Who were your heroes as you were growing up? Perhaps it was an athlete, a musician, a celebrity, or a family member you sought to emulate. While the supply of heroes never quite seems to meet the demand for them in our modern-day world, we can find some genuine heroes within the pages of Hebrews chapter eleven. This portion of Scripture has often been referred to as the Bible’s “Faith Hall Of Fame” for its list of heroic individuals who stood for God in the midst of tremendous obstacles.
As we consider the experiences of these men and women, we can learn much about God’s character and His ability to work within our lives. But before we begin our look at this chapter, we must start by acknowledging that the people we will meet here were faithful individuals, not perfect individuals. These include…
- A man who once got drunk and passed out naked (Noah).
- A person who lied about his wife to protect himself (Abraham).
- A woman who laughed at God’s stated intent (Sarah).
- A man who tried to circumvent God’s will (Isaac).
- A deceptive cheater (Jacob).
- A murderer (Moses).
- A fearful individual who felt inadequate to fulfill God’s call upon his life (Gideon).
- A prostitute (Rahab).
- A violent, uncontrollable alpha-male (Samson).
- A man who was an illegitimate child (Jepthah).
- A king who once sent a man to his death so he could marry his wife (David).
- A God-honoring man whose sons were wicked and dishonorable (Samuel).
Nevertheless, these faithful individuals received God’s approval, despite their obvious shortcomings. Therein lies an important lesson for readers of this epistle. While it is often natural to focus upon our personal faults and deficiencies (and those of others), this chapter reminds us that we must weigh such assessments against the premium that God places upon faith.
Hebrews chapter eleven also benefits us in another way. You see, this chapter should relieve us of the notion that God only employs the best and the brightest human beings to accomplish His will. Instead, this portion of Scripture will demonstrate the fact that God doesn’t always select the most talented, popular, smartest, wealthiest, or physically capable individuals to fulfill His purposes. Instead, He may choose to work through ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary things through them.
This was true of many of those we will meet in Hebrews chapter eleven. The same may also be true of us as we place our faith in Christ to fulfill His purposes for our lives.
Before we begin our look at the heroes of the faith from Hebrews chapter eleven, let’s see what made them special…
“What is faith? It is the confident assurance that something we want is going to happen. It is the certainty that what we hope for is waiting for us, even though we cannot see it up ahead” (Hebrews 11:1 TLB).
“Faith” represents “a belief in or confident attitude toward God, involving commitment to His will for one’s life.” (1) Faith involves the confident expectation that God is who He says He is, and will do what He says He’ll do, even in those instances when we don’t understand why things have transpired as they have within our lives.
In the Scripture quoted above, we’re told that “faith is… certain of what we do not see.” This makes good sense, for there is little need for faith in regard to the things we can see. Faith is necessary for those things we can’t see.
This brings us to the word “substance.” This word conveys the image of a foundation or structural component. Just as we ordinarily cannot see the framework that provides for the structural integrity of a home or building, faith is the unseen substance that undergirds our trust in the God who possesses the ability to make “…all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 828).
One Biblical scholar adds to our understanding of this concept by dissecting this word in the original language of this passage…
“The word ‘substance’ deserves careful treatment. It is hupostasis, made up of stasis ‘to stand,’ and hupo ‘under,’ thus ‘that which stands under, a foundation.’ Thus it speaks of the ground on which one builds a hope.” (1)
Another commentator offers a familiar analogy to help communicate this idea…
“When faith is biblical faith, the object of your faith is unseen, but there is evidence that supports the conviction that the unseen object is there. It is like the aroma of a favorite meal that you have not yet seen, but the aroma is evidence that the meal is about to be served. Therefore, a good definition of faith might be: ‘Faith is an act of belief in something, or Someone, you cannot see, which is based on evidence.’” (2)
These definitions will assume greater importance in our next study. There, we will examine the difference between “faith” and “blind faith” in the context of Hebrews chapter eleven.
(1) “Faith” Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Copyright © 1986, Thomas Nelson Publishers
(2) Kenneth S. Wuest, Word Studies in the Greek New Testament (Hebrews 11:1) Copyright © 1942-55 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
(2) Dick Woodward, Mini Bible College Study Booklet #15 Hebrews, James, I and II Peter, I, II, III John, Jude and The Revelation [pg.6] https://mbc.icm.org/
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good testimony” (Hebrews 11:1-2).
We can add to our understanding of genuine Biblical faith by examining what it is not. For instance, some think that faith involves belief without evidence. We might associate that view with “blind faith,” a phrase that describes the kind of faith that has no basis in reality. However, we should not mistake genuine Biblical faith for blind faith. Former homicide detective and Christian case-maker J. Warner Wallace addresses that difference in the following manner…
“Blind Faith: Believing in something WITHOUT any evidence. We hold a blind faith when we accept something even though there is no evidence to support our beliefs. We don’t search for ANY evidence that either supports or refutes what we are determined to believe.
Reasonable Faith: Believing in something BECAUSE of the evidence. We hold a reasonable faith when we believe in something because it is the most reasonable conclusion from the evidence that exists
The Bible repeatedly makes evidential claims. It offers eyewitness accounts of historical events that can be verified archeologically, prophetically and even scientifically. We, as Christians are called to hold a reasonable faith that is grounded in this way.” (1)
Faith is also not a tool that we might use to get something we want. While some may promote “faith” as the pathway to greater financial wealth or material possessions, the New Testament epistle of James explains the problem with that kind of “faith”…
“…You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (James 4:2-3 NIV).
Finally, genuine Biblical faith is not faith in the amount of faith we possess. We might refer to this as “faith in our faith.” That ideology serves to prioritize the measure of our faith rather than the God who serves as the object of our faith. Real Biblical faith is not an end to itself; instead, it puts the focus upon the Person in whom we place our faith. As Jesus once said…
“‘…Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you’” (Matthew 17:20 NIV).
(1) J. Warner Wallace, Is the Christian Faith Evidentially Reasonable? Retrieved 5 December 2022 from https://coldcasechristianity.com/writings/is-the-christian-faith-evidentially-reasonable/
“By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible” (Hebrews 11:3).
Although Hebrews chapter eleven will largely focus upon the “Heroes of the Faith,” it is significant to note that our author begins this chapter by speaking of something rather than someone. That “something” involves the physical universe: “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible” (CSB).
There were no scientific means of validating that statement when the Biblical book of Hebrews was originally written. But today we know that everything we see is comprised of an unseen atomic structure, thus affirming the legitimacy of this teaching. Nevertheless, this reference to the “…things that are not visible” (CSB) raises a question that takes several forms.
For instance, what if the universe is just an illusion? What if “reality” is nothing more than a dream? How do we know that everything we experience isn’t just the product of an unseen fantasy, mirage, or simulation?
We can address those objections by first defining an illusion as a false perception of reality. With that in mind, let’s consider the following question: “Is my existence real?” If the answer is no, then we should note that a person must actually exist in order to question his or her existence. Just as a desert mirage cannot offer water to a thirsty traveler, a non-existent being does not possess the ability to question its own existence. Therefore, this objection fails because the question is self-defeating.
We can also address these objections from a skeptic’s perspective. Let’s take the example of someone who doubts that everything is real. In that scenario, what is the one thing that a skeptic cannot doubt? Well, the one thing that a skeptic cannot doubt is the fact that he or she is doubting. In other words, one cannot be skeptical about his or her doubt- that has to be real.
That leads us to the following progression…
- If our doubt is real, then our thoughts must be real because we must have the ability to think before we can doubt.
- If our thoughts are real, than our minds must exist because one cannot think without a mind.
- If our minds exist, then we must really exist because one cannot have a mind that thinks without a brain.
- Therefore, our existence must be real.
In summary, we might respond to those who say, “Everything is an illusion” by asking, “Is that thought an illusion?” If such a thought is real, then everything cannot be an illusion. This approach was first developed by the seventeenth- century philosopher Rene Descartes who formulated the famous precept, “I think, therefore, I am.” Therefore, it cannot be true that “everything is an illusion” because some things are demonstrably real.
“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” (Hebrews 11:3 ESV).
A common objection to passages such as Hebrews 11:3 is found in the following question: “Isn’t it possible that the universe came into existence through random chance?” This objection finds its origin in the belief that the universe might have come into existence through an arbitrary (or random) process. But this premise runs into trouble if we stop to examine it closely.
In this context, the word “chance” describes the likelihood that something will occur. In other words, “chance” conveys the statistical probability that something will take place. While these definitions have many valid applications, the issue is that “chance” cannot do anything. This creates a problem when we try to apply this theory to the creation of the universe.
To illustrate that problem, let’s say that two people are engaged in a card game. Player number one shuffles the deck of cards and then deals several cards to player number two. Given this scenario, let’s ask some questions: did “random chance” influence the cards that player two received? Did “random chance” manipulate, change, or alter that card sequence? Did “random chance” have the power to ensure that player number two received one card over another?
Well, the answer to those questions is no. “Chance” simply describes the statistical probability that player two will receive one type of card instead of another. This helps to explain why “random chance” cannot be responsible for the existence of the universe. Chance doesn’t make things happen- it only describes the probability that something will happen.
Here’s another way to demonstrate this concept. Let’s say that someone flips a coin into the air. In this instance, the chance that a coin will land on “heads” is 50%. (1) However, “chance” doesn’t make a coin land on heads. Instead, that outcome will depend on several different variables.
For instance, the size, shape, and weight of the coin will affect the end result. The number of revolutions that a coin makes before it lands will also influence that outcome. Environmental conditions represent another contributing factor, along with the surface upon which the coin lands. It will also be affected by the decision to catch the coin in midair or let it fall to the ground.
The point is that “chance” does not make a coin land on heads or tails- that result is determined by many different factors. Chance only describes the statistical probability that a coin will land in a particular way. In a similar manner, the belief that “random chance” brought the universe into existence cannot be accurate because chance has no power to “do” anything.
(1) For the purpose of this illustration, we will discount the nominal possibility that a coin will land on its edge after it is flipped.
Some may be familiar with the quote from the 19th century author Henry David Thoreau, who poetically observed, “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.” (1) Hebrews 11:4 begins our introduction to a group of individuals who kept pace with a drumbeat that differed from that of the rest of the world. In doing so, they served as living examples of God-honoring faith…
“By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks” (Hebrews 11:4)
While the Biblical account of Cain and Abel is fairly well known, there is more to their story than Cain’s famous question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
Cain and Abel’s Scriptural record begins in Genesis chapter four. Following Adam and Eve’s dismissal from the Garden of Eden, Eve gave birth to a son named Cain. Later, she gave birth to another son named Abel (Genesis 4:1-2). We’re also told that Cain and Abel went on to pursue two different occupations: “Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.”
So Abel became a rancher and managed the family’s livestock. Cain became a farmer and helped produce food for his family. But while these men were moving in different occupational directions, they were also moving in different spiritual directions as well…
“And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the Lord. Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the Lord respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell” (Genesis 4:3-5).
Now, before we continue, let’s consider this passage more closely. Cain and Abel each brought their offerings to God. Cain brought some of his farm produce and Abel made an offering to God from among his animals. However, God approved of Abel’s gift but did not have respect for Cain’s offering. The question is, why?
We can find one potential answer by paying close attention to the description of each offering. For instance, notice that we’re told, “Cain brought an offering…” but the following verse tells us, “Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat.” This is significant, for the fat portion was considered to be the best part of the animal- that was the portion Abel presented to God.
We’ll consider the effect of those decisions next.
(1) Thoreau, Henry David, Walden, chapter 18, p. 430 (1966). Originally published in 1854.
“Cain and Abel both offered sacrifices to God. But Abel offered a better sacrifice to God because he had faith. God said he was pleased with what Abel offered. And so God called him a good man because he had faith. Abel died, but through his faith he is still speaking” (Hebrews 11:4 ESV).
In addition to the fat portion that comprised Abel’s offering, we’re also told that Abel’s gift came from among the firstborn of his flock in Genesis 4:3-5. As a result, we can say that Abel offered his best to God. In other words, Abel offered God something that was worthy of Him.
However, Cain’s offering was different. Unlike Abel, Cain did not necessarily give his first and best to God; we’re simply told that he brought some fruits of the soil as an offering. The difference was that Cain brought “some” to God while Abel offered his first and best. Therefore, these gifts tell us something important about each of these men and their respective attitudes towards God.
The author of Hebrews highlighted those differences in the passage quoted above: “It was by faith that Abel brought a more acceptable offering to God than Cain did. Abel’s offering gave evidence that he was a righteous man, and God showed his approval of his gifts. Although Abel is long dead, he still speaks to us by his example of faith” (Hebrews 11:4 NIV).
We should not rush past this statement, for there may be no higher compliment than to say that God looks upon someone with respect or approval. Abel’s external offering provided evidence to support the existence of his internal righteousness. Unfortunately, Cain’s offering (and his subsequent response) said something very different.
When God rejected Cain’s offering, Cain could have said, “God did not respect my offering. I need to reconsider this so I can bring God something that is acceptable to Him.” Unfortunately, Cain did not take that approach. Instead, Cain’s response is chronicled in the second part of Genesis 4:5: “So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.”
In the original language of Genesis chapter four, the word translated “angry” means, “to be hot, furious, [to] burn.” (1) This tells us that Cain was more than simply troubled about this situation; his internal fury was visibly reflected in his face. This tells us a lot about Cain’s internal attitude towards God- and that internal attitude would soon lead to a tragic result.
(1) H2734 charah, Thayer’s Greek Definitions, https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/h2734/kjv/wlc/0-1/
“By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead” (Hebrews 11:4 NIV).
To illustrate the internal issue with Cain’s offering to God, let’s set up a hypothetical example. Let’s say that you bring a gift to someone you love, but he or she rejects your gift. In that scenario, how would you likely feel? Would you feel sorrow? Disappointment? Sadness? Confusion? Regret? Perhaps a combination of those emotions? Well, those are the responses we would normally expect to see in a person whose gift is rejected by a loved one.
Now, let’s take a different scenario. Let’s say that we are interacting with someone we dislike. If that person rejects our gift, how are we likely to respond? Well, in that situation, we are likely to respond with indifference, apathy, or anger. In other words, our internal dislike for someone who rejects our gift will provoke a different response than the person in our first example.
In both instances, our internal attitude towards someone will influence our response. The same was true of Cain as well. When Cain became angry over the fact that God did not look favorably upon his gift, his emotional response demonstrated the truth regarding his internal attitude toward God.
“So the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it’” (Genesis 4:6-7).
In a similar manner, God’s response to Cain tells us something important about Him as well. For instance, notice that God did not react toward Cain in the same way Cain reacted towards God. The Scriptural record does not say that God became angry at Cain. It does not say that God responded to Cain by saying, “Why can’t you be more like your brother?” Instead, God responded graciously to him.
We can paraphrase that gracious response in the following manner: “If you do what is right, then everything will be OK between us.” However, God also issued a warning: “…if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master” (Genesis 4:7 NLT).
“Sin” can be defined as, “a path, a life-style, or act deviating from that which God has marked out.” (1) So, God warned Cain about the potential danger that was lurking just outside his door, so to speak. Unfortunately, we’re about to find that Cain chose to neglect that warning.
(1) Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, Copyright © 1985, Thomas Nelson Publishers [pg 364]
“By faith Abel offered to God a better sacritfice than Cain did. By faith he was approved as a righteous man, because God approved his gifts, and even though he is dead, he still speaks through his faith” (Hebrews 11:4)
Genesis 4:8 tells us how Cain ultimately expressed his anger over the fact that God did not respect his offering…
“Now Cain talked with Abel his brother; and it came to pass, when they were in the field that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him” (Genesis 4:8).
Jesus provided us with some insight into that spiritual mindset when He said…
“…the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man ‘unclean’…” (Mathew 15:18-20).
God warned Cain about the consequences that would follow his choices by saying, “…if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it” earlier in Genesis 4:6-7. Unfortunately, Cain chose to disregard that warning. In one sense, God continues to repeat this admonition to us through the pages of His Word. In addition to what we read here in Hebrews 11:4, the Biblical book of Galatians tells us…
“When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21 NLT).
Cain’s example reminds us that consequences are sure to follow our spiritual choices. While it may be easy to assume that those consequences are limited to the person making those choices, the truth is that they often affect others as well.
For instance, Abel’s death undoubtedly had an effect upon his parents, Adam and Eve. Remember that Cain and Abel were the first two children born to them. Now one of their children was gone. Thus, Adam and Eve knew the pain felt by a parent who outlives a son or daughter.
We should also remember that Cain was Adam and Eve’s first child. Like any good set of parents, they surely had great hopes for him. Unfortunately, Cain left a dreadful legacy, for the first person born in the history of humanity also became the first criminal in human history.
“Faith led Abel to offer God a better sacrifice than Cain’s sacrifice. Through his faith Abel received God’s approval, since God accepted his sacrifices. Through his faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead” (Hebrews 11:4 GW).
Perhaps Cain felt that the remote site of his brother’s murder would cover the criminal act he had committed against him (see Genesis 4:8). However, Cain was about to find that nothing can ever be hidden from God…
“Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is Abel your brother?’ He said, ‘I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?’” (Genesis 4:9).
We should note that God did not begin His conversation with Cain by making an accusation. Instead, He asked a simple question: “Where is your brother Abel?” (CSB). However, that question may prompt a question of our own: “If God knows everything, then why did He question Cain about the whereabouts of his brother? Didn’t God already know what Cain had done to Abel?”
In response, we should remember that questions are often designed for different purposes. In this instance, God’s question did not represent a request for information. Instead, this question presented Cain with a choice. He could choose to be honest with God about what he had done, or he could choose to respond in some other manner. Unfortunately, Cain made a poor decision in choosing his response.
Instead of responding to God in a manner that demonstrated respect for his Creator, Cain issued a sarcastic reply: “…’How should I know?’ Cain retorted. ‘Am I supposed to keep track of him wherever he goes?’” (Genesis 4:9 TLB). Once again, we can say that Cain’s disrespectful attitude toward God was reflected in his arrogant response.
“And He said, ‘What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground. So now you are cursed from the earth, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you till the ground, it shall no longer yield its strength to you. A fugitive and a vagabond you shall be on the earth” (Genesis 4:10-12).
So, Cain was condemned to a bitter future- a future of drifting from region to region, looking for a place of his own, but never quite finding that place.
“And Cain said to the Lord, ‘My punishment is greater than I can bear!” (Genesis 4:13).
Cain’s reply offers another insight into his attitude toward God. One translation of Genesis 4:13 tells us that Cain responded to God’s judgment by saying, “This punishment is too hard!” (CEV). In other words, Cain didn’t feel bad about the fact that he did something wrong- he felt bad about the punishment he received for what he had done.
“It was by faith that Abel brought a more acceptable offering to God than Cain did. Abel’s offering gave evidence that he was a righteous man, and God showed His approval of his gifts. Although Abel is long dead, he still speaks to us by his example of faith” (Hebrews 11:4 NLT).
We can end our look at the Biblical account of Cain and Abel by noting Cain’s response to the sentence he received for murdering his brother. Genesis 4:13-14 tells us that Cain did not express contrition, remorse, or sorrow for his act of homicide. Instead, he lamented the fact that he was made to suffer the consequences for what he had done.
The Old Testament book of Proverbs characterizes that response by reminding us, “He who covers his sins will not prosper, But whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy” (Proverbs 28:13). Cain also serves as a living example of 2 Corinthians 7:10: “…godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.”
In addition, Cain’s experience reminds us that our choices and decisions give birth to real consequences. For instance, God warned Cain that he was heading for trouble but Cain refused to listen. In a similar manner, we also make real choices that lead to real consequences that carry a real eternal impact. The Biblical book of James touches upon this subject, as does the book of Ephesians…
“Be very careful, then, how you live-not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is” (Ephesians 5:15-17 NIV).
Those choices and decisions contribute to the history of our lives and influence others for better or worse. Cain thus offers an object lesson in this cause-and-effect relationship. If Cain’s attitude toward God had been right, then the offering that ultimately led him on the path to his brother’s murder would have been right as well. This explains why the New Testament book of 1 John tells us…
“Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous” (1 John 3:12 NIV).
This has also led one commentator to observe…
“Moffatt finely comments: ‘Death is never the last word in the life of a righteous man.’ When a man leaves this world, he leaves something in it. He may leave something which will grow and spread like a canker; or he may leave something fine which blossoms and flourishes without end. He leaves an influence of good or ill; every one when he dies still speaks. May God grant to us to leave behind not a germ of evil but a lovely thing in which the lives of those who come afterwards will find blessing.” (1)
(1) Barclay, William. William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible, “The Faith Of The Acceptable Offering (Heb_11:4)”
“By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, ‘and was not found, because God had taken him’; for before he was taken he had this testimony, that he pleased God’” (Hebrews 11:5).
