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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Hebrews 11

 

 

Other Authors
Verse 1

2. INSPIRATIONAL.—The glories of Faith in its illustrious examples of old, Hebrews 11:1 to Hebrews 12:2.

1. Now—As if beginning to anticipate that too continued a strain of warning and rebuke might wear upon his hearers, our apostle now suddenly changes his tone to thrilling jubilation. From threatening penalty for unbelief he rises into a lofty peal of exultation over the glories of faith. This faith is not solely ground of safety; it is an inspiration to all sublime moral heroism. It is the basis within the soul of all divine hopes and of all heroic communion with higher things above the things of merely animal sense. This he illustrates by a long line of glorious examples in the sacred record from the creation to the Christian era. All this assumes and affirms that the true Christian faith is the heir and real continuance of that old faith, and that the now faithful Hebrews will be heirs of the faithful of all ages, and will form a real modern extension of the ancient line of faithful heroes. It is one of the many illustrations in Hebrews of what has been called Paul’s habit of “going off at a word,” (and a proof of his authorship of this book,) that this sublime paean is hung upon the word faith, in Hebrews 10:38, where it occurs in Paul’s favourite formula of justification by faith.

He now proceeds to show that faith is not only justifying but inspiring, ennobling, and exalting to the soul. We may further add, that the deduction of this heroic evolution of faith from the saving faith of Hebrews 10:38, amply refutes the preposterous pretence of some German expositors, (as Lunemann,) that the idea of faith in this epistle is different from Paul’s idea. Nothing is clearer than that, with Paul, faith is not only the mainspring of our salvation, but of our sanctification, and of all our Christian graces, virtues, and heroisms. Nowhere else, indeed, has he so fully expanded that view as here; and so we readily believe that it is by him that it is here expanded. Is—The present proposition is not intended as a complete definition of faith; but is such a statement or modified definition as suits our author’s design of showing how faith is the quickening inspiration of lofty enterprise.

Substance—The Greek word (compounded of υπο, under, and στασις, standing) signifies something that stands under an overlying object. Originally and literally, it signifies a basis, foundation, substratum. Our word substance, (derived from the Latin sub, under, and stans, standing,) has the same etymology, and etymologically the same meaning, for substance is a substratum, or base, underlying its properties. Hence our translators, as many scholars, here put the word substance. So Chrysostom says, “For since things are to hope unsubstantiated, faith grants to them a substance; or rather, does not so much grant, as be itself their substance, or existence.” But the true force of the writer’s proposition is, we think, best expressed by the stricter meaning of the word basis, or foundation. The whole current of the chapter shows that what he means is, that faith is within the soul the true subjective foundation of all subjective divine hopes and all supermundane heroisms. Hope, and the things held within the mental conception as things hoped for, have for their subjective basis faith; that power by which all that is transcendent and heroic is embraced in the mind. To translate the word confidence, as Lunemann, Delitzsch, and Alford do, is very flat. By that translation we have the truism that faith is confidence, just as confidence is faith; which are mere identical propositions. Indeed, faith and confidence are the same word in different languages; so that we have faith is faith. Things hoped for are viewed subjectively, as things within the hoping mind; and within the same mind their subjective basis is faith. The soul is a mirror in which are the images of faith as basis, and things hoped for as superstructure. Things hoped for is emphatic, suggesting the inspiring power of immortal and unlimited prospectives within our conception.

Evidence—Rather, demonstration, as Alford and others. Things not seen are like a geometrical diagram, planting a demonstration of themselves in the perceiving mind. That demonstration is received and realized by the elevated faith faculty, or predisposition, and is itself a faith forever. And the more vivid the demonstration the more realizing the faith, and the more heroic the soul in the ascending direction. Things not seen, are the realities of God and his universe outside the visible world, which are revealed to our higher intuitions by nature, by divine manifestation, or by the written record. The animal man, the sensualist, never thinks of or truly embraces these truths. The worldly forget them. The atheist denies them.

And these are all incapable of that spiritual heroism recorded of the ancient worthies.

There is an obvious parallelism in the clauses substance of things hoped forevidence of things not seen. There appears, also, to be an anti-climax. The former clause is more impressive, and especially more impressive for the author’s inspiring purpose, than the latter. We would explain this by saying that the last is epexegetical, or explanatory; being, as it were, its confirmatory echo. Faith is the subjective prop of our hopes by being the realization of the great Unseen. How feeble a rendering confidence is of the word for substance, υποστασις, (hypostasis,) and how uniformly it means the underlay, or basis of confidence, or other thing, is a point worthy further illustration. Thus (taking several examples in Robinson’s Greek Testament Lexicon) a classical author speaks of the hypostasis (basis-energy) of the soul under endurance of torments; just as a horseman speaks of the “bottom,” or basal strength, of his steed. Another says, “all the hypostasis (underlying vigour) of the bowels.” Another, of “the appearance of wealth, but not the hypostasis,” (underlying reality.) So Paul (2 Corinthians 11:17) speaks of “this hypostasis, or basis of our boasting.” So (Hebrews 10:35) the beginning of our self-basing in Christ. So, also, several passages adduced from the Septuagint by Whitby, and feebly rendered by him confidence, or expectation. In Ruth 1:12 it is asked, Is there to me any basis of a husband? Ezekiel 19:5 : All her basis was lost. Psalms 89:47 : All my basis is from thee. In all these cases is meant rather the subjective underlay of a subjective confidence than the confidence itself.


