Chapter eleven is full of great examples of faith and endurance. The author writes this chapter, building up overwhelming evidence that the life of faith is the only real way to live for God. There is a pattern in this chapter that looks like this: first the phrase “by faith”. This is followed by the name of the person, the event or action of faith, and the outcome of that action and faith. But before presenting the list the author defines what faith is. Faith is acting on what God has revealed about His will and character. The reality that grounds our faith is the God who fulfills His promises. Scripture speaks favorably about people who live their lives in faith. And we believe things by faith, like the entire universe was formed at God’s command.This is a basic belief of both Jewish and Christian theology. God created everything we see now out of that which we could not see. A life of faith understands that by analogy God’s promises are real and will be called into reality by God Himself. So, here we go with the list of those who lived by faith.
The story of Abel’s faith challenges us and his blood bears witness to his righteousness and to the injustice of his murder. Enoch was taken up into heaven and did not face a normal death. God simply took him. Enoch was known as a person who pleased God. The author tells us that it is impossible to please God without faith, and faith must include believing that God exists and he rewards those who sincerely seek him. When life is a challenge the readers are challenged to trust God and to anticipate the fulfillment of His promises. Noah’s story shows us that faith involves obedience in the face of that which is unseen. He obeyed God in the face of things that had never before been seen, the flood. Noah’s faith condemned the rest of the world because he bore witness to God’s reality and His desire for holiness. Abraham too was obedient, acting even though he had no idea where God was taking him. He didn’t experience the inheritance of the promised land. Instead he was an alien living in the land God promised to give his descendants. The same was true for Isaac and Jacob. They received the same promise and they hoped in God but they walked by faith and not sight.Abraham didn’t settle in the Canaanite cities, staying in a tent. Instead he looked forward to a city with eternal foundations. He was looking towards his heavenly home. Abraham and Sarah were both very old, well past their child bearing years but by faith God gave them an heir. They had faith that God is able to answer His promises out of nothing.
Verses 13-16 are a bit of a summary of the general principles that are evident in the lives they have pointed out so far. The thing about Abraham is that he and Sarah could have spent some of their time looking back at what they had left behind but instead they looked forward to what God had in store for them. Because they looked forward we see their longing for a better place. Their hope was ultimately in God. Great examples of faith take the reader from Abraham’s family to Rahab. God answered His promise to Abraham by giving him Isaac but He never intended for him to sacrifice his son. That was just a test of Abraham’s faith and we see his obedience. Isaac’s blessings were his sons Jacob and Esau. Jacob passed the ritual blessings on to Joseph’s sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. Joseph had a rich full life and God used him in mighty ways. He was given prophecy for the Israelites and commanded them to take his bones with them from Egypt when they left. Moses’ parents had great faith in the face of challenges. They acted in faith, placing Moses in a reed basket to keep him safe. They recognized that God had given them an extraordinary child. Moses grew up in pharaoh’s palace receiving the best of everything. But he refused to be called the son of pharaoh’s daughter. Instead, by faith he aligned himself with the Israelites. He chose to share the oppression of God’s people. Moses could have had great wealth and treasures but by faith he chose the greater reward God had for him. Like Abraham before him, Moses entered an unfamiliar land, not knowing what the future held for him. He kept his eyes on the one he could not see. And Moses, by faith kept the Passover, instituting it as a memorial observance. Sprinkling blood for sacrifices under the old covenant was parallel to the shedding of Christ’s blood. The rescue through the Red Sea is the greatest moment of deliverance in Israel’s history. The people’s fear and accusations at the time do not exemplify faith but the people went forward when told to do so, despite their fears. This demonstrated again that obedience is central to faith.The conquest of Jericho gives us another example of great faith. The people acted in obedience to God’s unusual instructions. Rahab the prostitute showed faith in the power of the God of Israel by protecting the spies who came to her home. Because ofthat faithful action she and her family were protected when Jericho fell and they joined the community of Israel. In fact, Rahab is listed in Jesus’ genealogy. She was the mother of Boaz.
The chapter ends with a rapid series of examples and the author gives a very brief overview of other faithful people through the rest of the old covenant era. The outcome of faith is deliverance and victory. But faith also brought severe persecution and even martyrdom for some of the faithful. Either way, God honored these folks with a good reputation because of their faith. The author listed six heroes of the faith from the time of the judges and the united monarchy. Gideon defeated the Midianites with torches and jars. Barak routed Sisera and the Canaanites. Samson, though weak in his moral fiber was used by God to fight the Philistines on behalf of Israel. Jephthah won victory over the Amorites and Ammonites. David, the only king in the group, loved God and for the most part lived an exemplary lifeof faith. Samuel was an important transitional leader between the judges and the monarchy. He heard God’s call and obeyed His will. All the prophets means, all the prophets, major and minor. They often exhibited great faith in the face of hostility.During the time of the judges and and the reign of David, Israel defeated many of their enemies. David and Solomon and a few others ruled with justice. Both Elijah and Elisha brought women’s loved ones back to life. But there were others who were tortured. Faith does not always have a positive outcome in this life. Here the author might have been referring to the 170’s and 160’s BC when many Jews suffered and died rather than forsake their faith. This would have been during the period of the Maccabees. According to tradition the prophet Jeremiah died by stoning and the prophet Isaiah was sawed in half. Their hope in God was more than in the pleasures and comforts of this world. The author cautions that the way to live as God’s peopleunder the new covenant is to live as all these people did under the old covenant: by faith in God’s promises, enduring any difficulties faced in this world. God has borne witness to their faithfulness.
