Category Archives: HEBREWS 11:1-16

The life of faith.

HEBREWS 11:1-16

SETTING OF THE CHAPTER

The chapter is introduced by the last verses of chapter 10. Reference to that passage, and also Habakkuk 2 which is quoted there, will show that the prophet mentions tarrying in two senses. In one sense the (fulfilment of the) vision would tarry in the sense that it would be a long time before it came, but in another sense it would not tarry in the sense of being late. The vision in question being the sight of Christ coming in glory to judge the earth. There are two attitudes that will be adopted whilst the time of the coming of Christ is awaited. Some will be lifted up in pride, as they think that God will not judge their sin.  These would correspond to the adversaries mentioned in 10:27 whom God will judge. Others will live by faith. As we might expect, there are also two reactions by God to these attitudes. Those who are proud He is displeased with; those who press forward in faith meet His approval. There are two results to these attitudes as well, there is a drawing back to perdition, and there is the believing to the salvation of the soul. Obviously the writer to the Hebrews would wish to encourage his readers to be of the second sort, and this he does by giving examples of Old Testament faith for them to imitate.

STRUCTURE OF THE CHAPTER:THE WORDS OF THE BIBLE, THE CHRISTIAN SCRIPTURES, AS FOUND IN THE EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS CHAPTER 11, VERSES 1 TO 16:

11:1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

11:2 For by it the elders obtained a good report.

11:3 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.

11:4 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.

11:5 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.

11:6 But 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.

11:7 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.

11:8 By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.

11:9 By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise:

11:10 For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.

11:11 Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised.

11:12 Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead, so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable.

11:13 These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.

11:14 For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country.

11:15 And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned.

11:16 But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for He hath prepared for them a city.

Section (a) Verses 1 and 2 Introduction to the subject of faith
Section (b) Verses 3-12 Faith in relation to God.
Section (c) Verses 13-16 Comment about those of previous section.

Section (a)     Verses 1-2     Introduction to subject of faith.

11:1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for- this is not a definition of faith, but rather a description of what faith does. Faith may be defined as “a firm persuasion based on the word of God”. It is by this faith that a man is justified and is reckoned righteous by God. In chapter 11, however, it is not faith for righteousness, but faith for a good report.

Faith is not wishful thinking. Some think that Christians believe things are true because they hope they are true. They want the things to be true so much that they persuade themselves they are. Nothing could be more wrong. When the Bible is approached by those who have an unbiased mind, and who earnestly seek the truth, then it is the promise of Christ Himself that they will be convinced. He said, “If any man will to do His will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of Myself”, John 7:17. This is the best argument of all, for it does not depend upon other people convincing us by their reasoning, but the Bible self-authenticating and self-accrediting itself.

Faith is not relative. Christians do not believe the Bible because this is their personal preference. They believe it because they have been convinced it is true. Unbelievers are often prepared to allow Christians to believe the Bible, as long as they do not insist that they should do so also. But truth is not relative, so belief in the truth is not relative either.

Faith is not a substitute for evidence. Some would suggest that whereas scientists believe in “evidence”, Christians believe because they do not have any evidence. This is completely wrong, however, for Christians do have evidence, and it is found in the Word of God. What better evidence could there be? Whether it be matters natural or spiritual, the Bible is the best authority. In fact on matters spiritual it is the only reliable authority. So faith is not “a leap in the dark”, the act of one who is uninformed and reckless; rather it is the act of one who has approached the Word of God with the earnest desire to know the mind of God, and who has found that He is true to the promise He made long ago when He said, “And ye shall seek Me, and find Me, when ye shall search for Me with all your heart”, Jeremiah 29:13. Such people do not leap in the dark, for they walk in the light.

We notice that faith is the opposite of drawing back, according to 10:39. It is something that makes progress therefore, and presses on to what is before. This is what Habakkuk did, for he was given a vision of the return of Christ in glory, and walked by faith in the light of it. He was living his life in view of what God’s word said. So as we proceed into chapter 11 we shall find that all who are held up as examples of faith had the word of God in their minds and hearts, and they acted in faith because of that.

