Studies in the Book of Hebrews—Chapter 11:1-7

Heroes of Faith

THE HEBREW BRETHREN to whom this epistle was originally written were, seemingly, inclined to be somewhat unstable in their faith and zeal. One of the practical purposes of the epistle was to stimulate them to give “more earnest heed” to the things which they had heard, lest at any time they should let them slip. (Heb. 2:1) They had apparently been zealous for a time, but had become lax, so that now they needed to be taught again the first principles of the Truth. (Heb. 5:12) It is in keeping with his effort to revive their faith and zeal that in the tenth chapter Paul asks these brethren to recall the “former days,” and reminds them of their willingness at that time to suffer for the cause of Christ, adding that then they endured “joyfully” the spoiling of their goods.—Heb. 10:32,34

Maintaining this objective of the epistle, Paul presents the wonderful lesson of faith, which we find in the eleventh chapter. Beginning with verse 32 of chapter 10, the apostle builds up to, and introduces, his discussion of faith, showing the Hebrew brethren how essential faith was to them, lest they should “draw back unto perdition.” (Heb. 10:39) In order to establish the fact that genuine faith in God and in his promises is a mighty keeping power in the lives of those who serve God, Paul cites, in this eleventh chapter, many examples of the past, beginning with Abel, and notes how faith gave them strength to accomplish and endure.

A study of the chapter gives one a deeper appreciation of the power of faith in the life of a devoted servant of God, showing how it enabled him to endure, fortified him to resist discouragement, and to continue in a way of life in which it is known that danger and hardship would almost constantly be encountered. Truly, the Ancient Worthies present a glittering testimony of their faithfulness in enduring inhuman persecution. What a powerful incentive to greater faithfulness this testimony must have been to the Hebrew brethren when it was so eloquently presented to them by Paul!


VERSE 1  “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

The Greek word here translated ‘substance’ could be more properly rendered ‘foundation,’ or ‘basis.’ Faith, therefore, is the basis for our hope, and the evidence (Greek, ‘proof,’ or ‘conviction’) that it will find fruition in the glorious realities of the things promised. The ‘things hoped for’ and the ‘things not seen’ are the same. In Romans 8:24,25 Paul writes, “Hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.”

We could have no hope apart from faith. The other essential element of hope is desire. It would be improper to say that we hoped for something which we did not desire. Nor could we say that we hope for some desirable thing if we had no assurance of ever receiving it. The natural eye has not seen the glorious spiritual inheritance which God has promised to the church, but, as Paul explains, they have been revealed to us by the Spirit, “for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.”—I Cor. 2:10

This does not mean that we can actually understand what a Divine being is really like; but the Spirit of God, through the Word, has revealed sufficiently to create within us a desire for heavenly things, and the assurance is given us by the promises that we will be able to attain such a reward. It is our faith which grasps these promises and thus gives us a reason for hoping for the things which we have been led to desire.

VERSE 2  “By it the elders obtained a good report.”

The ‘elders’ referred to here are undoubtedly the Ancient Worthies, the ‘fathers’ of Israel, for it is these whom the apostle discusses throughout the chapter. The expression, ‘obtained a good report,’ seems to indicate that these faithful ones of the past received from the Lord some assurance that they were pleasing to him—something, probably, akin to what is described in Christian experience as the witness of “the Spirit.” (Rom. 8:16) It is also true, of course, that this ‘report’ has reached us, bringing the individual faithfulness of each of the elders in a wonderful panorama of inspiration (or as Paul puts it, “a cloud of witnesses”) for our encouragement.—Heb. 12:1

VERSE 3  “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.”

True faith is not blind, for it enables one to see, to ‘understand,’ as Paul states it in this text. As we view nature today we discern that everything which develops, or grows, starts with something which is largely visible—a seed becomes a plant, a grub becomes a moth. Reason tells us that this could not have been true in the original Creation. Faith builds upon our reasoning, and comes to the understanding that through the mighty power of God, the visible things of creation were ‘framed,’ not from things which appear, but from invisible elements beyond our powers to comprehend. In Romans 1:20 the apostle writes, “The invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen [by the eye of faith], being understood by the things that are made.”

