HEBREWS 11:17-40


11:17  By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son,
11:18  Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called:
11:19  Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure.
11:20  By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come.
11:21  By faith Jacob, when he was a dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph; and worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff.
11:22  By faith Joseph, when he died, made mention of the departing of the children of Israel; and gave commandment concerning his bones.

Section (d)    Verses 17-22    Faith in relation to death.

We must not lose sight of the fact that the chapter is designed to fortify the Hebrew believers in their faith, despite the opposition they faced.  They are to be like Habakkuk and wait in faith for the revelation of Christ in glory.  Meanwhile they must live by their faith, and press on to what is before them.  But they will have to face the fact that they might die before Christ comes- how will they face death?  This is the matter dealt with in the next section.

11:17  By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son,

By faith Abraham, when he was tried- we have already learnt lessons from Abraham, for verse 8 introduced us to him.  Now he is alluded to again to present another aspect of faith.
There is no suggestion here that Abraham’s faith was only tried once.  Rather, this is the supreme trial, and we are now told how Abraham reacted to the test.  James tells us that by this trial of faith Abraham’s faith was perfected, or “brought to completeness”, confirming the statements of the Old Testament that Abraham was a man justified by faith and also the friend of God, James 2:21-23.
We read of Abraham in Genesis 21 as he enjoyed a life of contentment and ease by the oak in Mamre.  Then, like a bolt from the blue, the word of God comes, “Take thy son…offer him for a burnt sacrifice”!  Abraham had everything, but now God says to him in effect, “Give Me thy dearest and best”.  We learn here that having faith does not mean we are exempt from trial, whether from the world or from God.  The trial of faith is designed to yield that which shall be to the praise, honour and glory of God in eternity, 1 Peter 1:7.
Offered up Isaac– Hannah gave her son Samuel to God, but this did not involve his death.  This does, and Isaac will become just a pile of ash.  God does not ask for Ishmael, the dispossessed son, but Isaac.
And he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son- the writer is adding reason after reason why Abraham might well have resisted God’s demands upon him.  He might have argued that to slay a son was unethical- why could he not bring an animal offering instead?  And why must it be Isaac, in whom are vested all the promises of God to him, and on whom depends the coming of the Seed?
It was Isaac as his only begotten son that he was to be offered.  This title emphasises the deep affection that Abraham had for his son.  Isaac is the only one called this in the epistle, for the Lord Jesus is presented as God’s firstborn throughout.

11:18  Of whom it was said, “That in Isaac shall thy seed be called:”

Of whom it was said, “That in Isaac shall thy seed be called”- Abraham had progressed in faith since he asked God that Ishmael might be blessed, as if the promise just given that Sarah would bare Isaac could not be fulfilled, Genesis 17:17,18.  And even on the occasion of the weaning of Isaac, and his presentation to the world as Abraham’s son, Abraham was grieved that Sarah cast Ishmael and his mother out, Genesis 21:9-11.  It was at this point that God said to Abraham, “in Isaac shall thy seed be called”.  In response to this Abraham sent Hagar and Ishmael away, no doubt at last coming to terms with the fact that God’s purpose was centred in Isaac as the seed.  Soon after, God demanded that God slay Isaac!  Human reason would say this was madness; faith says it must be done.  Abraham knew by faith that no word of God can contradict another of His words.  The way he thought about it is told us in the next verse.

11:19  Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure.

Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead- this is the crowning-point of Abraham’s faith, the day when it was “made perfect”, to use James’ words.  At last Abraham is resting unreservedly on God’s word, despite what the natural mind would think.  If God had promised that through Isaac the promised Seed would come, then Abraham knew that nothing, not even the death of Isaac, could thwart the fulfilment of that promise.
And he had reason to believe that, for God had brought Isaac out from the virtually dead bodies of himself and his wife Sarah.  The apostle Paul shows in Romans 4:13-25 that Abraham’s faith was in one who quickeneth the dead.  He also applies the lesson that those who believe the gospel believe in the one who raised up Jesus Christ from the dead.
Even death is not an obstacle to faith, for faith is the evidence of things not seen, and Abraham looked beyond the thought of Isaac reduced to ashes, to Isaac raised again from the dead.
Notice the word “accounting”, for it has as its basis the word that gives us logic.  Faith does not abandon logic, but assembles facts about God through His word, and comes to conclusions.  Faith is not unreasonable, but it does allow the word of God to govern its thinking, and hence comes to conclusions that to the natural mind seem unreasonable.
From whence also he received him in a figure- it is interesting to notice that Abraham said to his servants as they went towards Moriah, “I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again unto you”, Genesis 22:5.  And so it came to pass, for Isaac did return with Abraham, a virtually resurrected man.  Of course the way it happened was that a ram was found for a substitute, after Abraham’s faith had passed its supreme test, and the knife was uplifted in his hand to slay his son.  It would occur to the Hebrews that God’s only-begotten Son had been offered at Calvary, and God had not spared Him, (there was no “ram caught in a thicket” for Him), but rather had freely offered Him up for us all, Romans 8:32.  Having really died, He was really raised, the guarantee of all that God has in view for His people. 

11:20  By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come.

By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come- we now arrive at a point where the Old and New Testaments give to us a different view of the same event.  If we only had the Old Testament record of Genesis chapter 27, we would emphasise that Isaac was deceived by Jacob into granting him the blessing.  From Hebrews 11, however, we learn that, despite being deceived by Jacob, Isaac did in fact act in faith at the end of the incident by blessing Jacob above Esau, (hence the younger is put before the older in this verse). 

It would be helpful if we have in our minds the sequence of events leading up to this incident:

Genesis 25:21  Rebekah conceives twins by Isaac.
Genesis 25:22 The children struggle in her womb.
Genesis 25:22 She enquires of the Lord about this.
Genesis 25:23  The Lord tells her that two nations are in her womb, and “the elder shall serve the younger”.
Genesis 25:24-26 Esau and Jacob are born, in that order.
Genesis 25:28  As they grow up, Isaac loves Esau, and Rebekah loves Jacob.
Genesis 25:29-34  Jacob persuades Esau to sell him his birthright.
Genesis 27:1  Isaac, thinking he is about to die, intends to give Esau the blessing that goes with the birthright.
Genesis 27:5 Rebekah overhears this, and devises a scheme so that Jacob will receive the blessing.
Genesis 27:6-29 The scheme succeeds, and Isaac gives the blessing to Jacob, thinking he is blessing Esau.
Genesis 27:30-32 Esau presents himself to Isaac as firstborn son.
Genesis 27:33 “And Isaac trembled very exceedingly”, then says, “Yea, and he shall be blessed”.
Genesis 27:34-40 Isaac gives Esau a lesser blessing.

So Isaac feels that he is about to die, and therefore wishes to bless his sons, in effect giving them a verbal will, yet not so much bestowing his possessions on them, but, as a patriarch, calling down God’s blessing upon them in the future.  He should have given priority to Jacob in this, for he must have known that Esau had sold his birthright to him, and therefore Jacob was the firstborn, and had claim on the better blessing that went with the birthright.  He allowed his senses to govern him, however, for he smelt, touched, tasted, heard, and dimly saw, but his natural senses deceived him.  Many of the Hebrews were doing this, and the vestments, impressive buildings and awe-inspiring ceremonies of the temple worship were beckoning them.  To abandon them in favour of Christ would be an act of faith.  Sadly, many believers are still impressed by a religion of the senses.
What if Isaac’s blessing had gone to Esau and his seed?  The blessing involved five things:

First, that peoples would serve him.
Second, that nations would bow down to him, (with the word “bow” being the homage that befits royalty or God).
Third, he would be lord over his brethren.
Fourth, his mother’s sons would bow down to him.
Fifth, he would be able to count on God’s watchful care over him, even though he would have enemies ready to curse him. 

