Hebrews chapter 11 has been labeled by some theologians as ‘the Great Hall of Faith’. Truly it is a reminder of so many great and wonderful things that the Lord has done in and through people in the past, and why today we can be positive in our confession. The last verse from chapter 10 said, “But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.” As the writer continues we are given the definition of what that faith in God looks like.
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 For by it the people of old received their commendation. 3 By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. 4 By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. 5 By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God.
Many people like to use the illustration of a person carrying an umbrella, having faith that it will rain, as an explanation of what faith looks like; but the author clearly states in verse 1 that this faith is in things unseen. We’ve all seen rain before, and we know that it has and could happen…but the people listed here in this great line of faith were putting their hopes into something more. These all shared the faith that God would save them, or that they would be with God by His grace somehow after death. It is a ‘looking forward’ to Christ, or a Messiah. The Bible gradually reveals that a Savior will come, giving out small revelations that build on one another until the day He is finally announced by John the Baptist and things are made clear. It is by this faith of what is future, trusting in God to do the work, that these people of old were saved from God’s wrath.
Verse 3 explains that our faith, like theirs, is in something we have not witnessed – such as God making something out of nothing using only His words during the creation of the world. Verse 4 describes Abel’s faith when giving God the first of his labor. His gift was accepted because he held nothing back from God, and fully trusted that what he had given would be acceptable because it was the best of what he had worked for (see Gen. 4). Verse 5 speaks of the faith of Enoch, who was 365 years old when God ‘took’ him because of his close walk with God. Enoch’s faith was so great that he was commended as having pleased God.
6 And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. 7 By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.
We are given a warning in verses 6 and 7 about just how important our faith in God actually is by using the example of Noah. Genesis 6-9 records the story of Noah and his obedience to God’s calling to build an ark. Of all the people on the earth, Noah was found to have faith in God, and because of that he was given instructions on how to be saved from the coming flood waters. Without this faith Noah would not have followed through and humanity as we know it would have ended. But as verse 6 says, Noah had faith, he drew near to God, obeyed Him, and was rewarded with life. Without belief and faith in God, there is no way to know Him, or be eternally blessed by Him.
8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. 11 By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.
Abraham, the great patriarch of Israel, was a man of faith. He lived his life after being called by God in constant waiting of what God would have him do next. He was led by God, but even he was not given the full revelation of the promise God had given. All he knew was that there was more than this life – there was a future with God, and he wanted it. Sarah believed God, and together they witnessed the miracle of childbirth in their late age.
13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return.16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.
All of these people died waiting and looking forward to God’s promise. They never attained it while living, however they knew it was coming. By faith they lived their lives knowing that God held them and would provide for them. They died in their faith of what was coming, accepting that they would not achieve it alive. It was clear that they were seeking God and His way and that they no longer wanted the things of this world or they could have had them. Because of their faith God was pleased to be called the ‘God of Abraham’, or the ‘God of Noah’.
17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, 18 of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 19 He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. 20 By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau. 21 By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff. 22 By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones.
Verses 17-22 give us examples of individual faith that was based on God’s word. Each of these men had been told the original promise given to Abraham about the nation that would come from him. Abraham believed that God would do this, and knowing that Isaac was the heir to that promise, he willingly place him on an altar to sacrifice him as the Lord commanded, knowing that God would still produce a nation through his son somehow. Isaac, in his old age, faithfully blessed Jacob thinking that he was Esau, but did not take back his blessing upon realizing his mistake. Why? Isaac knew that God had placed the right son in the room for the blessing. It was faith that kept him from retracting it. Jacob and Joseph both gave prophetic utterances about what would happen with the Israelites because they believed in God’s word to Abraham.
23 By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. 24 By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25 choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. 27 By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. 28 By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them.
Verses 23-28 show us the great faith of Moses, the first leader of the Israelites. His parents faith was no doubt God given and led to a life given every luxury by his adopted Egyptian mother. However, because his actual mother nursed him, Moses would have known the stories of the patriarchs. When he was old enough to go out on his own, Moses decided to reject the riches and wealth of Egypt for a life sided with his blood relatives. Moses would rather have taken rejection on behalf of the future Christ than have the world. This was true not only in the face of Egypt, but his own people as well. He had to trust that God knew what He was doing when he led the people away from everything they had ever known into the wilderness.
29 By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned. 30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. 31 By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.
In these few verses we see what happens when people witness the power of God and believe that He can and will work on their side. The people bravely crossed the Red Sea as towers of water stood on either side of them. In that moment they knew that God would get them across. During the battle of Jericho the people placed their trust in Joshua who had his eyes on God. Each move they made was a direct command given by Him, and because of that faith, the walls of the city fell without even a touch. Rahab, who was in that city, had graciously taken in the spies from Israel who had come to see the land. She sided with the God of Israel over her king and could have paid for it with her life. Instead, her life was spared by Israel because of her faith that their God was bigger.
32 And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. 36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— 38 of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. 39 And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.
The writer explains that this is just the tip of the iceberg. There were so many more who lived by faith. They were powerful through faith in God. They were brave and strong through faith in God. They were raised to life, endured suffering, and in the end they died in their faith. And yet, none of them received the promise that awaited us all when Christ was born, lived a sinless life, died a spotless lamb, rose to new life, and sat down at the right hand of God. What an amazing testimony God gives to those who live by faith!
- These that lived by faith were never ‘established’ here on earth. Their worth came because of their faith in God. Am I more concerned about this world knowing me or God?
- Because of their faith, God was pleased with them and happy to be called their God. Is God pleased with me? How do I represent that I have faith in God’s promise of salvation?
- Moses chose to do the things God wanted even over the things the Israelites wanted because he was doing it for the future promise of being with God. Do I choose God’s way when the world, or possibly even the church, choose the worldly or easy way?