We understand by faith, Paul states, that the worlds were framed by the ‘word’ of God. The Greek word here used is not logos, but one which means a command, or directive. Paul’s reasoning here is evidently based upon his knowledge of the Genesis account of Creation, where such expressions are found as “Let there be light”; “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters”; “Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together.” Thus did the Creator command, and the worlds were framed.—Gen. 1:3,6,9

The Greek word translated ‘worlds’ in this text is aion, meaning ‘age,’ or in the plural, ages. Paul’s reference, therefore, may be understood to include God’s Divine plan of the ages pertaining to man’s place in his great creative scheme. The language of the texts seems to preclude the possibility of limiting the reference merely to the ages in the Divine plan, but these might well be included since they have to do with man’s eternal existence, as the crowning feature of God’s earthly creation.

VERSE 4  “By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh.”

“Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God,” Paul tells us. (Rom. 10:17) This would indicate that Abel received information from God concerning the kind of sacrifice he should offer. If it had simply been a case of each of the brothers offering to the Lord what they had on hand to give, Abel’s faith would not have entered into the offering any more than Cain’s. Seldom does the Bible give all the details of any occurrence and, although no mention is made of it, we think it is quite possible that Abel was informed by the Lord that he wished a flesh and blood offering. His obedience demonstrated his faith, proving that he was righteous.

The text says that Abel was ‘righteous.’ The same Greek word is used here as when Paul wrote, “There is none righteous, no, not one.” (Rom. 3:10) In this latter statement, however, absolute righteousness, or perfection, is referred to, whereas the righteousness of Abel was merely his heart condition which was demonstrated by his faith and obedience. It is essentially the same thought as that contained in the reference to Abraham’s justification by faith.

A close analysis reveals the great importance God attaches to faith in him and in his arrangements and promises. Had Adam possessed true faith and confidence in God he would not have transgressed his law. While Adam’s descendants have lost perfection and life because of his sin, those such as Abel, Abraham, and others who, despite their imperfections, did believe God, proved their worthiness of his favor and friendship. Such faith-righteousness is properly and scripturally described as justification.

During the Gospel Age those who possess such a faith, and demonstrate it by full consecration to the Lord, are justified to life through the merit of the shed blood of Christ. This is in order that they might present their bodies living and acceptable sacrifices to God and thus share in the sacrificial work of this age. However, during the preceding ages there was no opportunity to share in the “better sacrifices.” (Heb. 9:23) The imputation of the blood of Christ was not needed to give a standing of life to God’s servants; but their faith was no less vital because of this, nor were they less pleasing to God. It is simply that he dealt with them differently than he does with those in this age who possess a justifying faith.

While it is true that God’s testimony concerning Abel’s righteousness has come down through the ages to us, the text also indicates that Abel himself was encouraged by this ‘witness.’ His life of faithfulness was brief, and probably he received little in the way of reward except this assurance of the Creator’s favor and love. We doubt if any greater blessing could be experienced by anyone than to know that he is a friend of God. It is even a blessing to us now to know that by faith Abel proved worthy of this high honor, for his example stimulates us to be faithful. In the margin, the expression, ‘yet speaketh,’ is translated, ‘is yet spoken of.’ Not many of all the millions who have died throughout the ages have been remembered long by their own generation, but these heroes of faith of the Old Testament are still spoken of, and their lives cited as examples, thousands of years after they died.