This would have made one of Esau’s descendants the Messiah, with Jacob’s descendants bowing to him, owning him lord, and giving him homage!  No wonder when he found he had been deceived, Isaac “trembled very exceedingly”, as he contemplated what his mistake would have meant if God had not intervened.
Isaac’s faith came to the fore, however, when, having found out he had blessed Jacob and not Esau, he realised his mistake, and refused to retract the blessing.  And this is what Hebrews 11 highlights, for the faith of Isaac rises above his former mistake, and acts in line with the word of God to Rebekah long before, “the elder, (Esau), shall serve the younger, (Jacob), Genesis 25:23.
The lesson for the Hebrews is clear.  God has centred every blessing in His Son, His Firstborn.  Some of the Hebrews had made the mistake of thinking that the blessing was elsewhere.  If they were genuinely believers they would own up to the enormity of their error, as Isaac did, and return to Christ as the true Firstborn with the blessing.  Our writer will return to the subject of Esau in 12:16,17, and again warn the Hebrews of the danger of despising their birthright.  For the church is the church of firstborn ones, 12:22.
Thus the grave mistake of Isaac is turned into an important lesson as God over-rules in the situation.  This does not make God complicit in the deception carried out by Rebekah and Jacob, but it does show that He is in total control of every situation, and safeguards the line of the Messiah.  So Isaac did bless Jacob and Esau, and in that order, but the reference is not to what he did whilst he was being deceived, but what he did after he had realised his mistake. 

11:21  By faith Jacob, when he was a dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph; and worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff.

By faith Jacob, when he was a dying- here is another aspect of faith in the face of death.  Abraham showed he believed in resurrection; Isaac showed he believed that the coming seed would be supreme in the earth; now Jacob shows that he understands the principle of the firstborn’s rights, and ensures that the Seed will have a complete nation to reign over.  Again, it would be helpful if we noticed the sequence of events in Genesis 48:   

Genesis 48:1,2
Joseph takes his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, to see Jacob, who was sick.

Genesis 48:3,4
Jacob recalls God’s covenant with him about the nation and the land.

Genesis 48:5
Jacob claims Joseph’s two sons as his own.

Genesis 48:8,9
Jacob declares his intention to bless them.

Genesis 48:10-20
Jacob crosses his hands so that his right hand is on Ephraim’s head, thus making him firstborn, even though he was born second.

Like Isaac before him Jacob was unable to see clearly, but he guided his hands wittingly, showing that, unlike Isaac, he was aware of what he was doing.  Isaac had been dull-witted and out-witted, but Jacob is sharp-witted.  Rebekah had tried to switch sons, and make out Jacob was firstborn, but when Joseph presents his firstborn son to Jacob’s right hand, it is Jacob who switches sons by crossing his hands, for he has learned his lesson.
Blessed both the sons of Joseph- this blessing consists of being counted as Jacob’s sons, a privilege granted to both.  It is not a question at this point as to who is the firstborn.  Being a prophet as well as a patriarch, (as we see from Genesis 49:1), Jacob knew that two of his sons would be deprived of a full inheritance in Israel.  Levi and Simeon are singled out for censure in Jacob’s death-bed pronouncements, and they were to be divided in Jacob and scattered in Israel, Genesis 49:7.  So it was that Levi was given no land as an inheritance, but had cities throughout Canaan, and Simeon was given a portion within the confines of the inheritance of Judah.  To safe-guard the idea of the twelve tribes, therefore, Jacob blessed both the sons of Joseph with a full place in the land.  The fact that he made Ephraim the firstborn by crossing his hands is not prominent here; simply that both sons would make up the deficiency of others.
Even though Manasseh would be a ring-leader in defection once they reached the land, and even though Ephraim would give his name to the breakaway ten tribes, and be carried away first into captivity, nevertheless Jacob looks beyond that, to when Messiah will unite the nation together under His headship, as Ezekiel 37:15-22 and Hosea 1:11 indicate.
And worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff- when he had obtained a promise from Joseph that he would ensure he was buried in Canaan, Jacob bowed himself on the bed’s head, no doubt in relief, Genesis 47:31.  Here, however, he rises higher, and worships.  He does so, however, leaning on the top of his staff.  We are not told this in Genesis, but the Epistle to the Hebrews is just as inspired as that book is.  There is no good reason for confusing this incident with that of Genesis 47:31.
Jacob’s staff had become a symbol of his pilgrimage through life, for he had said to his brother, “with my staff I passed over this Jordan; and now I am become two bands”, Genesis 32:10.  Jacob is saying that he crossed Jordan alone on his way to Padan-Aran to find a wife, and now he has become a multitude of people by God’s goodness.  How fitting that as he contemplates the further multiplication of the nation through the incorporation of Manesseh and Ephraim into it, (Moses would speak of “the ten thousands of Ephraim, and the thousands of Manesseh”, Deuteronomy 33:17), he again should draw attention to his staff, no doubt worshipping God for His gracious intervention in his life.  He does not need to lean on his staff to help him along, for his pilgrimage is over.  What he does do is lean on the staff as the symbol of God’s faithfulness to him during his life.  He was leaning in faith upon God as he is about to die.  This reiterates what was said in verse 13- “these all died in faith”, for they died as they lived, trusting God and strengthened by His promises.  This is the best way to die.
Needless to say, the notion that Jacob worshipped his staff is totally contrary to Scripture, and is mere superstition, which should have no place in a believer’s thinking.
The Hebrews would surely not miss the significance of a non-Levite worshipping, nor the fact that Abel had offered sacrifice without a tabernacle system.  They are being reminded that an earthly building and a tribal priesthood is not necessary for the worship of God.

11:22  By faith Joseph, when he died, made mention of the departing of the children of Israel; and gave commandment concerning his bones.

By faith Joseph, when he died, made mention of the departing of the children of Israel- Joseph had grasped the significance of God’s words to Abraham:
“Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years;  And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance.  And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age.  But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.  And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces.  In the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, ‘Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates'”, Genesis 15:13-18.

Laying hold of this word, Joseph’s faith made it real, and he could look beyond the present, not just to the near-future when the Israelites would return to Canaan, but long-term, for he made mention of his bones, and was therefore anticipating resurrection.
It is important to understand what God is saying when He speaks of the period of four hundred years.  The verse does not say that the Israelites would be in Egypt for four hundred years.  It is the affliction that lasts four hundred years, and this period begins with the mocking of Ishmael, the son of the Egyptian slave-woman when Isaac was weaned, Genesis 21:9. 

The time line is as follows:
Galatians 3:17; Acts 7:6
God makes a covenant with Abraham.  Abraham is a stranger in the land of Canaan.
The beginning of a 430 year period ending with the Exodus, Exodus 12:40,41, Galatians 3:17.

Genesis 15:13; Acts 7:6
Isaac is installed as firstborn and seed, and Ishmael, son of the Egyptian, mocks.  Now Abraham’s seed also is a stranger in the land of Canaan.  Beginning of the 400 year period of affliction.

Genesis 47:1
Jacob comes into Egypt.
Beginning of a 215 year period until the Exodus.  71 years without slavery, then at the death of Joseph and rising up of a new Pharoah, 144 years in slavery.  The birth of Moses was 64 years after the death of Joseph.

We know from Exodus 12:41 that careful record was being kept of the passage of time, for the exodus occurred on the anniversary of God’s covenant with Abraham, “even the selfsame day”.  Joseph would know, because he accepted God’s word in faith, that the Exodus was 144 years ahead.
And gave commandment concerning his bones- Joseph acted upon this belief, and made sure that his bones would be carried up out of Egypt.  No doubt he could have had a royal burial, but he chose to associate with the people of God.  He was embalmed and put in a coffin, but not buried.  He knew that only his bones would be left by the time the departure from Egypt came; he knew also that it would not be so long that he would have crumbled to dust.  All this shows that Joseph took the word of God to be literally true- it was not an allegory.
We might think that it did not matter where his bones were, but the commandment concerning his bones not only show his strong belief that God would honour His word, but the presence of his coffin in the midst of the nation for 184 years would sustain them in their faith in the promise, too.  For Joseph was not only anticipating a departure from Egypt, but also an entry into the land forty years later.  He knew the date of the first, but he might have been surprised if he had known how long the wilderness journey would take. 


11:23  By faith Moses, when he was born, was hid three months of his parents, because they saw he was a proper child; and they were not afraid of the king’s commandment.
11:24  By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter;
11:25  Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season;
11:26  Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward.
11:27  By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible.
11:28  Through faith he kept the passover, and the sprinkling of blood, lest he that destroyed the firstborn should touch them.
11:29  By faith they passed through the Red sea as by dry land: which the Egyptians assaying to do were drowned.
11:30  By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, after they were compassed about seven days.
11:31  By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace.

