People Commended for Their Faith
11:1 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, being convinced of what we do not see. 11:2 For by it the people of old received God’s commendation.
Now – Not indicating the present tense, but rather ‘and’ or ‘but’.
Faith is being sure of what we hope for – This verse does not attempt a comprehensive definition of ‘faith’. Rather, the definition given here provides sufficient preparation for what is to follow. And, of course, what follows will in turn clarify the definition. And, just as James and Paul have contrasting things to say about faith, so this author will address those aspects that are most relevant to the needs of his first readers, who ‘need to persevere’ (Heb 10:36).
At least two things are clear from this verse: faith has to do with things that are (a) future; and (b) unseen.
Various translations have been canvassed:-
‘Faith is being sure of what we hope for’ (NIV). This emphasises the subjective, psychological quality of faith, and ‘puts the emphasis on faith as an expression of our confidence in God’s promises.’ (NBC)
‘Faith is the substance of things hoped for’ (AV); ‘Faith gives substance to our hopes’ (NEB). This emphasises the objective quality of faith. Faith makes our hopes real and substantial. ‘This does not mean that the gospel is true simply because we believe in it! Rather, the reality of what we hope for is confirmed for us in our experience when we live by faith in God’s promises.’ (NBC)
Favouring the second, more objective, interpretation, O’Brien says: ‘faith ‘lays hold of what is promised and therefore hoped for, as something real and solid, though as yet unseen’ [Hughes]. The notion of hope in future salvation has run like a scarlet thread throughout Hebrews (Heb 3:6; 6:11, 18; 7:19; 10:23); it is intimately related to the divine promises (Heb 4:1; 6:12, 17; 7:6; 8:6; 9:15; 10:36) and the inheritance (Heb 1:14; 6:12, 17; 9:15) that are yet to be attained. They are ‘the things hoped for’ and include the world to come (Heb 2:5), the sabbath rest (Heb 4:1–11), an eternal inheritance (9:15), the heavenly Jerusalem (Heb 12:22–24), and an unshakable kingdom (Heb 12:28).’
And certain of what we do not see – This phrase, too, has been variously interpreted. Some think that it refers to subjective ‘conviction’ (NRSV, NIV, ESV, Bruce). But O’Brien doubts that this falls into the semantic range of the key word elenchos. Moreover, if we are to take the previous phrase objectively, then it would make good sense to take the present phrase similarly. The reference would then be to faith as the ‘proof’, ‘demonstration’, or ‘evidence’ of unseen things.
The implied contrast between what is seen and unseen is not between an earthly shadow and a heavenly (Platonic) reality, but between events that have been witnessed in the past and those which lie in the future.
According to this verse, then, faith ‘is the means of ‘proving’ or ‘testing’ invisible realities such as the existence of God, his faithfulness to his word and his control over our world and its affairs.’ (NBC)
‘Heb 11:1 is no exception to the rule that “faith” normally means “reliance,” “trust.” There “Faith is the substance (or possibly, in the light of recent inquiries into the type of Greek used by New Testament writers,”the guarantee”) of things hoped for, the evidence (or “convincing proof”) of things not seen.” This is sometimes interpreted as if faith, in the writer’s view, were, so to speak, a faculty of second sight, a mysterious intuition into the spiritual world. But the chapter amply shows that the faith illustrated, e. g. by Abraham, Moses, Rahab, was simply reliance upon a God known to be trustworthy. Such reliance enabled the believer to treat the future as present and the invisible as seen. In short, the phrase here, “faith is the evidence,” etc., is parallel in form to our familiar saying, “Knowledge is power.”‘ (ISBE, 1st ed.)