So verse 1 is telling us that faith is the substance of things hoped for. Because our faith rests on the sure word of God, what we believe has substance and reality. Future things that have been promised in God’s word are brought out of the future into our hearts. It is not that we believe them because we hope they are true, but because faith knows they are true, for faith is an intelligent thing.

The evidence of things not seen- because unseen things are promised in God’s word, when they are believed they become real in the soul, and our faith, based as it is on a solid foundation, is sure. In this way what we believe becomes the evidence within us that they shall come to pass. The faith and the hope merge into one. We shall find that the worthies mentioned in this chapter all had their eye on the future, but it was a future they could not see with the physical eye, only with the eye of faith.

11:2 For by it the elders obtained a good report.

For by it the elders obtained a good report- those who were spiritually mature and godly and set a good example in Old Testament times, were commended by God, for He bore witness to their faith. They worked out their inner faith by outward works, and thus gave expression to their belief. Because their faith was centred on commendable things, their faith was itself commendable to God. Such is the certainty of Divine things that it is no credit to anyone to believe them. It is simply the logical thing to do. But in His goodness God credits that faith with value, and commends the believer for it.

Note that the elders of a former age are here given as an example to the Hebrews, so there is no despising of Old Testament saints. This is important, for the epistle has given many reasons why the saints of old time were less privileged than we, but they still maintained strong faith in God.

Section (b)   Verses 3-12   Faith in relation to God.

11:3 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.

Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God- so faith has an understanding; it is not “through understanding we believe”. Faith is not a second-rate position, taken up by those who have no intelligence about matters. It is well-informed, because it is Bible-informed. Those who are prepared to accept the plain statements of Scripture are more enlightened than the best unbelieving scientist, for the believer is in touch with the God who “invented” science. It is true that the Bible is not a science textbook; it does not set out to be, but it is not anti-science, nor unscientific. It was only a misunderstanding about the Bible that caused religious people to believe the sun revolved around the earth. The believer has an understanding about the universe the unbeliever does not have, simply because he accepts the testimony that God has given in His word.

It is worth remembering that the Big Bang theory is not proven. It is only one way at looking at the universe, and an atheistic way at that.

Note that having spoken of the elders of a past day, and intending to further speak of them in the rest of the chapter, the writer speaks of “we”. He is linking past and present times together, and showing that faith is always relevant, and also always pleasing to God. Because faith is based on the word of God, it accepts the testimony God gives about creation; it does not seek to modify it in the light of supposedly final statements of scientists. We all know that that which is confidently asserted as scientific fact one day, is just as likely to be dismissed as a mistaken theory the next. “The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away, but the Word of the Lord endureth for ever”, 1 Peter 1:24.

So that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear- in other words, the worlds were not hidden away, and then by the spoken word of God caused to appear. They were not, and then they were. This is an important principle to understand in view of the examples given in this chapter. If we believe, (because the word of God says it), that non-existent things were brought into view, how much easier is it to believe that existing things, (although not seen as yet), shall also be brought into view. Faith lays hold of the future and brings it into the present, for the future things are real, being promised by God, and faith is the evidence of things not seen.

It is clear from this verse that there is no such thing as eternal matter, for the word for world used here is aionas, the worlds in relation to time. When God created all things, He did so, by His own testimony, (and this is the only testimony possible, in the nature of the case), at the beginning. Now this is a time-word, denoting when time started. God created by His eternal power, Romans 1:20, so the power was there, for He was there, but He chose the point at which to put it forth. Before that He existed in His solitary grandeur. It is important to notice that the Lord Jesus, when referring to the making of male and female and the institution of marriage, said, “But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female,” Mark 10:6. The making of man and woman on the sixth day, therefore, was in the beginning of the creation, and not millions of years after Genesis 1:1. There is no room in this for a gap-theory, allowing countless years to roll by- how can the making of man be at the beginning of creation when it is millions of years after creation?

11:4 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.

