THE LETTER TO THE HEBREWS
From Comments and Notes Discussed in Bible Classes and Compiled by F. M. Perry, 1978
CHAPTER 11 - CHRIST PROVIDES BETTER BLESSINGS FOR HIS FOLLOWERS.
The previous section of Hebrews proved that Christ's sacrifice was better than the sacrifices of the old covenant because it cleanses the soul and the spirit. God's promise to His people down through the ages has been to preserve the soul. The great question of all the ages of mankind has always been: Who am I? Will all of me return to dust when I die, as human observation seems to indicate? Or will my inner man live on after death of the body? God spoke to man in many portions and in many ways to answer such questions in the long ago. And the answer has always been that the soul and the spirit of man live on and are of inestimable worth to God. God has always given man some knowledge of this in which he could have faith. And God has given man the ability in his soul to choose to follow and live by that faith. So the 39th verse of Chapter 10 sets the stage for the next section of the Hebrew letter: "But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul." Then in Chapter 11 the Hebrew writer starts a discussion of the great blessing that God has provided to the souls of His people in all the ages since the creation. That great blessing is faith. God gives us the ability to have faith, and He makes known to us the object of faith, His truth about His eternal plan for mankind which involves each of us. We can then choose the way of faith.
In Chapter 11 we have a great discourse on faith, the faith of the fathers of the long ago, who had so little evidence and knowledge of God's plan compared with the evidence and knowledge we have in these last days. The faith God gave to the fathers of long ago was accepted and came to govern the lives of many although they could but dimly see the "promised land." After a stirring recitation of many great men of faith in Chapter 11, all of whom are mentioned in the Old Testament scriptures (for this discourse has its entire text in the Old Testament scriptures), the writer says in verse 40, "God has provided something better for us, so that apart from us they should not be made perfect."
The purpose, then, of the Hebrew writer in reminding the Hebrew Christians of the great old time men of faith was to show that our faith under the New Covenant is founded on even better blessings than those enjoyed of old. The facts on which the faith of Christians is founded, at the time of the writing of Hebrews and today as well, are better known. Great events of God's eternal plan have now taken place which had not occurred in days of old. Christ has come as the perfect sacrificial Lamb. The blood of Christ has now, once for all, been shed. We have seen it happen in the pages of actual history. The fathers of old had not that opportunity. They had to wait for us to see many things happen. And they did wait, for God preserved their souls in the unseen realm. And I am convinced that they did "see" the Christ come and shed His blood for them.
God supplied something better for those under the new covenant than the men of old had. One of the better things we have (mentioned in verse 1 of Chapter 12) is the "great cloud of witnesses surrounding us," the great men of old themselves, who testify to us by their lives of faith recorded in the pages of the Bible. So the writer of Hebrews gives us this great section on faith, the testimony of men of old.
Incidentally, we refer to the author of Hebrews as a writer because we have his words in writing. And certainly this book was recorded in the first century in writing and circulated among Christians. But here in Chapter 11 the author refers to himself as a speaker. Verse 32 says, "For time will fail me if I tell ..." of Gideon, Barak, Samson, etc. This is the language of one delivering an oral address to an audience which has limitations upon it. It seems to be of the same nature as the comment in Chapter 9 when the author stops short in describing the furnishings of the tabernacle with the words, "But of these things we cannot now speak in detail." As we read Hebrews we are especially struck with its greatness when we read it out loud, orally, as though re-enacting a great speech. It builds up to great climaxes on several occasions. It has its soft passages and its crescendos. This is one of the great chapters that can stir us by reading it aloud.
"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." Hebrews 11:1. NASV.
The nature and sustaining power of faith is the subject at hand. The writer begins by giving us, not a rigorous definition of faith, but a statement about faith that places its operational ground in the human mind (the soul, the inner man) and indicates faith's power for actually guiding the soul-life of a person. We are reminded of Romans 1:11: "The just shall live by faith", and of 2 Cor. 5:1, "We walk by faith, not by sight." A commentator, Milligan, says, "Faith sustains and supports the soul of the believer by enabling him to enjoy even now to some extent, as present realities, those things which are objects of our hopes, and which lie far beyond the narrow sphere of our fleshly senses."
Back in the last verse of Chapter 10 we noted that faith is to the preserving of the soul. As we live on earth in the flesh, our soul has the ability and the responsibility of choice in spiritual matters. If we choose God's system of faith and develop faith in our lives, it will preserve our souls during the warfare with Satan in this life. Then, after our bodies go to sleep in the dust of the earth after this life, if we have lived by faith, God has placed us among the just, and God sends His angels (Luke 16:22) at the time of our fleshly death to bear our souls away to a place where they are guarded and preserved until Christ comes again to claim them. In fact, for those who live and die in faith, Paul's prayer in Thess. 5:23 is answered: "May your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." That phrase in verse 39 of Chapter 10, "Faith to the preserving of the soul," is a statement of our goal in life.
The value and effect of faith in our lives is illustrated by the value and effect it had in the lives of men of old.
"For by it" (faith) the men of old gained approval." Hebrews 11:2. NASV.
Another valid translation of verse 2 is, "For by it (by faith) the men of old obtained a testimony," or "had witness borne to them." The idea seems to be that the faith of the men of old acted within them as a witness bearing testimony to the truth of the promises of God, giving substance to God's promises even though they were not yet fulfilled, and giving solid evidence to the things promised even though they were not yet actually provided.
"By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible." Hebrews 11:3. NASV.
An example of what the writer means in verses 1 and 2 is given here. "By faith we understand ..." That is, faith acting within us as a witness bearing true testimony, we come to a firm conviction of the truth of something God has said to us in scripture, something the truth of which cannot now in this life be demonstrated to us in any other way. "By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible." The writer is talking about the fact that God has spoken to us in Scripture and said, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth ..." Genesis goes on to tell how God simply spoke and things came into being. In the New Testament Scriptures the Holy Spirit through John has said, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being." (John 1:1-3) .
Isn't this what the Hebrew writer alluded to: "The worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible." That is how creation came about. That is what God has spoken in explanation to us about the creation of all things. We have no way of knowing exactly how the world and the universe came into being except God tells us. To this day there is no scientific explanation with proof explaining creation. There are a number of theories but no way to really know from man's own efforts how creation came about. But God has told us that He spoke and all things came into being through the Word that He spoke. God did not make things out of visible matter but He made visible matter out of things which are not visible to us in the way that matter is visible to us. This does not mean that God made something out of nothing although, in a manner of speaking, it may seem so. But the Scriptures say that God created all things out of something not visible to us, and He did it through the action of the personified Word, who was a member of the Godhead.
Now if we believe God's explanation, through faith we have true knowledge in our mind about creation. Faith bears witness to us to give us confidence that this is the truth concerning how the world was prepared.
