of Fulfilled Promises Received by Faith
This is a series of studies that explore the meaning of the Epistle to the Hebrews.
©2003 by James A. Fowler. All rights reserved.
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JESUS: The Better Expectation
Long known as the faith chapter of the Bible and characterized as Gods Hall of Fame or The Westminster Abbey of Scripture, this excursus on faith has often been extracted from its historical and textual contexts, disallowing and distorting the emphases that Paul intended when he first penned this letter to the Hebrew Christians in Jerusalem. Only within its self-limiting contexts can we properly understand the intertwining emphases of promise, fulfillment, faith, hope, and endurance as they related to the first century Christians of Palestine, and have meaning by extended application to Christians of all ages.
It does appear that Paul could have proceeded directly from 10:39, we are those who have faith to the safe-keeping of the soul, to 12:1, Therefore, let us run with endurance the race set before us. Such a transition would have a logical flow of thought. But Paul takes his transitional key from the quotation of Habakkuk 2:4 in 10:38, My righteous ones shall live by faith (a favorite text of Pauls Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:13), and sets out to give a brief description of faith along with an extended historical review of such faith in the old covenant. The entirety of 11:1-40 must be interpreted by this contextual reference to Habakkuk 2:4 in 10:38. Otherwise, the commentator runs amok by defining faith in accord with his/her presuppositions and interpreting the text by reading those biases into the meaning (eisegesis) a false pretext for reading the text outside of its context.
Why does Paul utilize Habakkuk 2:4 to connect with a review of the historical heritage of faith in the old covenant? The revolutionary zealots were demanding that the Hebrew Christians reconnect with their historical Jewish heritage, and join them in their military exploits to oust the Romans from their homeland, thereby allowing the implementation of all the divine promises for the Jewish people. Paul wanted the Judean Christians to recognize that they were already connected with the historic faith of their forefathers by receiving the better things in Jesus Christ, that the complete fulfillment of Gods promises are in Jesus Christ (10:36; cf. II Cor. 1:20), and that their present need was to respond with a forward-looking faith like that of their Hebrew forebears, anticipating and expecting the ultimate fulfillment of Gods promises as they continued to remained faithfully steadfast in their endurance of the present situation.
These exemplars or heroes of faith that Paul mentions are intended to provide an exemplary incentive (12:1) for the Jerusalem Christians to respond in like manner. They needed to recognize and receive the better promises of God (6:12; 8:6; 9:15; 10:36; 11:39) that were expectantly anticipated in hope (3:6; 6:11,18,19; 7:19; 10:23; 11:1), but could only be appropriated by a forward-looking faith (4:2; 6:12; 10:38,39; 11:1,6 et al; 12:2) that acted in persevering endurance (10:36; 12:1-3,7).
The faith of the old covenant people of God was established on the promises of God and the faithfulness of the One who had promised (I Cor. 1:9; 10:13; Heb. 10:23; 11:11). Anticipating these promises in hope required their endurance through many obstacles and difficult circumstances, which Paul sets out to review. Jewish eschatology involved a forward-looking faith that sought the promises of God in a hope that was ultimately focused on the coming Messiah. Paul encourages the Jerusalem Christians to maintain a faith that continues to be forward-looking to the future fulfillment and restoration of all things in Jesus Christ, unto the end (3:6,14; 6:11). Such a theology of hope1 is a continuing necessity for Christians, contrary to the assertions of some full preterists who eschew all future expectation of Christian hope. Paul connects Christian faith and hope with its Jewish precedent, but simultaneously explains that God has provided something better for us (11:40) in the radically new Christocentric object and dynamic of faith and hope. Christian eschatology begins by looking back at the historical establishment and basis of Christian faith and hope in the finished work (Jn. 19:30) of Jesus Christ, when (and where), by the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, the victory over the counterforce of evil, sin, death and destruction, the victory of God was won for eternity. This does not consign Christian eschatology to only historical categories, but grounds the last and final work of God in Jesus Christ in the historicity of Jesus, allowing Christian eschatology to develop a dynamic understanding of faith and hope in the continuous present of the lives of Christians in all ages. Christians are to have a dynamic expectation of hope in Gods continued faithful action in the present and unto the future. By a dynamic receptivity of the activity of the living Lord Jesus within, the Christian responds to God in faith, having the divine dynamic provision of Gods grace to endure and persevere whatever may transpire. There is no promise in the Christian gospel of exemption or immunity from the tribulations of life; of escape or deliverance from problems, hardships, or disease; and no allowance for inertia, inaction, passivism, resignation or acquiescence. Christians are responsible to endure and persevere in their faith the very point that Paul sought to drive home to the Hebrew Christians in Jerusalem. The only alternative, in Pauls mind, to such faithful endurance that expected to receive the promises of God in Jesus Christ was an abject apostasy that absolutely rejected the Lord Jesus Christ (3:12; 6:4-8; 10:26-31,35-39).
Paul masterfully wove several objectives into the argument that he employed in this passage.  He wanted to connect the Jewish Christians with their Jewish heritage of faith in a recitative listing of historically attested examples of promise, hope, faith, and endurance.  While so doing he would contrast the unfulfilled promises (13,39) of the old covenant with the better promises (8:6) of the new covenant in Jesus Christ. He does this by interspersing a commentary of interpretive analysis within the review that posits the better city (10), the better country (16), the better riches (26), the better resurrection (35), and better provision (40) that are eschatologically fulfilled in the new covenant.  Throughout, his objective is to convince the Hebrew Christians in Jerusalem to endure the trials that were confronting them as the conflict with the Roman army loomed on the horizon.
The entire recitation of the old covenant heroes of faith is distinctively formulated in a context of Jewish Christian thought patterns. The Greeks regarded faith in opposition to reason. Faith was the response of the simple and uneducated to what could not be explained rationally and logically. Greeks would have conceived of these old covenant characters as dupes of faith or fools of faith, rather than heroes of faith. They would have been intrigued, if not astonished or appalled, at the willingness of Jews and/or Christians to suffer adversity with an unreasonable certitude in an indemonstrable cause. This makes Pauls comment all the more pertinent when he wrote, He who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him (6).
11:1 Transitioning to continue the theme introduced by the quotation of Habakkuk 2:4 in 10:38, Paul begins, Now faith is the substantiation of things being hoped for, Paul is not attempting to formulate a formal definition of faith, but rather to provide a functional description of the faith required by the Jerusalem Christians in the context of the situation confronting them. This is sometimes called a working definition. The Hebrew Christians needed faith that would endure the pressures and persecutions of their present problems, until such a time that their hopes would be realized in the peaceful fulfillment of the promises of God, whether in this life or beyond. Instead of defining faith as an exact equation of essential equivalence to a particularly defined static idea or concept, Paul is describing faith as the dynamic means of forward-looking action that anticipates the fulfillment of divine promise.
In contrast to the rejection of Christ in apostasy (Greek apostasis to stand away from), the Jewish Christians needed a faith that would culminate in the substantiation (hupostasis to stand under) and actualization of all the things they were looking forward to in Jesus Christ. The word Paul uses (hupostasis) can be interpreted subjectively as an understanding or realization of confidence and assurance (3:14), or objectively as the substantive essence (1:3) that constitutes the underlying foundational support and groundwork of promised expectations. Rather than encouraging an internal and psychological feeling of assurance, it is more likely that Paul is indicating that the faith of the embattled Jerusalem Christians should/would look forward to and lead to an objectively existent and secure fulfillment of everything hoped for in Jesus Christ. This is all the more likely since the Hebrew word for faith, used in Habakkuk 2:4, from which Paul had just quoted in 10:38, and was using as the springboard for his argument, is emunah, which refers to established firmness, solidity and stability. This certainly corresponds with the objective interpretation of faith as forward-looking action that expects the firm foundational substance of the subsequent fulfillment of all Christian hope in the finished work of Jesus Christ.
It must be noted, however, that personal faith does not create the substantive reality hoped for. Faith does not give substance to that which does not exist. Christian faith is not positive thinking or possibility thinking that allegedly brings into being its own object of concern. Rather, Christian faith looks forward with the confident expectation of hope to the substantive actualization and materialization of what God has promised, and what God will faithfully fulfill. It was this objectification of faith that the Greeks could not conceive of with their subjective understanding of faith as wishful thinking.
Neither could the Greeks have understood faith as the means to proving the certainty of things not seen. Again, the word Paul uses, elengchos, can be subjectively interpreted as an inner conviction or convincing of certainty, or objectively explained as the evidence, proof, and demonstration that exposes the certainty of that which is looked for, but not seen. The pragmatic (Greek word pragmaton) practicalities of the events and realities that were not yet observable with the sense perception of physical sight would be demonstrated and proven by the objective fulfillment of Gods promises.