By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain-faith is so important, and drawing back so disastrous, that we are given many and varied examples in this chapter of its exercise. Having seen faith in principle in verses 1-3, we now see faith in practice. By offering a sacrifice of which God approved, Abel shows he knew what the Divine requirements were. How was this? By the word of God. And how did the word of God come to him? From his father Adam, who had witnessed what had happened in the garden after he had sinned. He had seen an animal lose its life in order that he might be clothed, and thus made fit for the presence of God. This was a powerful testimony to the eventual sacrifice of Christ at Calvary, by which the believing sinner may be accepted in the sight of God through the merits and sacrifice of another. The sacrifice took the character of a burnt offering, for it is that offering alone which provides clothing for man, as Leviticus 7:8 compared with 4:11 would indicate. But Adam would be able to pass on more to Abel, for he could inform him that God said, “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel”, Genesis 3:15. There is promised here a deliverer from the one who instigated man to sin, but only at the cost of being bruised Himself. So we have a double indication in these events; there is the principle established that man can be acceptable in God’s sight by means of sacrifice, and that the evil one that caused him to sin will be dealt with. The Sacrifice and the Seed, the work and the person, the Seed Born, (for He is of the woman), and the Seed Bruised, are clearly set out by God. And Abel would have these things passed on to him by his father.

On the basis of the revealed mind of God, then, Abel’s gave expression to his faith by offering to God a sacrifice. Now Cain had the same information available to him as Abel did, but he chose to not believe, and he gave expression to his unbelief by bringing of the fruits of the ground, as opposed to a sacrifice involving blood-shedding and the provision of a covering. Now no doubt Cain’s offering was of the best- his pride and self-reliance would not allow him to bring anything less, but we learn that Abel’s sacrifice was more excellent than Cain’s. Cain’s was excellent physically and materially, but Abel’s was more excellent, being spiritual in character. Of course we would have to say about Christ’s sacrifice that it was most excellent, being personal and final. Abel and his offering were distinct from one another, but Christ was His offering.

By which he obtained witness that he was righteous- this reminds us that Abel was not justified because he brought an acceptable offering to God. Rather, he brought and offering to God because he was righteous. He had believed God, and it had been accounted to him for righteousness, and now he responds to God in a proper way. The apostle John assures us that “he that doeth righteousness is righteous, 1 John 3:7. It is not that he becomes righteous who does righteous things, but the reverse. After all, how can an unrighteous man do righteous deeds, for he has no capacity to do them. The accepted sacrifice of Abel was the visible sign of his invisible faith, for faith is always ready to give expression to its existence; it is not a lazy thing, but living and lively.

God testifying of his gifts- it is possible that Abel’s sacrifice was consumed by fire that came down from God. Some interpret the words “the Lord had respect unto Abel’s offering”, Genesis 4:4, as meaning “the Lord kindled into a flame”. Whether this is so or not, it is certainly true that when referring to Abel’s sacrifice, God said to Cain, “and if thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted?” implying that Abel had done well. It delights the heart of God to receive the sacrifices of His people, whether those sacrifices take the form of worship, Hebrews 13:15; service, Philippians 2:17; the offering of self in devotion to God, Romans 12:1; or financial offerings, Hebrews 13:16. All these are forms of worship, and gratify the heart of the One who seeks worship, John 4:23.

And by it he being dead yet speaketh- the matters we have just mentioned are all brought to our notice through the sacrifice of Abel. It was an expression of worship; it represented service to God on his part; it meant that he was surrendered to God; and it involved the sacrificing of animals that he could otherwise have bartered or sold for other goods, (for meat-eating was not permitted at this stage). All these things are relevant to the readers of the epistle, and also to us today.

11:5 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.

By faith Enoch- whereas Abel looked forward to the coming of the Messiah in grace to be the sacrifice appointed, Enoch looked on to the coming of the Messiah in judgement, for he prophesied that the Lord would come with ten thousands of His saints to execute judgement, as Jude 17 records. No doubt the partial fulfilment of this was at the flood which came upon the ungodly after Enoch was taken.

