The eleventh chapter of Hebrews is the continuation of the last part of the tenth chapter of Hebrews. The last part of the tenth chapter of Hebrews appeals to the Hebrew Christians to hold fast to their faith, to live by faith. The Hebrew Christians had been experiencing some rough times. They had turned from Judaism and its ritual and ceremony to Jesus Christ. But they had experienced much persecution because of their following Jesus Christ. Therefore the book of Hebrews was written to counter their discouragement, to show that following Christ was better than Judaism, and to keep them faithful to Christ. The appeal to faith was logical, for it is only by faith in the Word of God that we can be strong in times of difficulty.
The writer of Hebrews finishes the tenth chapter by noting that "the just shall live by faith" (Hebrews 10:38). Faith is the way by which God's people ought to live. This phrase, "the just shall live by faith," is found four times in Scripture (Habakkuk 2:4; Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11; and Hebrews 10:38). In Hebrews 11 the writer, after a preface (which is the subject of this chapter) of describing the work of faith, gives many illustrations of Old Testament heroes to show how the just lived by faith and the results of such living. "Hebrews 11 is an amplification and exemplification of Hebrews 10:38, 39" (Pink).
Before we go any further, we need to define the faith whereof we speak which is the subject of this book. Faith is not some wistful hope or premonition that something is going to happen. That is, unfortunately, how many talk about faith. The faith the Bible speaks about is a belief in the Word of God as being true and believing it to the extent that you act according to the Word. It is a belief in God's Word that affects your behavior. Do not talk about your faith if you are not obeying the Word of God in your life. Some have told this author when he was a pastor that they had great faith. But we noticed they were not living much of a Christian life—therefore, their faith was mostly talk and very little walk.
Faith requires an object of trust. Faith "is not a case of sincerity of belief, but of the truth of what is believed" (Thomas). The faith the Bible is talking about is not just any faith, but it is a faith in the Divine Word of God. It might help one to better understand Hebrews 11 if instead of the word "faith" the readers substituted the phrase "believing in the Word of God."
So why should we or do we believe the Word of God? Do we simply convince ourselves that the Bible should be believed and that we are going to be of the crowd that believes it? No, that is not the reason to believe the Bible. The right reason for believing the Bible is because it has been and continues to be proven true, to be true irrevocably. No book has the credentials the Bible has for veracity and reliability. Furthermore, no book so affects mankind in a positive way as the Bible. If ever you believe anything, believe the Word of God—that book we call the Bible.
Mankind, however, often demonstrates that he will trust anything but the most trustworthy (God's Word). He will believe politicians (who are notorious for lying), the news media (have they ever told the truth, especially the liberal ones?), the ungodly educators (who oppose the truth), the gossip (who majors on slander), horoscopes and other superstitions (that are proven so ridiculous and wrong so often that one wonders why anyone pays any attention to them), and his own prejudiced and unsubstantiated ideas about matters of life. But he will not believe the Word of God which has an incredible amount of excellent evidence to support its every claim.
"Even in the religious world there is an awful want of faith. For how little are men actuated by the truths which they profess to believe... 'When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?' [Luke 18:8]" (Simeon). However, believing the Word of God is actually a lot easier than believing all the other things that men claim to believe. So why do men not believe the Word of God? It is a heart problem, not a head problem. Their unwillingness to believe the Word of God is because it condemns their sin which they do not want to give up.
The eleventh chapter of Hebrews is a great testimony of how men act when they believe the Word of God and what the consequences are in their believing. The first three verses of this chapter form an introductory section to the whole chapter in that they speak of the consequences of faith. Since the whole chapter is about the various consequences of faith, it is fitting that the introductory preface to the chapter gives a summary of the consequences of faith.
To study these three verses which comprise the introduction or preface of the great eleventh chapter of Hebrews, we will consider three major consequences of faith. They are the persuasion from faith (Hebrews 11:1), the praise from faith (Hebrews 11:2), and the perception from faith (Hebrews 11:3).
"Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1). One of the consequences of faith is to produce a strong persuasion or confidence or conviction in the person of faith about Divine matters.
One of the meanings of the word translated "evidence" in this first verse of Hebrews 11 is "conviction" (Thayer). This underscores the persuasion which comes from faith. Faith is that which brings conviction. The meaning of conviction here is when one is convinced of something. When a sinner is convicted by his sins, he is convinced he has sinned. When one is convicted about the truth, he is convinced that the truth is valid. If we are persuaded about something, we will have firm convictions about it. Lack of persuasion kills conviction. The Psalmist said, "I believed, therefore have I spoken" (Psalm 116:10). What the Psalmist spoke (after he believed) was praise to God and proclamation of Divine truth. The failure to speak up for truth is because one has not "believed."
