Understanding the Text

“These were all commended for their faith” (Heb. 11:39).

Faith is more clearly expressed in the way people live than in what they claim to believe.

The nature and value of faith are revealed (11:1–3) and illustrated in this honor roll of Old Testament saints (vv. 4–40).

Understanding the Text
“Faith is being sure of what we hope for” Heb. 11:1–3. To our society “faith” seems insubstantial: it is persistently holding on to notions that can’t be proven and thus are flimsy and unreal. In Scripture, the reverse is true. Faith is confident expectation that what we cannot see is more solid and real than the material universe.

The root of this kind of faith is our conviction that “the universe was formed at God’s command.” God has priority over things we can taste and touch and see and feel. God is more real than they are, because God is the source of their existence.

The ancients, and believers today, are commended for such faith. When you and I realize that God is the ultimate reality, and act on this conviction, we have a faith which makes a difference in our life, and will enable us to triumph. Anything less than conviction translated into action falls short of biblical faith.

“By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice” Heb. 11:4. Genesis 4 indicates that both Cain and Abel knew God required animal sacrifice. Why else would God speak to Cain after rejecting his sacrifice of fruits and vegetables, saying if he “did well” he could still be accepted? The difference between the two is that Abel responded to God’s word. Only Abel did as the Lord required.

This is the first evidence of a true faith. We respond to God’s Word, and choose to do the things that please Him.

It’s striking that Abel’s act of faith led directly to his death. His brother’s jealous anger was stimulated by Abel’s obedience. But it is even more striking when Hebrews tells us that by faith Abel “still speaks.” Abel is dead as far is this world is concerned; his body dust. Cain too is long dead. But Abel, pronounced righteous by God on the basis of his faith, “still speaks.” Abel’s faith brought him the gift that faith brings you and me: eternal life.

“By faith Enoch was taken from this life” Heb. 11:5–6. Abel exhibited saving faith; and Enoch a faith that holds the believer close to Lord.

We know little of Enoch from the Old Testament except that he “walked with God” and after a time “he was no more, because God took him away” (Gen. 5:24). How does the writer know so much about Enoch from such brief mention? Simply by virtue of the fact that Enoch did please God, and “without faith it is impossible to please God.”
No one can approach God without faith. It takes faith to believe that God exists when He cannot be seen. And it takes even more faith to believe that God rewards those who seek Him, when rewards so often are delayed.

Anyone who walks with God will find his faith tested. When you and I flip a light switch, the light goes on. When you turn the faucet, water flows. Push the “on” button, and your TV screen is filled with flickering pictures. The reward of our actions is immediate, and invariable. But many times you and I pray, and it seems no answer comes. We cry out to God, but our troubles persist. It takes very little faith to expect a light to go on when it always does. It takes much more faith to walk with God. For your belief that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him will be sorely tested again and again.

But don’t be discouraged. As each hero in this hall of fame demonstrates, your faith will make a difference in the way you live your life. And in the blessings you enjoy.

“By faith Abraham . . . obeyed and went” Heb. 11:8–10. Some people find it almost impossible to take risks. “I’d like to try,” they think, “but what if I failed?” Abraham reminds us that faith frees us to venture confidently into the unknown. Too fearful to pray aloud? Too unsure to express your opinion? Like to try a new job, but frightened to leave the old? Want to share a word of witness, but anxious about how others might react? Faith frees us to step out even when, like Abraham, we don’t know where we are going.

How does faith help? Faith reminds us that God, who guides and directs us, also goes with us. We need not fear risks when faith tells us that the Lord is by our side.

“They were longing for a better country” Heb. 11:13–16. There is such a thing as heavenly dissatisfaction. The Old Testament saints on this honor roll experienced it. They just didn’t feel at home in this world. Somehow something was lacking.
Archeologists have shown that Abraham lived in Ur during a vital and prosperous age. Ur offered luxuries and wealth, and Abraham possessed both. But Abraham wasn’t satisfied, and so set out in search of something better. This is one evidence of a growing faith: we become dissatisfied with the things of the world. We can be thankful for all the good things God has given us. But faith makes us aware that nothing we have is enough to satisfy our deepest needs.

The text says that these people were “living by faith when they died.” They never found the completion or fulfillment they searched for. You and I won’t either, for we were created for heaven, not for earth. We too may spend our lives “longing for a better country.” But, through faith, we will spend eternity enjoying it!

“By faith Abraham, when God tested him” Heb. 11:17–19. There comes a time in each of our lives when God will test us. And the test will be like that of Abraham, when God demanded he sacrifice his son, Isaac.

This is the test of full surrender. It is the test that calls on us to give up our heart’s desire, because God asks us to. Only a unique faith will enable us to do this, and to surrender all.

What is that unique faith? The Old Testament text tells us that when Abraham went up to Mount Moriah to offer Isaac, he told his servants to wait, saying that “the lad and I” will return. Hebrews explains. Abraham had been promised descendants through Isaac. Abraham was so thoroughly convinced God would keep His promise that he believed God would raise Isaac from the dead if that was necessary.
God has promised us His very best. He has assured us that all things work together for the good of those who love Him. We are able to surrender all when we have the faith to believe that, if God asks it, renouncing our heart’s desire is both right and good.

How close Abraham must have been to God, to trust Him so. Let us stay close to the Lord too, that we too might have a faith that surrenders all.

“By faith Moses” Heb. 11:24–28. Moses’ life too exhibits faith. As the “son of Pharaoh’s daughter” Moses was in line for the throne of Egypt, or at the least high position in that affluent land. No pleasure would have been denied him. Yet Moses spurned the “pleasures of sin” and chose to identify himself with God’s people, even though they were then a race of slaves.

Let’s identify ourselves with God’s people too, no matter how popular it may be to ridicule the “born again.” Disgrace for the sake of Christ still has higher value than all the treasures of this world.

“By faith the prostitute Rahab” Heb. 11:31. Faith rules no one out, but draws a great circle that encompasses all. Whatever our past, faith opens the door to relationship with God and a new, righteous life.

“God had planned something better for us” Heb. 11:32–40. Faith does not guarantee anyone a life free of stress or pain. Many over the millennia have suffered and even died for their faith. Yet faith won for each the commendation of God.

Faith wins even more for you and me. The Old Testament saints looked forward to a salvation they could not understand. We look back to a salvation assured by Calvary. And through the Spirit of God we enjoy a relationship with the Lord which can be more real to us than to the Old Testament saints.

Larry Richards

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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