ESV Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
2 For by it the people of old received their commendation.
3 By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.
4 By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.
5 By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God.
6 And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.
7 By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.
8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.
9 By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise.
10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.
11 By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised.
12 Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.
13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.
14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.
15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return.
16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.
17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son,
18 of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.”
19 He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.
20 By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau.
21 By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff.
22 By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones.
23 By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.
24 By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter,
25 choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.
26 He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.
27 By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible.
28 By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them.
29 By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned.
30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days.
31 By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.
32 And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets–
33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions,
34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.
35 Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life.
36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment.
37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated–
38 of whom the world was not worthy– wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
39 And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised,
40 since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.
HEBREWS 11:1-3 – PROLOGUE
11:1–3. In a brief Prologue the author set forth three fundamental considerations about faith: its basic nature, the honor associated with it, and its way of seeing things. In its essence faith is being sure (GREEK – hypostasis, rendered “being” in reference to God in 1:3) … and certain (elenchos, from the verb elenchō, “to prove or convince”) about unseen hopes and realities. That this is honorable is seen in the fact that Old Testament worthies, the ancients, were commended for it. Faith is also a way of viewing all experience since it is the way in which believers see the universe (tous aiōnas, lit., “the ages,” also rendered “the universe” in 1:2) for what it is—a creation by God.
- the divine acceptance of faith (11:4–16)
In the first major movement of his exposition, the author stressed the theme suggested in verse 2. Faith wins acceptance and reward from God.
11:4. Abel represents the righteous man referred to in 10:38, whose acceptance before God was based on a superior sacrifice. Like Abel, the readers found acceptance before God on the basis of the better sacrifice of the New Covenant. Their unbelieving brethren, like Cain, found no such divine approbation. Even death does not extinguish the testimony of a man like Abel.
11:5–6. Enoch, on the other hand, reflected the kind of life that pleases God since he walked with God by faith (as the readers also should). If Christ had come in their lifetimes (cf. 10:37), the readers also would not have experienced death. In any case they could only please God by continued confidence that He exists and … rewards those who earnestly seek Him.
11:7. That God does reward those who seek Him is suggested by the career of Noah, who became an heir of righteousness by faith. What he inherited was, in fact, the new world after the Flood as the readers might inherit “the world to come” (cf. 2:5). The reference here to Noah saving his household recalls the writer’s stress on a Christian’s salvation-inheritance. It further suggests that a man’s personal faith can be fruitful in his family, as they share it together.
11:8–10. That the readers should look forward to “the world to come” and treat their present experience as a pilgrimage is a lesson enforced by the life of Abraham. This great patriarch lived like a stranger in a land he would later receive as his inheritance. So also would the readers inherit if they, like this forefather, kept looking forward to the city with foundations, a reference to the heavenly and eternal Jerusalem (cf. Rev. 21:2, 9–27).
11:11–12. The NIV introduces the word Abraham into these verses. But its marginal reading is preferable: “By faith even Sarah, who was past age, was enabled to bear children because she.…” The NIV interpretation is influenced by the opinion that the phrase to become a father (eis katabolēn spermatos) can refer only to the male parent, but this need not be so. The writer here chose to introduce his first heroine of faith, one who was able to overlook the physical limitation of her own barrenness to become a fruitful mother. Since “she considered Him faithful who had promised” (nasb) so also should the readers (cf. 10:23). Her faith in fact, contributed to the startling multiplication of her husband’s seed, when old Abraham was as good as dead.
11:13–16. In an impressive summary of his discussion thus far, the writer pointed out that people can be still living by faith when they die, even if by that time they do not receive the things promised. By faith the old saints saw the promised realities from a distance and persisted in their pilgrim character, looking for a country of their own and refusing to return to the land they had left. So too the readers should renounce the opportunity to go back to any form of their ancestral religion and should persist in longing for a better country—a heavenly one. If they did so they, like the patriarchs, would be people with whom God would not be ashamed to be associated.
- the variegated experiences of faith (11:17–40)
A new movement, the author’s exposition of the life of faith, begins here. In a multiplicity of varied experiences faith remains the constant factor by which these experiences are met and understood. Faith constitutes a Christian’s true “world view” (cf. v. 3).
