Hebrews With A Hebrew – Part 24

Written by Neil Silverberg

April 22, 2024

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it, the people of old received their commendation. 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 11:1-2).

This chapter is an example of how chapter divisions can be misleading. For this chapter is a continuation of what the writer said at the closing of chapter 10:

But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For,Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.” But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.

Hebrews 10:32-39

In this previous chapter, the writer spoke of the need for believers to endure in the midst of their suffering. He quotes from three Old Testament prophets (Isaiah 26:20, Haggai 2:6, and Habakkuk 2:3-4), the main quote from Habakkuk. It’s a warning against shrinking back into unbelief, the same warning the writer resounded throughout the letter. But he reinforces that he doesn’t think they are shrinking back in unbelief but are those “who have faith and preserve their souls” (10:39). In other words, they endure to the end.

But what exactly is faith? He defines it as: “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation” (11:1-2). Faith is “assurance of things hoped for” (11:1). Faith is assured of certain things it hopes for. This is different than merely hoping that things get better. It is a calm assurance that the things hoped for are realities.

The writer then lists the names of several saints from Hebrew history who possessed this quality of enduring faith. They lived as though the invisible things they hoped for were visible. He begins, not with a person who possessed faith, but with the fact it is by faith alone that we understand God created all things ex nihilo (out of nothing): “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” (11:3). The list continues with several Hebrews, beginning with Abel and God’s acceptance of his offering while rejecting his brother Cain’s. This is followed by a reference to Enoch and his translation from this world because he pleased God: “By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God” (11:5)

The writer then reminds his readers that it is impossible to please God without this component of faith: And without faith, it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (11:5-6). The list briefly mentions Noah and then spends considerable time describing the faith of Abraham. Hebrews highlights his willingness to leave Ur of the Chaldea and journey to a land he did not know. Living as a stranger in tents with Isaac and Jacob, by faith, he looked for his heavenly city. Abraham’s wife, Sarah, is cited for her faith in conceiving at her age. Not only did she have faith to personally conceive a child, but “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” (11:12).

The faith of Abraham is further described by his willingness to offer up as a sacrifice his son Isaac. And, of course, Moses’ parent’s faith is recognized by their willingness to release him on the Nile. Furthermore, Moses’ refusal to remain in Pharaoh’s court, identifying with a race of slaves rather than enjoying the riches of Egypt, was due to his faith. And a whole host of others are mentioned: “Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection” (11:33-35).

But the list includes those who by faith suffered greatly, not only those who were delivered by their faith: “Some were tortured, refusing to accept release so that they might rise again to a better life. 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— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth” (11:35-38).

But they all, “though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect” (11:39-40). This last paragraph, which closes the chapter, provides an overview of the Old and New Covenant. It underscores why there had to be a New Covenant in the first place. While God praised the Old Testament fathers for their faith, they still didn’t receive what was promised. What had God promised that they did not receive? It was the hope of the resurrection—that God would someday resurrect both the dead and the living saints. That is what is meant by the phrase “apart from us, they should not be made perfect.” What was promised in the Old is now fulfilled in the New at the return of the Messiah.


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