Carl Sagan, the late astronomer, was not noted for his faith in God. Still, he is attributed with the saying “If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.”
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old gained approval.
By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible. (Hebrews 11:1-3)
God spoke the universe into existence. We’ve heard and read that in the Bible’s creation story innumerable times. Being unconditionally certain that it’s true requires faith. In that regard, let’s look at those who are famously commended.
The first report of jealousy and murder is told in Genesis chapter four.
By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts, and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks. (Hebrews 11:4)
“Cain was a tiller of the ground.” What was wrong with his offering? At the fall, God cursed the ground and told Adam that he must suffer the consequences –his physical life would depend upon the effort he put into working the ground. That legacy was passed on to his first son. It seems natural that Cain’s offering would come from his work; but God wasn’t pleased with a product of the curse.
“Abel was a keeper of flocks.” What was pleasing about his offering? God sacrificed a life to cover the original sin. Abel followed in God’s footsteps by offering some of the best firstborn males of his flock –prophetic of God’s sacrifice of His firstborn –His Passover Lamb.
Name meanings provide a little more insight into the story of these two brothers. Cain means “create” and his offering was the creation of his hands –something of which he was quite proud. Abel means “emptiness” or “vanity” –he knew he was nothing apart from God. Only a heart of faith could please Him.
Little is recorded about Enoch’s life. However, this Hebrews passage clarifies what it is to walk with God.
By faith Enoch was taken up so that he would not see death; and he was not found because God took him up; for he obtained the witness that before his being taken up he was pleasing to God.
And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. (Hebrews 11:5-6)
Enoch was the seventh generation of Adam. The number seven has to do with “completion” or “fulfillment” as in the seventh day –the Sabbath– when God rested from His works. Genesis chapter five says that Enoch “was taken up so that he would not see death.” There isn’t a list of his good works –merely the mention of his faith.
Most of Noah’s story is contained in chapters six through nine of Genesis.
By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith. (Hebrews 11:7)
It’s beyond comprehension what Noah endured while he was preparing for an event that had never happened before –ever in the history of the world. In those days, there was no concept of rain –what’s more a torrential downpour that would cover the entire earth in just forty days. That’s what is so unique about Noah’s response to God’s warning. He trusted God with his life –and his family.
About the ark. There are four of them plainly noted in the Bible. Noah’s, the one that Moses was placed in until the Pharaoh’s daughter found him, and the Ark of the Covenant. Each showed God’s plan of preserving life. I did say four –the fourth was the fulfillment of the first three. He was of course Jesus.
Essentially, the account of Abraham and Sarah begins in Genesis chapter 12.
By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. (Hebrews 11:8)
Abraham and Sarah were living with his father, Terah, in Haran when “the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father’s house, To the land which I will show you.’” Abraham’s departure from Haran (with his wife Sarah, his nephew Lot, and his household) marks his first act of faith.
By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. (Hebrews 11:9-10)
Abraham and his household lived in the land promised to him. While he and Lot were pasturing their sheep together, an argument broke out between their herdsmen because they were overcrowded. Abraham wanted peace between them so he gave Lot the choice of where he would like to live. Lot decided to go east to the Jordan valley and he settled in the city of Sodom. Abraham settled in Canaan –away from the influence of, and dependence on people.
After Sarah died, Isaac married Rebekah and they lived as farmers –away from the city. It was there that God restated His promise –this time to Isaac (Genesis 26:1-4).
Jacob was on his way to his uncle Laban’s to find a wife when God repeated the promise in a dream where he saw angels going up and down a ladder (Genesis 28:10-17). God changed Jacob’s name to Israel. Not only did he become a successful owner of flocks, he was also the father of the twelve tribes.
The fact that all three of these men chose to live apart from cities is the basis for the statement in the Hebrews passage above, they “lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents.” It’s how believers are to live –without bonds to this world. God’s ambassadors for Christ live among the lost for the purpose of leading them to His promise of eternal life (and encouraging each other along the way).
By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised.
Therefore there was born even of one man, and him as good as dead at that, as many descendants as the stars of heaven in number, and innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore. (Hebrews 11:11-12)
We remember Sarah for her jealousy toward Hagar for giving birth to Ishmael while she remained barren. And we remember that she laughed in disbelief as the angel prophesied about her giving birth to a son. But those aren’t what God remembers about her. Curiously, Isaac’s name means “laughter” –no doubt it was a reminder to her that God was faithful. He changed her name from Sari to Sarah –calling her His “Princess.” She’s listed here in chapter 11 as a testament that she was a woman who trusted Him.
