Hebrews - Lesson 22

Hebrews 11

Two literary devices used in Hebrews chapter 11 are the author’s use of “by faith” repeatedly for emphasis and the “example list” used for exhortation, not exposition. It encourages people to action by using overwhelming evidence. They were successful in spite of the difficulties they faced as marginalized people. Faith is not leaping out against the evidence. It is standing confidently based on what God has revealed to be true.

Lesson 22
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Hebrews 11

I. Introduction

            A. "by faith"

            B. "example list"

            C. Patterns

            D. Structure of the chapter

II. Text

            A. Overture (Heb 11:1-3)

            B. Movement 1 (Heb. 11:4-12)

            C. Interlude (Heb 11:13-16)

            D. Movement 2 (Heb11:17-31)

            E. Crescendo and conclusion (Heb 11:32-40)

III. Implications

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Class Resources
  • Hebrews was written to give strong encouragement for those who were struggling in the Christian life, not primarily for the purpose of being a theological treatise for future generations. The main message of the author of Hebrews is, "God speaks effectively to us through Jesus."

  • The purpose of Hebrews is to encourage those who are faltering spiritually to endure in the faith. The author does this by exhorting people to put into practice his Christological teaching. Your endurance in the Christian life is going to be in direct proportion to the clarity with which you see Jesus and what he has accomplished on your behalf. The image you have of who Jesus was and why he came have radical implications for how you live and preach.

  • The Son is superior to the angels by virtue of his unique relationship to the father, by virtue of the inferior status of the angels, and by his exalted position as the Lord and creator of the universe.

  • The writer includes a section on exhortation in Hebrews 2:1-4 in the middle of a section in which he is emphasizing the position of the Son in relation to the angels. Jesus is superior to angels, those who rejected the law given through the angels were punished under the old covenant, those who reject the word of salvation given through the son deserve greater punishment. 

  • The purpose of Hebrews 2:5-9 is a transition between the superiority of Jesus and the incarnation. The process the author uses is the quotation of Psalm 8.

  • The author of Hebrews focuses on the incarnation because he plans to show that Jesus is a high priest. When it says that Jesus was “perfected through suffering,” it was a path that Jesus had to travel all the way through to get to the point where he was all that the Father designed for him to be in terms of the author of our salvation. We have hope because Jesus has liberated us from the fear of death.

  • The first extended block of exhortation in Hebrews. The purpose is to focus on the faithfulness of Jesus. The process is comparing Jesus to Moses.

  • Having a hard heart means to set your will against the Lord’s will. An unbelieving heart means that you are refusing to think that God’s ways are the right ways. The result is that you turn away from the living God. It comes from a pattern of life that turns a deaf ear to God’s word.

  • The author of Hebrews emphasizes the promise of rest for the people of God. He cites the example of God resting in Genesis 2:2 in contrast to Psalm 95.

  • The concept of the word of God in the first century is a force or dynamic power, not just a word printed on a page. The word convicts of sin which means it moves us in life to different perspectives and ways of living. It reaches inside of us and sorts us out. Hebrews 4:14-16 is a warning passage.

  • The center point of the exhortation. In chapter 5, the author identifies the hearers’ problem as a lack of spiritual maturity. They are spiritually sluggish and have lost perspective on basic Christian teaching. 

  • The Hebrews 6:4-8 is a warning about the consequences of rejecting Jesus.

  • The middle section of Hebrews focuses on Jesus as high priest. Hebrews 6:13-20 is both exhortation to persevere in the faith looking to Abraham as an example, and a transition back to a discussion of Christology focusing on Melchizedek.

  • Jesus is a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek. The author of Hebrews continues where he left off in 5:10 by first arguing for the superiority of Melchizedek by reflecting on Old Testament passages that mention him.

  • This is a transitional passage linking the ideas of appointment of Jesus as high priest and the superior offering of Jesus.

  • The new covenant is superior to the old covenant.

  • The structure of the tabernacle shows that we could not get into God's presence on our own.

  • Christ’s offering superior to the offerings of the old covenant. It is the day of atonement offering made once for all time so all our sins are dealt with and we may enter the presence of God.

  • It is encouraging to realize how decisively your sins have been dealt with by the sacrifice of Christ. When you sin, you need to agree with God that it is sin and it has already been dealt with by Christ. If I am in covenant with Christ, I am not guilty before God. Jesus’ work as high priest is what allows me to come into God’s presence.