Pauls mention of things not seen is not a metaphysical reference to mystical intangibles. Paul is not indicating that faith itself can make invisible things visible in some magical manifestation. Nor is he promising that unseen spiritual realities can be made to seem as real (subjectively) as those observed with physical eyes. The things not seen refer to future promised events and situations, the fulfillment of which was not yet in sight. Paul was still encouraging the Judean Christians to a forward-looking faith that could endure the then present observable situation that appeared quite bleak. Their enduring faith would lead to an obviating demonstration of the certainty of all that God had promised in Jesus Christ. Believing in the certainty of Gods faithfulness to His promises would serve to set aside the subjective uncertainty and paranoia that plagued some of the Christians in Jerusalem. Their faith would be proven valid in the demonstrable evidence of events and realities that, though not seen now, would be made visible and real in the fulfillment of Gods promises. Promise will become reality; hope will become experience; faith will become sight. In the meantime, faith acts (cf. James 2:14,16,20,26) with a certitude that expects the certainty of things not seen to be made visible in the future in accord with Gods promises. Such enduring action of faith is what Paul sought to motivate the Jerusalem Christians to maintain.
11:2 Paul commences to connect this working definition of faith with the Jewish forefathers (1:1) who were rightfully revered by the Jewish Christians. For by it the men of old have received witness. By their enduring faith that looked forward to substantive and visible fulfillment of Gods promises, the elders (Greek word, presbuteroi), the old ones, the ancients from earlier generations, the Jewish forefathers whom Paul will begin to chronologically review in the subsequent survey (11:4-38), received the witness of Gods attestation and commendation of their faith in the fulfillment of His promises. The fact that Paul begins (2,4,5) and ends (39) this extended passage with reference to the divine commendation of faith, reveals that his intent was to motivate his readers to the endurance of faith that would receive Gods commendation, Well done, good and faithful servant (cf. Matt. 25:21,23).
11:3 Prior to his survey of forward-looking faith in the old covenant people of God, Paul briefly mentions the backward-looking faith that accepts the creative work of God without the benefit of having observed such divine action with the sense perception of physical sight. Mankind was not present to observe most of the creation event. Since the creative acts of God described in Genesis 1 and 2 preceded the first case-study of Abel in Genesis 4, Paul includes faith in the past acts of Gods creation as well as the historical acts of God in the lives of the Hebrew faithful.
By faith we have comprehended the universe to have been ordered by a word of God. God asked Job, Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth! Tell Me, if you have understanding (Job 38:4). Job needed the same kind of enduring faith that the Jerusalem Christians needed, the faith that trusted the acts of God in the past, present and future. Paul explains that it is via faith that we comprehend and understand with our minds (the Greek word for mind is nous, and the word for comprehended is nooumen) the evidence of Gods creative acts in the past. Faith is not a blind leap of conjecture or presumption, but is a mental and volitional act based on objective evidence. Looking at the created order, honest searchers after truth can see a power, if not a Person, who brought the universe into being with intelligent design. Writing to the Romans, Paul explained the natural revelation of God in the universe, since the creation of the world, His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made (Rom. 1:20).
It is only by means of faith that we understand that the ages, the aeons, the entire space/time context of the universe, was formed, framed, ordered, prepared, and arranged by God. It is interesting that Paul does not use the usual word for create (Greek, ktizõ), but instead uses the word katartizo, meaning to prepare (10:5), to equip (13:21), to form, order, or arrange. This may have been based on the Hebrew use of bara for create (Gen. 1:1,21,27), and yatsar for the forming, fashioning, framing, and molding of preexisting materials (Gen. 2:7,8,19). This latter process of formation is explained in the Genesis account as God said (Gen. 1:3,6,9,11,14,20,24,26). This speaking things into being in the formation and arrangement of the creative process seems to be what Paul is referring to by his reference to the universe having been ordered by a word of God. The psalmist wrote, By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of His mouth all the host. For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast (Ps. 33:6,9). Asaphs Psalm explained, Thou hast prepared the light and the sun. Thou hast established all the boundaries of the earth (Ps. 74:16,17), obviously referring to the Genesis account, And God said, Let there be light (Gen. 1:3). The universe was formed and ordered by the utterance of the Creator God brining things into being and arrangement out of Himself (ek Theos). Word of God does not refer to scripture, nor is it a Christological reference to Jesus as the Word of God (Jn. 1:1,14). The word for word used in this verse is rhema rather than logos. Because of recent misrepresentations of Gods creative acts, it must be noted that God did not create and fashion the universe by employing some law of faith or speaking a word of faith; utilizing a proceduralized formula or technique which can then be exercised by others to create supernatural phenomenon also. Faith did not create anything God created all things! Faith is not predicated of God, but is a personal responsibility (response-ability) of man not a God-given commodity or God-effected response (despite misinterpretations of Eph. 2:8,9 and Gal. 2:20) allowing man to respond to God by recognizing His past creative acts, His present sufficiency, and His future consummation of all things. Our faith is not in faith principles, but in God Himself!
The result of comprehending the creative arrangement of the universe spoken into being by Gods power is that we then understand the things being seen to have been brought into being not out of things appearing. This phrase might have been a precautionary clarification of the creative process spoken of in the previous phrase, or it might be a transitional statement that links faith in the things being seen in creation to faith in things not seen (1,7) in future events the content of the following argument.
If Paul was attempting to clarify by making a parallel restatement or amplification of his comment on Gods creative formation of the universe, his words have certainly been interpreted in a morass of ambiguity that is anything but clear. It has been suggested that Pauls statement about the universe being arranged by Gods utterance could have been misconstrued by Greek philosophy that posited the eternal existence of matter and nature, and regarded this formless, primal matter to have phenomenalized itself into arrangements of various forms by natural processes. Is Paul correcting this naturalistic view of the evolution of rearranging or restructuring material particles into various observable phenomena by stating that the physically observable order was made by that which is not physical material, i.e. that creation points to a Creator, an invisible God who created all things visible? The Greeks explained the origin of everything as ek phainomenõn, out of existent phenomena, and the emphatic part of Pauls statement is that what we see has been brought into being me ek phainomenõn, not out of phenomena. Was Paul emphasizing that visible created objects were not brought into being by created objects, for this leads to the idolatrous worship of the creation (Rom. 1:25)? Was Paul attempting to affirm that the visible creation was brought into being not out of visible material (ek phainomenõn), but out of God (ek Theos), the invisible, immaterial God who is Spirit (Jn. 4:24), who created all things out of His own power and Being (cf. Rom. 11:36; I Cor. 8:6; 11:12). Such a denial of the pre-existence and auto-generation of natural matter would necessarily deny the Greek philosophies, as well as naturalism, radical dualism, monistic pantheism, and a multitude of other pernicious man-made theories of origin and sustenance of the universe. But Medieval theologians were fearful that the idea of creation ek Theos would foster a monistic pantheism by failing to differentiate the creation from the Creator if the Creator was thought to have created a phenomenalization that was essentially Himself in visible forms. Failing to recognize that the invisible Creator could (and did) create visible phenomena that were not Himself, the greater creating the lesser, the church theologians used this very phrase to espouse a doctrine of creation ex nihilo (Latin phrase, meaning out of nothing). To counter the Greek thought of creation ek phainomenõn, the traditional explanation of the Christian church has been creation ex nihilo a concept that is not necessarily Biblical, even though they have used this verse to document their thesis by interpreting not appearing as not existent, i.e. nothing. The apocryphal account of a mother trying to convince her son to look at the heaven and the earth and see everything that is in them, and recognize that God did not make them out of things that existed (II Macc. 7:28) is the only plausible basis for the creation ex nihilo doctrine.
In addition to all such theological obfuscation of the process of creation from this phrase, the religious mystics have taken these words out of context to document their convoluted concepts that are often akin to monistic pantheism. What is visualized is brought into being and created out of the non-phenomenal. By faith we noumena that phenomena are but manifested pneumena. The Mind-Science advocates and the New Age devotees often interpret this phrase to mean that visibility is brought into being out of the invisibility of the metaphysical materializing of phenomenality whatever that means!