Was translated that he should not see death- so he was translated because of the particular quality of his faith, for Abraham had faith but was not translated. Enoch walked with God, and upon the birth of his son Methuseleh it must have been revealed to him that the flood was coming, for he gave his son this name because it means “when he is dead it shall be sent”. And sure enough Methuselah lived on and on for 969 years, (eloquent testimony to “the longsuffering of God which waited in the days of Noah”, 1 Peter 3:20), and then died the year the flood came. Enoch was a prophet, according to Jude 14, so he had insight into the mind of God, and was convinced that something lay beyond the coming judgement, for he appreciated that the judgement was simply the preliminary to better times, once the Messiah had come. He knew from Genesis 3:15 that the evil being that had brought sin into the world was going to be dealt with and the reward of his faith was that he was taken away from the judgement of the flood, and transported to better scenes.

And was not found, because God had translated him- those who were limited to the things of time and sense sought for Enoch, but he could not be found. This tells us that even his body was taken. His faith had received its logical outcome, for he had laid hold of future things, and they had become the strong evidence in his own soul that they were real. Those who had not this faith could only look for material things.

For before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God- notice that his translation was a result of him pleasing God, hence the word “for”, explaining why he was translated. He pleased God because he walked by faith, and this is the reason he was taken, as the beginning of the verse also affirms. The New Testament equivalent of this is the rapture of the saints when the Lord Jesus comes into the air to take them to heaven. In 1 Thessalonians 4, the chapter that deals with this subject, believers are exhorted to walk and please God, verse 1, and then are told that the taking of believers to heaven is “if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, verse 14.” Whilst the rapture is not dependant on works, it does depend on the fact that those who are taken are believers, for no others will be affected at this time. So Enoch walked with God, Genesis 5:22, and also pleased God, Hebrews 11:5, and we are exhorted to do these two things too.

Notice that he had a testimony before he was translated. The time for testimony to God is now, and not hereafter, and this solemn thought should challenge us greatly.

11:6 But 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.

But without faith it is impossible to please Him- we are left in no doubt that there is no alternative way of pleasing God. Those Hebrews who were tempted to go back to Judaism would do well to remember this, especially as God specifically says that He is not well-pleased with animal sacrifices, 10:8. Whilst it is true that there are many things believers may do to please God, the root of their action is their faith. It is only because they act in faith that any works are acceptable and pleasing to God.

For he that cometh to God- we have already been warned against drawing back to perdition in 10:39, and the alternative to drawing back, as Habbukuk made clear, is going forward in faith, for “the just shall live by his faith”, Habakkuk 2:4. Such people “come to God”, for they have God as their goal in their life of faith.

Must believe that He is- this is not simply belief in the existence of God, for no-one would start to come to God if they did not believe He existed. This is belief that He is what He claims to be. Faith responds to the revealed character of God, what He is in Himself, and therefore seeks to act in accordance with that character. This is certain to please God, for He delights to see a reflection of Himself in His people. The believer is created “after God in righteousness and true holiness”, Ephesians 4:24, and this is the outworking of that truth.

And that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him- God graciously rewards with His approval those that are exercised to seek Him so as to gain light about His character. The true believer seeks to conform to the righteousness and holiness He sees perfectly in His God. There needs to be a diligence about this seeking, for faith is an active and energetic thing.

11:7 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.

By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet- it is very likely that it had never rained until the time of the flood, or else the rainbow would have been commonplace and not of any great significance. So when Noah was told by God that there would be a flood upon the earth, he realised that something was coming that he had not seen before. Being a man of faith, however, Noah accepted what God had said and acted upon it. He also saw the other side by faith, or he would not have built an ark to get there. He knew that the Seed promised in Genesis 3 had not yet arrived, and so there must be a fresh start after the flood.

Moved with fear- this is the reverential fear of a believer, that mixture of love and fear which adores Him and is in awe of Him. This fear is very practical, because moved by it, Noah acted in faith and obedience.

Prepared an ark to the saving of his house- Noah realises that if only he and his family are to survive the flood, then one of his sons must be of the line that shall produce the seed. So he prepares the ark to save his house so as to preserve the line of the Messiah. Noah, like Abel, receives and believes the word of God as to the coming Seed.

By the which he condemned the world- the only thing that could have saved the world in Noah’s day would have been universal repentance, as with Nineveh. As it was, they were condemned by the preparing of the ark, for it was an evidence that God was bringing judgement upon the earth. Noah preached as he built, so his ark became an object lesson. Enoch condemned the world by his preaching, Noah by his preaching and working.

And became heir of the righteousness which is by faith- Noah was a righteous man by faith, not by building an ark. He was also a preacher of righteousness, 2 Peter 2:5, and thus testified to his belief in the righteous dealings of God, which involved judgement upon sin. He showed that he preferred righteousness to sin, and God rewarded him by allowing him to step out into a cleansed earth after the flood. He inherited what he longed for, and that which by faith he was entitled to as part of his inheritance.  He would also realise that if God was able to cleanse the earth of sin and bring in radically changed conditions, then He could do so again, but this time with the Messiah present to govern that earth.  That situation is what Noah becomes heir to.

11:8 By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.

By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed- we might not think there was instant obedience if we limit ourselves to the Genesis record. We must allow not only this passage, but also Genesis 11 and Acts 7 to have their due weight.

Genesis 11:31 reads, “And Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran his son’s son, and Sarai his daughter in law, his son Abraham’s wife; and they went forth with them from Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Canaan; and they came unto Haran, and dwelt there”.

Genesis 12:1,4 reads, “Now the Lord had said unto Abram, ‘Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land I will show thee…so Abraham departed, as the Lord had spoken unto him'”.

Acts 7:2-4 reads, “The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was yet in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran, and said unto him, ‘Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and come into the land which I shall show thee’. Then came he out of the land of the Chaldeans, and dwelt in Charran: and from thence, when his father was dead, He removed him into this land, wherein ye now dwell”.

We must notice that the first passage records the “generations of Terah”, not that of Abraham his son. So we are not surprised that Terah is taking the initiative in that passage. When we come to Genesis 12 however, this marks the beginning of the generations of Abraham which extends up to Genesis 25:10 with the account of his burial. So we now have the action of Abraham himself as he moves in faith and obedience.

Stephen’s address in Acts 7 makes it clear that the God of glory appeared to Abraham in Ur, before he lived in Haran, verse 2. Having heard the voice of God, Abraham left Ur of the Chaldees, and this coincided with the decision of his father to go to live in Haran. So Abraham has obeyed the first part of the command. He has not moved because his father has moved, but because he is responding to the command of his God. When his father died he continued to obey God’s command, and now left his kindred and his father’s house.

If God had wished Abraham to do all three things at once, that is leave Ur, kindred and father’s house, surely they would have been listed in the reverse order. So  Abraham would have left his father’s house first, said goodbye to his relations, and then crossed the border of the land of the Chaldees. But Abraham’s kindred were not in Ur, but in Haran. We learn this by reading the account of the search for a bride for Isaac. The servant went to the city of Nahor, Genesis 24:10, which does not mean the city named Nahor, but the city where Nahor lived, (as we learn from the account of Jacob’s search for a wife), but was named Haran, Genesis 28:2. Whether it was named after the brother of Abraham we are not told. So it is that he left his country first and went to Haran, in Padan-Aram. Terah is soon to die, so in deference to his father, he waits for him to die before leaving his kindred in Haran, listed in Genesis 22:20-24. He then left his father’s house not so much in a physical sense, but in the sense that he now set out on his own to establish his own household. He has obeyed God in the order in which God required obedience, and is now on his way to the land God has promised him.

This is summed up for us in Genesis 12:1, “Now the Lord had said unto Abram, ‘Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house'”. This is exactly what he did, and in that order. Notice that there is not a list of three things to be done at once necessarily, but the word “and” separates them, suggesting progressive actions. It can rightly be said in Genesis 12:4, “So Abram departed, as the Lord had spoken unto him”.

We must not think that Abraham had to have a second call, as if he had not responded properly to the first one in Ur. The expression “The Lord had said” is of a construction which involves the use of the Hebrew word “vau”, (normally meaning “and”), with the long tense. To quote Newberry’s Introduction, “More frequently, however, the vau is employed to stamp perpetuity on narratives of the past, forming what may be called ‘the Hebrew perfect’- a permanent record for time and for eternity”. So, far from saying, in effect, “The Lord had said “Get thee out” but Abraham had not completely obeyed”, the phrase is marking, at the beginning of the personal history of Abraham, the great and momentous thing that God was doing, as He separated Abraham from all the nations, tribes and families of the earth.

Into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance- in Genesis 11:31 it is made clear that Abraham did set out for Canaan, even though he stopped for a while at Haran. It is described by God as “a land I will show thee”. It seems he knew the name of the land when he left Ur, unless it is that Moses as he writes of these things includes that fact. But it is a land he has not seen before, and yet one day God will say to him, “Lift up now thine eyes…for all the land thou seest, to thee will I give it”, Genesis 13:14,15.

Obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went- we have Scripture support for thinking that Abraham obeyed God; he was not hesitant in his obedience. Noah was told specifically to build an ark, and was given the specifications for it, but Abraham was simply told to get out of Ur, and this he did. There is a close connection between faith and obedience, as the apostle makes clear when he writes of “the obedience of faith” in Romans 1:5, 16:26. Abraham no doubt took the recognised trade route from Ur to Haran, and Haran to Canaan, so he knew the road but he did not know where the road was eventually leading. This was faith indeed, trusting God to lead the way and bring him safely to the promised land.

11:9 By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise:

By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country- a sojourner is one who has not put down roots yet, and this was true of Abraham, for he knew that the land would not be his settled place until the promised Seed had come. The Lord Jesus said that “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day: and he saw it, and was glad”, John 8:56. There was confidence in Abraham’s heart that even if he died, he would nonetheless see Messiah’s day of glory.

When Sarah died, Abraham purchased a portion of land in which to bury her, confessing to the Canaaites, “I am a stranger and a sojourner with thee”, Genesis 23:4, thus acknowledging that he as yet had not absolute right of possession. It was no different than if he had been in any other country in the world; Canaan was just like a foreign country to him.

Dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob- Abraham was 100 years old when Isaac was born, and 160 years old when Jacob was born, and he died aged 175. So he literally lived with both of them for 15 years. But the main point is that they shared with him the same attitude of sojourners; he had now built up a family of God-fearers, having left his idol-worshipping forbears behind, Joshua 24:2.

The heirs with him of the same promise- they did not need another call, just a reaffirmation of the promise to Abraham. In that confidence they were content to live in tents, as befitted their sojourner character. It is probable that when Genesis 33:1 says of Jacob that “he built him a house”, the “him” refers to Esau, who has been mentioned in the previous verse. In verse 19 Jacob pitches his tent on a parcel of ground he has purchased, so he still maintains his sojourner character, (tent), and his stranger character, (bought a parcel of field). The apostle Peter describes believers as strangers (to what is behind us and around us), and pilgrims, (as to what is ahead of us), 1 Peter 2:11, and thus they walk in the steps of their father Abraham, Romans 4:12.

11:10 For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.

For he looked for a city which hath foundations- this is what sustained him as he moved in the land. He had insight into fact that one day heaven and earth would be joined by a highway between earth and the holy city of Jerusalem, Revelation 21:9-22:5. If it is asked how Abraham knew this then surely the answer must be that he was the friend of God, so God did not hide from him the things he planned in the future, see Genesis 18:17, Isaiah 41:8.

So Abraham was content to pitch his tent, a comparatively flimsy structure, and one which was only lightly attached to the earth, having no foundations, for he knew there was city ahead of him.

Whose builder and maker is God- Abraham had left a city whose builder and maker was man; a city, moreover, dedicated to the moon-god, the moon being the ruler of the darkness. He gladly exchanged that city for one which shone with the glory of God and Christ. God in His wisdom has designed that city, (builder means designer), and God in His power has made it, so it is eminently to be preferred to anything of man.

11:11 Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged Him faithful who had promised.

Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed-we now come to the first woman in the chapter. She is considered as to her own faith, for it is “Sarah herself”, not “Sarah the wife of Abraham”. It is good when the believing sisters are strong in faith because of personal exercise, and not simply reliant on the faith of their husbands.

As a 90 year old woman, who is also barren, Sarah was strengthened through faith to conceive a child. She had acted in unbelief before, and suggested that Abraham should have a son by Hagar his servant girl, and this he had done with disastrous results, which extend even to this day. Also, when told she would have a son herself, she laughed unbelievingly. She changed, however, and here can be commended for her faith.

And was delivered of a child when she was past age- she not only is strengthened in faith to conceive, but also to carry the child until his birth. She had laughed in mockery at the thought of having a son, but now she is able to laugh in a godly manner, for God has fulfilled His word. Abraham called his name Isaac, meaning “laughter”, and Sarah said, “God hath made me to laugh, so that all who hear will laugh with me” , Genesis 21:6.  Her laughter was now the sort that could be fittingly shared with others, and not the laughter of unbelief. 

Because she judged Him faithful who had promised- this is how her faith expressed itself, for she believed that God would be faithful to the promise He had made that she should have a son. It was not simply that she believed she would have a child, but that she would have the child because God had promised it. She did not believe her having a child at that time was a coincidence.

11:12 Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead, so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable.

Therefore sprang there even of one- so Sarah’s faith complemented Abraham’s, for Sarah bore the child in faith, and there sprang a child of Abraham, thus furthering the purpose of God. It is God’s intention that a man and his wife should complete one another, or as Peter puts it when using Sarah and Abraham as an example of a good marriage, be “partakers together of the grace of life”, 1 Peter 3:7.

And him as good as dead- this truth is used by the apostle Paul in Romans 4 to illustrate the fact that just as Abraham and Sarah believed that God was able to bring life out of their virtually dead bodies, so He has brought Christ out from being really dead. The faith of Abraham and Sarah brought them great blessing, and so also great blessing comes to those who “believe on Him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification”, Romans 4:24,25.

So many as the stars of the sky in multitude- this is an allusion to the words of God when He made a covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15, before ever he had a child by Sarah. Showing him the stars in the sky above him, God said to Abraham, (who has just stated that he is going childless, or in other words, is about to die without a son and heir), “so shall thy seed be”, Genesis 15:5. There follows Abraham’s classic exercise of faith, which is emphasised in the New Testament, “Abraham believed in the Lord; and He counted it to him for righteousness”, verse 6.

And as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable- this alludes to God’s words to Abraham after he had shown himself prepared to offer his only son as a sacrifice, which thing was the climax of the faith he had in Genesis 15. James tells us that by offering Isaac the faith of Abraham was made perfect, and reached its true goal, James 2:22. So Abraham began by believing God could give Him a son, and then believed so firmly in God that he was sure God would give him to him again, but this time from the dead. At the start the birth of Isaac is emphasised, at the finish the “death” of Isaac is to the fore. It is very probable that there are as many stars in the heavens as there are grains of sand upon earth’s seashores, so the two metaphors are in proportion. Even though Abraham would only be able to see a few thousand stars, He who had placed the stars in the sky knew they were as innumerable (as far as man is concerned), as the grains of sand.

There are those who see in these two expressions a reference to the heavenly part of the believing seed of Abraham, and the earthly. The problem is that God also speaks of the seed as being like the dust of earth, Genesis 13:16, when Abraham was commanded to walk through the land. Perhaps a better way of looking at these three figures of speech is to say that the dust of the earth is the dust of the land of promise, so that when the seed of Abraham eventually possess the land, and it is under their feet, there will be the constant reminder that God has promised it to them. As they look above, they are reminded that their blessing comes from heaven, and that He who has set the stars in the sky has set them in their inheritance. And as they walk along its seashores they will recollect that God has promised to protect them, so that the sea of the Gentiles shall never overwhelm them again.

Section (c) Verses 13-16 Comment about those of previous section..

11:13 These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.

These all died in faith- the writer now pauses to summarise what he has said so far about the heroes of faith. He has told us Abel sacrificed by faith, that Enoch walked by faith, that Noah built by faith, that Abraham left Ur by faith, that Sarah bore a son by faith. But they all crowned their life of faith by dying in faith, so they died as they lived. The God they had proved in their lives, was the God who would care for them in death. And more than this, would bring them into the fulness of which they had only seen a part. They did not give up as time went by, and things seemed not to work out as fast as they thought. 

Not having received the promises- clearly this means they had not received the plenary fulfilment of all that God had promised them. They had received the word of promise from God, but not the full substance of the promise.