  • “Let us draw near,” “Let us hold fast,” “Let us consider.” We should live in community in such a way that we are stirring up so that the end result is that we are doing good works in the context of love. We should not forsake assembling. We should stir each other up to love and good works. These should both happen “in light of” the return of Jesus. It is important to learn theology in community.

  • If we deliberately go on sinning after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there is no longer a sacrifice for sin. It’s referring someone who continues to reject the gospel. Contrasts the righteous who live by faith and the wicked who reject God by quoting Isaiah 26:20-21 and Habbakkuk 2:3-4.

  • Two literary devices used in Hebrews chapter 11 are the author’s use of “by faith” repeatedly for emphasis and the “example list” used for exhortation, not exposition. It encourages people to action by using overwhelming evidence. They were successful in spite of the difficulties they faced as marginalized people. Faith is not leaping out against the evidence. It is standing confidently based on what God has revealed to be true.

  • We look at Jesus in his exaltation to see his position as the superior high priest and thereby gives us stability, and in his incarnation because we follow his example of endurance. In a normal father-son relationship, the father disciplines the son. As children, we respected our earthly fathers. The goal of discipline is to produce holiness.

  • The author draws theological strands together to give a theological exhortation in a unique form to emphasize the power and blessings of the new covenant. A new covenant community is characterized by the active presence of God, joy and grace. The chapter finishes with a warning passage.

  • The essence of the community won’t change over time because Christ doesn’t change. As we are building bridges of communication to people in the culture, we are called to be distinct from the culture. The distinctness should not come from cultural trappings, but from identifying with Jesus and the gospel over and against the world system.

As Dr. Guthrie interacts with each verse, he explores not only the meaning of the text, but how we apply the theology of the text in our daily lives and ministries.

Course: Hebrews

Lecture: Hebrews 11


I. Introduction

We have made a lot of progress in Hebrews up to this point. When you get to chapter 11 of Hebrews, you have a dramatic shift in the way the author has been communicating. This is certainly a fascinating chapter to encounter in this respect. There are several dynamics with Hebrews 11, having two literary
devices with one at a more micro level, something that is more verse by verse. The other device is on a macro level, showing a larger picture of what is going on. I also want to discuss some of the patterns that we have in this chapter, that is, the overall structure of it. Then, we will look at some of the elements he talks about here in terms of the development of the chapter.

A. By Faith:

The first literary device is the author’s use of the phrase, by faith. It is specifically based on the word ‘pistia’, which is used anaphoric ally. It is the repeating of something over and over again. So, the first device is the use of this word. Rhetorically, it is like having a hammer and driving this concept of
faith into their minds. The repetition is meant to be rhetorically powerful in confronting them over and over again. I am an admirer of black American preaching. This dynamic in black American preaching is used very well where the pastor builds in his sermon starting slowly and by the time you get to the main sermon, you have a repeating of the main theme. The rhetorical power of this hits you in the face with the main point. This is what the use of ‘pistia’ anaphoric ally does. This is working with the other literary device which is called the example list.

B. Example List:

The technical name of this is exemplar. This was a rhetorical tool of exhortation. The author isn’t doing exposition here; it is exhortation. One such authority, namely Linda Neely, identified chapter 11 of Hebrews as exposition; I believe this confused her in the understanding of the big picture of
the book. The chapter is meant to prompt the hearers to action. It works by giving overwhelming evidence for something. It impresses the audience with the extensive evidence, that the desired course of action is the best one to take. If the author is trying to impress a main point on them; what would you say that main point is? How would you express it? I think it has to do with the appropriate way to live as the people of God is to live by faith. In spite of the difficulties you face, we should live by faith as the people of God. This is what the author is trying to impress on them. So, the purpose here is to challenge the hearers to action, specifically to respond by faith to their difficulties. A person by the name of Michael Cosby has an important article and book based on his dissertation on Hebrews 11. He goes into detail showing how this was done in the ancient world. There are more recent articles and a book that has come out by a lady name Pamela Izinbomb. Her dissertation was on the heroes of Hebrews 11. It was entitled, The Jewish Heroes of Christian History. Pamela Izinbomb is actually Jewish. This is what she says: He raises the question concerning the criteria about which these heroes and their specific characteristics are highlighted. In other words, why were these people chosen and not others? She concludes that the key criterion in a profile of these people was their marginalization in relation to the nation of Israel. According to her, they were transvalued; that is the value normally placed on these people as national heroes is transformed into another value; that is, they were faithful as marginalized people. So, instead of the normal way of appealing to people like Moses and Abraham; these were the great heroes of the faith who experienced great success in the history of redemption. Izinbomb suggests that the key value that the author is interested in is that they were successful in spite of the difficulties they faced as marginalized people.