Verse 2

2. For—In proof of its high inspiring power is the whole line of heroic examples. Not by it, as an instrument, but rather in it, as a state or condition. It was as in a frame or atmosphere of faith that the worthies were heroes. Its air was an exhilaration and a tonic.

The elders—The men of the olden time, our illustrious spiritual ancestry.

Obtained a good report—Literally, were well witnessed to—received a noble testimony, that is, from God, as Abel and Enoch, in Hebrews 11:4-5. The witness to them was immediate and direct; and it is also in the whole line verified by the Old Testament record.


Verse 3

3. Through faith—As instrument, or means. We—Lunemann justly notes, that while this example commences the series with the creation, it does not form one example in the line of elders; for it is we who entertain this faith, and not the elders alone, though, perhaps, the we is inclusive of the elders. The proper reasons why our author begins with this instance are: 1. That it is at the chronological beginning of the series, namely, at the very creation itself; and, 2. It exemplifies the last clause of the definition; it shows how faith is demonstration of the unseen, of the supermundane. What this faith is, we know, for we all entertain it.

We understand—The Greek verb expresses action of the higher, or intuitive, faculties of man, the spirit; that is, we intuitize. This intuitive faculty sees the invisible truth by direct looking at it, as the eye sees a visible object. See note on 1 Thessalonians 5:23.

Were framed—Were brought to completion from crude conditions. The word does not designate absolute creation from nothing, but an adjusting of parts and a construction of a symmetrical whole.

By the word of God—By the divine command, as in the first chapter of Genesis—a figurative expression for the divine energy in action. There is here no reference to the personal Word, nor to the mediation of the Son in the creation, as in Hebrews 1:2, but an affirmation that God is maker.

So that—Rather, to the end that. God’s word, or active energy, framed… the worlds purposely, so that the visible sprung not from things appearing.

Things which are seen—The completed system of definite things making up the visible world. Or, as the singular is used in the Greek, το βλεπωμενον, literally, the seen, the visible, it means the whole system taken as a complex unit.

Things that do appear—The difference between the seen, or the visible, and the appear, or apparent, is, that the former is considered as perceived by only the one sense of sight, the latter by any sense or perceptive power; and if by any perceptive power, divine as well as human, then the non-apparent would be about equivalent to the non-existent; for what omniscience cannot perceive must be non-existent. It is disputed whether the not connects with made, so as to say that the visible was not made, or did not come from the apparents, or with appear, so as to say that the visible came from the non-apparents. Though the order of the Greek words suggests the former, yet Stuart and Delitzsch ably maintain, by good Greek precedents, the latter. And rendering it the visible system was made from non-apparents, the non-apparents Delitzsch holds to be the creative divine powers and forces. In that case the meaning would be, that creation is by omnipotence out of nothing. Stuart, however, ingeniously suggests, that to say that the world was made “out of nothing,” seems to imply that nothing was a something out of which it was made, and he concludes that our author expresses the thought correctly when he says, that the visible was not made out of perceptible antecedents, or, in other words, previous materials. But, note, 1. The force of the word framed, meaning constructed, put together, indicates that our author is describing formation of worlds, not origination of their substance. He is speaking of shaping materials into organisms, not bringing the materials into existence from non-existence. 2. The Greek word for made signifies to begin to exist, to become, to take existence; but to begin to exist as a framed system. We have, then, the rendering: the worlds were framed so that the visible system came into existence from non-apparents. It is, then, of the organizing of the visible system that our writer is speaking. And what are the non-apparents from which it took organic existence? 3. If we rightly understand, they are the primitive elements—the chaos of Genesis. Philosophers are generally agreed that the atoms of which things consist, and the worlds were framed, are themselves imperceptible to any human sense. They are, individually, so minute that no eye and no magnifying power can reach them. Nobody ever saw the atom, though every body believes its existence. We see it by the eye, not of sense, but of intuitive reason. That is, by faith we intuitize that the worlds were organized, so that the visible system took organic form from imperceptible elements.


Verse 4

4. Abel—Passing in significant silence the first of the human race, Adam, and the first born of the race, Cain, our author finds in the second born, Abel, the first decisive instance of heroic faith.

More excellent sacrifice—Literally, a more sacrifice; it was more truly an actual offering than Cain’s, because offered in faith. By which, may by its gender be referred to faith or to sacrifice. Lunemann and Alford refer it to the former; but by faith… by which makes a very awkward structure of sentence. The true meaning seems to be, that his faithful sacrifice it was which obtained witness from God, exhibited in the divine “respect” thereto. Genesis 4:4.

