In this message, dear friends, we will be looking at Hebrews chapter 11; most of us are familiar with this passage of Scripture as the ‘faith chapter’.
Indeed, we have a teaching on it called Emunah, the Judeo-Christian understanding of faith. Faith is certainly one main aspect of this chapter, but there is another main idea we are given here that will be our focus in this letter: Hope. Hebrews 11 has as much to do with hope as it does with faith.
Background of Hebrews
The book of Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians in and around Jerusalem before the second Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D. Up until this time, the believers had been persecuted almost exclusively by the Sanhedrin and the rabbinic establishment. In other words, there were believing Jews whom unbelieving Jews were persecuting. However, something began to happen at this time, probably around the time of Nero’s reign as Emperor of Rome. For the first time, believers were not only persecuted by unbelieving Jews, but also by the Roman government – or, at the very least, they were faced with the prospect of it. Nero is the emperor who killed both Peter and Paul, according to Eusebius and the historical record. There was a resulting danger of some people being tempted to go back under the law in order to escape persecution. Many of them were distraught because they foresaw the destruction and judgment coming on Jerusalem, remembering the prophecies of Daniel as well as of Jesus himself.
That is the backdrop against which the book of Hebrews was written. In it, therefore, the author addresses the situation in this chapter by dealing with two subjects: one is faith, the other is hope. What we will do here is to first look through this chapter, talking about the nuances and background, and then we’ll think about what it means for us.
Defining Biblical Faith
Beginning in verse 1 of Hebrews 11:
“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
The word “assurance” there, sometimes translated from Greek as “substance”, is hypostases. Faith and hope, we see here, go hand-in-hand. The Hebrew and Greek words are interesting; the word for “faith” in Greek is pistes or piston, and in Hebrew emunah. In both languages, this is not only the word for “faith”, but also for “faithfulness”. “The righteous shall live by faith” – “The righteous shall live by faithfulness”. “Without faith it is impossible to please God” – “Without faithfulness it is impossible to please God” Hebrews 11:6. We are saved by grace through faith, and also through faithfulness – beginning, of course, with the faithfulness of Jesus.
Defining Biblical Hope
But then there is “hope” – tigna. In Greek, elpis. Look once again at what it tells us: “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for”. You cannot define biblical faith unless you do it in light of hope, nor can you define biblical hope unless you define it in light of faith. We think of “I hope” as being synonymous with “I wish”’. In the Bible, however, that is not the case; rather, hope in biblical terms is a future fact. We have faith in a future fact. Faith is the assurance of our hope – we are assured that it will happen. Religions cannot give people the assurance of salvation, and that includes unbiblical forms of Christianity. Only the Lord Jesus can give us that assurance.
We have a hope, and that hope is not ‘I wish this would happen’, but knowing and trusting that it will happen.
A Brief Synopsis
Let us continue with verses 2 and 3:
“For by it the men of old gained approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the Word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible.”
He begins a historical account all the way back from Creation up to the time of King David – the reason it ends with David is that the Messiah would be seen not only as a prophet like Moses (Deut. ) but also as a king like David. Their national aspiration as Jews was for the Messiah to come as the son of David and restore what they had lost in the Babylonian captivity.
Biblical Faith vs. Religion
The account begins, however, with Creation, telling us that by faith we believe that God made the things that are from the things that are not – by his Word. When it says ‘his Word’, it is, of course, ho Logos in Greek, or Jesus. Jesus is the Word made flesh, as John 1 tells us. If you don’t believe the Bible, you don’t believe in Jesus Christ. The things outside of what Jesus said and of the rest of Scripture are just religious nonsense. Someone gave me a silly note this morning with religious nonsense in it, saying that ‘as long as we are seeking spirituality we are saved’. This is New Age idiocy, certainly not the Gospel of Jesus. Only an unsaved person would write something so silly, and I do feel sorry for them. But this is what many people think, despite the fact that it’s nonsense.
Only God can violate the law of conservation of matter and the law of conservation of energy – otherwise he wouldn’t be God. Only God can make something out of nothing. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the Word of God; we see Jesus in the Creation in John chapter 1 verse 3:
“The world was made through him, and without him nothing was made that was made.”
We also see Jesus in the Creation in Proverbs 8. Adam heard God walking in the garden – that was Jesus, he was there from day one. So it begins with him in the creation.
Comparing Genesis with Revelation - Understanding the Word
After this, in verse 4 of Hebrews 11, it says this:
“By faith Abel offered to God a sacrifice that was better than Cain’s, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts; that through faith though he is dead he still speaks.”
