Long-distance running is difficult. Running with endurance requires concentrated attention. The strong call to run with faithful endurance is set in the context of a crucial accompanying call to consider Jesus’ faithful endurance: “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (12:2). Since chapter 11 likened faith to seeing, the writer’s call to look to Jesus is a call for running to be done with complete dependence or reliance upon Him. The support and strength required for running the race that God has fixed, is found in Jesus.
Hebrews 11:32-40 concludes the Old Testament models of faithful endurance. Hebrews 11 has explained the nature of faithful endurance by primarily pointing to examples of faithful endurance under the old covenant. In this concluding unit, and before the readers are reminded of Christ’s faithful endurance (12:1-12), a summary is given, which not only names additional examples, but also describes a full array of outcomes that the Old Testament believers experienced. The outcomes described, amid faithful endurance, were both triumphal and tragic. Hebrews 11:32-40 has three parts. First, some who faithfully endured would receive great triumph in life (11:32-35a). Next, others who faithfully endured would face great tragedy in life (11:35b-38). Finally, God, who has something better planned for them, commends all who faithfully endured (11:39-40).
The exemplars of faith listed in 11:4-31 were each introduced by the phrase, “by faith.” After each person was introduced, particular details about their faithful endurance were explained. Now, 11:32 changes to simply a list of six names: “And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets.” The particular details surrounding their faithful endurance were omitted. However, the original readers would have been able to recall details from the corresponding Scriptures that told about these men.
The six figures span the periods of Israel’s history from the judges through the united monarchy. Then the mention of the prophets could include the periods from the divided monarchy to the exilic and through to the returning remnant. While the Scriptures present Samuel in an exceedingly glowing fashion, it explores both sides of the other five exemplars of faith: Gideon was tentative and doubtful; Barak was passive and fearful; Samson was morally lax; Jephthah was foolishly rash; and David was an adulterous murderer. The list illustrates how God works through a people who trust Him.
Gideon (Judges 7:1-25) was a judge of Israel, whom God used to bring about a crushing victory over the Midianites. By faith, Gideon and 300 men equipped with torches in clay jars and trumpets, sent the Midianite forces into confusion. Barak (Judges 4-5) was also a judge of Israel. Barak, accompanied by the prophetess Deborah, went up against a Canaanite force of 900 chariots. But God gave the Canaanites into Barak’s hands, when a downpour immobilized their superior military edge. Samson (Judges 13-16) was a judge of Israel as well. Set apart as a Nazirite to deliver Israel from the Philistines, Samson was endowed by the Spirit of God with great strength. Jephthah (Judges 11), also a judge of Israel, was a mighty warrior whom God used to overthrow the Ammonities. David, Israel’s dearest and greatest king, from the time that he slew Goliath as a young man until the time that he took the reigns over Israel and established her borders in peace and security, consistently showed great reliance upon and love for the Lord. Samuel (1 Samuel) was Israel’s last judge and long tenured prophet whose life was marked by courage and intercession on behalf of Israel. The prophets, mentioned in a generic way, exemplified faithful endurance amid extremely hostile circumstances, both in their message as well as in their lives.
Hebrews 11:33-34 moves from individuals who modeled faithful endurance to list some of the great triumphs that they received, “through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.” Nine descriptions are strung together to describe the various types of deliverances that were experienced by those who received triumph by faith. Some of the men just previously mentioned could specifically be linked to these descriptions, but in other cases, many other exemplars of faith come to mind: Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednigo, Elijah, Elisha, Jeremiah. Then a tenth description is a pinnacle of triumph: “women received back their dead by resurrection.”(11:35a). The poor widow of Zarapheth and the woman of Shunem each received sons back from the dead through the hands of Elijah and Elisha (1 Kings 17:17-24; 2 Kings 4:17-37).
In the middle of verse 35, the emphasis shifts from the triumphs received through faith to the tragedies faced through faith: “Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated” (11:35a-37). Certainly, the lives of the prophets would come to mind as this list of tragedies is considered (Matthew 23:37). There is a wide range of outcomes that can be experienced through faith: some are brought back to life (11:35a), while others suffer death (11:37); some escape the sword (11:34), while others are killed by the sword (11:37); some rout armies (11:35), while others are captured and imprisoned (11:35-36); some rule over others (11:32), while others are ruined by others (11:37).
But of these who suffered mistreatment, Hebrews adds: “of whom the world was not worthy” (11:38). Judged by the world to be unworthy, God saw things differently. God actually assessed that the world was unworthy of them. And as it was stated in 11:2, it is now restated: “And all these…” were, “commended through their faith.” And yet, though commended for their resolute determination to trust the Lord, they had yet “receive what was promised” (11:39). While many of the original readers were facing a great testing, the old covenant believers faced much more severe affliction. Faithful endurance would be the proper path for a people who were called by a Savior who faithfully endured, for faithful endurance was the path of a people awaiting the Savior.
In fact, because of Christ’s faithful endurance, what the previous exemplars of faith never received has now arrived: “God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect” (11:40). With the ratification of the new covenant by the death of Christ, old covenant believers join together with new covenant believers to know the conscience-cleansing, drawing-near-to-God-enabling, eternal inheritance of all the saints. What the Old Testament believers awaited is now here.
