By Blake E. Jones
HEBREWS CHAPTER XI
The presentation of this chapter is not a new or novel concept in this epistle. It has been the essence of faith that has laid the basic foundation for this whole epistle. Jesus cannot be seen for He has returned to His Father. All along, there has been a call to a deeper commitment to the One Who is invisible. In the previous chapter, the writer pled with them to continue steadfast for "the just shall live by faith". Chapter 11 is a rehearsal of Old Testament saints who put their full trust in what they could not see.
I. The Meaning of Faith
"John Paton, the pioneer missionary to the New Hebrides Islands, was once translating the New Testament into the language of the islanders. He could find no word, however, to translate 'faith'. One day, after long hours of hard work, he slumped in his chair exhausted. 'I'm so tired,' said Paton, 'I feel like resting all my weight on this chair.' Instantly, he sat straight up and yelled, 'Praise God, I've got my word.' That is it. Faith means putting all your weight upon God. It is complete trust and commitment."1 With this practical help of Terry Pollard's to get a grasp on the meaning of"faith", we set out on this chapter's discussion. Dr. Ralph Earle notes that "faith is far more than intellectual assent. It is moral commitment. It is the personal surrender of one's will to God's will. Without the element of submission there is no real faith. There is no such thing as trust without obedience."2
It may be well to note that Christ asked if He would find faith on the earth when He returned. Yes, we put our trust in jet mechanics and airline pilots; we yield to the surgeons knife and skill with a measure of faith; but how much evangelical faith do we really find? How often do we find faith that really works? This type of faith, that yields to the will and directives of God and Scripture, is certainly in the minority. Oh yes, many claim to be believers but where is the moral commitment, the submission, the life? Dr. S. I. Emery said, "Faith alone saves, but faith that saves is not alone".3
The faith that is being spoken of in Scripture is a trust based solely in the Triune God. We Christians may be accused of being "blind believers" but this is not so. Division III entitled "The Evidence of Faith" will help to establish that fact.
II. The Substance of Faith (11:1a)
I like the word "substance". It sounds like something you can really sink your teeth into. Things I am hoping for, I cannot see nor yet touch, but faith allows me to get my hands on them. No, my physical hands do not hold them, but faith grants me a solid basis upon which to expect fulfilment.
Faith is not merely positive thinking nor an exercise in imagery projection. Much of that is motivated by selfishness and based on humanistic levels of performance. Bible faith is based solely upon the Lord and the verities of His Word. Unless the ground of our expectations rests squarely upon Him, faith is not in action. Reader, God is substantial enough for you to lay your footings and foundation of faith in Him. This is no call for pessimism and negative thinking; faith holds a substance far beyond the grasp of mere positive thinkers because faith implies GOD! He gives rock-ribbed substance to trust. No wonder, then, that you can put your full weight on Him.
A. Maclaren helps to put this in perspective by elaborating on the faith of Noah.
"When Noah walked the earth and saw his contemporaries busy with buying and selling, planting and building, marrying and giving in marriage, how fantastic and unreal their work must have seemed to him when behind them he saw blazing a vision, which he alone of all that multitude believed. Do not let us fancy that we have faith if these near trifles are to us the great realities, and the distance is dim, and unsubstantial, and doubtful, hidden in mist and forgotten...Surely, surely there is something wrong in men who call themselves believers in God and His Word, to whom the things seen and temporal are all or nearly all-important, and the trifles an inch from their eyes are big enough to shut out heaven and all its stars."4
III. The Evidence of Faith (11:1b)
There is something of the divine wrapped up in faith in an unexplainable proof or conviction of reality. John Wesley suggests that "it implies both a supernatural evidence of God, and the things of God; a kind of spiritual light exhibited to the soul, and a supernatural sight or perception thereof". 5 There are times in earnest prayer that God seems to make clear to the soul that the answer is on the way and further prayer would be strangely out of order.