Section (e)        Verses 23-31    Faith in relation to the world.

We now come to a new section, which shows the attitude that believers had to the world, as represented by Egypt. 

Verse 23 The faith of Amram and Jochebed.
Resistance to the world.
Verses 24-26 The faith of Moses as an individual.
Refusal of the world.
Verse 27 The faith of Moses as God’s representative.
Rejection of the world.
Verse 28  The faith of Moses as the people’s leader.
Redemption from the world.
Verse 29 The faith of the Nation.
Release from the world.
Verse 30 The faith of the Nation.
Ruin of the world.
Verse 31 The faith of Rahab.
Rescue from the world.

11:23        The faith of Amram and Jochebed

Resistance to the world.

11:23  By faith Moses, when he was born, was hid three months of his parents, because they saw he was a proper child; and they were not afraid of the king’s commandment.

By faith Moses, when he was born, was hid three months of his parents- although the sentence begins “By faith Moses”, he is not the one who demonstrates faith here, but his parents.  This Scripture says his parents hid him; Stephen says he was “nourished up in his father’s house three months”, Acts 7:20; Exodus 2:2 says that he was hidden by his mother.  So we may see here that the husband and the wife were united in the defence of their child.  It is good when Christian parents are united in the way they bring up their children for God.  The sure way of being united is to be governed by the Word of God alone in the matter- there is no double-mindedness there.
Moses had been born under threat of death, because Pharoah was worried that the Hebrews would multiply so that they outnumbered the Egyptians. Because they saw he was a proper child- Stephen says he was “exceeding fair”, or as the words are literally, “beautiful to God”.  This sort of expression is used of “whatever can in any way be likened to God, or resemble Him in any way”, Grimme. There must have been revealed to Moses’ parents that the child was destined for greatness, and they acted accordingly.  It was not that he was in the line of the Messiah, for he was of the tribe of Levi; nonetheless there was something about his features that alerted them to the fact that he was special.  They had not seen these features in Aaron, his older brother.  Perhaps there was something about the alertness, the facial features and the eyes of Moses that alerted his parents to something different, (remember Moses was still alert and of good eyesight at the age of 120, Deuteronomy 34:7).  They would enquire of the Lord about this, (just as Rebekah enquired about her unborn sons, Genesis 25:22), and no doubt they saw he was a proper child with spiritual insight as the Lord made known His purpose for the child.
And they were not afraid of the king’s commandment- whatever other parents were doing, they would not destroy the life of their son.  They obeyed God, (who values life), rather than men, (who were, and are, indifferent to the value of life).  Faith always runs counter to the world on moral issues, for the world by definition is opposed to God.  Says John, “this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith”, 1 John 5:4.  Just as great things were achieved by Amram and Jochebed because their faith rose above the opposition, so the Hebrews of the New Testament could imitate them, and rise above the religious opposition of Judaism.
When they could no longer hide him from the Egyptians, Moses’ parents did exactly what Pharoah had commanded, for the edict from the king was “cast out” into the Nile, Acts 7:19, and so they did indeed “cast him out” into the Nile, Acts 7:21.  So they obeyed the king, but also obeyed God whose law says “Thou shalt not kill”.  In this way they did not have to employ situation ethics, as Rahab did when she lied about the spies, Joshua 2:2-7.  Amram and Jochebed have a clear conscience that they have honoured the king, and honoured God as well.
We would do well to pray that we might not be forced into a situation where the only way of escape, (so we think), is to lie and deceive.  It is God who makes a way to escape when we are tempted, 1 Corinthians 10:13.  In no circumstances is lying an option for a believer, Ephesians 4:25.  We should be prepared, if necessary, to “swear to our own hurt”, Psalm 15:4.
Because they acted in faith, Amram and Jochebed were guided by God to lay him in his ark by the river’s edge at a place where Pharoah’s daughter came to bathe.  The Egyptian palace would no doubt be furnished with the facilities for bathing, but this was different.  The Nile was revered as a god, for did it not annually flood, and deposit on the land the fertile silt that enabled Egypt to prosper?  So the Nile was considered sacred, and able to impart fruitfulness and prolong life- where better to bathe if you are a childless and idolatrous princess?  To bathe in such a river was to devote ones-self to the god.  We might almost say to be baptised unto it.  The temples that stood on the banks of the Nile had a portion of river enclosed just for this purpose, so that bathing was safe.  It is in all probability here that Moses’ parents hid the child, with Miriam their daughter at a discreet distance away.  The princess comes with her maidens to worship the river-god, and lo, the god has given her a child!  The fact that Moses was taken to be her son seems to indicate that she was childless.  To her superstitious mind, the gods have favoured her.  She calls him Moses, which is made up of two Egyptian words, “mo”, water, and “uses”, rescued from water.  Ever after Moses is called by that name.  So it is that Amram and Jochebed obeyed God and gave away their son, but God saw to it that they received him back again for a time.  And God so over-ruled that they were paid to bring up their own child!  Truly God is the rewarder of those who diligently seek Him, as verse 6 of our chapter has told us.

Verses 24-26   The faith of Moses as an individual

Refusal of the world.

11:24  By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter;

By faith Moses, when he was come to years- forty years have passed, and Moses has been in the palace for most of them.  He has been taught the wisdom of the Egyptians, Acts 7:22, yet that has not dulled his appreciation of the wisdom of God.
Refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter- the point has come when he must decide where his allegiance lays.  Whether there was some process that he was facing which would further entrench him in Pharoah’s house we are not told.  What we are told here is that he stood firm.  He might have argued naturally that he had some sort of obligation to Egypt for giving him such a life-style as he had enjoyed as the son of Pharoah’s daughter.  He might have argued that it was ungrateful to the princess who had saved his life.  He might have reasoned that to remain where he was would give him better opportunity to help his fellow Israelites.  Like Daniel after him, he might have great influence on the affairs of the king.  This was not God’s will at this time, however.  Daniel was in an abnormal situation, with the kingly tribe, (of which he was part), dispossessed of the land of Israel and the throne of David, so that made his position different.  We should always take into account the way God is acting in this age, for we cannot necessarily transpose what Old Testament saints did into our situation.  For instance, shall we raise an army like Gideon and rout the enemy?  Or shall we heed the words of the Lord Jesus, “The Son of Man came not to destroy men’s lives”, Luke 9:56?

11:25  Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season;

Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God- Moses knew from the making of the covenant with Abraham that a burning lamp had passed through the pieces of the sacrifice during the horror of a great darkness.  In other words, God was with His people in their affliction, not distant from them.  “In all their affliction He was afflicted”, Isaiah 63:9.  How could Moses distance himself from the Hebrews when God did not?
Notice that he made a deliberate choice here.  It was not forced upon him by circumstances.  Indeed, the circumstances all tended to confirm him as the son of Pharoah’s daughter.
It is affliction with the people of God he chooses.  It is with the things of God that his sympathies lie, for the palace life has not deflected him in his faith.  The wisdom of Egypt has not converted him.  The faith of the believer gives him victory over the world, 1 John 5:4.  We begin the Christian life by turning in a different direction to the world, and this is how we continue, if we are consistent.
Sadly, Moses went about this associating with the people of God in a faulty way, for he tried to legislate between an Egyptian and an Hebrew, and in the process killed the Egyptian.  This was not an act of faith, and resulted in him fearing the wrath of the king, (which forty years later he did not, verse 27), and spending forty years in the wilderness away from the people of God.  Moses faithfully records this in the Book of Exodus, but the writer to the Hebrews omits it, for it was not an exhibition of faith.  In the same way he omits the forty years of the wilderness experience of Israel, because that was a period marked largely by unbelief.  Moses and Israel do not give examples of faith in these instances, and therefore they are not appropriate for the sort of chapter Hebrews 11 is setting out to be.
Than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season- Moses could have reasoned that the Exodus was only forty years away, (for he knew the time-span God indicated in His word to Abraham, Genesis 15:13), so why not enjoy the life-style while he could, and then associate with God’s people at the end?  Why make things difficult for ones-self in the meantime?  Had not God intervened so that he was adopted by Pharoah’s daughter?  Is not renouncing this to go against the will of God?  This is how Moses might have reasoned; but even if he did think like this initially, he soon came to the conclusion that it was God’s will for him to make a break with Egypt.
We need to remember that what God’s will at one point in our lives is not necessarily going to be His will throughout our lives.  This would have a lesson for the Hebrews.  It was the will of God for their forefathers that they offer animal sacrifices, in Old Testament times, but that will of God has been displaced by another will, equally of God, as Hebrews 10:9,10 explains.