Enoch is a man of great mystery. Outside of his appearance here in Hebrews 11, virtually everything we know about Enoch is derived from one Biblical chapter: Genesis chapter five. For instance, Genesis 5:18 tells us that Enoch’s father was 162 years old when he was born. A little later in that chapter, we also read the following…
“When Enoch had lived 65 years, he became the father of Methuselah. And after he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked with God 300 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Enoch lived 365 years. Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away” (Genesis 5:21-24 NIV).
Of all the people who have found their way into the Biblical record, only Enoch and the prophet Elijah departed their earthly lives in this manner. So why would God take this action in Enoch’s life? Well, the Genesis account simply tells us that “…Enoch walked with God.”
We can draw one application from this passage in saying that Enoch steadily moved forward in his relationship with the Lord, just as one does when he or she is walking. In other words, Enoch did not sprint, nor did he lag behind. He did not choose an alternate path for himself, nor did he stop and start- he simply walked with God. This is analogous to something we read in the Old Testament book of Micah…
“…O people, the LORD has already told you what is good, and this is what He requires: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8 NLT).
Hebrews 11:5 also tells us that Enoch was known as someone who pleased God before he was taken away. Therefore, we can say that those who seek to please God must faithfully walk the road God travels. The features of that path include righteousness, mercy, and humility, just as we see in the passage quoted from Micah 6:8 above.
So, Enoch walked with God by faith and received the privilege of departing this life in an extraordinary manner. Thus, we leave this account of Enoch’s life with the encouraging message of 1 Thessalonians 4:1…
“Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more” (NIV).
“But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).
“Acceptance” is something that is often difficult to find. For instance, people often fail to gain acceptance within a social group because they lack the qualities that other individuals possess. But such distinctions are irrelevant when it comes to faith. After all, we need not be talented, athletic, popular, wealthy, or intellectually gifted in order to exercise faith.
In light of this, Hebrews 11:6 reminds us that every circumstance of life offers an opportunity to exercise faith. Consider the following message from Paul the Apostle as recorded in the New Testament book of 1 Timothy…
“I give thanks to Christ Jesus our Lord who has strengthened me, because he considered me faithful, appointing me to the ministry” (1 Timothy 1:12 CSB).
While it may be easy to overlook Paul’s brief expression of thankfulness, this portion of Scripture highlights our passage from Hebrews in an important way. For instance, Paul did not say that Jesus found him to be good-looking, talented, athletic, wealthy, or popular with others. Instead, He considered Paul to be faithful and appointed him to the ministry.
Paul’s example thus provides us with a pattern to follow. For instance, if we are faithfully executing the responsibilities associated with our current station in life, then perhaps God will enable us to move forward into greater areas of responsibility. And even if He chooses not to do so, at least we can be secure in knowing that our faithfulness is pleasing to Him, just as we see here in Hebrews 11:6.
However, if we are not faithful in the things that God has already given us, then why He would entrust us with anything further? Jesus’ teaching from Luke 16:10 is both sobering and instructive in this regard…
“If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities” (NLT).
So, if we truly believe that God is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him, then we should live our lives in faithful recognition of that belief. Such faith does not simply believe that a divine being or “higher power” exists. Instead, genuine Biblical faith exemplifies confidence in the God who is reflected in the pages of the Biblical record.
“By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith” (Hebrews 11:7).
We can illustrate the idea of genuine Biblical faith by turning to the example of a superior athlete. You see, a person of great athletic talent does not need to inform others of his or her athletic ability. Instead, an outstanding athlete confirms the reality of those talents by demonstrating them on the field, on the court, or in the rink. In a similar manner, genuine faith is something that we should demonstrate through our actions.
Noah, the well-known Biblical personality, offers another good example. In Genesis 6:13-14, God gave the following message to Noah: “…’I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out’” (NIV).
If we continue reading that account, we find that Noah faithfully acted upon God’s instructions. Thus, we can say that Noah’s faith in God moved him to act upon God’s directive, even though his decision may have seemed pointless or foolish to others. Because of this, Noah was ready when God’s Word came to pass, just as He said it would.
However, we would be remiss if we did not mention a less auspicious event from Noah’s life…
“And Noah began to be a farmer, and he planted a vineyard. Then he drank of the wine and was drunk, and became uncovered in his tent” (Genesis 9:20-21).
Today, Noah is rightfully viewed as a great man of God. In addition to his appearance here in the Hebrews 11 “Faith Hall Of Fame,” the Biblical book of 2 Peter also identifies him as a preacher of righteousness (2 Peter 2:5). Nevertheless, the passage quoted above reminds us that faithful, God-honoring people can still fail very badly. In this instance, alcohol abuse led to this unfortunate event in Noah’s life.
Modern-day medical professionals recognize alcohol’s role as a depressant. As such, alcohol serves to depress one’s capacity for self-control, good judgment, and wise decision-making. This (along with Noah’s experience from Genesis chapter nine), serves to confirm the Biblical counsel regarding alcohol abuse from the book of Ephesians: “And don’t get drunk with wine, which leads to reckless actions, but be filled by the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18 HCSB).
“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going” (Hebrews 11:8).
Hebrews 11:8 marks the emergence of Abraham, one of the more prominent Biblical figures in the Hebrews 11 “Faith Hall Of Fame.” However, this is not Abraham’s first appearance in the Biblical book of Hebrews. For instance, the author of Hebrews highlighted God’s promises to Abraham earlier in Hebrews chapter six when he wrote the following…
“For when God made a promise to Abraham, because He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, saying, ‘Surely blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply you’” (Hebrews 6:13-14).
Here in Hebrews 11, the focus will shift from God’s promises to Abraham to Abraham’s faithful decision to act upon those promises. In the words of one commentator, “Abraham’s faith was so great, that he was not particularly concerned as to what the nature of the country was. His faith displaced all worry as to his future in that country. He did not trouble to think upon the matter.” (1)
The book of Genesis tells us that Abraham (then known as Abram), accepted those promises, took God at His word, and “…departed as the Lord instructed him…” He continued on that lengthy journey until he finally reached the land of Canaan (Genesis 12:4-8). The following verses of Hebrews chapter eleven pick up Abraham’s account from there…
“By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:9-10).
Although Abram was quite wealthy by the time he arrived in Canaan (Genesis 13:2), he was an aged man in an unfamiliar environment with relatively few friends and many prospective enemies. Those enemies included several potentially hostile neighbors, including the Canaanites and another local people group known as the Perizzites (Genesis 13:7).
So, other than his servants, his possessions, and a nephew named Lot (who would later make an ill-fated decision to leave his uncle and establish a new residence near Sodom), Abraham had little more than a promise from God- a promise that he accepted and believed by faith. Because of this, Genesis 15:6 tells us that “(Abraham) believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness” (NIV).
(1) Kenneth S. Wuest, Word Studies in the Greek New Testament [Hebrews 11:8] Copyright © 1942-55 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
“By faith [Abraham] 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” (Hebrews 11:9-10).
Some Biblical translations (such as the King James Version, among others) use the word “sojourned” to describe Abraham’s experience in the land of Canaan. This word identifies someone who lives as a temporary resident in a foreign location.
Today, we might use the term “resident alien” or “foreign national” to describe Abraham’s status in Canaan; he lived in the land of Canaan, but he was not a citizen of that land. In light of this, we might say that Abraham was “from” Canaan, but he was not “of” Canaan. In other words, his real citizenship was held elsewhere.
Abraham’s experience as a sojourner in Canaan is rich in applications that are worthy of our consideration. For instance…
- God placed Abraham in Canaan according to His sovereign will (Genesis 12:1-3).
- Abraham accepted and believed God’s promise of a permanent, future home (Genesis 13:14-15, Hebrews 11:10).
- Abraham conducted himself as a God-honoring citizen as he made legal arrangements with governmental leaders and working to resolve local issues during his temporary residence in Canaan (Genesis 21:22-34).
- The resident people groups of Canaan recognized Abraham and held him in high regard (Genesis 23:1-6).
- Abraham was forthright in his economic dealings with the people of that area (Genesis 23:7-20).
- However, Abraham had no illusions regarding the moral deficiencies of his Canaanite neighbors (Genesis 24:1-4).
The first two points highlight Abraham’s vertical relationship with God. The remaining points apply to the horizontal relationships that Abraham developed with others during his residence in that area. Thus, we can say that Abraham’s vertical relationship with God influenced his horizontal relationships as he sojourned in the land of Canaan.
So, God placed Abraham in Canaan and Abraham responded by living a God-honoring (albeit imperfect) life. Much like Abraham’s experience in Canaan, God has also placed His people as sojourners in a place that is not their permanent home (Philippians 3:20). And like Abraham, we also have the promise of a permanent, future home (John 14:1-3).
Therefore, we should follow Abraham’s good example as we live and work as representatives of Christ during our earthly sojourn. We should seek to maintain good relationships among others as much as possible, and seek to honor God in our economic activities and governmental interactions. Finally, we should recognize the secular moral and spiritual climate that pervades every generation, and thus live in a way that accurately and effectively communicates the Good News of salvation in Christ.
“By faith Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed, and she bore a child when she was past the age, because she judged Him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born as many as the stars of the sky in multitude–innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore” (Hebrews 11:11-12).
Abraham’s wife Sarah presents us with a character study that offers several potential applications for modern-day readers of this epistle. We can begin our look at Sarah’s experience by first considering God’s promise to make Abraham into a “great nation” as described in Genesis 12:1-2. Genesis chapter fifteen then follows by documenting God’s oath to provide Abraham with a biological son to serve as his heir (Genesis 15:1-4).
Nevertheless, Abraham was still waiting upon God to fulfill those promises by the time we reach Genesis chapter eighteen. That brings us to Sarah’s experience as it relates to our passage from Hebrews 11:11-12…
“The LORD appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground…
‘Where is your wife Sarah?’ they asked him. ‘There, in the tent,’ he said. Then the LORD said, ‘I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.’ Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. Abraham and Sarah were already old and well advanced in years, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing” (Genesis 18:1-2, 9-11).
Before we continue, it is helpful to consider what God’s promise meant for Abraham and Sarah. First, the opportunity to have a child of their own was something they deeply desired. Then there was the lengthy period they had already spent in waiting for God to fulfill the promise of a child. It’s also easy to imagine the pain they must have felt as they watched other couples have children of their own.
Finally, we should consider the fact that God had earlier changed Abraham’s name from Abram (or “exalted father”) (1) to “Abraham,” a name that meant “father of a multitude.” (2) It certainly must have been difficult for Abraham to spend those years with a name that meant “father of a multitude” while he and his wife remained childless.
Yet God approached Abraham in Genesis chapter eighteen and essentially said, “I will give you a son around this time next year.” We’ll see Sarah’s response to that promise next.
(1) H87 “abram” Thayer’s Greek Lexicon https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/h87/kjv/wlc/0-1/
(2) H85 “abraham” Thayer’s Greek Lexicon https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/h85/kjv/wlc/0-1/
“By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore” (Hebrews 11:11-12 ESV).
So, here is how Abraham’s wife Sarah responded to God’s announcement from Genesis 18:10: “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son” (ESV)…
“Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, ‘After I have grown old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?’” (Genesis 18:12).
Notice this passage tells us that Sarah “…laughed to herself” (NIV). In other words, Sarah laughed silently as she considered God’s promise to her husband. Thus it appears that Sarah believed no one could hear her- or so she thought…
“Then the LORD said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the LORD? I will return to you at the appointed time next year and Sarah will have a son’” (Genesis 18:13-14).
While it is sometimes possible to ascertain the thoughts of others by examining their facial expressions, body language, tone of voice, or other subtle clues, our internal thoughts are generally imperceptible. Because of this, it is often possible to say one thing while thinking something very different. But even though we may be able to shield those internal thoughts from others, we can never conceal them from our Creator. God clearly ascertains such things- and He knew exactly what Sarah was thinking when no one else did.
That led God to issue an important reminder: “Is anything too difficult for the Lord?” (CEB). Unfortunately, Sarah answered this question in a way that people sometimes do when they are unexpectedly confronted; she decided to lie…
“Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, ‘I did not laugh.’ But he said, ‘Yes, you did laugh’” (Genesis 18:15 NIV).
While it may be possible to fool our friends, our spiritual leaders, our family members, and others, Sarah’s experience reminds us that it is never possible to fool God. Therefore, we would do well to adopt a policy of complete honesty with God, especially since He already knows the truth about our feelings. If we fail to do so, He may call us to account for our lack of sincerity, just as He did with Sarah.
“These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13).
Like any good writer, the author of Hebrews moderated his approach to help capture and engage his readers’ attention. Here in Hebrews 11:13, our author took a brief pause to summarize what we have read so far: “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised…” (NIV).
So what are the promises referenced here? Well, those promises would include the arrival of God’s Savior, the One who would open the way to true fellowship with Him. Our author then went on to say, “…they only saw (those promises) and welcomed them from a distance” (NIV).
Jesus verified that statement in speaking of Abraham with the religious leaders of His day. Abraham is a prominent figure within this epistle, and Jesus offered the following insight regarding his faith in God…
” [Jesus said] ‘I tell you the truth, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death’.
At this the Jews exclaimed, ‘Now we know that you are demon-possessed! Abraham died and so did the prophets, yet you say that if anyone keeps your word, he will never taste death. Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?’
Jesus replied, ‘If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me. Though you do not know him, I know him. If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and keep his word. Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.’
‘You are not yet fifty years old,’ the Jews said to him, ‘and you have seen Abraham!’ ‘I tell you the truth,’ Jesus answered, ‘before Abraham was born, I am!’ At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds” (John 8:51-59 (NIV).
Although there is much to learn from this exchange, we can focus our attention on Abraham’s faith in the context of Hebrews 11:13. Even though the fulfillment of God’s promises were far distant, Abraham accepted them in recognition of the God who made them. In addition, Abraham could have returned to his country of origin (as our author will allude to next), but his faith in the God who made those promises helped motivate him to follow God’s path for his life.
“For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 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” (Hebrews 11:14-16 ESV).
This passage reminds us that the future reality of heaven is something that should influence our daily lives. The individuals we have already met in Hebrews chapter 11 recognized that truth as expressed in the Living Bible paraphrase of this passage…
“If they had wanted to, they could have gone back to the good things of this world. But they didn’t want to. They were living for heaven. And now God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has made a heavenly city for them.”
These verses thus serve as a fitting conclusion that connects our author’s earlier reference to God’s people as “…strangers with no permanent home on earth” (Hebrews 11:13 GW).
It also provides an important reminder to those who are seeking to find their place within this world. If we are not careful to maintain an eternal mindset, it is possible to discover that the opposite has occurred. The well-known author C. S. Lewis alerted us to this danger in observing that, “Prosperity knits a man to the World. He feels that he is ‘finding his place in it’, while really it is finding its place in him.” (1)
Therefore, we would do well to remember that life is short, eternity is long, and that Christ has gone to prepare an eternal home for His people. The individuals who appear in Hebrews chapter eleven could have turned back from following God in faith. However, they believed that God held a better place for them and were content to live with that future promise during their earthly sojourn.
Thus, as Hebrews 11:6 concludes, “…God is not ashamed to be called their God.” The same is true of those who similarly walk in faith. As one source observes, “They realized that this world was not their final home. They were content to be strangers and pilgrims, refusing the urge to nestle to make themselves comfortable. Their desire was to pass through the world without taking any of its character upon themselves.” (2)
Nevertheless, this passage also presents us with a question: “How could a person living in the Old Testament era find salvation since he or she never exercised explicit faith in Christ?” We find the answer to that question in Hebrews 11:14-16. In the words of one commentary, “Saints in the OT looked forward to the messianic hope and believed in God’s promises, which pointed to the future Messiah, Jesus.” (3)
(1) Lewis, C.S., The Screwtape Letters Copyright© MCMXC by Barbour and Company, Inc. [pg. 143]
(2) William Macdonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary Edited by Arthur Farstad, Thomas Nelson Publishers [pg. 2197].
(3) Ted Cabal et al., The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007), 1835.
“By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, ‘In Isaac your seed shall be called,’ concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense” (Hebrews 11:17-19).
As we saw earlier in Hebrews chapter six, this portion of Scripture refers to a historic event that took place in the life of Abraham, the famous Biblical patriarch. That event involved a son who had been born to Abraham according to God’s promise (see Genesis 15:1-6). That son’s name was Isaac, and he represented the fulfillment of God’s commitment to provide Abraham with a biological heir.
However, there came a time when Isaac was involved in a significant test of Abraham’s faith…
“Then God said, ‘Take your son, your only son, whom you love–Isaac–and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you’
…When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.
But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, ‘Abraham! Abraham!’ ‘Here I am,’ he replied. ‘Do not lay a hand on the boy,’ he said. ‘Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son’” (Genesis 22:2, 9-12 NIV).
This overview forms the basis for our passage from Hebrews 11:17-19 and God’s response to Abraham’s act of faith…
“‘…By Myself I have sworn, says the Lord, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son— blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice’” (Genesis 22:16-18).
Thus, we have God’s encouraging message through the prophet Isaiah for those of every generation…
“If you want to do right and obey the Lord, follow Abraham’s example. He was the rock from which you were chipped. God chose Abraham and Sarah to be your ancestors. The Lord blessed Abraham, and from that one man came many descendants” (Isaiah 51:1-2 CEV).
“By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac. He had received the promises, yet he was ready to offer up his only son. God had told him, ‘Through Isaac descendants will carry on your name,’ and he reasoned that God could even raise him from the dead, and in a sense he received him back from there” (Hebrews 11:17-19).
Abraham’s faithful response to Isaac’s would-be sacrifice in Genesis 22:1-19 is worthy of a closer look.
First, we should notice the way God issued His directive regarding Isaac’s sacrifice in Genesis 22:2. That portion of Scripture quotes God’s decree as follows: “…Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering…” Those phrases seems purposely designed to highlight the emotional cost to Abraham in fulfilling God’s commandment.
We should also consider what that sacrifice involved. First, Abraham had to pack for a trip that would end with the death of his son. Next, he personally split the firewood that he would use to present his beloved son as a burnt offering. Finally, we should note that God’s command did not permit Abraham to execute his son quickly. Instead, the travel time associated with God’s directive provided three long days for Abraham to think it over (see Genesis 22:3-4).
If that wasn’t enough, Isaac began to question what was taking place…
“…As they walked along together, Isaac spoke up, ‘Father!’ He answered, ‘Yes, my son?’ Isaac asked, ‘I see that you have the coals and the wood, but where is the lamb for the sacrifice?’” (Genesis 22:6-7 GW).
Isaac’s question should prompt us to meditate upon the human element that underlies this drama. For instance, consider how any loving parent in Abraham’s position might feel if confronted with a similar question. This makes Abraham’s response highly instructive, for he did not become emotionally distraught or angered in his reply to Isaac. He did not disparage God, lament his fate, or deny the reality of the situation. Instead, Abraham responded in a faithful, God-honoring manner…
“Abraham answered, ‘God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.’ Then the two of them walked on together” (Genesis 22:8 HCSB).
While Abraham’s response served to reflect his deep and abiding faith in God, the inspired author of Hebrews also provides us with a glimpse into his internal thought process as well: “Abraham reasoned that if Isaac died, God was able to bring him back to life again. And in a sense, Abraham did receive his son back from the dead” (NLT).
“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” (Hebrews 11:17-19).
Much like the steel and concrete understructure of a bridge or roadway, Abraham’s faith in God served as the foundation for his belief that God would keep His promise to provide him with an heir. In fact, Abraham’s faith led him to conclude that God would uphold that promise, even if it meant bringing that heir back from the dead. This is the kind of faith that truly honors God, for as we are told in Romans 1:17, “…it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith’” (NIV).
In light of this, we can say that genuine Biblical faith is focused upon the God “…who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think…” (Ephesians 3:20 NKJV). That brings us to several important insights offered by the following commentator…
“Our author’s statement that Abraham believed in God’s ability to raise the dead is not a gratuitous reading into the narrative of something that is not there. When Abraham left his servants behind while he and Isaac went to the place of sacrifice, he said to them: ‘The boy and I will go on there and worship, and we will come back to you’ (Gen. 22: 5).
The plain meaning of the text is that Abraham expected to come back with Isaac. But how could he come back with Isaac, if Isaac was to be offered up as a burnt-offering? Only if Isaac was to be raised from the dead after being sacrificed. Abraham reckoned, says our author, that since the fulfillment of the promises depended on Isaac’s survival, then God was bound (as He certainly was able) to restore Isaac’s life if his life had to be taken.
And in fact, so far as Abraham’s resolution was concerned, Isaac was as good as dead, and it was practically from the dead that he received him back when his hand was arrested in mid-air and the heavenly voice forbade him to proceed further.” (1)
So, this episode from the lives of Abraham and Isaac serves as a living parable that points the way to authentic, God-honoring faith. In the words of author and Christian apologist Josh McDowell, “The Christian faith is faith in Christ. Its value or worth is not in the one believing, but in the one believed… it doesn’t matter how much faith you have, but rather who is the object of your faith…” (2)
(1) The New International Commentary On The New Testament – The Epistle To The Hebrews, F. F. Bruce, General Editor © Copyright 1964, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Grand Rapids, Michigan [pg. 311]
(2) McDowell, Josh. Evidence That Demands A Verdict Volume I. Here’s Life Publishers, Inc. © 1972, 1979 Campus Crusade For Christ, Inc. [pg. 4]
“By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come” (Hebrews 11:20).
