Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.
By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.
By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.
By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death: “He could not be found, because God had taken him away.” For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith.
By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.
All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.
By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future.
By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.
By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions concerning the burial of his bones.
By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.
By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible. By faith he kept the Passover and the application of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel.
By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned.
By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the army had marched around them for seven days.
By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.
And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated — the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.
These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.
- Hebrews 11:1-40
Noted Biblical Scholars, Teachers, and Preachers Comments
Hebrews 11:1 ‘What the eye cannot see’: “Faith is trusting what the eye can’t see.
“Eyes see the prowling lion. Faith sees Daniel’s angel.
“Eyes see storms. Faith sees Noah’s rainbow.
“Eyes see giants. Faith sees Canaan.
“Your eyes see your faults. Your faith sees your Savior.
”Your eyes see your guilt. Your faith sees his blood.
“Your eyes look in the mirror and see a sinner, a failure, a promise-breaker. But by faith you look in the mirror and see a robed prodigal bearing the ring of grace on your finger and the kiss of your Father on your face.”
- Max Lucado, When God Whispers Your Name
Hebrews 11:1 ‘faith is the substance …’: “The lesson that comes to us through the many dramatic illustrations of faith in Hebrews 11 brings us back to my earlier statement: Faith in God is to be demonstrated, not defined. Just as God’s church demonstrates Christian love, this demonstration of godly, humble faith is God’s ideal for His church.
“It is not enough for preachers in their pulpits to try to define love. The love that God has promised must be demonstrated in the lives of the believers in the pews. It must be practiced as well by the man who occupies the pulpit.
“We should put the matter of faith in that same category. God wants His people, including the ministers, to demonstrate all of the outworking of faith in their daily lives and practices.”
- A. W. Tozer, Jesus, Author of Our Faith
Hebrews 11:6 ‘without faith it is impossible to please God’: “Without faith we are without God, for God is only apprehended by faith. Without faith we are without hope, for a true hope can only spring out of a true faith. Without faith we are without Christ and, consequently, without a Savior. It would be infinitely better to be without eyes, without hearing, without wealth, without bread, without garments, without a home rather than to be without the faith that brings everything the soul requires. Without faith we are spiritually naked, poor, miserable, lost, condemned – and without a hope of escape.”
- Charles H. Spurgeon, from his sermon notes
Hebrews 11:24-25 ‘refused to be …’: “A selfish desire for happiness is as sinful as any other selfish desire. Its root is in the flesh which can never have any standing before God. ‘Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be,’ (Romans 8:7).
“People are coming more and more to excuse every sort of wrongdoing on the grounds that they are ‘just trying to secure a little happiness.’ Before she will give her consent to marriage the modern young lady may ask outright whether or not the man ‘can make me happy.’ The lovelorn columns of the newspapers are wet with the self-pitying tears of persons who write to inquire how they can ‘preserve their happiness.’ The psychiatrists of the land are getting fat off the increasing numbers who seek professional aid in their all-absorbing search for happiness. It is not uncommon for crimes to be committed against persons who do nothing worse than ‘jeopardize’ someone’s happiness.
“This is the hedonistic philosophy of old Grecian days misunderstood and applied to everyday living in the twentieth century. It destroys all nobility of character and makes milksops of all who consciously or unconsciously adopt it; but is quite the popular creed of the masses. That we are born to be happy is scarcely questioned by anyone. No one bothers to prove that fallen men have any moral right to happiness, or that they are in the long run any better off happy. The only question before the house is how to get the most happiness out of life. The thesis of almost all popular books and plays is that personal happiness is the legitimate end of the dramatic human struggle.
“Now, I submit that the whole hectic scramble after happiness is an evil as certainly as is the scramble after money or fame or success. It springs out of a vast misunderstanding of ourselves and of out true moral condition. No one who really knows himself can ever believe in his right to be happy. A little glimpse of his own heart will disillusion him instantly so that he is more likely to turn on himself and own God’s sentence against him to be just. The doctrine of man’s inalienable right to happiness is anti-God and anti-Christ, and its wide acceptance by society tells us a lot about that same society.”
- A. W. Tozer, The Price of Neglect
Hebrews 11:26 ‘greater value than the treasures of Egypt’: “Pleasures are certainly better than afflictions, according to any ordinary judgment. But Moses came to this conclusion: although affliction might be God’s worst, it was better than the pleasure of sin, which is evil’s best. Moses counted reproach to be better than Egypt’s feast. We should view life as Moses did, in connection with the reward, and commence a life for God and holiness.”