11:26  Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward.

Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt- Moses had discerned that the lamp that passed between the divided pieces of the covenant victim when God made covenant with Abraham was a symbol of the Messiah.  Isaiah 62:1 would later record, “For Zion’s sake will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness, and the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth”.  This is one of the places in the Old Testament where the word salvation is the word “yeshua”, the equivalent of “Jesus”.  He is the lamp therefore.  Moses seems to have insight into this, (and it will be confirmed to him at the burning bush),and despite the implication of the horror of a great darkness that the seed will pass into, Genesis 15:12, Moses is prepared to suffer reproach.  Because that reproach concerns God’s promise, in symbol, that the Messiah will be the one who will ensure the covenant is stable, (for normally the two covenanting parties passed between the pieces of sacrifice, but in this case it was just the lamp), then association with those who are in that covenant relationship with God, (the “people of God”), is the reproach of Christ, the Messiah.
Moses thought of this as a valuable thing.  He treasured it in his heart above all else.  Surrounded for forty years by the opulence and splendour of the palace of Pharoah, he was unmoved, and his heart was set on spiritual realities, even though they involved reproach and hardship.  How easy it is for us as believers to cast envious eyes at the luxuries of the world.  We should remember, however, the riches of God’s grace, expressed to us as they are by the vast inheritance He has given to us, detailed for us in such passages as Ephesians 1:1-14.  As the apostle exhorted in Colossians 3:1,2  we should set our affection on things above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.  For “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also”, Matthew 6:21.  What our hearts are occupied with is an indication of what is valuable to us.
For he had respect unto the recompence of the reward- Moses knew that God would see to it that the land would eventually be theirs, and they would have the great privilege of being in it under the righteous reign of the Messiah.  This to him far outweighed any temporary advantage that Egypt’s royal court might give him.  The writer to the Hebrews has already exhorted his readers to “Cast not away your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward”, Hebrews 10:35.  They may have suffered the spoiling of their goods because of their stand for Christ, but this was of little account when compared to the compensating reward that God will give for faithfulness to Him.
So we may say that the refusal of relationship with the princess of Egypt involved the recognition that the Hebrews were the people of God.  This in turn resulted in reproach, yet this would be certainly followed by recompence.

Verse 27        The faith of Moses as God’s representative

Rejection of the world.

11:27  By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured as seeing Him who is invisible.

By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king- Moses himself tells us specifically that he feared after he had killed the Egyptian and the fact was known, even though he had sought to bury the body unnoticed.  He had “turned this way and that way” before he did this, the sure sign of a man with a guilty conscience.  This verse tells us of a point where he did not fear the wrath of the king, and connects with it a forsaking of Egypt.  Having been forty years in the land of Midian, Moses is sent into Egypt to lead God’s people out.  He is given a sight of a burning bush, and hears God speak to him out from it.  The bush burns, but is not consumed, for God will be in the midst of His people, even when they are in “the iron furnace”, Deuteronomy 4:20, and He will see to it that they are not consumed by the trial.  Fortified by God’s word to him, Moses in principle forsook Egypt.
Various details show us that Moses did not fear the king.  Remember that the Pharoah is different now, for God told Moses that “all the men are dead which sought thy life”, Exodus 4:19, and this would include Pharoah the father of his adopted mother, the princess.  It may well be that the new Pharoah had reason to see Moses slain, as being a possible rival to the throne if he reversed his decision to not be called the son of Pharoah’s daughter.
First, we note God’s word to Moses, “I have made thee a god to Pharoah”, Exodus 7:1.  How could a “god” fear a man?
Second, we note the position Moses adopted when he spoke to Pharoah in Exodus 7:15, for God told him to stand by the river’s brink before Pharoah came.  No doubt coming to worship the river, or bathe in it, Pharaoh finds that his way is blocked by an intrepid Hebrew!  How dare this man interpose between Pharoah and his god!  To add insult to injury Aaron lifts his rod over the river and turns it to blood, the sure sign of judgement.  Years before, the river had been the deathbed of many Hebrew children, and now the time of retribution has come.
Third, we note that Moses and Aaron constantly enter the presence of a heavily guarded Pharoah, despite the fact that his land is being increasingly ruined by the plagues they are inflicting on it.  Yet no hand is laid on them.  The rod of God is of more authority than the rod of magicians.
Fourth, Moses is not afraid to enter the palace, despite the fact that Pharoah was reckoned to be a god, and demanded worship. . This Moses would refuse to give him.  Pharoah was the virtual ruler of the world, and, being an object of worship, was the god of this world.  In these things he is a symbol of Satan himself, who is the god of this world and its prince, 2 Corinthians 4:4; John 14:30.  Each of the plagues was an attack upon an Egyptian object of worship, yet Moses is unafraid.
Fifth, we read in Exodus 10:6 that “Moses turned himself and went out from Pharoah”.  Despite the king’s bodyguard that surrounded and protected Pharoah, who at a word from the monarch would slay him, Moses calmly turned and left the presence of Pharoah without a hint of deference to him.  He is confident that the God who told him that he would be the one to lead the people out, will protect him from a dagger in the back.
Sixth, the climax came when he issued an ultimatum to Pharoah, and warned him that all the firstborn sons of the Egyptians, including his own, would be slain.  This would ruin Egypt, and would be just recompence for the destruction of the Hebrews’ children forty years before.  Then we read, “he went out from Pharoah in a great anger”.  This is surely the moment when he “forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king”.

Verse 28    The faith of Moses as the people’s leader          

Redemption from the world.

11:28  Through faith he kept the passover, and the sprinkling of blood, lest he that destroyed the firstborn should touch them.

