Hebrews Part 2.3 (Chapter 11 Verse 11 through Chapter 11 Verse 31)

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PART TWO

What We Are to Do with This Supreme Treasure
(Chapter 10 Verse 19 to Chapter 13 Verse 25)

Hebrews chapter 11 verses 11-12
By faith Abraham, even though he was past age—and Sarah herself was barren—was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.

Commentary
“By faith” Abraham also “was enabled to become a father.” He was 99 years old, past the age of begetting a child, when Isaac’s coming birth was announced to him. Sarah also was barren, and yet the two conceived a child by God’s miraculous working. From such a small beginning—“this one man”—and from such a miraculous beginning—“he as good as dead”—came descendants as countless as the proverbial stars in the sky and sand on the seashore.

Physically all Israel counts its beginning from Abraham; spiritually all believers in his greatest descendant, Christ, call him father. So rich was the harvest that came from him, and it came by faith! Abraham “considered him faithful who had made the promise.” Abraham trusted a God who could never be unfaithful and a promise that therefore could not remain unfulfilled. When it comes to God and his promises, the word impossible does not belong in a Christian’s vocabulary.

Hebrews chapter 11 verses 13-16
All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

Commentary
The author has more to say about Abraham’s faith. Before he does, though, he pauses to emphasize some common qualities found in Abraham’s faith as well as in the faith of the other patriarchs. All these died without receiving the things promised. Abraham and Isaac, Jacob and Joseph never saw God’s promises fulfilled. Though Abraham lived to see Isaac’s birth, he never saw the great nation that was to come from him. Though Jacob and Joseph saw this nation begin to grow, they never saw the Messiah who was to come from it. Yet they believed! Like Moses on Mount Nebo, viewing the Promised Land from a distance (Deuteronomy chapter 32 verse 52), they saw God’s promises from afar and believed them. Faith’s telescope brought God’s promises into view so that the patriarchs are pictured as waiting in joyful anticipation of them.

They admitted “that they were aliens and strangers on earth.” This was Abraham’s confession in Genesis chapter 23 verse 4 when buying the burial plot for Sarah, but it was characteristic of all the heroes of faith. They were “aliens,” people of foreign descent and culture living in another land. They were “strangers,” people residing temporarily someplace other than in their real home. More than Canaan was meant with this confession. The author rightly concludes, “People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own.” “Country” means fatherland, the home from which you come and for which you long. Faith implants in the believer a homing instinct that will not allow him to root or rest here on earth.

It was not of Mesopotamia the patriarchs were thinking when they looked for their homeland. If Abraham had wanted to return there, it would have been easy. All he had to do was pack his bags, pull up his tent stakes, and go. Jacob, when having served his uncle Laban 20 years in that very land, still wasn’t satisfied. In Genesis chapter 30 verse 25 he begged his uncle, “Send me on my way so I can go back to my own homeland,” namely, Canaan.

Not Mesopotamia, not Canaan was on their minds and in their hearts but “a better country—a heavenly one.” Toward the heavenly Canaan and the new Jerusalem, prepared for them by God, they stretched forth faith’s hand in earnest longing all their days. No wonder God was not ashamed to be called their God.

To have God give us his name by bringing us to faith and into his family is great indeed. To have him take our name because of our God-given faith makes us catch our breath in wonder at his grace. In Exodus chapter 3 verse 6 he called himself “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob,” and Jesus in Matthew chapter 22 verse 32 says the same. God grant that our names be added to the list!

Can you read this section without being both rebuked and encouraged? “I’m but a stranger here; heav’n is my home,” we love to sing (CW 417), but in life’s reality it’s often so different. Eyes that should be raised heavenward are riveted on earth. Feet that should be tramping toward Canaan’s shores are mired in earth’s swamps. Hands that should be reaching for eternal treasures are wrapped around gaudy baubles. Backs that should be straining in kingdom effort are bent over in valueless pursuit.

What a rebuke those portraits of faith speak to us. But also what encouragement. “Press on,” those portraits tell us, “it’s worth it. The God you trust is absolutely reliable. He means what he says and does what he promises. He said that heaven is your home, and there you shall surely stand, with us, at his right hand.”

Hebrews chapter 11 verses 17-19
By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death.

Commentary
Once more the author would have us look at Abraham’s portrait. In Genesis chapter 22 we find Abraham’s faith at its height. What God asked of him must have seemed not only incredible but completely contrary to all that God had promised. Abraham was to take his one and only son by Sarah, the son born of his old age and so dear to him, and sacrifice him to God. Even more, that son was the one through whom God had promised in Genesis chapter 21 verse 12 that Abraham’s offspring would be reckoned. Romans chapter 9 verses 6-9 shows the wider significance of this promise. From Isaac would come not only physical Israel but spiritual Israel, composed of all true believers in Christ, Abraham’s greatest Seed. To sacrifice Isaac seemed to mean canceling the fulfillment of that glorious promise.