God testifying—The Septuagint says, (Genesis 4:4,) “And God looked upon Abel and upon his gifts.” Yet is not a designation of time, but signifies notwithstanding, and points the antithesis that, though dead, he nevertheless speaks. But the permanent present tense of speaks expresses the full idea that Abel is forever speaking. What he speaks is not here said. In Hebrews 12:24, our author, in allusion to Genesis 4:10, makes the blood of Abel speak terrible things; but here, by his faith and sacrifice Abel speaks something glorious; namely, he tells us through all ages that faith, evidenced by good works, obtains favour and testimony from God. He is the first memorable example that piety and God, as against wickedness, are on the same side.


Verse 5

5. Example of Enoch.

Translated—Transferred, like Elijah, (2 Kings 2:11,) bodily from earth to heaven.

That—In order that. It was the divine purpose that Enoch should be in the patriarchal dispensation the example of the immortality of man and the glorification of the faithful. So was Elijah in the Mosaic dispensation; and, crowning all, Christ in his own dispensation. So the pre-Christian writer, Sirach, says, (Sirach 44:16,) “Enoch pleased the Lord, and was translated, an example of repentance to the generations.” And, again, (Sirach 49:14,) “Upon the earth was no man created like Enoch; for he was even taken up from the earth.” And Josephus says, “He went to the divinity.”

That—In order that; expressive of the divine purpose.

See death—Experience death, Luke 2:26. He passed thus the glorious resurrection “change” (note on 1 Corinthians 15:51) without passing through the agony of dissolution. His spirit dwelt not in paradise; but both body and spirit ascended to the highest heaven.

Not found—No human search on earth could discover him. So Livy says of Romulus, “Nor then was Romulus on earth.”

He had this testimony—That is, it stands testified, before his translation, in the Genesis history, (Genesis 5:24,) that he “walked with,” that is, pleased, God.


Verse 6

6. But—This testimony could not have been given to Enoch without faith.

For—universal reason, alike for Enoch and for us.

Impossible—For without faith on our part there can be no mutual communion with God. In order to “walk with God” a man must have sympathy, love, and faith towards God.

Cometh to God—To worship, as the Israelites came into his presence in the sanctuary. Compare Hebrews 7:25; Hebrews 10:1.

He is—An atheist cannot adore God. God’s admitted existence is the first condition of possible worship. And faith in the existence of the true God is necessary to true worship. He may be, indeed, imperfectly apprehended; the conception may be limited and finite. Nevertheless, he must be held by faith to be a supreme Being, who is on the side of truth and righteousness. He is felt to be the personal “power without us,” and above us, “that makes for righteousness.” As such this holy line of witnesses, running adown the pages of sacred history, realized God in their “faith.” And this realization of a holy Supreme it was that distinguishes them from idolaters of all lands and ages, and from atheists. By this faith they aspired to communion with and likeness to a righteous God, and God accepted their faith, however imperfect, “for righteousness.” He granted them his favour, communed with them by his Spirit, revealed himself by a whole series of supernatural manifestations, and prepared their race for the bringing forth of his Son in due time.

A rewarder—They believed that inestimable blessings would descend from the friendship of the Holy God.

Diligently seek him—The expressive Greek verb, εκζητειν, is, seek him out from; that is, from all idolatries, atheisms, and wickednesses. God has his witness in every human heart; yet through that witness must He be sought out.


Verse 7

7. Example of Noah.

Not seen—An allusion to Hebrews 11:1. Things not seen, are often things not hoped for, but the reverse.

As yet—But were soon to be seen; in this a striking parallel of our unseen future of death, resurrection, judgment, and eternity. Well for us if our faith in those things not seen as yet results, like Noah’s, in our salvation.

Moved with fear— A reverent and faithful fear produced by the warning, and his faith therein. The word which, may be grammatically referred either to salvation, ark, or faith. Most modern commentators refer it to faith. Note on Hebrews 11:4.

Condemned the world—Not as judge but as witness, exhibiting proof that they were guilty in not taking warning, and trusting by faith in God. Compare Matthew 12:41-42; Luke 11:31-32; Romans 2:27. They loved their sins and disbelieved God. It is a solemn spectacle to see one man right and all the rest of the world wrong. Let no man depend upon numbers for salvation. God is greater than the world.

Righteousness… by faith—The doctrine of Paul, of Luther, and of Wesley. We become friends with God by entire trust in God. And the passage is a remarkable occult proof of Pauline authorship; showing Paul as assuming that his words are now well understood from his former treatment of that subject.


Verse 8

8. Example of Abraham. As the great typical example of faith, both with Jewish writers (note on Galatians 3:6) and St. Paul, Abraham with Sarah fills a long paragraph, 8-20. And the similarity of the treatment here is good proof that Paul’s idea of faith is still the same, and this epistle by his hand.

Called—A well supported reading in the Greek would read Abraham the called. And that reading would mean, according to Delitzsch, Abraham the well known, or historically illustrious as the called—a very suitable and significant meaning. But Alford, in accordance with the old Greek commentators, interprets it the man who previously was called Abram, and was subsequently named Abraham. The reading, however, without the article, is, probably, the true one, and the reference is to “the call of Abraham.”