With Moses for example, the emphasis is on him being the outsider in relation to Egypt. Abraham is a wonderer but God brings about the result that was needed with him. The author of Hebrews uses these people as good examples with Christians who are struggling who are marginalized. The use of this example list provided evidence of something; it is similar to the use of the string of pearls we saw in chapter 1 where we see a large provision of evidence is given. You see by the end of the list, the best way to live for God is by faith.

C. Patterns:

You see a couple of different patterns here. We will look at the pattern that the author follows and then I will say some about the structure of the chapter. So, we have the word, pistia, followed by the name of the person who by their own faith or the faith of another person is being used as an example. So, the name of the person, who by faith or the faith of another; for instance, Moses parents, is used as an example. Third, in this general pattern; the action or event by which faith was expressed is seen and then the outcome which is normally positive. Sometimes, the outcome is omitted or at other times, the author includes a concession, even though something happened. But the general pattern is by faith, the name of the person, the action or event by which faith was expressed and then the outcome.

D. Structure of the Chapter:

The first three verses are what I call an overture using language from the world of music. These verses echo somewhat through the chapter. Then you have movement one which I call the first examples of faith in 11:4-12. Then you have an interlude; a faith of pilgrims in which the emphasis is on the fact that these folks were wandering. This is from 11:13 to 16. So, overture in 11:1-3, movement one, 1st examples of faith in 11:4-12 and then an interlude with a faith of pilgrims in 11:13-16. We have movement two with more examples of faith in 11:17-31. Finally, we have a crescendo and conclusion. This is in 11:32-40.

II. Text

A. Overture – 11:1-3:

1 έστι (is) δε (And) πίστις (belief) ελπιζομένων (of hoping) υπόστασις (the reality) πραγμάτων (of things,) έλεγχος (the proof) ου (not) βλεπομένων (being seen.)
2 εν (in) ταύτη (this) γαρ (For) εμαρτυρήθησαν (were borne witness to) οι (the) πρεσβύτεροι (elders.)
3 πίστει (By belief) νοούμεν (we comprehend) κατηρτίσθαι (to be fashioned) τους (the) αιώνας (eons) ρήματι (by the word) θεού (of God,) εις το (so that) μη εκ (not of) φαινομένων (things appearing) τα (the things) βλεπόμενα (seen) γεγονέναι (take place.)

Now faith is of things that are hoped for. This has something to do with stability. It can mean firmness, confidence or guarantee of something or proof. Some translations read that it is the assurance of things hoped for. It has something to do with firmness and the guarantee. I translated it one place as faith is the firm confidence of the things hoped for. It is the verification of things not seen. This set the tone for how the author talks about faith in this chapter. From a biblical concept, faith should not be understood as a leap in the dark. Faith is not leaping out against the evidence; It is standing confidently based on what God has revealed to be true. As you look at this chapter, what aspect of this is the unseen? There is something that is unseen and hoped for. How does this relate to faith? The unseen has to do with the answers to their needs are not there yet. They are acting in faith on the basis of what God has revealed as being true about himself. They are enduring, even though they don’t see the answer yet. That is what is unseen. So faith is standing in that firm confidence in spite of not yet seeing the answers. (Note that a student ask about the idea of a hypothetic union; this came years later as the church tried to describe this theological reality relating to this verse. This term in the 1 st century had different meanings and I don’t want to read this later idea into the 1 st century meaning.) It was by faith that the elders bore witness; they are not just witnesses to God by their faith; God witnessed to them through the Scriptures. So, you find the witness to the Scriptures that God is affirming the faith of these people. That what he means when he says that they were born witness to; God is bearing witness to them. He then uses an analogy from creation saying by faith we understand that the world was set up by the Word of God. God made or prepared the world by his Word and in that situation, what was seen was made out of what was not seen. So, even with the foundation of the world, God’s word called things into existence that were not visible. This is the pattern in what it means to live by faith; standing in firm confidence on the nature of God for he brings things into existence that is not seen. One of the ways he does this is bringing answers to the promises even though you don’t see them right now.