But God’s test was met by Abraham’s obedient faith. About the Gethsemane Abraham went through that night after receiving God’s command the Bible says nothing. It does, however, record the obedience of his faith. Early the next morning, Abraham moved forward in compliance with God’s command. The author of Hebrews even says that Abraham “offered Isaac as a sacrifice.” In Abraham’s mind the deed was as good as done, so obedient was his faith to God’s command.

When tested, Abraham’s faith obeyed. When tested, his faith also trusted God’s promises. “Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead.” Abraham showed this faith when at the foot of Mount Moriah in Genesis chapter 22 verse 5 he told his servants, “Stay here . . . while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.” With the logic of faith Abraham reasoned that God, who had given him Isaac when he was as good as dead, could give him back Isaac from the dead. And figuratively speaking, that’s what happened. Abraham had wholeheartedly given Isaac over to God only to receive him back as from the dead.

Lord, give us such a faith as this, a faith that not only can move mountains but also defy death, a faith that because of the death and resurrection of Abraham’s greater Seed, the Christ, can now shout with Paul in 1st Corinthians chapter 15 verses 55 and 57, “‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Hebrews chapter 11 verses 20-22
By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future.
By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.
By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions about his bones.

Commentary
The next three patriarchs whose portraits are presented illustrate faith’s farsightedness. Though the author might have selected a number of scenes from their lives, he chooses only one apiece, each from their closing days. These three scenes present Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph’s faith as looking beyond their deaths. They were confident that God would fulfill his promises even though they did not live to see it. Isaac, blind and aged, could not see which son was kneeling before him, but with the eyes of faith he could see what the future held for each of them. Genesis chapter 27 verse 1 to chapter 28 verse 5 records how he gave Jacob the promise of the Savior from his seed and Esau promises of an earthly nature.

Jacob in his earlier days had leaned too heavily on his own resources and skill, but on his deathbed he leaned on his staff in worshipful trust in God’s faithfulness. Only his blessing of Joseph’s two sons, whom Jacob had adopted as his own, is mentioned here, while the whole account can be read in Genesis chapter 47 verse 28 to chapter 49 verse 33. The dying patriarch in speaking blessings far off in the future viewed them as already fulfilled.

Joseph, though he could have had his body impressively preserved in some Egyptian pyramid, looked ahead with eyes of faith through the mist of four hundred years to Canaan. Genesis chapter 50 verses 22-26 records how this mighty man of Egypt bound his family by oath to bury him in Canaan, a land in which he had spent only the first 17 years of his life. His words about the exodus from Egypt and his instructions about his bones revealed his faith in God’s promises. His bones were to be buried in the land where the promise of salvation would be fulfilled. What an example of a faith that was “sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (chapter 11 verse 1). What encouragement for us whose faith so often trusts so little and whose eyes so seldom see very far.

Hebrews chapter 11 verses 23-28
By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.
By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible. By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel.

Commentary
From Genesis and the patriarchs, it is just a step down the hall of faith to Exodus and Moses. Before Moses’ portrait the author pauses for a while, giving us several examples of Moses’ faith. Was the author trying to say something to readers tempted to desert Christianity and Christ for Judaism and Moses? Let them look closely at Moses and find in him one of the greatest examples of faith in Christ.

The author takes us back to Exodus chapters 1 and 2, where the account begins with Moses’ God-fearing parents. In Exodus chapter 1 verse 22 the great pharaoh of Egypt had given the order, “Every boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.” Moses’ parents weren’t afraid of the royal edict. Instead, they hid their baby boy for three months after his birth.

Joy at their baby’s birth must have been dampened by concern when they saw it was a boy. Anxiety must have shadowed every day of those three months as they struggled to keep quiet and secret a growing baby boy. But they did it—“by faith.” “They saw he was no ordinary child,” or as Exodus chapter 2 verse 2 says, “he was a fine child.”

Did the parents, knowing God’s promise of the Exodus and seeing the exceptional quality of their child, hope he would be the one to lead God’s people out? We aren’t told, but this much we do know: by faith they hid that baby, trusting that somehow God would protect him. Here was faith that trusted God for the unseen and the hoped for.