But many men of the world say this is merely a human kind of reasoning, the height of folly. They say someone has advanced a statement, at best a theory, about creation, saying that some kind of a supreme being made everything. And this theory has been placed before us with all the other theories. And then someone says that if you just have faith in the Supreme Being creation theory, then that will make that theory right and all the other theories wrong. We who accept, through faith, the Biblical explanation of creation are accused of foolishly thinking that a thing is absolutely true just because we believe it is true.
But this is not so! We do not advance the Biblical explanation of creation as another human theory. If it were just a human theory, or even if we thought it were a human theory, then all, this talk of faith and justification by faith does become gibberish. It becomes the babbling of mad men. But we believe the Biblical explanation of the creation because it is God's explanation, not man's explanation. Our faith is not just an explanation of creation. Believing does not make it so. God makes it so. And when it becomes evident to us that God makes it so, then it becomes foolish not to believe it.
If we who are believers in God are to have any profitable discussions with unbelievers of the world, the discussions will not be on the merits of various human theories about creation or other things. The discussion must be on the basic fundamental question of whether or not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob actually exists and reigns supreme. Then creation itself argues the existence of God. Remember the Hebrew writer's words in chapter 3 verse 4, "For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God," and the Psalmist's words, "The heavens declare the glory of God." And evidence which God has placed in each person' s inner-man argues on behalf of God. And finally God's written record argues for Him. And the unbeliever who argues against God, must depend only on unproven human theories. It can be shown that a thing is so because God made it so. The unbeliever is the one who lives in the fairyland of make believe. The believer lives in an environment which is actually there because God made it and put it there.
You will remember that the book of Hebrews opens with an assertion of the existence of a personal God who has spoken to us. "God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son." This is the basis for our faith, even the faith through which we understand that "the worlds were prepared by the Word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible." And this is the basis of the faith of the fathers in the long ago. It is our faith in God, who exists and has spoken to us, that bears witness to us of the reality of things yet to come which God has promised.
Now we can understand verse 6 of the 11th chapter, "And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is the rewarder of those who seek Him." It has always been so even for men of old since the time of Adam. But now, today, under the New Covenant we have more and better blessings and more and better evidence on which to base our belief than did the men of old. Realizing this, the faithful men of old truly become great to us, our heros, "A great cloud of witnesses surrounding us", telling us that we can run "the race set before us" just as they did.
In this connection I remember an interesting article several years ago by Doyle Kee entitled "The Church, Evangelism, and Neo- Paganism." Mr. Kee was so right when he said that religion in the western (so-called Christian) world is for the most part a modern form of paganism. Most of the so-called Christian world says it believes in God, but thinks of God only as an abstract omnipotence, an impersonal force, some sort of sum total of all existence, such as "all nature." This God of the neo-pagans can not give us any fully authoritative or decisive revelation, such as we have in the Bible, but is simply a sort of dark force. This is but the paganism of the ancient Baal worshipers in somewhat modern dress, Mr. Kee says. The modern pagans worship nature itself and life as an end in itself. Look at the people around you in the world. It seems that almost overnight the majority of my neighbors have become neo-pagans. Some of their leaders call themselves "Reverend Doctor" and they are very religious and meet regularly in church houses, honoring Jesus, they say, but merely as another human philosopher. They work hard, sometimes fanatically, against pollution and their ideas of social injustice in the world, but they deny that the soul lives on after the death of the body.
We must show these modern pagans the true, living, personal God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and open the pages of God's personal message in the Old and New Testaments, and show that the people of God are the people who have the most wonderful future, and who do not despair about the state of the world because we know that this world is in the hands of God who says, "I have made, and I shall carry; and I shall bear, and I shall deliver." (Isa. 46:4).
As we study each verse of the 11th chapter of Hebrews, sermon after sermon pours forth. We can't take time to study each verse in detail because it would take a full quarter just for this chapter. But just to illustrate the many lessons in one verse, lets look at verse 4 and study it in some detail. Here are some truly stirring remarks concerning this verse by James Burton Coffman. (The following comments on Hebrews 11:4, in essence, were taken from the "Commentary on Hebrews" by James Burton Coffman.)
"By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts, and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks." Hebrews 11:4. NASV.
First of all, there is in this verse the glaring omission of the name of Adam, the mighty progenitor of the human race, neither he nor Eve, the mother of all living, being mentioned. And the circumstance that makes this omission so eloquent is that the author of Hebrews is embarking on a kind of roll-call of all the heroes of the past. It would appear that the opening chapters of Genesis were before him as he wrote. First there is the mention of creation, following that a reference to Adam's son (Abel) in this 4th verse, and later Sarah was mentioned along with Abraham. But there is absolutely no word regarding the first parents. Therefore we must conclude that it was by design that Adam was purposely by-passed in this catalogue of ancient heroes of faith.
The phrase, "By faith Abel offered unto God" reveals the reason for his sacrifice being "more excellent" than that of Cain. It is a Biblical precept that "faith comes from hearing God's word" (Rom. 10:17), and in the light of that it may be definitely concluded that Abel acted in accordance with God's command, whereas Cain did not.
The phrase, "Through which he had witness borne to him that he was righteous," raises the question of how such witness was communicated, which could have been in the manner of God's accepting the sacrifice (as by fire, perhaps); or it could have been (communicated) in the scriptural record, which is more likely. What is written in the Bible by God is the witness of Abel's righteousness; and the reason for this conclusion is the revelation that this witness is still going on, as implied by the words "yet speaketh."
"Through it he being dead yet speaketh" should be compared with Hebrews 12:24 which has "The blood of sprinkling that speaketh better than that of Abel." (That is, the blood of Christ speaks better than the blood of Abel. But the blood of Abel yet speaks.) Taken together (the two expressions in Hebrews 11 and 12), the expressions justify the conclusion that there is a divine message in the blood of Abel. Did not God Himself speak of the voice of the blood of Abel, saying of the blood of Abel, that it cried unto Him "from the ground" (Gen. 4:10)? With all propriety, therefore, it may be inquired, "What does the blood of Abel say?"
1. The blood of Abel says that God takes account of the injustices perpetrated against the innocent and that one day they will be avenged.
2. The blood of Abel says that God has appointed a day in which He will settle accounts. Nothing can show the necessity of such a thing any more than the blood of Abel.
3. The blood of Abel says that the righteous are hated without cause. (1 John 3:11-13 says, "For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another, not as Cain who was of the evil one, and slew his brother. And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil and his brother's were righteous. Do not marvel, brethren, if the world hates you."
4. The blood of Abel says that it-does make a difference how men worship God, that some things will be acceptable in divine worship and that others will not. This was the principle overlooked by Cain to his eternal discredit.