B. Movement 1 – 11:4-12:

4 πίστει (By belief) πλείονα (a greater) θυσίαν (sacrifice) Άβελ (Abel) παρά (than) Καϊν (Cain) προσήνεγκε (offered) τω θεώ (to God,) δι΄ (by) ης (which) εμαρτυρήθη (he bore witness) είναι (to be) δίκαιος (just,) μαρτυρούντος (testifying) επί (over) τοις δώροις αυτού (his gifts) του θεού (by God;) και (and) δι΄ (through) αυτής (it) αποθανών (having died) έτι (still) λαλείται (speaks.)
5 πίστει (By belief) Ενώχ (Enoch) μετετέθη (was transposed) του μη (to not) ιδείν (know) θάνατον (death,) και (and) ουχ (was not) ευρίσκετο (found,) διότι (because) μετέθηκεν (transposed) αυτόν (him) ο θεός (God;) προ γαρ (for before) της μεταθέσεως αυτού (his transposition) μεμαρτύρηται (he bore witness) ευηρεστηκέναι (to have been well-pleasing) τω (to) θεώ (God.)
6 χωρίς δε (But apart from) πίστεως (belief) αδύνατον (it is impossible) ευαρεστήσαι (to well-please;) πιστεύσαι (6 to believe) γαρ (for) δει (it is necessary) τον (for the one) προσερχόμενον (coming forward) τω θεώ (to God) ότι (that) έστι (he is;) και (and) τοις (to the ones) εκζητούσιν (seeking after) αυτόν (him) μισθαποδότης (a paymaster) γίνεται (he becomes.)
7 πίστει (By belief) χρηματισθείς Νώε (Noah having received a divine message) περί (concerning) των (the things) μηδέπω (not as yet) βλεπομένων (being seen,) ευλαβηθείς (showing reverence,) κατεσκεύασε (carefully prepared) κιβωτόν (the ark) εις (for) σωτηρίαν (deliverance) του οίκου αυτού (of his house;) δι΄ (by) ης (which) κατέκρινε (he condemned) τον (the) κόσμον (world;) και (and) της (of the thing) κατά (according to) πίστιν (belief) δικαιοσύνης (3 of righteousness) εγένετο (1 he became) κληρονόμος (2 heir.)
8 πίστει By belief καλούμενος Αβραάμ Abraham being called, υπήκουσεν obeyed εξελθείν to go forth εις unto τον the τόπον place ον which έμελλε he was about λαμβάνειν to receive εις for κληρονομίαν an inheritance; και and εξήλθε he went forth μη not επιστάμενος having knowledge of που where έρχεται he went.
9 πίστει (By belief) παρώκησεν (he sojourned) εις (in) την (the) γην (land) της (of the) επαγγελίας (promise,) ως (as) αλλοτρίαν (an alien,) εν (in) σκηναίς (tents) κατοικήσας (dwelling) μετά (with) Ισαάκ (Isaac) και (and) Ιακώβ (Jacob,) των (the) συγκληρονόμων (joint-heirs) της (of the) επαγγελίας της αυτής (same promise;)
10 εξεδέχετο γαρ (for he looked out for) την (the) τους θεμελίους (3 foundations) έχουσαν (2 having) πόλιν (city,) ης (of which) τεχνίτης (the craftsman) και (and) δημιουργός (engineer) ο θεός (is God.)
11 πίστει (By belief) και (also) αυτή Σάρρα (Sarah herself) δύναμιν (power) εις (for) καταβολήν (founding) σπέρματος (seed) έλαβε (received,) και (and) παρά (past) καιρόν (the time) ηλικίας (of vigor) έτεκεν (gave birth,) επεί (since) πιστόν (believing) ηγήσατο (she esteemed) τον (the one) επαγγειλάμενον (promising.)
12 διό (Therefore) και (also) αφ΄ (from) ενός (one) εγεννήθησαν (they were born) και (and) ταύτα (these) νενεκρωμένου (were as deadened) καθώς (as) τα (the) άστρα (stars) του (of the) ουρανού (heaven) τω πλήθει (in multitude,) και (and) ως (as) η (the) άμμος (sand) η παρά (by) το (the) χείλος (edge) της (of the)
θαλάσσης (sea) η αναρίθμητος (is innumerable.)