Go out into a place—Modern research suggests the probability that Abraham’s going out was part of a great western movement of the Asiatic peoples. But Abraham’s great peculiarity was, that he went under divine guidance, about to plant a special race in a special spot for a future divine history. By his faithfulness he became the founder of that race whose history stands alone in the history of the world.

Went out—As Noah launched forth upon the unknown waters, so Abraham started forth into unknown lands. So the man of faith looks onward and upward to an unknown but blessed home.


Verse 9

9. A strange—That is, as somebody else’s, and not his own, country; though by divine promise most truly his own.

Tabernacles—That is, tents; the abodes of wanderers and strangers, the striking image of transitory residence.

Same promise—And same faith, as in Hebrews 11:21.


Verse 10

10. For—Reason for his adventurous movement; he had a higher land in view, which regulated his course in this earthly land.

A city—Unlike this rural earthly land.

Foundations—Unlike these tents, so soon to be taken up, and so easily blown away. The city was not, as Grotius understood, the future earthly Jerusalem; but that higher and heavenly Jerusalem, the antitype of the lower. See note on Galatians 4:22; Galatians 4:26.

Builderτεχνιτης, artist, or architect. Herbert Spencer ridicules feebly the doctrine of creation by divine mind and power; styling it, wittily, as he seems to think, “the carpenter theory of creation,” as if a carpenter were a very low thing. Yet poetry, oratory, and the Bible, delight to style God the architect, builder, and maker, of the worlds.


Verse 11

11. Herself—Through whom it was all along assumed that the promise was to become effected. Or, as some understand it, herself, who was formerly barren; or, as others, herself, who was at first faithless. We prefer the first, though we find it unsuggested by any commentator.

Past age— That is, of child bearing. Notes on Hebrews 4:16, 17.


Verse 12

12. Therefore sprang there—And now comes the point that renders these events and characters most illustrious to every Hebrew memory. From this miraculous point sprang his chosen race. The Messianic race, like the Messiah himself, had a supernatural birth. Abraham was that Christ might be; and Sarah was the ancestress of the blessed mother of Jesus.

Even of one—From one fountain head, Abraham, all the diverging streams of the tribes sprang.

Dead—And so from a divinely energized source. Israel was miracle-born. Every Hebrew read in the narrative proof that he was a son of God. The human race was born from Adam; again from Noah; the Jewish race from energized Abraham.

Multitude—Forming the twelve tribes, and even now spread through all the earth.

Stars… sand—The most natural images in primitive times of a number beyond enumeration.

So in old Herodotus, the oracle is made to say, “I know the number of the sand and the measures of the sea.” And so God said to Abraham, (Genesis 22:17,) “I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore.”


Verse 13

13. These all died in faith—They not only lived faithful lives, but in (not by) faith they died. The fact that they saw not the fulfilled promises shook not their final faith. From their dying beds they looked forward to the heavenly country. To the all, here, some commentators note Enoch as an “exception,” who did not die. Others say, all who really died, died in faith. Perhaps the all, however, refers only to Abraham’s descendants, of whom alone 12-16 seems to speak. Received (the fulfilment of) the promises.

Seen them afar off—As a ship’s company descry a distant lighthouse: or as Moses, from the summit of Nebo, surveyed the distant hills and plains, and cities and rivers, of the land to which he was heir, but must never in life possess.

Embraced—Or, saluted them. So Xenophon’s army of the ten thousand, when they arrived at the Euxine, which was to terminate their wilderness wandering, shouted—the first giving the word to all the rest—”Thalatta! thalatta!” the sea, the sea.

Pilgrims on the earth—Having a land in heaven, of which this promised land was type and earnest.


Verse 14

14. Say such things—Confess themselves pilgrims on… earth.

A country—A home-land, which, ceasing to be nomads and immigrants, they can call “my country.” The pilgrim here longs for the country of the resurrection.


Verse 15

15. Mindful of that country—If the emigrating Abraham had dropped his faith, and given up the promises as to Canaan, he could have gone back to Chaldea at any chosen time. He would then have resigned the future earthly Jerusalem, the foundership of the Old Testament dispensation, and the fatherhood of the Messiah. He and his might have gone into the idolatry of the Chaldeans and have been forgotten.


Verse 16

16. Now—In accepting the inheritance of Canaan, they read a title clear to a better… a heavenly country. And outside of the fleshly Israel there have been faithful souls belonging to the true Israel. Anaxagoras, the Athenian philosopher, (as Laertius tells us,) being asked, “Care you not for your country?” replied, “Speak gently, for I care ardently for my country,” pointing towards heaven. And Plato said, “Man is a heavenly plant, not an earthly.”

God is not ashamed—The God of the universe condescends to be God to these immigrant pilgrims. All the stars of limitless astronomy, lifeless things as they are, are not as dear to God as one faithful human soul.