So we see that the next phase spoken of is the time directly following the Fall of mankind. Abel is the first martyr; Jesus spoke of him as such in Matthew 23, saying to the religious hypocrites of his day that “the blood of the martyrs will be upon you from Abel”. Think of the Bible the way you would think of an un-sliced loaf of bread, fresh from a baker’s oven: it looks the same from both ends. In both Revelation and Genesis, you have the woman and the stars, the tree of Life, and the serpent; in Genesis it says ‘the blood of your brother cries out’, speaking of Abel, and in Revelation it says, “the blood of the martyrs cries out”. Genesis and Revelation work hand in hand; the Bible ends the same way it begins, with the same imagery. We have the Creation, the New Creation, and finally the Recreation.
So we have Abel, still speaking. The righteous men of old still speak – Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel all still speak. They speak to Israel and also to the church. Peter, James, John, and Paul also continue to speak to us through the Word. The things that Isaiah, Amos, the Apostles, Moses, and all the other authors of Scripture wrote are every bit as much for us today as they were for the people living at the time the prophets and apostles were writing it. In fact, many things are even more for us today. The Bible is the Word of God in the word of man; that’s what we must understand about the Word.
Jesus was 100 per cent human and 100 per cent divine; just so, the Word of God is in the word of man. The Bible is 100 percent God’s Word, but it is also 100 percent man’s word. Just as Jesus was God and Man, so the Bible is the Word of God in the word of man. These great heroes and champions of faith from the Old Testament and from the Apostolic Church still speak to us today. You will find as you read Isaiah or Jeremiah that what they said applies to us today.
The Raptures Before the Raptures
Let us continue with verse 5:
“By faith Enoch was taken up, so that he did not see death, and was not found, because God had taken him; for before he was taken he had this testimony, that he pleased God.”
Enoch is the first man who was ever raptured. Every rapture experience in the Bible is a type or a foreshadow of the Rapture of the Church – the rapture of Elijah, what happened to Paul which he described in 2 Corinthians, what happened to John in Revelation 4:1, the ascension of Jesus, and first the rapture of Enoch – all these things are pictures of the Rapture that is coming. They teach something about that ultimate rapture of God’s people. The Catholic Church has invented one that is not in the Bible, of course – the rapture of Mary – which has no biblical basis whatsoever.
So the retelling of history continues with Enoch, the first person who was ever raptured. This occasion was antediluvian, or before the flood.
Importance of Believing God as Rewarder
The text continues, saying the following in verse 6:
“But without faith”
– that is, without faithfulness –
“it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”
This idea of reward comes into play later on in the chapter. You see, in order to be saved, to be a Christian and to go to Heaven, it is not enough to believe that God is. Believing that He is, is certainly necessary, but in itself that is not sufficient. It is not even enough to believe that God is a righteous Judge who will judge sin; not enough to believe that you are condemned and on your way to Hell. None of it is enough unless you put your faith in Jesus Christ. You must believe that God is, yes; but you must also believe that God is the Rewarder. In other words, in order to go to Heaven you must believe that there is such a place and that God wants you to get there; you must believe that He is a rewarder.
Noah and the Flood
After Enoch, we move into the next age:
“By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.” (Hebrews 11:7).
Here, of course, we have the deluge, and the faithful one is none other than Noah. Was Noah a successful preacher? No, not by the world’s standards: Seven people, eight including himself, were saved through his message – and those seven were all related to him.
We do have a tape entitled Just As It Was in the Days of Noah, which explains how the Last Days will be the same as were the days of Noah; we also go into it on the preparing for persecution tapes. God is in the business of saving families; however, He also tells us that just as Noah’s warning was rejected, so in the Last Days will ours be when the true believers try to warn unbelievers of the coming judgment and destruction. We will not be believed until it is too late, which is exactly what happened to Noah. However, just as his family made it to safety in the ark, so those in the true church will indeed make it out of here.
The Patriarchal Period
The passage continues with Abraham:
“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” (Hebrews 11:8-10).
Here the passage goes into the patriarchal period, naming the patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. There are others as well, as we will see in a moment. It says that Abraham left the place where he was for another destination, not knowing where he was going.