In passing, it is well to give thought as to why God was pleased with the flesh and blood sacrifice offered by Abel. It was evidently because it pointed forward to the sacrifice of Christ, “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) When condemning our first parents to death, God made the statement that the seed of the woman would bruise the serpent’s head. (Gen. 3:15) This was a veiled promise of future deliverance from the result of original sin. But for this to be possible there would need to be remission of sin, so God began to illustrate that this was to be accomplished by the shedding of blood. As his plan of redemption unfolds, it comes to light that it was to be through the shed blood of his own beloved Son.

VERSE 5  “By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.”

In Genesis 5:24 we are informed that Enoch “walked with God.” This was a walk of faith. Not much is said in the Scriptures about Enoch, but Jude informs us that he prophesied concerning the coming of the Lord with myriads of his saints to execute judgment. (Jude 14) This would indicate that in his walk with God, Enoch had been informed concerning at least some of the Divine plan, and that he believed what the Lord told him and acted upon it. So in this again is shown God’s pleasure with those who believe his promises. Even in the human sphere of association it would be impossible to enjoy friendly relationships with those who did not believe what we said. How much truer this is in our relationship to God!

Enoch was ‘translated,’ Paul tells us, ‘that he should not see death.’ This is one of the texts in the Bible which is used by many of our Christian friends to prove that the righteous do not sleep in death, but are taken immediately to heaven. But does the Greek word here rendered ‘translated,’ necessarily imply this? Two other examples of the Biblical use of this word may help us to reach a conclusion. One is found in Jude 4, in which the word ‘turning’ is a translation of the same Greek word, and the text reads, “There are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness.” The other example is in Galatians 1:6, in which the word ‘removed’ is a translation of the Greek word Paul used in Hebrews 11:5 to describe what happened to Enoch. This text reads, “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another Gospel.” Obviously the word translated, with the meaning ordinarily attached to it, would be quite out of place in both of these texts; for in both instances the writers are simply describing a changed position, or attitude, of certain believers. They had allowed themselves to be removed, or turned, from one position to another. “Strong’s Concordance” gives the literal meaning of the word as ‘transfer.’

The question remaining, then, is in what sense was Enoch removed, or transferred—from what, to what? The Scriptures divide the dead and dying world of mankind into two general groups, the “quick,” and the “dead.” (Acts 10:42; II Tim. 4:1) The ‘quick’ are evidently those who, while under condemnation to death, are still alive, not having fallen asleep in death; while the ‘dead’ are those who have actually gone down into the tomb. To be transferred from one of these classes into the other could well be what Paul tells us God did for Enoch in order that he ‘should not see death’—that is, should not experience the painful process of dying, or what is sometimes referred to as ‘death agonies.’ Most people, in thinking of the time they will die, express the wish that they might go suddenly, in their sleep, if possible; and for Enoch to be taken in this way, without his being conscious of what was occurring, could well be construed as a great favor from the Lord.

The Old Testament record seems to bear out this conclusion. It does not use the word ‘translated,’ as the seemingly faulty translation of the Greek in Hebrews 11:5 suggests, but simply states that “Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him.” (Gen. 5:24) The expression “were not,” is used in Jeremiah 31:15 to describe the death condition of Rahel’s children. And the Scriptures tell us concerning certain wicked cities of Abraham’s day that God “took” them away as he saw good. (Ezek. 16:50) So, the fact that Enoch ‘was not,’ and that God ‘took’ him, does not imply that he has remained alive somewhere, but rather the opposite.

In any event, we know that Enoch was not taken to heaven, for Jesus declared definitely in his day that no man had ascended to heaven. (John 3:13) To us the weight of testimony seems to be to the effect that in Enoch’s case God intervened to end his life without the necessity of suffering the horrors of dying, while with others of his faithful servants he did not—with the possible exception of Moses, although Moses at least knew that he was about to die. Finally, in Paul’s summation of the lives of the first mentioned of these Ancient Worthies, he says, “These all died in faith.”—vs. 13

VERSE 6  “Without faith it is impossible to please him; for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.”