5. The blood of Abel says that faith is the key to true and acceptable worship. "By faith" is the expression used over and over in this remarkable anthology of Biblical heroes.
6. The blood of Abel says that the only true righteousness is in obeying the commandments of God. Psalm 119:151 says, "All thy commandments, 0 God, are righteousness."
Since the expression "by faith" or its equivalent "through faith" or "in faith" is so frequently used in chapter 11, a more particular focus on the subject of walking by faith is appropriate.
Since faith comes by hearing God's word (Rom. 10:17), it follows that walking by faith means walking as directed by or in obedience to God's word. Negatively, it means:
1. that we should not walk by sight (2 Cor. 5:7),
2. that we should not be guided by our own fallible, human feelings and emotions (Rom. 8:4),
3. that we should not rely merely upon what seems right in our own eyes (prov. 14:12),
4. that we should not be guided by human traditions (Mark 7:9),
5. that we ought not be influenced in our religious convictions and practices by the opinions of human majorities (Matt. 7:14),
6. that we must not allow the views and customs of our ancestors to be determinative (1 Peter 1:18), and
7. that we have no business consulting merely our own desires and pleasures where sacred things are involved, "For Christ pleased not Himself." (Rom. 15:3).
Chapter 11 describes the nature and effectiveness of that great gift of God, "faith." The power and effectiveness of faith to preserve and sustain the soul of man through this fleshly life is shown in chapter 11 by many examples of people of old who triumphed through faith. All the great people mentioned are from the Old Testament scriptural record. But the point of recalling the faith of the people of old was to show the Hebrew Christians, who were being tempted to abandon Christianity to return again to the old covenant, that they had in Christianity the reality of the very thing on which the faith of the people of old had been fixed. The blessed faith of all these heroes of old was in things to come that God was going to bring about. Each of these heroes recognized that he had a part in God's purpose to come and, therefore, he understood that his faith could only be exercised through obedience to God under the covenant for the time in which he lived. The Messiah and the New covenant to come which were objects of faith in olden times, have now been brought into reality. Much of the faith of the people of old has been fulfilled now by reality, and God has brought it about, and thereby, as verse 40 of Chapter 11 says, "God has provided something better for us."
"(5) By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death; and he was not found because God took him up; for he obtained the witness that before his being taken up he was pleasing to God. (6) And without faith it is impossible to please Him , for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him." Hebrews 11:5-6. NASV.
Verse 5 casts a great deal of light on the Genesis account of the translation to heaven, or to the spiritual realm, of Enoch. In Genesis it is merely stated that God translated Enoch. Here we learn what translation means. It means that he was received into eternal fellowship with God without being obligated to pass through the experience of death. Of all the souls ever to live on earth, only Elijah and Enoch enjoyed the blessed privilege of translation (Gen. 5:24; 2 Kings 2:17). Moses said of Enoch in Genesis simply that "Enoch walked with God." This must mean that all of his earthly life he did everything with constant respect to the divine presence of God. In both the cases of Elijah and Enoch, friends and loved ones sought to find their bodies after their disappearance, but did not. Why did God honor these two men in this way? It might have been to give all men hope of entering at last into fellowship with God in their bodies.
Will others be "translated?" Yes. 1 Corinthians 15:52 and 1 Thessalonians 4:17 teach that "all who are alive and remain" at the coming of the Lord shall be translated, changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye." Of course, this promise is to the saved, and the coming of our Lord has not yet occurred. (This teaches us that the Lord has not yet come a second time even though some Christians believe He came in AD 70. If Jesus came in AD 70 and took the saved to heaven at that time, where are the empty graves of those ancient Christians now departed from earth.)
Enoch is introduced here in Hebrews as an example of faith. But the Genesis account of Enoch merely states that he walked with God, and makes no specific mention of his faith. However, he could not have walked with God without faith. In fact, verse 6, the very next verse seems to have been written to cover that very point. There is no evidence that Enoch, any more than Elijah, was a sinless person. But he was one of whose sins God "passed over," as Paul said in Romans 3:25, "in the forebearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed," that is the sins of those who lived prior to the time Christ died on the cross.
Verse 6 tells us that the lesson of Enoch is that "without faith it is impossible to please Him." Moreover, the faith required is not only a faith in the existence of God but also in the active moral government of God in the lives of people on earth. Enoch "walked with God even before he was translated."
"By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith." Hebrews 11:7. NASV.
The faith of Noah was truly great in his acceptance of God's word "about things not yet seen." It was a new and utterly different thing that God would do in the flood, no precedent for such a thing ever being heard of; because, up to that time, no rain at all, much less a flood, had ever fallen upon the earth, all vegetable life being watered by a midst rising from the ground (Gen. 2:5,6). "Faith in things not yet seen" was required of Noah, of Abraham, and every Old Testament character. And it is required also of Christians such as the Jewish Christians being addressed by this Hebrew letter.
Noah "prepared an ark" shows us that Noah was not saved by faith alone, but that he worked out his own salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12). "Saved by faith" is biblical and true. One cannot be saved without faith. But "saved by faith alone" is anti-biblical and untrue.
The phrase "by which he condemned the world" means that Noah condemned the world by preaching the truth to a generation who answered with unbelief. The truth always either saves or condemns those that hear it. This is true of the gospel message of Christianity (2 Cor. 2:15,16). Today, as in Noah's time, people get angry and tell those who preach the gospel of Christ, that they are usurping the prerogatives of human judgment and that they have no right to preach a doctrine which condemns those who do not believe. So Christians are beginning to be told in this country to go inside the church houses and shut the doors. It is conceded that one can believe as he wishes, but Christians should not try to convert others to their way of thinking. It is even said by some to be unamerican or even unconstitutional to speak a Christian message in public. I fear for the future of our country. God has His own way of dealing with the nations and individuals of the world who try to stifle the gospel message.
Noah's salvation was a type of our salvation today as indicated so clearly in 1 Peter 3:20-21. It is also true that as the ark provided safety and salvation to Noah and his family, the church of Christ today is the "ark of safety" for the people of God. Sermons could, and have been, preached on these topics. But we will not take time to do so now.
"(8) By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. (9) By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, 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." Hebrews 11:8-10. NASV.Abraham is called, down through the ages and even today, the father of the faithful and "the friend of God." (Isa. 41:8). Three great segments of humanity recognize Abraham as a sacred person, and three world-wide religions claim him as their common ancestor. The Muslims, the Jews, and the Christians all think of themselves as the "seed of Abraham." The Muslim world traces its connection with Abraham through Hagar and her son Ishmael. Abraham's wife, Sarah, being without a child, suggested that Abraham take her handmaid, Hagar, and have an heir by her. Then through Abraham and Hagar, Ishmael was born. And God promised Hagar that He would make of Ishmael a great nation (Gen. 21:18). Eventually God gave Abraham and Sarah a son. The Jewish race came through Abraham and Sarah's son Isaac. Christians are the spiritual seed of Abraham by faith in Christ who was Abraham's promised "seed," and through being baptized into Christ. (Gal. 3:26-28).