It seems most likely that Paul was using this statement as a connective phrase to return to his main theme of faith that endures to see the fulfillment of Gods promised action. These words are best understood as drawing together the fleeting reference to faith in the unseen creative acts of God (3a), to the faith of the Jewish forebears (4-38) who experienced the promised acts of God in their lives, and that with the objective to encourage the Jerusalem Christians to anticipate the unseen acts of God that were yet future in their lives. If the things not seen in the working definition of faith in verse 1 referred to events in time which were not yet visible in physical sight (cf. previous comments), an interpretation verified by reference to Noah and things not yet seen in the events of the flood (7), then the things seen in this phrase (3) are likely to refer to the creative events at the commencement of time, rather than to physical created and visible objects. G.W. Buchanan notes,
The authors concern for the unseen was not primarily that which was invisible or intangible, but that which was future, that which had not yet happened. It was a concept of time, rather than of substance or essence.2
The creative events enacted by Gods utterance at the beginning of time were instrumentally and causally brought into being by the non-phenomenal, immaterial, invisible God of the universe. In like manner, the historical events in the lives of the old covenant faithful (which Paul will go on to review) were brought into being by the power of God in fulfillment of His promises. And this was all directed to the Christians of Jerusalem to provide an anticipation of the events yet to come in time which would be brought into being by the God who is faithful to His promises, as they endured in their receptivity of faith to Gods continuing grace activity.
11:4 Paul begins his review of old covenant personages who exemplified faith to one degree or another. These people were not perfect. There are adulterers, murderers, drunkards, prostitutes, and cowards in the list. It has been suggested that this survey of the exemplars of faith could be alternatively viewed as a rogues gallery. But these persons exemplified faith in particular situations despite their faults, and Paul considered them worthy of comment on their faithfulness.
By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he has received witness to be righteous, God witnessing about his gifts, and through it, having died, yet he speaks. Based on the account in Genesis 4:4-8, Paul comments on Abel, the younger son of Adam and Eves first two sons. There were a number of interpretive traditions that arose over the ages concerning why Abels animal sacrifice was better than Cains produce sacrifice, and how that acceptability was made known to them. Was the difference in the quality of the sacrifice, the manner of the sacrifice, or the attitude of the sacrificers? We can only speculate on the answers to some of these questions. What we do know is that the sacrifice of Cain was regarded as unacceptable (Gen. 4:5), and that he was unwilling to do right (Gen. 4:7). Cains deeds were evil because he was deriving out of the evil one (I Jn 3:12), the personified sin who was crouching at the door (Gen. 4:7). On the other hand, the sacrifice of Abel God regarded as acceptable (Gen. 4:4), and Abel was commended by God for his righteousness. Jesus referred to Abel as righteous Abel (Matt. 23:35), and John writes that Abels deeds were righteous (I Jn. 3:12). The connection of faith and righteousness (10:38; Hab. 2:4) is still on Pauls mind, but he does not divert to explain that new covenant righteousness is only the result of the Righteous One, Jesus Christ (I Jn. 2:1; I Cor. 1:30) manifesting His righteous character in the Christian. Rather, in accord with old covenant criteria of righteousness, God commended Abels right attitude of faith that led to right action, and Gods testimony of such in Genesis 4:4-8 allows Abels faith to continue to be a testimony, despite the fact that he was murdered by his brother and became the first martyr to die for doing right. Some have interpreted Abels continued speaking to be Abels blood crying from the ground for vindication (Gen. 4:10), and later in the epistle Paul does state that the blood of Jesus speaks better than the blood of Abel (12:24), but it seems more likely that Paul is explaining in this context that Abels faith continues to have a posterity of divine attestation through the approving commendation of Gods witness to such in Genesis 4:4-8.
11:5 Pauls second faith-witness is Enoch. By faith Enoch was removed not to see death, and he was not found because God removed him, for before his being removed he had received witness to have been pleasing to God. Enoch is another briefly mentioned figure of the Old Testament, concerning whom there were many traditional additions of interpretive data. In the brief passage of Genesis 5:21-24, the Hebrew text indicates, Enoch walked with God (Gen. 5:22,24), whereas the Greek text of the Septuagint (LXX) reads, Enoch was well-pleasing to God (Gen. 5:22,24). As usual in this epistle, Paul works from the Greek text, and mentions that Enoch had received the divine commendation on his faithfulness as being well-pleasing to God prior to his being removed, lifted up, or translated into another realm without seeing death. The details of Enochs removal without death are sketchy, and many apocryphal accounts were written to fill in the details. Sirach 49:14 states, No one like Enoch has been created on earth, for he was taken up from the earth. The removal of Enoch without experiencing death was a phenomenon that stood out in the minds of the Jewish people. As they read the narrative of the descendants of Adam in Genesis 5 there was a repetitive statement, and he died (Gen. 5:5,8,11,14,17,20,27,31), and the sole stand-out was Enoch who was not found because God removed him (Gen. 5:24 LXX). The majority of people are called upon to endure in faith until they die, but Enoch enjoyed a longevity of being well-pleasing to God in his faithful endurance for 300 years (some of us have a tough time making 30 years), and was apparently miraculously removed from the earth. This should not be construed as a type of rapture, or as a mystical representation of Christian death, but merely as the historical reward of his well-pleasing faith. It is clear throughout Scripture that God is not pleased by mans works of righteousness, but only by faith that allows God to do what He wants to do (cf. Isa. 64:6; Phil. 3:8,9; Gal. 3:11-14), and that the divine commendation is based on such faithful availability.
11:6 Following up on Enochs being well-pleasing to God, Paul inserts another statement that explains and describes the forward-looking faith that he was encouraging the Jerusalem Christians to participate in. And without faith it is impossible to please (Him), for the one coming before God must have believed that He is, and that He becomes a rewarder of those seeking Him. Without faith, like that exemplified by Abel (4) and Enoch (5), it is impossible to live righteously or to be well-pleasing to God. Paul wanted his readers to aspire to such righteousness and divine pleasure, looking forward expectantly in faith to the reward of the fulfillment of Gods promises, despite what might transpire physically. Abel was martyred. Enoch was translated. Both lived by faith (10:38) and were well-pleasing to God. Whether the Christians in Jerusalem were killed or delivered, martyred or removed in the soon coming conflict, they would still receive their heavenly reward if they would continue to exercise anticipatory and enduring faith, and not reject Jesus Christ. Without faith it is impossible to please Him, but the ultimate pleasure of God is not in the faith action itself, but in the fact that faith allows Gods grace action to manifest His character and work. In his benedictory remarks, Paul prays that the Hebrew Christians will allow God to equip them in every good thing to do His will, working in them that which is pleasing to His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen (13:21).
Still attempting to encourage the Hebrew Christians to draw near to God (4:16; 7:25; 10:1,22; 12:18,22), Paul notes that the one coming before God or approaching God, must believe in the existence of God, that He is who He is, and that He is faithful (11) to reward (10:35) those who keep on seeking Him with all the eternal promises (6:12; 9:15; 10:36). Although the words of this verse have been used as an evangelistic call to unbelievers, the context clearly indicates that Paul is referring to Christians who are being encouraged to dynamically approach God and to seek Gods action and fulfillment in their lives. Such a relational faith and a forward-looking faith would prove to be the ultimate fulfillment and restoration of the Christians in Jerusalem and the Christians in every age. The words of the psalmist are appropriate: Those who seek Him will praise the Lord. Let your heart live forever (Ps. 22:26).
11:7 Noah is selected as the first in a sequence of Old Testament personages whose faith responded to a divine directive. By faith Noah, being warned about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, Though the narrative in Genesis 6:13-22 does not refer to Noahs faith explicitly, Paul surmises such since Noah found favor (was pleasing) in the eyes of God (Gen. 6:8) and was regarded as a righteous man (Gen. 6:9). Without faith it is impossible to please God (6) and be a righteous man (10:38; Hab. 2:4). Noah was warned by God concerning things not yet seen (1,3), events still in the future, i.e. Gods coming judgment and destruction in the deluge of the flood. Noah believed in the existence of God (6), that God was in control of history, that God could reveal His intents, and that God would reward (6) those who responded to Him in faith. In the reverence of a godly fear that was attentive to Gods direction, Noah prepared an ark according to Gods detailed instructions. The ark served as a vehicle of safety for the escape and deliverance of his household, his family members, from the floodwaters. The salvation referred to is not the spiritual or regenerative salvation from sin and death that is in Jesus Christ alone, but the ark was the vessel by which they were made safe from the destruction of the flood. Peter connects the safety of the ark to the saving significance of Jesus Christ: In the days of Noah eight persons were brought safely through the water. And corresponding to that, baptism now saves you (I Pet. 3:20,21). God preserved Noah when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly (II Pet. 2:5).
The consequence of Noahs faith action in constructing the ark was that through this he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith. The people surrounding Noah were, in contrast to Noahs faith, condemned in their unbelief. One can only imagine the mockery, scorn and ostracism of those who observed the apparent foolishness of nutty Noah building a boat on dry land. Noahs faith endured and prevailed as he expected and experienced the events God had foretold, and it was his detractors who experienced the vengeance of God because of their wickedness.3 Though Noah was previously regarded as a righteous man (Gen. 6:9), his faith action in building the ark qualified him as an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith. Noah is commended for his faith obedience to Gods revelatory directions concerning future events.