In verse 4, he uses the example of Abel; it was by faith that Abel offered a better sacrifice than Cain. This is from Genesis 4:4-12. When the Old Testament text says that Abel brought the fat portions from some of the first born of his flock; this showed the attitude of his heart. The passages say that the Lord looked in favor on Abel and his offerings. It wasn’t just about the offering but there was something about the attitude of Abel’s heart. So, Hebrews tells us that Abel speaks, even though he is dead. It was his blood crying out from the ground which is a call for justice. We have a passage in chapter 12 where the author says that Jesus’ blood speaks better than the blood of Abel. So, by faith, Abel has the posture before God and then has such a life that calls for justice in light of his murder. Then in the second example, Enoch acted by faith. In Genesis 5:24, we are told that he was transported out without experiencing death. It was a witness to him that he was pleasing to God. This echoes back to the quotation we saw at the end of chapter 10 where God says that the person who shrinks back, my soul doesn’t have pleasure in him. But Enoch did please God as this was bore witness to. We have a statement in verse 6 that without faith, it is impossible to please God. This statement is echoing Isaiah 26 and Habakkuk 2 that we saw in Hebrews 10:37-38, God is pleased with the person who does not shrink back but who has faith in him. Without faith, it is impossible to please God. In coming to God, we believe that God is and he rewards those who seek him.

For obvious reasons in relation to the flood, God promised that the flood was going to come. While it had not taken place yet, Noah acted on the Word of God. In verses 8-12, you have Abraham who we saw in chapter 6, is one of the pre-eminent examples of faith in the Old Testament. He obediently left his country in order to pursue God’s call to a new life. Again, you have the unseen over against what is seen. He had the promise and Word of God, but he went out to a place he had never seen before. Even though he didn’t know where he was going, he went out. Not only was his faith fulfilled by the place he went to but as an older person, God fulfilled the promise related to children. In verse 10, in relation to Abraham’s faith, he was looking for a city whose foundations were built by God. He wasn’t just looking for an earthly place to stay, he was ultimately interested in something bigger; a place that God had established. In verse 12, you have the promise to Abraham that his descendants would be as the stars of the heavens.

C. Interlude - 11:13-16:

13 κατά (According to) πίστιν (belief) απέθανον (died) ούτοι (these) πάντες (all,) μη (not) λαβόντες (receiving) τας (the) επαγγελίας (promises,) αλλά (but) πόρρωθεν (at a distance) αυτάς ιδόντες (beholding them,) και (and) πεισθεντες (being persuaded,) και (and) ασπασάμενοι (greeting,) και (and) ομολογήσαντες (acknowledging) ότι (that) ξένοι (strangers) και (and) παρεπίδημοί (immigrants) εισιν (they are) επί (upon) της (the) γης (earth.)
14 οι γαρ (For the ones) τοιαύτα (such things) λέγοντες (saying) εμφανίζουσιν (reveal) ότι (that) πατρίδα (the fatherland) επιζητούσι (they anxiously seek.)
15 και (And) ει (if) μεν (indeed,) εκείνης (those) εμνημόνευον (remembering) αφ΄ (from) ης (where) εξήλθον (they came forth,) είχον (they had) αν (even) καιρόν (time) ανακάμψαι (to return.)
16 νυν δε (But now) κρείττονος (a better thing) ορέγονται (they reach for,) τουτ΄ έστιν (that is to say,) επουρανίου (a heavenly.) διό (Therefore) ουκ (is not)
επαισχύνεται (ashamed of) αυτούς (them) ο θεός (God,) θεός (God) επικαλείσθαι (to be called) αυτών (their;) ητοίμασε γαρ (for he prepared) αυτοίς (for them) πόλιν (a city.)

Now, what the author does here; he comments on the general pattern which he has pointed out so far. These people were aliens and strangers on the earth. They were people of active faith, even though they didn’t see the promises fulfilled at that time, they were seeking or looking for a country that was not their own. The author is emphasizing this because he wants to get the believers to think about the contrast between what it means to be citizens of Rome and what it means to be citizens of heaven. One of the grave dangers for us here in our country; we are so comfortable that we no longer long or seek our heavenly home. Normally, life is difficult as so it keeps us longing for something better. As C.S. Lewis said, we need to remember that we are always at weigh stations on the way to some-place else. If some of them were Roman citizens, there was no grander thing than being a citizen of Rome. There were lots privileges attached to that. In thinking about what a person values, the author may have been challenging them to think clearly about which citizenship they are really interested in and value the most. This may be an aspect of why he is emphasizing this dynamic of longing for a better place. There is a balance in thinking about how we consider the country we live in and the heavenly home that is prepared for us. On the one hand, if you take it that the world is not simply a throw away; God’s idea is the redemption of the heaven and earth. The kingdom is now having an impact in the lives of people; we as believers should be interested in justice issues and even ecological things which is a reverence of God and his creation. In certain aspects, we can affirm that government is a positive thing given by God for order as we see in places like Romans 13 and elsewhere. So, on one hand, I think we can feel positive about being good citizens and helping our government to be what it should be by voting, etc. However, there is serious caution though; I think to a great extent a lot of Christians in our sub-culture confuse our country with the kingdom of God. This is very dangerous and counterproductive for the kingdom of God.

