Hebrews 11 Faith
The Response of Faith (chaps. 11-12).
This section—the final major portion of the epistle—constitutes a call to respond in the only appropriate way, namely, by faith, to the realities the writer has discussed. Though the importance of faith has already been made apparent, the thought of the writer is not complete till its value and worth are more fully considered. As before, there is exposition (chap. 11) followed by warning and exhortation (chap. 12).
A. The life of faith (chap. 11).
In concluding the previous warning section, the writer touched on the theme of living by faith (cf. 10:37-39). What this really means he then expounded in terms his readers could fully appreciate, because it is faith that underlies the experience of the heroes of Old Testament history. Since these people experienced faith, so could his readers.
1. prologue (11:1-3).
11:1-3. In a brief Prologue the author set forth three fundamental considerations about faith: its basic nature, the honor associated with it, and its way of seeing things. In its essence faith is being sure (hypostasis, rendered “being” in reference to God in 1:3) . . .and certain (elenchos, from the verb elenchō, “to prove or convince”) about unseen hopes and realities. That this is honorable is seen in the fact that Old Testament worthies, the ancients, were commended for it. Faith is also a way of viewing all experience since it is the way in which believers see the universe (tous aiōnas, lit., “the ages,” also rendered “the universe” in 1:2) for what it is—a creation by God.
2. the divine acceptance of faith (11:4-16).
In the first major movement of his exposition, the author stressed the theme suggested in verse 2. Faith wins acceptance and reward from God.
11:4. Abel represents the righteous man referred to in 10:38, whose acceptance before God was based on a superior sacrifice. Like Abel, the readers found acceptance before God on the basis of the better sacrifice of the New Covenant. Their unbelieving brethren, like Cain, found no such divine approbation. Even death does not extinguish the testimony of a man like Abel.
11:5-6. Enoch, on the other hand, reflected the kind of life that pleases God since he walked with God by faith (as the readers also should). If Christ had come in their lifetimes (cf. 10:37), the readers also would not have experienced death. In any case they could only please God by continued confidence that He exists and . . . rewards those who earnestly seek Him.
11:7. That God does reward those who seek Him is suggested by the career of Noah, who became an heir of righteousness by faith. What he inherited was, in fact, the new world after the Flood as the readers might inherit “the world to come” (cf. 2:5). The reference here to Noah saving his household recalls the writer’s stress on a Christian’s salvation-inheritance. It further suggests that a man’s personal faith can be fruitful in his family, as they share it together.
11:8-10. That the readers should look forward to “the world to come” and treat their present experience as a pilgrimage is a lesson enforced by the life of Abraham. This great patriarch lived like a stranger in a land he would later receive as his inheritance. So also would the readers inherit if they, like this forefather, kept looking forward to the city with foundations, a reference to the heavenly and eternal Jerusalem (cf. Rev. 21:2, 9-27).
11:11-12. The NIV introduces the word Abraham into these verses. But its marginal reading is preferable: “By faith even Sarah, who was past age, was enabled to bear children because she. . . .” The NIV interpretation is influenced by the opinion that the phrase to become a father (eis katabolēn spermatos) can refer only to the male parent, but this need not be so. The writer here chose to introduce his first heroine of faith, one who was able to overlook the physical limitation of her own barrenness to become a fruitful mother. Since “she considered Him faithful who had promised” (nasb) so also should the readers (cf. 10:23). Her faith in fact, contributed to the startling multiplication of her husband’s seed, when old Abraham was as good as dead.
11:13-16. In an impressive summary of his discussion thus far, the writer pointed out that people can be still living by faith when they die, even if by that time they do not receive the things promised. By faith the old saints saw the promised realities from a distance and persisted in their pilgrim character, looking for a country of their own and refusing to return to the land they had left. So too the readers should renounce the opportunity to go back to any form of their ancestral religion and should persist in longing for a better country—a heavenly one. If they did so they, like the patriarchs, would be people with whom God would not be ashamed to be associated.
3. The variegated experiences of faith (11:17-40).
A new movement, the author’s exposition of the life of faith, begins here. In a multiplicity of varied experiences faith remains the constant factor by which these experiences are met and understood. Faith constitutes a Christian’s true “world view” (cf. v. 3).