The faith referred to is that which begins with one’s original confidence of God’s existence, and that the Creator is a just and loving God, one who rewards those who diligently seek him. It is faith that causes one to “seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him,” as the apostle declares. (Acts 17:27) But “all men have not faith,” Paul explains. (II Thess. 3:2) Those who do not have faith do not enjoy God’s favor at the present time, for nothing inspires them to search after him. How thankful we can be, however, to realize that in the next age, the glory of God will be demonstrated to the faithless ones, giving them an opportunity to approach him upon the basis of ‘sight.’ When, in this way, they learn to know God, they too will have faith in him; and, if they demonstrate their faith by their obedience to the laws of the new kingdom then operative throughout the earth, they will be rewarded with life everlasting on the earth. That will be the day of their ‘visitation.’

In the present age the Lord is dealing with, and blessing, only those who have faith strong enough to be convinced that he is able and willing to fulfill all his gracious promises. And faith should grow stronger as we become better acquainted with the Lord, and experience the manifold blessings which he continually showers upon those who ‘diligently seek him.’ The evidence of a growing faith will be found in the increasing zeal in seeking to know and do the Heavenly Father’s will.

Every follower of the Master needs a strong faith in order to meet the various tests which Divine wisdom permits to come upon him. But faith gives the victory now, even as it did for those heroes of faith throughout Old Testament times. Just as faith enabled them to suffer and to die in their loyalty to God, and in their obedience to his cause which he had entrusted to them, so it will be with us. It is only through the exercise of such an increasing faith that we can hope to have the witness of his favor, and be assured of receiving the reward which he has so many times promised.

The quality of the faith described by Paul is also worthy of note. It is a belief, not only in the existence of God, but has in it a measure of comprehension of his wonderful character—that he is ‘a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.’ Millions have had a negative sort of faith that there is a God, but it has not been the kind of faith described by Paul. It has been more akin to fear. They have been afraid that a demonlike god existed, and that he was ready to plunge them into an abyss of torture if they failed to please him. For this reason they have tried, in some measure, to please him, but their efforts have not been based upon a true faith.

VERSE 7  “By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.”

In this text we are again reminded that faith is the evidence of things unseen, for Noah believed what God told him concerning the coming flood before there was any visible evidence of rain. And this was a greater test of faith than it might seem to us now, since those of the antediluvian world had never seen rain at all, for the record is that a mist went up from the earth to water it.—Gen. 2:6

In so many cases the translators of our common version Bible take occasion to introduce the idea of ‘fear’ into the text, evidently because of the gross misapprehension they had of the character of God. Here we have another example of this. They have used the word ‘warned,’ when the Greek expression which they translate simply means ‘to utter an oracle.’ And the word fear, in the expression that Noah was ‘moved with fear,’ simply means to be circumspect, or having due reverence for God and the desire to conduct himself in keeping with the information which he had received from him concerning the coming Deluge and the need they would have for an ark.

It was Noah’s faith that led to this attitude, and acting in harmony therewith he built the ark—another demonstration of the fact that only through works of obedience is faith manifested. And Noah actually did demonstrate his faith and thereby ‘condemned the world’—that is, “the world that then was.” (II Pet. 3:6) The record is that Noah was a preacher of righteousness, although none of his sermons is recorded in the Bible. On the principle that actions speak louder than words, may it not be that part of his ‘preaching’ was done by the fact that, exercising faith in what God told him concerning the coming Flood, he proceeded to build the ark?

The world did not believe this testimony nor any other which Noah might have given to them, so they were brought under condemnation and perished in the Flood. It was his faith in God and in the information God had given to him, leading to obedience in building the ark, which highlighted the faithlessness of the world at that time; for, through him, and as a result of his faith, the people had an opportunity to believe, but failed to accept it. Thus they were condemned.

At the same time, Noah’s obedience resulted in his becoming an heir to the righteousness which is by faith. In other words, he was brought into the same friendly relationship with God as were the other heroes of faith of that ancient time. And what a favored position that was for all of them!

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