Through faith he kept the passover- given the anger of Pharoah, Moses might have panicked and left Egypt and celebrated the Passover in the wilderness.  After all, God had told Moses that he would serve Him on Mount Sinai, Exodus 3:12, and Moses interpreted this as keeping a feast in the wilderness, which is how he put it to Pharoah, Exodus 5:1.  Why not wait until Israel was safely in the wilderness, and then keep the feast in peace?  Faith obeys God, and trusts Him for everything.  If they had not kept the feast the night they were told to, the destroying angel would have found their houses unprotected.  So it is that the night the angel of death visited Egypt, Israel were still in the land of Egypt, yet because they were obeying God in all things, they were safe.  The original readers of this epistle may rest assured that to follow God’s guidance is always the safest course.  Their situation is full of danger for them as they are persecuted for their faith, but they should rest in God.  We are reminded by John as he introduces the upper room ministry that the Lord Jesus was on a journey via Calvary to the throne of God; He knew also that the intention to betray was already in Judas’ heart.  Notwithstanding He met with His own and gave them much teaching to prepare them for His absence.  Even though the cross was but a few hours away, He lingered with His own.  He knew that everything was under control.
Moses has learnt the lesson that if the people of God are going to be delivered from their taskmasters, it must be by the seemingly foolish method of the blood of a helpless lamb.  Forty years before, Moses had tried to help his brethren, but that was by carnal methods and deeds.  He has learnt his lesson.
One of Christ’s disciples, Simon, was a Cananite, Matthew 10:4, which does not mean he came from Canaan, but that he was a Zealot, dedicated to the overthrow of the Romans.  The Lord Jesus called him from that to work for the kingdom of God.  (Of course, Matthew was at the other end of the spectrum, working for the Romans and collecting their taxes- he was called away as well).  Peter was a fisherman, but, in zeal for his Lord, wielded a sword in Gethsemane- he was rebuked, for he had to learn the same lesson as Moses, that “the weapons of our warfare are not carnal”, 2 Corinthians 10:4, and, “the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God”, James 1:20.
It is Moses that is said to keep the Passover, whereas the nation is referred to, (“them”), at the end of the verse.  Moses is acting on personal conviction, but he is also acting as an example to the nation.  His parents had been an example to him as they resisted the decree of the king, and now he is likewise being an example to others.  As the one with “the rod of God”, Exodus 4:20, he represented the authority of God, and should be listened to and followed, just as the apostle Paul exhorted the believers to be a follower or imitator of himself, quickly adding, “as I am of Christ”, 1 Corinthians 11:1.
There are those who suggest that to “keep” the Passover means to institute the Passover.  However, in Matthew 26:18 we read of the Lord Jesus keeping the Passover, but He did not institute it then.  The point is, (since the word “keep” in both Exodus and Matthew means to make), that all the detailed arrangements were carried out carefully and calmly.  The apostle Paul exhorted the Corinthian believers to “keep the feast”, 1 Corinthians 5:8.  In that chapter he is using as an illustration the Passover and its accompanying Feast of Unleavened Bread to press upon the believers the need to deal with the evil in their midst.  “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us”; in other words, the work of Calvary by which redemption was obtained, is done, but it remains for us as believers to live out the meaning of the feast that is inseparably connected with it, that of unleavened bread.  Just as Israel were to purge out literal leaven from their houses, so the saints are to purge out the moral leaven of immorality and false doctrine from the house of God, the assembly.  Deliverance from the world has lost its meaning if the evil of the world is still in our midst.
And the sprinkling of blood- to kill the Passover lamb, but not sprinkle its blood, was folly in the extreme.  No doubt the Egyptians looked on in puzzlement as the Israelites daubed their doorways with blood.  But this was Divine wisdom, for the blood was the evidence that the life of another had been forfeited, so that the firstborn inside the house could be safe.  It was either the lamb or the firstborn that died; the difference lay in the exercise of faith.  There would have been very few houses in Israel where there was no firstborn son, even if he was an old man, (for there seems not to be any indication that the firstborn son must be young), and the only means of safety was through the blood of the lamb; blood, moreover, that was to be sprinkled, for the death of the lamb, (the work achieved), must be followed by the sprinkling of the blood, (the work applied).  Just as now, it is not enough that Christ has died, there must be the receiving of the truth by faith in personal application, in order that what happened two thousand years ago may become real to the soul now.
Lest he that destroyed the firstborn should touch them- as far as those who had sprinkled the blood were concerned, God had not only passed through the land of Egypt to smite the firstborn, but He had also passed over their houses, Exodus 12:12.  This means that the selfsame Lord that judged the firstborn sons, had already been satisfied by the death of the lamb, and He could righteously shield those houses where the blood was sprinkled.
We should not think of God passing over the house as meaning He simply passed by the house.  The Hebrew word is “pesach”, meaning to leap over.  So instead of simply passing by the houses with blood-stained door-posts, God actually protected those inside from the death that was striking the firstborn sons of Egypt.  It is said that the Egyptian word which most nearly corresponds to the word for passover, is “pesh”, meaning “to spread the wings out over so as to protect”.  This reminds us of the words of the Lord Jesus when He wept over Jerusalem, and said, “how often would I have gathered thee, as a hen doth gather her chickens under her wings, but ye would not”, Luke 13:34.
Eighty years before, the Pharoah of the time had ordered the death of all new-born Hebrew sons.  He did not limit the decree to firstborn sons.  Now is the time of recompence.  It may have been a long time coming, but come it did.  God is not mocked, for whatsoever a man sows he will reap, sooner or later, Galatians 6:7.
To destroy the firstborn son is to destroy the very heart of Egyptian society.  And the threat was not limited to ordinary people, for it extended to the successor of Pharoah on his throne.  God was destroying Egypt, and showing His supreme power as He did so.  He had promised to do this when He covenanted with Abraham four hundred and thirty years before, with the words, “that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge”, Genesis 15:14, the word “I” being emphatic- He would not delegate it to another.
There is a warning here to the unbelievers in Israel, for they should be complacent, and rest on the fact that they belonged to the Hebrew nation.  They must “sprinkle the blood of the lamb” if they are to be safe.  To ignore the message of John the Baptist, “Behold the lamb of God”, and to fail to act in faith, is to miss out on redemption.  Moreover, to fail in this way is to be no different morally to the Egyptians, who spurned the power of the sprinkled blood.  Indeed, it is to be worse than they, for they would be counting the blood of Christ an unholy thing, Hebrews 10:29.
So it is that the Israelites were redeemed from Egypt by the blood that they must have thought of as extremely precious; it was so valuable that it had purchased their freedom from Egypt.  Believers of this age, however, have been redeemed from a far more terrible situation, for they have been redeemed from this present evil world.  And far more precious blood has secured their release, the blood of Christ, “as of a lamb without blemish and without spot”, 1 Peter 1:18,19.  This perfection is not just in the physical sense, but in the moral sense, for Christ is free from all sin, whether inherited or acquired.  As one who is without blemish, Christ has no shortcomings at all, being sin-free entirely as to His nature.  As one who is spotless, He has no stain on His character.  So it is that those who are full of blemishes and character-stains, are protected by the blood of God’s spotless lamb, when His death is laid hold of by faith.

Verse 29    The faith of the Nation

Release from the world.

11:29  By faith they passed through the Red Sea as by dry land: which the Egyptians assaying to do were drowned.

By faith they passed through the Red Sea as by dry land- to faith, the passage through the Red Sea was no different to a passage through the sand dunes of the arid desert, such was the thoroughness with which God had prepared their path.  But the pathway was of no use if they did not tread it, and this they did by faith.  We read at the end of the crossing of the Red Sea that “the people feared the Lord, and believed the Lord, and His servant Moses”, Exodus 14:31.  At first, Israel feared Pharoah’s cavalry, as it bore down upon them.  But just as at the Passover God Himself had protected them, so now.  For the pillar of fire removed itself and stood between them and the enemy, Exodus 14:19.  But more than that, as it passed from the front to the rear of the column of marching Israelites, they were baptised in it, and the New Testament says they were baptised to Moses, 1 Corinthians 10:2.  They were committing themselves to the man with the rod of God in his hand; the rod that had wrought such wonders in Egypt over the past few weeks, and which had been lifted up over the sea to divide it.  They knew that he was in touch with God, and on the basis that he had the word of God, they obeyed him.
They pass through the Red Sea by faith, and not in desperation.  It is true that they feared Egypt’s army, for it was ruthless and cruel, and specialised in cutting off the hands of its prisoners as a way of counting them, and then offering them to their gods as a thank-offering.  They fear God more, however.
Their faith in God is rewarded, for they venture onto the sea-bed and find it bone-dry.  They do not have to pick their way through pools of water, as if God was not able to completely defeat the sea, but they walk on dry ground.  So much so that when God caused the chariot wheels of their pursuers to come off, Exodus 14:25, their axles dug into hard ground; they did not slide through the mud.  It might even be that God used the hardness of the ground to shake the chariot wheels off.
What an encouragement the remembrance of this would be to the Hebrews in receipt of this epistle.  They seemed to be hemmed in on every side, as their forefathers had been; their foes, the Judaisers, persecuting them as those who had left the fold, and the world opposing them as believers.  Just as Israel of old had two options, so have these.  They could either turn back, and face the wrath of the enemy, or go forward in faith.  Said our writer in 10:39, “we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul”.  In the case of the Hebrews of AD 68, the wrath they faced was the wrath of God against those who despise His Son.
Those who venture forward in faith find that what seemed an insurmountable obstacle is in fact their salvation, for the very sea that opened up for them to pass through, then returned to drown their enemies.  The Hebrews who wavered should take note of this, and move forward in faith.  They will find that their Messiah has been through the waters before them, and has dried up the waters of judgement for them.  For He had an exodus too, and Moses and Elijah spoke with Him about it on the mount of transfiguration, Luke 9:31, (“His decease” uses the Greek word for exodus).  He, too, was hemmed in on every side.  He spoke of it in these terms, “I have a baptism to be baptised with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished”, Luke 12:50.  Unlike Israel, however, the Lord Jesus was hemmed in or straitened by the will of His Father, from which He refused to deviate.  He knew that a baptism awaited Him, the immersion into the experience of God’s wrath, (corresponding to the judgement of Passover night, with the death of the first-born, except that the first-born who died was Himself), and the subsequent emergence into resurrection conditions, (corresponding to the passage through the Red Sea, until the other side was reached).  So it is that His decease is accomplished at Jerusalem, for the city that saw Him die, is the city that holds His empty tomb.  The city that is the centre of Judaism, is the city that He left, carrying the cross they gave Him.  And it is accomplished, for the journey into wrath and death, and out of it, is over.  Both Moses and Elijah had unusual departures from this world, but neither went out of the world as Christ did, as one who had died and had risen in triumph.  Those who believe in Him are not only dead with Christ, but are also risen with Him, Colossians 2:12, and they signify this by their baptism in water.  For them there is no immersion into the wrath of God.
Which the Egyptians assaying to do were drowned- to apparently tread the same pathway as the people of God, and yet not do it in faith, is to meet with disaster.  So the Egyptians found, and so would some in Israel find who only appeared to believe in God, all the while refusing the Son that God had sent to them for their blessing and salvation.
So it is that Israel gained release from the world that had oppressed them for so long; yet all who believe are released from a far greater oppression, and are brought into association with a risen Christ, free from condemnation.  Yet the trials of life remain, but they are tempered by the fact that there will be another exodus from this world, when the Lord comes to “take His waiting people home”.  This will be the logical climax to the moral exodus they have already experienced.