From the baby of three months the author takes us to the grown man. Stephen in Acts chapter 7 verses 21-22 reminds us of the privileges Moses had: “Pharaoh’s daughter took him and brought him up as her own son. Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action.” Now as a grown man, perhaps at age 40 (Acts chapter 7 verse 23), Moses made a decision. He “refused,” it says; he said no to the elite position and exalted privileges he had as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. “By faith” he did this, knowing what his decision would cost him. Deliberately he shook off the position of royal blood and chose identification with the people of God.

With this decision he showed faith in the future destiny of those who now looked only like slaves. From his decision came mistreatment; what the people of God were going through fell on him. It could be no other way for this man of faith. For Moses to remain in Pharaoh’s court even after knowing that God had called him to rescue Israel (Acts chapter 7 verse 25) would have been sin. Sin’s pleasures are only for a short time when compared to what God has in store for his people. Were the Hebrew readers listening and thinking? Moses faced a situation much like theirs and by faith chose Christ.

The author has more to say about Moses’ choice. Egypt’s treasures were tremendous, as historians and archaeologists have well documented. Moses, however, knew a greater treasure, “disgrace for the sake of Christ.” Disgrace suffered for Christ’s sake Moses valued as priceless honor. Yes, Moses knew about Christ. He himself said so in Deuteronomy chapter 18 verse 15 when he urged Israel to look for and listen to that greater Prophet who was coming. Jesus also said so when he told the Pharisees in John chapter 5 verse 46, “[Moses] wrote about me.” With the eye of faith Moses saw the coming Christ and identified with him by joining his people.

What did it matter if suffering resulted? Moses was “looking ahead to his reward.” Faith’s eye sees not only the present but especially the future. Faith’s wisdom calculates not only the beginning but especially the ending. By faith Moses looked for the same heavenly city as Abraham (chapter 11 verse 10) and the other patriarchs (chapter 11 verse 16). Their example reminds us of Paul’s words in 2nd Corinthians chapter 4 verse 18, “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” Doesn’t their example urge us to recheck our calculations?

Forty years earlier, Moses had fled in fear from the face of this mighty pharaoh to Midian (Exodus chapter 2 verse 15). Now he leads Israel out, never to return. Pharaoh’s anger would flare again and make him hotly pursue the exiting Israelites, but Moses was not afraid. He stood firm “because he saw him who is invisible.” Where his Lord led, he would go, and what strength he needed, his Lord would provide. How could Moses see and trust him who is invisible? With the eyes of faith, the author reminds us. So does Peter in 1st Peter chapter 1 verse 8, “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with inexpressible and glorious joy.” How’s our vision?

Plague after plague had come, nine in all, but Pharaoh had not let Israel go. Now came the announcement of the tenth plague. The firstborn in every home in Egypt would die except where the blood of a lamb had been sprinkled on the lintels and the doorposts. Also, the people were to eat the Passover meal on the ready, waiting for the signal to march. And Moses believed what he had not seen!

The destroying angel came, but it passed over the homes sprinkled with blood. Israel marched out of Egypt, and Moses, as God had commanded, set the Passover as an annual reminder of God’s deliverance. All this he did by faith! He who might have gained for himself a line or two in Egyptian history is instead immortalized on the pages of God’s Holy Word and privileged to stand on the Mount of Transfiguration with the Savior for whose coming he had waited (Matthew chapter 17 verse 3).

Hebrews chapter 11 verses 29-31
By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned.
By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the people had marched around them for seven days.
By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.

Commentary
The people shared Moses’ faith, at least at first. Later their faith would turn into the bitter grumbling of unbelief in the wilderness, but at the Red Sea it still shone forth. Exodus chapter 14 records how all Israel walked on dry land between those towering water walls to safety on the opposite shore. That was more than courage. Pharaoh and Egypt’s crack troops had courage too, but the Red Sea’s cascading waters drank them down to the last man. Israel passed safely through by trusting God’s promise. The Red Sea was no barrier to their faith, neither were the walls of Jericho’s frowning fortress. Those walls were built to withstand the assaults of mighty armies but not the tramp and the trump and the triumphant shout of faith. Incredibly, the walls fell on that seventh day as faith became sight.

Within Jericho’s walls was one who also saw by faith, Rahab the prostitute. By God’s amazing grace this woman of tarnished profession and Gentile background had come to know and trust the God of Israel. Joshua chapter 2 records her faith and her actions in hiding Israel’s spies who had come in advance into Jericho. By faith she risked her life and ended up saving it. While all the other inhabitants, described as “disobedient” because that’s what unbelief is, were killed, Rahab and her family were spared in Jericho’s fall. And by God’s grace her portrait hangs in the hall of faith.

End of Part 2.3