Unbelief is weak in convictions. We have all met folk who seem to have little conviction about anything spiritual. They are wobbly and weak Christians. Their problem is found here. They simply do not believe God's Word (they lack faith) or they would have some convictions. The lack of convictions about right and wrong today is evidence of a lack of believing in the Word of God. If you believe in the Word of God (which is what faith is), you will have some convictions about right and wrong. You will not be governed by the culture of society, but by the commands of the Scripture when it comes to convictions.
Our verse speaks of two areas for this persuasion or conviction—the things hoped for and the things not seen. While these two areas can be the same thing, the writer of Hebrews does particularize and lists them separately. Therefore, from our text we note two things which can be said about this persuasion which comes from faith. They are the cause ("substance") of the persuasion and the confirmation ("evidence") for persuasion.
The cause of the persuasion. "Faith is the substance of things hoped for." The word translated "substance" means "a foundation." (Wuest). The origin of the word indicates that it was a "legal term" (Moulton and Milligan) which stood for "the whole body of documents bearing on the ownership of a person's property, deposited in archives, and forming the evidence of ownership" (Ibid.). If, as an example, you have purchased a house, you understand well that there are legal documents involved that verify and substantiate your ownership of the house. We speak of them as the "title" or the "deed" of the house. Our possession of them gives us confidence and assurance that we own these items. Often times when one buys a house or piece of property, he has a title company search out the validity of the title; and when they are certain that the title is clear, they furnish title insurance for you so you can have the utmost, confidence and be fully persuaded that the newly purchased property is actually owned by you. Thus it is with faith. As Wuest translates the phrase, "Faith is the title-deed of things hoped for." Faith gives us the cause or foundation for our persuasion or confidence in matters concerning God.
Faith (believing the Word of God) is the persuasion and gives us the confidence that our hopes are justified. Now we need to note here again that the faith we speak of is the believing in the Word of God. You could believe a host of other things and they would not give you legitimate confidence that your hopes are justified. Faith spoken of in the Scriptures is only as good as the Word of God. The Word of God substantiates our hopes of salvation, of eternity in heaven, and of great spiritual blessings; but we only gain that confidence and persuasion through believing the Word of God. Nothing persuades and gives us hope like believing the Bible.
If you base your hope for salvation and heaven on anything but the Word, your hope is vain. Unbelievers have no basis for the credibility of their hopes. They have no title deed, no valid documents to justify their hope. Their hopes for their soul are all vain. Unbelievers facing death have no valid hope of heaven, though they may wistfully think their souls are heaven bound. If they do not believe God's Word, their hopes have no valid grounds. No eulogizing by a well-paid priest or other minister will make up for lack of faith in God's Word.
The confirmation for the persuasion. "The evidence of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1). The words translated "substance" and "evidence" are closely related in meaning. They both provide proof or assurance. We have emphasized the cause for the confidence or persuasion in the first word ("substance") and will emphasize the actual proof or confirmation for confidence in the second word ("evidence").
God's Word is the best evidence, so believing God's Word provides our heart evidence or confirmation. Simeon says, "By 'evidence' is meant such a proof as silences all objections." If you believe the Word of God, you have proof of that which the human eye has not seen. "Faith in what God has declared gives the soul absolute assurance and firm conviction of the reality of things which the natural eye has never seen" (Ironside). Thus, to believe the Word of God about heaven is to have proof of that which is not seen as yet. To believe the Word of God is to possess the proof. The proof is always there, but you do not possess it unless you exercise faith in the proof.
"For by it [faith] the elders obtained a good report" (Hebrews 11:2). This second main consequence of faith, spoken of in the introduction part of the faith chapter, concerns the praise one receives from faith. To examine this second consequence in more detail, we note the persons for the praise, the Praiser in the praise, and the principle for the praise.
The persons for the praise. "The elders." These are the saints of the past, particular Old Testament saints in this case. These patriarchs are the ones who will be cited in the rest of the eleventh chapter of Hebrews for their living by faith. They are the ones we have called the "heroes" of faith. And what is said of them is indeed a "good report." It is a commendation of their life. The "pious progenitors were justified by faith, and to the end of the chapter he [the writer of Hebrews] shows that faith was the principle of all their holy obedience, eminent services, and patient suffering in the cause of God" (Pink).
We note two things about the persons for the praise. They are the examples in the persons and the encouragement from the persons.