11:17–19. The theme of testing emerges here as the writer returned to Abraham. The readers can learn from that supreme test in which the patriarch was called on to sacrifice his … son. Though this seemed to contradict the divine promise, Abraham was able to rise above the trial and trust in the resurrecting power of God. So also Christian readers must sometimes look beyond the experiences of life, in which God’s promises do not seem to be fulfilled, and realize that their resurrections will bring those promises to fruition.
11:20–22. The patriarchs mentioned here likewise looked to the future in faith. Isaac, trusting God to fulfill His promises to Abraham and his descendants, pronounced blessings on his own two sons Jacob and Esau regarding their future. So did Jacob in regard to Joseph’s sons, which was for him an act of faith in his old age. The readers too were to maintain their worship right to the end of life, persevering in faith in the future that God had foretold. Joseph too, nearing death, expressed confidence that God would in the future deliver the Israelites from Egypt. In similar fashion all believers should, in genuine faith, have confidence in the future of God’s people.
11:23. With this transition to the life of Moses, the writer began to focus on the way faith confronts opposition and hostility, a subject familiar to his readers. It was by faith that Moses was hidden by his parents and his life was thus preserved. The phrase because they saw he was no ordinary child might be better read, “because they saw he was a beautiful child.” (“Beautiful” is the Gr. asteion, which occurs in the NT only here and in Acts 7:20, which also refers to Moses.) Delighted by the precious gift of a son which God had given them, they evidently believed God had something better for this lovely baby than death. Not fearing Pharaoh’s edict, they kept him alive, and God rewarded their faith by their son’s illustrious career.
11:24–26. In a classic presentation of the way faith chooses between the attractive but temporary pleasures of sin and the prospect of disgrace for the sake of Christ, the writer showed Moses to be a real hero of faith who had an intelligent regard for the eschatological hopes of the nation of Israel. The readers also were to accept “disgrace” and reject “the pleasures of sin,” and they would do so if they, like Moses, anticipated their reward.
11:27–28. Moreover, at the time of the Exodus, Moses was undeterred by fear of the king’s anger. By keeping the Passover, which included the sprinkling of blood, the nation avoided God’s judgment. In the same way, the readers should not be afraid of human wrath and should maintain their separateness from the surrounding world. They should persist in the worship experience made possible by the blood of the New Covenant. If they would do so, they would not fall under divine retribution (cf. 10:19–31).
11:29–31. The readers could also look forward to victory over their enemies (cf. 1:13–14). They could learn from the destruction of the Egyptians and the collapse of the walls of Jericho what triumphs faith can win over its adversaries. If, as seems probable, there were a few Gentiles in the church that received this letter, they could take comfort from the experience of the prostitute Rahab, a Gentile who was spared when Jericho was conquered.
11:32–35a. There were far too many heroes of faith for the writer to deal with them all in detail. Swiftly he mentioned the variegated accomplishments of some of them. At the climax of this list stand women who received back their dead, raised to life again—a truly superlative victory of faith which does not allow death to defeat it (cf. 1 Kings 17:17–24; 2 Kings 4:17–37).
11:35b–38. In a swift transition of thought, the writer moved from faith’s obvious triumphs to what seemed to be its defeats. But these defeats were only apparent, not real. Those who were tortured and refused to be released did so because they knew their sufferings would lead to a richer and better resurrection experience. So the readers might also endure suffering staunchly and expect reward in the future world. Indeed, all manner of physical suffering (vv. 36–37, 38b cite about a dozen kinds of persecution) has been endured by people of faith, as well as ostracism from their homes and countries, treatment that the readers might also have to endure. But in a lovely touch, the writer commented that the world was not worthy of those whom it banished.
11:39–40. In a concluding summary the writer pointed out that the great heroes of faith he had spoken of had not yet realized their eschatological hopes. This fact shows that God had planned something better for them and us. It is indeed “better for us” that the future hopes they strove toward be delayed, since only thus could believers enjoy the present experience of becoming companions of the Messiah who leads them to glory. As a result, the perfecting (cf. 10:14; 12:23) of the Old Testament worthies—that is, the realization of their hopes—awaits that of all believers. – Hodges
Professor Thomas A. Rohm