Is sure of God’s promises, v1
Is confident of God’s power, v3
Acts on God’s promises, vv8-22
Esteems Christ above all else, v26
Overcomes adversity, v29-38
‘Will there be faith in heaven? I raise this question not because of any prurient academic interest but because in many ways it raises the whole question of what faith is. Some argue that there won’t be faith in heaven because then faith is swallowed up in sight. (1Jo 3:2) Faith, they say, is what gives substance to things hoped for and evidence for things not seen (Heb 11:1) and when we see him as he is we won’t need faith. But the Bible uses the idea of faith with a slight ambiguity. Sometimes it contrasts faith with direct knowledge of what is before is our eyes. In this sense, certainly, faith will one day give way to sight. But I come back to my basic definition: faith is trust. And I ask, Will there be trust in heaven? Will we trust God in heaven? Will we trust Jesus in heaven? Surely one of the glories of heaven is the great prospect of the consummation of trust! Then we shall trust him implicitly. Here the image of the Lamb shepherding the flock is very significant. (Rev 7:17) we shall follow the Lamb because faith is the bond, the trust between the soul and its Saviour, and that bond will never be broken. It is consummated on the threshold of glory and it will move on to ever higher levels of commitment and intimacy as the millennia go by, allowing us to penetrate the being and the life of the Saviour in some such way as his life penetrates that of God his Father. Heaven without faith has no attraction. Indeed, it has no credibility. Heaven is the place where doubt in all its forms gives way to complete trust. ‘There shall be no night there’.’ (Rev 21:25; 22:5) (McLeod, A Faith to Live By)
11:3 By faith we understand that the worlds were set in order at God’s command, so that the visible has its origin in the invisible.
By faith… – ‘This means that the biblical doctrine of creation is based on divine revelation and understood only from the standpoint of faith. It is this that sharply distinguishes the biblical approach from the scientific. The work of creation, no less than the mystery of redemption, is hidden from man and can be perceived only by faith.’ (NBD)
- Abel – Genesis 4
- Enoch – Genesis 5
- Noah – Genesis 6
- Abraham – Genesis 12
- Jonah – Genesis 17
- Isaac – Genesis 27
- Jacob – Genesis 48
- Joseph – Genesis 50
- Moses’ parents – Exodus 2
- Moses – Exodus 2
- Rahab – Jos 2,6
- Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah – Jos 4,6,13,11
- David, Samuel, and the prophets – 1 Sam 1ff
‘Though the text does not quite teach the doctrine of creation out of nothing, it comes close to doing so, since it says that God did not create the universe out of anything that is visible. The somewhat strange idea that the universe might have been created out of something that was invisible is probably not in the author’s mind. He is contradicting the idea of creation out of previously existing matter, and for that purpose the verse is quite clear.’ (Grudem, Systematic Theology, p263)
11:4 By faith Abel offered God a greater sacrifice than Cain, and through his faith he was commended as righteous, because God commended him for his offerings. And through his faith he still speaks, though he is dead.
By faith he still speaks, even though he is dead –
More who still speak, even though they are dead
John Wycliffe. ‘You and I have an English Bible in our possession largely because of a man named John Wycliffe. He was known not only as a builder, producing the first English text of the Bible, but also as a fighter. What a leader! When he died, his enemies burned him at the stake and took the ashes of his body and sprinkled them over the Thames River in London. “Forever, we’re rid of Wycliffe!” his enemies must have thought. They were wrong. The product of his labors, the English Bible, is with us today because he did more than fight. He stayed at the task.’
11:5 By faith Enoch was taken up so that he did not see death, and he was not to be found because God took him up. For before his removal he had been commended as having pleased God.
11:6 Now without faith it is impossible to please him, for the one who approaches God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.
Without faith it is impossible to please him – we respond: difficult, maybe, but impossible? But there is no escaping this powerful assertion. Learn then the vital importance and necessity of faith. Faith must always have an object: otherwise it is meaningless.
‘God is pleased with faith because faith is pleased with Christ. Every day faith takes refuge in the blood, death, passion, and obedience of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faith is not only for the first-time believer; it is the instrument the Spirit uses daily to renew and sanctify all believers. James Durham (c. 1622–1658) wrote, “We must by faith look for everything that is useful and needful for us, from Christ.… O sweet and desirable, but mysterious life!” Faith commits the total person of the believer to the total person of Christ. Christ-centeredness, more than anything else, makes faith inseparable from justification and superior to all other graces in justification.’ (Beeke and Jones, Puritan theology: doctrine for life)
‘Faith has been called the captain of all spiritual graces. Thomas Watson (c. 1620–1686) wrote, “Love is the crowning grace in heaven, but faith is the conquering grace upon earth.… Faith is the master-wheel; it sets all the other graces running.” Watson said, “Other graces make us like Christ, faith makes us members of Christ.”17 Swinnock added, “Call forth first that commander-in-chief, for then the private soldiers, the other graces, will follow.”’ (ibid.)