Notice the phrase in verse 8, "By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed." Here again, as invariably as each great person of old is mentioned in this eleventh chapter, it was not mere intellectual belief in God but obedient faith that commended the person to God. This is the type of faith that stands as an example for people today.
Also in verse 8, notice the last part of the verse, "He went out, not knowing where he was going." A
factor in most of the examples in chapter 11 is the utter and unquestioning trust with which each
person of faith received the word of God and acted upon it. Aren't you reminded of the hymn we
The night is dark, and I am far from home;
Lead thou me on.
Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene - one step enough for me."
In verse 9 notice the phrase, "He lived as an alien (sojourner) in the land of promise." An "alien in the land of promise" was the only status Abraham and his family ever had in Canaan. Although God had indeed promised the land to him, he never even pretended to possess it during his lifetime. You will remember that when his beloved wife Sarah died, he insisted on purchasing for 400 shekels of silver, from Epron the Hittite, the cave of Machpelah for a burial place. This was the only part of Canaan to which Abraham ever had an earthly deed or title during his life. (Gen. 23:16). It was in his deemphasis of the present world that the glory of Abraham chiefly centered. God was his inheritance, his shield, his exceeding great reward; and as related in verse 10, Abraham looked to the eternal city, the city that hath the foundations, in that upper and better kingdom, for the realization of all his hopes. He treated the world as a bridge, something to pass over, but not a place to dwell forever spiritually.
Verse 10 informs us that Abraham had an understanding of the reality of the spiritual eternal city of the soul that we are told, many hundreds of years later in Rev. 21:2, "comes down from God out of heaven," and is called the heavenly Jerusalem.
"By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered him faithful who had promised." Hebrews 11:11. NASV.
When we see the words here that Sarah, by faith, received the ability to conceive, we might think of the time when she was told by angels that it would come about. At first when the angels (whom she perhaps thought at first to be mere men) promised that Sarah would have a son, she, standing out of sight, laughed within herself, utterly rejecting the possibility of such a thing at her advanced age. But the Angelic spokesman quickly made Abraham and Sarah realize his heavenly nature by revealing to both of them what Sarah had thought within her heart. Thus Abraham and Sarah became fully aware that the promise was from God, and Sarah believed it. Thus, it is true what the Hebrew writer has said, "By faith even Sarah" received the ability to conceive.
"Therefore, also, there was born of one man, and him as good as dead at that, as many descendants as the stars of the heavens in number, and innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore." Hebrews 11:12. NASV.
The phrase, "and him as good as dead," indicates that not only Sarah, but Abraham also, was past
the time of life when any children might be expected of him. God gave them strength for the birth
of Isaac, but it was plainly through the intervention of God's divine will, what we would call a
"(13) All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having 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." Hebrews 11:13-16. NASV.
The first phrase of verse 13, "All these died in faith," emphasizes to us that it is dying in the faith that counts. Rev. 14:13 says, "Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord." This is the same principle. In Matthew 20:8, Jesus' parable of the laborers in the vineyard, the payoff came at twilight, "when even was come;" and every laborer in the vineyard of Jesus should stay with the task till the evening of life has approached; the twilight has descended, and the night has come, that is, until death.
The trust of the faithful ones in God's ultimate fulfillment of His promise to them is seen in the phrase, "having seen them and having welcomed them from afar." They accepted the fact that their inheritance was held in abeyance for them, and confessed that it was to be in another world or realm that it would be fulfilled.
Verse 14 shows that the status of exile, pilgrim, or sojourner was one that Abraham gave to himself since he was seeking a country that he did not find while he was alive. It was not a title or description that was given to him later by his admirers. In Genesis 23:4 Abraham confessed to the Canaanites that he was a stranger and a sojourner among them. Needless to say this is the only proper attitude for Christians of the first century and for Christians today. Paul said in 2 Cor. 5:6, "while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord," and Peter admonished Christians in 1 Peter 1:17, "conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay (sojourning) upon earth."
James Burton Coffman points out that verse 15 informs us that Abraham and the other patriarchs mentioned here were "volunteers." The Hebrew writer flatly declared that they could have gone back home if they had so desired. This reminds us of the challenge addressed by Jesus to the apostles when he bluntly asked them, "Would ye also go away?" (John 6:67).
James Burton Coffman says, "Every Christian needs to keep this fact in focus at all time, that no one has conscripted him to serve the Lord, and that if one prefers the world and what it offers to the eternal things of God, he is surely free to take it, along with the consequences. The wonderful promises of God are sure and certain; they are more to be desired as one's possession than any or all of earth's fleeting joys. And as for the world and its treasures, the scriptures warn over and over again of the ultimate incapacity of such material things to satisfy the seeking heart of man. It is ever true that 'Man shall not live by bread alone' (Matt. 4:4)."
The implicit trust of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in all that God had promised along with their accounting themselves strangers and pilgrims, was well-pleasing to God. (This, in spite of some of their sinful actions, when God must have been ashamed of them.) God even made it known to all men down through the ages through the scriptures that He wanted to be known historically as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.
"(17) 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 in whom it was said, 'In Isaac your descendants shall be called.' (19) He considered that God is able to raise men even from the dead; from which he also received him back as a type." Hebrews 11:17-19. NASV.
Although Abraham's faith has already been cited in previous verses, in these verses is an even more overwhelming example of it. The commentator, Albert Barnes, said, "It is the strongest illustration of faith undoubtedly, which has ever been evinced in our world."
The phrase, "Abraham, when he was tested", is a reference to the remarkable test of his faith recorded in Gen. 22:1ff. In this supreme test of faith there was an appearance of a contradiction in the word of God Himself who had promised Abraham that all of the wonderful promises of the covenant were to be realized through the posterity of Isaac. Isaac is called here Abraham's "only begotten son" (which he was, as far as children by his legitimate wife, Sarah, were concerned); but Abraham then was commanded to offer up Isaac as a sacrifice to God. Any man of ordinary faith would have concluded that the two aspects of God's word were irreconcilable and would have rejected the command to offer up Isaac. For the command must have seemed contrary to every instinct of Abraham's heart and which seemed, on its face, to nullify the promise of an innumerable posterity through Isaac. The manner in which Abraham reconciled God's seemingly contradictory messages constitutes the glory of Abraham's faith. (More later about what this teaches us about apparent contradictions in God's word, the Bible.)