The Jerusalem Christians were being encouraged to have the same kind of enduring faith as that exhibited by Noah. There was a destructive judgment coming against those who would not believe in Gods revelation of Himself in His Son, Jesus Christ. The Christians of Judea needed to prepare for this coming catastrophe by having faith in things not seen (1,3,7), despite any scornful opposition around them. Their faith would likewise prove to be a condemnation upon the unbelieving world of their fellow countrymen.
11:8 Paul now commences his extensive coverage of the faith of Abraham (8-19). Approximately one-third of the text of this chapter is devoted to Abraham. This is no doubt because those of Hebrew origin regarded Abraham to be the father of the Jewish religion (Jn. 8:33,39). Stephens defensive review before the Jewish Council began with Abraham (Acts 7:2-8). Paul had previously used Abraham as the springboard for discussion of faith in his letters to the Galatians (Gal. 3:6-18) and to the Romans (Rom. 4:1-23). Even in this epistle, Paul had previously referred to Abraham (2:16; 6:13,14; 7:1-10).
By faith Abraham, having been called, obeyed to go forth unto a place which he was to receive for an inheritance, and he went out, not knowing where he was going. Abraham responded by believing (Gen. 15:6) in Gods promises of a place (8-10; 13-16) and a progeny (11,12; 17-19). God called him to go to an unknown land (Gen. 12:1; 15:7), a destination and destiny not yet seen (1,3,7). With forward-looking faith Abraham listened under God in obedience (cf. Gen. 26:5), and his faith was put into action as he set out on a journey to the unknown place. Faith is not just theoretical trust, but active advance toward what God has promised. Abraham did not know where he was going. He had no map with an itinerary. He had no advance reservations. A sense of security in our faith is not based on knowing where we are going, but on knowing Him who called us to go, and being willing and flexible to allow Him to take us through the turns and detours and reversals. The place that Abraham was called to receive as a promised inheritance is referred to as a land (9), a country (14), and a city (10), even though the ultimate destination was not a geographical place. Abraham was faithful to go the place of Canaan (Neh. 9:7,8) that was a prefigurative portion of the promised inheritance (Ps. 105:11), but this was not the intended inheritance of God for Abraham never owned a foot of ground (Acts 7:5) in that geographical land. Faith is not sight, and the Christians of Jerusalem needed a similar forward-looking faith that responded to Gods calling in obedience, awaiting an eternal place of inheritance which was not yet seen (1,3,7) or visible.
11:9 By faith he (Abraham) sojourned unto a land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow-heirs of the same promise. Abraham lived as a pilgrim, a nomad, a transient, a migrant, a temporary resident alien when he lived in various places in Canaan. He was a foreigner in a foreign land, for he did not possess any real estate (Acts 7:5) in Palestine, except for the purchase of a burial plot for his wife (Gen. 23:1-20). Canaan was not the ultimate land of promise that fulfilled the promises of God, but was only the shadow-land that prefigured the real promised land. Isaac and Jacob were also migratory wanderers and pilgrims dwelling in tents in a nomadic and impermanent existence. They were all unsettled sojourners (Gen. 23:4; 37:1; 47:4), fellow-heirs of the same promised inheritance, which was not a geographical location, but which could only be fulfilled through Jesus Christ (II Cor. 1:20).
11:10 Consistent with his eschatological understanding throughout his writings, Paul interjects an interpretative explanation to clarify that the objective of Abrahams migration was not to possess a land in the Middle East. For he (Abraham) had waited expectantly for the city having foundation, of which the designer and builder was God. Instead of a topographical and geographical place, Abraham was hopefully expecting with a forward-looking faith a community where Gods people could have settled communion with God, the place that Jesus prepared (Jn. 14:2,3), near to the heart of God. This City of God, in contrast to the tent encampments in Canaan, would have permanent and eternal foundation, for its established foundation would be Jesus Christ (I Cor. 3:11). God Himself would be the city planner and city developer of this city which was to come (13:14), the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem (12:22), the Jerusalem above (Gal. 4:26). This city that God build would be where God dwells and God reigns eternally in His unshakeable kingdom (12:28). This is the heavenly city that Paul was encouraging the Jerusalem Christians to focus on as the fulfillment of Gods promises in Jesus Christ. The religious revolutionaries wanted them to fight for the physical city of Jerusalem, but Paul wanted them to identify with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who were sojourning resident aliens in that very land of Palestine. As citizens of heaven (Phil. 3:20), the Christians in Jerusalem needed to recognize that they were like sojourning foreign pilgrims who were looking forward in faith to the promised heavenly city, just as their patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were.
11:11 Turning from the promise of place to the promise of progeny, Paul continues to note Abrahams faith. By faith, he (Abraham) received power for the deposit of sperm, even though Sarah herself was barren and beyond the time of age, since he considered Him faithful, the One having promised. Many versions have translated this verse to refer to the faith of Sarah. Not only would this be a non-sequitur insertion, but there is little evidence of exemplary faith in Sarah who laughed at Gods promise (Gen. 18:12) and then lied about having laughed (Gen. 18:15). In addition, and most importantly, this phrase, the deposit of sperm (Greek word spermatos) was a common Greek phrase for male procreation, referring to the ability to ejaculate semen in order to impregnate a woman and father a child. There is no evidence of its being used of a womans ability to conceive. The UBS4 Greek Testament and several modern English translations (NIV, NRSV, GNB) recognize this reference to Abrahams faith for paternity. Abraham believed Gods promise of progeny (Gen. 15:6) with a forward-looking faith, despite the fact that Sarah was barren (Gen. 11:30), sterile, and past menopause (Gen. 18:11). Despite every natural indication that childbirth for Sarah was gynecologically impossible, Abraham endured in the faith that with God nothing is impossible (Lk. 1:37), and God specializes in the impossible. The reference to being beyond the time of age for childbearing may refer only to Sarah or to both Abraham and Sarah, since they were 100 years old and 90 years old respectively at the time of Isaacs birth.
11:12 Continuing his reference to Abrahams faith, Paul wrote, and therefore, from one (man), and that one having died, there came into being AS THE STARS OF HEAVEN IN MULTITUDE, AND COUNTLESS AS THE SAND BY THE SEASHORE. Through the one mans (Abrahams) faith in Gods promise of progeny, a faith that acted to deposit sperm in Sarah, there came into being (were born) many descendants. Abrahams having died means that he was impotent, as good as dead when it came to the natural ability of fathering a child. Writing of Abrahams faith in his epistle to the Romans, Paul wrote, he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarahs womb; yet, with respect to the promises of God, he did not waver in unbelief, but grew strong in faith (Rom. 4:19,20), believing in God who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist (Rom. 4:17; Heb. 11:3). The promise of Gods blessing Abraham with a multiplied progeny (6:14) was reiterated throughout the Old Testament record. The promises that his descendants would be as the stars of heaven in multitude (Greek word plethei, root of the word plethora) is recorded in Gen. 15:5; 22:17; 26:4; Exod 32:13; Deut. 1:10; 10:22; 28:62; I Chron 27:23; Neh. 9:23). The promise of descendants as countless (Greek word anarithmetos, meaning beyond mathematical computation) as the sand by the seashore is recorded in Gen. 22:17; I Kings 4:20; Isa. 10:22; Rom. 9:27). The prefiguring of innumerable physical progeny was fulfilled in Israel (cf. Deut. 1:10; I Kings 4:20; II Chron. 1:9; Neh. 9:23), but Gods promise of innumerable spiritual progeny through Abraham is fulfilled in all who have faith in Christ (Rom. 4:16; 9:7,8; Gal. 3:7,16,29; 4:28).