First, the examples in the persons. The writer of Hebrews did a wise thing when he wrote this section on faith. Rather than speak of faith in abstract terms (as in verse one), he spends most of the section giving examples or illustrations of living by faith. The writer of Hebrews does not spend much time in defining and describing faith in abstract terms but instead gives concrete examples of living by faith in these "elders" or heroes of the Old Testament. This is the value of biographical studies from the Scripture. It is often difficult to understand and explain some principles of Christianity, but when we illustrate these principles in flesh and blood, they then become much easier to understand and apply to our own lives.
Second, the encouragement from the persons. The encouragement from these "elders" and heroes used as examples of faith is found in the fact that those listed in this great chapter of Hebrews come from all walks of life with a varied assortment of circumstances and problems and deficiencies—Abel (Hebrews 11:4) was a shepherd, Abraham (Hebrews 11:8) was a foreigner looking for a country, Sarah (Hebrews 11:11) was a women who had been barren for years and plagued with doubts, Joshua (Hebrews 11:30) was a soldier, Rahab (Hebrews 11:31) was a converted prostitute, Gideon (Hebrews 11:32) was the least (Judges 6:15) of a lowly family, David (Hebrews 11:32) was a king, and the parents of Moses (Hebrews 11:23) were obscure people who were burdened by slavery to the Egyptians and suffered many material privations.
Thus the examples say that faith can be practiced by anyone. Anyone can walk by faith. Anyone can live by faith. Living by faith is not an exclusive club that only the rich or the royal or the perfect can belong to, but it is a group to which anyone can belong. So the selection of examples in the persons of commendation is an encouraging selection, for it encourages all of us, whoever we are, to live by faith.
The Praiser in the praise. "Obtained a good report." The word translated "obtained a good report" is the word often translated "witness" or "testified." The word "good" is not in the text; the translators simply added it as it is so strongly implied in the text. It is indeed a good report that is given of this selected list of "elders" or heroes in this great chapter of faith.
The One doing the testifying, the One doing the praising, the One giving the "good report" in our text is God. He is testifying about those who lived by faith. It is God Who commends the person not only to others but to the person himself who has embraced faith. It certainly is not the world that is giving the praise, for the world is not in the habit of praising a person for living by faith in the Word of God. They are more likely to ridicule and even persecute such persons as we will see more about later in this chapter of faith in Hebrews. "They who have a good testimony from God shall never want [for] reproaches from the world" (John Owen).
The principle for the praise. "By it [faith]... obtained a good report." The principle for the praise is faith. That is, God praises one on the basis of their faith. If you want the praise which comes from God, you will have to have faith. When God looks a person over, He looks for faith, not their fame or fortune or other earthy feats. He is not in the business of praising a man for how much money he has made or how many home runs he has hit or how many Oscars or Nobel prizes he has won. God will praise a man primarily on the basis of his faith in God's Word. "It was not by their amiability, sincerity, earnestness, or any other natural virtue, but by faith that the ancients [elders] 'obtained a good report'" (Pink).
A lot of people being praised so highly by the world will not be praised by God, for they do not have any faith in God's Word. They do not believe the Word of God. They have nothing to do with God and His Word. They may be the darlings of the world and be praised and honored by the world, but they will not be honored by God if they lack faith. On the other hand, God will praise many who are nobodies in this world. These nobodies, as far as the world is concerned, believed the Word of God and thus will receive due praise from God. "Without faith it is impossible to please him [God]" (Hebrews 11:6), and thus many who are praised in this world will receive no praise from God Almighty, because they do not have faith—they do not believe the Word of God—and therefore they do not please God. And if you do not please God, you will not be praised or recognized by God!
We need to judge people the same way if we want to judge rightly. "Let us [also] value a Christian not for his intellect, natural charms, or social position, but for his faith, evidenced by an obedient walk and godly life" (Pink)
"Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear" (Hebrews 11:3). Faith gives us a perceptive mind—and here the writer of Hebrews cites one area in which faith gives one a perceptive mind, namely, the area of creation. Faith helps one to perceive or understand this matter of creation whereas doubt leaves you in the dark in this important matter and gives you strange and stupid explanations such as evolution to explain the creation. "It is only unbelief and wilful rejection of the testimony of God that makes men stumble at and pervert so wondrous an unfolding of the beginnings of the created heavens and earth" (Ironside).