When God commanded Abraham to offer up Isaac, Abraham was some 130 years of age, and Issac was in the prime of his life at about the age of 33. (Some think it implicit in Isaac's status as a type of Christ that he should have been, when offered, of about the same age as our Lord when he was crucified.) James Burton Coffman says that the common Sunday school card presentation of Isaac as a beautiful little boy when Abraham offered him is ridiculous. Being in the prime and vigor of life Isaac the heir apparent of all that Abraham had, and possessing without doubt the loyalty of every servant Abraham had, Isaac would most certainly have had the power to frustrate Abraham's purpose if he had chosen to do it. His consent was therefore just as vital a part of that great demonstration of faith as was Abraham's willingness to obey. So the account of Abraham's offering of his son Isaac is every bit as much an account of the faith of Isaac as it is of the faith of Abraham.
The importance of Isaac as of Christ is seen in the following 9 statements.
l. Isaac was supernaturally the son of Abraham; Christ's birth was also supernatural.
2. Isaac was "only begotten" of his father, and Christ was the "only begotten God." (John 3:18).
3. Both Isaac and Jesus consented to be sacrificed.
4. Both Isaac and Jesus bore the wood, Isaac the firewood, Jesus the cross.
5. Both were sacrificed by their fathers, Isaac by Abraham, and Jesus by the Heavenly Father.
6. The sacrifice of each of them occurred upon the very same location, one of the mountains of Moriah.
7. Both were in the prime vigor of life when offered, and very likely of the same age.
8. Isaac (in a figure) was dead three days and three nights, this being the time lapse between God's command that he be offered and their arrival at Moriah, during which time, to all intents and purposes, Isaac was dead. Christ also was dead and buried three days and nights.
9. Isaac was a model of love and affection for his wife, symbolizing the great love of Christ for church. (There are an astonishing number of typical things in Rebekah as a prefiguration of the church. See Gen. 24.)
The belief of Abraham that "God is able to raise up men from the dead" explains Abraham's willingness to offer up Isaac. The knowledge of this in his heart enabled Abraham to reconcile what otherwise was a contradiction. God had promised through Isaac an innumerable posterity; and yet at a time when Isaac had no child, or even a wife as yet, God commanded him to be sacrificed. Is that a contradiction? Not to Abraham, who only concluded that God intended to raise him from the dead! Two great things of great importance come to light here, things which the Hebrew Christians of the first century must have pondered over, and\ which Christians to this day continue to ponder over. These are the problem of apparent contradictions in God's word and the understanding of the resurrection. But Abraham's handling of this apparent contradiction is an example or type of how we Christians are to handle apparent contradictions today.
Abraham had no doubt whatever that the One God who had given the great promises to be fulfilled through Isaac was at the time of his testing requiring him to offer Isaac as a sacrifice. Since God's promise required the survival of Isaac in order to its fulfillment, and since Isaac was then to die, how could God's promise be true? If one of us had that test, there would be all kinds of turmoil in that one's heart over such a dilemma. But the astonishing fact is that there seemed to be no turmoil in Abraham. A commentator, Bruce, has said, "The impression we get from the Biblical narrative that Abraham treated it as God's problem; it was for God, not for Abraham, to reconcile His promise and His command. So when the command was given, Abraham promptly set about obeying it; his own duty was clear, and God could safely be trusted to discharge His responsibility in the matter. "
It was Abraham's faith in God's power of resurrection that enabled him to reconcile the promise and the command. This is evident even in Gen. 22:5, where Abraham is said to have promised his servants that both would return, after they worshiped God. (This was when Abraham went out to obey God's command to sacrifice Isaac)
There were many such seemingly contradictory things foretold by the prophets about the coming Messiah, such that the Pharisees in the time of the coming of the Messiah could not accept him. For one, they could not reconcile the Messiah as both a glorious and victorious King and a suffering and dying High Priest. They would not leave it to clarify it for them.
Let it be taken forever into account that God's word is never, in a true sense, contradictory, although instances of it seeming so are plentiful. In the matter of God's promise and command to Abraham, the contradiction was, as always with respect to God's word, only an apparent one. Abraham, through faith, believed both the promise and the seemingly contradictory command. The basis of his being able to do this was another thing God had revealed to him, the doctrine of the resurrection.
THE DOCTRINE OF THE RESURRECTION.
Some so-called historical scholars insinuate that the doctrine of the resurrection was borrowed by the Jews when they were in captivity in Persia. But the Old Testament record declares this false. Job, who lived in the same patriarchal age as Abraham, expressed faith in the resurrection. (Job 19:25-27). It is clear that Abraham believed in the resurrection as indicated in Hebrews 11:19 and also from the deduction that unless he had so believed, it would have been impossible for him to act as he did in the offering of Isaac. Moreover , the whole concept of looking"for the city that has the foundations" and counting himself a sojourner and pilgrim in the earth (Gen. 23:4), is absolutely incompatible with any lack of true faith in the resurrection of the dead.
The Old Testament is not without its sure and certain witness of the resurrection. Psalm 16:10 says, "For thou wilt not leave my soul in Sheol (that is, 'the grave'); neither wilt thou suffer thy Holy One to see corruption." This is clearly a prophecy of the resurrection of Christ. Also the prophet Daniel said, "Many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to ever1asting shame and contempt." (Dan. 12: 2) .
Our Lord, of course, in the New Testament went far beyond all the intimations of immortality, resurrection, and eternal life found in the Old Testament. He flatly declared that all the dead, good and bad, small and great, shall be raised from the graves to confront God in the judgment. The entire teaching of Christ is oriented to the doctrine of the resurrection. Here in the Hebrew letter it is one of the fundamentals of the faith (Heb. 6:1ff). Remember that the Hebrew writer included "the resurrection of the dead and eternal life" as things so fundamental that the Hebrew Christians should have known well, since they were things on which further learning of God's word depended. And we must remember three instances in the gospels when Christ actually raised the dead. In Mark 5:35 it was the raising of Jarius' daughter. In Luke 7:11ff it was he raising of the son of the widow of Nain. And in John 11:11f it was the resurrection of Lazarus after he was dead four days. The entire New Testament is founded on the doctrine of the resurrection.
REGARDING HUMAN SACRIFICE.
Some people today point to Abraham and his willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac as proof that his ignorant family practiced the offering of human sacrifices as did a number of other tribes both before and after the Abraham. But the Old Testament clearly indicates that God never approved human sacrifice and summarily intervened and forebade Abraham to carry forward the execution of even His own order requiring it. A commentator, Adam Clarke, said, "Abraham earnestly desired to be let into the mystery of redemption; and God, to instruct him in the infinite extent of divine goodness to mankind, who spared not His own Son, but delivered him up for us all, let Abraham feel by experience what it was to lose the son born miraculously when Sarah was past child bearing, as Jesus was miraculously born of a virgin."