Understanding the Reason for the Message
We must understand the background: Daniel said that the Messiah would come and die before the second Temple was destroyed (Daniel 9:26). The people to whom the book of Hebrews was addressed knew that the Messiah had come and died; therefore, the city and the Temple would soon be destroyed. Jesus warned them in the Olivet Discourse to flee when they saw Jerusalem surrounded by an army of Gentiles (Luke 21:20, 21; Matthew 24:15-20). What the writer of Hebrews is saying here, in part, is to look at the faith and the faithfulness of the men of old. When Abraham was told to leave his home, he left for a destination unknown to him; he was searching for a better city, and he went out by faith. “Don’t hold on to this city” is the message that the writer of Hebrews was getting at for the Jewish believers in Jerusalem. These believers in 70 A.D., under a cousin of Jesus named Simeon, actually did flee from Jerusalem and were rescued. Their message of warning to Jerusalem had been rejected, its citizens choosing to believe the rabbis instead. As a result they were destroyed. Simeon, who became pastor of the church at Jerusalem after the apostle James was martyred, left with his church. This can be verified in reading Josephusand Eusebius, and once again, this is a major type or picture of the Rapture. This will happen again in the Last Days, though of course it will then occur on a grander scale.
So the writer of Hebrews is saying, “Look at Abraham – he had to leave his home too. Don’t worry about this city; God has a better Jerusalem. Don’t be attached to this Jerusalem – there is a Heavenly Jerusalem.” Earlier in the book he tells us that the Temple and the things within it were only shadows, or types, of the ones in Heaven (Hebrews 9).
Living as Strangers in Your Own Land
The author of Hebrews is also telling believers here that just as Abraham lived in a land promised to him, so we ought to live in this world. “The meek shall inherit the earth” Matthew 5:5. This will happen during the Millennial Reign of Jesus; there is no doubt that we will inherit it. Therefore, just as Abraham lived as a sojourner or a foreigner in a land promised to him, so should we live in this world. We are promised this place – we will co-reign with Christ during the Millennium. In the meantime, however, we live as sojourners and foreigners in this land that we actually own.
There are people today who are caught up in a lot of nonsense involving Kingdom-Now theology and Dominionism; that is not what this is about. The ideas that Satan is already bound and that we are going to ‘conquer the world for Christ before He comes’ are silly nonsense and absolute rubbish – Jesus told us that His kingdom is not of this world, and as you may have heard me say before, if Satan is now bound I would like to know who keeps letting him go.
Nonetheless, look at Abraham. He was waiting for a better city, living in a land that was promised to him. So should we; the Heavenly Jerusalem is ours, and we will inherit the earth. Augustine of Hippo later borrowed this theme when the Visigoths were going to destroy Rome in the fourth century. He wrote something then that he called “City of God” – which I’ve never really been impressed with – taking the theme of Hebrews 11, as if he was trying to write a sequel to it.
The First Woman of Hebrews 11
Let us continue with Hebrews 11:11-13:
“By faith Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed, and she bore a child when she was past the age, because she judged Him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born as many as the stars of the sky in multitude – innumerable as the sand, which is by the seashore. These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.”
Here we are introduced to the first woman in this list – Sarah, wife of Abraham, mother of Isaac. Verse 13 says that these people saw these things from a distance; more specifically, they only saw the first coming of Jesus at a distance. We now have His first coming, and we see His second coming from a distance. So in the same way they looked forward to His first coming, while not actually experiencing that redemption in their own lives, we should look forward to His second coming. This is what the text is telling us. His second coming is our certain hope, just as His first coming was to those listed in the passage.
Backsliding is Misplaced Trust
The text continues:
“For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.” Hebrews 11:14-16.
By definition, backsliding is trusting in this world, or looking for something here. Most of the seductions being perpetrated by Satan against the modern church are designed to entice us to trust in this world. This applies equally to Faith-Prosperity, Kingdom-Now, and all other deceptions that are designed to get God’s people to trust in this world rather than in the coming one. Look at the kinds of things they say: “God wants you rich, you’re a King’s kid, name it and claim it, blab it and grab it, look for your blessing here, don’t worry about the heavenly mansion, claim your mansion now”. All these things are custom-made to seduce us into trusting in this life. Yet we are told to be like the ones in Hebrews 11, who kept looking for the good that God had promised.
Abraham in Hebrews 11
Continuing in verses 17-19:
“By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, ‘In Isaac your seed shall be called,’ concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense.”
Again, these people saw the Gospel from a distance. Abraham is called Yedid Yah, the “friend of God”. As you may have heard me say, in the times of the Old Testament the Holy Spirit was reserved for certain people at certain times with certain functions: Patriarchs, high priests, kings, and prophets. The Holy Spirit was not then for all who believed; that is peculiar to the New Covenant.