‘In an influential book, Wilfrid Cantwell Smith distinguishes between belief and faith, arguing that the former is “nonscriptural.” By “belief” Smith refers to faith that has a specific object. He delights in those passages of Scripture where pistis (“faith”) has no specified object, e.g. Heb 11:6, or the repeated Synoptic “Your faith has made you whole.” Where “to believe” or “faith” has apersonal object (e.g. God or Christ), trust is at stake; where it has a propositional object (e.g. “if you do not believe that I am,” Jn 8:24), what is at stake is recognition and acknowledgement of something, not “belief” in any modern sense. The purpose of this exercise is to drive to the conclusion that the many “faith” passages without an expressed object are open-ended, and must not be loaded with propositional or doctrinal content. Thus “faith” beocmes the nonintellectual, transcendent form that achieves concrete expression in various intellectual forms that are necessarily tied to specific cultures.’ But ‘it is a commonplace of Greek syntax that direct objects (and other parts of speech) are often omitted when they are to be inferred from the context. More importantly, for all that Smith warns against reading later credal utterances back into the faith-passages of the New Testament, he should take more pains to avoid reading a twentieth-century warmed-over Buddhist notion of faith back into the New Testament.’ (Carson, The Gagging of God, 174)
Believe that he exists – The reference to Enoch prompts a much more elementary comment about the absolute necessity of faith in God. For, whatever, glorious virtues may be found in us, it is not because of any of these that we are accepted by God, but only by faith.
‘Coming to God’ is a prominent thought in this epistle, Heb 4:16; 7:25; 10:1, 22. It is a comprehensive term, including as it does acceptance by and communion with God in our daily occupations as well as in the house of God and amongst God’s people. It implies a lost condition, an alienation from God. It involves access into his presence, and into his favour, so as to be accepted by him as a Father and a Friend.
Faith is expressed in two ways here: in believing that God is real, and in believing that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
This epistle does not attempt to prove the existence of God. This is assumed from Heb 1:1 onwards. Indeed, throughout the Bible the existence of God is a subject neither for doubt nor debate. Where such reasoning is found, Ps 19:1 ff Rom 1:19 ff, it is from the perspective of assurance, not doubt. When we are called to believe that God exists, we are not being invited to take a step in the dark, but to turn towards the light; we are not being asked to exercise blind faith, but to open our eyes to truth and life.
Believing that God exists means more than an assent to the fact of a ‘First Cause’ or a ‘Supreme Being’. Many have such a belief, but there is no reality corresponding to their conception: theirs is an imagined god. It includes belief in the unseen spiritual order, but especially, God himself, as ‘King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God’, 1 Tim 1:17. It means to believe in God as he has revealed himself in his works, in his word, and in Christ. It means to exercise faith in him as sovereign, holy, almighty, and just, yet merciful and gracious towards us.
The offering of ourselves to God is our ‘reasonable service’, Rom 12:1, and the verb ‘must’ here suggests a logical necessity, for to deny God is as irrational as it is immoral.
He rewards those who earnestly seek him – Here we are reassured that the sincere and serious seeker after God will find him. He is merciful, and is disposed to pardon and save all who seek him according to his appointed way. That God should make the innocent happy, is entirely reasonable; but that God should be reconciled to sinners, and how this should take place, is a mystery to unaided reason. Such faith must be founded on a supernatural revelation of God’s true character, and of his purposes of mercy towards a lost world. All that God has revealed of himself through the prophets or by his Son, assures us that he it altogether worthy of our trust. God rewards those who seek him, not those who seek rewards, or imagine that they merit such. ‘Seeking God’ means acknowledging our need, confessing our enmity, emptying ourselves of self-confidence, following the revealed way, using the appointed means, and laying hold of the promised blessing. As Enoch found, the reward of faith is God himself, Gen 15:1; see also Isa 40:10; Jer 29:13; Mt 7:7f. He proves to be ‘my joy and my delight’, Ps 43:4.