Likewise, we remember Abraham’s reference to Sarah as his sister when concerned for his life and how his lie nearly caused God to kill Abimelech. And we remember his willingness to have Ishmael through Hagar –a thorn in the Hebrews’ side ever since. Why should we entertain those thoughts that belittle Abraham and minimize his testimony when God considers him as one of the greatest men of faith?
Trusting –living by faith– is a matter of letting go of what’s tangible and being at rest with what isn’t. Jesus talked about it extensively and the Holy Spirit has been confirming and explaining the meanings of the Sabbath rest, the Promised Land and eternal life ever since.
The earthly lives of each of these legendary heroes ended before He came. Nevertheless, they were all found worthy of God’s commendation for faith and their reward is the same as that of every other believer.
All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.
For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return.
But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them. (Hebrews 11:13-16)
It’s understandable to be frustrated with the ways of the world. However, God endorses those who are at peace (through faith) because of a lasting security with Him.
The city mentioned here in verse 16 is described in Revelation 21:1-22:5. (We touched on it in chapter eight.) It’s the one with the streets of gold and gates of precious stones where the Lord sits on His throne and provides all of the light for the city. In that Revelation passage, John was told by the angel that the city is the bride of the Lamb being made ready for His wedding. How amazing! Although these people of faith didn’t quite understand it, they were trusting God for eternal life with Jesus as their loving, doting Bridegroom.
Genesis chapter 22 contains the passage in which Abraham was told to sacrifice Isaac.
By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son;
it was he to whom it was said, “In Isaac your descendants shall be called.”
He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type. (Hebrews 11:17-19)
Here, verse 19 says that Abraham received Isaac back as a type (a foreshadowing) of resurrection from the dead. That twenty-second chapter of Genesis foretells more about Jesus’ story…
Abraham packed his donkey and took his son into the land of Moriah (meaning “sorrows” to be offered as a sacrifice. Three days later they arrived at the hill where Isaac carried the wood for his own death. God promised Abraham that he would have many offspring –that could only happen through Isaac. So he trusted God to work out the sacrifice –and He did. God supplied a ram (a male lamb) with its head caught in thorns. That ram died and –in a prophetic way– Isaac was given a new life.
God, the Father, sorrowfully led His Son on a donkey up the hill to Jerusalem to be offered as a sacrifice for all. Three days later Jesus carried the cross to Golgotha. As God’s Lamb, He died wearing a crown of thorns. Those who earnestly seek God’s way find Jesus –the One who died and was raised to new life.
Genesis 27 has Isaac’s blessings for his sons. Reading them is much like reading his last will and testament –listing his desires for them and their children.
By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau, even regarding things to come. (Hebrews 11:20)
The better blessing was normally reserved for the firstborn son –in this case Esau. It describes exactly what he wanted: the enjoyable things of outdoor living –“the dew of heaven and of the fatness of the earth and plenty of grain and wine”– along with power and authority –“Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may your mother’s sons bow down to you”– and consequences for those who dealt with him –“Cursed be everyone who curses you, and blessed be everyone who blesses you!” But Jacob stepped in and that blessing became his.
The blessing that Esau actually received was the leftovers. It wasn’t at all what he wanted; but then he willingly exchanged his birthright (his inheritance) for a sensually desirable bowl of stew. He and his offspring would be a violent people and would serve under his brother until he could no longer tolerate it. Isaac wasn’t pleased that Jacob intercepted the prime blessing; but he trusted God with his family.
Jacob (whom God named Israel) blessed each of his twelve sons –the twelve tribes– in Genesis 48 and 49 before breathing his last. Some of those blessings were grand and others were lowly. One of the two greatest blessings was for Judah –the tribe that Jesus came from. It even describes what we know about Jesus. The other great blessing was for Joseph –his favorite.
However, just before Jacob blessed his own sons, he blessed Joseph’s sons –showing their preeminence. Jacob gave those grandsons the highest part of the Promised Land –the ridge– to signify that they were to be highly respected –looked up to. That’s why there is no land named after Joseph –it was named after his first two sons. (By the way, Jacob didn’t give any land to Levi because that tribe couldn’t own property. It’s another hint that God’s priests –His ambassadors– aren’t to have worldly attachments.)
By faith Jacob, as he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff. (Hebrews 11:21)
This is the third generation in which the younger son was given the better blessing. First, Abraham made Isaac his heir instead of Ishmael (Genesis 25:5). Then Isaac gave Jacob what naturally would have been Esau’s. And against Joseph’s protest, Jacob gave the better blessing to Ephraim instead of Manasseh (Genesis 48:8-22).
These are examples of what looks wrong to the world but is right according to God. It’s not the ones who would naturally receive an inheritance that He wants. Rather, it’s those who live by faith.