11:13 If Paul were just reciting the details of Abrahams faith, he could have proceeded to verse 17. Instead, he gives another (10) interpretive interjection (13-16), an insertion of commentary that explains his eschatological perspective of history. All these died in faith, not having received the promises, but seeing and welcoming them from afar, and having confessed that they were strangers and sojourners upon the earth. Abraham and all of his physical descendants in subsequent generations, particularly Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph (20-22), died with an expectant, forward-looking faith that endured to the end of their lives. They did not receive the intended fulfillment of the divine promises first given to Abraham (Gen. 12,15,17). The descendants of Abraham in the nation of Israel did receive the physical prefiguring of those promises (Josh. 21:45; 23:14; I Kings 8:56), but they did not receive the ultimate spiritual experience and enjoyment of the promises that God had given to the patriarchs. The true and complete fulfillment of the promises to Abraham would only come in Jesus Christ (II Cor. 1:20; Eph. 1:10), leading Jesus to say, Abraham rejoiced to see My day (Jn. 8:56). The patriarchs caught a glimpse of the spiritual realities of Christ with the foresight of faith, and greeting those yet unseen (1,3,7) Messianic events with an embrace that extended across time. They admitted that they were strangers and sojourners on the earth (Gen. 23;4; 47:4,9; I Chron. 29:15), temporary and transient residents of Canaan. They observed the shadow-land of Canaan, but looked forward in faith to the deferred fullness of time (Gal. 4:4) when the promises would be fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
The Jerusalem Christians need to hold fast their confession (4:14; 10:23) that they had already received the fulfillment of the promises in Jesus Christ and were now citizens of heaven (Phil. 3:20). At the same time, there was still a yet anticipated experience of the promises in the heavenly realm (6:12; 8:6; 9:15; 10:36) which cast them into a similar situation as their forefathers, as aliens and strangers (I Pet. 1:1; 2:11), looking forward to a future fulfillment which likely would require dying in faith to fully experience the city which was to come (13:14).
11:14 Paul continues his explanation of the faith of the nomadic forefathers. For those saying such things make it clear that they seek a fatherland. Abraham and his descendants, by admitting and stating that they were sojourners, wanderers, pilgrims, nomads, migrants, or transients, make it explicitly plain by their own confession that they are on a forward-looking journey, in transit, on their way to somewhere else, seeking a goal of a homeland where they could feel at home, a fatherland (Greek patrida) which would be the land of the Father where they could permanently settle and reside in fellowship with God. They were not seeking real estate on the eastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea, but were journeying toward the Jerusalem above (Gal. 4:26), the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem (12:22) with permanent and eternal foundations (10).
With a similar faith objective, the Jerusalem Christians of the first century needed to recognize and admit that they were on their way to somewhere else, to the eternal homeland or fatherland of God. The zealots wanted them to join in defending their homeland and fatherland of Palestine against the Romans with nationalistic and patriotic pride, but Paul wanted them to understand that the physical Jerusalem was of no consequence compared to the heavenly Jerusalem (12:22) of Gods eternal presence.
11:15 Paul clarifies the fatherland that Abraham and his descendants were seeking, first by negation and then by affirmation. And indeed if they were thinking of that (fatherland) from which they came out, they had time to return. Abraham did not regard his birthplace in Ur of the Chaldees (Gen. 11:28) in Mesopotamia as his true homeland or fatherland. In fact, he did not even want his son to ever return (Gen. 24:8) to that place of idolatry (Josh. 24:2). The promised fatherland that Abraham sought was not a geographical location in Mesopotamia, or in Canaan or Palestine, but was the place where the divine Father lived.
11:16 Affirmatively Paul explains, But as it is, they sought a better (fatherland), that is, a heavenly (fatherland). With the forward-looking aspiration of hopeful faith, Abraham and his descendants kept their eye on the goal of a better fatherland that would be their permanent homeland. Paul identifies their destination of faith as the heavenly homeland of God, the fulfillment of all the land promises of God to Abraham (Gen. 12:7; 13:4; 15:7,18; 17:8). This inheritance reserved in heaven (I Pet. 1:4), the heavenly kingdom (II Tim. 4:18) of the heavenly Jerusalem (12:22) was made available and accessible in Jesus Christ.
Therefore, since Abraham and his descendants desired the place of God, the heavenly fatherland, God was not ashamed to be called their God; He prepared a city for them. God is often referred to as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Gen. 28:13; Exod. 3:6,15,16; Matt. 22:32; Lk. 22:37). Because of their faith to seek only a place with Him, God prepared a city for them. I go to prepare (same Greek word) a place for you, Jesus told His disciples (Jn. 14:2,3), the city of God in the eternal fatherland, the lasting city (13:14) with permanent foundations (11:10), the heavenly Jerusalem (12:22).
Christians are already partakers of a heavenly calling (3:1), having tasted of the heavenly gift (6:4), being seated in the heavenly places (Eph. 2:6) as citizens of heaven (Phil. 3:20), but they still look forward in hope for the perfect and unhindered experience of the heavenly homeland. Paul wanted the Jerusalem Christians to reject all solicitations to fight for the homeland of Palestine and for the physical city of Jerusalem. These geographical locations were not the promised land. The Hebrew Christians of Jerusalem needed to endure in their faith, unashamed of their pursuit of the presence of God, even willing to die in the certainty of the eventual substantiation (11:1) of the heavenly fatherland and city of God.
11:17 This faith that faces physical death with the hope of resurrection is now illustrated in a subsequent event in the life of Abraham. By faith Abraham, being tested, had offered up Isaac; and the one having received the promises was offering his only-begotten (son); The Old Testament account of Abrahams binding and offering of Isaac is located in Genesis 22:1-18. Though James wrote that God does not tempt any one (James 1:13), the same word, peirazo, is used here for Gods testing of Abraham, and is used of Jesus testing of Philip (Jn. 6:6). The intent of the solicitation, whether for evil or for good, is the criteria that must be considered in the differentiation of tempting and testing. Gods purpose in testing Abraham (Gen. 22:1) was for the good intent of allowing Abrahams faith to be put into action (James 2:21). Abraham, the one who had received the divine promise of progeny and descendancy (Gen. 12:7; 13:15,16; 15:5,18; 17:7,8), and by faith saw this promise materialize physically in the birth of his son, Isaac, then had his faith tested by Gods command to sacrifice his only son (Gen. 22:2). Yes, Abraham had another son, Ishmael, who was conceived as a logical alternative to faith to assist God in the keeping of His promise, but Isaac was the only son begotten according to Gods promise and action. Believing that God was faithful to act in accord with His promise, Abraham obeyed despite the seeming irrationality of the request, and had offered up Abraham an act of faith already completed in terms of intent and willingness.
11:18 This was the very son concerning whom it was spoken that, IN ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS SHALL BE CALLED. This previous statement of God, recorded in Genesis 21:12, was Gods declaration that the son of promise for progeny and descendancy was to be fulfilled through Isaac, and not Ishmael. Gods promise was on the line. Why, then, would God ask Abraham to offer this son as a burnt offering (Gen. 22:2)? To test whether Abraham would put his faith in action.
11:19 Abrahams faith was perfected in action (James 2:21). He was reckoning that the power of God (could) even raise out of death; from which he received him back in a parable. As Abraham took young Isaac up the mountain, his faith was evident in his statements, we will worship and return (Gen. 22:5), God will provide the lamb for the burnt offering (Gen. 22:8). Paul goes beyond the details of the text in Genesis and indicates that Abraham was reckoning in faith that even if Isaac, the son of promise, was killed the power of God was able to raise him from the dead. Such faith in the resurrection power of God to fulfill His promises was the very kind of faith that Paul was encouraging the Jerusalem Christians to have faith that expects that even if they were to die in the approaching war with the Romans, they would see the fulfillment of Gods promise of resurrection life in Jesus Christ.
Abraham received Isaac back, figuratively from the dead, when God provided a ram for the sacrifice on the mountain (Gen. 22:13). Paul explained that this was a parable of faith, a story thrown alongside (the meaning of the Greek word parabole) to illustrate faith. This figurative language should not be unduly pressed into allegorical typology that projects Jesus as a child of promise, the only-begotten son, whose life out of death in resurrection was like unto that of Isaac. The birth, death and resurrection of Jesus are singularly unique, and to regard them as an antitype of the type of Isaac is destructive to the incarnational, redemptive, and restorational message of the gospel. It is Abrahams faith in the promises and power of God that is the issue addressed in this passage.
11:20 Paul proceeds to mention the forward-looking faith of the three immediate generations of Abrahams descendants of his son, Isaac; of his grandson, Jacob; and his great-grandson, Joseph. By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come. Esau and Jacob were the fraternal twin sons of Abraham. Esau was the firstborn son, and was to have the priority of parental blessing according to Hebrew custom. Such parental blessing of the firstborn son was linked to the lineage of Gods promise of descendancy. Isaacs wife, Rebekah, conspired with Jacob to arrange for the aging and blind Isaac to give the parental blessing of the firstborn to Jacob (Gen. 27:5-29). A secondary blessing was subsequently given to Esau (Gen. 27:39,40). This was all in accord with Gods intent that the older would serve the younger (Gen. 25:23; Rom. 9:12), and Jacob was to be the one loved by God (Mal. 1:2,3; Rom. 9:10-13) in order to serve in the line of inheritance and blessing of the divine promises (Gen. 28:3,4) of the things to come in the future in Christ.