This word "evidence", carries some of the flavour of the word "substance" but with a richer and deeper assurance of what is, as yet, unseen. I thrill at the story of the Moffat's faith though it seemed their labour was accomplishing nothing. When these faithful, but seemingly fruitless, missionaries were asked what gift they would like sent to them, Mary asked for a communion set. That was faith at work! No doubt she was holding to a solid substance of what she hoped for, and sensed a firm evidence that she would soon see souls saved. So it was that, before long, six heathens came to know Jesus Christ as their Saviour and plans were made to hold a communion service. The day before the service was scheduled to take place, the communion set arrived. Thank God for men and women of faith!
IV. The Approval of Faith (11:2)
Verse eight makes it unquestionably clear that faith is a necessity to please God. Here in verse 2, God confirms His approval of people of faith. How the heart of God must warm and thrill when men place their full weight on who He is and on what He has said. You, too, can have just such an approving report given by the Lord. Remember, it is not faith in yourself, but faith in Him.
V. The Practice of Faith (11:3)
There is a faith that looks back and believes what is now impossible to visibly reproduce and thus scientifically prove. We believe that God spoke and worlds began to spin, stars began to twinkle, birds appeared and flowers suddenly were blooming where no plants had been. We did not see this happen, but God said it did, and we believe. We did not see Jesus, hear Him preach, stand in awe of His miracles, watch Him die on Calvary or behold scarred hands of His resurrected body; yet we believe. It is as real, by faith, as if we had been there. This is not mere propaganda, this is a God-substantiated faith. When man will believe truth, God will confirm its veracity.
Just as surely as there is a faith that holds past truth as though it were a present unfolding, so there is a faith that reaches out to the future and believes that which is still to come as if it were being presently experienced. We have never seen heaven, but in the maturing Christian it is becoming more and more real every day.
Abraham was promised a son when, not only was it still a future accomplishment, it was also a physical impossibility. Abraham was an old man and his wife was past child-bearing years. Paul declares that Abraham "was strong in faith, giving God the glory" (Rom. 4:20). Marilyn Baker points out the practical side of this faith with these striking comments: "The secret of Abraham's strong faith is ... he praised God even before the blessing happened. Most people are more concerned in 'saving face' than exercising faith. Can you imagine a childless old man praising God for an unconceived son? Too often we delay our praises until we're holding the baby!"6 What are you waiting for before you will praise the Lord?
Dr. Dale Yocum said that "praise is the highest form of faith". Dr. Wesley Duewel makes the following note in his book, Mighty Prevailing Prayer:
"Huegel tells of a pastor who longed for new awakening in his church. He convened a week's meetings of nothing but praise. At first the people did not understand and kept asking and begging God for things. But the pastor kept explaining that he wanted nothing but praise. By Wednesday the service began to change. Thursday saw much praise, and even more was evident on Friday. By Sunday 'a new day had dawned. Sunday was a day such as the church had never seen. It was a genuine revival. God's glory filled the temple. Believers returned to their first love. Hearts were melted....It was wonderful. Praise had done it.'...Huegel...said that often when prayer does not bring the answer, adding praise will lead to victory. He states, 'There is power in praise which prayer does not have. Of course, the distinction between the two is artificial....The highest expression of faith is not prayer in its ordinary sense of petition, but prayer in its sublimest expression of praise.'"7
Why not start praising God for what He is going to do and you will find your faith taking on new substance. At the same time, you will have blessed your heavenly Father.
"The present cannot be severed from the past without jeopardizing the future. The church has a family tree, and it would be as fatal to cut the tree down for fire-wood, as to sleep self-complacently in its shadow. Some ignore the past as if they were 'the first that ever burst into this silent sea,' and created something worth recording. While it might be an indication of religious madness to dwell among the tombs, an occasional visit to the cemetery of the past for a fresh glance at the monuments of heroes 'who being dead yet speak', should stimulate to deep devotion and high endeavour... The richer our inheritance the deeper in debt we are."8
These are the words of one of my favourite authors, a former Free Methodist bishop, J. P. Taylor. With this introduction, we step into what has been called "The Westminster Abbey of Faith". May we be spurred on to greater faith and fuller obedience as we study these "of whom the world was not worthy".