The man without faith, by contrast, is he who wickedly attempts to suppress the truth about God, Rom 1:18ff, and who thus incurs the divine displeasure. To be without faith is to be without God and without hope in the world, Eph 2:12.
‘Seeking God’ consists in prayer, patience, attendance upon the ordinances, etc.
11:7 By faith Noah, when he was warned about things not yet seen, with reverent regard constructed an ark for the deliverance of his family. Through faith he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.
11:8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place he would later receive as an inheritance, and he went out without understanding where he was going. 11:9 By faith he lived as a foreigner in the promised land as though it were a foreign country, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, who were fellow heirs of the same promise. 11:10 For he was looking forward to the city with firm foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11:11 By faith, even though Sarah herself was barren and he was too old, he received the ability to procreate, because he regarded the one who had given the promise to be trustworthy. 11:12 So in fact children were fathered by one man—and this one as good as dead—like the number of stars in the sky and like the innumerable grains of sand on the seashore. 11:13 These all died in faith without receiving the things promised, but they saw them in the distance and welcomed them and acknowledged that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth. 11:14 For those who speak in such a way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 11:15 In fact, if they had been thinking of the land that they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 11:16 But as it is, they aspire to a better land, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. 11:17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac. He had received the promises, yet he was ready to offer up his only son. 11:18 God had told him, “Through Isaac descendants will carry on your name,” 11:19 and he reasoned that God could even raise him from the dead, and in a sense he received him back from there.
The city with firm foundations – ‘For the author of Hebrews the city with foundations is the transcendent heavenly city which is unshakable and abiding (Heb 12:28; 13:14). Allusion to the city recurs in the later chapters under a variety of metaphors, such as ‘the heavenly homeland’ (11:16) and ‘the unshakable kingdom’ (12:28). Just as earthly Canaan into which Joshua led the people of Israel (Heb. 4:8) was not the true rest of God, so Abraham kept his eyes fixed on the established city of God that would be revealed at the time of fulfilment.’ (O’Brien)
They aspire to a better land, that is, a heavenly one – ‘We are all pilgrims on a journey of faith, bound for the inheritance God has provided for us. Learning to trust God in their situation, the patriarchs looked to a reward that was beyond their earthly inheritance. They did not have the same clear promise of a heavenly homeland that we do but God delighted in their faith and, through Jesus Christ, he has prepared a city for them (the heavenly Jerusalem mentioned in Heb 12:22–24).’ (NBC)
‘What is in view is that transcendent and perfect reality that awaits the saints of God (cf. 1 Cor. 2:9; Rom. 8:18). When Jesus quotes Exod. 3:6, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Matt. 22:32), he adds that “He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” This suggests, in a way similar to the present passage, that the patriarchs will through the resurrection inherit the transcendent promises that God had spoken to them. God’s purpose was that “only together with us would they be made perfect” (v. 40). The city that God has prepared has already been referred to in v. 10. See note on that verse.’ (Hagner)
He has prepared a city for them – ‘In that city Christ has provided mansions, and resting-places for your everlasting abode, John 14:2. and keeps them for you until your coming. O how August and glorious a dwelling is that, where sun, and moon, and stars, shall shine as much below your feet, as they are now above your heads? Yes, such is the love Christ has to the believer, that, as one says, if you only had been the chosen of God, Christ would have built that house for himself and you. Now it is for himself, for you, and for many more, who shall inherit with you.’ (Flavel, The Fountain of Life)
11:20 By faith also Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning the future. 11:21 By faith Jacob, as he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph and worshiped as he leaned on his staff. 11:22 By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, mentioned the exodus of the sons of Israel and gave instructions about his burial.