Their God—His title of honour is not merely that he was, but that he ever is, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

For—In proof that he is specially their God.

Prepared… a city—The heavenly counterpart of which, the earthly is type and earnest.


Verse 17

17. Abraham, the father and founder, is still continued. Our author has, in previous verses, shown how by faith of Abraham Israel received miraculous origin. But a later crisis came. It seemed as if by God’s command the miracle-born race was to be cut off by the knife of its founder. By the sacrifice of Isaac the thread was to be severed, and in Isaac all Israel must die. But as Isaac’s birth was in a figure an incarnation, so his rescue from the sacrificial knife was in a figure a resurrection.

Tried— Tempted, in the sense of a divine desire that he should prove faithful upon trial. Not that God needs proof to know what he would do; but faith exists for works and self-evidence, by manifestation to the world. Man is by nature not only a reflective, but an active being. Faith is in the heart, that it may resist evil, work good, and so evolve a glorious history. Probation is the scene for faith to act itself out in, and prove its own genuineness before the Infinite, and to the finite.

Only begotten—Since Ishmael was counted for nothing, as being of ignoble birth, and outside the promises.


Verse 18

18. In Isaac—On this phrase Alford notes: “‘Three ways,’ says Delitzsch, ‘of interpreting this are possible—1. After Isaac shall thy seed be named; 2. In, through, of, Isaac shall seed be called into being to thee; 3. In Isaac shall seed be named to thee; that is, in or through him shall it come that a seed of Abraham shall be possible.’ Then he puts aside the first, seeing that only once is the seed of Abraham called Isaac, [Amos 7:9;] and the second, seeing that the Hebrew word for call [though sometimes bearing the meaning, see Isaiah 41:4] never so absolutely signifies ‘to call into existence,’ as it must on that interpretation; and he prefers the third: in Isaac, through and in descent from him, shall thy seed be called thy seed: that is, only Isaac’s descendants shall be known as Abraham’s seed.”


Verse 19

19. Accounting—What, it may be asked, was the real excellence of Abraham’s celebrated faith? Was it that he accepted a sensible phenomenon claiming to be Jehovah as a real theophany, a God made manifest? That might be the same credulity in supernatural appearances as we at the present day contemn. Or was it, that being firmly sure that it was God who commanded, he unflinchingly obeyed? But then who would not, if he was sure that the true Infinite commanded, obey? We may reply: 1. That Abraham first had turned away from an idolatrous world in Chaldea, and then had sought for the true and holy God, as he is in truth. In so doing he obeyed the highest aspirations of the human spirit. He was, therefore, eminently right, and his righteousness was a seeking, aspiring, and holy faith. 2. To that holy faith, in the midst of a faithless world, God did supernaturally respond. Not merely, though clearly, by the visible phenomenon, but also by the witness of his Spirit. That Spirit produced in Abraham that faith which is demonstration (see our note on Hebrews 11:1) of the holy truth. Abraham, then, had that knowing of God possessed by the spiritual intuitions, which is clear and sure as a geometrical demonstration is to the pure intellect. If any enthusiast at the present day, sane or insane, mistakenly assumes to be similarly authorized by God, and proceeds to slaughter his son, he must bear the consequences of his own mistake. He can no more hold the Abrahamic example responsible for his act than a man who, fancying himself a public executioner, hangs his son, could hold the law of capital punishment responsible. He can no more plead Abraham’s example than a modern assailant of our national existence can plead Washington’s example for being “a rebel.” 3. With the Holy One, and with his righteousness, truth, and holiness, the heart of Abraham rose in sympathy. Between the Holy and the holy there were communion and oneness. That was high and holy faith. 4. When God’s severe command came, though it cut the father’s sensibilities, and seemed to cut asunder God’s promises, and to cut off the holy seed, he said that God was true and right, and that all these evil seemings were but seemings. The glow of faith rose above even the shrinkings of nature. Hence was this narrative recorded for our ensample. There is a faithful and there is a faithless people. May our soul be with God, and all the human followers of God, the faithful of whom Abel was first instance, and Abraham the great exemplar.

God was able—And, therefore, the right result was secure.

In a figure— So divine a rescue from virtual death was a figure of a literal resurrection. So that, as Christ’s incarnation was typified in Isaac’s birth, his resurrection was typified in Isaac’s rescue from death.

There is good reason to believe that a resurrection in its debased form, as held in Chaldea, was known to Abraham. So mingled was the idea with idolatrous conceptions as to be cautiously left in the background in the Abrahamic creed, rather shadowed by earthly types and implications than boldly expressed. The doctrine of the only true God came to the front, and a reliant trust in him was cherished that his favour was assurance of all good, present and future, reflected in the present. The fact that God was Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob’s God, insured by gracious implication their future existence.


Verse 20

20. Concerning things to come—It is not quite true that prophets first arose in the later history of Israel. For Abraham was “a prophet.”