While Hebrews 11:20 is one of the shortest verses in the Epistle to the Hebrews, the Biblical account behind this passage offers several fascinating character studies. Therefore, we will take an extended look at these Biblical personalities in order to learn from their examples. But before we begin this mini-series, it’s important to understand that the account of Isaac, Jacob, and Esau referenced above is one that is filled with a great deal of family drama.
As we read about the things that take place within the lives of these individuals, we will see examples where…
- One family member lies to another family member.
- Two family members form an alliance to plot against a third family member.
- One person successfully executes an elaborate plan conceived by a second family member to deceive a third family member.
- One member of the family makes plans to murder another family member.
The motivating force behind these behaviors is not difficult to explain. As we’ll see, each family member wanted to have his or her own way without any input, guidance, or direction from God. No one within this family drama sought to pray, talk about their concerns, or ask an important question: “Am I really acting the way God would have me to act in this situation?” Therefore, it is important to pay close attention to their examples so we can identify and avoid similar mistakes.
Nevertheless, this may lead us to question how this account found its way into the Hebrews 11 “Faith Hall Of Fame.” We can address that question with a passage from the Biblical book of 1 Corinthians: “…all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition…” (1 Corinthians 10:11). Thus, the account of Isaac, Jacob, and Esau here in Hebrews 11 offers a dual benefit: it teaches us to replicate the element of faith that is present within their example while also teaching us what not to do.
Our look at this passage begins in Genesis chapter twenty-five, where we are told that Isaac’s wife Rebekah had become pregnant with twin boys. During her pregnancy, God told Rebekah that her first-born child would eventually serve the child who was born later (Genesis 25:21-23). When the time of their birth arrived, Rebekah’s first child was born with so much hair on his body that his parents named him Esau (a word that literally meant “hairy”).
The second child quickly followed his brother by grasping on to Esau’s foot during his birth. That second child was named “Jacob” (or “heel-catcher”), a name that is associated with a fast-talking, deceptive type of person. These children would later go on to become the other two players in this family drama.
“By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau” (Hebrews 11:20 ESV).
Hebrews 11:20 references an event that is recorded in Genesis chapter twenty-seven…
“One day when Isaac was old and turning blind, he called for Esau, his older son, and said, ‘My son.’ ‘Yes, Father?’ Esau replied. ‘I am an old man now,’ Isaac said, ‘and I don’t know when I may die.’ Take your bow and a quiver full of arrows, and go out into the open country to hunt some wild game for me. Prepare my favorite dish, and bring it here for me to eat. Then I will pronounce the blessing that belongs to you, my firstborn son, before I die” (Genesis 27:1-4 NLT and following).
Isaac was about 137 years old at the time of these events in Genesis chapter twenty-seven. And while Isaac would eventually go on to live for another 40 years, the act of putting his affairs in order certainly seemed like a reasonable thing for a man of his age to do. Isaac sought to accomplish that by pronouncing a blessing upon his oldest son, Esau.
While that blessing included the eldest son’s share of his father’s money and property, it also included the rights to the promises that Isaac had received from his father Abraham. Abraham received those promises directly from God, who told him, “‘…your own son shall be your heir… Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them… So shall your descendants be’” (Genesis 15:4, 5 RSV).
God later confirmed those promises to Isaac when He said, “…to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham. I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed” (Genesis 26:3-4). These were the blessings that Isaac sought to pass down to Esau.
However, there was a problem with what Isaac wanted to do. In giving that blessing to Esau, Isaac wanted to follow the normal practice of ceding all authority to the first-born son in the family. The issue was that God had already spoken to his wife Rebekah and told her that her younger son (Jacob) would have authority over her older son, according to Genesis 25:21-23.
That should have told Isaac that God had a different plan in mind for his family. But there were some other warning signs that Isaac should have noticed as well. We’ll identify some of those warning signs next.
“By faith also Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning the future” (Hebrews 11:20 NET).
Genesis chapter twenty-seven records Isaac’s effort to grant a patriarchal blessing to his eldest son, Esau. In his attempt to impart that blessing, Isaac sought to follow the customary practice of that era by granting leadership authority to his first-born son. However, there were several warning signs that should have alerted Isaac to the fact that Esau was not God’s choice to carry on the covenantal agreement that God initiated with his father Abraham.
One issue that bears repeating is the fact that God had earlier spoken to Isaac’s wife Rebekah regarding her sons Esau and Jacob…
“‘…The sons in your womb will become two nations. From the very beginning, the two nations will be rivals. One nation will be stronger than the other; and your older son will serve your younger son’” (Genesis 25:23 NLT).
This should have told Isaac that God had a different plan in mind for his family. However, there were some other problems with Isaac’s plan to extend this blessing to Esau.
For instance, Esau had earlier chosen to sell his birthright as detailed in Genesis 25:29-34. In this instance, that birthright included more than just money or property; it also included the spiritual inheritance mentioned earlier. Although Esau didn’t seem to care very much about his birthright. it appears that his brother Jacob saw things differently and arranged to purchase it from him in exchange for a bowl of stew.
Genesis chapter twenty-six then tells us how Esau decided to marry two women who were members of a local people group known as the Hittites. The Hittites were an ancient tribal society that worshiped several different pagan gods. Unfortunately, there is no indication that Esau expressed any concern regarding the moral character or spiritual beliefs held by these women before he married them. Therefore, it should not be surprising to learn that “…Esau’s wives made life miserable for Isaac and Rebekah” according to Genesis 26:35 (NLT).
So, in addition to his lack of interest in the leadership position that was available to him as the eldest son, it also seems that Esau was a spiritually unconcerned person in regard to his personal relationships. These things should have told Isaac that Esau was not the person who God had chosen to carry His spiritual covenant forward into the next generation.
Nevertheless, Isaac chose to disregard those spiritual warning signs. That decision led to a chain of negative events that were soon to follow.
“Isaac had faith, and he promised blessings to Jacob and Esau” (Hebrews 11:20 CEV).
In view of Esau’s spiritual indifference, we may question why his father Isaac attempted to grant his patriarchal blessing to him. We might find one answer in the fact that Isaac simply liked Esau more than he liked his younger son, Jacob. For instance, Genesis 25:27-28 tells us that Esau was an outdoorsman and Isaac enjoyed eating what Esau brought back from his hunting trips. That may explain why Isaac issued the following directive…
“…get your equipment—your quiver and bow—and go out to the open country to hunt some wild game for me. Prepare me the kind of tasty food I like and bring it to me to eat, so that I may give you my blessing before I die” (Genesis 27:3-4 NIV).
Unfortunately, it seems that Isaac was willing to grant his family’s spiritual heritage to a son who didn’t really deserve it in exchange for a good meal. But what Isaac didn’t know was that a quick thinking counter-agent was monitoring that conversation. That person was now ready to make her own contribution to this family drama…
“But Rebekah overheard what Isaac had said to his son Esau. So when Esau left to hunt for the wild game, she said to her son Jacob, ‘Listen. I overheard your father say to Esau, ‘Bring me some wild game and prepare me a delicious meal. Then I will bless you in the Lord’s presence before I die.’
Now, my son, listen to me. Do exactly as I tell you. Go out to the flocks, and bring me two fine young goats. I’ll use them to prepare your father’s favorite dish. Then take the food to your father so he can eat it and bless you before he dies’” (Genesis 27:5-10 NLT).
Now, Isaac’s wife Rebekah could have reminded Esau and Isaac of what God told her while she was pregnant with Esau and his fraternal twin, Jacob. She could have told Esau that he no longer possessed his birthright as the oldest son because he earlier sold it to Jacob. But even if Rebekah didn’t want to confront them together, she could have stopped Esau before he left and spoken to Isaac privately.
Unfortunately, it appears that Rebekah was unwilling to communicate directly with Isaac and/or Esau in a truthful, loving manner. So, instead of speaking the truth in love and trusting God to handle the situation, Rebekah immediately launched a covert operation as soon as she heard what Isaac had in mind. However, we’ll soon see that Rebekah’s decision to undertake this stealth mission will actually make things worse.
“By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come” (Hebrews 11:20 KJV).
People who respect one another do not engage in plots and schemes like the one that unfolded between Isaac, Rebekah, Esau, and Jacob in Genesis chapter twenty-seven. You see, Rebekah immediately contacted her son Jacob after hearing of Isaac’s plan to bless Esau and said, “…listen to me as I command you” (Genesis 27:8 NASB).
Although Jacob will go on to become a willing participant in what follows, this tells us that Rebekah exercised her parental authority in an inappropriate manner by recruiting Jacob to carry out her plan to trick her elderly, blind husband. That plan to deceive Isaac involved taking some of the family’s livestock and turning it into a meal that was as good as anything her son Esau could hunt down on his own.
But even though Isaac was blind, he still maintained his other senses- and Jacob immediately brought that fact to Rebekah’s attention…
“‘But look,’ Jacob replied to Rebekah, ‘my brother, Esau, is a hairy man, and my skin is smooth. What if my father touches me? He’ll see that I’m trying to trick him, and then he’ll curse me instead of blessing me’” (Genesis 27:11-12 NLT).
It’s important to look carefully at Jacob’s response in these verses. When Rebekah told Jacob about her plan to deceive Isaac, Jacob did not respond by saying, “Is that approach just, right, or fair?” Thus, it appears that Jacob held little concern for the ethics of this plan; instead, his only concern seemed to be, “What if I get caught?”
Now, before we continue, let’s take a moment to assess the players in this family drama…
- First, we have Isaac, the family patriarch. Isaac sought to override God’s intent for his family’s spiritual heritage for one primary reason: “Isaac loved Esau because he enjoyed eating the wild game Esau brought home…” (Genesis 25:28 NLT).
- Next was Isaac’s son Esau. His lifestyle indicated that he was indifferent to the things of God. He was also willing to accept the benefits and privileges that went along with his status as the eldest son, even though he had earlier sold those rights for a bowl of stew.
- Then there was Rebekah, Isaac’s wife. She was the mastermind behind this plot to cut Esau out of the traditional share of the family inheritance by deceiving her husband.
- Finally, there was Jacob, Isaac’s other son. Jacob didn’t seem concerned about the morality of his actions as long as he could escape the negative consequences that might be associated with them.
Unfortunately, it appears that no one within this family sought to honor God or trust one another, thus leading to these negative family dynamics. However, there is another Person in this narrative who was seemingly forgotten by everyone else. We’ll meet that Person next.
“By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come. (Hebrews 11:20 HCSB).
Hebrews 11:20 offers an opportunity to consider the relationship that developed between Isaac, Rebekah, Esau, and Jacob as recorded in Genesis chapter twenty-seven. That portion of Scripture details a plot that was designed to divert Isaac’s inheritance from one son to another. However, there was a fifth Person who was present behind the scenes of that family drama, one who had been silently observing all that had taken place among these individuals. That fifth Person was God.
In seeking to engineer their preferred outcomes, each of these family members seem to have forgotten something important: if it wasn’t for God, there wouldn’t be any inheritance. Although everyone seemed to believe that “Isaac’s blessing” conferred some sort of irrevocable benefit, that did not obligate God to do anything. The reality is that Isaac could have granted his blessing to Esau (or anyone else), and it would have meant nothing if he or she was not God’s choice to receive it.
So, while each of these family members were busy pursuing their agendas, they were the ones who should have sought to get on board with God’s plan- and they were forfeiting their opportunity to honor God and fulfill His desire for their lives. We can illustrate this unfortunate reality with a look at Rebekah’s response to Jacob’s concern that his father might curse him for his role in this drama…
“But his mother replied, ‘Then let the curse fall on me, my son! Just do what I tell you…’” (Genesis 27:13 NLT).
If we were to rephrase Rebekah’s answer in contemporary terms, we might understand her meaning to be this: “If your father figures out what’s going on and decides to put a curse on you, I’ll take that curse upon myself.” Unfortunately for Rebekah, that will turn out to be a very unwise vow.
That leads us to the next part of this scheme…
“So Jacob went out and got the young goats for his mother. Rebekah took them and prepared a delicious meal, just the way Isaac liked it. Then she took Esau’s favorite clothes, which were there in the house, and gave them to her younger son, Jacob. She covered his arms and the smooth part of his neck with the skin of the young goats. Then she gave Jacob the delicious meal, including freshly baked bread” (Genesis 27:14-17 NLT).
If we stop to consider everything Rebekah did to execute this strategy, it seems clear that she came up with a very skillful plan. We’ll see just how ingenious her plan was next.
“Faith led Isaac to bless Jacob and Esau” (Hebrews 11:20 GW).
To illustrate the cleverness of Rebekah’s plan to deceive her husband Isaac, let’s consider the five senses that human beings possess: sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. In order to fool Isaac into blessing her son Jacob, Rebekah knew she would have to deliver some counterfeit information to those senses. Since Isaac was no longer able to visually identify his sons, that left four other senses to contend with.
First, Rebekah knew Isaac could pick up the outdoor scent of Esau’s clothes. She eliminated that problem by putting Esau’s clothes on Jacob. Then there was the meal she prepared- that would take care of the taste part. The goatskins on Jacob’s arms and neck would address Isaac’s sense of touch. The only potential weakness in her plan involved her inability to disguise the sound of Jacob’s voice- but perhaps that would be enough to trick Isaac into doing something he didn’t want to do…
“So Jacob took the food to his father. ‘My father?’ he said. ‘Yes, my son,’ Isaac answered. ‘Who are you—Esau or Jacob?’ Jacob replied, ‘It’s Esau, your firstborn son. I’ve done as you told me. Here is the wild game. Now sit up and eat it so you can give me your blessing.’ Isaac asked, ‘How did you find it so quickly, my son?’ ‘The Lord your God put it in my path!’ Jacob replied.
Then Isaac said to Jacob, ‘Come closer so I can touch you and make sure that you really are Esau.’ So Jacob went closer to his father, and Isaac touched him. ‘The voice is Jacob’s, but the hands are Esau’s,’ Isaac said. But he did not recognize Jacob, because Jacob’s hands felt hairy just like Esau’s. So Isaac prepared to bless Jacob.
‘But are you really my son Esau?’ he asked. ‘Yes, I am,’ Jacob replied” (Genesis 27:18-24 NLT).
There are an astonishing number of lies contained within this brief exchange. First, Jacob began by falsely identifying himself as Esau- that’s lie #1. Then he said to his father, “I’ve done as you told me…” which, of course, was another lie because Isaac didn’t tell Jacob to do anything.
Isaac then asked, “How did you find it so quickly, my son?” and Jacob responded with lie #3: “The LORD your God helped me find it” (GNB). So it wasn’t enough for Jacob to deceive his father- he had to bring God into his deception as well. But Isaac still wasn’t convinced, so he asked once more: “‘Are you really my son Esau?’ ‘Yes, I am,’ Jacob answered” (CEV). That false representation was lie #4.
As we’ll see, Jacob will eventually secure the blessing he sought through this act of deception. However, he will also learn the truth of the following Biblical admonition: “Make no mistake, God is not mocked. A person will harvest what they plant” (Galatians 6:7 CEB).
“It was faith that made Isaac promise blessings for the future to Jacob and Esau” (Hebrews 11:20 GNB).
Although Jacob had managed to persuade his elderly, blind father Isaac into the belief that he was actually his brother Esau, Jacob still had some additional tests to complete…
“Isaac said, ‘Bring some of the wild game for me to eat, my son. Then I will bless you.’ So Jacob brought it to him, and he ate it. He also brought him wine, and Isaac drank. Then his father Isaac said to him, ‘Come here and kiss me, my son.’ So Jacob went over and kissed him. When Isaac caught the scent of his clothing, he blessed him, saying, ‘Yes, my son smells like the scent of an open field which the Lord has blessed’” (Genesis 27:25-27 NET).
Unfortunately, Isaac was about to base this decision to bless his son entirely upon what he could touch, smell, and taste. That leads us to an important application from this narrative. While it is true that there is a basic reliability to sense perception, it is also possible to be fooled by what our senses tell us, just as Isaac was fooled in this instance.
The problem was that Isaac never prayed or asked God to verify the truth of what his senses told him. Neither did he seek God’s guidance before making this decision to pronounce a blessing upon his son. Isaac might have avoided this deceptive trap by asking God to help him detect the truth about what was going on, but he neglected to do so.
So why did Isaac take this approach? Well, it appears that Isaac was aware of what God wanted to do, but he didn’t want to follow God’s direction in this instance. You see, Isaac was determined to give this inheritance to Esau, even though God had earlier told his wife that Jacob was the one who was to receive it. Since Esau was Isaac’s favorite son, passing that inheritance to Jacob was probably not something Isaac wanted to do. So, it’s possible that Isaac didn’t ask for God’s help because he knew (or at least suspected) that God might tell him something he didn’t want to hear.
Unfortunately, Isaac didn’t realize that it was his responsibility to bring himself into alignment with God’s plan, not the other way around. That would explain why he was vulnerable to this act of deception. And since Isaac was convinced that he was speaking to Esau (even though he wasn’t), this great Biblical patriarch was about to do something he really didn’t want to do.
“It was by faith that Isaac knew God would give future blessings to his two sons, Jacob and Esau” (Hebrews 11:20 TLB).
Since Isaac was convinced that he was speaking to his son Esau (who was actually Jacob in disguise), he unknowingly pronounced a great blessing upon Jacob in Genesis chapter twenty-seven…
“Therefore may God give you Of the dew of heaven, Of the fatness of the earth, And plenty of grain and wine. Let peoples serve you, And nations bow down to you. Be master over your brethren, And let your mother’s sons bow down to you. Cursed be everyone who curses you, And blessed be those who bless you!” (Genesis 27:28-29).
Isaac clearly wanted to ensure that Esau received “the best of the best” in this blessing. Not only did this blessing provide him with a family leadership position, it also bestowed a global leadership position as well: “May many nations become your servants, and may they bow down to you. May you be the master over your brothers, and may your mother’s sons bow down to you. All who curse you will be cursed, and all who bless you will be blessed” (AMP).
So, everything worked out well from Isaac’s perspective. He enjoyed a good meal, he extended a blessing to his favorite son, and he fulfilled his responsibility to convey the inheritance he received from his father Abraham, who received it from God. However, Isaac was about to learn that things had not worked out the way he planned…
“Now it happened, as soon as Isaac had finished blessing Jacob, and Jacob had scarcely gone out from the presence of Isaac his father, that Esau his brother came in from his hunting. He also had made savory food, and brought it to his father, and said to his father, ‘Let my father arise and eat of his son’s game, that your soul may bless me.’
And his father Isaac said to him, ‘Who are you?’ So he said, ‘I am your son, your firstborn, Esau’” (Genesis 27:30-32).
Isaac must have been feeling pretty good about the way things transpired- at least until Esau showed up to receive the blessing he had unknowingly given to Jacob. Now that he had been tricked into giving that blessing to someone else, Isaac began to grasp the reality of what he had done…
“Then Isaac trembled exceedingly, and said, ‘Who? Where is the one who hunted game and brought it to me? I ate all of it before you came, and I have blessed him — and indeed he shall be blessed’” (Genesis 27:33).
Isaac had an interesting response to this revelation; instead of becoming angry, we’re told that he “trembled exceedingly.” So why did Isaac become so traumatized by this news? That question will be answered next.
“It was by faith that Isaac promised blessings for the future to his sons, Jacob and Esau” (Hebrews 11:20 NLT).
While we might have expected Isaac to become angry over the sequence of events that took place in Genesis 27:1-29, that portion of Scripture tells us that his response was quite different from what we would normally expect…
“Isaac began to tremble uncontrollably. ‘Who was it then,’ he said, ‘who hunted game and brought it to me? I ate it all before you came in, and I blessed him. Indeed, he will be blessed!’” (Genesis 27:33 CSB).
So, why did Isaac become so traumatized that he “began to tremble and shake all over” (GNT)? Well, Isaac specifically arranged this meeting with his favorite son, Esau in order to confer his blessing upon him. But in seeking to implement his preference, Isaac chose to ignore God’s preference- and he got caught. Even though Isaac tried to manipulate these circumstances to suit his agenda, his work served to fulfill God’s purpose anyway.
The recognition of what he had done (and the ease with which his attempt was negated), must have affected Isaac to the point where he lost the ability to physically control his emotions. But while Isaac may have been emotionally shaken by what transpired, Esau had some feelings of his own…
“When Esau heard the words of his father, he cried with an exceedingly great and bitter cry, and said to his father, ‘Bless me — me also, O my father!’” (Genesis 27:34).
We have already noted that Esau’s disregard for his spiritual heritage (as well as his questionable marriage partnerships) revealed something important about him. These behaviors tell us that Esau did not prioritize his relationship with God in the way it deserved. However, when it came time to receive this blessing and its associated inheritance, things were very different.