By the Holy Spirit, however, these chosen people knew certain things. Abraham knew that God had promised to fulfill His Word to him through his son Isaac, so that even if Isaac died he would receive him back again. This, of course, is an obvious type – Abraham giving up his only begotten son (in Greek monogenes) just as God would give up His only begotten Son.
Good Things vs. God Things
However, God tells Abraham to take his “only begotten son”, meaning Isaac; where is Ishmael? God does not recognize Ishmael as Abraham’s begotten son; He never recognizes anything that is done in the flesh. There is a big difference between a good thing and a God thing: There are many people today who are doing ‘good’ things that are not ‘God’ things; for example, there are people who call themselves Christian missionaries, but who have only social gospels. This means they spend their time trying to meet people’s humanitarian needs without giving them the message of salvation. I see this all the time with organizations that try to ‘bless’ Israel, yet withhold Christ from the Jews. They may be doing a ‘good’ thing, but they are certainly not doing a God thing; therefore these organizations are biblically useless and not of God. What is it when people do these kinds of things? It is the creation of Ishmaels. God recognizes nothing that is done in the flesh, even though it may be done with the right motive. We must learn to be motivated by the Lord, not by needs.
The Far-Seeing Eyes of Faith
We saw that verse 19 says that Abraham considered God able to raise his son even from the dead. What this meant to the believers who were reading it is this: “Look, just as God had a promise for Isaac, so in Christ does God have a promise for us. Even if you should die in persecution, don’t worry – just as Abraham knew that God was able to raise Isaac from the dead, so must you know that He is able to raise you from the dead. God is faithful. Abraham was unafraid to see Isaac die, and you can also be unafraid to die because God will raise you up again.” Why didn’t these people, the believers we are told about in both Old and New Testaments, see the things that were promised to them? Because God wanted us to be a part of things also. Why did the patriarchs die without seeing the coming of Jesus? Because God wanted to save us as well. But at the Resurrection, it all finally happens together, with no one left out.
Continuing in verse 20 of Hebrews 11:
“By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come.”
As we discuss on the Jewish-Arab Reconciliation in Christ DVD, God has a blessing and a prophetic purpose for the Arab nations just as He does for the Jewish nation.
“By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff.”
This story is found in Genesis 49, where we see the twelve sons of Jacob just as again we see them in Revelation 7 and 14 as the 12 tribes of Israel – the loaf of bread once more, that looks alike at both ends.
Joseph: The Last Patriarch
In verse 22 we read this:
“By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the departure of the children of Israel, and gave instructions concerning his bones.”
The final patriarchal figure becomes Joseph, who gives instruction about his bones. As most of you know, the Exodus of Israel is a picture of two things: First, it is a picture of our salvation. Egypt is a figure of the world, Pharaoh a figure of the god of this world, Satan. As Moses made a covenant with the blood of the lamb, sprinkling it on the people and bringing them out of Egypt, through the Red Sea and into the Promised Land, so Jesus made a covenant with the blood of the Lamb – His own blood – and leads us out of the world, through baptism, and into Heaven. One is a picture of the other.
However, the Exodus is also a picture of the Rapture and Resurrection. The same judgments that God sends on Egypt – blood, pestilence, darkness, hail – are also in the book of Revelation. As you may have heard me point out, in the same way that Pharaoh’s magicians counterfeited the miracles of Moses and Aaron, so the Antichrist and the false prophet will counterfeit the miracles of Jesus and His witnesses. When the people of Israel came out of Egypt, they were rescued – that is a picture of the Rapture of the Church. However, in the Exodus they also brought Joseph’s bones with them (Exod 13:19). Why? Because the dead in Christ will rise first! (1 Thess 4:16). So just as Joseph’s bones came out of Egypt with the Israelites, the dead in Christ and those who are alive at His coming will escape this world together. The writer of Hebrews is saying that those to whom he is writing should not be afraid to die in the persecution for these reasons.
The Time of the Exodus: Moses
With these verses we come to the phase of the Exodus. Verse 23 of Hebrews 11:
“By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful child; and they were not afraid of the king’s command. By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ”
– the Messiah –
“greater treasures than the riches in Egypt; for he looked to the reward. By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured as seeing Him who is invisible. By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, lest he who destroyed the firstborn should touch them. By faith they passed through the Red Sea as by dry land, whereas the Egyptians, attempting to do so, were drowned.”
