Hebrews 11:8-9… By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive as an inheritance. He went out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as a foreigner, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise.
The nation of Israel began with God’s call to Abraham to leave his country and go where God led him. God promised him that a nation would stem from his loins even though his wife was old and barren. But 25 years later they had a son, Isaac, born miraculously to Abraham when he was 99 and his wife 90. Isaac later became the father of Jacob, and Jacob birthed the nation of Israel with his 12 sons. His eleventh son, Joseph, saved the nation by moving them to Egypt, and 400 years later Moses delivered them out of Egypt. But it all began with Abraham’s faith.
Abraham first heard God’s call in the city of Ur (in modern Iraq), and he left that thriving city to follow God’s call, going northward into Haran (Gen. 12:1-4) with his father, wife, and nephew. “When he was called” is a present participle indicating immediate action by Abraham. He followed God without questioning Him because God’s calling was so sure. And even though God did not specify the location where Abraham was to travel, he got up anyway and “obeyed.” Obedience to God’s call is always and without fail the evidence of God’s true calling. God’s calling to Abraham was His word, and God’s word is a light that guides the way (Ps. 119:105).
In the context of faith (Heb. 11), Abraham’s example of faith is seen in his willingness to go out from his comforts and from his family and friends in order to follow God’s leading. This leap of faith cannot be minimized, for Abraham left all that he knew: his family, his home, friends, and all else. He truly believed and obeyed God because he truly heard from God.
It is noteworthy that when God first called Abraham He did not promise him the land He would lead him to. It was only after he arrived that God promised the land to him (Gen. 12:7). The promise of the land was the reward for his faith, but he first had to leave everything behind and travel hundreds of miles by faith to receive it. Clearly, Abraham believed God’s calling.
Now when he got to Canaan, the Promised Land, he did not inherit it. It was his by the promise of God, but it was already inhabited by powerful nations living and dwelling in the land. So he lived there in tents as a nomad, and so did his son Isaac and his grandson Jacob – all the while believing in God’s promise that the land was actually theirs. Therefore, Abraham had to believe God once again that the future held great reward for him, not the present per se.
The writer of Hebrews introduces this story of Abraham as an example of faith. If “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” then Abraham is the perfect example of faith. He simply believed God’s word, and he followed God’s leading.
Food for Thought
How can you know God is leading you? The answer is through reading the Bible where God’s words speak loud and clear. You won’t find any passages on what your occupation should be or who you should marry, but you’ll find God’s commission (Matt. 28:19-20). John Calvin said: “It is a rare trial of faith to leave what is in one’s hand to go seeking what is far off and unknown to us.” But those who read God’s words and believe God can and will do just that. And in so doing they prove themselves faithful believers, which is really the only kind of true believer there is! Abraham was profoundly moved because he was genuinely called by God. Many think they’re called, but their message is anything but biblical. True believers are like Abraham: they hear, they follow, and they obey – jumping at the opportunity to serve. God guides, we follow.
Hebrews 11:9-11… By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as a foreigner, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; 10 for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, though barren, since she considered Him faithful who had promised.
Before God called Abraham he lived in Ur of Chaldea which was a populous and advanced city in his day. He was a pagan who worshipped other gods (Josh. 24:2). God may have brought him to the point of disgust in that metropolis so that the promise of moving to another city, in and of itself, would have had no luster for him. This is why Abraham, once he arrived in the land of promise, was content to live as an alien. He had been there and done that, as it were, living in a large city with sinful practices. Though the physical land of Canaan was his by promise, he was actually looking forward to the eternal city whose builder was God, not men. Man-made cities were ephemeral and temporary; however, Abraham “was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (v. 10).