The word translated "understand" in our text means to "perceive with the reflective intelligence." (Wuest). "Faith is the vehicle or medium of spiritual perception" (Pink). "Faith comprehends within its grasp the past, the present, and the future. By it [faith], the Christian knows that the universe, but a few thousand years ago, had no existence, and that it was created out of nothing by the word of God" (Simeon). Without faith in the Word of God, a person cannot correctly perceive the origin of the universe. But through faith in the Word of God, a person is "enabled to apprehend things which are high above the reach of human reason. The origin of the universe presents a problem which neither science nor philosophy can solve, as is evident from their conflicting and ridiculous attempts [to explain it]; but that difficulty vanishes entirely before faith" (Pink).
The Scriptures give such a sensible explanation of the origin of the universe and life. Faith believes this explanation and thus has great wisdom in understanding and perceiving the origin of the universe which is far superior to the wisdom about the origins demonstrated in most of our school classrooms today. Evolution is so foolish and encounters so many problems trying to explain the origin of the universe. But then evolution leaves out God. How can you make sense of the origin of the universe when you leave out God? Faith, however, acts on what God says. Thus faith [wisdom] excels unbelief [folly] "as far as light excelleth darkness" (Ecclesiastes 2:13). Unbelief makes dunces in the classroom; faith does just the opposite.
To further examine our text about this valuable perception consequence of faith in regards to creation, we note three areas in which faith helps us perceive correctly the matter of the creation. These three areas include the Word in creation, the work of creation, and the wonder of creation.
The Word in creation. "By the word of God." Faith knows the place, prominence and power of the Word of God in creation. The word translated "word" in this text is not the Greek word logos which is found in John 1:1 and which is not limited to a spoken word but also refers to the Incarnate Word, Jesus Christ. But the word used in our Hebrews text is the Greek word rhema which is limited in meaning to a spoken word. This means that creation came about by the spoken Word of God. "The reference is to God's imperial fiat" (Pink).
Scripture (in which Bible faith finds its foundation) says, "By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth" (Psalm 33:6). To verify this truth, the account of creation given in Genesis chapter 1 records ten times the significant words "God said" (Genesis 1:3,6,9,11,14,20,24,26,28,29). Worldly intellects wrestle with how the universe came into being. Gigantic explosions seem to be a favorite of the wise-acres of the world in explaining how the universe came into being. An explosion theory is a ludicrous explanation to be sure—explosions cause chaos, not beauty and order. Someone has said that creation being a result of an explosion is about as likely as a dictionary being a result of an explosion in a print shop. But faith knows a better answer—it is that God Almighty simply spoke things into being. God's Word has tremendous power because God is Mighty indeed! And God's Word is spoken with equally tremendous wisdom. The world wants to leave out an intelligent designer and builder of the universe, so all its explanations lack intelligence. Actually they want to leave out God, for they want to cling to their sins and sin is not interested in God.
The work of creation. "The worlds were framed." The word translated "framed" means "to fit out or equip, so that person or thing thus equipped or fitted out might subserve the purpose for which it was made" (Wuest). "The fundamental meaning is to put a thing in its appropriate condition" (Zodhiates). This speaks of design and purpose in creation and speaks specifically of the work of creation which involved the six days of creation reported in Genesis 1:3-31. The original creation is recorded in Genesis 1:1 and the condition after the original creation in Genesis 1:2. Then, from Genesis 1:3 through the rest of Genesis 1 is recorded the "framing," the putting of the original creation into a purposeful design. While the "framing" especially emphasizes this aspect of creation, it "necessarily presupposes [involves] their original creation" (Pink); so that "by the word of God" refers to the entire creation process. Faith perceives all of this, but unbelief is wilfully ignorant regarding the origin of creation.
All of this says the creation did not explode or evolve by some unknown force into the marvelously intricate universe it is now. The universe became the splendid system by the fiat of the Word of God. We can set our watches and guide our ships by the stars—this did not just happen by chance, as by an explosion or evolutionary process, but it was made that way by the design of an all-wise God Who spoke everything into being. Faith knows this, but unbelief is ignorant of it all.
The wonder of creation. "So that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear." One of the great wonders of creation is that it was all made out of nothing which the human eye can see. Faith knows the universe was made out of nothing. That which we can see of the universe was not made by that which we can see. The stars and planets and this object we call the earth were all made out of nothing but were brought into existence by a fiat of Divine speech. The human mind cannot fathom making something out of nothing (although politicians and church dissidents can seemingly make an issue out of nothing). But God can and did make the universe out of nothing. The world was made "out of no pre-existent matter, contrary to the received maxim, that out of nothing, nothing can be made, which, though true of created power, can have no place with God" (Henry).