Moses, of course, is a type of Christ in many ways. God promised that the Messiah would be a prophet like Moses (Deut 18:15-19); both Moses and Jesus ushered in a covenant of God with His people. The first time Moses came to save the Jews, he was rejected by them; they only accepted him the second time. In the meantime, Moses lived among the Gentiles as a shepherd. He is a foreshadow of Jesus, who when He came the first time to the Jews was rejected by them. Jesus therefore went to the Gentiles, just as Moses had done. The second time Jesus comes, however, He will be accepted by Israel, as seen in the book of Zechariah.
Be Like Moses
Moses was a prince of Egypt; he could have had a good life in this world. However, he chose instead to face hardship. He chose to lead a difficult life rather than be enticed by the fleeting pleasures of sin. He was looking forward to the coming of the Messiah. So we see that the next thing the writer of Hebrews is saying to the church in Jerusalem around 70 A.D. is this: Pharaoh is comparable to the Roman emperor, specifically Nero – Moses was not afraid of the king, so why should you be as believers? You are being tempted to go back under the law, to compromise so that you can have a good life in this world, but look at Moses. He could have done that, he could have had a really comfortable life as a prince of Egypt – but he did not trust this world, rather looking forward to the Messiah’s coming. Therefore you must look forward to Messiah’s second coming; be like Moses.
The Conquest Phase: Joshua
The next phase in Israel’s history is the one, which we call the Conquest. Interestingly, Hebrews alludes to Joshua, but does not name him; instead it names a Gentile woman, who was, of all things, a prostitute: Rahab. Let’s examine the Scripture:
“By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they were encircled for seven days. By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe, when she had received the spies with peace.” (Hebrews 11:30-31)
Connections Between Revelation and Joshua
The text here points out the seven days during which Jericho was surrounded. It does this for a reason: the rescue of Rahab is once again a major picture of the Rapture of the Church. It points us back to Joshua 6; a Jewish Christian reading the book of Revelation at the end of the first century or the beginning of the second would have called Revelation chapters 8 through 11 a Midrash on the book of Joshua: If you remember, Hebrews points out the seven days of Israel’s campaign against Jericho, during which there had to be silence. According to Revelation 8, there is silence in Heaven also. In the book of Joshua we see that Israel marched around Jericho for seven days, but on the seventh day they marched around seven times. Following the same numerical pattern, there are seven seals in the book of Revelation, followed by a subset of seven trumpets opening up from the seventh seal.
Then you have the last trumpet in Joshua: when they blow the trumpet, it says in Joshua that the city was given to them by the Lord. The trumpet we see here is all wrapped up in the symbolism of the year of Jubilee and the Hebrew Feast of Trumpets – this is all complicated, and we do have tapes to specifically explain these things, though I do not have time to address them now. At the last Trumpet in Revelation, Christ returns, and this is all also linked with the book of Joel and many other things. However, we will only deal with it now in so far as it deals with our subject – again, when the last trumpet is blown in Joshua, the walls come down and then the Lord gives the city to Israel. In Revelation, when the last trumpet is blown, the text tells us “this world has become the kingdom of our God and of His Messiah.” (Rev 11:15). One is a picture of the other.
Hebrews also makes mention of two witnesses, paralleled in Joshua by the two spies. Somehow the two spies in Joshua are types or foreshadows of the two witnesses in Revelation. There are many examples in the Bible who teach concerning those two witnesses; people often wonder whether they are Moses and Elijah or Moses and Enoch or Moses and the Apostle John – people always ask who they are, but really there are many, many different ones who foreshadow these two witnesses. The two spies in Joshua is one example.
Rahab: A Picture of the Church
The reason that Scripture speaks of Rahab and her rescue, again, is pointing to the rescue of the church that would happen in 70 A.D., but ultimately to the Rapture of the Church of which that rescue was a picture. We should always look to the Rapture and the Return of Jesus as our hope, not becoming worried about persecution or opposition. The way in which the Lord effected the rescue of His people in the past is the same way He will effect our rescue. Our ultimate hope is to be rescued by Jesus from this planet when He comes back.
Hebrews does not mention Joshua directly in this passage, but instead refers to the Gentile woman whom he rescued. It is always interesting to see Gentiles listed in the genealogies of Jesus, who was of the house of David; David’s house began with the union of a Jewish man with a Gentile woman – Boaz and Ruth. Jesus came from a union of Jew and Gentile because He would be the Savior of both Jew and Gentile; that is the picture being painted by the inclusion of non-Jews, which goes back again to Abraham. Abraham was both a Jew and a Gentile: he was born a Gentile, but was converted by God to Judaism. He could be the father of all who believe because he was both Jew and Gentile; the Messiah would save both Jew and Gentile. This kind of imagery is present right from the beginning – Noah, Enoch, and Abel were all Gentiles. From the very beginning, God’s plan was for the salvation of all mankind; the Jews were simply to be His vehicle to bring it to the nations.