This is what faith is, for it looks forward to what cannot be seen (Heb. 11:1) and believes. Even in the midst of confusing circumstances, true faith looks ahead like Abraham who had God’s eternal city in mind while he lived in the land God promised to give his descendants. The thought of the heavenly city occurs elsewhere in Hebrews (11:16; 12:22; 13:14) and also in Phil. 3:20; Rev. 3:12; 21:10. Now because God’s heavenly city is spiritual the “foundations” could not be literal but more likely signify a city that is well-based, a “city with permanent foundations” (TEV). Abraham knew that the physical earth he lived on, along with all the man-made problems associated with this cursed earth (Gen. 3), was temporary. Therefore he looked forward, by faith, to what was permanent – God’s eternal dwelling. That’s what it looks like to live by faith.
Verse 11 presents a difficulty in translation. Though the English text ascribes faith to Sarah (Abraham’s wife), the Greek text makes this impossible because it ascribes to Sarah an activity that is only possible for males. Some English Bibles say Sarah “received ability to conceive.” The Greek text, however, literally says, “power for depositing semen” which clearly requires a male subject. An appropriate translation (supported by NIV, NRSV, TEV) would be: “By faith, though Sarah herself was sterile, Abraham received power to beget children, even though he was too old.” The entirety of the next section is about Abraham’s faith, so it makes perfect sense. It would also agree with “from this one man” in v. 12 and with the fact that God’s promise was made to Abraham, not Sarah. So Abraham then had faith in connection with the birth of Isaac, in the face of overwhelming odds, and Sarah is linked with him. Abraham, in association with Sarah, received power make a child in the midst of impossible circumstances.
Sarah’s faith is in question. She laughed at God’s promise of a son in her old age (Gen. 17:17; 18:12), and at one point she even took matters into her own hands by giving Abraham her maidservant as a wife to have children (Gen. 16). That union produced Ishmael, the progenitor of the Arabs – a people who have plagued Abraham’s promised offspring to the present day.
Food for Thought
As Abraham was a chosen child of God who lived as an alien in the land God gave him, so too are Christians strangers and pilgrims on this earth (1 Pet. 1:1; 2:11). Abraham lived in the future, by faith, and he didn’t mind being inconvenienced on earth living in tents because his focus was on eternity. So if you’re concerned today about your carpet, your car, or your job remember to live by faith. Live for the unseen that God has promised. And believe by faith.
Hebrews 11:12-16… Therefore there was born even of one man, and him as good as dead, as many descendants “as the stars of heaven in number, and innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore.” 13 All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. 15 And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went 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 a city for them.
The “therefore” in v. 12 concludes the previous context where God worked through Abraham’s faith to give him a child when he was “as good as dead.” He 100 years old, but God gave him a son through his 90 year old wife Sarah. He had other children through another wife (Keturah) after Sarah died, but it’s Isaac who is so special, for his birth was the genesis of every Israelite and Jew who ever lived. And because God blessed Abraham prior to his circumcision, and because Abraham believed God prior to circumcision, everyone – Jew or Gentile – who believes in Christ for salvation is part of the spiritual offspring of Abraham (Rom. 4; Gal. 3). These are the great many descendants of Abraham – countless as the stars in the heavens and the sand by the seashore. All God’s promises come to those with faith through His Son Jesus Christ.
In v. 13 “all these” are said to have not received the promises of God but only having welcomed them from a distance. This is a reference to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob solely, for they all died after living in the land but not actually possessing it. Abraham bought a burial plot for Sarah (Gen. 23:19-20), Isaac planted some crops (Gen. 26:12), and Jacob at one time built a place for himself (Gen. 33:17). But none of them actually settled down in the land. They simply viewed themselves as more than mere earthlings by retaining their vision of faith and fixing their attention squarely on God’s promise that was far beyond an earthly dwelling.
The lifestyles of the patriarchs as aliens in the promised land make it clear they weren’t building their treasures on the earth but were looking beyond the material world. One of the evidences for true conversion and faith is what one thinks of their former lives after they begin to follow God. Verse 15 says that if the patriarchs had hearts that were still in the land from which they left they could have easily returned. They could have gone back to Ur in the region of Mesopotamia in, Abraham’s home, for nothing was preventing them, not even God. But they didn’t because they were true converts to faith in God – fully believing in God’s promises. They were no longer interested in the things of the world, for their minds were far above that.
