupted by this great chapter, in which the power of faith is illustrated from the history of ancient Israel. It is assumed throughout the epistle that the old community and the new are bound up with one another. The promises which had been given to Israel, and which had inspired its national life ever since the beginning, are at last reaching their fulfilment in Christianity. In this chapter, therefore, the writer does not merely aim at encouraging his readers by the example of noble lives in the past; he wishes them to feel that the OT heroes were the vanguard of their own army, and that the battle must be won, as it has been fought hitherto, by means of faith.


Verses 1-3

Hebrews 11:1 f. The chapter opens with a definition of faith as the "assurance" whereby we lay hold of things still in the future, and the proving"—i.e. the inward certainty which is stronger than any outward proof—of things which lie beyond the evidence of the senses. Thus faith enables us on the one hand to believe in a salvation yet to come; and on the other hand, to apprehend a higher world, of which this visible world of change is only the shadow. For Paul the object of faith is the Cross of Christ, with its supreme revelation of the gracious will of God. The writer to the Hebrews conceives of faith in a more comprehensive manner as the power by which we hold fast to the unseen, in spite of the illusions and temptations of this passing world. The "elders"—i.e. the men of the old covenant—could therefore exercise faith no less than the believers in Christ, and as a reward for their constancy in faith had their names enrolled with honour in the word of God (Hebrews 11:2).

Hebrews 11:3. Before proceeding to review those names in order, the writer touches on the record with which the Bible opens. God created all things by His word, so that the visible world is only the expression of the Divine energy and purpose that brought it into being. Religion is grounded in the knowledge that the ultimate reality is spiritual, and this knowledge is made possible to us" by faith.—not made out of things which do appear: this does not mean "the world was made out of nothing," but rather "the visible was the outcome of the invisible" (Genesis 1:1*).


Verses 4-7

Hebrews 11:4-7. Examples of faith from the primitive history, as given in the early chapters of Genesis.—Abel, on account of his faith, was not only accepted by God in his lifetime (Genesis 4:4-8), but even after his death his blood made its appeal to God for vengeance on his murderer (Genesis 4:10*). Enoch passed into the other world without suffering death, and is commemorated in Scripture as the man who "walked with God" (Hebrews 11:5). Indeed there can be no religion apart from faith, for religion must begin with a twofold act of faith—that God is a living reality, and that He is a righteous God, who acknowledges those who serve Him (Hebrews 11:6). Noah, when warned of a calamity still in the future, took heed to the warning. By this faith of his he threw the unbelief of the world into darker shadow, and so condemned it, and won for himself the name of "righteous." As the first man in Scripture to whom this name is applied (Genesis 6:9), he founded the long succession of God's servants.

Hebrews 11:7. moved with godly fear: rather, "being apprehensive," while the others paid no attention to the warning.


Verses 8-22

Hebrews 11:8-22. Passing now from the men of the primeval world, the writer comes to the patriarchs, and especially to Abraham, who stands out in the OT as the chief example of faith. Abraham showed his faith by his obedience to God's call, and by his refusal to make a permanent settlement in the land of Canaan, even though it had been promised to him. His heart was set on God's ultimate promise of an eternal rest in the heavenly city (Hebrews 11:10). His wife Sarah shared his faith and became a mother in her old age, so that Abraham, when his life seemed as good as ended, became the progenitor of a great people. And as the patriarchs lived in faith, so they died (Hebrews 11:13). They only saw the promises from afar, as the traveller sees the distant city which is his goal; and in their dying words they confessed that they were strangers on the earth (cf. Genesis 23:4; Genesis 24:37; Genesis 28:4; Genesis 27:9). Such confessions implied that they were longing for their own country; and if it was merely their native country on earth that was in their minds, they could have returned to it whenever they pleased. As it was, the home they desired was in heaven, and in recognition of this faith God called them by His name, as the destined people of His heavenly city (Hebrews 11:16). The crowning instance of Abraham's faith was his offering up of Isaac. Although he was confident in the truth of God's promise, he was ready at God's command to sacrifice the son through whom alone the promise could have fulfilment (Hebrews 11:17 f.). He believed that God would effect His purpose even though it should be necessary to bring Isaac back from the dead; and the restoration of Isaac was indeed a type of the resurrection (Hebrews 11:19). That faith is able to triumph over death is shown more clearly still by the examples of Isaac, Jacob, Joseph. Each of them, when on the point of dying, looked forward without misgiving to a fulfilment of God's promise in the future. To themselves it had been denied, but they believed that it would be realised through those who would come after them.