11:23 By faith, when Moses was born, his parents hid him for three months, because they saw the child was beautiful and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. 11:24 By faith, when he grew up, Moses refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 11:25 choosing rather to be ill-treated with the people of God than to enjoy sin’s fleeting pleasure. 11:26 He regarded abuse suffered for Christ to be greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for his eyes were fixed on the reward. 11:27 By faith he left Egypt without fearing the king’s anger, for he persevered as though he could see the one who is invisible. 11:28 By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of the blood, so that the one who destroyed the firstborn would not touch them. 11:29 By faith they crossed the Red Sea as if on dry ground, but when the Egyptians tried it, they were swallowed up. 11:30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell after the people marched around them for seven days. 11:31 By faith Rahab the prostitute escaped the destruction of the disobedient, because she welcomed the spies in peace.
He chose to be mistreated – ‘Was Moses masochistic? Did he just like suffering? No. He saw something in God’s future for God’s people that was a far greater reward than Pharaoh’s future apart from God.’ (College Press)
The pleasures of sin – ‘His position in Egypt would let him explore many of the indulgences Solomon had examined-pleasure, laughter, wine, great projects, horticulture, money, a harem, learning, work (Eccl 2). There was a certain “pleasure” in them all. But like Solomon, Moses also found them quite unfulfilling, “meaningless,” “vanity.”‘ (College Press)
‘The New Testament indeed argues that there is pleasure in sin, but it is only “for a season;” they are “fleeting pleasures”.’ (D. Holloway)
‘No matter how many pleasures Satan offers you, his ultimate intention is to ruin you. Your destruction is his highest priority.’ (Erwin W. Lutzer)
‘Pleasures come like oxen, slow and heavily, and go away like post-horses, upon the spur.’ (Joseph Hall)
The teaching of this verse is entirely consistent with that of 2 Cor 4:17-18 and Rom 8:18-21.
Disgrace for the sake of Christ – ‘For those whom God has chosen, he has also foreordained to be conformed to the image of his own son; not that he exercises them all by the same kind of reproaches or by the same cross, but that they are all to be so minded as not to decline to undertake the cross in common with Christ. Let every one then bear in mind, that as he is called to this fellowship he is to throw off all hindrances. Nor must we omit to say, that he reckons among the reproaches of Christ all the ignominious trials which the faithful have had to endure from the beginning of the world; for as they were the member of the same body, so they had nothing different from what we have. As all sorrows are indeed the rewards of sin, so they are also the fruits of the curse pronounced on the first man: but whatever wrongs we endure from the ungodly on account of Christ, these he regards as his own. Hence Paul gloried that he made up what was wanting as to the sufferings of Christ. Were we rightly to consider this, it would not be so grievous and bitter for us to suffer for Christ.’ (Calvin)
In Psa 69:9 and Psa 89:51 David speaks of the reproach for the sake of the things of God.