Unfortunately, Esau lost his opportunity to receive that blessing in light of his negligence to the things of God. This is one reason why the following paraphrase of Hebrews 12:16-17 will later go on to tell us…
“Watch out that no one becomes involved in sexual sin or becomes careless about God as Esau did: he traded his rights as the oldest son for a single meal. And afterwards, when he wanted those rights back again, it was too late, even though he wept bitter tears of repentance. So remember, and be careful” (TLB).
So Esau lost the blessing that his father sought to give him. But as we’ll see, it didn’t take Isaac long to identify the culprit.
“By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future” (Hebrews 11:20 NIV).
It didn’t take Isaac very long to identify the perpetrator in the plot to trick him into blessing someone he did not intend to bless…
“…[Isaac] said, ‘Your brother came with deceit and has taken away your blessing.’ And Esau said, ‘Is he not rightly named Jacob? For he has supplanted me these two times. He took away my birthright, and now look, he has taken away my blessing!” And he said, ‘Have you not reserved a blessing for me?’” (Genesis 27:35-36).
So, Esau responded to Isaac’s disclosure by sharing his negative opinion of Jacob’s character: “When you named my brother ‘Jacob’ (meaning ‘deceiver’), you certainly picked the right name. This is the second time he has cheated me- first he took my birthright and now he has my blessing as well.” Of course, Esau conveniently overlooked one important detail from that version of events: he was the one who willingly sold his birthright for a bowl of stew. Nevertheless, that did not stop Esau from blaming Jacob for the fact that he made a poor bargain.
But even though Esau had now lost everything his father sought to give him, he decided to make one last attempt to obtain some sort of blessing- and Isaac did his best to bless Esau with what was left…
“Then Isaac answered and said to Esau, ‘Indeed I have made [Jacob] your master, and all his brethren I have given to him as servants; with grain and wine I have sustained him. What shall I do now for you, my son?’ And Esau said to his father, ‘Have you only one blessing, my father? Bless me — me also, O my father!’ And Esau lifted up his voice and wept.
Then Isaac his father answered and said to him: ‘Behold, your dwelling shall be of the fatness of the earth, And of the dew of heaven from above. By your sword you shall live, And you shall serve your brother; And it shall come to pass, when you become restless, That you shall break his yoke from your neck’” (Genesis 27:37-40).
This was certainly not the kind of blessing Esau had originally sought from his father. Unfortunately, there really wasn’t very much left since Isaac had essentially given Jacob everything he could offer. However, we’ll see that the “secondary blessing” referenced in this passage from Genesis twenty-seven eventually came to pass in our final installment of this mini-series.
“By faith Isaac also blessed Jacob and Esau concerning their future” (Hebrews 11:20 CEB).
As we conclude our look at Genesis chapter 27 in the context of Hebrews 11:20, we find that the “secondary blessing” Esau received from his father Isaac eventually came to pass. You see, Esau’s descendants were known as the Edomites, a name that was derived from Esau’s nickname Edom (see Genesis 25:30 and 36:9).
The Edomites eventually populated some of the wilderness portions of that area and thus fulfilled Isaac’s prediction: “Your dwelling will be away from the earth’s richness…” (Genesis 27:39 NIV). The Scriptures also tell us that Esau’s descendants eventually came to oppose and revolt against the Israelites, the descendants of his brother Jacob.
For example, the Edomites once mobilized their armed forces with a threat to kill the people of Israel when Israel asked for permission to pass through a land area that was under their control (Numbers 20:14-21). Later, the people of Edom succeeded in breaking away from Jacob’s descendants and established their own government, just as Isaac predicted (see 2 Kings 8:20-22).
So, in the end, it’s clear that these family members mentioned in Genesis 27 made several mistakes. First, there was Isaac. His plan to circumvent God’s will failed miserably. Then there was Rebekah, Isaac’s wife. She was the mastermind behind this plot to deceive her husband. Even though her plan succeeded, Rebekah was shown to be a person of devious character, and she never saw her favorite son Jacob again following this incident.
Next was Esau. He lost his inheritance because he had little interest or concern about the things of God. When he realized his mistake, it was too late to regain what he had lost. Finally, there was Jacob. He got what he wanted- but at a price. You see, Jacob eventually left his home to stay with another family member named Laban. Unfortunately for Jacob, he would soon learn just how cunning, manipulative, and deceitful Laban really was.
With these things in mind, we might be tempted to look at our text from Hebrews 11:20 and struggle to identify the act of faith mentioned here. The answer is this: when Isaac discovered he had actually blessed the son God had chosen instead of his preferred son, he recognized by faith that God easily accomplished His will despite his attempts to the contrary.
So, the events of Genesis chapter twenty-seven remind us to ask God to grant us the desire to make choices that align with His will and to seek Him for His direction. As we’re told in the Biblical book of Proverbs, “In everything you do, put God first, and he will direct you and crown your efforts with success” (Proverbs 3:6 TLB). Those who follow that path can avoid the pitfalls which befell this family.
“By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff” (Hebrews 11:21).
A substantial amount of time has passed in Jacob’s life between the events referenced in Hebrews 11:20 and the one mentioned here in Hebrews 11:21. Jacob was now approaching the end of his life when his son Joseph (accompanied by his sons Ephraim and Manasseh) met with him for the last time. It was during that final meeting that Jacob declared by faith that Ephraim and Manasseh would numbered among the national tribes of Israel.
Genesis chapter forty-eight provides us with that account…
“Now then, your two sons born to you in Egypt before I came to you here will be reckoned as mine; Ephraim and Manasseh will be mine, just as Reuben and Simeon are mine” (Genesis 48:5).
Reuben and Simeon were the first sons born to Jacob. So in making this statement, Jacob essentially said to Joseph, “Your two sons will receive the same recognition that my first two sons receive.” In doing so, Jacob “adopted” Ephraim and Manasseh and assigned them a portion of his inheritance along with the rest of his biological sons. This included a share in the covenantal blessings that Jacob received from his father Isaac, who inherited them from Jacob’s grandfather Abraham, who received them from God.
Jacob’s twelve sons (along with Ephraim and Manasseh) eventually became the progenitors of the people groups known as “the twelve tribes of Israel.” However, Jacob’s adoption of Ephraim and Manasseh explains why those twelve tribes are often listed in different combinations. While the addition of Ephraim and Manasseh creates fourteen people groups, they are always collectively identified as “twelve tribes” within the Scriptures.
Before we leave Hebrews 11:21, we should also take note of something unusual that occurred as Jacob was preparing to bless Ephraim and Manasseh…
“And Joseph took both of them, Ephraim on his right toward Israel’s left hand and Manasseh on his left toward Israel’s right hand, and brought them close to him. But Israel reached out his right hand and put it on Ephraim’s head, though he was the younger, and crossing his arms, he put his left hand on Manasseh’s head, even though Manasseh was the firstborn” (Genesis 48:13-14 NIV).
The Biblical Scriptures employ the imagery of the “right hand” as a symbolic representation of power, authority, or favor. The eldest son generally received the blessing associated with that position at his father’s right hand. However, Jacob reversed that process in this instance. While Jacob’s physical body may have been frail and weak with age, we’ll soon see that his spiritual insight was undiminished.
“By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff” (Hebrews 11:21 ESV).
In blessing Joseph’s sons, Genesis 48:13-14 tells us that Jacob set aside the common practice of blessing the eldest son at his right hand in favor of Joseph’s younger son Ephraim. Of course, this was not the first time something like that had occurred, as Jacob himself was well aware.
Although God had given Joseph a gift that enabled him to discern the meaning of dreams and their interpretations, he failed to recognize the spiritual significance behind his father’s decision to bless his younger son Ephraim instead of his older son Manasseh….
“When Joseph saw his father placing his right hand on Ephraim’s head he was displeased; so he took hold of his father’s hand to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. Joseph said to him, ‘No, my father, this one is the firstborn; put your right hand on his head.’
But his father refused and said, ‘I know, my son, I know. He too will become a people, and he too will become great. Nevertheless, his younger brother will be greater than he, and his descendants will become a group of nations.’
He blessed them that day and said, ‘In your name will Israel pronounce this blessing: ‘May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh.’ So he put Ephraim ahead of Manasseh” (Genesis 48:17-20 NIV).
Despite his father’s apparent mistake (at least from Joseph’s perspective), Jacob’s words eventually came to pass. According to one source, “This was fulfilled in Israel’s history. Both tribes were blessed, but Ephraim was greater as a tribe, even to the point where the name ‘Ephraim’ was used to refer to the whole northern nation of Israel.” (1)
However, there is another perspective to consider regarding Ephraim and Manasseh. You see, it is important to remember that this meeting between Jacob and Joseph took place while they were living in Egypt, the greatest nation on earth during that period. Joseph was also the second most powerful government official in Egypt at that time.
In light of this, Ephraim and Manasseh could have chosen to remain in Egypt and taken advantage of the benefits and social amenities that were available to them as sons of a high-ranking government official. Instead, they willingly chose to accept their grandfather’s adoption and join with their uncles to form what would become the nation of Israel. Therefore, we can say that each of Joseph’s sons also acted in faith, for they willingly gave up the privileges of Egypt to follow God’s destiny for their lives.
(1) Guzik, David, Genesis 48 – Jacob Blesses Joseph’s Sons https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/genesis-48/
“By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the departure of the children of Israel, and gave instructions concerning his bones” (Hebrews 11:22).
The Old Testament account of Joseph is fairly well-known, even to many who are unfamiliar with the Scriptures. For instance, some may know about the injustice that was inflicted upon Joseph when he was sold into slavery. Others may be acquainted with the account of Joseph’s ascendance to a prominent position within the Egyptian government. Perhaps some may be familiar with Joseph’s coat of many colors, or how he was determined to honor God despite the seductive advances of his employer’s wife, a decision that eventually sent him to prison on false charges.
Despite these well-known aspects of Joseph’s life, his final act of faith may be less familiar. That account is easy to find because it is the very last thing we read in the Biblical book of Genesis…
“‘Soon I will die,’ Joseph told his brothers, ‘but God will surely come and get you, and bring you out of this land of Egypt and take you back to the land he promised to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.’ Then Joseph made his brothers promise with an oath that they would take his body back with them when they returned to Canaan. So Joseph died at the age of 110, and they embalmed him, and his body was placed in a coffin in Egypt” (Genesis 50:24-26 TLB).
This portion of Scripture tells us that Joseph never received a final burial following his death in Egypt. Instead, his coffin remained there for approximately four hundred years until the nation of Israel carried it out with them when they departed from that area…
“Moses took the bones of Joseph with him because Joseph had made the sons of Israel swear an oath. He had said, ‘God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up with you from this place’” (Exodus 13:19 NIV).
So how did Joseph know this exodus would occur? Well, the answer is given to us here in Hebrews 11:22: Joseph believed the words God had spoken to his great grandfather Abraham by faith…
“Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions… In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here…” (Genesis 15:13-14, 16 NIV).
“By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones” (Hebrews 11:22 ESV).
Even though God enabled Joseph to save his family from starvation by relocating them to the nation of Egypt, Joseph also knew that Egypt was not their permanent home. You see, Joseph was aware of the promises God made to his father Jacob, his grandfather Isaac, and his great-grandfather Abraham regarding a homeland for their descendants. Because of this, Joseph knew they would eventually return to the place where he was born- the land his father left to join him in Egypt.
When the time arrived for that future generation to return to their ancestral homeland, Joseph wanted to ensure that he was a part of that journey. This explains why “…Joseph made his brothers promise with an oath that they would take his body back with them when they returned to Canaan” (Genesis 50:25 TLB).
Thus, Joseph’s example provides us with some important considerations today. Even though Joseph lived for decades among the highest ranking members of Egyptian society, he never lost sight of where he began. And even though Joseph’s travels had taken him far away to a foreign land, he always knew where he really belonged.
What does this example mean for contemporary readers of Hebrews 11:22? Well, let’s consider that question in light of the problems and difficulties we often encounter. For instance, there are some who struggle to trust God and patiently endure through the challenges of life as Joseph did. Some may be reluctant to stand against the mockery of professors, co-workers, business associates, authority figures, or others who learn of their belief in the God of the Scriptures.
Then there are those who seek the comfort of conformity to a culture that finds Jesus irrelevant. Others may be negatively influenced through relationships with men and women who don’t have a spiritual foundation in Christ. Finally, there are those who may be pressured to leave their convictions and abandon the supposedly primitive idea of faith in God.
A person who succumbs to these various influences may eventually move so far away from genuine Christianity that there is little or nothing left to distinguish him or her from anyone else. Should that time arrive in our lives, the message behind Joseph’s final act of faith will point the way back home for those who have wandered away. We’ll consider that “message behind the message” next.
“By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, mentioned the exodus of the sons of Israel and gave instructions about his burial” (Hebrews 11:22 NET).
Some four thousand years ago, a dying man made his final request. That request (and the reason behind it) serves as a kind of beacon from the distant past, quietly transmitting the coordinates that guide the way back for those who have journeyed far from home…
“‘Soon I will die,’ Joseph told his brothers, ‘but God will surely come to help you and lead you out of this land of Egypt. He will bring you back to the land he solemnly promised to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.’ Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear an oath, and he said, ‘When God comes to help you and lead you back, you must take my bones with you’” (Genesis 50:24-25 NLT).
Perhaps we may awake one day to find that our lives no longer have any meaning, relevance, purpose, or direction. We might find that we have gained everything we ever wanted and come to the realization that it isn’t enough. Maybe we have sacrificed our lives to support an organization, only to find that the organization never regarded us as anything more than just a number.
Perhaps we will see the wreckage that resulted from a friend or family member’s unprincipled decision. Or maybe our lives have been negatively impacted by the decisions and mistakes of others, or events that were out of our control. If we ever reach those points in our lives, we would do well to listen to the message that has been quietly broadcasting through the words of Genesis 50:24-25. That message is simple: return home.
You see, Joseph was a long way from where he started. He was far from the place where God had spoken to his ancestors. He had been immersed in a culture that had no use for the God of the Scriptures. But Joseph never forgot where he came from, and his last request expressed a desire to return home.
If the journey of life takes us far from Christ, it would serve us well to remember where we came from. Maybe we’ve traveled to a place where we shouldn’t have gone. Perhaps our life story has not unfolded as we thought it would. We may be far from the place where we first met God; but like Joseph, we can go home again. Joseph knew where he ultimately belonged- his place was among the people who believed in, and followed, the one true God. That is where we belong as well.
“By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful child; and they were not afraid of the king’s command” (Hebrews 11:23).
As we continue our tour through the Hebrews 11 “Faith Hall Of Fame,” we now stop to look at a person who is surely one of the most important and influential individuals within the Biblical record. That person is Moses. While the miraculous events of Moses’ life often draw the most attention, it’s important to note that Moses’ life and ministry grew out of events that transpired long before he was born.
In previous studies, we briefly examined the life of Joseph from the Biblical book of Genesis. We saw how Joseph rose to a prominent position of leadership within the ancient Egyptian government and how he resettled his family in Egypt to save them from the effects of a devastating famine. Unfortunately, things changed over time, and a new leader arose who did not hold the same respect for Joseph, or the people of Israel…
“And Joseph died, all his brothers, and all that generation. But the children of Israel were fruitful and increased abundantly, multiplied and grew exceedingly mighty; and the land was filled with them.
Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. And he said to his people, ‘Look, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we; come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and it happen, in the event of war, that they also join our enemies and fight against us, and so go up out of the land.’
Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh supply cities, Pithom and Raamses” (Exodus 1:6-11).
However, that plan failed to produce the desired result…
“But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew. And they were in dread of the children of Israel” (Exodus 1:12).
Since Pharaoh, the Egyptian king, was not in the habit of giving up easily (as he would demonstrate later), he came up with a scheme that was even more ruthless…
“Then the king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives, of whom the name of one was Shiphrah and the name of the other Puah; and he said, ‘When you do the duties of a midwife for the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstools, if it is a son, then you shall kill him; but if it is a daughter, then she shall live’” (Exodus 1:15-16).
So Pharaoh’s solution was to eliminate the source of this “problem” by simply murdering every male child born to a Hebrew mother. This may have seemed like the perfect solution to Pharaoh, but as we’ll see, there was one critical detail he overlooked.
“By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict” (Hebrews 11:23 ESV).
To eliminate the perceived threat posed by Israel’s growing population, the Biblical book of Exodus tells us that Pharaoh, the Egyptian king, authorized the murder of every male infant born to a Hebrew mother. However, there was an unanticipated obstacle in Pharaoh’s plan…
“But because the midwives feared God, they refused to obey the king’s orders. They allowed the boys to live, too. So the king of Egypt called for the midwives. ‘Why have you done this?’ he demanded. ‘Why have you allowed the boys to live?’
‘The Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women,’ the midwives replied. ‘They are more vigorous and have their babies so quickly that we cannot get there in time.’ So God was good to the midwives, and the Israelites continued to multiply, growing more and more powerful” (Exodus 1:17-20 NLT).
Nevertheless, Pharaoh was undeterred by this setback…
“Then Pharaoh gave an order to all his people: ‘Throw every baby boy born to the Hebrews into the Nile River, but you can let all the girls live’” (Exodus 1:22 CEB).
Since Pharaoh could not depend upon these midwives to execute his plan, he simply enlisted the aid of every Egyptian citizen. That was the political environment that surrounded Moses at the time of his birth…
“About this time, a man and woman from the tribe of Levi got married. The woman became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She saw that he was a special baby and kept him hidden for three months. But when she could no longer hide him, she got a basket made of papyrus reeds and waterproofed it with tar and pitch. She put the baby in the basket and laid it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile River. The baby’s sister then stood at a distance, watching to see what would happen to him.
Soon Pharaoh’s daughter came down to bathe in the river, and her attendants walked along the riverbank. When the princess saw the basket among the reeds, she sent her maid to get it for her. When the princess opened it, she saw the baby. The little boy was crying, and she felt sorry for him. ‘This must be one of the Hebrew children,’ she said.
Then the baby’s sister approached the princess. ‘Should I go and find one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?’ she asked. ‘Yes, do!’ the princess replied. So the girl went and called the baby’s mother. ‘Take this baby and nurse him for me,’ the princess told the baby’s mother. ‘I will pay you for your help.’ So the woman took her baby home and nursed him” (Exodus 2:1-9 NLT).
We’ll continue with our look at this portion of Moses’ life next.
“By faith, when Moses was born, his parents hid him for three months, because they saw the child was beautiful and they were not afraid of the king’s edict” (Hebrews 11:23 NET).
In an effort to save her newborn son from Pharaoh’s murderous decree, Moses’ birth mother placed him in a waterproof basket and set it afloat on the Nile River. That basket was eventually found by Pharaoh’s daughter, who opened it to find Moses inside. The Egyptian princess felt sorry for the helpless infant and granted temporary custody of the child to a Hebrew woman (who was actually Moses’ birth mother) who nursed him for a period of time.
Exodus 2:10 continues our narrative from that point…
“When the child grew older, she took him to Pharaoh’s daughter and he became her son. She named him Moses, saying, ‘I drew him out of the water’” (NIV).
So Exodus 2:1-10 presents us with an account that concludes with a positive ending (at least for the moment). However, it may be difficult to identify the act of faith that justifies the appearance of this narrative here in the “Faith Hall Of Fame.” We can address that difficulty if we stop to consider some important aspects of this passage.
First, Moses’ mother demonstrated faith in God through the act of placing him in a basket and setting it afloat on the Nile River. Instead of following Pharaoh’s unjust edict, she chose to follow a more righteous path. Her example thus reminds us that it takes faith to trust God and do what is right when others direct us to do what is wrong.
Next, we should remember that Moses’ birth mother could do nothing else for him once he drifted away into the Nile River. Instead, she had to place her trust in God for his protection. In a similar manner, it takes faith to trust in God to provide for others when we are no longer do so ourselves.
The following verse of Hebrews chapter eleven continues with another lesson in faith from Moses’ life…
“By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin” (Hebrews 11:24-25).
Moses faithfully aligned himself with the people of God instead of taking the easy road of earthly status and luxury. As a member of the Egyptian royal family, Moses could have enjoyed a position of wealth and privilege if that’s what he desired. Instead, he chose to abandon those things to follow God’s path for his life.
“By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter and chose to suffer with the people of God rather than to enjoy the short-lived pleasure of sin” (Hebrews 11:24-25 HCSB).
Moses’ decision to leave the security and privilege of Egyptian royalty led to several consequences. For instance, the Biblical account of Moses’ life reveals that he was a man who suffered a great deal. In Moses, we also find someone who was clearly apprehensive about following God’s direction at one point in his life.
In addition, Moses repeatedly faced large groups of unappreciative people who turned against his leadership. Even after Moses stood against Pharaoh, the most powerful political authority of his day and worked to lead the people out of Egyptian servitude, many of them responded in the following manner…
“They also complained to Moses, ‘Wasn’t there enough room in Egypt to bury us? Is that why you brought us out here to die in the desert? Why did you bring us out of Egypt anyway? While we were there, didn’t we tell you to leave us alone? We’d rather be slaves in Egypt than die in this desert!’” (Exodus 14:11-12 CEV, see also Exodus 16:1-3, Exodus 17:1-2, Numbers 14:1-4, Numbers 16:1-3, Numbers 16:41, Numbers 20:1-5, and Numbers 21:4-5).