We have to be careful in shouting against the culture as being sinful, we need to try and place a role in preserving right values over evil values. However, in terms of our public persona as Christians; we must not confuse our country with the Kingdom of God. They are not synonymous at all. We need to be very
careful in our public persona in shouting against the sinfulness of the culture, what are we really trying to accomplish in doing so. It shouldn’t surprise us that people in the world have evil values and make evil decisions. If we spend most of our energy screaming against the evilness of the culture, this doesn’t create a context which is conducive to communicate the Good News of the Gospel. So, from a strategic standpoint; it is wrong to be prophetic in relation to culture. There is a fine line trying to maintain justice and what is productive and righteous in the culture. There are many systems that actually damage people’s lives; we need to balance this with how we built a public persona that communicates the values that are inherent in the Scriptures. These values are what Christians really are and what we are about. If churches in a city decided to take several years to address poverty and poor education and things like that, it would do a lot to reverse the TV news comments against Christianity. It would show that we were about meeting the needs of the people and loving them in the name of Jesus. The question is what does it mean to be biblical in the world we live in as a church and as an individual. We must know that the world system involves power which in many cases if not all is sinful and corrupt. So there is a balance in thinking about how we consider our lives in this world and I am not sure where that balance is. Our big picture is how to communicate the Gospel to people and Christian values have a lot to do with meeting the needs of the poor. Remember, Jesus defined his ministry in terms of helping those who were in a very bad way in life. James defines true religion as meeting the needs of those who are the most vulnerable in society. In many cases we don’t do this and we do not keep ourselves from being affected by the world in terms of power. Every question that the Christian needs to answer in regards to their activities, whether it be working in a job, in ministry, in politics, in whatever they do and how does this relate to the advancement of the kingdom of God?

Even decisions that we make about a car or house or travel, whatever, it needs to be made in light of how it relates in terms to the advancement of the kingdom. We built our house according to the things we could facilitate in terms of our ministries relating to that house. Our decisions need to be driven on how this relates in regards to my part in advancing the Kingdom of God. Even a person in politics, I don’t think we have to have a two spheres approach to life dividing our church life from our public, practical or work life.

D. Movement 2 – 11:17-31:

19 λογισάμενος (considering) ότι (that) και (4 even) εκ (5 from) νεκρών (6 the dead) εγείρειν (3 to raise) δυνατός (2 was able) ο θεός (1 God;) όθεν (from where)
αυτόν (2 him) και (3 even) εν (4 in) παραβολή (5 parable) εκομίσατο (1 he received.)

The author gives other examples of faith. He picks back up on Abraham and now focuses on the other main event of Abraham’s life. This was the binding of Isaac; in the Jewish context, this is sometimes called the Akedah that you find in Genesis 22:1-8. This is the demonstration of faith, par exhalant. In the Jewish work of Sirach 44:20, he comments that when Abraham was tested, he proved faithful. Notice what you have in the situation of Abraham. There is this juxtaposition of two things; his trusting God with the promise which was embodied in Isaac and him being obedient to God’s command. They seem to contradict because the command was to kill the son of the promise. This is why Abraham is such an astounding and wonderful example of faith. It just did not make sense and yet Abraham was obedient even though it didn’t make sense; the way ahead wasn’t clear. The Word and promise of God was clear,
but it was a very difficult situation. We see in verse 19, the author of Hebrews is interpreting that aspect of the Old Testament text where Abraham said to the servants, ‘stay here, the boy and I will go and then return to you,’ that God had the ability to even raise the dead, if that was what is would take. He trusted that God would do whatever for the promise to be fulfilled. The author turns to Isaac as a father in the next few verses where you have the blessing of Jacob and Esau; you then have Jacob as a father in verse 21where he is blessing his sons. Then finally, you have Joseph. So, you have these patriarchs one after another as the author zips ahead in the story. Remember the nature of the example list; when he mentions these patriarchs who were very familiar to everyone in the congregation; it pulls their whole story in without having to go into any details. There is a rapid fire using the phrase, by faith, by faith, by faith driving the main point.