Verse 30        The faith of the Nation

Ruin of the world.

11:30  By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, after they were compassed about seven days.

By faith the walls of Jericho fell down- if Egypt represented the world seeking to prevent the slaves making their exit from it, Jericho represents the world as seeking to prevent entry into the inheritance of the sons.  This opposition is represented by the walls of Jericho.  The king and his city are in fear because Israel surrounds them, and they make no attempt to issue forth to attack them.  As Joshua 5:1 says, “their heart melted, neither was there spirit in them anymore, because of the children of Israel”.  This is not enough to make the walls fall down however; for that, faith is needed.  The Hebrews too faced seemingly insurmountable obstacles, (and some of them no doubt would soon find themselves within the beseiged city of Jerusalem in AD 70), but they had only to move in faith and God would give them deliverance.  The obstacle might not be destroyed, as Jericho was, but they would be given the way of escape from their difficulties.
So it was not battering rams that destroyed Jericho’s walls, for “the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds”, 2 Corinthians 10:4.
Infidels might have their own ideas about what caused the walls to fall.  Say they, it must have been an earthquake, perhaps even triggered by the great shout that the Israelites made.  Or perhaps the walls were not well-built anyway.  In fact this latter idea has embedded itself into the English language, and badly-built buildings are labelled “Jeri-built”.  Neither of these things was the cause; it was simple faith in God that caused the walls to fall, because God always responds to faith.  This is why even faith no bigger than a grain of mustard seed is enough to move a mountain, for the faith is in the God who made, (and can move) the mountain, Matthew 17:20.
After they were compassed about seven days- in obedience to God the Israelites persisted.  No matter how laughable the method seemed to be to the natural mind, they persevered, and the desired result was achieved.  God’s ways and man’s ways are far apart, and the natural mind has no inkling of what God is able to do.  By marching round the city once for six days, and then seven times the seventh day, the number thirteen, the number of rebellion, was impressed upon the event.  But it was the rebellion of Jericho, not Israel.  So the Hebrews must decide which side they are on, either the side that rebels against the person and work of Christ, or the side that opposes that rebellion in faith, and by that faith pulls down the stronghold of unbelief. 

Verse 31        The faith of Rahab

Rescue from the world

11:31  By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace.

By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not- not only was Jericho rebellious, but it was unbelieving.  They had no time for God and His people, even though they were in fear of them.  We come now to the second woman in the chapter of faith.  Not now Sarah the distinguished wife of the equally distinguished patriarch Abraham, the “Friend of God”, but a Gentile harlot.  Yet God takes note of the faith of them both, and by her faith Rahab is found in the same chapter as Sarah.  For Matthew chapter 1 shows how that, because she married Salmon, she became the mother of Boaz, of the line of the Messiah.  Great things happen to those who go contrary to the world and gain the victory by faith.  The Hebrews might well heed the lesson, and go contrary to the world of Judaism in like faith, and hence gain the victory over it, and find themselves vitally involved with the Messiah.
The difference between Rahab and the rest of Jericho was that she was trusting what the scarlet line represented, the promise of God through the spies.  Their word to her was God’s word to her, and she believed it and acted upon it.  And this, as the first verse of the chapter has told us, is the essence of faith.
When she had received the spies with peace- no doubt the spies deliberately chose a harlots house, since it would not arouse suspicion if a stranger entered there.  But they were noticed, and this was gave occasion to Rahab to act in faith.  But the Scripture is careful to tell us that she hid the men in the flax laid out on the roof, and also that she came to them “before they were laid down”.  This would not have been her normal behaviour when men came to visit her; now she is a changed person, and what has changed her is faith.
To her, at the beginning, the men were spies, but she receives them in peace because she believes in their God now.  The rest of Jericho would have received them with execution- she is different.  When James is using this incident, he emphasises Rahab’s works, the evidence of her faith, and hence calls the men messengers, James 2:25.  He also uses a different word for “receive” which means “to give hospitality to”, thus pointing out the trouble she took as she acted in faith, and by works expressed that faith.  The word used in the verse we are considering is simply to allow into one’s house, itself an act of faith.
She did not say, “Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled”, but rather gave them “those things that are needful for the body”, James 2:16.
It will not be lost on intelligent Hebrews that there is a contrast between two spies, Joshua and Caleb, whose word was not believed with disastrous consequences, (as chapters 3 and 4 of this epistle have showed), and the two spies who came to Rahab, and who were believed by her, with blessed consequences.  The Hebrews should learn a lesson from this, and mix the word with faith when they heard it, Hebrews 4:2.


11:32  And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets:
11:33  Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions.
11:34  Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.
11:35  Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection:
11:36  And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment:
11:37  They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented;
11:38  (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

Section (f)    Verses 32-38        Faith in relation to affliction.

Having shown how to live by faith, and how to die by faith, then how to react to the world that opposes them, our writer now prepares his readers for even more affliction than they had already experienced.  The siege and destruction of Jerusalem is just a year or two ahead, (if the epistle was written in AD 68), and they must be prepared for it.  So it is that various traumatic experiences are listed, some in Old Testament times, and some in the period between Malachi and Matthew when God seemed silent.  Faith sustained the people of God even in those times too, for Malachi prophesies that there would be those who would speak often one to another, Malachi 3:16, and when the New Testament opens we find people like Anna speaking of Him, Luke 2:38.

This closing section may be divided as follows:

(a) Verse 32  Unlikely heroes. 
(b) Verses 33-35(i) Unusual happenings.  Ten exploits of faith.
(c) Verses 35(ii)-38 Unjustified horrors.    Ten extremities of faith.
(d) Verse 39 Unrealised hope.
(e) Verse 40 Unrevealed hope.

