Some Thoughts on Hebrews 11
Don Roberts, Cardiff
Verse 1 in this chapter has often been employed as a definition of faith, whereas the context will show that here we have the sphere of faith and what faith produces. If we are looking for the basis of faith, we will find it in Romans 10. 17 where it is belief in a record, a testimony, tidings or a proclamation. Paul's argument is supported from Isaiah 53. 1 which he quotes (from the Septuagint) in Romans 10. 16 where the burden of the message is "Who hath believed the thing heard?". Thus we conclude that the basis of faith is belief in what is heard from the Word of God concerning Christ. In "faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen", the word "substance" is translated from the Greek word hupostasis, which is used of the thought of a sediment that can be seen in an unshaken bottle of medicine. This sediment is the real part of the potion and therefore the substance of the medicine. This is the thought here, and we see that it is faith that makes future and unseen things real to us.
Verse 3. By faith we are wise. The world insists that we must understand before we can believe, see before we can believe, and pray before we can believe. Yet we need faith to understand, faith to see and faith to pray!
Verse 4. By faith we worship. We have here one of the key phrases in the book, namely "more excellent". This, with other associated phrases, dominates the Epistle when contrasting Christ with the Old Testament economy. In Abel's sacrifice there was the shedding of blood, whilst this was absent in Cain's offering. In 12. 24 we read that the blood of Christ speaks better things than that of Abel. Whilst Abel's blood may well have cried for vengeance, the blood of Christ cried for mercy. Let us always preach the work of Christ, and its associated truth of the necessity for the shedding of His blood.
Verse 5. By faith we walk. Enoch walked with God. This implies exercise — he walked. It implies direction in walking with God. It implies fellowship because he was with God. We are judged by the company we keep. Enoch kept company with God. If we look at people carefully, we can often recognize what they are by their walk. Are we recognized as God's people by our walk?
Verse 7. By faith we work. The world mocked Noah, and considered that his work was irrelevant to the time in which he lived, and unnecessary to the prevailing situation. But Noah's faith in God told him otherwise, and his faith became his motive power to make him toil on against the tide of popular opinion. The situation is the same today, for the world considers that the gospel of Christ is outdated, redundant and irrelevant to the times in which we live. We know otherwise, and it is our solemn duty before God to show that the message of the Word of God is relevant to the twentieth century, to the age of the computer and to the era of the microchip.
A close look at the design and the construction of the ark will show that it was built for stability and not for speed; this is the great need for today, not speed but stability.
Verse 8. By faith we are willing. It is no easy matter to uproot ourselves, to leave our own land, and to travel on not knowing where we are going. To the world this is folly; to the believer faith. This action by Abraham is the measure of his faith, coupled with his willingness to obey God.
Verses 9-16. By faith we watch. Looking for something that does not appear to be there is beyond the comprehension of the world's philosopher in this enlightened age, yet faith can penetrate where man in his unbelief cannot venture. Verse 10 informs us that Abraham looked for a city beyond the greatest aspirations of our architects, while verse 13 shows how the intangible can be embraced by faith, and that the things of this world grow less and less important in the light of God's promises. Faith seeks something beyond the reach of carnal man, and something better than this world can engineer.
Verse 17. By faith we withstand. Abraham was tried to the limit of his endurance, yet he withstood by faith. Isaac was near and dear to Abraham, and was all that he had; yet he, by faith, withstood the storm and had his faith strengthened. May God tear from our hearts the dearest idol we have known, for faith can take us beyond the normal breaking point.
Verse 21, By faith we wrestle. A reference back to Genesis 32 will explain the point here. There Jacob wrestled with a man until the breaking of day, v. 24, and he cried, "I will not let thee go, except thou bless me", v. 26. There is a great need today to practice the presence of God, to learn to wrestle with God in prayer, and to adopt the attitude of persistent prayer. Prayer does not imply that we change the mind of God, but that He changes our mind. The final result for Jacob was that he halted on his thigh for the rest of his life. Hence in our verse 21 he is worshipping, leaning upon the top of his staff. This was God's signature on his life. Have we got the signature of God on our lives? Have we ever experienced God in any way like Jacob did?
Verse 23. By faith we wait. The parents of Moses had sufficient perception to realize that here was a child who was not going to perish under the severity of the king's commandment. They may not have been able to supply a reason, but they were willing to wait in faith. Such spiritual perception is a great need today — the ability to see potential in others, to wait in faith.
Verses 24-27. By faith we witness. For Moses, his witness was that he was still a Hebrew, one of God's people. He refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, and he would rather suffer affliction in fellowship with God's people than enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season. Materialism has gripped the world today, and the believer can so easily fall into its grasp. "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world", 1 John 2. 15. We witness by faith, and we must take a stand for Christ in a world that reclines in ease. We must draw the spiritual line between the earthly and the heavenly.
Verse 28. By faith we win the day. Israel's exodus from Egypt was at last realized, the escape from the bondage of Pharaoh was accomplished, and their redemption was complete; but not without blood, and the blood had to be applied. The work of Christ is both ageless and timeless as Christ Himself; it stands in the history of time, brings the sinner back from the brink of hell and makes him fit for heaven.
Verse 29. By faith the waters divide. Water represents a natural barrier that man has always strived to conquer. Here was the redemption by power for the children of Israel, but it needed faith to cross over on dry land.
Verse 30. By faith walls disappear. The wall is a man-made barrier to keep out the enemy. It makes man secure, isolates him, and can become, eventually, his own captor. The walls of Jericho represented a barrier to the entrance into the promised land, so the city had to be conquered because of its strategic position. By faith, the barriers that man has built to repel the gospel can disappear.
Verse 31. By faith a woman is delivered. The example of women in the Scriptures is most commendable. For example, Elijah needed the help of a poor widow who could not sustain herself or her son. The eloquent silence of the woman's worship in Luke 7 cannot be ignored. The Philippian church was probably cradled in the house of Lydia, and this woman Rahab shows a great example of faith against all odds.
Without faith it is impossible to please God, and by it the elders obtained a good report. The cloud of witnesses in Hebrews 12. 1 are the people of chapter 11 who constitute this great gallery of faith. This encourages us to lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily besets us. In the context of chapter 11, this would be unbelief.
"Let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith".