“Where there is faith: The men of old” Hebrews 11: 1 – 37

Faith is forward. It always projects itself beyond the point at which we are this present moment in time. Faith is actively seeking, pursuing, driving, pushing, and progressing. Yet faith has a time-traveled aspect as well, in the sense that the faith we have now is confidence in a hoped-for outcome in the future.

I am having faith. My faith swells at times and pulls back many others. It rides high and it rides low. Faith seems to follow. It follows my thoughts, my dreams, my joy, and my pain. My faith leads my internality, too. It nevertheless is there. Wherever there is, there is faith.

Where there is faith I have seen immeasurable joy and suffering. Not everything my faith hoped for resulted in what I had hoped for. In my faith, I have experienced disappointment and have yet to see what I am hoping to see. Whether my faith rises or falls my faith is subsequent to what I believe. I believe in the One True God and in Him my faith rests, comfortably, contentedly, and completely.

So we come to the Epistle of Hebrews chapter 11 which is commonly referred to as the “hall of faith” in all of scripture. It is a beautiful recapitulation of Old Testament believers (“the men of old”) most notably recognized for their faith in Yahweh.

Verse 1 says “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”1 In the New Testament the word “faith” has several aspects to it such as, it can refer to belief in Jesus Christ, it can be confessional where it refers to the Christianly beliefs we hold to, it can refer to Jesus Christ as the object of one’s faith, and it is also salvific in the sense that faith in Christ leads to salvation. However, within the context of chapter 11 the word “faith” takes on another meaning. Here, faith means the utmost confidence in Yahweh.

Faith is assurance. In the Greek, assurance is hypostasis, meaning “substance, essence, actual being, reality.”2  It has the sense of a title-deed which is a legal document to affect a transfer of property to show the legal right to possess it.3  Therefore, it can be said that faith is the certainty or title-deed of things hoped-for, such as being sure. Faith is conviction. In the Greek, conviction is elenchos (try pronouncing as “el-in-koss”), meaning “proof”.4  In the sense of convicting evidence.5  So it can be said that faith is also the evidence of things not seen, or being convinced. On the basis of the above, faith is being certain/sure of things hoped for, and being convinced or having evidence of things not seen. The faith of the Old Testament believers was such that they had absolute certainty in their hope and though the evidence was lacking they were convinced the hoped-for things would come to pass.

Verse 2 says, “For by it the men of old gained approval.” This verse is speaking of the Old Testament believers and in the Greek it means presbyteroi, which is the plural of elder, meaning “elders.”6  These elders, or men of old, mentioned in chapter 11 have won the approval or favor of God because of their faith in Him. In addition, they were also recognized by God’s people, throughout history and today as well.

Verse 3 continues with a recitation of the creation account and how we, in whole, relate to it and not just for the men of old. It is a faith-truth.7  Here the author of Hebrews makes inclusive all believers (including himself), from the Old Testament saints to believers today by stating, “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.”8 No one has witnessed the things out of which God created the worlds or universe. Not one. Unlike unbelievers, believers accept by faith that God prepared the universe by His word, His command. Yet, the world holds all, and all benefit from the hand of God.

1 New American Standard Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1977).                                                                                              2 Frederick William Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, 3rd edition (BDAG) (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), p. 1041.
3 Randall Tan, The English-Greek Reverse Interlinear New Testament New American Standard Bible (NASB95 NT RI).
4 William Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, 3rd edition (BDAG) (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), p. 315.
5 Randall Tan, The English-Greek Reverse Interlinear New Testament New American Standard Bible (NASB95 NT RI).
6 Frederick William Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, 3rd edition (BDAG) (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), p. 862.
7 Apollolina, author. Personal Definition of “faith-truth”: faith in the Triune God (God the Father, the Son our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit) means His having created the heavens and the earth is truth foundational in one’s faith in Him, thus, a “faith-truth.”
8 New American Standard Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1977).                                               ______________________________________________________

The author of Hebrews continues throughout chapter 11 with a recapitulation of “the men of old” and the hoped-for thing associated with each.

A summary is as follows:
Verse 4, by faith, Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain,…
Verse 5, by faith, Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death;…
Verse 7, by faith, Noah,… in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household,…Verse 8, by faith, Abraham obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; Verse 9, 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;…Verse 11, by faith, even Sarah herself received ability to conceive even beyond the proper time of life,…Verse 13 states, “All these died in faith without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance…”

These recipients were namely Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Jacob, who God had spoken of His promise of the land and innumerous offspring. They witnessed God’s leading hand in their lives. They died with their faith in God but did not receive the promises of Him. Such promises would be fulfilled in the distant future.

The summary continues as follows:
Verse 17, by faith, Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac;…
Verse 20, by faith, Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau, even regarding things to come.
Verse 21, by faith, Jacob, as he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph,…
Verse 22, by faith Joseph, made mention of the exodus of the sons of Israel, and gave orders concerning his bones. Verse 23, by faith, Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful child; Verse 24, by faith, Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharoah’s daughter;   Verse 27, by faith he left Egypt; Verse 28, by faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of the blood; Verse 29, by faith they passed through the Red Sea as though they were passing through dry land; Verse 30, by faith the walls of Jericho fell down, after they had been encircled for seven days. Verse 31, by faith, Rahab the harlot did not perish along with those who were disobedient, after she had welcomed the spies in peace.

The author of Hebrews writes in verses 32 – 34 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, and put foreign armies to flight. It doesn’t end there! Verses 35 – 38 continue and states that women received back their dead from the resurrection, others tortured, experienced mockings and scouragings, chains and imprisonment, stoned, sawn in two, tempted, put to death by the sword, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated, men of whom the world was not worthy. The above faithful believers were not the only ones ever to persevere in their faith in God, no. The author of Hebrews makes this known in verse 36 by saying “and others” because they cannot be entirely enumerated.

The men of old were profound in their faith in God. They had a series of seemingly insurmountable challenges to overcome. None of which were short-term, but long-term journeys, heavy, frustrating, and full of immense periods of waiting. They were in God for the long-haul. Though many did not see the end result of the promises of God, the promises would come much later, from afar. They were the catalysts, hand-picked if you will, chosen by Yahweh to accomplish His ultimate plan for Israel then and the future time they would receive Messiah and make Him possible for the Gentile nations, past, present, and future. Without God the journey would not have been possible. Without their being faithful to God we would not have the legacy of their faith that has culminated in the common faith in the One whom we believe that has given us the ultimate promise, His Son our Lord Jesus Christ.

In my words, faith is “confident-hope.” Do you have confident-hope in the journey you are on with God, difficulty and all? When life gets tough do you return to the comfortable and familiar place you had before you were called by God? Is your faith future-past or future-forward? You may be facing due north but your mind and heart are due south. You really haven’t given yourself to God if your life still reflects the former things. Rather, are you facing due north, heart and mind as well? We live in a culture where impatience and human rationalization leads to unnecessary change, burden, and regretful decisions for us and others as well. Sometimes what we consider faith is nothing more than calculated risks, or back-fitting outcomes as having come from the Lord God.

We believers who persevere in God pass the baton of faith to one another so that we each hold it on our own. When we live out our faith we magnify God, we bring glory to Him as the object of our faith and as a witness of Him to the world.


Photo credit by the author. Location: Lake Geneva (“Lac Leman”) in Geneva, Switzerland

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