Hebrews has already described Moses as a faithful servant in God’s house (3:2, 5). Hebrews 11:24-28 highlights three episodes of faith from Moses’ life. The first episode involved Moses’ response to his upbringing. Moses was raised in Pharaoh’s house as Pharaoh’s daughter, who found him in a basket in the Nile, adopted him. But, “by faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter” (11:24). Moses renounced his status as a part of the royal family of Egypt, “choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin” (11:25). Faith directed Moses to identify with God’s people rather than the ungodly. Moses’ deliberate choice was made as he, “considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward” (11:26). Moses found loss of wealth and relinquishment of status to be of lessor value than the future promises of God. So, he embraced mistreatment.
Faith acts on the basis of the unseen. That is far from saying that faith acts without any foundation. Faith’s foundation is the sure Word of God. Faith is an essential link to all aspects of God’s Word. When that Word is a call to trust, faith embraces the promise and waits for the promises’ outcome. When that Word is a call to obey, faith embraces the command and submits to its orders. So for Abraham, believing God meant that He would wait for the fulfillment of God’s promises as well as comply with the instructions to follow God’s commands. So, while faith acts on the basis of what is unseen, faith always expresses itself in some seen manner. For instance, faith is not obedience (obedience is not faith), but faith expresses itself in obedience (obedience shows faith).
Hebrews 11:1-7 introduces faith by describing it as a kind of seeing the unseen. The bookends of this unit revolve around the mention of “things not seen” (11:1), which references the creation of the world, and “events as yet unseen” (11:7), which references its destruction. Hebrews 11:1 is not a complete definition of faith, but it does describe some essential characteristics of faith through two parallel descriptions: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. The first aspect of faith is that it is a resolute confidence. Faith realizes that some realities are future, not immediate and that some realities exist in a spiritual realm and are physically unseen. Faith is a resolute confidence in God, rooted in His Words and actions. Faith is a response of resolute confidence because something here and now (i.e. God’s Words and actions) creates a calm anticipation for something that has yet that fully unfolded and also a peaceful courage for something real and solid, though as yet unseen.
The ability to see and celebrate greater realities than those immediately observable, which strengthened them in the past, would need to be refocused upon in the present: “Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward” (10:35). The author is encouraging his readers to not retreat from the practice of publicly identifying with the body of Christ (10:25) by reminding them of the great reward that comes through such identification. To that end, they were in, “need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised” (10:36).
The first exhortation “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance” (10:22) is grounded in the effectiveness of the sacrifice of Christ’s high-priestly work. It is a call to approach God Himself. “Since” Jesus is the “great priest over the house of God” (10:21), but also, “since…by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh,” we now “have confidence to enter the holy places” (10:19-20). The result of Christ’s priestly, sacrificial work is the confidence that it provides to both the author of Hebrews and his readers. Jesus had entered into the presence of God by His blood (9:12, 14, 25). And now, because of what He has done, Jesus has now obtained the right of entry for His people.
The decisive character of Christ’s finished work toward His new covenant people is concisely expressed: “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (10:14). By His one sacrifice at the cross, Christ “has perfected” His people “for all time.” The tense of the verb “perfected” stresses that the task has been fully accomplished in the past and yet the results continue into the present. This perfecting work by Christ speaks of how He has qualified believers to draw near to God in relationship, having provided forgiveness of sin and a purified conscience from guilt. Thus, believers are consecrated unto God for proper service before Him. This consecrated relationship is expressed by: “those who are being sanctified.” Even though believers are already qualified in their relationship with God, there still remains an ongoing operation in them. At present it is designed to continually weaken the remaining aspects of indwelling sin as well as produce fuller effects of actual likeness to Christ.
But what Israel lacked in terms of a true heartfelt devotion toward God as they practiced the prescribed sacrificial rituals, Jesus would sacrificially display, “but a body have you prepared for me” (10:5a). Jesus was acknowledging that His body was prepared as the means by which “an eternal redemption” (9:12) would be secured. To accomplish this, Jesus would not just be willing to offer a sacrifice; He would be the willing sacrifice: “Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book” (10:7). These Words of the Psalm are used as Christ’s declaration of His willingness to obey. Christ discovered His duty as set out for Him in the Scriptures and He purposed to carry it out with whole-hearted obedience. Thus, as a truly acceptable worshipper, Christ offered Himself as the only satisfactory sacrifice.
Just as certain as human beings die and then face judgment, so also Christ, who died, “will appear a second time.” Christ’s return is cast as an absolute certainty. Whereas Christ’s first appearing was “to deal with sin” and so He offered Himself “to bear the sins of many,” He “will appear a second time…to save those who are eagerly waiting for Him” (9:28). On the Day of Atonement, the people of Israel gathered around the High Priest as he came out of the Most Holy Place. Similarly, God’s new covenant people have an eagerness for the return of Christ because of the expectancy that the richest blessings of salvation—the final rescue from judgment as well as the fullest enjoyment of the “promised eternal inheritance” (9:15) awaits. So, Lord Jesus, come!
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