Surely it must have been in that very experience that Abraham received a vision of the day of Christ, as John quoted Jesus as saying, "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad." (John 8:56). God saw the need to supply in Isaac a type of our Lord; and it was inherently required in such a type that it resemble as near as possible the great Antitype, Christ Himself, hence the necessity of Isaac's being offered. As another commentator, MacKnight, has said, "The sacrifice of Isaac was commanded also for the purpose of being a type of Christ."
Some commentators suggest that there is an instinct of humanity that indicates a need of some
great atonement and the claim of the Creator to the best and the dearest of a human's possessions.
It was the perversion of this instinct that led to human sacrifice, they say. Human sacrifice was
extensively practiced throughout the ancient pagan world and even crept into the evil practices of
some of the Israelites. Some were said to offer their children to Molech, and King Manasseh (son
of King Hezekiah) even sacrificed his own son. (2 Kings 21:6). But in such sacrifices, awful as they
were, there was a germ of the sublime truth regarding the cost of salvation. So, perhaps it was a
matter of eternal consequence that the faith of Abraham be demonstrated as superior to the faith
of pagans in every particular.
Finally, Jeremiah forever refuted the slander that some people speak against God when they say that God, in any sense, approved of human sacrifice. Jeremiah quoted the words of God Himself. "And they built the high places of Baal that are in the valley of Ben-hinnom to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire to Molech, which I had not commanded them nor had it enter mind that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin."
"By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau, even regarding things to come." Hebrews 11:20. NASV.
As we read this we may remember that Isaac preferred to give the blessing for the firstborn to Esau. But contrary to his own personal feelings he gave the blessing to Jacob; and even after learning that it had been by means of a shameful deception that he had been tricked into so doing, he confirmed the destiny regarding both his sons. He thus revealed his uttermost faith in his words of blessing which he had spoken concerning them, for he considered the utterance of the blessing, as it was given, to be inspired of God.
"By faith Jacob, as he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff." Hebrews 11:21. NASV.
The incident concerning the blessing by Jacob of the sons of Joseph is found in Genesis the 48th chapter. Jacob was then living in Egypt with his son Joseph. You will remember that Jacob purposely switched the blessings of the two sons, Ephraim and Manesseh. Although Manesseh was the first-born, Jacob gave the first-born's blessing to Ephraim. He said that the two sons would become two tribes but that the tribe of Ephraim would be the greater. The blessings concerned "things to come," or things not seen as yet.
The reference to Jacob "worshiping, leaning on the top of his staff" refers to an incident in Genesis chapter 47 (before the blessing of the two sons) when Jacob required Joseph to swear to him that, after his death, his body would be carried out of Egypt back to Canaan and buried in the Cave of Machpelah. Then it is said in Gen 47:31 that "Israel bowed in worship at the head of his bed." In Hebrews 11:21 this sentence from Genesis is translated differently, as "Jacob ... worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff." A commentator explains that the Hebrew words for "staff" and "bed" differ only in punctuation. Thus, there is perhaps an error somewhere in the use of the word for "staff" in one of these places.
But, be that as it may, the event connected with Jacob's worshiping while leaning on the top of his staff was a great demonstration of Jacob's faith because it was there that he made Joseph swear that his body should not be buried in Egypt but in the Cave of Machpelah back in the land of Canaan. The point seems to be that, even though Joseph was apparently permanently settled in Egypt, Jacob knew by faith that the true dwelling place of Israel was Canaan and that in time God would bring them into it.
"By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the exodus of the sons of Israel, and gave orders concerning his bones." Hebrews 11:22. NASV.
This shows that Joseph demonstrated the same spirit of faith as had Jacob when he gave a similar commandment concerning his remains, requiring that he be buried in Canaan, not in Egypt. Ex. 13:19 says concerning this commandment by Joseph, "And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for he had made the sons of Israel solemnly swear, saying, 'God shall surely take care of you; and you shall carry my bones from here with you.'"
"(23) By faith, Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful child; and they were not afraid of the king's edict. (24) By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharoah's daughter; (25) choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God, than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin; (26) considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward." Hebrews 11:23-26. NASV.
The fact that Moses parents did not fear the king's edict to kill all the Israelite male babies, and the occasion of Pharoah's daughter rescuing the baby Moses and taking him to be raised in the palace, were undoubtedly arrangements by the providence of God. The king's decree to limit the Israelite race by killing the babies actually had the practical effect of advancing the escape of the Israelites from Egyptian captivity. Moses was bounced from a little reed boat in the Nile river to the lap of the princess who adopted him as her own son. This provided for Moses all the education, training, and experience which would be so necessary in his great mission of deliverance of the Israelites. The Hebrew writer's words here in verse 23 have enrolled even the parents of Moses among the immortals of faith because of their trust in God and the taking of the actions which they did concerning the baby Moses.
A comment on verse 24 might be, "Like parents, like son!" It is shown that the faith of Moses parents was contained and carried out in the life of Moses. Significantly, the first great act of Moses faith came in the form of an astounding refusal!
James Burton Coffman points out that there were four royal refusals in the Bible. These were refusals made by Moses, David, Daniel, and Jesus. Moses refused to be called the son of Pharoah's daughter; David refused King Saul's armor (1 Sam. 17:39); Daniel refused the king's meat (Dan. 1:8); and Jesus refused the popular efforts to make him an earthly king (John 6:15). These were all great crisis decisions the results of which were of nation shaking, earth shaking, and eternal proportions. They are examples of decisive victories of the human soul over temptation for us as Christians who in our walk through life often find ourselves in the difficult position of having to say "no" to propositions of the world. Each of the four refusals mentioned involved a young man in the vigor of life, and each involved a rejection of royalty. Moses rejected the royal adoption, David the royal armor, Daniel the royal table, and Jesus the royal worldly crown.
From the human viewpoint, how "politically incorrect" was what Moses did. And how distressing was it to certain aspects of his soul. He must indeed have loved the gentle daughter of Pharoah who had rescued him as an infant from drowning in the Nile River and then had brought him up as her own child. It must have hurt him to reject her, to refuse her loving affection, and to accept the scorn and hatred of them who had clothed and fed and educated him, to say nothing of the sacrifice of all the wealth, honor, power, and glory that would have come to him who had become through Pharoah's daughter the heir presumptive to the throne of Egypt. His decision then is impossible to understand except on the basis of what is said here in the Hebrew letter, that it was by faith that he did so. This means that God communicated to Moses the desire and command that Moses should make that great refusal. It is an act of nearly incredible faith that he did it.
From here I'll leave it to each of you to construct the profound sermon for the people of today based on Moses and these other three royal refusals. The lesson that the Hebrew writer had for the Hebrew Christians, from these brief words about Moses, was, perhaps, that they must forebear the past adoption which the Mosaic covenant had upon them, and must realize that it was crucified unto them now that the Mosaic Covenant was fulfilled.