Genesis 20:7. The recorded paternal blessings of Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph were prophecies, and we know not how many unrecorded prophecies they uttered. The lineal family—nay, we may say the lineal race—was for ages susceptible to presentiment and predictive frames. Their natural temperament, therefore, was a basis of possibility of divine revelation. The supernaturalistic person is often unattractive, and not good or wise; but when wise and good, a lofty character may therefrom arise.


Verse 21

21. When he was a dying—Our author blends two successive scenes in Jacob’s history: Genesis 47:28-31; Genesis 48:8-14. In the former, Jacob, feeling that he was in a dying condition, called for Joseph, and exacted from him an oath to convey his body, when dead, to Canaan. Then it is added, “Israel bowed himself upon the bed’s head.” It is this phrase which our author, in accordance with the Septuagint, interprets, that he “worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff,” Hebrews 11:21. The reason of this discrepancy is this. The same Hebrew word, according as it is differently vowelled, may read either staff or bed. By the vowel points of our present Hebrew Bibles (which points were invented and inserted in the fifth century of our era) it reads as in the English translation. But our author, probably correctly, follows the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew made two hundred and fifty years before Christ. Stuart plausibly argues that the eastern bed has no “head,” and forcibly adds that no such phrase as bed’s head occurs in the Old Testament. Jacob, having obtained his oath from Joseph, devoutly thanked God, feebly standing, as an old man, and leaning upon the top of his staff. Our author connects this event with the dying blessing of his sons by Jacob, because the whole formed one dying prophecy of Israel’s future in Canaan.


Verse 22

22. Example of Joseph.

When he died—The patriarchs’ prophetic faith grew vivid on their death bed, so that in time a series of predictions accumulated in the Abrahamic family, all pointing to the promised land, where, according to the Abrahamic promise, all the nations were to be blessed in Abraham and his “seed.” Truly, though we know not how distinctly, all this pointed to the chosen “Seed,” the Messiah.

Made mention of the departing—The great Israelite-Egyptian statesman held the faith of his fathers, and predicted the Canaanite future.

Commandment—Thereby giving his faith a tangible form.


Verse 23

23. Parents—The word is literally in the masculine—fathers: and Bengel conjectures that the hiding was really done by his father Amram, and his paternal grandfather, (not his maternal, who was Levi himself, but his paternal,) Kohath: and Kohath was living at Moses’s birth. But Wetstein has abundantly shown that fathers was often a Greek term for parents.

Were not afraid—So but that they braved the king’s commandment to destroy all the male children.


Verses 23-29

23-29. Example of Moses. An age of prophetic silence and national suffering intervenes, when faith again revives in Moses, initiated by the faith of his parents. And this was a new era of faith, when, from merely predicting, the illustrious leader, Moses, proceeded to take possession of the Palestinian inheritance. Faith went forth in heroic enterprise, and a new dispensation was founded, second in greatness only to the advent of the Messiah. And, as it were in one list, our author gathers under Moses all the heroic examples until the conquest of Canaan.


Verse 24

24. Refused—Not, probably, by any definite act of refusal, but by preferring the cause and the company of the bondsmen over those of the courtiers.


Verse 25

25. Choosing—Our author expresses Moses’s choice in very New Testament terms; designedly, for it is as an example to his Hebrew fellow-Christians that he pictures the great founder of Hebraism. These, too, had to desert the popular and government favour, to suffer rather than enjoy for a season. In choosing Christian faith rather than Judaism, they are the true followers of Moses.


Verse 26

26. Reproach of Christ—Still more impressive use of Christian terms. Not appreciating the author’s purpose in this, the commentators are at a loss to decide why Moses should be said to suffer the reproach of Christ. Our author means to tell his wavering Hebrews that their firm adherence to the despised Christ is essentially identical with the faith, and choice, and suffering, of Moses. It was truly for a Messiah to come that Moses suffered; it was for the Messiah that has come that his Hebrews are called to suffer. Hence, in Hebrews 13:13, he applies the same expression to them. Compare, also, 2 Corinthians 1:5, and Colossians 1:24.

Reward—Moses, as the Hebrew brethren should, preferred the divine favour and eternal blessedness to royal rank. Bloomfield, quoting Doddridge, well says: “Surely that reward could not be temporal grandeur, which he might have had with much greater security in Egypt.”


Verse 27

27. Forsook Egypt—Not only declined the royal adoption and preferred his kindred, but fully and finally left the land of Pharaoh. A large majority of commentators, including Delitzsch, Lunemann, and Alford, refer this forsook to Moses’ flight from Egypt to Midian, (Exodus 2:11-15,) when menaced by Pharaoh for killing an Egyptian. By that rendering the great fact of Moses’s life is left unmentioned, and an act of fear and flight, rather than heroic faith, is selected. Pharaoh, we are told, “Sought to slay Moses, but Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh.” He remained long years concealed in Midian, until, at last, Jehovah there gave him his call to his great mission. To say of this event that it was divine “faith,” “not fearing the wrath of the king,” contradicts the face and the substance of the sacred narrative, which presents it as a long process of fear, flight, concealment, and inaction, the dim and faithless period of Moses’s life. For that interpretation, however, Lunemann argues:

1. To make forsook designate the exodus of Israel from Egypt violates the chronological order of the series of events, for that exodus really came after the passover. Hebrews 11:28.