Nevertheless, Hebrews 11:24-25 tells us that Moses faithfully accepted mistreatment along with the people of God and renounced the fleeting pleasure that sin might bring for a while. Moses could have taken an easier road, but he chose to follow God by faith instead. Because of this, God has honored Moses with a place among the other heroes of the faith mentioned here in Hebrews chapter eleven.
This has led one source to make the following observation…
“In his adult years [Moses] made his choice; he would not hide his true nationality to win a few short years of earthly fame. The result? Instead of occupying a line or two of hieroglyphics on some obscure tomb, he is memorialized in God’s eternal Book. Instead of being found in a museum as an Egyptian mummy, he is famous as a man of God.” (1)
We will complete our look at this passage by starting where we began this portion of our study. From a human perspective, none of these events from Moses’ life would have occurred if his birth mother had not made the faithful decision to trust God for his protection when she set him afloat in the Nile River as an infant. That decision led to a series of positive consequences that continue to this day.
Moses’ birth mother saw him as someone worth saving. Thus, her example should prompt us to prayerfully consider what God might do with the investments we make in others today.
(1) William Macdonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary Edited by Arthur Farstad, Thomas Nelson Publishers [pg. 2199].
“esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward” (Hebrews 11:26).
A cursory look at Hebrews 11:26 should prompt an immediate question: “How could Moses regard ‘disgrace for the sake of Christ to be of greater value than all the riches in Egypt’ when Jesus had not yet been born?”
We can address this question when we consider the passage that precedes this verse: “[Moses] chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin” (Hebrews 11:25 NIV). When we take these verses together, we find that Moses elected to exchange the temporary mistreatment he experienced during his earthly life for something better in the future.
That mistreatment represented “abuse suffered on behalf of the Messiah” (CJB) in the following sense: whenever someone is mistreated for a decision to follow God in faith, he or she follows the ultimate example set by Christ. For Moses, that meant looking forward to Jesus’ example. For us, it means looking back.
For example, consider the following excerpt from Jesus’ Sermon On The Mount…
“Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12).
While contemporary audiences can benefit from this principle, the heart of Jesus’ message is also reflected in the lives of Old Testament saints like Moses, as well as many of the other individuals we meet in Hebrews chapter eleven. They were often reviled, mistreated, and persecuted, along with other notable Old Testament personalities such as Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel, among others.
One Biblical scholar expands on this idea with the following insight…
“This is a text that shows that Moses himself was conscious of the coming of the Messiah and of the Messiah’s own ‘reproach,’ with which Moses was willing to identify in an anticipatory manner. It may be that Moses to some degree saw his suffering and the suffering of his people… as a typological foreshadowing of the ultimate suffering of God’s Son who also would come out of Egypt (Matt. 2:15, quoting Hos. 11:1).” (1)
Finally, it is significant to note that Moses (along with Elijah) spoke with Jesus at the time of His transfiguration in Mark 9:2-10. Just as Moses suffered “…disgrace for the sake of Christ” (NIV), so also was he honored with the privilege of an audience with the Messiah during His glorious transfiguration.
(1) R. C. Sproul, ed., The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust, 2015), 2217.
“By faith [Moses] forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured as seeing Him who is invisible. By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, lest he who destroyed the firstborn should touch them” (Hebrews 11:27-28).
Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, was viewed as a god among the people of his kingdom. As such, he was the single most powerful figure within Egyptian society during the period of Israel’s captivity. In theory, Pharaoh could have executed Moses without repercussion if he desired. Yet Moses was not alarmed by that possibility, for his faith in the One who is unseen enabled him to overcome any potential fear of the king’s wrath.
Moses expressed that same faith in keeping the Passover as well. The Feast of Passover was (and is) a commemorative event that memorializes Israel’s deliverance from Egypt (see Exodus chapter twelve). This annual observance commemorates the time when God “passed over” every home that carried an identifying mark of lamb’s blood on its exterior door frame. The firstborn in every other home was put to death…
“I will pass through the land of Egypt on that night and strike every firstborn male in the land of Egypt, both people and animals. I am the Lord; I will execute judgments against all the gods of Egypt. The blood on the houses where you are staying will be a distinguishing mark for you; when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No plague will be among you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt” (Exodus 12:12-13 CSB).
Although the Passover is widely celebrated among the members of the Jewish community today, the events that led up to that first Passover may be less familiar. A look at the Biblical record reveals that the Passover referenced here in Hebrews 11:28 was the culmination of a series of events involving Pharaoh and others under his leadership. Those events are known today as the Ten Plagues of Egypt.
However, we can trace the Passover’s origin even further back to Moses’ first interaction with God. At the time of their initial meeting, the Lord issued the following directive to Moses: “…you and the elders are to go to the king of Egypt and say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us. Let us take a three-day journey into the wilderness to offer sacrifices to the Lord our God’” (Exodus 3:18 NIV).
God then followed with a piece of divine foresight: “I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless he is forced to do so. But I will use my power and will punish Egypt by doing terrifying things there. After that he will let you go” (Exodus 3:19-20 GNT). Thus, it was Pharaoh who initiated the chain of events that ultimately led to the establishment of the Passover.
“It was by faith that Moses commanded the people of Israel to keep the Passover and to sprinkle blood on the doorposts so that the angel of death would not kill their firstborn sons” (Hebrews 11:28 NLT).
When Moses approached Pharaoh to request a national three day leave-of-absence to offer sacrifices to the Lord, the Egyptian monarch responded just as God predicted: ”’Who is the Lord?’ the king demanded. ‘Why should I listen to him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord; and I will not let Israel go’” (Exodus 5:2 GNT). Although Pharaoh did not realize it, this represented the beginning of the end of Israel’s servitude in Egypt…
“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh. I will use my great power against him, and he will let my people go. He will be so ready for them to leave that he will force them to go’” (Exodus 6:1 ERV).
That led to a series of ten judgments that were designed to compel Pharaoh into obedience. Those judgments took the form of the following plagues…
- All the waters of Egypt, including the beloved Nile River, turned to blood.
- Frogs overran the land.
- Gnats (or lice) infested the land of Egypt to the point where they “…covered everyone, people and animals alike” Exodus 8:18 NLT). This brought Pharaoh’s occultic advisors to the following conclusion: “…’This is something only God could do!’”(Exodus 8:19 CEB).
- Swarms of flies descended upon the homes of the Egyptians, including Pharaoh’s residence. But no flies entered the region of Goshen where the people of Israel dwelled.
- A severe pestilence decimated the nation’s livestock, including their cattle, horses, donkeys, camels, oxen, and sheep.
- Boils and sores broke out on the people and the remaining animals.
- Hailstones destroyed Egypt’s agricultural production, along with whatever replacement livestock the Egyptians had been able to procure. Nevertheless, God graciously offered the following counsel in advance: “‘Tomorrow at this time I’ll cause the heaviest hail to fall on Egypt that has ever fallen from the day Egypt was founded until now. So bring under shelter your livestock and all that belongs to you that is out in the open. Every person or animal that is out in the open field and isn’t brought inside will die when the hail rains down on them.’ Some of Pharaoh’s officials who took the Lord’s word seriously rushed to bring their servants and livestock inside for shelter. Others who didn’t take the Lord’s word to heart left their servants and livestock out in the open field” (Exodus 9:18-21 CEB).
- Any plant that wasn’t completely annihilated by the hail was subsequently devoured by locusts.
- Thick darkness then covered the land for three days.
The final plague -the deaths of all firstborn- was directly associated with the Passover referenced here in Hebrews 11:28 and facilitated Israel’s subsequent departure from Egypt.
“It was faith that made [Moses] establish the Passover and order the blood to be sprinkled on the doors, so that the Angel of Death would not kill the first-born sons of the Israelites” (Hebrews 11:28 GNT).
The seventh to twelfth chapters of the Biblical book of Exodus detail a series of disastrous plagues that were imposed upon the nation of Egypt. Those afflictions culminated in the most devastating plague of all: the death of every firstborn son who was outside a dwelling under God’s protection.
One source offers a valuable synopsis of that final event and its relationship to our text from Hebrews 11:28…
“Moses was warned in detail about the fatal tenth plague, and he prepared the Hebrew people so they could protect themselves from it. At midnight, the Lord would sweep over Egypt, killing the firstborn of every living thing, man and beast, except for those who were protected. That protection was afforded by the sacrifice of a spotless lamb. Each family was to sacrifice such a lamb and to sprinkle its blood on the doorposts. The blood, symbol of God’s protective power, would cause the angel of death to pass over.
Thus was instituted what is still one of the most holy Jewish holidays, the Passover. When Jesus Christ came, his followers realized the further significance of the Passover rites: they foreshadow the sacrifice of Jesus Christ as the true Passover Lamb. His blood shed on the cross is the true blood of atonement and protection, and God’s judgment on sin ‘passes over’ those who have been protected by that blood.
Pharaoh heard the cry of grief and mourning throughout his land. His household, too, had been affected: his firstborn son was dead, and now he was ready to give up the fight. The God of Israel was too powerful for him. Relenting from his stubbornness, he summoned Moses and Aaron and permitted them to lead the people, with all their possessions, out from the land of Goshen in Egypt and to their God in the wilderness. Not until after the last one did Pharaoh finally agree to let the people leave Egypt.” (1)
As another commentator observes, “It took faith to believe that the blood of a lamb on the doorpost would save a household from the terror of the angel of death; but Moses had that faith, and led the nation in observance of Passover.” (2) These insights should lead us to a greater appreciation for this historical narrative and its appearance here within the Hebrews 11 “Faith Hall Of Fame.”
(1) McDowell, J. (1997). Josh McDowell’s Handbook On Apologetics (electronic ed.). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson. Page 29.
(2) David Guzik Hebrews 11 – Examples Of Faith To Help The Discouraged © Copyright – Enduring Word https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/hebrews-11/
“By faith they passed through the Red Sea as by dry land, whereas the Egyptians, attempting to do so, were drowned” (Hebrews 11:29).
Genesis 15:13-14 records a scene from the life of the Biblical patriarch Abraham that relates to our text from Hebrews 11:29…
“The Lord said to [Abraham], ‘Your descendants will be strangers in a foreign land; they will be slaves there and will be treated cruelly for four hundred years. But I will punish the nation that enslaves them, and when they leave that foreign land, they will take great wealth with them…” (GNT).
That prophetic message was fulfilled upon Israel’s departure from Egypt…
“The Israelites had already done what Moses had told them to do. They had gone to their Egyptian neighbors and asked for gold and silver and for clothes. The Lord had made the Egyptians friendly toward the people of Israel, and they gave them whatever they asked for. In this way they carried away the wealth of the Egyptians when they left Egypt” (Exodus 12:35-36 CEV).
This led to one of the greatest miraculous events in Biblical history- the parting of the Red Sea…
“When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, Pharaoh and his officials changed their minds about the people and said, ‘What have we done? We have released Israel from serving us.’ So he got his chariot ready and took his troops with him… The Egyptians—all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots, his horsemen, and his army—chased after them and caught up with them as they camped by the sea…
But Moses said to the people, ‘Don’t be afraid. Stand firm and see the Lord’s salvation that he will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians you see today, you will never see again.’
…Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove the sea back with a powerful east wind all that night and turned the sea into dry land. So the waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with the waters like a wall to them on their right and their left. The Egyptians set out in pursuit… and went into the sea after them…
Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the water may come back on the Egyptians, on their chariots and horsemen.’ So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at daybreak the sea returned to its normal depth… The water came back and covered the chariots and horsemen, plus the entire army of Pharaoh that had gone after them into the sea. Not even one of them survived” (Exodus 14:5-6, 9, 13, 21-23, 26-28 CSB).
Thus, as one author concludes, “The difference between the Israelites crossing the Red Sea and the Egyptians who followed them was not courage, but faith. The Egyptians had as much (or more) courage than the Israelites, but not the same faith – and they each had different fates.” (1)
(1) David Guzik Hebrews 11 – Examples Of Faith To Help The Discouraged © Copyright – Enduring Word https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/hebrews-11/
The next stop on our tour through the Hebrews chapter eleven “Faith Hall Of Fame” takes us to another notable event- the fall of Jericho…
“By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they were encircled for seven days” (Hebrews 11:30).
Many have undoubtedly heard the account of Jericho’s demise after the people of Israel followed God’s directive to march around the city for seven days. While the record of Jericho’s fall may be familiar, there are some important things we can learn about faith when we stop to examine what took place there.
For example, the account of Jericho’s downfall began long before the Israelites ever reached the city…
“After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, the LORD said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide: ‘Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them– to the Israelites. I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses’” (Joshua 1:1 NIV).
The person God chose to replace Moses was a man named Joshua, Moses’ former assistant (Numbers 27:15-23). Following Moses’ death, the Lord spoke to Joshua saying, “I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses” (Joshua 1:3 NIV). Since Jericho was the first city Israel encountered after they entered the Promised Land, it thus represented Joshua’s first opportunity to act upon God’s promise by faith. That brings us to our first observation from this passage: the leaders changed, but their faith in God remained the same.
Although Jericho was a residential community, it seems as if it was built more like a high-security military installation than a city. From what we know of the city today, it appears that Jericho was more than a quarter-mile wide in diameter (about .50 km). It was also built on an elevated location -a definite advantage against those who might seek to conquer the city.
It also appears that there were three different walls that surrounded the city to protect it from intruders. The first wall circled the exterior border and was 15 feet (5 m) high, and six feet (2 m) thick. Behind this perimeter wall was a second wall that was 25 feet (8 m) high, and six feet (2 m) thick. Finally, a third 25-foot (8 m) tall, six-foot (2 m) thick wall was situated behind the outer walls. These features combined to make Jericho extremely difficult to invade.
It’s also clear that Joshua and his army were dealing with a city that was filled with people who were highly motivated to keep them out. We’ll see why next.
“By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days” (Hebrews 11:30 ESV).
Although Jericho was the first city the people of Israel encountered upon their entrance into the Promised Land, it appears their reputation preceded their arrival in that area.
You see, Joshua 2:9-10 tells us that the residents of Jericho knew God had parted the Red Sea for the Israelites decades earlier. They were also aware of Israel’s successful military engagements with the nation-states they encountered prior to their arrival in that area. These reports made the people of Jericho very concerned about Israel- so much so that Joshua 6:1 tells us that the city was locked up tight in an effort to keep them out.
With that, let’s look at God’s plan to conquer this seemingly indestructible fortress…
“The Lord said to Joshua, I am about to hand Jericho, its king, and its warriors over to you. All the soldiers will march around the city once a day for six days. Seven priests will carry rams’ horns ahead of the ark. But on the seventh day you must march around the city seven times while the priests blow their horns. When you hear a long blast on the horn, all the troops must shout very loudly. The wall around the city will collapse. Then the troops must charge straight ahead into the city” (Joshua 6:2-5 GW).
We can derive several important lessons regarding faith from this passage. For instance, no credible military strategist would ever endorse an invasion plan that involved marching around a metropolitan area for a week. Yet, that was the tactical plan God issued to the people of Israel. Thus, faith recognizes that God may choose to fulfill His purposes in unusual ways.
We can also say that faith sometimes requires patience. Remember that the walls of Jericho didn’t fall immediately; and the people of Israel had to exercise patience in order to see the result God intended for them.
Joshua 6:20 identifies something else we can learn from this example: faith acts on what God has promised…
“So the troops shouted very loudly when they heard the blast of the rams’ horns, and the wall collapsed. The troops charged straight ahead and captured the city” (GW).
So the people of Israel acted upon God’s directive first. Then they saw Him fulfill His promises on their behalf. This is a characteristic of faith that is often repeated throughout Hebrews chapter eleven.
So the walls of Jericho came down, but not everyone perished in the city’s destruction…
“Joshua said to the two men who had scouted the land, ‘Go to the prostitute’s house and bring the woman out of there, and all who are with her, just as you swore to her’” (Joshua 6:22 CSB).
That portion of Scripture will lead us into our look at the next hero of the faith from Hebrews chapter eleven.
While Hebrews 11:30 describes the faith displayed by those who conquered the ancient city of Jericho, there was one group of residents who were spared from death when the walls of that great metropolis went down. The Old Testament book of Joshua provides us with that account…
“Joshua spoke to the two men who had scouted out the land. ‘Go to the prostitute’s house. Bring out the woman from there, along with everyone related to her, exactly as you pledged to her’” (Joshua 6:22 CEB).
Hebrews chapter eleven references that portion of Israel’s history, along with an emphasis on the faith displayed by this prostitute named Rahab…
“By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe, when she had received the spies with peace” (Hebrews 11:31).
So how did Rahab the harlot find a place among these members of the Hebrews 11 “Faith Hall Of Fame”? To answer that question, we must return to the period when Joshua dispatched a two-man reconnaissance team to explore the city of Jericho along with its surrounding areas. We find that account in Joshua chapter two…
“Joshua chose two men as spies and sent them from their camp at Acacia with these instructions: ‘Go across the river and find out as much as you can about the whole region, especially about the town of Jericho.’ The two spies left the Israelite camp at Acacia and went to Jericho, where they decided to spend the night at the house of a prostitute named Rahab.
But someone found out about them and told the king of Jericho, ‘Some Israelite men came here tonight, and they are spies.’ So the king sent soldiers to Rahab’s house to arrest the spies. Meanwhile, Rahab had taken the men up to the flat roof of her house and had hidden them under some piles of flax plants that she had put there to dry.
The soldiers came to her door and demanded, ‘Let us have the men who are staying at your house. They are spies.’ She answered, ‘Some men did come to my house, but I didn’t know where they had come from. They left about sunset, just before it was time to close the town gate. I don’t know where they were going, but if you hurry, maybe you can catch them” (Joshua 2:1-7 CEV).
We’ll continue our look at this passage and examine Rahab’s justification for this taking this action next.
“By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies” (Hebrews 11:31 ESV).
We continue with Rahab’s account from Joshua chapter two as she explained her rationale for hiding the Israelite spies who had been conducting a reconnaissance mission within her city…
“Before the spies settled down for the night, Rahab went up on the roof and said to them, ‘I know that the Lord has given you this land. Everyone in the country is terrified of you. We have heard how the Lord dried up the Red Sea in front of you when you were leaving Egypt. We have also heard how you killed Sihon and Og, the two Amorite kings east of the Jordan. We were afraid as soon as we heard about it; we have all lost our courage because of you.
The Lord your God is God in heaven above and here on earth. Now swear by him that you will treat my family as kindly as I have treated you, and give me some sign that I can trust you. Promise me that you will save my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all their families! Don’t let us be killed!’
The men said to her, ‘May God take our lives if we don’t do as we say! If you do not tell anyone what we have been doing, we promise you that when the Lord gives us this land, we will treat you well.’
Rahab lived in a house built into the city wall, so she let the men down from the window by a rope. ‘Go into the hill country,’ she said, ‘or the king’s men will find you. Hide there for three days until they come back. After that, you can go on your way.’
The men said to her, ‘We will keep the promise that you have made us give. This is what you must do. When we invade your land, tie this red cord to the window you let us down from. Get your father and mother, your brothers, and all your father’s family together in your house. If anyone goes out of the house, his death will be his own fault, and we will not be responsible; but if anyone in the house with you is harmed, then we will be responsible. However, if you tell anyone what we have been doing, then we will not have to keep our promise which you have made us give you.”
She agreed and sent them away. When they had gone, she tied the red cord to the window” (Joshua 2:1-21 GW).
Once again, it’s important to note that the residents of Jericho were aware of God’s presence and power, even going back decades earlier to His parting of the Red Sea. But only one of the city’s inhabitants -Rahab- proved willing to act on that knowledge by faith.
“By faith Rahab the prostitute escaped the destruction of the disobedient, because she welcomed the spies in peace” (Hebrews 11:31 NET).
So how did Rahab the prostitute enter the Hebrews 11 “Faith Hall Of Fame”? Well, Rahab entered this portion of Scripture by virtue of her authentic, God-honoring faith. For instance, Rahab’s faith was clearly aligned with the definition of faith given to us earlier in Hebrews 11:1: “…faith is being sure of what we hope for, being convinced of what we do not see” (ESV).
Next, we can say that Rahab clearly believed in God’s existence. That belief led her to risk her life in hiding the members of the Israelite reconnaissance team who entered the city of Jericho. Thus, Rahab expressed the kind of faith we read about earlier in Hebrews 11:6…
“You can never please God without faith, without depending on him. Anyone who wants to come to God must believe that there is a God and that he rewards those who sincerely look for him” (TLB).
Rahab also demonstrated the fact that she took God and His word seriously. She believed God could save her from the coming destruction of the city. She also trusted Him to ensure that the people of Israel followed through on their commitment to spare her life when they conquered the city. Thus, Rahab’s example reveals a great deal about genuine Biblical faith and how that faith should influence our actions.