Hebrews 11:30 ‘By faith the walls of Jericho fell’: “It is no faith at all which believes and does nothing. We may not expect to be saved by faith unless faith pushes us to run in God’s way. Whether we seek salvation, the good of our friends, the stopping of evil, or the destruction of our corruptions, let us do it in the true, appointed way.”
- Charles H. Spurgeon, from his sermon notes
Hebrews 11:32-40 ‘And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell …’: “The apostle now concludes his narrative with a more summary account of another set of believers. He prefaces this part of the narrative with an elegant expostulation: What shall I say more? Time would fail me. We should be pleased to think how great the number of believers was under the Old Testament, and how strong their faith. We should lament it, that now, when the rule of faith is more clear and perfect, the number of believers should be so small and their faith so weak. … By faith they subdued kingdoms … wrought righteousness … obtained promises … stopped the mouths of lions … quenched the violence of the fire … Women received their dead raised to life again.
“He tells the Hebrews that God had provided some better things for them (v. 40), and therefore they might be assured that he expected at least as good things from them. Their faith should be much more perfect than the faith of the Old Testament saints; for their state and dispensation were more perfect than the former.”
- Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary (Scripture quotations are not in bold/italics)
Hebrews 11:38 ‘the world was not worthy’: “Rest on this earth is a false rest. Beware of those who urge you to find happiness here; you won’t find it. Guard against the false physicians who promise that joy is only a diet away, a marriage away, a job away, or a transfer away …
“Try this. Imagine a perfect world. Whatever that means to you, imagine it. Does that mean peace? Then envision absolute tranquility. Does a perfect world imply joy? Then create your highest happiness. Will a perfect world have love? If so, ponder a place where love has no bounds. Whatever heaven means to you, imagine it. Get it firmly fixed in your mind …
“And smile as the Father reminds you, No one has ever imagined what God has prepared for those who love him …
“When it comes to describing heaven, we are all happy failures.”
- Max Lucado, When God Whispers Your Name
First, regarding the scholarly quotes, A. W. Tozer gives a long sermon against “happiness.” The phrase is the inalienable right to ‘pursue happiness,’ not simply ‘happiness.’ John Locke did not use “happiness” and the USA forefathers, in using Locke’s words, changed it from possessions to the pursuit of happiness. Locke felt that you had the right to own your home if you cut down the trees, tilled the land and built the building. Thus, Locke’s focus was more of a contentment that comes from due compensation for the hard work done. In a way, someone might get “happiness” out of that, but it is a stretch, and in the current environment, it is far from a guarantee and for most of us, far from a reality, even many Christians.
As to Matthew Henry’s non-stated non-statistics, I agree with his sentiment, not even knowing the numbers in the early 1700s when his commentary was published, but I doubt if he did any polling, either in his day or by returning in his time machine to ancient times. With that in mind, it is a bizarre statement, and it smacks of being “now-centric.” We all fall into that trap that our time is so bad that we start to imagine the events around us equating to the End Times – or so good that it becomes the best of times. In raw numbers, there might have been more believers than in the time of Moses. There may indeed be more believers today than in Henry’s day, but there are 7.8 billion people in the world today compared to a little over 600 million people in Henry’s day. I have not gone into my time machine, but we may not have more than 10 times the believers that Matthew Henry was referring to, but we have over 10 times the population. Yet, Henry’s point rings true in spite of the “bad stats.” We have the Bible. We have all that we need to understand what purpose there is in life, to glorify and worship God. Yet, the church is slowly dying. Will the church revive and thrive? Only by faith.
When I started into the study of Hebrews, I could not wait to get to the Hall of Fame in chapter eleven. Okay, I did wait, but it was hard. Now that I am here, I feel like doing the same thing that the scholars did, skip the Hall of Fame citations all together. I could write about Abel and Enoch and Noah and Abraham, but in doing so, it glorifies Abel and Enoch and Noah and Abraham. The key to each of these citations is the first two words of each paragraph, “By faith…”
I could write about “Abel – what a guy!” But without faith, Abel was just a guy. And that faith came from God. And Abel and Enoch and Noah and Abraham all sinned. The Apostle Paul states that all have sinned and fallen short, so even those in the Hall of Fame of Faith sinned.
