Happy Thanksgiving Sunday! Today we examine Hebrews Chapter 11, an inspiring chapter about faith that I respectably rename: “Ancient Superheroes – Faith in Action.” But first, note a centuries-old debate about who authored the book of Hebrews with the leading contenders discussed in this essay.
Widely revered as the “faith chapter,” Hebrews 11 briefly chronicles unique circumstances in the Old Testament where ancient believers in God demonstrated their unwavering faith through adversity. And that is why the chapter is popular in the modern age, reminding believers that faith in God is still warranted and unwavering. However, Hebrews 11 dramatically illustrates that even with faith, the situational outcome often differs from our stated desires and prayers because He is in control, not us.
I encourage you to take four minutes and read the 40 verses of Chapter 11. The first verse — embraced by popular culture — is emblazoned on gifts at Hallmark stores:
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (But does your average secular Hallmark shopper think “faith” refers to faith and confidence in oneself? Just asking.)
Continuing in Hebrews, “people of old received their commendation” for their faith in God. Next, the author switches to his time, writing:
“By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.”
Then the author launches into Hebrew Scripture examples of “faith in action” about which his predominantly Jewish readers would be familiar:
“By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain… And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.”
“By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God.” A timeless teaching followed that verse:
“And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”
Then the writer cites the faith of Noah, Abraham, and Jacob:
“By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark… By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.”
“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.”
“By faith Sarah [barren and old] herself received power to conceive… since she considered him faithful who had promised.”
“Therefore from one man [Abraham] … were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.”
The writer references what God famously told Abraham in Genesis:
“He [God] took him outside and said, ‘Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be’” (Genesis 5:15).
Back to Hebrews 11:13-16, the author writes about a challenging tenant of faith — unfulfillment — by our earthly timetable:
“These [people] all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland…. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” (A subtle reference to “New Jerusalem” — the eternal home.)
Eventually, in the Hebrew Bible, God delivered the promised land to the descendants of Abraham. But later, the land was conquered and occupied for about 2,000 years until 1948, when the State of Israel was miraculously established.
Now the writer shifts from the land to the people:
“By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named. He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.’” (See Vol. 51 for how this event foreshadowed Jesus.)
Hebrews 11 verses 20 – 31 briefly review the history of faith in action invoking the names of Isaac, Jacob, Esau, Joseph, Moses, and the Exodus story:
“By faith he [Moses] kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them.” And the faith of Joshua (See Vol. 89):
“By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days.”
Now the writer summarizes the extraordinary power of faith:
“And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets – who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.”
But then, verses 35-38 describe more faith sufferings before concluding verses 39-40:
“And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.”
What is the meaning of the chapter’s last verses referencing people with great faith, largely unfulfilled, who suffered torture and horrific deaths? My NIV Study Bible footnote offered a concise answer:
“The fulfillment of God’s promises to them has now come in Jesus Christ, and their redemption too is now complete in him.”
Remember, during the writer’s time many were martyred for their faith in Christ, which has continued unabated.
Hebrews 11 teaches the importance of living and building our faith in God, despite adversity. But still, with great faith, our reward may not be an earthly one. Instead, we must look to the promise of eternal life with Jesus. Amen!
Myra Kahn Adams is a conservative political and religious writer with numerous national credits. Her book, “Bible Study For Those Who Don’t Read The Bible,” reprints the first 56 volumes of this popular study. “Part 2,” with the same title, reprints Vols. 57-113. It will be published on Dec. 4 but is available for pre-sale.
Author’s Note: All previous volumes of this series are here. The first 56 volumes are compiled into the book “Bible Study For Those Who Don’t Read The Bible.” Now, “Part Two,” featuring volumes 57-113, will be published on Dec. 4 and is available for pre-sale.