The treasures of Egypt – ‘It is implied here, that Moses had a prospect of inheriting large treasures in Egypt, and that he voluntarily gave them up to be the means of delivering his nation from bondage. Egypt abounded in wealth; and the adopted son of the daughter of the king would naturally be heir to a great estate.’ (Barnes)
‘This clause ought to be carefully noticed; for we here learn that we ought to shun as a deadly poison whatever cannot be enjoyed without offending God; for the pleasures of sin he calls all the allurements of the world which draw us away from God and our calling. But the comforts of our earthly life, which we are allowed by pure conscience, and God’s permission to enjoy, are not included here. Let us then ever remember that we ought to know and understand what God allows us. There are indeed some things in themselves lawful, but the use of which is prohibited to us, owing to circumstances as to time, place, or other things. Hence as to all the blessings connected with the present life, what is ever to be regarded is, that they should be to us helps and aids to follow God and not hindrances. And he calls these pleasures of sin temporary, because they soon vanish away together with life itself.’ (Calvin)
He was looking ahead to his reward – ‘The declaration here proves that it is right to have respect to the rewards of heaven in serving God. It does not prove that this was the only or the main motive which induced Moses to abandon his prospects at court; nor does it prove that this should be our main or only motive in leading a life of piety. If it were, our religion would be mere selfishness. But it is right that we should desire the rewards and joys of heaven, and that we should allow the prospect of those rewards and joys to influence us as a motive to do our duty to God, and to sustain us in our trials. Comp. Php 3:8-11,13,14.’ (Barnes)
‘Whatever God calls thee to deny for his truth, it is not more than he can recompense. Moses saw this, and that made him leap out of his honours and riches into the reproach of Christ, ‘for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward,’ Heb 11:26. It is much that a man will deny himself in for something his heart strongly desires in this life. If a man be greedy of gain, he will deny himself half of a night’s sleep to plot in his bed, or rise early from it to be at his work; he will eat homely fare, go in vile raiment, dwell in a smoky hole, as we see in London, for the conveniency of a shop. How men of quality will crowd themselves up into a little corner, though to the prejudice of their healths, and hazard sometimes of their lives! yet, hope of gain recompenseth all. And now, put their gains into the scale with thine Christian, that are sure to come in by denying thyself for Christ, which theirs are not, and ask thy soul whether it blush not to see them so freely deny themselves of the comfort of their lives for an imaginary, uncertain, at best a short advantage, while thou hucklest so with Christ for a few outward enjoyments, which shall be paid thee over a hundredfold here, and beyond what thou canst now conceive when thou comest to heaven’s glory!’ (Gurnall)
Passover – See Ex 12.
Jericho – ‘On the face of it, nothing could seem more foolish than for grown men to march round a strong fortress for seven days on end, led by seven priests blowing ram’s horns. Who ever heard of the fortress being captured that way?’ (Bruce)
Bruce remarks that archaeology can tell us much about the fate of ancient cities. ‘But the forces that operate in the unseen realm, such as the power of faith, cannot be dug up by the excavator’s spade. We may now never discover in material terms what made the walls of Jericho fall, whether earthquake or subsidence of something else, but our author ascribes their fall to the power of faith which found expression in Joshua’s submissive reply to the divine messenger: “What saith my lord unto his servant?” (Jos 5:14) It is by this same faith that other Jerichoes, both large and small, can still be overthrown. “The weapons we wield,” says Paul, “are not merely human, but divinely potent to demolish strongholds; we demolish sophistries and all that rears its proud head against the knowledge of God; we compel every human thought to surrender in obedience to Christ.”‘ (2 Cor 10:4f, NEB)
‘They are before one of the most strongly defended cities in the land of Canaan. They dig no trenches to preserve themselves safe. They stand not in battle-array to meet any sally on them by the Garrison. They lay no formal siege, set no battering engines, raise no shouts to intimidate the inhabitants. But in solemn silence, in sacred procession, the whole armed men, following the ark and the priests, encircled the city once every day for six days. On the seventh day the strange procession compassed the devoted city six times in accustomed portentious silence, till at last, at a signal given by Joshua, the priests blew a united blast on their unmusical trumpets, and the people raised one shout of anticipated triumph, and by the power of God the walls of Jericho fell flat, and they marched at one into the heart of the city.’ (Brown)