I. Abel Faith that Justifies (11:4)
The age old desire to "call the shots" has here been recalled. Cain presented an offering of fruits and vegetables and thus bypassed the blood sacrifice. His gift was rejected by God as unsatisfactory, whereas Abel's blood sacrifice marked not only obedience, but faith in the provision of God. Again, we should note that true faith is demonstrated by obedience. Actually, it should be understood that Cain's offering was an affirmation of his "God awareness", whereas Abel's was an admission of his own sin and an expression of his faith in God's atoning provision. Though this righteous man has been dead for nearly 6,000 years, still he speaks to us as an exhorter to the proper type of obedient faith.
The response of the Almighty to Abel was a counting of him as righteous. Righteousness was placed on his account in place of his sins. Thus, by faith, he was made right with God.
II. Enoch Faith that Pleases (11:5-6)
It appears that Enoch's life of faith was that which brought him recognition. The fact that it pleased the Lord, is especially highlighted. It seems to me that it was this beautiful trust in God that lead to his translation. What further involvement faith played in Enoch's translation, we are not told. This man who "walked with God" (Gen. 5:24), never had to die, as we understand death. God simply gave him a "pass" into the glory world. Rev. James Keaton said that God and Enoch were out walking when the Lord said, "Enoch, why don't you come and spend the day with me?" Enoch accepted the offer to visit heaven for the day and night has never come. Reader, what is in store for those who please God in this day? Enoch has no advantage of special privilege. You, too, can anticipate gracious, spiritual help as you earnestly and diligently seek God. Only heaven will reveal all that awaits those who have pleased the Lord.
III. Noah Faith that Moves into Action (11:7)
Some creation scientists have suggested that, prior to the flood, the earth might have been watered by heavy mists rather than by rains. If this is so, Noah had never seen rain and the warning of a flood was all the more phenomenal. The writer here states that this man of God was warned "of things not seen as yet". The notable fact, however, is his believing what God said, even though he had never seen such a act of judgement. The ship building operation was utter madness outside of faith; but God had spoken. Whether or not Noah understood the method of destruction was not the point. God had uttered His decree and Noah accepted it at face value. For this, Noah was the recipient of a righteous account before God.
IV. Abraham Faith plus Nothing (11:8-19)
We stand in awe as we stroll through this hall of fame. These are giants of faith! Imagine striking out for a destination unknown; talk about pioneers, these are the pioneers of faith. For Abraham, the Ur of the Chaldees was his familiar homeland. God spoke to him and promised to give him a new land for his inheritance. Consider that long and wearisome journey to Canaan. Ponder the questions that must have left Abraham and Sarah's heads spinning. Undoubtedly, there were doubts that attacked their resolve and fought with their grasp of faith. They could have turned around and gone back to their native land. Yet, God was making a man; more than that, God was making a nation; and through that nation God was going to introduce to planet Earth the God-man, Jesus Christ.
It appears that, although, Abraham was certainly wealthy enough to establish a home like the Canaanites around him, yet he chose to live as a nomad, a traveller, a pilgrim; "for he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God". He choose a tent to live in though he was a man of means. Does our faith express itself in any form of sacrifice for the cause and promotion of the Kingdom of Christ? Must we live in luxury while the work of evangelism suffers for lack of funds and personnel in areas where the harvest of souls is ripe and the soil so productive? What does this selfishness say about our faith; about our real citizenship; about our devotion? Are we so content with life that we are not looking for a "better country"?