Because of this, God has chosen to honor Rahab with a place in the Biblical Faith Hall Of Fame. This has also led one commentator to the following conclusion…
“[This] is a tremendous revelation of the fact that God did not arbitrarily destroy the city of Jericho. You see, for forty years word had been filtering into Jericho about a people who crossed the Red Sea. In other words, Rahab said, ‘It was forty years ago when we heard about that. And I for one believed. Others believed the facts, but they did not believe in God. They never trusted the living God.’
Later on, they heard how God was leading Israel and that He had given them victory on the other side of the Jordan against the Amorites. Jericho should have profited from that information. Finally Israel miraculously crossed the Jordan River and parked right outside the door of Jericho. What had God been doing? He had been giving the city an opportunity to believe in Him, to trust Him, and to turn to Him.” (1)
(1) J. Vernon McGee, Thru The Bible with J. Vernon McGee, “Hebrews 11:31 The Faith Of Rahab” Copyright 1981 by J. Vernon McGee
“By faith Rahab the prostitute received the spies in peace and didn’t perish with those who disobeyed” (Hebrews 11:31 HCSB).
As we close our look at Rahab’s place in the Hebrews 11 “Faith Hall Of Fame,” one question remains: “Why has Rahab received this honor in view of her character?”
The immediate answer to that question involves the agreement Rahab made with the members of the Israelite reconnaissance team. In return for hiding them from Jericho’s police force, Rahab secured their promise to protect her household when the people of Israel conquered the city. The spies agreed to those terms on two conditions…
- Rahab had to place a scarlet cord in her window.
- Everyone remained within her home during the invasion (see Joshua 2:12-24).
Rahab fulfilled those terms and thus entered this portion of Scripture on the basis of her faith, not on her former life as a prostitute.
Another question regarding Rahab is this: “How could God commend Rahab when she lied to protect the spies who entered Jericho?” To address that question, we should first consider the fact that Rahab was a not an Israelite. She had heard of Israel’s God and was aware of His power and ability, but she did not know Him.
Although we can say that Rahab’s conscience should have told her it was wrong to lie, it is also true that she did not have access to that prohibition in the Mosaic Law. Rahab also did not have access to the other standards of right and wrong that God established for the people of Israel.
We should also recognize that Rahab may have faced an insurmountable problem. You see, it may not have been possible to hide the spies and tell the truth to Jericho’s police force at the same time.
In addition, it’s important to note that Rahab risked her life in choosing to hide the Israelite spies. If Rahab was found to be harboring those men as criminal fugitives, she undoubtedly would have paid with her life. These things do not excuse Rahab for lying (which was wrong) but it did save the Israelite spies from death (which represented a greater wrong).
So, even though Rahab lied to protect the spies, the act of giving them up to Jericho’s authorities would have promoted something worse. We find other examples of lying to prevent a greater wrong in Exodus 1:15-21 and Jeremiah 38:24-27. Again, this does not excuse lying (which is wrong), but it is also clear that the Bible allows for the consideration of extenuating circumstances if they exist.
Finally, we should remember that the Bible does not say that Rahab was honored for lying. On the contrary, Rahab demonstrated her faith in the one true God. She believed God was going to give Jericho to the people of Israel and acted on that belief by hiding the spies. So Rahab wasn’t praised for lying, but she was honored for her faith.
“And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets” (Hebrews 11:32).
Although the author of Hebrews could have added to names given to us here in chapter eleven, the constraints of time limited him from continuing with a list of other heroes of the faith who were equally worthy of recognition. As one source wryly observes, “He has not run out of examples, but only out of time.” (1)
Thus, the final stops on our tour through the Hebrews 11 “Faith Hall Of Fame” takes us to visit with six well-known (and not so well-known) examples of genuine Biblical faith. The first four individuals mentioned in Hebrews 11:32 (Gideon, Barak, Samson, and Jephthah) all lived during the Old Testament period chronicled in the Biblical book of Judges. Samuel and David also lived near the end of that period and shortly thereafter.
While some of these names may be more recognizable than others, each of these individuals can tell us something important about what it means to live a life that honors God in faith. That becomes especially clear when we look at the first person mentioned in Hebrews 11:32, a man named Gideon.
We find Gideon’s account beginning in the sixth chapter of the book of Judges. But before we get to Gideon, we’ll begin with some important background information from the opening verses of Judges chapter six…
“Then once again the Israelites started disobeying the Lord, so he let the nation of Midian control Israel for seven years. The Midianites were so cruel that many Israelites ran to the mountains and hid in caves.
Every time the Israelites planted crops, the Midianites invaded Israel together with the Amalekites and other eastern nations. They rode in on their camels, set up their tents, and then let their livestock eat the crops as far as the town of Gaza. The Midianites stole food, sheep, cattle, and donkeys. Like a swarm of locusts, they could not be counted, and they ruined the land wherever they went.
The Midianites took almost everything that belonged to the Israelites, and the Israelites begged the Lord for help. Then the Lord sent a prophet to them with this message:
I am the Lord God of Israel, so listen to what I say. You were slaves in Egypt, but I set you free and led you out of Egypt into this land. And when nations here made life miserable for you, I rescued you and helped you get rid of them and take their land. I am your God, and I told you not to worship Amorite gods, even though you are living in the land of the Amorites. But you refused to listen” (Judges 6:1-10 CEV).
This sets the stage for Gideon’s entry into our narrative next.
(1) William Macdonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary Edited by Arthur Farstad, Thomas Nelson Publishers [pg. 2200].
“What else can I say? There isn’t enough time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets” (Hebrews 11:32 CEV).
The Old Testament book of Judges contains the following admonition from the Lord to the people of Israel: “I told you, ‘I am the Lord your God; you must not worship the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living.’ But you have not obeyed me” (Judges 6:10 CEV). This passage is worthy of our attention, for we may leave ourselves open to a similar admonition whenever we choose to neglect our relationship with God.
This recalls the cautionary message given to us earlier in Hebrews 2:1: “We ought, therefore, to pay the greatest attention to the truth that we have heard and not allow ourselves to drift away from it” (Phillips). If we drift from our relationship with Christ in such a manner, it may only be a matter of time before we begin to make bad decisions that lead to painful repercussions. The nation of Israel repeatedly engaged in that type of behavior throughout the Biblical book of Judges and suffered the consequences as a result.
One way to avoid that negative example involves a few simple practices that are given to us in the New Testament book of Acts. You see, Acts 2:42 identifies four important spiritual disciplines observed by the early church: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (NIV).
We can understand this to mean that the early church focused on four specific areas: prayer, Bible study (the apostles’ teaching), communion (breaking of bread), and regular church attendance (the fellowship). These four spiritual disciplines can help us maintain the priority relationship with God that He deserves and avoid the circumstances that led to Gideon’s introduction in Judges chapter six…
“The angel of the Lord came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, ‘The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.’
‘Pardon me, my lord,’ Gideon replied, ‘but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.’
The Lord turned to him and said, ‘Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?’” (Judges 6:11-14 NIV).
We’ll continue with a look at Gideon’s response next.
“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” (Hebrews 11:32 ESV).
Our review of Gideon’s life from the Biblical book of Judges continues with the record of his interaction with the angel of the Lord…
“But again Gideon said to him, ‘With all due respect, my Lord, how can I rescue Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I’m the youngest in my household.’ The Lord replied, ‘Because I’m with you, you’ll defeat the Midianites as if they were just one person.’
Then Gideon said to him, ‘If I’ve gained your approval, please show me a sign that it’s really you speaking with me. Don’t leave here until I return, bring out my offering, and set it in front of you.’ The Lord replied, ‘I’ll stay until you return.’ So Gideon went and prepared a young goat and used an ephah of flour for unleavened bread. He put the meat in a basket and the broth in a pot and brought them out to him under the oak and presented them.
Then God’s messenger said to him, ‘Take the meat and the unleavened bread and set them on this rock, then pour out the broth.’ And he did so. The Lord’s messenger reached out the tip of the staff that was in his hand and touched the meat and the unleavened bread. Fire came up from the rock and devoured the meat and the unleavened bread; and the Lord’s messenger vanished before his eyes.
Then Gideon realized that it had been the Lord’s messenger. Gideon exclaimed, ‘Oh no, Lord God! I have seen the Lord’s messenger face-to-face!’ But the Lord said to him, ‘Peace! Don’t be afraid! You won’t die.’ So Gideon built an altar there to the Lord and called it ‘The Lord makes peace.’ It still stands today in Ophrah of the Abiezrites” (Judges 6:15-24 CEB).
Now that we’ve met Gideon, what kind of person did he seem to be? Was he a heroic man? Did he project an image of confidence? Was he a person of bravery, courage, and fearlessness? Not at all. Gideon was clearly someone who was frightened, confused, and unsure of himself. However, Gideon was not the only Biblical personality to exhibit these characteristics in response to God’s calling.
For instance, let’s reconsider Moses’ example from earlier in this chapter. When God called Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, Exodus 4:13 records his response: “My Lord, I beg you to send someone else, not me” (ERV). We also have the example of the great prophet Jeremiah. When God called Jeremiah to be His spokesperson, Jeremiah responded by saying, “‘O Sovereign Lord… I can’t speak for you! I’m too young!’” (Jeremiah 1:6 NLT).
We’ll consider twelve similar examples from the New Testament next.
“Should I go on? There isn’t enough time for me to speak of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets” (Hebrews 11:32 GNB).
In addition to Gideon’s example from Judges chapter six, let’s consider the men whom Jesus chose to be His disciples. Among those individuals were four fishermen (James, John, Peter, and Andrew), a tax collector (Matthew, also known as Levi), a skeptic (Thomas), a political extremist (Simon the Zealot), and four nobodies (everyone else).
It’s probably safe to say that most people would not have chosen these candidates if they were in Jesus’ position. Nevertheless, these were the men Jesus chose. Therefore, we should be thankful that God follows a different protocol with regard to His work in our lives. As it has often been said, “God does not necessarily call those who are qualified; instead, He qualifies those whom He has called.”
We can illustrate this truth when we consider the various aspects of God’s message to Gideon…
- “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior” (Judges 6:12 NIV).
- “‘Go with the strength you have, and rescue Israel from the Midianites. I am sending you!’” (Judges 6:14 NLT).
- “‘You can do it because I will help you. You will crush the Midianites as easily as if they were only one man’” (Judges 6:16 GNT).
How could the Lord make these statements to a man who was hiding from the people he was called to defeat? We find the answer in Judges 6:16: “The LORD answered, ‘I will be with you…’” (NIV). If God is with us, we can accomplish anything He calls us to do. Of course, this is not only true for Old Testament personalities like Gideon; we can find similar examples in the New Testament as well…
“When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13 NIV).
These examples tell us that God doesn’t necessarily use those who seemingly have the most to offer. This explains how a frightened and uncertain man like Gideon ended up as a successful military leader- and it wasn’t long before Gideon was given his first opportunity to engage the enemy…
“Soon afterward the armies of Midian, Amalek, and other neighboring nations united in one vast alliance against Israel. They crossed the Jordan and camped in the valley of Jezreel. Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon, and he blew a trumpet as a call to arms, and the men of Abiezer came to him. He also sent messengers throughout Manasseh, Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali, summoning their fighting forces, and all of them responded” (Judges 6: 33-35 TLB).
Nevertheless, we’ll soon see that Gideon will require some additional persuasion before entering into battle.
“What more should I say? I don’t have enough time to tell you about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets” (Hebrews 11:32 GW).
Even though Gideon is a member of the Faith Hall Of Fame, it’s clear that he was someone who felt the need to confirm God’s direction more than once…
“Then Gideon said to God, ‘If you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said, behold, I am laying a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew on the fleece alone, and it is dry on all the ground, then I shall know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said.’ And it was so. When he rose early next morning and squeezed the fleece, he wrung enough dew from the fleece to fill a bowl with water.
Then Gideon said to God, ‘Let not your anger burn against me; let me speak just once more. Please let me test just once more with the fleece. Please let it be dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground let there be dew.’ And God did so that night; and it was dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground there was dew” (Judges 6:36-40 ESV).
Gideon’s example should thus encourage us whenever we feel unsure of God’s direction. His response tells us we can ask God to confirm His will for our lives if we do so with a similar attitude of respect.
With that, let’s continue with the account of Gideon’s life from Judges chapter seven…
“Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) and all the troops with him got up early and camped above En Harod. Midian’s camp was north of him at the hill of Moreh in the valley. The Lord said to Gideon, ‘You have too many men with you for me to hand Midian over to you. Israel might brag and say, ‘We saved ourselves.’ Announce to the troops, ‘Whoever is scared or frightened should leave Mount Gilead and go back home.’ ” So 22,000 men went back home, and 10,000 were left.
The Lord said to Gideon, ‘There are still too many men. Bring them down to the water, and I will test them for you there. If I say to you, ‘This one will go with you,’ he must go with you. And if I say to you, ‘This one won’t go with you,’ he must not go.”
So Gideon took the men down to the water. The Lord said to him, ‘Separate those who lap water with their tongues like dogs from those who kneel down to drink.’ Three hundred men lapped water with their hands to their mouths. All the rest of the men knelt down to drink water” (Judges 7:1-6 GNT).
We’ll consider a theory that may explain why God separated Gideon’s infantry in this manner next.
“And what more can I say? Time is too short for me to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets” (Hebrews 11:32 HCSB).
After instructing Gideon to redeploy his troops to an area where they could obtain drinking water, God proceeded to separate the members of Gideon’s army in an unusual manner…
“‘…the Lord told him, ‘Watch how each man gets a drink of water. Then divide them into two groups—those who lap the water like a dog and those who kneel down to drink. Three hundred men scooped up water in their hands and lapped it, and the rest knelt to get a drink.
”The Lord said, ‘Gideon, your army will be made up of everyone who lapped the water from their hands. Send the others home. I’m going to rescue Israel by helping you and your army of 300 defeat the Midianites’” (Judges 7:5-7 CEV).
So why would God make this kind of selection? One answer was given to us earlier within the Biblical text: “The Lord said to Gideon, ‘You have too many warriors with you. If I let all of you fight the Midianites, the Israelites will boast to me that they saved themselves by their own strength’” (Judges 7:2 NLT). However, there may have been another contributing factor.
You see, a soldier who drinks while kneeling down to face a water source is at a disadvantage. For instance, an enemy combatant might sneak up from behind, push that soldier’s face into the water, and hold it there until he drowned. However, the soldiers who brought water to their mouths maintained their situational awareness and avoided that danger. So even though they were fewer in number, these soldiers may have been better prepared to fulfill their mission objective…
“So Gideon sent the rest of the Israelites home but kept the three hundred, who took over the provisions and trumpets of the others. Now the camp of Midian lay below him in the valley.
During that night the Lord said to Gideon, ‘Get up, go down against the camp, because I am going to give it into your hands. If you are afraid to attack, go down to the camp with your servant Purah and listen to what they are saying. Afterward, you will be encouraged to attack the camp.’ So he and Purah his servant went down to the outposts of the camp.
The Midianites, the Amalekites and all the other eastern peoples had settled in the valley, thick as locusts. Their camels could no more be counted than the sand on the seashore. Gideon arrived just as a man was telling a friend his dream…” (Judges 7:8-13 NIV).
We’ll look at this dream (and its interpretation by Israel’s enemies) next.
“And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets” (Hebrews 11:32 KJV).
After God invited Gideon to approach the enemy encampment of the Midianites, the Biblical book of Judges records what happened next…
“…So Gideon took Purah and went down to the edge of the enemy camp. The armies of Midian, Amalek, and the people of the east had settled in the valley like a swarm of locusts. Their camels were like grains of sand on the seashore—too many to count! Gideon crept up just as a man was telling his companion about a dream.
The man said, ‘I had this dream, and in my dream a loaf of barley bread came tumbling down into the Midianite camp. It hit a tent, turned it over, and knocked it flat!’ His companion answered, ‘Your dream can mean only one thing—God has given Gideon son of Joash, the Israelite, victory over Midian and all its allies!’
When Gideon heard the dream and its interpretation, he bowed in worship before the Lord. Then he returned to the Israelite camp and shouted, ‘Get up! For the Lord has given you victory over the Midianite hordes!’” (Judges 7:11-15 NLT).
This portion of Scripture illustrates God’s grace and patience as He encouraged Gideon to face the seemingly insurmountable odds that lay before him. It also demonstrates how the Lord continued to support and reassure Gideon in the midst of his uncertainty. Those efforts helped transform Gideon from a frightened, reluctant farmer to a bold, confident man of God.
In fact, the Old Testament book of Psalms describes many similar attributes of God that serve to comfort and encourage us as we face the challenges of life. For instance…
“But You, O Lord, are a God full of compassion, and gracious, Longsuffering and abundant in mercy and truth” (Psalm 86:15).
“The Lord is merciful and gracious, Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy” (Psalm 103:8).
“The Lord is gracious and full of compassion, Slow to anger and great in mercy” (Psalm 145:8).
Thus, we have the Biblical encouragement to emulate these characteristics within our lives…
“Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others” (Colossians 3:12-13 NLT).
“And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets” (Hebrews 11:32 NET).
We continue with the account of Gideon’s attack upon a group of enemy soldiers as chronicled in the Biblical book of Judges…
“[Gideon] divided the three hundred men into three units and equipped every man with a trumpet and an empty jar, with a torch inside each jar. ‘Now watch me,’ he ordered them, ‘and do what I do. When I get to the outpost of the camp, do just what I do. When I blow the trumpet, along with all who are with me, then you blow the trumpets, all of you surrounding the whole camp. And then shout, ‘For the Lord and for Gideon!’
Gideon and one hundred of his men moved to the outpost of the camp at the middle watch of the night, when they had just changed the guards. Then they blew the trumpets and smashed the jars that were in their hands. So the three units blew their trumpets and broke their jars, holding the torches with their left hands and blowing the trumpets in their right hands. And they called out, ‘A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!’
Each man stood fast in his position around the camp, and the entire camp took off running, shouting, and fleeing. When the three hundred trumpets sounded, the Lord turned the swords of fellow soldiers against each other throughout the whole camp. The camp fled as far as Beth-shittah toward Zererah, to the border of Abel-meholah, beside Tabbath” (Judges 7:16-22 CEB).
So this narrative reminds us that it is not how we start, but how we finish that counts. You see, Gideon may have begun as a frightened and insecure individual, but God transformed him into a person of leadership and courage. Gideon responded to God’s call with honesty, humility, and respect, and the Lord responded by enabling him to overcome his initial reluctance. Thus, God empowered Gideon to fulfill his calling.
The good news is that this is just as true for us as it was for Gideon. If God could help a person like Gideon overcome His fearfulness, then He can certainly do the same for us as well. God has the ability to write Gideon’s story in each of our lives- and if He could do this for Gideon, He can do so for us.
Unfortunately, Gideon’s account did not end there, and we will examine a far less encouraging episode from Gideon’s life next.
“And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets” (Hebrews 11:32 NIV).
Unfortunately, Gideon’s account does not end with the Biblical record of his victory over the Midianites. You see, the Old Testament book of Judges continues with a subsequent portion of Gideon’s life…
“The Israelites said to Gideon, ‘Rule over us—you, your son and your grandson—because you have saved us from the hand of Midian.’ But Gideon told them, ‘I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The Lord will rule over you’” (Judges 8:22-23 NIV).
When the people of Israel offered to serve as Gideon’s royal subjects, Gideon countered with the proper response: “…’I’m not the one who will rule over you, and my son won’t rule over you either. The Lord rules over you’” (CEB). If Gideon had only stopped there, things might not have taken a turn for the worse…
“And he said, ‘I do have one request, that each of you give me an earring from your share of the plunder.’ (It was the custom of the Ishmaelites to wear gold earrings.) They answered, ‘We’ll be glad to give them.’ So they spread out a garment, and each man threw a ring from his plunder onto it.
The weight of the gold rings he asked for came to seventeen hundred shekels, not counting the ornaments, the pendants and the purple garments worn by the kings of Midian or the chains that were on their camels’ necks. Gideon made the gold into an ephod, which he placed in Ophrah, his town. All Israel prostituted themselves by worshiping it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and his family” (Judges 8:24-27 NIV).
So the interval following Gideon’s great victory over the Midianites turned into a period where he fell into a grave spiritual error. In like manner, we should also be alert to the tests and temptations that follow a significant victory in our lives. If we fail to remain spiritually vigilant, we may find ourselves in a similar situation.
Seventeen hundred shekels of gold represented about fifty pounds (23.7 kg) in weight. If that amount of gold was to find its way to a modern-day currency exchange, the resulting value would equate to hundreds of thousands of dollars. We’re then told that Gideon used that reward to create an ephod that he subsequently erected in his hometown.
An ephod was a garment that was typically worn by a priest. As mentioned earlier in our look at Hebrews, one of the primary responsibilities of a priest involved the act of representing others before God. A priest was also responsible for presenting the sacrificial offerings that were necessary to atone for the sins of the people. So why did Gideon choose to create this symbol of spiritual leadership? Therein lies an important spiritual lesson that we’ll consider next.