Now as a result of their faith, “God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.” Notice that God is not in the process of preparing a city; it is already complete. So too for believers in Christ who focus their attention and hope toward their heavenly dwelling. For them, their eternal dwelling is already complete. God is not ashamed of them.
Food for Thought
Many folks seemingly come to faith in Christ, but after a while they begin to long for their former lives. This of course was indicative of the audience the writer of Hebrews addressed. In much the same way that they were longing for their old lives in Judaism, some professed believers today get tired of following Christ and focus their attention back to worldly treasures and worries. They are the seeds that fell among the thorns which grew up quickly but withered away because the desire for worldly riches and honor choked their faith (cf. Mark 4:7, 18-19).
Hebrews 11:17-19… By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; 18 it was he to whom it was said, “In Isaac your descendants shall be called.” 19 He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type.
Abraham waited for 25 years to have a son after God promised him that his offspring would be as numerous as the sand by the seashore. But he never wavered even though his body was as good as dead. Even though he had to have a son in order to have numerous offspring, he kept his faith. And then, once he and Sarah gave birth to the son of promise, Isaac, God tested his faith again. God commanded that Abraham take the young Isaac (who was probably a teenager by then) and offer him as a sacrifice to God. Yes, Abraham was to kill the son of promise.
The account in Genesis 22 gives no hint at all that Abraham even blinked when God gave him the command to offer his son. Though he did not understand, he did know how to obey, for he had been obeying God for at least 40 years. The perfect tense verb for “offered” indicates that Abraham believed that the sacrifice was already complete. Immediately, however, the same verb is used in the imperfect tense meaning that the action was not quite completed. It’s not that Abraham failed, however; it’s just that God did not require him to sacrifice his son. He only wanted to test Abraham’s faith. And when he offered his beloved and only son, holding nothing back from what God required of him, God’s test was complete. Abraham had remained faithful.
The Hebrews passage in v. 19 gives insight that Genesis 22 does not. In Hebrews 11:19 the reader is told that Abraham set out to kill Isaac as God had commanded believing that Isaac would be resurrected from the dead. After all, Abraham knew that a dead Isaac would put an end to any hope of Abraham’s descendants being numerous because Isaac himself had no children at the time. Isaac didn’t even have a wife. Abraham had to balance God’s promise of numerous physical descendants with God’s command to kill the boy who would carry out God’s plan. The solution in his mind, probably every step of the way on their journey to Mt. Moriah, was that God was going to honor his faithfulness by resurrecting Isaac from the dead.
Now of course God did not require Abraham to carry out his task. All God wanted was to test Abraham, so when he was about to sacrifice Isaac God provided a substitute – a ram which is indicative of Jesus Christ dying in place of mankind. The author of Hebrews says that Abraham “received” his son back “as a type.” To receive here means to “undertake; assume.” So it appears that Abraham assumed the responsibility of God’s promises, and this highlights his faith. There was no passivity in Abraham concerning God’s promises. No, he took seriously the responsibility of being the person through whom God would work. Abraham faithfully obeyed God even when he had no idea what God was doing. He was certainly sure of the things he hoped for and convicted of the things he could not see (Heb. 11:1). He simply believed God.
Food for Thought
Abraham’s faith made him “the friend of God” (2 Chron. 20:7; Isa. 41:8; James 2:23). What an incredible honor to be called God’s friend! But Jesus said as much in John 15:13-15 when he told his disciples: “You are My friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.” So the friends of God are those who know God’s will and who obey Him as Abraham and the disciples did. What a wrap on faith! Knowing God’s word, believing it, and obeying it. That’s salvation.
I) The Pilgrimage of Faith (8)
A) The nation began with Abraham’s journey of faith – Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, etc.