23 πίστει (By belief) Μωϋσης (Moses,) γεννηθείς (having been born,) εκρύβη (was hid) τρίμηνον (three months) υπό (by) των πατέρων αυτού (his fathers,) διότι (because) είδον (they saw) αστείον (as fair) το (the) παιδίον (child;) και (and) ουκ (they did not) εφοβήθησαν (fear) το (the) διάταγμα (edict) του (of the) βασιλέως (king.)
24 πίστει (By belief) Μωϋσης (Moses,) μέγας (2 great) γενόμενος (having become,) ηρνήσατο (denied) λέγεσθαι (to be called) υιός (son) θυγατρός Φαράω (of Pharaoh's daughter,)
25 μάλλον (rather) ελόμενος (seeming it as being good) συγκακουχείσθαι (to suffer affliction with) τω (the) λαώ (people) του θεού (of God,) η (than) πρόσκαιρον (2 temporary) έχειν (to have) αμαρτίαις (4 in sins) απόλαυσιν (enjoyment;)
26 μείζονα (greater) πλούτον (7 riches) ηγησάμενος (esteeming) των (than the) εν (in) Αιγύπτω (Egypt) θησαυρών (treasures) τον (the) ονειδισμόν (scorning) του (of the) χριστού (anointed;) απέβλεπε γαρ (for he looked away) εις (to) την (the) μισθαποδοσίαν (payment.)

In 11:23-24, the author comes to Moses. When we were looking at Moses in 3:1-6, he was considered the greatest person in history in some Jewish contexts. In Sirach 45:4-5, it says that for his faithfulness and meekness, he consecrated him; choosing him out of all human kind, he allowed Moses to hear his voice and led him into the dark cloud and gave him the commandments face to face which was the law of life and knowledge that he might teach Jacob the covenant and Israel his decrees. So Moses’ faithfulness was lorded in broader Judaism. Moses’ faith is interesting as the author says by faith when Moses was born was hidden by his parents. At this point, it wasn’t Moses’ faith but instead it was the faith of his parents. You find this in Exodus 2:1-4.Then in verses 24-26, you have his faith celebrated; he rejected his adopted mother, Pharaoh’s daughter, in order to stand with the people of God. He considered shame for the sake of Christ as of greater value than Egypt’s treasures. In studying Egyptian history in many of the museums in America, London, other places in Europe and the world and especially in Cairo, you see these treasures in terms of gold, jewelry, and the stones. The author of Hebrews says that Moses turned away from all of that in order to stand with the people of God. In verse 26, he talks about the reproach of Christ, the insult of Christ; what is this? It is obvious that Moses didn’t know Jesus at this point, but the idea here is that the people of God are in view. There is an analogy drawn on the shame that we have seen as a theme in Jesus’ stance for the Father. So the people of God as a whole are under consideration and standing with the Lord. Then following a pattern that would then be exemplified in Christ; this is a pattern of suffering and obedience. I think this is what the author has in mind here. He was looking for a reward, but not an earthly reward. It was a better reward as the author has mentioned in relation to these people in 10:32 and following. Even in the case of Christ, he anticipated the exhortation. So, he uses Moses as an exemplar here and says that he left Egypt, not fear the wrath of Pharaoh.

What do we see in the Exodus story? Moses didn’t fear the wrath of the king; Moses acted. It wasn’t that he wasn’t afraid; he didn’t fear the wrath of the king because he acted in spite of the wrath of the king. This is what faith does. The narrative is indeed tied to the murder, a murder that is motivated by his
identity with the people of Israel. He emphasizes again in verse 27, he is seeing God who is unseen. He is acting on what is unseen. The author continues in verse 28 by saying that it is by faith that Moses kept the Passover. He talks about the sprinkling of blood. The pre-eminent event for the people of God was passing through the Red Sea. We have in Exodus 13 and 14. Interestingly, the author talks about this as a great example of the faith of the people of Israel. If you read the narrative, you see the people’s response to this situation; they are grumbling and terrified. They start yelling at Moses and Moses asked God what to do. So, it seems that faith is not necessarily tied to an emotion as it is tied to action and obedience.

The last two points of this general movement of faith; he emphasizes the walls of Jericho falling down which in itself is an amazing story in the Old Testament. In Joshua 5:13-6:27 the people responding in obedience by marching around the walls of Jericho and then in verse 31, he raises the example of Rahab the prostitute. If you and I were looking around for great illustrations of the faith; we probably wouldn’t choose Rahab for the position. Nevertheless Rahab is one of the heroes of the faith in this biblical narrative. There is an emphasis on obedience in verse 31; she did not perish with those who were disobedient to the Word of God after she had taken the spies in. There seems to be an emphasis to obedience in following through on the Word of God.