11:17-19. The theme of testing emerges here as the writer returned to Abraham. The readers can learn from that supreme test in which the patriarch was called on to sacrifice his . . . son. Though this seemed to contradict the divine promise, Abraham was able to rise above the trial and trust in the resurrecting power of God. So also Christian readers must sometimes look beyond the experiences of life, in which God’s promises do not seem to be fulfilled, and realize that their resurrections will bring those promises to fruition.
11:20-22. The patriarchs mentioned here likewise looked to the future in faith. Isaac, trusting God to fulfill His promises to Abraham and his descendants, pronounced blessings on his own two sons Jacob and Esau regarding their future. So did Jacob in regard to Joseph’s sons, which was for him an act of faith in his old age. The readers too were to maintain their worship right to the end of life, persevering in faith in the future that God had foretold. Joseph too, nearing death, expressed confidence that God would in the future deliver the Israelites from Egypt. In similar fashion all believers should, in genuine faith, have confidence in the future of God’s people.
11:23. With this transition to the life of Moses, the writer began to focus on the way faith confronts opposition and hostility, a subject familiar to his readers. It was by faith that Moses was hidden by his parents and his life was thus preserved. The phrase because they saw he was no ordinary child might be better read, “Because they saw he was a beautiful child.” (“Beautiful” is the Gr. asteion, which occurs in the NT only here and in Acts 7:20, which also refers to Moses.) Delighted by the precious gift of a son which God had given them, they evidently believed God had something better for this lovely baby than death. Not fearing Pharaoh’s edict, they kept him alive, and God rewarded their faith by their son’s illustrious career.
11:24-26. In a classic presentation of the way faith chooses between the attractive but temporary pleasures of sin and the prospect of disgrace for the sake of Christ, the writer showed Moses to be a real hero of faith who had an intelligent regard for the eschatological hopes of the nation of Israel. The readers also were to accept “disgrace” and reject “the pleasures of sin,” and they would do so if they, like Moses, anticipated their reward.
11:27-28. Moreover, at the time of the Exodus, Moses was undeterred by fear of the king’s anger. By keeping the Passover, which included the sprinkling of blood, the nation avoided God’s judgment. In the same way, the readers should not be afraid of human wrath and should maintain their separateness from the surrounding world. They should persist in the worship experience made possible by the blood of the New Covenant. If they would do so, they would not fall under divine retribution (cf. 10:19-31).
11:29-31. The readers could also look forward to victory over their enemies (cf. 1:13-14). They could learn from the destruction of the Egyptians and the collapse of the walls of Jericho what triumphs faith can win over its adversaries. If, as seems probable, there were a few Gentiles in the church that received this letter, they could take comfort from the experience of the prostitute Rahab, a Gentile who was spared when Jericho was conquered.
11:32-35a. There were far too many heroes of faith for the writer to deal with them all in detail. Swiftly he mentioned the variegated accomplishments of some of them. At the climax of this list stand women who received back their dead, raised to life again—a truly superlative victory of faith which does not allow death to defeat it (cf. 1 Kings 17:17-24; 2 Kings 4:17-37).
11:35b-38. In a swift transition of thought, the writer moved from faith’s obvious triumphs to what seemed to be its defeats. But these defeats were only apparent, not real. Those who were tortured and refused to be released did so because they knew their sufferings would lead to a richer and better resurrection experience. So the readers might also endure suffering staunchly and expect reward in the future world. Indeed, all manner of physical suffering (vv. 36-37, 38b cite about a dozen kinds of persecution) has been endured by people of faith, as well as ostracism from their homes and countries, treatment that the readers might also have to endure. But in a lovely touch, the writer commented that the world was not worthy of those whom it banished.
11:39-40. In a concluding summary the writer pointed out that the great heroes of faith he had spoken of had not yet realized their eschatological hopes. This fact shows that God had planned something better for them and us. It is indeed “better for us” that the future hopes they strove toward be delayed, since only thus could believers enjoy the present experience of becoming companions of the Messiah who leads them to glory. As a result, the perfecting (cf. 10:14; 12:23) of the Old Testament worthies—that is, the realization of their hopes—awaits that of all believers.
B. The final warning (chap. 12).
The author concluded the basic argument of the epistle with a final admonition and warning. As usual his hortatory section grew directly out of the expository one, which preceded it. His discussion of the life of faith now led to another call for perseverance.