My point is that we are equal to the unnamed, the also rans, that the author of Hebrews talks about at the end of the chapter. In fact, that is us, if you believe and have faith.
And what each of us should exhibit are actions, stepping out in the faith that God has afforded us to spread the Gospel to the ends or corners of the earth. And if we begin space travel or colonies in earth orbit, we must go beyond the corners of the earth. It is faith that saves us, but as James says, faith without works is dead, at least it is useless. All those in the Hall of Fame did something based on their belief that God would work through them. That is the key difference today. Many “do-gooders” are “doing” through their own power. They are not relying on faith, and quite often they are glorifying themselves instead of God, or the church they represent.
The first step is to have faith. The second is to act upon the trust that we have in Jesus.
And is our success promised? Not if you read the end of the chapter. Many of these Hall of Famers never saw the earthly prize at the end of their labors. Many of us will not receive that earthly prize either, but oh, the wonderful reward that awaits us and we get to see the prize the Hall of Famers never saw, Jesus. If you have read all the New Testament, you will know that this earth will be destroyed and there will become a new heaven and new earth. A reward given here would be wasted. Our reward is there.
And I have thought about it a great deal in the past few weeks. I have no idea why I have had that thought. It relates to what heaven MIGHT be like, but what I have thought about is a question. “Can you see yourself doing nothing other than looking into the eyes of Jesus for a few eons?” Stumming a harp for an eon seems boring. Just gazing into someone’s eyes? I am an introvert. We hate making eye contact, although some of us have learned how. It is uncomfortable after a few seconds. An eon? Just one? We have the attention span of a gnat. Sorry! That gives gnats a bad name, for when they attack my eyes, they have a much longer attention span than we have. If you have never had gnats fly against your eyes or into your ears, especially when you are changing your oil or something else that requires you to be outside with both hands full of something, trust me!! They have a longer attention span than we do.
But for the answer to the question, it is two-fold. First, every time I divert my gaze away from my mental image of Jesus (not the real thing), I sin. I screw up. I must keep looking at Jesus to not screw up. And second, all the promises in the Bible have a clause in them that we must seek God and His plan for our lives. I see that requirement as gazing into the eyes of Jesus for as long as I can, desiring to know Him more and more, for He is all I need and all I really want. And I need no mention in any Hall of Fame other than to gaze into the eyes of my Savior.
Some Serendipitous Reflections
“1. What are some verbs that describe your present level of faith? Why these?
”2. Of the people mentioned in this section, with whom do you feel you have the most in common? Why? With whom do you have the least in common? Why? Which situation would have been the most difficult for you to face? Why? What does it mean to you that not all these people of faith met with ‘success’?
“3. How has your life changed as a result of your faith in God? What has your faith cost you? How has your faith affected your neighbors?
“4. What does it mean to you to be an alien and stranger on earth? In what ways do you feel like a stranger in this world?
“5. Who are some contemporary ‘heroes of faith’ that spur you on today?”
- Lyman Coleman, et al, The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups
Question 1 is equating faith with how you respond in action (even intellectual action). Yet, faith is spiritual. We need to show our faith in action, but there are other aspects. Alternatives to further reflection could be to list adverbs, nouns, and adjectives instead of only verbs.
The questions in Question 3 cover how we interact with others. The first one should have an answer. If nothing but a shrug, then why has there not been a change? Intellectually, attitudes, behavior, sense of Joy, Hope, etc.? Something!!! If your faith has not cost you anything, it goes back to the first question to a degree. But the follow up would be why not? And as for the neighbors, do they even know you are a Christian? My wife tells the story on occasion about our next-door neighbor in the hayloft of the converted stables in Watertown, MA. Our neighbors did not seem to have a moral compass (sexually, drugs, etc. – allegedly), but they started cleaning up their act when we moved next door. The wife next door told my wife that it seemed that the neighborhood had moved up scale with Christians next door. My wife said that we had never advertised, but the neighbor said that the other four families in the building were watching us.
Question 4 is like question 3. If there has been no change, there probably is no feeling of being a stranger.
If you like these Thursday morning Bible studies, but you think you missed a few, you can use this LINK. I have set up a page off the home page for links to these Thursday morning posts. I will continue to modify the page as I add more.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.