(a)    Verse 32    Unlikely heroes

11:32  And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets:

And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell- if these words were originally given as addresses in a synagogue, we may easily see why, as he records what he said, he writes “time would fail”, and not “space would fail”.  He was originally limited by time as he discoursed.  The word for “tell” means “to narrate to the end”.  This chapter also conforms to the style of one part of the synagogue service, when a speaker would recount God’s dealings with the nation, (see, for instance, the addresses of Paul in the synagogue in Acts 13, and Stephen in Acts 7), and especially the trials the people had gone through.
We would expect this list to be full of kings and priests, but it is not.  It is true David is mentioned, but he is put before Samuel, as if his experiences before he became king are in view.  So we have three judges, an army commander, an anointed king on the run, Samuel, and unnamed prophets.
Of Gedeon- this man gains a place in the list here, even though he was fearful at first.  He questioned God, suggesting His presence was not in evidence, Judges 6:13; he had an inferiority complex about the poverty of his family, verse 15; but he learnt to trust God.  His faith came to a climax when he refused to be made king over Israel, Judges 8:22,23.  He knew God’s word on the matter of the kingly tribe and refused personal advantage by faith.  The Hebrews might think that they were in a weak position, for they had taken the spoiling of their goods, just as Gideon had been impoverished by the Midianites, but they, like him, could triumph in faith.  And do so, moreover, without disregarding the rights of the Messiah.
And of Barak- this man tends to come off badly when comments are made about him.  He is disparaged for seemingly only being prepared to act if a woman did so first, for he said to Deborah, “If thou wilt go with me, then I will go: but if thou wilt not go with me, then I will not go”, Judges 4:8.  We should remember, however, that Deborah was the judge of Israel at the time, and as such represented the authority and presence of God.  So Barak’s words are like Moses’, when he said to God, “If Thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence”, Exodus 33:15.  In confirmation of this we find that both Deborah and Barak sing a song of victory to the Lord afterwards, Judges 5:1.  Barak had obeyed the apparently suicidal command to fight the battle in the Plain of Jezreel, ideally suited to the tactics of the nine hundred iron chariots of the opposition, but through that plain flowed the river Kishon, and when God sent the rain, the chariots were immobilised, and the enemy routed.  Such is the triumph of faith.
And of Samson- this man also is much criticised, and rightly so, in the main.  He is marked by up-and-down experiences, and lacks consistency.  He is sometimes thought of as an illustration of Christ, but this is a mistake.  It is best to think of him as an illustration of Israel, with its troughs and peaks throughout history.  Samson did triumph at the end of his life, however, just as Israel will emerge from the seemingly devastating experience of the great tribulation, when the “lords of the Philistines”, (Antichrist and his associates), will seem to have them in their power.
And of Jephthae- like Barak and Gideon, Samson and Jephthah are mentioned in the reverse of chronological order.  Perhaps it is because Gideon began well and Barak finished well that the two are combined by our writer by means of the literary device of reversing their order.  The Hebrews should finish as they began, with faith in Christ sustaining them.  Samson on the other hand finished well even though his life was variable as regards faith in God.  The Hebrews should be encouraged by the fact that even if their faith in God has been weak, they may still finish well.  Jephthae shows a fine grasp of the history of the dealings of God with the people of Israel, as is seen in his long speech recorded in Judges 11:14-27.  Faith takes encouragement from God’s past dealings, and goes forward in confidence.
Of David also- almost as an afterthought David is mentioned, (and there is no mention of Solomon).  But it is before Samuel, so it is David the fugitive, dependant upon God as he seeks to avoid Saul.  It was on one such occasion that David penned Psalm 34, and the last verse says, “And none of them that trust in Him shall be desolate”, Psalm 34:22.  And when the Lord had “delivered from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul”, Psalm 18 title, then David could write, “My God, my strength, in whom I will trust”, verse 2.  He is resolved not to be self-sufficient even when his enemies are all destroyed.  And these words are quoted of the Lord Jesus in Hebrews 2:13, and show Him as a man of faith too.  By going on in faith the Hebrews would be following not just the footsteps of David, but of the Messiah also.
And Samuel- this man is noted for his life of prayer.  As we see from Jeremiah 15:1 he was remembereded for this in Israel long after he was gone.  He regarded it a sin to not continue praying for the people, even though they rejected God as their king,1 Samuel 12:33.  He is a faint illustration of the one who “ever liveth to make intercession for us”, Hebrews 7:25.  But prayer is a powerful expression of dependence on God, and as such is an act of faith.
And of the prophets- when the Lord asked who men said He was, part of the answer was, “one of the prophets”, Matthew 16:14.  This was not surprising, even though it was inadequate as an answer.  The saints of old time must have possessed eternal life, or else they could not have communed with God and served God.  But the Lord Jesus is eternal life personified, as 1 John 1:1-4 indicates.  It is not unexpected then that some of the features of Christ should be seen in the prophets.  Like Christ, they spoke the word of God to a largely unresponsive audience, yet remained faithful to God through it all.  James exhorts, “Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience”, James 5:10.  The prophets were sent by God mostly when the nation was failing, and needed to be brought back to God.  This was why their mission was so difficult.
As we think of the men listed here, we see that we have to sift their lives, and select that part which is an example of faith.  We shall learn in the next chapter, however, that Christ is the author and finisher of faith.  His life was wholly given over in devotion and dependence.  There is nothing at all about Him that is best forgotten. 

(b)    Verse 33-35(i)    Unusual happenings.  Ten exploits of faith.

11:33  Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions.

Who through faith subdued kingdoms- we are not told who did what in these verses, as if to say that any one of these exploits is open to faith.  None need opt out.  We think of Barak, Samson, Jephthah and Samuel as examples of the subduing of kingdoms that oppressed Israel in the times of the judges.  The point is they did it through faith, and not through military prowess.  Their trust was in God, not their own ability.  Of course it is not the task of believers in this age to subdue kingdoms, either by recourse to war or politics; our citizenship is in heaven, and we are called to further God’s interests, not that of one particular country of the world.  Much damage has been done to the cause of Christ through the centuries of this present era by those who tried to set up Christian political systems.  The only sacral state established by God was the nation of Israel in Old Testament times.  A sacral state is one where the law of the land is the religion of the land.
Wrought righteousness- both the judges and the prophets sought to bring the people back to the law, in order that righteousness might exalt them as a nation.
Obtained promises- the judges mentioned above all gained undertakings from God of what He would do for them if they trusted Him.
Stopped the mouths of lions- Samson stopped the mouth of the lion by slaying it, Judges 14;6.  Daniel stopped the mouth of lions without touching them, but simply by faith, and God sent His angel to ensure that the lions were rendered harmless, Daniel 6:22. 

11:34  Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.

Quenched the violence of fire- no doubt a reference to Daniel’s three friends, cast into the fiery furnace but preserved to such a degree that there was not even the smell of the fire on them and their clothes were not singed, Daniel 3:27.  Before they were thrown into the furnace, these three worthies asserted, “our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us out of thy hand O king.  But if not, be it known unto Thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods”, Daniel 3:17,18.  So whether they avoid the furnace or endure the furnace, these men are resolute in faith.  In fact both happened unto them, for they were put in the furnace, but delivered from it too, in the sense that they escaped unscathed.  Thus their faith was rewarded.  Daniel’s friends picture the nation of Israel in a future day when they pass through the fire of the great tribulation, but the promise of God to them is, “When thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.  For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, the Saviour”, Isaiah 43:2,3.
Escaped the edge of the sword- this was David’s experience when he was on the run from Saul.  Even though he was the anointed king, David was hunted as if a transgressor.  In all his troubles God was with him, and finally delivered him from them.
Out of weakness were made strong- Barak was seriously vulnerable in the face of nine hundred chariots of iron massing on the Plain of Jezreel, ideal conditions for a cavalry attack, but faith triumphed, and the enemy was defeated.  Gideon was weak socially and pyschologically, yet through faith he was able not only to cut down his fathers idol-grove, but also defeat the Midianites with a small band of men.  The Hebrews might feel like Gideon, but their faith could triumph for God if they were exercised.  The apostle Paul wrote, “When I am weak, then am I strong”, 2 Corinthians 12:10.  In other words, to feel and acknowledge one’s own weakness is the first step on the road to dependence on the power of God.
Waxed valiant in fight- Barak was encouraged by Deborah, and rose to the occasion, defeating Sisera decisively. The apostle Paul exhorted Timothy to “fight the good fight of faith”, 1 Timothy 6:12.
Turned to flight the armies of the aliens- David, the despised shepherd lad, with just his shepherd’s instruments, a sling, a bag, and small stones, was more than a match for the mighty Goliath.  But his secret was that whereas Goliath cursed David by his gods, David came to him in the Name of the God of Israel.  No wonder the Philistine army turned and fled when they saw what faith in God can do, 1 Samuel 17:51.

11:35  Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection:

Women received their dead raised to life again- the widow of Zarephath and the woman of Shunem both had their sons restored to them.  It was indeed an act of faith on the part of Elijah and Elisha respectively that this happened, as they prayed to God that life might return, but it was an act of faith on the part of the women to go to the prophet for this blessing.  They might have been resigned to the death of their child, and accepted the inevitable.  Their faith rose to the occasion, however, and expected great things from God- and received them.