But having seen them afar off- having told us what they did not do, namely, receive the fulfilment of the promises, we are now told four things they did do. The chapter begins with the statement that faith is the evidence of things not seen, but this is a development, for these believers had so laid hold of God’s promise that they did see the fulfilment, albeit from afar. Their faith had brought the unseen things into the realm of the seen.

And were persuaded of them- faith, by definition is “a firm persuasion based upon hearing”. These had heard the word of God in some way, whether directly in the case of Enoch, Noah, Abraham and Sarah, or indirectly, in the case of Abel. And because the word was from God they were convinced it was true.

And embraced them- this is a further development; from being unseen, to seeing afar off, and then being persuaded that they were not mistaken in what they saw, they now clasp those far-off things to their bosom in believing embrace, welcoming them as if they had already arrived.

And confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth-we see this illustrated in the words of Abraham when he bought a plot in which to bury Sarah, “I am a sojourner with thee”, Genesis 23:4. He thereby confessed that he had not entered fully into what God had promised, for the Seed had not yet come. He was a stranger in his own land, and yet he was travelling on as a pilgrim to the time when he would inherit the land. He was not a stranger and pilgrim in quite the sense believers are now. We travel through the earth as strangers to it permanently, and are pilgrims to a better land, heaven itself, for “our conversation  is in heaven, Philippians 3:20, (where the idea behind the word “conversation” is citizenship).  Abraham was a stranger because he could not possess the land in the fullest sense before Messiah the Seed came, for He is the Ultimate Heir. Abraham was a pilgrim until such time- he could not settle if Messiah was not resident.

11:14 For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country.

For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country- the things they say are that they are strangers and pilgrims. By the very act of making this confession they indicate they anticipate something ahead. That “something” is a country; literally, a native-country, one they can really call their own in every sense of the word. Having originally been called out of his country, Chaldea, by God, Abraham was looking for a different sort of country. Not one polluted by idols and vice, but one where Christ was King, and ruling in righteousness and holiness.

11:15 And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned.

And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out- if they had not been moving by faith, with their eye on the future, they might have looked back with longing to the comforts and conveniences of Ur of the Chaldees. No tent-life in the harsh desert for Abraham there.

They might have had opportunity to have returned- the Devil was opposed to the idea of Abraham dwelling in the land, and he might very well have presented reasons to him why it would be a good idea to go back to Ur, especially if he found Abraham at any time considering that as an option. But Abraham, Isaac and Jacob resisted this temptation. The latter may have gone to Padan-Aram for a wife, but he did not return to Ur, but Canaan.

11:16 But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for He hath prepared for them a city.

But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly- there is a contrast between the word “now” and the word “opportunity” of the previous verse. The latter word means a season, a period marked by certain features. If Abraham had longed after Ur, his life would have been characterised by that; he would have acted in line with his desire. This verse tells us, however, that with Abraham there was a constant “now” of obedience to God and His purpose. The reason why he was so resolute was that the country he looked for was heavenly in character. This by no means suggests that Abraham was looking to go to heaven. God had promised him the land, and unless he lives on that land the promise has failed. When Messiah reigns the land of Israel will indeed be a heavenly land, for He will put His stamp upon everything. The prayers of God’s people will have been answered, and the will of God will be done on earth as it is in heaven, Matthew 6:10.

Wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God- God is pleased to associate with those who take Him at His word, and live accordingly. Abraham has exchanged the vain gods of Chaldea for the true and Living God of heaven, and has come into such a relationship with Him that He belongs to him in truth. Moreover there is no embarrassment for God in Abraham having that relationship.

For He hath prepared for them a city- beginning with “for” as it does, this phrase explains why the writer is sure that God is not ashamed to be called their God- He has prepared for them a city because He wishes to be accessible to them. If God walked with Abraham, Enoch and Noah when they were in the flesh, how will He not wish to company with them when they have their resurrections bodies? So it is that there shall be a way between earth and the heavenly Jerusalem come down from heaven and from God, and the righteous shall walk that way into the heavenly city. The city is prepared with that in mind, which is why it has so many gates, and why those gates are emblazoned with the names of the tribes of Israel. See Revelation 21:12; Isaiah 35:8-10.