‘Jericho stood as a symbol of Canaan’s invincible might, but once again, in obedience to God’s word, the Hebrews did exactly as they were commanded. Day after day the ark of the covenant was carried in solemn procession around the walls of the well-fortified city, until on the seventh day it was carried round seven times. The trumpets were blown, the people shouted, the walls fell and the city was taken. The writer may want to emphasise the believing persistence of the Hebrew people. It was after the walls had been encircled for seven days that they fell. Just as when they left Egypt, both at their first Passover and at the crossing of the Red Sea, they relied on God’s word and his power, so now, as their children entered Canan, they also trusted what he had said and witnessed what he could do.’ (Brown, BST)
‘As he had before taught us, that the yoke of bondage was by faith broken asunder, so now he tells us, that by the same faith the people gained the possession of the promised land. For at their first entrance the city Jericho stood in their way; it being fortified and almost impregnable, it impeded any farther progress, and they had no means to assail it. The Lord commanded all the men-of-war to go round it once every day, and on the seventh day seven times. It appeared to be a work childish and ridiculous; and yet they obeyed the divine command; nor did they do so in vain, for success according to the promise followed. It is evident, that the walls did not fall through the shout of men, or the sound of trumpets; but because the people believed that the Lord would do what he had promised.’ (Calvin)
‘That is, it was not by any natural causes, or by any means that were in themselves adapted to secure such a result. It was not because they fell of themselves; nor because they were assailed by the hosts of the Israelites; nor was it because there was any natural tendency in the blowing of horns to cause them to fall. None of these things were true; and it was only by confidence in God that means so little adapted to such a purpose could have been employed at all; and it was only by continued faith in him that they could have been persevered in day by day, when no impression whatever was made. The strength of the faith evinced on this occasion appears from such circumstances as these: that there was no natural tendency in the means used to produce the effect; that there was great apparent improbability that the effect would follow that they might be exposed to much ridicule from those within the city for attempting to demolish their strong walls in this manner, and from the fact that the city was encircled day after day without producing any result. This may teach us the propriety and necessity of faith in similar circumstances. Ministers of the gospel often preach where there seems to be as little prospect of beating down the opposition in the human heart by the message which they deliver, as there was of demolishing the walls of Jericho by the blowing of rams’ horns, They blow the gospel trumpet from week to week and month to month, and there seems to be no tendency in the strong citadel of the heart to yield. Perhaps the only apparent result is to excite ridicule and scorn. Yet let them not despair. Let them blow on. Let them still lift up their voice with faith in God, and in due time the walls of the citadel will totter and fall. God has power over the human heart, as he had over Jericho; and in our darkest day of discouragement, let us remember that we are never in circumstances indicating less probability of success, from any apparent tendency in the means used to accomplish the result, than those were who encompassed this heathen city. With similar confidence in God we may hope for similar success.’ (Barnes)
‘The Hebrew Christians were engaged in a cause, the success of which, in the estimation of human reason, was even more hopeless than the capture of Jericho by the Israelites. The final triumph of the religion of Jesus over Judaism and paganism, false philosophy and worldly power, which had been distinctly predicted, seemed very unlikely. The means – the only means they were warranted to emply, appeared very ill fitted to gain their object. The preaching of the Gospel, the prayers of the Church, the holy conversation of believers, and the patience under manifold and severe afflictions, – what Milton happily styles “the unresistible might of weakness,” – these were to be the means by which the powers of darkness were to be shaken, and the walls of adaman and iron, reaching even up to heaven, within which superstition had entrenched herself, levelled with the ground. “The Captain of the Lord’s host” had uttered the following oracle:- “All power in heaven and earth is given unto me. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” This believed, qwas quite enough to induce them to commence and continue, amid all discouragements, the use of the appointed means, till the promised end was gained. Nothing else could have induced them to do so.’ (Brown)
Rahab – See Jos 2:1
The fact that a foreign (former) prostitute is included in this roll of honour implies a rebuke to the readers. ‘For if an Amorite harlot believed the reports she had heard of the God of Israel…then how can the children of the covenant renounce their interest in the promised Messiah?’ (Wilson)
‘Even though at first sight this example, because of the ignoble character of the person involved, may seem less striking and hardly worth mentioning in this series, the apostle used it fittingly and with good reason. So far he had shown that the patriarchs, whom the Jews regarded with honor and reverence, did nothing praiseworthy except by faith; that the most memorable benefits which God bestowed upon them, were the effects of the same faith. Now he teaches that a woman of alien origin, among the dregs of her own people, and even a harlot, was by faith placed within the very body of the church. From this it follows that even those who are placed highest among us have no worth before God except as they are valued according to their faith; that on the contrary those who are hardly given a place among the godless and the reprobate are by faith taken into the company of angels.’ (Calvin)