None of them received what God had promised. All of them died prior to Christ’s coming. The “something better” the author speaks about began with Christ’s sacrificial work and it anticipates the future culmination of God’s plan for His people. Jesus has fulfilled God’s goal of bringing His people into a relationship with Him.
The author challenged their hearers to endure in following Jesus who is the supreme example of faithfulness. This was to be accomplished by imitating Him in His suffering, enduring God’s discipline, and by living in peace with others. The host of faithful followers of God, the great cloud of witnesses, bear witness to the truth that God blesses the life of faith. In Greco-Roman literature a race is a metaphor for the need for endurance in life. And just as extra weight hinders a runner, sin trips us up, entangles us and restricts us from moving by faith. Jesus is the supreme example of faithful endurance and our endurance will depend on our keeping our eyes on Jesus. We are called to stay focused on Him and His work on our behalf. Christ has done everything necessary for us to endure in our faith. He is our example and role model. He focused on the joy that was set before Him. Jesus’ attention was not in the agonies of the crossbut in the crown that was to come; not on the suffering but the reward. Christ treated the shame of the cross as though it was nothing. The recipients of Hebrews had become weary and they were close to giving up. They were emotionally fatigued because of the persecution they faced but the key to their endurance was to focus on Jesus, who had been through even worse hostility. The author reminded the people that the community had not yet faced martyrdom for their faith. And, if Jesus could endure a shameful death, they should be able to endure a lesser persecution. Verses 5-6 and their encouraging words are a quote from Proverbs 3:11-12. This passage regards hardship as the Lord’s loving discipline for His children. God can turn a wide variety of trials and tribulations to our good. This serves to continue training us in righteousness and holy character. Fathers from both Greco-Roman and Jewish familieswere involved in the day to day aspects of raising their children. Discipline was seen as a necessary, healthy, and important part of preparing a child for adulthood. A lack of fatherly discipline, in this case a lack of hardships in life, is a mark of illegitimacy, not a blessing. Again the author argues from lesser to greater in verse nine. The lesser situation is the respect shown to an earthly father when he is meting out discipline. The author says that we should submit even more to the discipline of the Father of our spirits. In other words, we submit in the most important contextof our relationship with God. We are called to yield to God as to a good father, trusting that He is helping us grow even through painful circumstances.
There are at least two limitations on an earthly fathers discipline. First, his discipline or education is only for a few years. Children eventually grow up and leave home. Second, earthly fathers were doing the best they knew how from their limited perspectives. By contrast, God’s discipline lasts throughout life and is always good for us. This is based on His limitless knowledge and love. His goal is that we might share in His holiness. Although it is painful, discipline brings about a peaceful harvest of right living. It brings God’s children into a state that is conducive to harmonious relationships and doing what is right. The author encourages those who are emotionally and spiritually exhausted, using Isaiah 35:3-8 and Proverbs 4:26. According to Isaiah, God is in the process of defeating His enemies and is making a straight path for the righteous so that they will not fall. Those who are living a holy life have confident hope of seeing the Lord. The author also warns about the poisonous root of bitterness. This points to people turning their backs on God’s covenant to serve other gods. Bitterness can corrupt the church.
Ancient Jewish literature describes Esau as sexually immoral because he was married to the Hittite women Judith and Basemath. His lack of regard for his birthright was godless. His willingness to give up God’s blessings for immediate satisfaction illustrates the opposite of faith. Hebrews sees Esau’sdisregard for his inheritance and his loss of the blessing as directly related. The result…bitter tears. By analogy those who reject an inheritance through Christ’s new covenant have only bitterness in their future. Verses 18-24 contrast the old covenant with the new. The old covenant, represented by Mount Sinai is shown as impersonal, intimidating, and unapproachable. It booms, flashes, and terrifies. The new covenant is represented by Mount Zion. It is seen as relational, welcoming, and celebratory. The descriptions of Mount Sinai come directly from God’s encounter with Israel at that mountain. The images communicate separation from a Holy God. The awesome trumpet blast and voice terrified the people so much so that they asked God to stop speaking. The contrast between the two covenants is strong. Believers have now come to wonderful Mount Zion which is associated with Jerusalem and represents God’s dwelling place. The new covenant constitutes a relationship with God by which we experience His presence with joy, peace, and fellowship. The word translated assembly here is usually translated church. It speaks of God’s assembled people. God’s firstborn children refers to people who are members of the new covenant. And the thought that God’s people have their names written in heaven speaks to God’s special attention to His people. For God’s children, God as judge is the vindicator of His people. And those who have already died have now been made perfect by the sacrifice of Christ.