Judges, Prophets, and Kings
Let us continue with Hebrews 11:32:
“And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets:”
After Rahab, we find that the writer moves on to the period of the Judges, naming Samson, Jephthah, Barak, and Gideon. The period following Judges in Biblical history is generally referred to as the period of Prophets and Kings; named here are Samuel and King David. We will look at these in more detail a little further on.
Stark contrasts: faith in faith or faith in God?
Moving on to verses 33 - 36:
“who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again. Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment.”
Torture? Chains? Imprisonment? Beatings? But if you’re a King’s Kid, you don’t have to suffer; if you’re suffering, that means you don’t have enough faith. Well, which faith are you going to believe: The faith of Hebrews 11, which is the faith of the Bible, or the faith of the prosperity preachers? It is not possible to believe both.
Continuing in verse 37:
“They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in”
– five thousand dollar suits, chauffeur-driven limousines, and five-star hotels? Oh, wait – for a moment I thought I was in Oklahoma. That’s not what it says after all –
“They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented – of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.” Hebrews 11:37-40.
Why did Jesus not return for the early church? Or why did He not come the first time for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? Because God did not want to bless them without blessing us also; He wants to include us in His blessing. Of course, this is faith in Jesus we are talking about; the prosperity preachers are teaching faith in faith. You may believe them or you may believe the Bible, but you may not believe both, because they are in direct contradiction. Worship God or worship Mammon, but you may not have both. However, this is all included in our teaching on faith, and today we are looking instead at hope.
Religion vs. the Bible
This passage retells biblical history, from the Creation all the way up to King David. The further Israel drifted away from the Word of God, the worse things got; Hebrews uses the people in chapter 11 to exemplify what we should be like. There is a term called “hagiography”, from the Greek word “hagio”, meaning “holy”. Every religion is hagiographic. The Bible is not so, but religion is. What this means is that every religion elevates its central figures to sanctimonious status, making them superhuman. God, however, does not do that; He tells about people for what they were – their good points and their bad points. When you read about these people in Scripture you will find that most of them had severe character flaws of some kind that are told about. Religion, however, reveals none of the bad and exaggerates the good in its heroes. Catholicism does it with canonization, Greek Orthodoxy does it with icons, and Moslems do it with Mohammed.
Outrages of Hagiography
What would you think of a man who married a six-year old girl and took her virginity when she was nine? You would probably say he was a pedophile, someone who should be emasculated, a pervert who should be in prison. Mohammed did this: he married a girl named Ayeesha when she was six years old, then took her virginity at the age of nine. So the fact of the matter is that Mohammed was a pedophile, a sex pervert, an outrage; but try telling that to a Moslem! This is hagiography.
What would you say about a man who founded a religious order and had a teaching stating that since Eve was created from Adam’s rib and ribs are curved, or crooked, women are predisposed to witchcraft; who then, based upon this teaching, would tie women down naked and gynecologically torture them with boiling water in order to make them confess to witchcraft in order to justify killing them? The man I refer to is Saint Dominic, who started the Dominican order in the Roman Catholic Church. The Dominicans went on to kill half a million people in the name of their religion, and then the Catholic Church canonized this man. Last year in Belgium two Dominican nuns were sentenced for crimes that happened in Rwanda, where they killed 7,000 people. Dominicans are still sadistic murderers today.
Or we could look at Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, an order that murdered incredibly high numbers of Christians. The Catholic Church, true to form, canonized Ignatius Loyola, calling him a saint.
Catholicism claims that Mary appeared to Saint Dominic, whose sordid history we briefly reviewed above, and gave him the rosary. The rosary was actually brought back from the East by Crusaders, who saw Hindus counting prayers on beads to Vishnu. The Mormons love Joseph Smith, a convicted swindler who was eventually executed for his crimes. Brigham Young had 23 wives – how would a man who is already married to other wives get more women to marry him? By marrying children! Practically every one of Brigham Young’s wives was a minor when he married her. Here we have another pedophile, admired by Mormons, thanks once again to hagiography. Charles Taze Russell and Judge Rutherford, founders of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, were both swindlers. This is hagiography – religion makes these sinful men into saints who can do no wrong. The Bible, by contrast, does not do that. The Bible tells you who and what these people were – sinners who were justified by their faith.