11:21 Despite his deceit, Jacob was a faithful man of God. By faith Jacob, as he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshipped (leaning) on the top of his staff. Jacob, who became Israel (Gen. 35:10-12), had twelve sons (Gen. 35:22-26), the paternal heads of the twelve tribes of Israel (Gen. 49:28). Joseph, the favored son of Jacob (Gen. 37:3), had two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. As Israel was dying, Joseph came before him with his two sons (Gen. 48:8-11). Although Manasseh was the firstborn, Jacob, the grandfather, insisted on giving the foremost blessing to Ephraim instead (Gen. 48:17-20). Quoting from the Greek translation (LXX) of the Old Testament, Paul noted that Jacob worshipped while leaning on the top of his staff (Gen. 47:31). The Hebrew text indicates, he bowed at the head of the bed (Gen. 47:31). What accounts for this difference? The Hebrew consonants mth could be supplied with differing vowels: mittah meaning bed, or matteh meaning staff. The reference to a staff corresponds with the idea of sojourning, journeying, and pilgrimage that has been emphasized in the foregoing theme of a faith that looks forward to a promised land.
11:22 The context of the foregoing reference to Jacobs worshipping on the head of his staff was Josephs swearing to bury the corpse of Jacob outside of Egypt (Gen. 47:29,30). Paul connects this faith in a promised land to Josephs own forward-looking faith. By faith Joseph, when he was dying, mentioned the exodus of the sons of Israel, and gave orders concerning his bones. The final verses of Genesis refer to Josephs dying words to his descendants. To his dying day he still had faith that looked forward, saying, God will take care of you, and bring you up to the land which He promised to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob (Gen. 50:24), a statement that Paul regarded as a prior mention of the Exodus. Joseph made his sons and grandsons promise to take his bones out of Egypt (Gen. 50:25), just as Jacob had requested. Josephs bones were indeed taken out of Egypt (Exod. 13:19), and buried at Shechem (Josh. 24:32; Acts 7:16). The descendants of Abraham continued to believe in a promised land, recognizing Canaan as the physical prefiguring of such. Paul wanted the first century Hebrew Christians in Jerusalem, whose heritage was in Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, to have the same kind of resolute faith as their forefathers, believing that despite whatever transpired, even their own death, their final resting place would be in the ultimate and eternal land that God had promised to Abraham.
11:23 Pauls review of the faith of old covenant personages has been from the narratives of Genesis up to this point. Now he begins to draw from the narratives of Exodus, which had been alluded to in the reference to Joseph in the previous verse (22). Whereas Abraham was regarded as the father of the Jewish peoples, Moses was held in high esteem as the deliverer of the Hebrew nation.
By faith Moses, having been born, was hidden three months by his parents, because they saw he was an attractive child; and they did not fear the decree of the king. This verse does not refer to the faith of Moses directly, but to the faith of his parents, Amram and Jochebed (Exod. 6:20), who were Israelites enslaved in Egypt. When Moses was born, he was hidden for three months in defiance of the Pharaohs command that, Every son who is born, you are to cast into the Nile (Exod. 1:22). The Hebrew text of Exodus 2:2 indicates that this action of hiding the child was undertaken by the mother, but the Greek text (LXX) attributes the action to both parents jointly. The explanation of the parents action of civil disobedience was that they saw that their son was attractive, beautiful, comely, or good-looking (Exod. 2:2). This was surely more than just the common parental pride that causes many parents to think that their child is the most beautiful child ever born. In Stephens defense before the Council, he explained that the infant Moses was lovely in the sight of God (Acts 7:20), seeming to imply that there was some visible sign of Gods favor upon the child signifying that he was destined to be used of God. In that case, Moses parents had a forward-looking faith that expected the unseen (1,2,7) purposes of God that were yet to transpire in the life of their son. In addition, their faith and love (I Jn. 4:18) was unafraid of the consequences and reprisals that might come from violating the edict of the Pharoah. In faith, they chose to fear God (12:28) rather than the Egyptian Pharaoh.
It was this kind of faith that Paul was encouraging the Jerusalem Christians to exhibit. They needed faith that would stand against what the Jewish authorities were demanding in rebellious action against Rome. The Christians in Jerusalem needed to resist any fear of human reprisal, and be willing to risk their lives for the destined purpose of God in Jesus Christ.
11:24 The faith of Moses himself is now referred to a faithfulness previously referred to in this epistle (3:2). By faith Moses, having become great, refused to be called the son of Pharaohs daughter; The reference to Moses having become great could refer to Moses rise to position and power in the royal household; educated in all the learning of the Egyptians, he was a man of power in words and deeds (Acts 7:22). On the other hand, it might refer only to Moses having grow up (Exod. 2:11) to be an adult man. Stephen explained that,
The faith of Moses was put into action in identification with the Israelite people of God. Moses was willing to renounce the privilege and power of being an adopted son of Pharaohs daughter reared in the royal palace, and cast his lot with his enslaved and oppressed ethnic Hebrew peoples, even though they did not yet understand that he was destined to be their deliverer.
11:25 By his act of faith, Moses was choosing rather to suffer evil-treatment together with the people of God, than to have enjoyment of sin for a time; Faith is a choice, a choice to act in a particular manner because one believes in the promises and power of God. Moses knew the promises of God concerning the Jewish people who were identified with God. Instead of selfishly sitting back to enjoy the privilege and comfort of royal advantage, Moses chose to identify with his Hebrew people of God and suffer the persecution that they endured at the hands of the Egyptian Pharaoh (his step-grandfather). To have failed to make that faith-choice would have allowed his temporary enjoyment of royal privilege, but it would also have been a sin-choice to reject and to stand away from God and His people in apostasy. Whatever is not of faith is sin (Rom. 14:23).
The Hebrew Christians of Jerusalem who received this letter were faced with a very similar choice. Would they take the easy way out and possibly save their own skins in the self-serving apostasy of standing against Christ and the Christian community a temporary enjoyment of sin, to be sure, given our hindsight of the devastating decimation of Palestine and its people in the war with the Roman army in 66-70 AD? Or would they stand firm in their Christian faith and continue to suffer mistreatment with the Christian people of God?
11:26 Paul gives His Christian commentary on Moses faith-choice to identify with God and His people, and suffer the ill-treatment of such identification. In Pauls mind Moses faith looked forward to the promised Messiah, who would identify with mankind in the incarnation, and by His obedient sufferings (2:9,10; 5:8) endure the hostility and shame of the cross (12:2,3), becoming the real deliverer of mankind, to establish a new people of God (8:10) with an eternal heavenly reward (10:35; 11:6). In Pauls words, Moses was considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he was looking toward the reward. Though some detect a reference to the Psalmists mention of reproach (Ps. 69:8-21; 89:50,51), it is more likely that Paul was linking all godly suffering with Christs suffering, as he commonly did in his writings (cf. Rom. 8:17; 15:3; Phil. 3:10; Col. 1:24). Moses had no more than a glimpse of the Messianic deliverer, but in his faith-choice to be the deliverer of the Hebrew nation and suffer the reproach of such action, his was a faith-action that served as a prototype of the spiritual exodus whereby Jesus Christ would identify with mankind, suffer reproach and death, and deliver mankind from slavery to sin. Paul viewed Moses faith-action as a typological prefiguring of Jesus Christ. Moses deemed identification and reproach with his people to be of more value than all the royal wealth of Egypt available to him, for he had a forward-looking faith that saw the yet unseen (1,2,7) deliverance of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and their return to the prefigurative land of promise in Canaan. The words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount retroactively lay down the foundation of Moses faith: Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5:10). Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, for where you treasure is there will your heart be also (Matt. 6:19-21).
Pauls commentary in this verse is projecting the exemplary faith-action of Moses, along with the faith-action of Jesus in enduring the shame of the cross (12:2), to the need of the Hebrew Christians in Judea to whom he was writing this terminal letter. They needed to bear the reproach of Christ (13:13), to be willing to participate in the sufferings of Christ (II Cor. 1:5), recognizing the incomparable value of the riches that were theirs in Christ (Eph. 1:7,18; 2:7), and looking forward to the heavenly reward (10:35; 11:6) of the eternal promised land.