2. The word forsook ( κατελιπεν, left) is too slight to express so great a movement as the Exodus 3. That the exodus after Exodus 12:31 was commanded by Pharaoh, and did not admit “fearing the wrath of the king.”

To the first we reply, that the exodus, as designated by forsook, is the great fact, under which the passover and the passage of the sea are subordinate parts, and so are, with propriety, later mentioned. To the second, that refused, Hebrews 11:24, and forsook, are co-ordinate. The whole statement in regard to Moses is a series of rejections and overthrows of Egypt, which our author designs to be paralleled by his Hebrews’ rejection and overthrow of Jerusalem and Judaism. Moses refused his sonship to Pharaoh’s daughter; he abandoned Egypt; he established the passover under which Egypt’s firstborn were slain; he passed the sea in which Egypt’s royalty and power were submerged. To the third we answer, that this forsook includes the whole movement from Exodus 3 to the complete clearance from Egypt at end of Exodus 15. Pharaoh’s order in Exodus 12:31 was but an incident in the great wrath of the king which Moses long braved in accomplishing the exodus. How typical is this whole picture of the exodus of the Christian Hebrews going out from the temple worship at Jerusalem, and abandoning ritual, city, and state to their approaching overthrow!

Him who is invisible—A higher king than Pharaoh.

Seeing… invisible—Expresses the fact of faith as above sight.


Verse 28

28. Passover—See our notes on Matthew 26:2; Matthew 26:26-29.

Kept— Literally, has made, or established; the term implying the permanency of the institution. Yet the Greek word was habitually used to designate the keeping, or celebration, of the passover.

Sprinkling of blood—Upon the posts and lintels of the Hebrew doors. He—The angel of Jehovah.


Verse 29

29. They—The Israelites under Moses, implied but not expressed.

DrownedWere swallowed down, as if the sea were a sea monster to them.


Verse 30

30. Thus far we have only traced the leaving of Egypt. The whole desert history is omitted. On the borders of Canaan two instances are selected. One is the conquering faith of Israel at Jericho, premonitory of final possession; the other, the repentant faith of a pagan courtezan, symbol of Canaan’s submission, and encouragement to faith for deepest sinners of all ages.

Jericho—The great stronghold on the Canaanite side of Jordan.

Fell down—Man blew the trumpets, and God wrought the overthrow. The act of God was consequent upon the faith of man. Very concisely it is said, by faith the walls… fell.

Seven days—A week of persistent faith in Israel.


Verse 31

31. Harlot—Styled an innkeeper in the Chaldee paraphrase, and in the Arabic translation. And this interpretation has been followed by some commentators, including Adam Clarke. But both the Hebrew word and this Greek term, used also by St. James, (as also abundantly by Clement of Rome in his epistle,) are unequivocally harlot. There is no reasonable doubt that she belonged to a class of courtezans consecrated to Ashtaroth, the goddess of impure love. This obscene idolatry had its centre in Phoenician Sidon, and spread itself through Canaan during the residence of Israel in Egypt. It took its origin in adoration of the generative power of nature, implying a worship of the sun as source of generation, and of his queen, the moon. It had its stately houses of abode, where licentiousness was consecrated as a religious rite. It induced the wandering traveller to enter, furnishing both refuge and license. Hence, doubtless, Rahab was both hostess and harlot. Hers was a repentant faith in Jehovah, according to her own words, (Joshua 2:11,) “Jehovah your God, he is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath.” She perished not in the terrible destruction of Jericho; she married a Hebrew, became mother of Boaz, and ancestress of Jesus. Note on Matthew 1:2.

With peace—Perhaps by a welcoming salam preparatory to her forsaking the base rites of Ashtaroth and becoming a pure worshipper of Jehovah.


Verse 32

32. More say—After the arrival in Canaan the cloud of witnesses becomes too dense to particularize, and our writer first (Hebrews 11:32) gives a list of heroes without naming their exploits; then (33-39) a list of exploits and sufferings without naming the heroes; and closes (Hebrews 11:40) with placing us as the true successors in the whole line of heroes and sufferers. First are named four of the judges, rather in the order of eminence than of chronology. Then David as prophet-king, and Samuel as most eminent of prophets, introduces the prophets.


Verse 33

33. Subdued kingdoms—These were secular exploits, yet performed in service of the theocracy, and in firm allegiance to Jehovah, God of Israel. Conscientious generalship and statesmanship, performed in the right spirit, are in the line of faith. Happy the man who serves his country in allegiance to his God.

Wrought righteousness—As just judges, rulers, and reformers. So Samuel, (1 Samuel 12:3-4;) David, (2 Samuel 8:15;) so Elijah, Elisha, and Josiah. Obtained the fulfilment of promises. This is no contradiction to 39. The old heroes rejoiced in the fulfilment of many a promise, but the entire body never attained the promise, namely, of the heavenly country, (Hebrews 11:16,) the land of the better resurrection.