E. Crescendo and Conclusion – 11:32-40:

In verse 32, the author comments, what more can I say? I don’t have time to tell you about all these other heroes of the faith, but in fact he does continue. Remember that this is a rhetorical stylized kind of approach to things here. The six heroes that you have from the era of the Judges are kind of
compressed. There are two from Joshua’s era and then he gives us this list of six names that aren’t in chronological order; they bring to mind issues of valor. We have Gideon and his three hundred who routed the Midianites. Then we have a military leader under Judge Debra who defeated Sicora and the
Canaanites. And then there is the infamous Samson who champions the cause of the Israelites during the Philistine crisis in Judges 13. There is Jephthah who made a vow of sacrifice concerning his daughter; he defeated the Ammonites and the Amorites in Judges 10-12. Then you have Samuel between the time of the judges and the monarchy. He is a key figure because of his discernment of the voice of God. Even before Samuel, he mentions David. These are given in chronological order but they come one right after another to reinforce this rapid fire list of examples of people who lived by faith. At the point, the author provides us with a summary of their acts of faith. Some of these things you can take as echoes or illusions to specific situations while others are very general. They conquered kingdoms and so you have them overcoming in the sense of winning great battles. They performed acts of righteousness and obtained promises and shut the mouths of lions which is an illusion to Daniel. They quenched the power of fire which is an illusion to Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. They escaped the sword and were made strong out their weaknesses. He emphasizes the great accomplishment. In verse 35, he brings in the issue of resurrection where women got their dead back through resurrection while others were tortured. Some think what the author is trying to allude to here is perhaps the great heroes of the Maccabean era. You have these horrific examples of torture especially in the Maccabean era. In 2 Maccabees 6 tells of a time when the Greeks tempted to force pagan religion on the Jewish people.

One of the stories talks about Eliezer, a ninety year old scribe who was given the death penalty because he wouldn’t eat pork. Friends had encouraged him to fake it by using another type of meat. But instead he said though he might have been saved from death, even though I am enduring terrible sufferings in my body under this beating, but in my soul, I am glad to suffer these things because I fear him. In the next chapter of 2 Maccabees, a mother and her seven sons die under torture. The first son under the eyes of his family has his tongue cut out and then scalped and his hands and feet cut off., then he is fried in a pan until he dies. The second son dies in a similar way but with his last breath, he said to the Greeks, you dismiss us from the life but the King of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life because we have died for his laws. There were people who experienced mocking and scourging, chains and imprisonment. There were people who were stoned; this perhaps is referring to Jeramiah as according to tradition. Tradition also says that Isaiah was sawed in half. Now the author shifts from faith having a successful outcome where you win the battle to expressions of faith when ends in a way that isn’t good from a human earthly perspective. People died from torture; I think this is very significant for us. There are people of faith who wonder around in destitute existence even in this life. They are mistreated and don’t seem to have the things that they need, but the author says that the world wasn’t worthy of these people. He concludes the chapter by saying these bore witness to through faith, even though they did not receive what was promised.

III. Implications

Then the author makes this interesting observation; the reason they didn’t all receive ultimately what was promised, God had provided something better for us in order that they wouldn’t be perfected apart from us. In other words, what God was doing and describing were in terms of the new covenant. All of these people of faith are leading up to the ultimate promise of God being fulfilled through the new covenant. It suggests that we are to be people who live by faith in the world for what it means to be Christians. Given our cultural context that not one example of healing is given in the example list. And yet in our cultural context when people think about faith, we normally think of it in terms of people who are healed. I do believe that healing takes place today. I have a friend on the faculty who had cancer and God healed him of that cancer. It was apart from anything that was medically explainable. But this isn’t the framework in which the author talks about faith here. So again, what is faith? It is standing resolutely in the face of difficulty and persecution based on what Christ has revealed to be true. Faith in any situation stands based on the truth of the Gospel of what God has revealed as truth in the face of very difficult situations, and we trust that this is the right thing to do. A posture of faith doesn’t look at the obvious dynamics of the present situation as being ultimate. It is an expression of faith in the unseen God and his greater realities and standing on that greater reality rather than be consumed by the earthly perspective. We need to do more thinking across the world for our brothers and sisters facing server persecution for the faith. Faith doesn’t always mean that the answer is going to be positive from an earthly perspective because sometimes people of faith get killed. But this in itself is also glory to the Lord according to the author of Hebrews because they stood in faith even though they didn’t always see the answers to the promises. But be aware that in this, we stand on the Word of God not our own impressions. We need to become more grounded on the Word rather than depend on impressions.