“What more can I say, then? I’ve run out of time to tell you about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets” Hebrews 11:32 NTE).
After Gideon received some of the gold that the men of Israel plundered in their victory over the Midianites, Judges 8:27 tells us what he did with it: “Gideon made a sacred ephod from the gold and put it in Ophrah, his hometown. But soon all the Israelites prostituted themselves by worshiping it, and it became a trap for Gideon and his family” (NLT).
It is difficult to find fault with Gideon’s initial request for financial recognition. However, it’s clear that Gideon used those assets inappropriately. Remember that Gideon was a farmer and military leader who received God’s call to deliver Israel from the Midianites. But in creating an ephod (a symbol of spiritual leadership), Gideon clearly moved outside God’s call upon his life. Not surprisingly, the results were disastrous.
Paul the Apostle’s message to the Corinthian church is instructive at this point…
“We will not boast about things done outside our area of authority. We will boast only about what has happened within the boundaries of the work God has given us, which includes our working with you” (2 Corinthians 10:13 NLT).
Unlike Paul the Apostle. Gideon did not observe the God-ordained boundaries of his work when he chose to create this ephod. He also demonstrated an alarming lack of discernment in creating this image, especially when we consider Israel’s long-standing bias towards idolatry. In light of this, 2 Corinthians 10:13 (along with Gideon’s example) reminds us of the need to “stay in our lanes,” lest we venture outside God’s agenda for our lives.
To be clear, this does not mean we cannot move forward in a venture of faith when a need or opportunity exists. However, there is no benefit to stepping outside our “comfort zones” if we seek to enter an arena where we do not belong. While it is true that we sometimes learn the boundaries of God’s calling when we experience failure in an area of work or ministry, that was not the case with Gideon, for he was clearly not called to a position of priestly leadership.
This ill-advised decision hurt Gideon, his family, and many others because he took it upon himself to do something that God had not called him to do. Thus, we can avoid causing spiritual injury to ourselves and others if we seek to “…stay within the limits of the work which God has set for us” (2 Corinthians 10:13 GNT).
“How much more do I need to say? It would take too long to recount the stories of the faith of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and all the prophets” (Hebrews 11:32 NLT).
So far, our tour through the Hebrews 11 “Faith Hall Of Fame” has stopped to look at some familiar Biblical personalities (such as Moses and Noah) as well as some lesser-known figures (such as Enoch and Rahab). In this study, we will turn our attention to one of the more obscure individuals in this chapter, a man named Barak.
Barak was an Israelite who lived during the period that is recorded for us in the Biblical book of Judges. The Israelites of that era had suffered for decades under the oppressive rule of a man named Jabin (Judges 4:3). Jabin held a leadership position among the Canaanites, a people group who formerly possessed the land that Israel conquered following their departure from Egypt.
God had earlier decided to remove the Canaanites and several other tribal societies from that area due to their sinful misconduct. However, many remained there despite God’s call to eradicate them (Deuteronomy 20:16-18). Not surprisingly, this led to a great deal of conflict between the Israelites and the Canaanites throughout the ensuing years.
In Barak’s time, Jabin enforced his rule over Israel through a military leader named Sisera. Sisera led an army that included nine hundred iron chariots (Judges 4:3), an impressive display of force that helped the Canaanites maintain control over that region. Unfortunately for Jabin and Sisera, they would soon learn an important lesson concerning the error of trusting in military strength alone…
“Deborah, the wife of Lappidoth, was a prophet who was judging Israel at that time. She would sit under the Palm of Deborah, between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites would go to her for judgment.
One day she sent for Barak son of Abinoam, who lived in Kedesh in the land of Naphtali. She said to him, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, commands you: Call out 10,000 warriors from the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun at Mount Tabor. And I will call out Sisera, commander of Jabin’s army, along with his chariots and warriors, to the Kishon River. There I will give you victory over him.’
Barak told her, ‘I will go, but only if you go with me.’ ‘Very well,’ she replied, ‘I will go with you. But you will receive no honor in this venture, for the Lord’s victory over Sisera will be at the hands of a woman.’ So Deborah went with Barak to Kedesh” (Judges 4:4-9).
This less-than-auspicious start will lead to a more favorable conclusion next.
“And what shall I more say? for the time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah; of David and Samuel and the prophets” (Hebrews 11:32 RV).
Judges 4:8 records Barak’s response to the prophetess Deborah and God’s call to rescue the people of Israel from the Canaanites: “‘I’m not going unless you go!’ Barak told her” (CEV). In light of that response, we may question how Barak ended up among these other members of the “Faith Hall Of Fame.”
The following passage from the Biblical book of Judges provides us with the answer….
“Then Deborah said to Barak, ‘Go! The Lord is leading you! Today he has given you victory over Sisera.’ So Barak went down from Mount Tabor with his ten thousand men. When Barak attacked with his army, the Lord threw Sisera into confusion together with all his chariots and men. Sisera got down from his chariot and fled on foot” (Judges 4:14-15 GNT).
So despite his initial hesitation, Barak faithfully acted on God’s command as given through His prophet. Consider the sequence of events that took place after Deborah and Barak departed to engage Sisera’s army…
- Deborah told Barak, “The Lord says go.”
- Barak moved forward on God’s directive.
- We’re then told, “At Barak’s advance, the LORD routed Sisera…” (Judges 4:15 NIV).
Once Barak demonstrated his faith by acting upon God’s call, God subsequently fulfilled His promise to deliver the people of Israel. In one respect, this account is reminiscent of Joshua’s experience with the city of Jericho. Like Joshua, Barak followed God’s directive and witnessed the fulfillment of His promise as a result. That expression of faith thus led to his recognition here in Hebrews 11.
As for Sisera, Judges chapter four records the gruesome account of his demise…
“Meanwhile, Sisera had fled on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, because there was peace between Hazor’s King Jabin and the family of Heber the Kenite… Then he said to her, ‘Stand at the entrance to the tent. That way, if someone comes and asks you, ‘Is there a man here?’ you can say, ‘No.’”
But Jael, Heber’s wife, picked up a tent stake and a hammer. While Sisera was sound asleep from exhaustion, she tiptoed to him. She drove the stake through his head and down into the ground, and he died. Just then, Barak arrived after chasing Sisera. Jael went out to meet him and said, ‘Come and I’ll show you the man you’re after.’
So he went in with her, and there was Sisera, lying dead, with the stake through his head. So on that day God brought down Canaan’s King Jabin before the Israelites. And the power of the Israelites grew greater and greater over Canaan’s King Jabin until they defeated him completely” (Judges 4:17, 20-24 CEB).
“Well, how much more do I need to say? It would take too long to recount the stories of the faith of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah and David and Samuel and all the other prophets” (Hebrews 11:32 TLB).
Our next member of the Hebrews 11 “Faith Hall Of Fame” is Samson, a man whose life story begins in Judges chapter thirteen. Unlike some of the other individuals mentioned in Hebrews chapter eleven, Samson is a name that is probably familiar to most, even those who are unfamiliar with the Biblical Scriptures.
While many are undoubtedly aware of Samson’s great physical strength, a closer look at his life tells us that he demonstrated that strength in a variety of ways. For example, Samson once defeated a thousand enemy fighters with nothing more than a jawbone (Judges 15:15). Samson also killed a lion with his bare hands (Judges 14:5-6), and could easily split ropes that were used to tie him (Judges 16:12). In light of these feats, it’s not surprising to learn that Samson served as Israel’s leader for twenty years (Judges 15:20).
Unfortunately, Samson entered into some personal relationships that were very bad for him. We can find the best-known example of that tendency in Judges 16:4-21. That portion of Scripture relates the account of a woman named Delilah, and how she convinced Samson to share the secret of his strength. Once she persuaded Samson to reveal his secret, she immediately betrayed him to his enemies.
Following Delilah’s betrayal, the Scriptures tell us that Samson’s enemies captured him, dug out his eyes, tied him up with bronze chains, imprisoned him, and set him to work milling grain. So how could someone like Samson, a man who was set apart by God and served as Israel’s national leader for twenty years, end up in that state?
Well, the unfortunate truth is Samson made several bad choices that ultimately led to disastrous consequences. Thus, he serves as a living embodiment of the cautionary message given to us in Galatians 6:7: “Do not deceive yourselves; no one makes a fool of God. You will reap exactly what you plant” (GNT).
Nevertheless, Samson’s experience finds an unlikely parallel in the life of Gideon, another member of the “Faith Hall Of Fame.” Much like Gideon, Samson’s example reminds us that it is not necessarily how we start, but how we finish that counts. After a life of recklessness and imprudence that ultimately led to imprisonment at the hands of his enemies, Samson turned to God in faith. We’ll examine that portion of Samson’s life next.
“And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets” (Hebrews 11:32 AMP).
After Samson foolishly shared the secret of his physical strength with a woman who deceived him, his Philistine enemies subsequently captured him. Samson’s captors mercilessly gouged out his eyes, imprisoned him, and set him to work at the grinding mill. Yet even though Samson was guilty of making some less-than-exemplary choices, the final act of his life served to demonstrate his faith…
“Now the rulers of the Philistines assembled to offer a great sacrifice to Dagon their god and to celebrate, saying, ‘Our god has delivered Samson, our enemy, into our hands.’ When the people saw him, they praised their god, saying, ‘Our god has delivered our enemy into our hands, the one who laid waste our land and multiplied our slain.’
While they were in high spirits, they shouted, ‘Bring out Samson to entertain us.’ So they called Samson out of the prison, and he performed for them. When they stood him among the pillars, Samson said to the servant who held his hand, ‘Put me where I can feel the pillars that support the temple, so that I may lean against them.’
Now the temple was crowded with men and women; all the rulers of the Philistines were there, and on the roof were about three thousand men and women watching Samson perform. Then Samson prayed to the LORD, ‘O Sovereign LORD, remember me. O God, please strengthen me just once more, and let me with one blow get revenge on the Philistines for my two eyes.’
Then Samson reached toward the two central pillars on which the temple stood. Bracing himself against them, his right hand on the one and his left hand on the other, Samson said, ‘Let me die with the Philistines!’ Then he pushed with all his might, and down came the temple on the rulers and all the people in it. Thus he killed many more when he died than while he lived” (Judges 16:23-30 NIV).
So despite his judgmental errors, Samson turned to God in faith in his final moments. Thus, he secured a place among these other members of the Hebrews 11 “Faith Hall Of Fame.”
Nevertheless, some critics may have difficulty reconciling this act of faith with the horrific deaths of three thousand human beings. In addressing this objection, we should note that those who perished had “…assembled to offer a great sacrifice to Dagon their god.” If they had not taken part in that idolatrous celebration, they would not have lost their lives. It also fails to recognize the fact that our Creator may require our lives at any moment. Therefore, we should carefully consider the state of our lives and the message of Corinthians 6:2…
“I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation” (NIV).
“What more can I say? I would run out of time if I told you about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets” (Hebrews 11:32 CEB).
As we move towards the end of our journey through Hebrews chapter eleven, we now pause to examine the life of a highly obscure member of the “Faith Hall Of Fame.” That individual is Jephthah, and we find the details of his life beginning in Judges chapter eleven.
Unlike Samson, it’s probably safe to say that many have never heard of Jephthah. Therefore, we might benefit from an introduction to this little-known member of the Hebrews “Hall of Fame.” Here is Jephthah’s Scriptural debut as given to us in Judges 11:1-2…
“Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty warrior. His father was Gilead; his mother was a prostitute. Gilead’s wife also bore him sons, and when they were grown up, they drove Jephthah away. ‘You are not going to get any inheritance in our family,’ they said, ‘because you are the son of another woman’” (NIV).
This was certainly not an auspicious beginning for a hero of the faith. Here we have a man who was born out of wedlock as the son of a prostitute, and rejected by his siblings. Those negative family dynamics eventually led Jephthah to seek a change of address…
“So Jephthah fled from his father’s home and lived in the land of Tob. Soon he had quite a band of malcontents as his followers, living off the land as bandits. It was about this time that the Ammonites began their war against Israel.
“The leaders of Gilead sent for Jephthah, begging him to come and lead their army against the Ammonites. But Jephthah said to them, ‘Why do you come to me when you hate me and have driven me out of my father’s house? Why come now when you’re in trouble?’
“‘Because we need you,” they replied. ‘If you will be our commander-in-chief against the Ammonites, we will make you the king of Gilead.’
“‘Sure!’ Jephthah exclaimed. ‘Do you expect me to believe that?’ ‘We swear it,’ they replied. ‘We promise with a solemn oath’” (Judges 11:3-10 TLB).
If we read further into this narrative, we find that Jephthah first tried to talk things over with the Ammonites (see Judges 11:12-28). Unfortunately, the Ammonites didn’t seem very interested in talking. That was an unwise decision, for the Spirit of the Lord subsequently came upon Jephthah and he began a successful military campaign against Israel’s enemies (Judges 11:32).
However, Jephthah also made a tragic decision that we’ll read about next.
“Do I need to give you more examples? I don’t have enough time to tell you about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets” (Hebrews 11:32 ERV).
Prior to his military advance against the Ammonites, Judges 11:30-31 tells us that Jephthah offered the following pledge…
“And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord, and said, ‘If You will indeed deliver the people of Ammon into my hands, then it will be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the people of Ammon, shall surely be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering.’”
This was a terrible mistake, for when Jephthah returned home from his victory over the Ammonites, here’s what happened next…
“When Jephthah came to his house at Mizpah, there was his daughter, coming out to meet him with timbrels and dancing; and she was his only child. Besides her he had neither son nor daughter” (Judges 11:34).
Jephthah’s triumph over Israel’s enemies should have been cause for a joyous celebration, but his foolish vow turned it into an occasion of incredible sorrow. So after a short time to mourn her fate, Judges 11:39 tells us that Jephthah’s daughter then “returned to her father and he did to her as he had vowed” (NIV).
Hebrew and Christian scholars debate as to whether Jephthah actually presented his daughter as a sacrificial offering or simply committed her to a life of consecrated service and celibacy. While a definitive answer may be impossible, one commentator from an earlier generation reminds us to focus upon what’s most important…
“Concerning this and some other such passages in the sacred history, about which learned men are divided and in doubt, we need not perplex ourselves; what is necessary to our salvation, thanks be to God, is plain enough.” (1)
Nevertheless, it’s clear that Jephthah could have avoided this awful situation if he had not taken this foolish vow. Perhaps this is why Proverbs 20:25 tells us, “It is foolish and rash to make a promise to the Lord before counting the cost” (TLB). The Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes adds, “Don’t talk before you think or make promises to God without thinking them through. God is in heaven, and you are on earth, so don’t talk too much” (Ecclesiastes 5:2 CEV).
Unfortunately, there are many who continue to follow this poor example in various ways. We’ll consider some practical applications that can help us avoid that mistake next.
(1) Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary [Judges 11:29] https://bibleapps.com/mhc/judges/11.htm
“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” (Hebrews 11:32 MEV).
Although God enabled Jephthah to secure a resounding victory over one of Israel’s great historic enemies, his foolish vow brought great sorrow in the midst of his triumph. Unfortunately, there are many who continue to follow this example through vows and oaths of their own. For instance, how often have we heard statements like these while engaged in casual conversation…
- “So help me God…”
- “I swear, I’m going to…”
- “As God is my witness…”
Unfortunately, it often seems as if people give little thought to statements like these. However, Jesus issued a solemn warning to those who would take such oaths…
“But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one” (Matthew 5:34-37).
It is important to remember that the term, “I swear…” equates to a vow, even when used informally. In addition to Jesus’ warning from the Gospel of Matthew, we also have the following counsel from the New Testament epistle of James…
“But most of all, my brothers and sisters, never take an oath, by heaven or earth or anything else. Just say a simple yes or no so that you will not sin and be condemned for it” (James 5:12 NLT).
So what does Jephthah’s experience tell us? Well, there are several lessons we can glean from Jephthah’s life…
- First, Jephthah’s example tells us that anyone can have a “hall of fame” type of faith, regardless of his or her family origin.
- Next, we should remember that the people of Jephthah’s hometown were content to exile him to a foreign land. But that changed when they needed him to help defeat their enemies. Nevertheless, Jephthah did not hold that slight against them. Instead, he accepted their leadership offer, and God used him to deliver the people from their adversaries.
- Finally, Jephthah’s example reminds us that bad choices often bring terrible consequences. But even a foolish decision (like the one Jephthah made) will not necessarily keep someone from entering God’s Faith Hall Of Fame.
“And what other examples shall I give? There is simply not time to continue by telling the stories of Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jeptha; of David, Samuel and the prophets” (Hebrews 11:32 Phillips).
Our next “Hall Of Fame” member is David, the former king of Israel. Although David is far better known to contemporary audiences, he was a man much like Jephthah in certain respects. For example, David was someone who faced rejection from his family, much like Jephthah (see 1 Samuel 17:12-29). In a similar manner, David also became the leader of a group of malcontents, rebels, and anti-establishment types, just like Jephthah (1 Samuel 22:1-2).
David and Jephthah were also successful military leaders (1 Samuel 18:13-14), and both had faith in God (1 Samuel 17:45-46). Finally, David and Jephthah each made at least one unwise choice. Jephthah’s decision involved a foolish oath that committed him to sacrifice whatever emerged from his home following his successful military campaign against Israel’s enemies. David’s choice involved his sexual affair with Bathsheba, a woman who was married to another man.
When Bathsheba was found to be pregnant as a result of their encounter, David responded by summoning her husband Uriah from the battlefield. After two failed attempts to encourage Uriah to sleep with his wife, David sent him back to the war zone with specific orders for his deployment. David instructed his commanding officer to send Uriah to the hottest part of the battlefront, while the other members of his military unit withdrew. Uriah, along with some others, subsequently perished in combat.
Following a period of mourning, David took the occasion of Uriah’s death to marry Bathsheba, his widow. However, that portion of the account of David’s life ends with the ominous words of 2 Samuel 11:27: “…But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord.” Although David ultimately confessed his sin with Bathsheba and received forgiveness, his rule was subsequently plagued by tragedies and setbacks from that point forward.
Yet despite these things, the Scriptures tell us that David was a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22) and we cannot overlook his genuine love for God. Today, David is rightfully honored for his faith and Hebrews chapter eleven places him alongside these other members of the Biblical “Hall of Fame.” So just as we saw in our earlier look at the life of Jephthah, David’s experience tells us that a grievous mistake is not necessarily enough to keep one from entering God’s “Faith Hall Of Fame.”
“And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets” (Hebrews 11:32 NASB).
The final example of genuine Biblical faith from Hebrews chapter eleven involves the prophet Samuel. The Old Testament account of Samuel’s life tells us that he was a man who was dedicated to the Lord from his earliest youth (1 Samuel chapter one). He later went on to represent God before a wide variety of people. That list included the members of Israel’s general population, other priests, and the king of Israel himself. Samuel also served as a trusted confidant, political leader, and traveling magistrate at various points throughout his life as well.
The Biblical account of Samuel’s life (found mostly within the first twenty chapters of 1 Samuel), identifies him as someone who led an exemplary life of faith and service before God. In fact, Jeremiah 15:1 characterizes Samuel (along with Moses) as someone who clearly occupied a favored position with God. However, there is one aspect of Samuel’s life that speaks to the challenges involved in raising children who seek to honor God…
“As Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons to be judges over Israel. Joel and Abijah, his oldest sons, held court in Beersheba. But they were not like their father, for they were greedy for money. They accepted bribes and perverted justice” (1 Samuel 8:1-3 NLT).
It may be said that no one lead a more praiseworthy Old Testament life than Samuel. But somehow, his children did not follow his good example. While the Scriptural record does not tell us how or why this happened, it appears that Samuel somehow failed to convey his personal love and respect for God to his sons.
This unfortunate example links the great prophet Samuel with those parents who have worked to instill Biblical values in their children only to see them abandon those values in adulthood. These parents understand the heartbreak involved in watching a child suffer the repercussions that are often associated with unbiblical choices despite their efforts to help their child make decisions that honor God. For a man like Samuel, the conduct of his sons must have been something that brought him a great deal of pain.
However, there is more to this account of Samuel’s life. The behavior of Samuel’s children prompted Israel’s leaders to ask Samuel to appoint a monarch, much like the other nations that surrounded their country. We’ll close our brief look at Samuel’s life by examining that sequence of events next.
“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” (Hebrews 11:32 RSV).
The Biblical book of 1 Samuel relates the account of the prophet Samuel and the dishonorable conduct of his sons, Joel and Abijah. Although Samuel’s children held positions of power and influence as judges over Israel, they leveraged those positions for personal gain. According to 1 Samuel 8:3, these men “…were greedy for money. They accepted bribes and were very corrupt in the administration of justice” (TLB).
This unfortunate situation deteriorated to the point where Israel’s national leadership felt the need to take action. However, the change they had in mind served to expose their misguided priorities…
“Finally, all the elders of Israel met at Ramah to discuss the matter with Samuel. ‘Look,’ they told him, ‘you are now old, and your sons are not like you. Give us a king to judge us like all the other nations have’” (1 Samuel 8:4-5).