Mr. Finney said, "There are many professors who are willing to do almost anything in religion, that does not require self-denial....They will not willingly suffer reproach for the name of Christ. Nor will they deny themselves the luxuries of life, to save a world from hell....Oh, how soon such professors will be in hell!...They only give of their surplus wealth; and perhaps that poor woman who puts in her mite has exercised more self-denial than they have in giving thousands."9
It is sad that "Christianity" has become so near-sighted and lost its long look of faith. We would do well to examine whether Christianity can exist without a deep faith that shapes our purpose, goals and patterns. Faith affected Abraham, and in turn it blessed the world.
Lest we place these heroes on a pinnacle above the grind of daily living, fears, heartaches, disappointments and pain, we should note Abraham's rugged faith tests. The test of offspring to fulfil the promise of God is well outlined in Romans 4:16-22. Even though he was an old man and Sarah was past childbearing age, Abraham "staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; and being fully persuaded that, what He had promised, He was able also to perform". Oh, what faith! Faith that puts its full weight on God's promise. As was noted by Rev. Troy Bollens, too often we treat God's promises like ice that we are afraid to step confidently upon. We tip toe around the edge in fear and trembling lest we fall through at any moment. While we gingerly test the ice and wonder about its thickness, others who have either less sense or greater knowledge, drive their vehicles right out on the frozen lake as if it were a parking lot. Often young converts "drive" right out on God's word; and prove its power while we hesitate along the shore. Saint Paul declared that this faith of Abraham's "was imputed to him for righteousness". That is, right living was placed on his account as if he had never sinned.
The blessing of imputed righteousness is not some supposed covering of Christ over the believer, such that God cannot see the person's sins and continued transgressions. No, no, a thousand times, no! There is no Scriptural backing for such supposition. This teaching is belittling to the death of Christ, the merit of the blood, the plan of the Father, the work of a better covenant and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. When righteousness is imputed to man, his sins are blotted out and are no longer on the record. Future transgression must be repented of or else it stains the clean record. Unconfessed sin is unforgiven sin; and sins confessed without the intention of obedience in the tomorrows of life, lack the broken-hearted penance that establishes the groundwork for faith. Imputed righteousness is the product of faith, today, just as it was for Abraham. He accepted what God said, in simple trust, for that was the extent of divine revelation to his soul. We accept Christ's death and atoning blood by faith, since we live on this side of God's enlarged revelation to humanity.
Abraham and Sarah must have thrilled beyond recounting when baby Isaac finally arrived. Maybe they felt their tests were finished. Everything would be downhill from that point on; but that was not to be the case. Another test of faith loomed in the horizon for there came a day when God chose to "try" Abraham. The command was to sacrifice this only son, the son of promise. Will this father's heart and its avid love for his son stand the acid test? What of the promise "that in Isaac shall thy seed be called"? But faith won again and Abraham accounted "that God was able to raise him (Isaac) up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure". That's faith! Had he ever heard of such a thing? Probably not, but what is that to faith? And furthermore, what is that to faith when it is based on the promise of the Triune God?
It has been said, "When you have nothing left but God, you will find that He is all you need". Faith plus nothing will still win the day.
V. Isaac to Moses Faith that Looks Beyond (11:20-23)
Isaac, with patriarchal blessing, looked into the future of his offspring. Many years later, Jacob called his sons to him and spoke of what was to come. Joseph, before he died, asked to be carried out of Egypt, and to be buried in his homeland when God released his people from Egyptian tyranny. Amram and Jochabed looked beyond the king's command to murder Israelitish baby boys, and saw potential in their son. That long look sparked courage and fortitude to violate the king's cruel decree.
Still in the twentieth century, it is faith that enables a look beyond the clutch of religious oppression, over the mountains of materialism, through the fog of compromise and godless ecumenicalism, under the sand castles of foolish evolution and preachers proclaiming Biblical errancy, to the great realities of what God has promised to those who are faithful. There, brighter than the dazzle of religious showmanship and superstars, gleams a crown of righteousness. Sweet songs of the redeemed seem to waft from future oratorios and call the soul to diligence in the midst of the crashing and clanging of self-centred, humanistic society. Friend, get the long look of faith.