Jesus is the mediator of the new covenant and His sprinkled blood, used as the sacrifice for sins speaks of forgiveness. But the blood of Abel cried out to God from the ground demanding vengeance for his murder by Cain . By contrast Jesus’ blood cries out that the price for sins had been paid for those in the new covenant. Verses 25-29 are the final warning in the book and the passage plays off the image of God speaking. God is the One who is speaking His revealed word in His Son Jesus Christ. The author argues again from lesser to greater. Moses’ warning the people under the old covenant is the lesser situation and God warning us from heaven is the greater. If people did not escape judgement when they were warned by Moses, those who reject the message of the Son of God will certainly not escape punishment. The earth shook at Mount Sinai and the earth and heaven will shake in the latter days. But, the kingdom of God will not be shaken because it will endure through all of eternity. But all of creation will be shaken and removed at the judgement at the end of the age. Our God deserves holy fear and awe, and He is a devouring fire. This speaks of God’s awesome power and of His right to judge.
The author presents a series of practical guidelines, similar to other ethics lists in the New Testament. These describe how to love others in the community of faith. The people are encouraged to keep loving their brothers and sisters in the faith community. Hospitality was a big deal in the first century and the people were encouraged to treat everyone with care. Some had encountered angels as they were being hospitable. Prisoners in the first century were dependent on their families and friendsfor their basic needs, including food. The author challenged the Christians to provide comfort, food, prayer, and other necessities for those imprisoned because of their faith. Giving honor to marriage means to protect it and hold it as highly valuable. This is also a call to be faithful to your marriage partner. The people were called to be satisfied with what they had, with what God had provided them. They were not to love money and the author reminded them that God would never fail His people. With the Lord on our side there was no need to fear what others might do. The middle section of chapter 13 is bracketed by references to the leaders of the community. Here we see some hints of the issues that may have been troubling this church. The word leaders was used for military, political, and religious leaders. These leaders, evidently the founders of this faith community, taught the word of God to the people. This is a basic responsibility of people who are called to lead. Their lives and faith were to be examples that others followed. Even though it seems that the Community was facing challenges the author reminded them that Jesus is always the same. He is unchanging and his Good News never changes. Yesterday Jesus was the Father’s agent in creation. Today Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father. And He will rule the universe forever. Since Jesus does not change it is not wise for the believers to be attracted by strange and new ideas. Some of the false teachings in thiscommunity may well have involved food. Some in the community may have been tempted to abandon the Christian community by participating in Jewish fellowship meals. These meals encouraged participants to focus on the Jerusalem altar. The author here reminded the people that we have an altar of which those still under the old covenant have no part.
Again the author turns back to the Day of Atonement and the sacrifice of animals. After the blood of these animals was captured the animals were taken outside of the camp and burned. The analogy here is that Jesus was taken outside the city of Jerusalem to be the sacrifice. Jesus was the supreme, Day of Atonement sacrifice. In verse 13 the author suggests the people should go outside the camp as well and stand with Jesus, identifying with Him and rejecting the apparent safety and comfort of standing with the world against Him. By doing this we also bear the disgrace He bore. The author also reminds all of us that we are not to be invested in the world because it is not our permanent home. We are looking for our home yet to come, the heavenly city of Jerusalem. In light of Jesus’ decisivesacrificial work on our behalf we still have sacrifices to offer. These are things like praise and obedience. These are the sacrifices that please God. The sacrifice of praise may be like the peace offering. A person bringing this sort of offering had to be made ritually clean before the offering could be made. Our thank offering to God can be continual because Jesus has made us clean for all time. When we give thanks to Jesus continually we are proclaiming allegiance to His name. Sharing with others is also a sacrifice that pleases God and characterizes life in the Christian community.
It also appears that the relationship between spiritual leaders and the members of the church might have been strained. This caused the author to exhort the members to obey the leaders and do what they say. The Greek word for obey used here can also mean follow, Place confidence in, or be persuaded by. Christian leaders watch over people’s souls. This is a role that carries a grave responsibility which makes them accountable to God. And the word sorrows can also be translated as groaning. This speaks to emotional burdens and stress. Having leaders who are stressed and burdened because of an unruly church does not benefit the church! The author also asked for prayers. Benedictions in letters were an important component of not only letters but also speeches and sermons. This author wove a number of important themes from the letter into this benediction. The Lord as the great shepherd shows God’s provision and protection for His people. That this is a brief exhortation probably means it was a sermon. The Timothy mentioned here was probably Paul’s associate. If this is the case this is the only place where his imprisonment was mentioned. It is clear he knows the author of this letter. The author closes with a formal greeting and a blessing.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W