Hall of Fame – Hebrews Chapter 11
In the previous chapter the writer of Hebrews introduces us to the subject of faith. He quotes Habakkuk 2 verse 4, “But the just shall live by his faith.” The writer is endeavouring to encourage his readers not to turn back or be discouraged.
But what is faith? Verse 1 tells us that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of the things not seen.” Of course, there needs to be something to have faith in! If you sit down, you have faith in the chair, and in the designer of the chair and the builder of the chair. If you are crossing over a river, you have faith in the bridge, its designer and builder, etc. The faith which the writer is talking about is in Almighty God.
When our trust is in God, what we hope for (God’s promises) will become ‘substance’, a reality. As Matthew Henry says, “this persuasion is so strong that it gives the soul a kind of possession and present fruition of those things, gives them a subsistence in the soul, by the first-fruits and foretastes of them: so that believers in the exercise of faith are filled with joy unspeakable and full of glory.” Also, when our trust is in God, we can believe those things which we have not seen. Jesus said to Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed.” Because God is true, trustworthy and all powerful, we can believe what He tells us, even if we have no other evidence! We can even believe that God can create everything out of nothing! Verse 3 says “By faith (in God) we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.”
The Old Testament saints, called in verse 2 ‘elders’, obtained a good testimony by faith. Even though they lived before Jesus came to earth, they still believed in God, took Him at His word, and did what He said, sometimes enduring opposition and persecution in the process.
The writer of the book of Hebrews chose various characters from scripture to demonstrate the results of having faith in God. The list is by no means exhaustive, as he said in verse 32: “And what more should I say, for the time would fail me to tell of …”
Abel: verse 4
The first character mentioned is Abel, who offered “a more excellent sacrifice that Cain …”
Enoch: verse 5
Enoch “walked with God; and he was not found, for God had taken him.” (Genesis 5 v 24). Enoch had this testimony, that he pleased God, because he walked in faith.
Noah: verse 7
Having been divinely warned of things not yet seen, Noah built the ark and saved his household. He was ‘moved with Godly fear’ and became ‘heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.’
Abraham: verses 8, 9, 17 – 19
This man is well known for his faith. He moved his family and flocks hundreds of miles across the Middle East, not knowing where he was going, but trusted in the God who did.
Sarah: verse 11
Although initially an unbeliever when told that as an elderly lady she would bear a son (Genesis 18 verse 12), Sarah did believe when the angels accused her of laughing at the thought!
Abraham obeyed God when told to sacrifice his son Isaac, believing that God would raise him from the dead. God had already told Abraham that through Isaac He would father a nation.
Isaac, Jacob and Joseph: verses 20 – 22
Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau, Jacob blessed the sons of Joseph, and Joseph prophesied about the Exodus. All this was done through faith in Yahweh.
Moses: verses 23 – 29
Amram and Jochebed, the parents of Moses, protected him as a baby, believing God and not fearing Pharoah. Moses chose “rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward.” Moses was the man chosen by God to bring the children of Israel out of Egypt, and to establish the laws and feasts which became special to the nation of Israel.
The Rest: verses 30 – 40
The writer then lists a few other saints, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets. Then he lists achievements, experiences and persecutions of the saints of old, some quite gruesome! It says of them “of whom the world was not worthy!” But although they were recognised as those who had ‘obtained a good testimony through faith,’ they did not receive the promise. They were looking forward to it, but they did not see it. So we are at a great advantage because we have seen the promise fulfilled in Jesus Christ, ‘God having provided something better for us.’ How privileged we are!