Stopped the mouths of lions—Daniel, who expressly boasted, “My God hath sent his angel, and hath shut the lions’ mouths;” and it is added, “because he believed in his God.” Faith in God, the God of Israel, in opposition to the Chaldean idolatries, was the nerve of his action.


Verse 34

34. Quenched… fire—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Daniel 3. Theophylact finely says, “Not quenched the fire, but, what is greater, the power of the fire.” The fire was allowed to blaze, but not allowed to burn.

Strong… weakness—As females enabled to do exploits, Deborah and Esther; Hezekiah, after his sickness; the whole nation in its weakness, at the return from captivity.

Valiant in fight—Observing a general chronological order, our writer evidently comes down to the age of the Maccabees.

Armies—Literally, camps.

Aliens—Foreigners.


Verse 35

35. Women received (literally, from a resurrection) their dead—The son of the widow of Zarephath, (1 Kings 17:17,) raised by Elijah, and of the Shunammite, (2 Kings 4:17,) by Elisha.

Were tortured—Literally, were tympanized, or tortured, perhaps to death, on the tympanum, or tambourine, or drum. The tympanum (derived from tupto, to strike) was, first, a musical instrument with a circular frame varying from a drum to a tambourine, with a skin membrane to be beaten to produce the tune. Thence a similar frame, sometimes called a wheel, upon which criminals were stretched for beating, with a severity often ending in death.

A better resurrection—Than that of the widows’ sons; being a resurrection not to a temporal but to an immortal life.


Verse 37

37. Stoned—This punishment was Jewish. We have no instance of its use recorded in the Maccabean period. But the case of Stephen really brings us down to Christian times. In the Old Testament Zachariah, the son of Jehoiada, (commemorated by our Lord Matthew 23:35; Luke 11:51,) was stoned; and tradition asserts the same of Jeremiah.

Sawn asunder—Justin Martyr, Tertullian, and others say, that Isaiah underwent this death by order of King Manasseh. Jerome says, this was a “most true tradition.”

Tempted—Commentators are puzzled to find so mild a word as tempted between so severe words as sawn asunder and slain. The text is not rendered questionable by any varied reading, although the word is omitted by the Syriac and some manuscripts. Scholars have variously proposed different Greek verbs resembling the Greek one in question to the amount of a dozen or so, most of them signifying were burned. Stuart suggests that the word designates the temptations so often offered in the midst of the tortures to induce them to recant. This Alford condemns, as not mitigating the difficulty. But why not? Between the severest inflictions was the very place to put the temptations that intervened. Though less severe to the flesh they were more trying to the spirit, and fraught with a more fearful danger. And this we hold to be the true solution. Finally, our author describes the martyrs as (not hermits abandoning society, but) exiles driven from among men by persecution.

Goatskins—The rougher, by climax, placed last. These garments were not assumed ascetically by them, but for want of better wardrobe.


Verse 38

38. World… not worthy—Though treated as not worthy of the world, yet, truly, the world was not worthy of them. It was because they were too good for it that they were driven out of it. Judea abounds in wild coverts for refugees. Obadiah hid fifty prophets in a cave, 1 Kings 18:4; 1 Kings 18:13. Mattathias and his sons took refuge in the mountains, 1 Maccabees 2:28. Josephus, in his Antiquities, says of the father of the line of Maccabees: “Having said these things, he rushed off with the children into the desert, leaving all his property in the village; the same thing the others doing, with their children and wives, fled into the desert and abode in the caves.”


Verse 39

39. Recapitulation and conclusion.

These all—The whole list, taken generally from Hebrews 11:32, yet applicable to all the examples of the chapter.

Report—Being divinely witnessed to, or attested, by God himself. Received not (the fulfilment of) the promise—For the fulfilment of that promise completely takes place at the resurrection of the just. Many a specific fulfilment of promise was obtained by various worthies, but by none the final promise. Abraham found a fulfilment of a special promise in the birth of Isaac, (note, Hebrews 6:16;) and others in the present chapter (Hebrews 11:33) obtained promises; but for the bodily resurrection the old worthies and we are still alike waiting. Progressively, indeed, ever since the advent, the promise has been in course of consummation, but the bringing in of its full fruition closes with the final mediatorial act. The spirits of the just waiting in paradise have attained a fulfilment. They are (Hebrews 12:23) the spirits of the just made perfect, as blessed spirits, but not as perfected men.


Verse 40

40. Better thing for us—To the question, What better thing? the remaining words of the verse furnish the answer. We and these worthies form one Church, which is to be perfected in one resurrectional glory. As there was one crucifixion, so by the divine order there is to be one final inauguration of the glorified Church. And that must wait for us; which is better for us than to be left out, or to happen in sporadically, as so many afterthoughts. We are on an equality with the worthies of old. In fact, our perfecting is the divine condition of their perfecting. They cannot attain the consummation without us.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Hebrews 11:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/hebrews-11.html. 1874-1909.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, November 18th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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