For many of us, this is a very familiar chapter. Maybe you grew up like me calling this the “Hall of Fame of Faith.” With its definition of faith,
What then is faith? It is what gives assurance to our hopes; it is what gives us conviction about things we can’t see. (11:1)
and its many examples of faith, this chapter is certainly that. But hopefully now with an increased appreciation for the context of Hebrews, we can see that these are all examples of a certain kind of faith.
If you are a Jew (now or then), the people mentioned in this chapter are heroes. It is their kind of faith you would want to have. That is exactly what the Hebrew author is hoping his audience will realize.
Faith is defined here as pressing forward with confidence into a rewarding but unseen future. This definition comes in four parts:
- Pressing forward: Faithful people don’t sit still in a comfortable place. And they certainly don’t go backward, reverting to a comfortable past.
- Abel proceeded to offer what he understood to be the right kind of sacrifice
- Actively “seek” after God like Enoch
- Noah actually built his preposterous Ark
- Abraham picked up his family and moved to an unseen land
- Sarah and Abraham did what was necessary to bear a family
- Abraham actually took Isaac to the mountain to sacrifice
- Both Isaac and Jacob promised his descendants land that his family did not yet possess
- Joseph saw the coming slavery but could also see the Exodus
- Moses preferred to suffer than enjoy the luxury of a pagan king’s palace
- Moses kept God ever before him, even as he was chased by the murderous Pharaoh
- The Israelites carried out their ridiculous battle plan at Jericho
- Rahab betrayed her own people by welcoming the spies “in peace”
- Confidence: Faithful people are sure of better things to come.
- Like Enoch, faithful people “must believe that he really does exist”
- Noah “took seriously” the warning of a flood
- Abraham “looked ahead” with expectation
- Sarah considered God “trustworthy”
- Abraham figured God could raise Isaac from the dead
- Jacob was so sure of the promise that he “worshipped” God for it ahead of time
- Joseph made plans to be buried in a land they did not have
- Moses’ parents were not afraid of Pharaoh
- Moses “reckoned” the promise of God was better than the “pleasures of sin”
- Rewarding: There is every reason in place to have this sort of faith.
- Abel was vindicated by God.
- Enoch was taken directly to be with God
- Noah and his family were saved from drowning
- Abraham’s descendants inherited Canaan
- Sarah conceived a child though barren
- Abraham did not lose Isaac
- Moses was rescued from death as a baby
- Moses led the Israelites across the Red Sea on dry ground
- The walls of Jericho fell
- Rahab was spared death at Jericho
- Unseen: The unseen nature of faith is punctuated in this chapter by the many uses of “seeing” language — “seen” (11:3, 7, 13); “visible” (11:3); “bore witness” (11:4); “see” (11:5, 10, 14); “find” (11:5); “seek” (11:6); “not knowing where he was going” (11:8); “looking ahead” (11:10, 26); “looking” (11:14); “hidden” (11:23); “saw” (11:23); “invisible” (11:27); and “eyes” (11:27). This would have been especially poignant to the Hebrew Christians who seem to be missing the tangible nature of their past Judaism. Their heroes always pursued the unseen as well.
Maybe the astonishing thing in this chapter is how it ends:
All these people gained a reputation for their faith; but they didn’t receive the promise. (11:39)
Now, the Hebrew Christians have a chance to receive something their own heroes longed for but were never given: a true inheritance in God’s perfect city (11:10, 13-16). What a privilege! It is for them to simply press on as the “people of faith” (10:39) even if it stretches them past the tangible.