(c)    35(ii)-38    Unjustified horrors.  Ten extremities of faith

Having listed ten exploits of faith where faith seemed to succeed, we now learn of ten extremities that believers endured, when faith seemed not to succeed, and there was no relief.  This will prepare the Hebrews for the horrors of the fall of Jerusalem, so soon to come upon them.  They may take courage from the fact that many of those who believed amongst the nation in former times, although seemingly overwhelmed by their sufferings, nonetheless triumphed through faith in God.  In chapter 12 they will be reminded of the supreme man of faith, who “endured the cross”.  None shall surpass Him in His trials.

And others were tortured, not accepting deliverance- even though they were being beaten to death, these worthies refused to give in and deny the faith.  We are now in the period between Malachi and Matthew, hence no names are given, for they would not mean anything to us.  Even though heaven seemed to be silent during those many years, God was taking note.  As Malachi had said before that period began, He was writing a book of remembrance of their faithfulness to Him, Malachi 3:16, and we are privileged to discover here some of the things recorded in that book.
That they might obtain a better resurrection- they were already sure of being raised at the resurrection of the just rather than the unjust, because they were believers.  There will be rewards for faith after that resurrection, however, and we are told here that they will obtain a better position in the kingdom through their faithfulness even unto death.  Speaking of this event, John tells us, “And the four and twenty elders, which sat before God on their seats, fell upon their faces, and worshipped God, saying, We give Thee thanks, O Lord God Almighty, which art, and wast, and art to come; because Thou hast taken to Thee Thy great power, and hast reigned.  And the nations were angry, and Thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that Thou shouldest give reward unto Thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear Thy name, small and great; and shouldest destroy them which destroy the earth”, Revelation 11:16-18.  The Lord Jesus spoke of believers who would be recompensed at the resurrection of the just for the good things they had done, Luke 14:14.

11:36  and others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover, of bonds and imprisonment:

11:36  And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings- mocking is mental pain and scourging is the physical equivalent.  When commenting on the fact that Ishmael had mocked Isaac, the apostle Paul defines that mockery as persecution, Genesis 21:9; Galatians 4:29.  The Lord Jesus was scourged, and the ancients called that punishment “the first death”, for often the victims did not survive the experience, and were spared crucifixion.  If we take the word trial in its judicial sense, we see what an unrighteous way justice is being administered here, with the case decided on the basis of torture.  At the so-called trial of the Lord Jesus many of the rules of Jewish justice were broken, so eager were they for Him to be crucified.  The Lord warned His followers to expect this sort of treatment also, “But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues”, Matthew 10:17,18.
Yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment- after a false trial comes false imprisonment in chains.  Jeremiah experienced this in his day, Jeremiah 37:12-16, as his own people turned against him.

11:37  They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented;

They were stoned- this is the Jewish method of execution, so it is not the random throwing of stones towards a person in mild anger, but stoning as a means of execution.  They were treated as evil-doers, being given an evildoer’s death.  This is an outrage to justice and to the good consciences of true believers.  Yet by faith they accepted these things, knowing that God was on their side.  The Lord Jesus warned of a time when “whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service”, John 16:2.
They were sawn asunder- it is said that Isaiah suffered this, so there was no respect for saintliness, piety, and old age, (for Isaiah’s ministry as a prophet spanned some sixty years, so he must have been old when he died).  The prophet of salvation was despised at the last.  The Hebrews should remember that their nation had despised the one Isaiah spoke of, and crucified Him.
Were tempted- this would refer to the extreme pressure that some were put under to try to make them give up their faith.  The classic example is recorded by Josephus as he wrote of the death of a Jewish mother and her seven sons, and the way in which she refused to recant so that her sons could be spared.
Were slain with the sword- this is the Gentile method of execution, so it was not just apostate Israelites who persecuted God’s faithful people.  It is also, incidentally, the Moslem mode of execution, and it is worth remembering that there are many Christians being persecuted even today, in the ways that are listed here.  The sword of justice is indeed put into the hand of man, but only so he may punish evildoers, Romans 13:4.  The events described here are an abuse of that power if done by the authorities, and the usurping of that power if done by private persons. A Jewish rabbi said once that killing for religious reasons said more about the person killing than the one killed.
They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins- they had to make do with whatever protection they could find, even if it was only the cast-offs of slaughtered animals.
Being destitute, afflicted, tormented- as a result of the foregoing, their condition is three-fold.  Destitute as to the necessities of life; mentally and emotionally stressed; and tormented with fever and illness as they shivered in the cold.  They were in extreme hardship financially, emotionally, and physically.

11:38  (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

(Of whom the world was not worthy:)  Outraged as he thought of these things, our writer breaks off to pass comment on the world that inflicted such atrocities on God’s faithful people.  But faith looks on to the time when God’s city shall be their home, as it descends from heaven to hover over an earth ruled righteously by Christ.  Then man’s world and man’s day shall have come to an end, and the Day of the Lord will have begun.  The world of that day will be worthy of them, as today it is definitely not.
They wandered in deserts, and in mountains- during the day they endured either the cold of the mountains, or the heat of the deserts, the only places where they could be safe from their enemies.  They wandered, not having any settled place, and not daring to have one, lest they be discovered.
And in dens and caves of the earth- at night they shared the shelter of either man-made dens, or natural caves, with the wild animals.  Their fear of them was less that the fear they had of their pursuers, who were worse than wild animals for cruelty and heartlessness.  They would remember the time when David, the anointed king, had to live in the Cave of Adullam for fear of Saul, 1 Samuel 22:1.


11:39  And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise:
11:40  God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect. 

(d)    Verse 39        Unrealised hope

11:39  And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise:

And these all, having obtained a good report through faith- as they came to an end of their lives, God’s report about them was good.  He had taken note of their sufferings, and although in His wisdom He had not intervened to relieve them, nevertheless He will surely recompence these who suffered because of their trust in Him.
Received not the promise- like Abraham and the others of the first part of the chapter, they did not receive the promises in the plural, verse 13.  Here the promise is in the singular, and takes us back to the promise of the coming of the Messiah that began the section on faith, in 10:37.  The word of God is that after they have done the will of God they will receive the promise, 10:36.  The coming of the Messiah is held out to those who suffer as the ultimate answer of God to their afflictions. 

(e)    Verse 40    Unrevealed hope

11:40  God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect. 

God having provided some better thing for us- in the context, the better thing must be the coming of Christ for His saints.  These Hebrew believers were to have part in that, for they had exchanged being Jews for being Christians, and as such were in a more privileged position that even those who received a good report through faith in the chapter we have been looking at.
The word “provided” has the idea of seeing beforehand, reminding us that according to Ephesians chapter 3 the mystery of the church and its associated blessings was not known in the Old Testament, but it was known to God in eternity.  Those who triumphed by faith during those times did so without the hope of the church before them.  The coming of Christ for the church is a much better prospect, for it will usher into the heavenly inheritance, which is far superior to anything that was promised to Israel.  The apostle Peter speaks of “exceeding great and precious promises”, 2 Peter 1:4.  The promises to Israel are great promises, but the promises to the church are exceeding great.
That they without us should not be made perfect- in the next chapter millenial conditions are described, and one of the features mentioned there is that the spirits of just men will have been made perfect.  In other words, the just men of Old Testament times, who had lived by faith but had not seen their hopes realised, will be brought into the things they hoped for, and thus they will be in a state of completeness, having reached the goal they looked for.
Here we are told that that will not happen without believers of this age being made perfect.  This will take place when the Lord comes for the church, and all our hopes will be realised.  So it is that we shall come with Christ when He comes to reign, and just men, by then with resurrection bodies, will be perfected also.  But the point is they cannot enter into that perfection unless we have already done so.
So it is that the section ends where it began, for in Hebrews 10:37 the coming of Christ is in view, and the believer lives by faith as he awaits that coming.  When He does come, the believers will “receive the promise”, and enter into their “great recompence of reward”, verse 35.  Having been changed and perfected, church saints will come with Christ when He comes in glory to the earth, and all believers of other ages will be brought into the longed-promise blessing of God through the Messiah.

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