Verse 25 says that Moses chose to endure ill-treatment with the people of God. That phrase "with the people of God" is another secret of Moses' choice. God was not with the idolatrous Egyptians. Moses believed the promises of God with reference to God's covenant with Abraham. and the promised "seed" in whom all nations would be blessed. When the moment came, Moses made the right decision. The greatness of such a decision "by faith" is implicit in the fact that even today so few of us find the power really to make it.
The phrase in verse 26, "considering the reproach of Christ" brings us to the question of how Moses truly could have "considered the reproach of Christ" since he had only a few shadowy prophecies of the Christ and no real details of His life. It is clear from what is said here that Moses knew Christ as the "seed" by whom all the nations would be blessed. To act personally on the substance of a hope so nebulously defined shows how great a power that faith had in Moses' life. And it leads us to think that "the people of God" with whom he chose to remain had great importance in his life. He knew God was with the Israelites and was not with the Egyptians. His kindred, the "people of God" must have had great influence on him. Let us give full value to the worth which the "people of God" around us give to our lives.
There are at least four possible explanations put forward by different commentators of the meaning of the phrase, "reproach of Christ."
1. It was the same kind of reproach that Christ suffered.
2. It is the reproach suffered for one's faith in Christ.
3. It is the reproach that fell on Moses as the type of Christ. And,
4. it is the reproach that Christ had to bear in His own person and also in the person of every believer in Christ.
Perhaps all of these things are in the phrase "reproach of Christ" as used here. Moses did not use the exact phrase. But the Hebrew writer uses the phrase to define what Moses had to endure. And we can accept that from the inspired writer of the' Hebrew letter.
Verse 26 also indicates that Moses considered the "reproach" as "riches," "greater riches than the treasures of Egypt." This is a clear reference to the eternal reward of faith, everlasting life, and things supernatural which motivated Abraham and his sons in their astounding deeds of spiritual faith. I think it is only in the Christian religion expounded by the Bible that spiritual things are counted as riches of more value than earthly material things. In the Muslim religion, although there supposedly is a belief in God, he is a God who will reward them, even after death, with additional fleshly, material, and worldly pleasures. There seems to be little or no understanding of things spiritual as opposed to things material. And some of the Buddhist religion believe that all they can hope for is to come back after death in another earthly incarnation with better material circumstances. Moses, like Christ, was rejected at times even by his own people, and he was often vexed by his peoples' obstinate and unappreciative behavior. It was Moses respect for the heavenly, spiritual reward that sustained his magnanimous life of unselfish love and service to the Hebrew nation.
"By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured, as seeing Him who is unseen." Hebrews 11:27. NASV.
Here is another instance of the recurring theme of chapter 11, "the unseen," or "the invisible." Even the creation was made of things "invisible" (11:3); Noah was warned of "things not seen as yet" (11:7); Abraham's inheritance was "invisible" at the time he went out (11:8); the eternal city is "invisible" (11:10). And it was always with regard to things "invisible" that Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph were blessed. And the "invisible" blessings were conveyed to their sons who formed the Israelite nation. And here it is recorded that Moses' faith was achieved by means of a strong faith in the invisible God.
So the Jewish Christians to whom this letter was addressed, were confronted with a similar challenge. Even Christ is now, in his glorious Kingship in heaven, "invisible," for Paul told us as he wrote to Timothy (1 Tim. 1:17), "Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever."
Final1y, we see that as Moses exhibited his faith in the invisible God, the king of Egypt no 1onger gave him fear, thus proving that the more men fear God the 1ess they fear any man, however powerful.
"By faith he kept the passover and the sprinkling of the blood, so that He who destroyed the first born might not touch them." Hebrews 11:28. NASV.
Verse 28 gives just enough information about what happened during the first passover so that readers of the Old Testament can recognize this momentous occasion from its historical record. I won't go into all the details now but ask you to call on your memory of your study of that Old Testament record. That this Passover recorded in the Bible is a truly historical event is attested to by its constant observance annually for some 3,000 years by the Jews, this being one of the most impressive memorial services in all the history of the world. It is thus certain that there was a great deliverance from a great catastrophe and that the deliverance of Israel was a divine act of God Himself. It is equally certain to Christians of the New Covenant (and it should have been certain to the Hebrew Christians of the first century) that the extraordinary, even unique, conditions surrounding the destruction of the Egyptian firstborn and the miraculous deliverance of the Jews, were consciously designed by God Himself to point the minds of men to the true Passover, Christ.
The great significance of the Passover for Christians is that Christ is our passover (1 Cor. 5:7,8). Note several things about the first Passover which is typical of our passover celebrations, the Lord's Supper.
1. The perfection of the lamb whose blood was sprinkled on the door posts and whose flesh was eaten (1 Peter 1:19).
2. No bone of the lamb was broken (Ps. 34:20).
3. The lamb was slain at 3:00 PM, the hour Christ died on the cross.
4. The lamb was eaten with unleavened bread (1 Cor. 5:7,8).
5. There was no salvation for those people not under the protection of the blood (sprinkled on the door posts).
Thus the Passover was an extension and refinement of a type already in existence, even from the time of Adam and Eve, and their sons Cain and Abel, in the use of the lamb as a sin offering. John the Baptist hailed Jesus as "the lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world" (John 1:29). And Revelation 13:8 (AV rendition) speaks of "The lamb slain from the foundation of the world."
In the statement of the 28th verse that "By faith he (Moses) kept the passover," we see again Moses' faith in the invisible spiritual things. No one saw the death angel that night of the Passover. No one could possibly see, then or now, how the killing of a lamb and the sprinkling of its blood could have made any difference. There was no physical evidence of impending disaster, no precedent to lead anyone to expect such disaster, and no possible way of explaining how it could come to pass. But Moses knew by faith what others could know only when the cry of agony arose at midnight when the firstborn of man and beast throughout the land of Egypt died, as God said they would.
"By faith they passed through the Red Sea as though they were passing through dry land; and the Egyptians, when they attempted it, were drowned." Hebrews 11:29. NASV.
The faith of Moses is apparent in this crossing of the red sea. But also apparent is the faith of the Israelite people that enabled them to go into such an apparently dangerous situation at God's command and trust in a deliverance which, from a human standpoint, appeared impossible. James Burton Coffman mentions three things of interest here:
1. The same sea which delivered Israel destroyed the Egyptians;
2. All Israel were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea (1 Cor. 10:2);
3. The agency by which God wrought that wonder is revealed as a "strong east wind" (Ex. 14:21).
The Red Sea deliverance stands as a type of Christian baptism, marking the boundary between the Egypt of sin and the wilderness of probation, realized by Christians in the church. After the Israelites had crossed the Red Sea, Ex. 14:31 says, "And when Israel saw the great power which the Lord had used against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in His servant Moses." So the Hebrew Christians to whom this letter was written, and Christians today, who have been baptized into the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus, have seen the great power which God has used against evil, do fear the Lord, and do believe in Him and in His Servant Jesus Christ. In Exodus the 15th chapter and in Isaiah the 51st chapter the great victory of God's people is memorialized as God's triumph over the forces of evil.