· Faith is a Journey
· Taking the first step is the most critical, but w/o it there is no blessing
· No one seeks God; Abe’s first step was easy, for God made him sick of his life
· God’s call was His word, and it lit the way (Psalm 119:115)
· The land was promised AFTER he got there; our blessings await our faithful first step.
· God takes us to places w/o giving us much so that we can continue on in faith.
· Clearly Abe’s faith looked for the unseen in 11:1
· How do you know God is leading? His word leads (not a job or spouse but a commission)
II) The Patience of Faith (9-10)
· Faith involves patience
· Abraham did not cling to earthly things but heavenly things
· We ought to love our families, but our true love is not on the earth.
· Not to be confused with emotions and feelings
III) The Power of Faith (11-12)
· Faith can accomplish anything
· “By faith, though Sarah herself was sterile, Abraham received power to beget children, even though he was too old.”
· Abe didn’t mind being inconvenienced on earth b/c his mind was on eternity.
· Abe didn’t mind not fitting in while on earth and being an alien.
IV) The Positiveness of Faith (13-16)
· Faith is other-worldly
V) The Proof of Faith (17-19)
· Faith has works
· If you’ve lost your job, someone you love, if your house deal has fallen through, or if your health is failing you – you need to look beyond what you see and see what can’t be seen.
· If there is an injustice in your life, you must look beyond the world you live in and see the world you will live in… horizontal vs. vertical
· Faith is about looking forward to the future to what it unseen and believing God.
· A life of faith isn’t about building earthly storehouses but looking to the future one.
· Faith makes us “friends” of God (2 Chron. 20:7; Isa. 41:8; James 2:23).
o Quote John 15:13-15
o God’s true friends OBEY Him.
· The emphasis in this section is on the promise of God and His plans for the nation of Israel (Heb. 11:9, 11, 13, 17). The nation began with the call of Abraham. God promised Abraham and Sarah a son, but they had to wait twenty-five years for the fulfillment of the promise. Their son Isaac became the father of Jacob and Esau, and it was Jacob who really built the nation through the birth of his twelve sons. Joseph saved the nation in the land of Egypt, and Moses would later deliver them from Egypt.
· To leave everything one has and go into the unknown, relying on nothing more than the word of God, is the essence of faith.
· God’s dealings with Abraham, causing him to look forward to what cannot be seen, are typical of His dealings with all believers. Christians must learn to believe God by looking to the future as opposed to demanding everything in the present.
· Jesus said, “All things are possible to him who believes” (Mark 9:23). The only conceivable way that God is unable to perform His goodness in the lives of His children is through the children’s unbelief and lack of faith.
Πίστει καλούμενος Ἀβραὰμ ὑπήκουσεν ἐξελθεῖν εἰς τόπον ὃν ἤμελλεν
By faith being called (PPPtcp) Abraham obeyed (AAI)to go out (AAIn) to place which he was about to (IAI)
λαμβάνειν εἰς κληρονομίαν, καὶ ἐξῆλθεν μὴ ἐπιστάμενος ποῦ ἔρχεται.
to receive (PAIn) for an inheritance, and he went out (AAI) not understanding (PPPtcp) where he goes (PMI).
