Hebrews 11. Praise For the Old Testament Heroes of Faith.
Key Notes: The meaning of "assurance". Kinds of faith. What faith accomplished. Young and old have different perspectives on faith.
This chapter is a masterpiece of writing. It deserves to be read aloud. It takes its cue from the previous chapter: "We are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and keep their souls." (Heb.10:39). It gives many examples of those who had faith and kept their souls.
11:1 "Faith is the assurance (Gr. "hypostasis") of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen". This is a definition of what faith does (have conviction), rather than what it is. It appears subjective: assurance and conviction are feelings rather than facts. However, the root Greek word of assurance, "hypostasis", may be translated "being" or "reality" or “essence” [of God in Heb.1:3]. It is translated as "assurance" or "confidence" in 3:14 and elsewhere in NT. Some interpreters would prefer 3:14 to read "hold our first reality firm to the end" instead of "hold our first assurance firm to the end" and to use a stronger interpretation also in 11:1.
There are three words from different languages all having the same root meaning of that which stands under, or underlies, which forms the basis of that which is real:
hypostasis (Greek, means essence or reality from: “hypo” = under + "stasis" = standing). It was used by philosophers as a primary working term.
substance (Latin, means material, or wealth from: “sub” = under + "stantia" = standing.)
understanding (English, means intellectual comprehension from: under + standing.)
See how our usage of the root meaning over the centuries has shifted from the objective to the subjective, from ultimate reality to mere comprehension? Does the writer want us to use the objective or the subjective meaning? That depends on the context. The previous ten chapters have been heavy on the objective: the deity of Christ, Israel in the wilderness, Aaron, Moses, tabernacle, and sacrifices. Since that is true, Heb.11:1 could be read "Faith is the reality ("hypostasis") of God which we look forward to". Senior Christians think of faith that way. But the content of chapter 11 is more subjective: what people thought about and did. So then "faith is the assurance of things hoped for" looks better. Young believers think of faith that way. Think of it both ways--reality and assurance. Both are correct.
•Note. There are six kinds of faith. Not all kinds are described in this chapter.
a. intellectual assent. Jm.2:14–26
b. conviction. Heb.11:1
c. trustworthiness. A virtue like mercy, or justice. Matt.23:23
d. a body of truth. "The Faith". Jude 3, Gal.1:23
e. saving faith. Acts 16:31, Jn.3:18
f. miracle-working faith. Matt.17:20, I Cor.12:9
Where does faith come from?
"By grace you have been saved through faith and this is not of your own doing; it (faith/salvation) is the gift of God, not because of works, lest anyone should boast." (Eph. 2:8)
"No one can come to me unless the Father who sent Me draws him." (Jn.6:44)
"The fruit of the Spirit is...Faith...." (Gal.5:22)
So faith is God’s gift.
What does faith do within a person, as seen in Heb. 11? It:
11:1 anticipates the future. It gives us perspective.
11:2 understands God's power, making the unseen into the visible.
11:4 offers the right sacrifice, receiving approval as righteous. Abel. Gen.4:4
11:5 walks with God, pleases God and escapes death: Enoch. Gen.5:24
11:6 expects a reward. This could be anyone.
11:7 obeys God and loses reputation but saves human life: Noah. Gen.6:13-
11:8 obeys God, loses home but envisions the future: Abram. Gen.12:1–4
11:11 receives physical power to have a son. Sarah. Gen.17:19; 21:1
11:13 does pilgrimage, tying itself to Heaven and the City of God.
11:17–19 obeys God, believing against the odds. Abraham offered Isaac. Gen.22
11:20,21 discerns God's future blessing: Isaac (Gen.27:27,39), Jacob (Gen. 48:12–22), Joseph. Gen. 50:24
11:23 is not cowed or fatalistic. Moses' parents save their son. Ex.2:1–10
11:25 ignores secular pleasure: Moses. Ex.2:11
11:27 is not afraid of Egyptian power and rescues the nation: Moses. Ex.12:51
11:28 performs the ritual, the Passover and saves the firstborn: Moses and Israel. Ex.12:21
11:29,30 attempts the impossible by just walking on: Israel at the Red Sea (Ex.14:21) and Jericho. Josh.6:12.
11:31 sees God at work, leaves Canaanite society and saves her family: Rahab. Josh.2:1
11:32–35 becomes heroic in battle:
Samson Judg. 14:4.
David, Samuel. I,II Samuel.
Daniel stopped the mouths of lions. Dan 6:22.
Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego quenched raging fire. Dan.3:18.
Elijah escaped death from Jezebel (IK.19), Jeremiah from Jehoiakim (Jer.26) and Zedekiah Jer.38.
The widow of Zarepheth (IK.17:21) and the woman of Shunnem (IIK.4:34) received their dead back by resurrection.
The Maccabees endured incredible physical pain from persecution.
It is not just what these people thought, but what they did that is emphasized. Suppose Moses had felt wistful about those poor suffering Hebrews in Egypt. Suppose Israel just wished that Jericho could be conquered. Suppose we merely feel bad about suffering Christians in Egypt. Would that be faith?
Since the book is addressed to Jewish believers, we might ask what it teaches about salvation in the Old Testament. Only two sacrifices are discussed: Abel's and the Passover. What is emphasized here is faith in God, rather than sacrifice.
The sacrifice of Christ, however, is suggested by the phrase: "All these, though well attested by their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had foreseen something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect." (Heb.11:39–40). They were perfected by the Cross. So their faith looked forward to Christ, as ours looks back. How are NT Christians saved? Also by faith in God!
I taught Heb. 11 to a group of grad students, mostly in their first year, and in an hour they could not get beyond the first seven verses.
How do we know that what we hope for will happen?
Suppose God is not interested in us?
Suppose we are on the wrong track?
If I have too little faith, will I be displeasing to God?
I later taught the same chapter to adults averaging 50 years of age. They did not interrupt until the whole chapter was read, and had not particular questions. I wondered why they were not attacking the problem of faith and described my other class. They asked me how old the other students were. I said the average age was about 27. They asked what their time-frame was. I said about two weeks. They cannot see the future. The class laughed. One woman said "Faith is not 'a hope for'; to me, faith is a reality, an assurance that God has been there for me for many years." I said "I think you are giving me a message for the other class. You are telling me to say 'watch what God will do for you in the coming years.'"
Heb.12:1 Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us run with patience the race set before us.