It should not come as a surprise to us that people noted for their faith, as were Jochabed and Amram, instill a vibrant faith in their offspring. Even though the Pharoah had decreed that baby boys of the Israelite families were to be killed, these parents hid their child; then, relying on their God, they laid him in a little water-tight basket and placed him in the river under the supervision of his older sister. Pharoah's daughter came to the water and discovered baby Moses. He was crying and her lady-heart was touched. She claimed this Hebrew infant and hired its own mother to nurse the child for her. How long Jochabed had Moses in her care we do not know; but in his formative years she instilled within him a clear sense of Hebrew identity and God awareness. How these dear parents must have prayed for their boy after he left their home to live with royalty. Would he be swayed by heathen teaching and practice? Would he worship the Nile River or the true God? Would he reject his humble relatives for the pomp and riches of palace living? Hear them pray, "Oh, God, protect our boy from straying today. Guard his mind. Keep him for Thyself; for we trust him to Thee."
I. Faith that Refuses (11:24)
Josephus names Pharoah's daughter, Termuthis, and mentions her adoption of Moses, as her son. An interesting story follows that may possibly bear some truth, though certainly it is not to be guaranteed as anything more than tradition's claim. Josephus states that Termuthis brought Moses before her father and said, "I have brought up a child who is of divine form, and of a generous mind; and as I have received him from the bounty of the river, in a wonderful manner, I thought proper to adopt him for my son, and heir of thy kingdom".10 The account further states that the king hugged the child and laid his diadem on Moses as a sign of acceptance.
No doubt, in the years that followed, Moses was educated in the best of Egyptian schools and with no limit of resources. What a profound affect all this teaching and high living could have had on young Moses' outlook and demeanour. Josephus also suggests that, as a young adult, Moses lead the Egyptian army in a successful encounter against the Ethiopians which would further establish him as part of Pharoah's family, not as a Hebrew.
The Scripture declares that whatever prestige and wealth Moses may have been able to claim, he refused to be called the son of Pharoah's daughter. If, as it appears, it was the announcement of a decision after years of involvement and intermingling with the royal household, very likely it caused the sparks to fly. The point is that this refusal was made on the basis of faith; faith in the God of his people.
No less requirement is made of Christians today. Believing that bearing our cross for Jesus will bring His approval, we must refuse our own ambitions, self-will and sinful habits. Friends and sometimes even some relatives may have to be given up for Jesus. Let it be known that "every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life" (Matt. 10:29).
II. Faith that Chooses (11:25)
Faith must make some deliberate moves. Moses chose suffering instead of pleasure; affliction rather than sin's temporary thrill. It is the eye of faith that sees glory beyond the affliction, and the desirable behind the undesirable. Our society is a "now" society. We live for instant gratification. The lottery is a trick played for instant wealth. The motto for many is "if it feels good do it" and thus the opposite is clearly implied: if it doesn't feel good, don't sweat it.
Moses opted for temporary hardship in order to receive eternal reward. He refused temporary pleasure which would end in eternal woe and destruction. Faith must make the choice if the right decision is to win.
III. Faith that Esteems (11:26)
Perhaps the evaluating here referred to is nearly identical with what has already been discussed in "Faith that Chooses". Moses weighed his prospects in his heart and mind. He evaluated and accounted things in a mental ledger and, on the fact of faith, he came up with actual credits and debits. In the whole analysis, he believed that "our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal" (II Cor. 4:17-18). Moses "counted the cost" and found greater riches in the reproach of Christ than in Egypt's treasures. The friendship of God, the forgiveness of sins, the privilege of prayer, the thrill of communion with the Lord, all of these are treasures we may now enjoy. Add to this, heaven's "weight of glory" and, at once, Egypt's little trinkets, pyramid tombs, and treasures look extremely paltry. On the scales of faith's estimation, earth's allurements and gold are but trifling, insignificant dust, compared to the load of glory that absolutely weighs down the scale's other pan. On the ledger of faith's evaluation, earth's millions add up to a great loss, a negative balance; whereas the reproach of Christ adds up to an inestimable, infinite credit.