11:27 Like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (9), Moses was a transient sojourner seeking the heavenly homeland of the abiding presence of God. In the context of this recitation of Moses faith-choices to seek the greater good rather than the lesser personal advantage, Paul wrote, By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he kept on as seeing the unseen (One). The departure of Moses from Egypt has been a subject of debate. Does this refer to Moses departure from Egypt to Midian (Exod. 2:15) after he realized that his murder of an Egyptian taskmaster had become public knowledge? In that situation it is recorded that Moses was afraid (Exod. 2:14), which makes the phrase not fearing the anger of the king problematic. Moses other departure from Egypt was in the exodus, prior to which he fearlessly confronted Pharaoh through the plagues (Exod. 5:113:16), and advised the Israelites as they approached the sea, Do not fear (Exod. 14:13). The exodus departure solves the problem of the fear factor, but creates a non sequitur in the subsequent reference to the Passover (28). The primary emphasis of the verse, however, is on Moses enduring vision of the unseen. In synchronous parallel with his looking toward the reward (26), Moses had an enduring faith that fixed his eyes (12:2) on God, the Unseen One (Jn. 1:18; Rom. 1:20; Col. 1:15; I Tim. 1:17; I Jn. 4:12,20) and all that He would do in unseen (1,2,7) future events. That was the kind of enduring faith that the Jerusalem Christians needed faith that was fearless of the reprisals of the authorities, seeing behind the visible threats the Invisible God at work as they continued to believe in His promises and power.
11:28 In this verse we begin to see the transitional shift from the faith of particular persons to the faith of the nation of Israel (29) and the events evidencing faith in the history of Israel (30-38). By faith he (Moses) kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, in order that the destroying one should not touch their firstborns. Prior to the exodus Moses participated in the greatest of the evidences of the Unseen God at work (Exod. 11:112:32), the plague of death upon all firstborn children in Egypt, except for the Hebrew families who sprinkled the blood of a lamb on the doorposts and lintel of their homes (Exod. 12:7). The Hebrews who sprinkled lambs blood on their doorways were passed over (Exod. 12:13,23) when the firstborns were killed. Although some verses in the Exodus narrative seem to indicate that it was the Lord who was destroying the firstborns (Exod. 12:12,13,27,29), others indicate that God allowed or disallowed the destroying one (Exod. 12:23) to inflict death on the firstborn. The destroying angel (I Chron. 21:15) or death angel is often identified as the one having the power of death, that is, the devil (Heb. 2:14), the diabolic destroyer who destroyed the disobedient in Israel (I Cor. 10:10). Moses had faith that God would cause the death-destroyer to pass over the Hebrew firstborns. This became the basis for the Hebrew celebration of the Passover feast (Exod. 12:14-20, 24-28, 42). Later the Passover prefiguring found fulfillment in Jesus as the paschal lamb (Jn. 1:29,36; I Cor. 5:7) whose death allowed for Gods passing over of sins (Rom. 3:25).
11:29 After the death of the firstborns, Pharaoh agreed to let the Israelite people go (Exod. 12:31,33). By faith they went through the Red Sea as through dry (land); the Egyptians attempting it were drowned. In their exodus from Egypt, it often seemed that the Israelites did not have much faith, as they complained about their circumstances and said, Leave us alone that we might serve the Egyptians. It would have been better to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness (Exod. 14:12). But when told to go forward (Exod. 14:15), they acted in faith and stepped toward the Sea of Reeds (Exod. 15:4,22), and it became dry land (Exod. 14:16,21,22; Ps. 66:6; 106:9; Isa. 51:10). The Hebrew reference to the Sea of Reeds (Exod. 13:18; 15:4,22; 23:31) was translated as Red Sea in the Greek text (LXX). When the Egyptians changed their minds and attempted to follow the Israelites into the sea, they were swallowed up and drowned (Exod. 14:27,28; 15:4; Ps. 106:11).
What were the Jerusalem Christians to learn from this? The Invisible (27) specializes in the impossible! Though their situation may have seemed impossible, they needed faith like the ancient Israelites who stepped into the sea and it turned to dry land. How might God act to protect and preserve them, and take them to the promised land?
11:30 Having already referred to the faithlessness of the wilderness generation (3:16-19), Paul passes over the forty-year period of wilderness wanderings and resumes with the faith of the people of Israel as they prepared to enter in to the prefigurative promised land at Jericho. In so doing, he moves from the narrative of Exodus to that of Joshua. By faith the walls of Jericho fell, having been encircled for seven days. This is another non sequitur, for Rahabs cooperation with the Israelites spies (31; Josh. 2:1-21) definitely preceded the fall of the walls of Jericho (Josh. 6:1-21). Despite the seemingly illogical strategy of marching around the walls of Jericho for seven days, the Israelite children of the exodus generation acted in faith at the Lords bidding (Josh. 6:2-5). It was not the faith-action of the encircling marchers that caused the walls of Jericho to fall. It was the divine action of the God who was the object of their faith that caused the massive walls of Jericho to fall, for He had promised, I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you (Josh. 1:5).
11:31 Prior to the destruction of Jericho two Israelite spies were sent to Jericho and received by a prostitute named Rahab. It is phenomenal that in the patriarchal society of ancient Palestine a woman should be held in high esteem for her faith. In addition, this woman was not an Israelite, and is specifically referred to as a prostitute (Josh. 2:1; 6:17,22,25; James 2:25). In fact, she is included in the genealogy of Jesus Himself (Matt. 1:5).
By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those disobeying, receiving the spies with peace. Her faith-action was evidenced in concealing the two Israelite spies from the authorities in Jericho who were searching for them (Josh. 2:6,7). Her confession of faith was, I know that the Lord has given you the land (Josh. 2:8). The reward of her faith was that she and her family members (Josh. 2:12,13; 6:17,22-25) were preserved from harm and death when Jericho was conquered.
Was there a lesson here for the Jerusalem Christians? Perhaps it was that they needed faith like Rahab that was willing to forsake the security of a walled city (in their case Jerusalem, instead of Jericho), and forsake even the religion of their fathers, in order to find security only in the living God and involvement with His people (8:10). Perhaps they were to recognize that if a sinful prostitute could be praised for forward-looking faith, then they should continue to be faithful to Jesus Christ, and not prostitute themselves in sinful apostasy.
11:32 Paul could not replay all of the Old Testament narratives of the people of faith. So, beginning with a rhetorical question, he asks, What more can I say? For time would fail me telling of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, and of David and Samuel and the prophets. There was not enough time or parchment for Paul to tell all the details of all the Hebrew heroes of faith, so it was necessary to abbreviate and condense his review. The six (6) persons mentioned are not in chronological order; they appear to be in reversed couplets with the greater figure of faith preceding the lesser.
Gideon (Judg. 6:11 8:35) had faith that endured despite the odds. Not depending on numerical advantage or majority, Gideon pared down his army at Gods bidding to 300 men, and the small band then routed the Midianites. It was a battle long remembered in Hebrew history as representative of the power of God (Ps. 83:9; Isa. 9:4; 10:26).
Barak (Judg. 4:1 5:31) was the army general who served Deborah, the judge of Israel, but demanded that she accompany him to war. By faith they triumphed over the chariot army of Sisera.
Samson (Judg. 13:1 16:31) was a strong man with a weakness for Philistine women. Despite his temptation and failure, he had a faith that allowed his weakness to be made strong (34) in the power of the Lord, even unto death.
Jephthah (Judg. 11:1 12:7), the son of a prostitute, rose out of his ostracism to become a judge of Israel. By faith he defeated the sons of Ammon, but in order to keep his rash vow, he was forced to sacrifice his only daughter.
David (I Sam. 16:12 II Sam. 24:5), a man after Gods own heart, was the greatest king of Israel. His faith was evidenced in conflict with Goliath, with Saul, with foreign armies, and even with his own son, Absalom. Through Nathan the prophet, God said to David, When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers (in death), I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever (II Sam. 7:12,13). That descendant of David was, of course, Jesus Christ (Matt. 1:1; Jn. 7:42; Rom. 1:3; II Tim. 2:8; Rev. 22:16), King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Rev. 22:16).
Samuel (I Sam. 1:19 16:13) was called of God to be a prophet, and became a judge of Israel. He reluctantly appointed Saul to be king over Israel, but had faith that the Lord would not abandon His people (I Sam. 12:22).
Many additional prophets could have been introduced as men of faith, including Elijah, Elisha, Daniel, etc., but time and space did not allow Paul to write of them all.