"(30) By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, after they had been encircled for seven days. (31) By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish along with those who were disobedient, after she had welcomed the spies in peace." Hebrews 11:30-31. NASV.
James Burton Coffman's comments about verse 30 give us insight. He points out in his commentary that it was the faith of Israel (all Israel) in the supernatural and invisible that sustained them and produced the victory. They must have felt some frustration in marching around a walled city, with not only the soldiers but also the priests in the procession, and the priests carrying the ark of the covenant of the Lord and blowing on all those ram's horn trumpets. But Jericho fell, just as God promised (Josh. 6). However, no Israelite could have "seen" how the walls would fall, or even how they could fall; and, after all the intervening centuries from that day to this present day, there is no clear view yet as to what, exactly, happened; but fall the city of Jericho did and became the first possession of the new nation of Israel. All the people participated in the victory, and if they had not had faith, they would not have followed the Lord's instructions.
Verse 31 gives the moral reason for God's destruction of Jericho and the other kingdoms of Canaan and their being supplanted by Israel. First of all, it was not because of any perfection by Israel, nor as a favor just to the Israelites (though it was as God's favor toward all mankind). It was because of the moral corruption and sin out of control in those cities described here as "disobedient." Verse 31 indicates that Jericho perished because the people in it were "disobedient." The "disobedience" on their part must not be understood as merely an occasional lapse, or some intermittent outbreak of lustful wickedness, common to all men. Israel, in that sense, was disobedient also. James Burton Coffman describes it as a state into which they had fallen through long practice of shame and debauchery, a terminal condition of utter rebellion against God, which had resulted in the depravity of the people, making them a cancer upon the body of humanity, and requiring, as a means of preserving the race itself, that those depraved people be not partially, but absolutely, cut off.
At various times in human history God has absolutely cut off cities or nations to preserve man himself as a race upon the earth. Some examples are the generation that perished in the flood, the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, and Tyre, Babylon, and Nineveh, to name only a few. The cities of Canaan, dispossessed by the Jews, are one of the greatest examples of this. When Moses delivered a long speech to the Israelites just before he turned them over to Joshua to invade and possess the land of Canaan, he said in Deuteronomy 9:4, "Do not say in your heart when the Lord your God has driven them out before you, 'Because of my righteousness the Lord has brought me to possess this land,' but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is dispossessing them before you." Some people of our time have some very unwholesome thoughts concerning the destruction of men, women, and children that the Lord directed the Israelites to do in the cities of the land of Canaan. They think it was barbarous and unfair. But we must understand as Moses tells us in Deuteronomy 9:3 that it was the Lord crossing over the Jordan before the Israelites ''as a consuming fire" who subdued and destroyed the Canaanites.
Secular history which we study in public school generally does not ascribe any past event to the judgment of God. The "inhuman" treatment of the Canaanites by the invading Israelites was simply due to the lack of modern enlightenment in that age. Many say that it is certainly not possible that God brings judgments against nations today which rebel against Him. But is our age any more "enlightened" than the ages of old? Every day I have thoughts about the unrighteousness of our own nation. I pray that God will spare it for the sake (hopefully) of the "ten" righteous people whom we may have left.
Here in this great 11th chapter on faith, the Hebrew writer skipped over the entire period of the wilderness wanderings, finding the next example of faith (verse 31) in one called "Rahab the harlot" of Jericho. That this Gentile harlot was included with the immortals of faith must be God's way of indicating loving concern for the Gentiles as well as the Jews, and for His ultimate purpose of redeeming all peoples. In the genealogy of Matthew 1:5 we find her as the wife of Salmon, prince of Judah, mother of Boaz, and an ancestor of David, and therefore also of our Lord. There is much that could be said about the many, many things that Rahab had to overcome in her life in order to turn in faith to the God of her city's enemies. Christ found a similar paradox in that the "publicans and the harlots" were nearer to God's kingdom, He said, than the Jewish religious leaders (Matt. 21: 31).
"(32) And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, (33) who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, (34) quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. (35) Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, in order that they might obtain a better resurrection; (36) and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. (37) They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (38) (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground. (39) And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, (40) because God had promised something better for us, so that apart from us they should not be made perfect." Hebrew 11:32-40. NASV.
As I have read and re-read what we call the Hebrew letter I have often thought that it sounds more like a great speech or oration than it does a letter. Indeed it was written down as a letter for the writer says near the end "I urge you, brethren, bear with this word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly." Then he says that if Timothy comes soon, with him "I will see you." (Heb. 13:22,23). So the author was not with the Hebrew Christians in person as these words were composed. But I have thought that perhaps we could get the most out of the letter if we considered it an oration and read it all the way through without stopping, perhaps even reading aloud in the way orations are delivered. It is a master sermon of seven parts with points of great climax and with almost every phrase frought with inexhaustible meaning. As the words of the oration flow through our minds, our hearts are borne up on eagles wings closer and closer to our Lord. (Ex. 19:4).
I am moved to say this at this time because in verse 32, which we just read, the author says, as an orator might utter in the midst of his speech, "And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon," etc. He leaves it to our minds to see the faith in action of a great host of other people of faith. So need I make a lot of comments on the rest of chapter 11? At one point in my preparation for this class I thought I would just read all of chapter 11 in class with little or no comment. I didn't do that. I made comments but they barely "touched the hem of the garment." And they took a lot of class time. So let us conclude our study of this section of the speech with verse 40 of chapter 11.
The author says concerning what God had provided the great people of faith whom he has been discussing in chapter 11, "God had provided something better for us." The Hebrew Christians had great regard for the great people of faith who have been mentioned. Perhaps they erroneously thought that rejecting Christianity and going back to Judaism would restore them to the state of faith of the men of old. Something was luring them away from the Christianity which they had embraced, back to the old covenant. But however great the basis of faith for the old Jewish heros, God always had in mind something better for you, the author tells them, and you have it in Christianity.
And moreover, "apart from us they should not be made perfect." Don't you see, Hebrew Christians, the heros of old were awaiting you and the new covenant for the "seed" by which all nations of the world are blessed, by which you are counted sinless and perfect. Then when you were made perfect, they knew that they too finally had been made perfect. Now would you go back and tell them that it isn't so? Would you tell them that the perfect lamb really has not been slain? Don't you know, "Apart from us they should not be made perfect."