9 Πίστει παρῴκησεν εἰς γῆν τῆς ἐπαγγελίας ὡς ἀλλοτρίαν ἐν σκηναῖς
By faith he lived as an alien (AAI) in land of the promise as belonging to other in tents
κατοικήσας μετὰ Ἰσαὰκ καὶ Ἰακὼβ τῶν συγκληρονόμων τῆς
having resided (AAPtcp) with Isaac and Jacob the co-inheritors of the
ἐπαγγελίας τῆς αὐτῆς· 10 ἐξεδέχετο γὰρ τὴν τοὺς θεμελίους ἔχουσαν
promise of the same. For he was waiting for (IMI) the the foundations having (PAPtcp)
πόλιν ἧς τεχνίτης καὶ δημιουργὸς ὁ θεός. 11 Πίστει καὶ αὐτὴ Σάρρα
city whose craftsman and constructor is the God. By faith – even though Sarah herself
στεῖρα δύναμιν εἰς καταβολὴν σπέρματος ἔλαβεν καὶ παρὰ καιρὸν
a barren – (Abraham) power for foundation of seed received (AAI) and from season
ἡλικίας, ἐπεὶ πιστὸν ἡγήσατο τὸν ἐπαγγειλάμενον. 12 διὸ καὶ ἀφʼ ἑνὸς
of age, since faithful he considered (AMI) the one having promised (AMPtcp). Wherefore also from one
ἐγεννήθησαν, καὶ ταῦτα νενεκρωμένου, καθὼς τὰ ἄστρα τοῦ οὐρανοῦ
were born (AMI), and these having been dead (RPPtcp), just as the stars of the heaven
τῷ πλήθει καὶ ὡς ἡ ἄμμος ἡ παρὰ τὸ χεῖλος τῆς θαλάσσης ἡ
to the quantity and as the sand the along the lip of the sea the
ἀναρίθμητος. 13 Κατὰ πίστιν ἀπέθανον οὗτοι πάντες, μὴ λαβόντες τὰς
innumerable. By faith died (AAI) all of these, not receiving (AAPtcp) the
ἐπαγγελίας ἀλλὰ πόρρωθεν αὐτὰς ἰδόντες καὶ ἀσπασάμενοι καὶ
promises but from far them having seen (AAPtcp) and having greeted (AMPtcp) and
ὁμολογήσαντες ὅτι ξένοι καὶ παρεπίδημοί εἰσιν ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς. 14 οἱ γὰρ
having confessed (AAPtcp) that strangers and transients they are (PAI) on the earth. The for
τοιαῦτα λέγοντες ἐμφανίζουσιν ὅτι πατρίδα ἐπιζητοῦσιν. 15 καὶ εἰ μὲν
such saying (PAPtcp) make visible (PAI) that fatherland they seek (PAI). And if indeed
ἐκείνης ἐμνημόνευον ἀφʼ ἧς ἐξέβησαν, εἶχον ἂν καιρὸν ἀνακάμψαι·
that they were remembering (IAI) from which they came out (AAI), they had (IAI) season to return (AAIn).
16 νῦν δὲ κρείττονος ὀρέγονται, τοῦτʼ ἔστιν ἐπουρανίου. διὸ οὐκ
But now of better they strive (PMI), this is (PA) of heavenly. Wherefore not
ἐπαισχύνεται αὐτοὺς ὁ θεὸς θεὸς ἐπικαλεῖσθαι αὐτῶν· ἡτοίμασεν γὰρ
is ashamed (PPI) them the God God to be called on (PPIn) of them he prepared (AAI) for
αὐτοῖς πόλιν. 17 Πίστει προσενήνοχεν Ἀβραὰμ τὸν Ἰσαὰκ πειραζόμενος
them a city. By faith has offered (RAI) Abraham Isaac being tested (PPPtcp)
καὶ τὸν μονογενῆ προσέφερεν, ὁ τὰς ἐπαγγελίας ἀναδεξάμενος, 18 πρὸς
even the only born he was offering (IAI), the one the promises having welcomed again (AMPtcp), to
ὃν ἐλαλήθη ὅτι ἐν Ἰσαὰκ κληθήσεταί σοι σπέρμα, 19 λογισάμενος ὅτι καὶ
whom it was spoken (API) that “in Isaac will be called (FPI) to you seed,” having reasoned (AMPtcp) that even
ἐκ νεκρῶν ἐγείρειν δυνατὸς ὁ θεός, ὅθεν αὐτὸν καὶ ἐν παραβολῇ
from dead to raise (PAIn) power the God, from where him also in the parallel
ἐκομίσατο. [He obtained (AMI)]