That led God to respond to Samuel in the following manner…
“‘Do everything they say to you,’ the Lord replied, ‘for they are rejecting me, not you. They don’t want me to be their king any longer. Ever since I brought them from Egypt they have continually abandoned me and followed other gods. And now they are giving you the same treatment’” (1 Samuel 8:7-8 NLT).
God then told Samuel to warn the people about the consequences they would suffer under a king (1 Samuel 8:10-17). But that warning made no difference to Samuel’s audience…
“‘When that day comes, you will beg for relief from this king you are demanding, but then the Lord will not help you.’ But the people refused to listen to Samuel’s warning. ‘Even so, we still want a king,’ they said” (1 Samuel 8:18-19 NLT).
This sequence presents us with some interesting dynamics, none of which were good. First, the dishonorable conduct of Samuel’s sons led the elders of Israel to seek a change in judicial leadership. If Samuel’s two sons had chosen to follow their father’s God-honoring example, it’s likely that no one would have sought to make a change. But in asking for a king, the leaders of Israel exploited this situation as a means to pursue their rejection of God.
For Samuel, it must have been difficult to watch the people make this request, especially knowing that his sons provided the motivation for that demand. In circumstances like this, it takes genuine, Biblical faith to maintain the confident expectation that God will bring something good from a bad situation. Thus, we are reminded of Jesus’ message from the New Testament Gospel of Matthew: “…with God, everything is possible” (Matthew 19:26).
“who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions” (Hebrews 11:33).
Having spent much of this chapter extolling those who exemplified genuine faith, verses 33-40 will end this portion of our author’s letter with a list of their accomplishments. Nevertheless, we should not limit our view of this passage to those who appear here in Hebrews chapter eleven. Instead, these closing verses also pertain to others, as implied in the opening verse of the following chapter. While many of those individuals may be unknown to history, they are certainly well-known to God.
In looking at this passage, we can cite several Biblical personalities who fit the parameters given to us in this verse. For instance, the first characteristic quality listed in verse thirty-three is this: “Through faith they conquered kingdoms…” (CEB). While Joshua and David are undoubtedly the best-known examples of those who conquered kingdoms, we could add Hezekiah to that list as well (2 Kings 18:1-8).
In addition, the Old Testament book of 2 Chronicles mentions another leader named Uzziah who was highly successful in subduing the kingdoms held by several ancient enemies of God’s people. However, Uzziah’s life serves as a better illustration of our need to honor God in humility no matter how successful we become (see 2 Chronicles 26).
Then we have a reference to those who “worked righteousness.” In this context, “righteousness” refers to the quality of being right or just. (1) There are several Biblical examples we can follow in this respect. They include such exemplary Biblical characters as Jacob’s son Joseph and John the Baptist. Israel’s King Hezekiah also deserves mention here in light of his extensive spiritual reforms.
With respect to those who “obtained promises,” we can look to several of those who have already been mentioned throughout this chapter, including Abraham, Moses, and David. Joshua and Caleb would fit this category as well.
Finally, we have those who “stopped the mouths of lions.” The unquestioned leader among those who fit this description is the prophet Daniel. God’s gracious act of providence in allowing Daniel to emerge unscathed from an overnight stay in a lion’s den (as detailed in Daniel chapter six) is widely familiar to the religious and secular alike. However, there were some other “heroes of the faith” who also accomplished this feat, including Samson and David.
The following verse continues with this list of positive qualities, and we’ll consider several of them next.
(1) G1343 dikaiosune https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/g1343/kjv/tr/0-1/
“quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens” (Hebrews 11:34).
When it comes to those who “quenched the violence of fire,” we need look no further than the example given to us by Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the Biblical book of Daniel. Daniel chapter three relates the account of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar and his decision to erect an enormous gold statue. He then issued the following mandate to his subjects…
“Trumpets, flutes, harps, and all other kinds of musical instruments will soon start playing. When you hear the music, you must bow down and worship the statue that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. Anyone who refuses will at once be thrown into a flaming furnace” (Daniel 3:5-6 CEV).
That decree met with widespread compliance among the members of Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom. However, there were three individuals who declined to follow the king’s edict- and their decision did not escape the notice of others who promptly reported them to the king: “…Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, refuse to worship your gods and the statue you have set up” (Daniel 3:12 CEV).
That led to the following exchange between Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego and the king…
“[Nebuchadnezzar said,] ‘I hear that you refuse to worship my gods and the gold statue I have set up. Now I am going to give you one more chance. If you bow down and worship the statue when you hear the music, everything will be all right. But if you don’t, you will at once be thrown into a flaming furnace. No god can save you from me.”
The three men replied, ‘Your Majesty, we don’t need to defend ourselves. The God we worship can save us from you and your flaming furnace. But even if he doesn’t, we still won’t worship your gods and the gold statue you have set up’” (Daniel 3:14-18 CEV).
This made Nebuchadnezzar so furious that he raised the furnace temperature to a level that was seven times hotter than normal. He then ordered his strongest soldiers to bind the three young men and toss them into the fire (Daniel 3:19-23). Here’s what happened next..
“Suddenly the king jumped up and shouted, ‘Weren’t only three men tied up and thrown into the fire?’ ‘Yes, Your Majesty,’ his officers answered.
‘But I see four men walking around in the fire,’ the king replied. ‘None of them is tied up or harmed, and the fourth one looks like a god’” (Daniel 3:24-26 CEV).
So by trusting God to protect them by faith in the midst of their fiery ordeal, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego personified the message of Hebrews 11:34.
“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” (Hebrews 11:34 ESV).
The ancient figure of a sword is often used to represent the concept of power and authority. For instance, the New Testament book of Romans makes use of this imagery in speaking of our relationship to human government…
“For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil” (Romans 13:3-4).
While the book of Romans employs this concept in a figurative sense, we can point to several Biblical examples of those who “escaped the edge of the sword” in a literal manner. Some of those individuals include…
- Moses. Moses escaped the sword of Pharaoh, the leader of the world’s most powerful nation during his lifetime (Exodus 2:15).
- David. He escaped the sword of Goliath as well as Israel’s king Saul (1 Samuel 17:1-58, 1 Samuel 19:9-10).
- Elijah. Elijah escaped a death threat issued by the infamous Queen Jezebel (1 Kings 19:1-3).
Then there is a reference to those who “were made strong out of weakness” here in Hebrews 11:34. Gideon serves as an obvious example of this quality, in addition to other Biblical personalities such as Moses, Sarah, Esther, and Samson as well. This characteristic also recalls another passage from the Biblical book of Romans…
“Who are you to judge the servants of someone else? It is their own Master who will decide whether they succeed or fail. And they will succeed, because the Lord is able to make them succeed” (Romans 14:4 GNT).
Finally, we have a reference to those who “became valiant in battle” (NKJV) within this passage. Hebrews chapter eleven provides us with several individuals who fit this description, including Abraham, Joshua, Barak, Jephthah, and David.
Yet even though this passage emphasizes the victorious nature of God’s provision, the following verses will also provide us with an important counterbalance. You see, many Godly men and women escaped the edge of the sword, but some did not. This reminds us to take an objective view of this passage and acknowledge that faith does not guarantee our success in every situation.
“Women received their dead raised to life again. Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection” (Hebrews 11:35).
Two of the more prominent Biblical examples of women who “received their loved ones back from death” (CEV) are found in the Old Testament books of 1 and 2 Kings. In our first example, God directed the prophet Elijah to go to a town called Zarephath where He had arranged for someone to provide for his needs.
Upon his arrival in Zarephath, Elijah encountered a widow who had been gathering sticks to build a fire. She intended to use that fire to prepare a final meal with the last of the flour and oil she possessed. However, Elijah asked her to provide him with a small loaf of bread in advance, and assured her that her supplies would not run out. 1 Kings 17:15 then goes on to tell us, “…she went away and did according to the word of Elijah; and she and he and her household ate for many days.”
Unfortunately, we’re also told that this widow’s son later died from an illness. Elijah sought the Lord on her behalf, and 1 Kings 17:22 records God’s response: “…the Lord heard the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came back to him, and he revived.” That prompted the following acknowledgment from the widow of Zarephath: “…’Now by this I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is the truth’” (1 Kings 17:22).
In our second example, a kindly woman from the town of Shunem took it upon herself to prepare a meal for the prophet Elisha whenever he traveled through her area. She even furnished a guest room for his personal use whenever he was passing through. One day, while Elisha was partaking of her hospitality, he told the woman that she would give birth to a son in the following year. That prophetic statement eventually came to pass, just as he promised.
Unfortunately, the child succumbed to an apparent cerebral injury some time later. His mother rushed to inform Elisha, and he returned to Shunem at her insistence. When the curative action taken by his servant failed to revive the child, Elisha intervened and God miraculously restored the life of her son (see 2 Kings 4:8-37 for the complete account).
Thus, the examples set by these women serve to remind us of our author’s message from earlier in Hebrews chapter eleven: “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).
“Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection” (Hebrews 11:35 NIV).
The closing portion of Hebrews 11:35 speaks of “others were tortured [to death], refusing to accept release [offered on the condition of denying their faith], so that they would be resurrected to a better life” (AMP). While these individuals might have sought to escape that terrible fate, they clearly preferred the eternal value of an honorable death before God.
As mentioned earlier, this passage serves to remind us that faith does not guarantee our deliverance in every instance. The Biblical letter of 1 Peter builds upon that reminder and helps us maintain the right perspective…
“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:12-13 NIV).
We can also gain insight into this portion of Hebrews with a look at one of Jesus’ parables…
“Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.
But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall” (Matthew 7:24:27).
It’s important to note that the same storm descended upon each of these homes. This implies that a life that is built upon the foundation of Christ is not necessarily immune from the common storms of life.
For instance, consider a scenario where God’s people never suffered through a financial issue, a physical ailment, an employment problem, or a business reversal. What would happen if a follower of Christ never wrecked an automobile, failed at school, or lost a loved one? Under those circumstances, Christianity would undoubtedly hold a far greater appeal for many. That appeal would have little or nothing to do with Jesus, but would simply serve as a vehicle to secure an easier life.
However, a life built on the secure foundation of Christ can stand against the storms of life and thus serves to encourage those who seek “…to deserve a more honourable resurrection in the world to come” (Phillips).
“Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment” (Hebrews 11:36).
We can look to an event that took place during Jesus’ earthly ministry for insight on how to respond whenever we experience the type of mockery described here in Hebrews 11:36…
“Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. He pleaded earnestly with him, ‘My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.’ So Jesus went with him” (Mark 5:22-24 NIV).
But prior to their arrival at Jairus’ home, “…some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. ‘Your daughter is dead,’ they said. ‘Why bother the teacher anymore?’” (Mark 5:34-35 NIV). That led to Jesus’ response…
“Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, ‘Don’t be afraid; just believe.’ …When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. He went in and said to them, ‘Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.’ But they laughed at him” (Mark 5:36, 38-40 NIV).
So the weeping and crying among this group of mourners turned to mockery and ridicule as they “…laughed [Jesus] to scorn” (KJV). Nevertheless, Mark 5:40 tells us, “…After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was” (NIV).
We should notice that Jesus did not attempt to strike back at those who mocked Him, nor did He insult them in return. Instead, He “…sent them all out of the house” (CEV) and took control of the situation…
“Then He took the child by the hand, and said to her, ‘Talitha, cumi,’ which is translated, ‘Little girl, I say to you, arise.’ Immediately the girl arose and walked, for she was twelve years of age. And they were overcome with great amazement. But He commanded them strictly that no one should know it, and said that something should be given her to eat” (Mark 5:40-43).
So those who mocked Jesus were dismissed from His presence. But those who put their faith and trust in Him received an opportunity to see His miraculous work in this child’s life. Thus, as we are reminded in the New Testament epistle of 1 Peter…
“If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified” (1 Peter 4:14).
“Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated–” (Hebrews 11:36-37 ESV).
One source offers further insight into this reference to “chains and imprisonment” here in Hebrews 11:36: “[This refers] broadly to many within Israel’s history who experienced inhumane treatment at the hands of others (Jer 37:4–21; 20:1–2; 2 Chr 16:7–10; 1 Kgs 22:26–27; 4 Macc 12:2). The price of remaining faithful to God was often suffering, pain, and prison.” (1)
In addition, this passage reminds us that other faithful individuals were stoned to death, such as a prophet named Zechariah. Then we are presented with the horrific image of those who were “sawn asunder.” The Biblical prophet Isaiah may be the person who is most associated with this fate…
“Traditionally, Isaiah suffered death at King Manasseh’s hand by being ‘sawn in two.’ [a] ‘According to … mutually complementary rabbinic sources, Manasseh, enraged because Isaiah had prophesied the destruction of the Temple, ordered his arrest. Isaiah fled to the hill country and hid in the trunk of a cedar tree. He was discovered when the king ordered the tree cut down. Isaiah was tortured with a saw because he had taken refuge in the trunk of a tree…” [b] (2)
Hebrews 11:37 continues this brutal imagery with a reference to those who were “slain with the sword.” A third source brings us face-to-face with this cold-blooded, historic reality…
“Some through faith, we have been told, ‘escaped the edge of the sword’, but some through faith ‘were slain with the sword’. Elijah escaped Jezebel’s vengeance, but other prophets of the Lord were ‘slain … with the sword’ at that time (I Kings 19: 10).
If Jeremiah was delivered from Jehoiakim when that king sought his life, his fellow-prophet Uriah was not so fortunate; he foretold the doom of Judah and Jerusalem in similar terms to Jeremiah, and when he fled to Egypt he was extradited from there and brought before Jehoiakim, ‘who slew him with the sword, and cast his dead body into the grave of the common people’ (Jer. 26:23).
By faith one lived, and by faith the other died. So too in the apostolic age Herod Agrippa I ‘killed James the brother of John with the sword’ (Acts 12: 2); but when he tried to do the same to Peter, Peter escaped his hands.” (3)
Thus, as this same source concludes…
“Faith in God carries with it no guarantee of comfort in this world: this was no doubt one of the lessons which our author wished his readers to learn. But it does carry with it great ‘recompense of reward’ in the only world that ultimately matters.” (4)
(1) John D. Barry et al., Faithlife Study Bible (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012, 2016), Heb 11:36.
(2) [a] The Martyrdom of Isaiah 5:1-14, [b] William L. Lane, Hebrews 9—13, p. 390. Quoted in Constable, Thomas. DD., Notes on Hebrews 2023 Edition, [11:35b-38] https://www.planobiblechapel.org/tcon/notes/html/nt/hebrews/hebrews.htm
(3) The New International Commentary On The New Testament – The Epistle To The Hebrews, F. F. Bruce, General Editor © Copyright 1964, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Grand Rapids, Michigan [pg. 341]
(4) Ibid , p. 342
“They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated–of whom the world was not worthy–wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth” (Hebrews 11:37-38).
The best-known Old Testament example of a God-honoring person who “went about in skins of sheep and goats” is undoubtedly Elijah, the famous Biblical prophet. In fact, it appears that Elijah’s clothing made him instantly recognizable to others of his era. For instance, the Biblical book of 2 Kings relates the account of an injury suffered by Israel’s king Ahaziah. When Ahaziah sent messengers to “… inquire of Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron”(2 Kings 1:2) regarding his recovery, they were stopped by a man who gave them the following message…
“…’Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going to inquire of Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron?’ Now therefore, thus says the Lord: ‘You shall not come down from the bed to which you have gone up, but you shall surely die’” (2 Kings 1:3-4).
When the king’s messengers returned with this report, Ahaziah asked where they had gotten their information. While these emissaries could not identify the source of their information, the king knew exactly who was involved…
“Then he said to them, ‘What kind of man was it who came up to meet you and told you these words?’ So they answered him, ‘A hairy man wearing a leather belt around his waist.’ And he said, ‘It is Elijah the Tishbite’” (2 Kings 1:7-8).
Although Ahaziah later attempted to arrest Elijah (a decision that cost the lives of two army captains and one hundred soldiers), he eventually “…died according to the word of the Lord which Elijah had spoken” (see 2 Kings 1:9-17). Nevertheless, we should remember that it was inherently dangerous to confront an influential leader in this manner- and others who did so were not so fortunate. (1) Therefore, we should not be surprised to learn that some among God’s followers were “destitute, afflicted, [and] mistreated” as mentioned here in Hebrews 11:37.
Then there were others (like Israel’s king David) who were forced to hide in caves from those who sought to arrest them. The same was true of those who lived during Gideon’s era, for that was a time when “…the children of Israel made for themselves the dens, the caves, and the strongholds which are in the mountains” to protect themselves from the destruction inflicted upon them by the neighboring people of Midian (Judges 6:1-6).
So, unlike those who sought to find their place in this world, these “heroes of the faith” ultimately found that this world was unworthy of their place within it.
(1) As illustrated by Elijah’s New Testament counterpart, John the Baptist.
“And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise” (Hebrews 11:39).
It is difficult to resolve the tension between the faith of those mentioned here in Hebrews chapter eleven and the terrible events that befell some of them. When tragic events occur to God’s faithful today, we can draw strength from the encouraging message found in Romans 8:28: “…all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”
Whenever we face uncertainty regarding the way things have transpired in our lives, we can say that God has a definite purpose behind those events, even if we struggle to understand that purpose. When God allows us to experience those troubles and hardships, it helps to remember that He always has reasons for doing so.
For example, God may allow difficult times to enter our lives to strengthen us (2 Corinthians 12:10) and to increase our trust in Him (Psalm 50:14-15). We can also say that God uses such difficulties to help us develop patience (Romans 5:3-5) and endurance (as we read earlier in Hebrews 10:35-38). God may take the circumstances of our lives and use them as an example to others and demonstrate the proper way to handle trials and problems (2 Thessalonians 1:4). Finally, God may allow difficulties to enter our lives for the purpose of helping others who will later go through similar experiences (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
With these things in mind, it helps to remember that tests do not always take the form of an exam or essay. Instead, the person who can view his or her problems as opportunities to exercise the kind of faith that pleases God is someone who can develop the spiritual endurance that our author will discuss later in the opening verse of the following chapter.
There would be no need for faith if God never allowed us to enter a circumstance that required us to exercise it. Moreover, there are options available to us whenever we face situations that challenge our faith. We can say, “Why did God allow this to happen to me?” Or we can say, “This is an opportunity to exercise the kind of faith that is pleasing to God.” As one commentator has observed, “The OT figures mentioned in ch. 11 did not experience the salvation of Christ’s new covenant during their lifetimes (9:15). Rather, they saw the promise from afar and eagerly awaited its fulfillment (vv. 13, 16).” (1)
(1) John D. Barry et al., Faithlife Study Bible (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012, 2016), Heb 11:39.
“God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us” (Hebrews 11:40).
Our lengthy journey through Hebrews chapter eleven has now come to an end here in verse forty. As we close our look at this portion of Scripture and prepare for our entry into Hebrews chapter twelve, the examples set by these “heroes of the faith” offer an opportunity to reflect upon Jesus’ message from the Gospel of Matthew…
“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:31-34).
Finally, several commentators lend some important closing thoughts to this final verse…
“The faith of OT saints looked forward to the promised salvation, whereas the faith of those after Christ looks back to the fulfillment of the promise. Both groups are characterized by genuine faith and are saved by Christ’s atoning work on the cross (cf. Eph 2:8, 9).” (1)
“The Greek phrasing emphasizes this point by negating the opposite: ‘so that they would not be made perfect without us.’” (2)
“Hebrews 11 has been called faith’s hall of fame. No doubt the author surprised his readers by this conclusion: These mighty Jewish heroes did not receive all that God had promised because they died before Christ came. In God’s plan, they and the Christian believers (who were also enduring much testing) would be rewarded together.” (3)
“In the end he says a great thing. All these died before the final unfolding of God’s promise and the coming of his Messiah into the world. It was as if God had so arranged things that the full blaze of his glory should not be revealed until we and they can enjoy it together. The writer to the Hebrews is saving: ‘See! the glory of God has come. But see what it cost to enable it to come! That is the faith which gave you your religion. What can you do but be true to a heritage like that?’” (4)
“Verses 39-40 summarize the chapter by relating the list of exemplary witnesses to the audience’s experience, and they provide a transition to the argument of 12:1-13.” (5)
(1) John F. MacArthur Jr., The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2006), Heb 11:40
(2) NET Bible notes on Hebrews 11:40 https://classic.net.bible.org/bible.php?book=Heb&chapter=11&mode=print
(3) Life Application Study Bible [Hebrews 11:39-40] Copyright © 1988, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1996, 2004 by Tyndale House Publishers Inc., all rights reserved.
(4) Barclay, William. William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible, “The Defiance Of Suffering (Heb_11:35-40).”
(5) Constable, Thomas. DD., Notes on Hebrews 2023 Edition, [11:39-40] https://www.planobiblechapel.org/tcon/notes/html/nt/hebrews/hebrews.htm