Examining the List of Hebrews 11: A Good Beginning
To see how Scripture differs from hagiography, let’s look again at our list of the heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11: Things started out pretty well with Abel and Enoch; Abel was martyred as a kid, and you really can’t find much wrong with him. I suppose if he had grown older he would have messed up too. Enoch was raptured, and nothing bad is said of him either.
Drunkenness, Curses, Lies, and Cowardice
Then, however, we come to Noah, who got loaded after the flood, embarrassed his family and brought a curse on one of his sons which brought a curse on the Canaanite nation centuries later. Abraham – not once, but twice – was willing to give his wife over sexually to another man. She was his half-sister, so he told half the truth. Already we see that if you and I were to go and get people to be emblems and heroes of our faith, we could probably come up with a list we consider more suitable. God, however, is more honest and more realistic.
Moving on to Isaac, we discover that Isaac did the same thing his father did, being willing to give his wife to another man. We inherit our fallen nature from our parents; we groom our kids not only with our good points but also with our bad points. My little boy is no longer so little, and although there are times when I would like to smack him, I realize it would be like standing in front of a mirror and punching the mirror. I know where he got his attitudes – from me.
The First Woman in Hebrews 11
Then there’s mother Sarah. Look what it says about Sarah in verse 11:
“By faith Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed, and she bore a child when she was past the age, because she judged Him faithful who had promised.”
We’re talking about a geriatric pregnancy; she was able to conceive, it says here, because of her faith. Yet when we go back to Genesis, we see that she did not believe then. She laughed – therefore she named her son Isaac, which means “He shall Laugh”. She thought it was ridiculous; it was a joke to her at first. She lacked faith, but God sees the end from the beginning. “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion until the day of Jesus Christ”, Paul tells us in Phil 1:6. You see, Genesis tells us what these people were; Hebrews tells us what they became.
We only see what we were and what we are; God sees what we shall be because of faith, because of faithfulness.
Then, however, we go further to Joseph. Talk about rejection! It’s one thing when unsaved people don’t like you; it’s worse when believers don’t like you; but when those believers are your own family, you’re a three-time loser, Jack! Joseph experienced total rejection. He wound up in the joint for a rape he didn’t commit after having been sold into slavery by his brothers.
Murderers and Prostitutes
Then there’s Moses, who had a contract on his head. He was a wanted man after he knocked somebody off. He was forced to get out of town, to blow the country; then he showed up again 40 years later. If you were going to get someone to be a role model, you wouldn’t choose someone who had a warrant out for his or her arrest for capital murder.
Next, we come to Rahab. All right, she’s a Gentile woman; but this woman was the biggest hooker around. If there is hope for her, who is there not hope for?
Then it goes into what from a human perspective would appear to be almost preposterous – the period of the Judges, which we call in Hebrew “ha tekophot ha shophtim”.
Samson is chosen as the first role model of the judges, of all people! How could he have been such a sucker for a babe? I mean, Delilah! This was not a woman who was emotionally vulnerable to him; she was trying to get him knocked off – and he knew it, but still continued to go back to her. What, couldn’t he find himself a nice Jewish girl? He had to be nuts.
Jephthah – did you ever know anyone who speaks before he thinks, who continually paints himself into a corner with his mouth? Jephthah is the ultimate example of this; he put himself in a situation where he was obligated to kill his own daughter. Did you ever promise things to God, and then not keep the promise?
Doubtful, Insecure Commando Leader
Then there’s Gideon, who wound up with an army of 300 that had begun with 10,000. In the beginning of the story, he could not have made the cut to be part of those 300 himself; he would have been one of the rejects. He doubted God every five minutes – the most famous example was when he put the fleece out before the Lord. He was walking on eggs all the time, a completely insecure person who was constantly asking God for reassurance that he was in His will. How could a totally insecure person become the leader of an elite army of 300 commandos which could and would defeat an army hundreds of times its size? Would you want an insecure person as the leader of a commando unit? How could you trust someone like that?
Army Captain Who Hid Behind a Woman
Next we come to Barak. Deborah and Jael were the real champions of that story, but Hebrews names Barak rather than either of them. Even when God uses a woman, He will not circumvent male authority. Deborah wore the trousers, and Barak wore the skirt. How unfortunate it is to see a Christian marriage where the wife is the spiritual head of the family, looking after the kids spiritually. She is the one stronger in faith; it should not be like that, yet there are many, many families that are. There are many Baraks running around; when you read about him in the book of Judges, you say that guy was a wimp; it was the woman who had the chutzpah.