‘In case the letter’s first readers had thoughtlessly imagined that exemplary faith is peculiar to specially virtuous believers, the author now demonstrates how even the most unlikely people can receive God’s word and prove his power. Although she lacked the religious identity and moral integrity of so many of the heroes of this chapter, Rahab put her faith in their God and was delivered. She heard how God had enabled the Hebrew pilgrims to cross the Red Sea. She knew that humanly speaking she had no right to claim salvation, but she did not wish to perish with those who were disobedient, so she cast herself boldly and directly upon the mercy of the spies: “Give me a sure sign, and save…” She believed in God’s power, so she expressed the validity of her faith through the hospitality of her home; she gave them a friendly welcome. To receive them into her house was a daring venture, for to shelter alien spies was to expose herself to danger. She believed that the God who had delivered them would save her, and such faith would certainly be rewarded.’ (Brown)
11:32 And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets. 11:33 Through faith they conquered kingdoms, administered justice, gained what was promised, shut the mouths of lions, 11:34 quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, gained strength in weakness, became mighty in battle, put foreign armies to flight, 11:35 and women received back their dead raised to life. But others were tortured, not accepting release, to obtain resurrection to a better life. 11:36 And others experienced mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 11:37 They were stoned, sawed apart, murdered with the sword; they went about in sheepskins and goatskins; they were destitute, afflicted, ill-treated 11:38 (the world was not worthy of them); they wandered in deserts and mountains and caves and openings in the earth.
v34 – John Goldingay (Do We Need the New Testament?) says that this statement ‘makes it impossible to argue that the New Testament would disapprove of the violence of the First Testament.’
Women – ‘It is significant that women are mentioned as receiving their dead back to life. They were more vulnerable than men in the event of the death of a spouse or an only son. Widows are often grouped with aliens and the fatherless as needing special kindness and receiving God’s careful attention (Ex 22:22-24 Deut 14:29 24:19-21 Isa 1:23; etc.) They were supported in part together with the Levites, aliens and fatherless by the third tithe, taken from every wage-earner every third and sixth year of the seven year cycle… (Deut 14:28-29 26:12-13)
Elijah gave a son back to the widow of Zarephath. (1 Kings 17:7-24) Elisha brought the Shunammite’s son back to life. (2 Kings 4:8-37) Jesus resurrected an only child and gave him back to his widowed mother. (Lk 7:12-17) In Lazarus’ resurrection account we only read of the two sisters left in the family, Martha and Mary (John 11).
There were other resurrections. When Jesus sent his disciples on a mission to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, part of their assignment was to “raise the dead.” (Mt 10:8) The fact that the people were raised from the dead was part of Jesus’ proof to John that he was the Messiah who was to come. (Mt 11:5; Lk 7:22) There was a general expectation among the populace in Jesus’ day that there could be resurrection from the dead. (Mt 27:64) Herod thought John the Baptist had risen from death when he heard about Jesus’ works. (Mk 6:14,16; Lk 9:7) Many people were resurrected when Jesus died. Matthew reports that “The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people”.’ (Mt 27:52-53) (College Press)
Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection – ‘They might have had a temporal resurrection from death to life, from reproach to honour, from poverty to riches, from pains to pleasure; but upon such terms they judged it not worth acceptance. They would not expose their souls to secure their bodies. They had the same natural affections that other men have. They were made of as tender flesh as we are, but such was the care they had of their souls, and the hope of a better resurrection, that they listened not to the complaints and whinings of their bodies. O, that we were all in the same resolutions with them.’ (Flavel)
11:39 And these all were commended for their faith, yet they did not receive what was promised. 11:40 For God had provided something better for us, so that they would be made perfect together with us.
Flavel paraphrases as follows: ‘”God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect:” The same writer adds: ‘God has appointed the accomplishment of the promise of sending the Messiah, to be in the last times, that they (viz. that lived before Christ, should not be perfected, that is, justified and saved by any thing done in their time, but by looking to our time, and Christ’s satisfaction made therein; whereby they and we are perfected together. No tract of time can wear out the virtue of this eternal sacrifice. It is as fresh, vigorous, and potent now, as the first hour it was offered. And though he actually offer it no more, yet he virtually continues it by his intercession now in heaven; for there he is still a Priest.’