The Christian employee who does not work on the Lord's day may lose overtime pay, and sometimes even his job; but he gains greater riches because of his faithfulness. The believer who will not keep what is not rightfully his may be scorned by worldly minded people, but he will be amply rewarded by God.
IV. Faith that Endures (11:27)
Little do we know, the actual intensity of what Moses was called upon to endure. The impassioned disgust of the royal household, at the time of Moses' refusal to be called the son of Pharoah's daughter, probably cannot be exaggerated. At the time of his return to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, he again had to endure the wrath of Egypt's highest official. The plagues were a sore spot and a great source of irritation to Pharoah. Finally, he declared that he did not want to see Moses' face again.
However, there was a strength factor in Moses' life, that the king did not understand. That was faith; and that faith could see more than the visible manifestation of rage on Pharoah's face. It could behold Him who is invisible. It is the sight of the "fourth Man" in the fire; the glimpse of hillsides that abound with chariots of the Lord; the opened eyes to the Stranger on the road to Emmaus, that keeps God's people going. They hang on, fight on, hold on with an eye for what Stephen saw when, before the angry, gnashing Sanhedrin, he "looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of the God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God" (Acts 7:55).
Someday, by the grace of God, I intend to meet those who stood so tall in faith. We have been called upon to sacrifice so little. Our faith is perhaps in greater jeopardy because of the ease of acceptance. But it may not always be so. The seeds of change in religious accommodation are rapidly germinating and growing. Are we preaching a message true and clear enough to establish true faith in the hearts of our parishioners? Where is the call to rugged self-denial and visible separation from the world? What of the church that can not be distinguished from the world? Will Jesus find faith on the earth when He returns?
These faithful worthies died before the glory of the new and better covenant was ushered in. Yet, clearly, they died in faith. However, as part of the great body of believers, they must await the final gathering together of all of that body, before they and Gospel dispensation believers can be glorified or made perfect together.
1. Terry Pollard, Ray Crooks, Ed., Adult Teacher's Insights-Parables of Christ, (Overland Park, KS: Herald and Banner Press, 1992) Vol. 16, No. 2, pp. 47-48.
2. Quoted in Ray Crooks, Ed., Adult Teacher's Insights-Marks of a Christian, (Overland Park, KS: Herald and Banner Press, 1992) Vol. 16, No. 1, p. 10.
3. J. Paul Taylor, Goodly Heritage, (Winona Lake, Indiana: Light and Life Press, 1960) p. 3.
4. Quoted in Ray Crooks, Ed., Adult Teacher's Insights, Studies in Hebrews, (Overland Park, Kansas: Herald and Banner Press, 1992) Vol. 15, No. 3, pp. 84-85.
5. Quoted in H. Orten Wiley, The Epistle to the Hebrews, (Kansas City, Missouri: Beacon Hill Press, 1959) pp. 357-358.
6. Marilyn Baker, Ray Crooks, Ed., Opening the Word, (Overland Park, KS: Herald and Banner Press, 1992) Vol. 1, No. 2, p. 5.
7. Wesley Duewel, Mighty Prevailing Prayer, ( Grand Rapids, Michigan: Francis Asbury Press, 1990) pp. 169-170.
8. J. Paul Taylor, Goodly Heritage, (Winona Lake, Indiana: Light and Life Press, 1960) p. 3.
9. Charles G. Finney, Finney on Revival, (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers, n.d.) p. 22.
10. Flavius Josephus, trans. by William Whiston, Josephus-Complete Works, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 1976) p. 57.