Prophets and KingsSamuel: Father of the Rebellious Backsliders
Then we get down to Samuel, who only became what he was because the sons of Eli were backslidden and unbelieving; then his own children turn out the same way. This was the great prophet Samuel, who anointed David and confronted Saul, who decapitated Agag; the great Samuel, whose own children wound up the same way as the children of his mentor Eli. I get so much mail about this kind of situation, from people who have backslidden children and wonder whether God can still use them in spite of that. When your children are little and living at home, then the answer is no. However, once they grow up, they are no longer your responsibility. You will always love them, pray for them, support them, but you are no longer accountable for them. Can God use you despite the fact that your children may be rebellious, backslidden, and unbelieving? Well, not if they’re little children, according to Timothy and Titus. But once they have grown up, don’t let them hold you back; it didn’t stop Samuel.
David: Shadow of the Christ
Next comes King David, who is the Old Testament shadow of Christ as the Good Shepherd as well as the King; he becomes the archetype of what a shepherd and a king should be like. In Kings and Chronicles David was always the plumbline – ‘He walked before Me like his father David’ or ‘He did not walk before Me like his father David’, because David is a type of Christ. Jesus, Peter tells us, is the example of what a shepherd should be like. How good a pastor is your pastor? Well, how much like Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is he? For the Old Testament, David filled this role: how good a king was he, how good a shepherd? Well, how much like David was he? God took David and made him the standard, the type of Christ.
David: Adulterous Murderer
David’s second sin, numbering the people, was worse than his first. Yet look at his first sin – not on the worst day of your Christian life could you even begin to contrive what David actually did. He took a righteous man, Uriah – ‘My light is Yahweh’ – and set him up to be killed in order to take his wife. Uriah was loyal to God, to his country, and to David himself, yet David had him killed so that he could take his wife and conceal their adultery. Not on your worst day could you contemplate doing what David did. Even once he had done it, he failed to realize the seriousness of his sin. When the prophet Nathan came to him, his reaction was to shrug it off, as if he didn’t even know he had done anything wrong. Yet this is the man who became the shadow of Christ? Wow – if there’s hope for him, maybe there’s even hope for me.
God's Amazing Forgiveness
Scripture says ‘For by faith the men of old gained approval’ – how could these sinful, depraved people gain approval? When you look at what they did, you must wonder how Hebrews can speak of them as it does. How could God forget what these people did? How could God pretend they had never acted as they had by the time the writer of Hebrews was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write as he did? How could God treat these people as if they had never done what they did and failed as they had? God can treat them as if they never did wrong for the same reason He can treat us as if we never did wrong. The reason God can treat them and us as if none of us did wrong is because He treated His own Son as if He had done it all. That is the Gospel, and you have to be a total jerk to reject it. ‘How shall we escape if we reject so great a salvation?’
The Basis of Our Hope
Hebrews holds these people up as our role models not because they didn’t get it wrong or mess up, but precisely because they did. There’s hope for them, therefore there’s hope for us. Noah – ever meet a Christian who had a drinking problem? Abraham – ever tell a lie? Isaac – did you pass on your bad traits to your children? Sarah – did you ever doubt God? Joseph – have you ever faced rejection from the church and even from your family, been falsely accused and misunderstood, yet somehow found the grace to love them anyway? Moses, Rahab, Samson, Jephthah – look at what they did! What is God saying to us? If you have a sin problem you cannot conquer – and I can tell you that you certainly have one, though I couldn’t tell you what it is – there is hope for you. Barak – if there’s hope for that wimp, there’s hope for any pathetic excuse for a head covering to which any of you women are married out there. Samuel – did you raise your children in the truth only to have them wander away, break your heart, and make a mess of their lives? ‘Raise a child in the way he should go, and he will not forever depart from it.’ May God prevent my children from falling away, but when children do fall away they normally come back. The question is how much of an unnecessary mess do they make of their lives and how much of an unnecessary grief do they cause to their parents and themselves before they do come back. And then there is David: this guy blew it big. There are also Christians who have blown it big. Yet if there is hope for these guys listed in Hebrews 11, there is hope, too, for us.
We Hope in What We Don't Know
Faith is the assurance of things hoped for; the assurance. People use “hope” as a synonym for “wish”; but faith is the assurance of what we hope for. I don’t wish; I know. There is hope for the hopeless.