Hebrews 11:19. in a parable: this does not merely mean that Isaac was so nearly slain that he did, in a manner, come back from the dead. We have rather to translate "by way of a parable." The wonderful escape of Isaac was a kind of parable, illustrating the fact of the resurrection.


Verses 23-31

Hebrews 11:23-31. The survey now passes from the age of the patriarchs to that of Moses and the Judges. It was the faith of his parents that saved Moses in his infancy; and his life, when he grew to manhood, had faith as its one motive. He turned from the pleasures of this world and shared in the hardships of his countrymen, believing that they were the people of God, and that through their apparent weakness God was working towards that end which has now been realised in Christ. He forgot mere present advantage in the thought of the great ultimate reward (Hebrews 11:24 ff.). His flight from Egypt, in defiance of the king's will, was the result of faith in the invisible King; and a like faith found expression in his keeping of the Passover, and his leading of the people through the Red Sea.

Hebrews 11:26. the reproach of Christ: something more is meant than that Moses, in his day, submitted to the world's scorn as Jesus was to do afterwards. It is indicated that Moses consciously looked forward to the coming of Christ. The Christian cause had its preliminary phase in the life of Israel, and the heroes of the past were already under Christ's banner.

Hebrews 11:27. not fearing the wrath of the king: this is not strictly correct, for it was fear of the king's wrath that impelled Moses to flee to Midian. The reference may be to the later story of the Exodus, but is due more probably to a confusion in the writer's mind between the later events and the earlier.


Verses 32-38

Hebrews 11:32-38. The rest of the history would take too long to survey in detail, and the writer contents himself with suggesting it by a few striking allusions. He mentions certain outstanding names, then refers in general terms to the many famous deeds that had been wrought by faith (e.g. the achievements of brave and just kings, of Daniel and his comrades, of prophets and patriots). Faith had manifested itself not only in great deeds, but in sufferings nobly born. (Hebrews 11:35 ff.). In this account of memorable sufferings use is made not only of the OT history but of legends that had grown out of it—e.g. that Isaiah had been sawn asunder (p. 436), that other prophets had been murdered or persecuted. In Hebrews 11:35 there seems to be a reference to a cherished incident of Jewish history which was later than the OT period—viz. the martyrdom of Eleazar and the seven brothers in the Maccabean war. With a declaration of faith in the resurrection on their lips these brave men had suffered the extremity of torture (cf. 2 Maccabees 7:9 ff., 4 Maccabees 8:4-14).

Hebrews 11:37. were tempted: this mild generality is clearly out of place in the dreadful tale of martyrdom. The Greek word closely resembles another which means "they were burned," and this may well have been the original reading.


Verse 39

Hebrews 11:39 f. In two closing verses the lesson of all this heroic past is summarised. By their faith the great men of Israel had received praise from God in His holy word; yet they did not obtain that promise, the hope of which had inspired them. The reason was that through the long past God had been leading up to the future, planning a fulfilment in this closing age in which our own lot has been cast. In our time the whole bygone history was to be rounded off and consummated, so that only through us could the faithful of the past attain their goal. The thought has to be understood in the light of the writer's conception that the history of God's people in all ages forms a single whole. "Some better thing"—i.e. the final realisation—was destined for the Christian period, and until this had come the brave endeavour of the past fell short of its aim.

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Hebrews 11:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/hebrews-11.html. 1919.

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