The end of Joseph’s life is recounted in Genesis 50. In that chapter, he buried his father, he and his brothers were reconciled, and he lived out his days in Egypt –fondly watching his grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren grow.
By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the exodus of the sons of Israel, and gave orders concerning his bones. (Hebrews 11:22)
Joseph knew that God told Abraham that there would be a four hundred year delay before the Promised Land could be occupied. “God said to Abram, ‘Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years.’” (Genesis 15:13) The sequence of events leading to their enslavement began when his own brothers sold him into slavery. Yet, Joseph trusted God as he directed many years in advance that his bones be carried to the Promised Land when his family would leave Egypt.
I mentioned that Joseph and his brothers were reconciled. That Genesis passage tells about the fear that overtook his brothers when they realized that without their father, there was no one to protect them from Joseph –the powerful leader of Egypt. If he desired, he could have destroyed them –they were strangers in his land and without allies. Joseph had reason to harm them. Those eleven brothers had deprived him of being with his loving father for many, many years.
His response to their fears was “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.” Joseph understood God’s heart. He was fully convinced that God planned the very best for His people –even though all they saw was an extreme hardship. They had been led out of death (famine) and into life (abundance).
Moses’ story stretches throughout most of the book of Exodus.
By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful child; and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.
By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward.
By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured, as seeing Him who is unseen. By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of the blood, so that he who destroyed the firstborn would not touch them. (Hebrews 11:23-28)
This Hebrews passage accents the start of each of the three forty-year stages of Moses’ life.
That summary of Moses’ life parallels the familiar story of Jesus.
Upon a first glance, these next verses look simple enough. But there’s more than first meets the eye.
By faith they passed through the Red Sea as though they were passing through dry land; and the Egyptians, when they attempted it, were drowned.
By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. (Hebrews 11:29-30)
Exodus chapters 12 and 13 contain the story of the Passover and crossing through the Red Sea. On the surface it’s about Moses leading them out of slavery in Egypt under evil task masters and the destruction of the Pharaoh’s army. Allegorically, the story is God freeing His people from sin and death and making Satin powerless. Going through the sea is a representation of reconciliation –when the total payment for mankind’s sins was made.
Then the next generation followed Joshua through the River Jordan. They entered the Promised Land and encountered the stronghold of Jericho. It’s where God showed them that He was trustworthy. They only had to trust Him, and in His time, all things would be perfect. It’s a continuation of the allegory with a picture of the resurrection –new life in His kingdom. Together these water crossings show salvation.
The account of Rahab begins in Joshua chapter two –and concludes four chapters later.
By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish along with those who were disobedient, after she had welcomed the spies in peace. (Hebrews 11:31)
She was a prostitute. According to religious standards, Rahab was the worst kind of sinner –and definitely not a Hebrew by birth. She sheltered Joshua’s spies when they were assessing Jericho’s strength. Having heard about the Hebrews and their God, she was positive that the city would be annihilated. So she asked for her life and the lives of her family to be spared. The spies told her to hang a scarlet rope out of her window on the wall so they would know to leave them unharmed.
Her story has an awe inspiring commonality with that of the leper’s in Leviticus 14. (It’s highlighted in chapter six.) Death was averted for both of them through a scarlet cord –an everlasting connection to life with God through Jesus’ blood.
Her name is also listed in the first chapter of Matthew –in that notable Hebrew ancestry of Joseph –Jesus’ earthly father. The position of her name in that list is significant.
Salmon was the father of Boaz by Rahab, Boaz was the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse. Jesse was the father of David the king. (Matthew 1:5-6)
Rahab was the mother of Boaz and Boaz married Ruth –the one that the book of Ruth is named after. In that book, Boaz is called her kinsman redeemer –and it’s where we find the amazing foreshadow of Jesus –our Redeemer. Their grandson was King David – the greatest king the Hebrews ever had– and it’s his throne that Jesus sits upon.
This last section begins with an apology for failing to list more of those who trusted God with their lives.
And what more shall I say?
For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.
Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment.
They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground.
And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect. (Hebrews 11:32-40)
This passage states that they all gained God’s approval through their faith –and that none of them actually received what they were looking forward to. They didn’t get to know Jesus –they lived before He was born. He is the “something better” that we can truly, deeply know.
Verse 40 uses the term “made perfect.” It means “made complete.” The bride of Christ is only made complete when the saints born before His coming are joined together with those who were born later.
The chapter began with a description of faith –and that’s where we’ll end it.
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old gained approval. (Hebrews 1:1)
Approval equates to salvation –it’s not merely an assessment of deeds where the good must outweigh the bad. These people trusted God and entered His Sabbath rest.