11:33,34 Pauls generalization of examples of faith moves from named personages to actions of faith. There were untold people who by faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, stopped mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, became powerful out of weakness, became strong in war, and made foreign armies yield. Barak (Judg. 4:23,24), Gideon (Judg. 8:12), Jephthah (Judg. 11:21,22), and David (II Sam. 8:1-14) all conquered kingdoms. David, in particular, administered justice (II Sam. 8:15; I Chron. 18:14; Ps. 15:2). Those who obtained promises are too numerous to mention, but Gideon (Judg. 7:7), Samson (Judg. 13:5), and David (II Sam. 7:9) are noteworthy. Several are recorded who stopped the mouths of lions, including Samson (Judg. 14:5,6), David (I Sam. 17:34,35), Benaiah (II Sam. 23:20), and Daniel (Dan. 6:22). Daniels friends, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego quenched the power of fire (Dan. 3:24-27). David (I Sam. 18:11; 19:10) escaped the edge of the sword on many occasion. Samson (Judg. 17:28), David (I Sam. 17:42-46), and Judith (Judith 13:1-10) were all examples of becoming powerful out of weakness. The leaders of Israel who became strong in war, and made foreign armies yield were abundant.
11:35 There were women who received their dead out of resurrection. Elijah raised the son of the widow of Zarephath (I Kgs. 17:8-24). Elisha was used of God to raise the son of the Shunammite woman (II Kgs. 4:18-37).
Paul switched from the successes of faith (33-35a) to the sufferings of faith (35b-38); from the triumphs of faith to the tragedies of faith; from the might acts of faith to the martyrdom of faith. Others were tortured, not accepting their release that they might obtain a better resurrection. Ancient torture tactics were severe and gruesome. Victims were put in stocks or stretched on racks to be beaten and flogged. The Greek word for torture, tympanizomai, meant to strike, beat, or pound, and is the etymological root for a tympan or kettledrum. Despite such torture, there were men of faith who were offered release if they would renounce their faith and violate their conscience (II Macc. 6:21-30; 7:1-41), but they chose eternal resurrection rather than temporal reprieve.
11:36 Others received mockings and floggings, and even bonds and imprisonment. Jeremiah is a good example of a man of faith who was mocked, ridiculed, verbally abused, and made a laughingstock (Jere. 20:7,8; Lam. 3:14). Those who were flogged, whipped, lashed, and scourged for their faith were many, as were those who were bound and imprisoned, including Joseph (Gen. 39:20), Jeremiah (Jere. 20:2; 37:15) and Micaiah (I Kgs. 20:27).
11:37 They were stoned; like Zechariah (II Chron. 24:20-22). They were sawn in two; as tradition asserted concerning the death of Isaiah upon the edict of King Manasseh. They were tempted; as were most of the people of God. They were put to death by the sword; as were many of the prophets (I Kgs. 19:10,14; Jere. 2:30; 26:23). They went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted and ill-treated. The most primitive dress of sheepskins and goatskins indicated an abject poverty so deplorable that such persons were regarded as barely more than animals themselves. Elijah the Tishbite was one who wore such attire (II Kgs. 1:8), and was so destitute that he was fed by the ravens (I Kgs. 17:1-7).
11:38 While the world judges men of faith unworthy of their honor and praise, Paul indicates that these were men of whom the world was not worthy. Whereas the world cannot appreciate faithful men, for they regard them as irrational and unproductive, it is the fallen world that is not worthy of having such men of God in their midst.
Once again (9,13) Paul emphasizes the transient and migrant status of the faithful, wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and the holes of the earth. They have no place to call home for they are pilgrims seeking the place and presence of God. David certainly dwelt in such places (I Sam. 22:1; 23:14; 24:3), as did the faithful during the time of the Maccabees (I Macc. 2:29,38; II Macc. 5:27; 6:11; 10:6).
11:39 This is the concluding statement of Pauls extended excursus on faith. All of these, i.e. all of the persons mentioned in this chapter, and perhaps inclusive of all of the faithful in the entire old covenant, having received witness through their faith, the commendation of God for the response of obedient action to the revelation given to them, as attested in Scripture (2,4,5), did not receive what was promised, . God attested to the faith of the old covenant personages in the Old Testament scriptures, indicating His witness of approval and commendation, and Paul will proceed to note that these faithful now serve as a cloud of witnesses surrounding us (12:1). However, despite their forward-looking faith that sought the promise and power of God, the old covenant personages did not receive what was promised. As Paul wrote earlier concerning Abraham and his descendants, All these died in faith, not having received the promises, but seeing and welcoming them from afar, and having confessed that they were strangers and sojourners upon the earth (13). The complete and ultimate fulfillment of the promises of God to Abraham and all of the old covenant personages was only made available in Jesus Christ. As many as may be the promises of God, in Him (Jesus) they are yes (affirmed and fulfilled) (II Cor. 1:20). From the first Messianic promise to Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:15), to the promises of God to Abraham (Gen. 12-17), to the Davidic promise (II Sam. 7:12,13), to the promises of the prophets (Isa. 9:6,7; Jere. 31:33,34; Micah 5:2), they were all fulfilled in Gods revelation of Himself in the person of the Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus, the one mediator between God and man (II Tim. 2:5), was the last Adam who became life-giving Spirit (I Cor. 15:45), the eschatological fulfillment of the eternal inheritance (9:15) that effects the salvation and restoration of humanity. The old covenant faithful did not receive the fulfillment of the divine promises during their lifetime, for the historic enactment of redemption and restoration had to be manifested in the fullness of time (Gal. 4:4). Jesus Himself said, Truly I say to you, that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it; and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it (Matt. 13:17).
11:40 Throughout the epistle Paul has been reminding the Hebrew Christians of Jerusalem of the better things that have been given to Christians in Jesus Christ. Now he explains that the promises of God remained unfulfilled during the lives of the old covenant faithful, God having foreseen something better concerning us, in order that they should not be perfected without us. The something better that God has provided personally and historically for us (in contrast to those in the old covenant) is, of course, Jesus Christ. Everything provided prior to the historical Jesus was just prefiguring picture, shadow, or type. All the spiritual and theological benefits that Christians enjoy find their essential reality in Jesus Christ. He is our eternal life (Jn. 14:6; I Jn. 5:12,13), our righteousness (I Cor. 1:30; II Cor. 5:21), our salvation (II Tim. 2:10; Heb. 2:10), our perfection (Phil. 3:15; Heb. 12:23). He is the King who constitutes Gods kingdom reign (Lk. 17:20,21; Col. 1:13) now and forever. It was Jesus that the old covenant faithful were seeking as fulfillment to Gods promises. Since their faith was directed toward the yet not seen (11:1) Jesus, and they would not settle for the inadequate physical prefigurings, they are now made perfect in solidarity with all Christians. By one offering He (Jesus) perfected for all time those who are set apart unto holiness (10:14). All of Gods faithful are in Christ together.
There is a contrast between the unfulfilled promises (13,39) of the old covenant and the fulfilled promises of the new covenant (9:15). Paul wanted the Jerusalem Christians to realize that they had received the better fulfillment of the promises of God in the historical and eternal Person and work of Jesus Christ. At the same time, Paul wanted the Christians in Jerusalem to understand that their connection with the Hebrew faithful of the old covenant was not in the engagement of physical conflict to preserve and maintain the physical city, temple, and religious practices of Judaism against the Roman occupiers. Rather, their connection with the faithful of the past was in the solidarity and unity of participating in the ultimate and perfect objective of God in Jesus Christ. Paul was seeking to convince the brethren in Judea that they needed a forward-looking and hopeful faith like that exhibited by their Hebrew forefathers, willing to endure even unto death.
It is important to recall the context of this lengthy review of faith, lest we lose sight of the flow of Pauls thought and argument.
Paul had quoted Habakkuk 2:4, My righteous ones shall live by faith (10:38), and desired that the Jerusalem Christians have faith unto the safekeeping of the soul (10:39). To encourage such faith, Paul presents a survey of the forward-looking faith of the Hebrew faithful, beginning with a working definition of faith: (1) faith looks forward to the substantiation of things expected (2) faith seeks the certainty of the fulfillment of events not yet seen (3) faith draws near to God, believing that He is and that He fulfills His promises. Such faith is not consistent with escapism that shrinks back to destruction (10:39). Rather, it is faith that faces death boldly, willing to look beyond death to the eternal reward (6) and inheritance (9:15) of God. Notice how frequently faith and death are brought together in these verses (4,13,19,21,22,35,37), and the references to belief in resurrection to life beyond death (19,35). Paul was well aware that the Jerusalem Christians were likely facing physical death at the hands of the vicious Roman army that was soon to attack the rebellious Jewish enclave in Palestine (66-70 AD). The Jewish Christian recipients of this letter needed to be prepared for this possibility. The faith that Paul inculcated was for the purpose of their running with endurance the race set before them (12:1) the prime example of such endurance of suffering being Jesus Himself (12:2), and His willingness to die on the cross. The Jerusalem Christians would likely have to endure the discipline of adversity (12:5-13), and definitely needed the faith that expected God to provide all that He had promised in Jesus Christ for eternity.
1 Moltmann, Jurgen, Theology of Hope. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers. 1975.