hebrews NIV

HEBREWS 11:17-31

THE AUTHOR NOW PAUSES IN HIS PERSON-BY-PERSON ACCOUNT OF THE FAITHFUL TO TEASE OUT CERTAIN IMPLICATIONS HE WISHES HIS HEARERS TO RECOGNIZE.  THE INTERLUDE IS BOTH DIDACTIC (THE PRINCIPLES HERE ARE HIGHLY INSTRUCTIONAL FOR THEIR CURRENT CRISIS) AND RHETORICAL (THE AUTHOR, EVER THE SKILLED ORATOR, INTERRUPTS HIS RAPID-FIRE LIST TO HEIGHTEN HIS AUDIENCE’S ATTENTION).  The “all these” of 11:13 almost certainly refers to Abraham and his family and does not include Abel, Enoch, and Noah, since the travel motif found in verses 13-16 fits best the patriarch and his company.  Enoch for sure cannot be included since the author has already noted that he did not see death (11:5), which means he was not among those “living by faith when they died.)  Rather, the focus continues on Abraham, his wife, and his son Isaac.

THAT “THEY DID NOT RECEIVE THE THINGS PROMISED, HEY ONLY SAW THEM AD WELCOMED THEM FROM A DISTANCE” ALLUDES TO THE CONTENT OF GOD’S PROMISES TO ABRAHAM IN GENESIS 12:2-3, 17:1-8.  The possession of the land, the multitude of descendants (including those who would be kings), and the blessing of the nations all would be fulfilled in a time after Abraham and his immediate family passed from the scene.

YET TO WHAT DOES THE AUTHOR REFER WHEN HE SAYS, “AND THEY ADMITTED THAT THEY WERE ALIENS AND STRANGERS ON EARTH”?  IN THE OLD TESTAMENT NARRATIVES THE PATRIARCHS AND THEIR DESCENDANTS REFER TO THEMSELVES AS “ALIENS AND STRANGERS” IN THE LAND (E.G., 1 CHRON.29:15, CF. GEN. 23:4, PS. 39:12).  Both in Jewish theology during the New Testament era and in the New Testament itself, this concept developed to emphasize the disparaging of earthly desires and the longing for a heavenly home.  for example, 1 Peter 2:11 reads, “Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires which war against your soul.”  In Hebrews 11:13-16 the author likewise wishes to emphasize that the patriarchs’ faith relationship to god was their preeminent commitment, not the obtaining of an earthly secure place of residence.  They died in a state of trust, never having seen their descendants’ reception of the land.  Thus, the true object of their deepest desire was God himself and God’s city.  Consequently, “God is not ashamed to be called their God.”

THE MESSAGE TO THE ORIGINAL HEARERS MUST NOT BE MISSED, FOR THEIR CIRCUMSTANCE MUST BE SEEN AS ANALOGOUS TO THAT OF THE PATRIARCHS.  Perhaps their current experience of persecution has highlighted the alien nature of their earthly existenceThey cannot perceive the fulfillment of God’s promises to them; all they can see is the difficulty of their present crisis.  The writer’s point is that this is normal for people of faith.  The promises of God must be embraced even though their fulfillment lies in the future.  Life must believe in our challenging terrestrial cities in light of a better, heavenly country that will be experienced in the future.  God is not ashamed of identifying with those who live in this way.

HEBREWS 11:17-19 CONTINUES THE AUTHOR’S EXPOSITION ON ABRAHAM, OFFERING A THIRD MAJOR EVENT EXEMPLIFYING THIS FATHER’S FAITH.  Abraham, in a test by God, “offered Isaac as a sacrifice.”  As an interpreter of Old Testament material in the tradition of the rabbis, the author of Hebrews draws out implications of Genesis 22:1-8, a brief narrative that had come to carry great significance in Jewish interpretation by the time of our book’s writing.  This is the example par excellence of a magnanimous act of faith, born as it was of an excruciating decision placed before the patriarch by God.  The crux of Abraham’s crisis is the seeming contradiction between the promises of God, which were to be fulfilled through his heir, Isaac (Heb. 11:18), and the command of God to sacrifice that heir (11:17).  Thus Abraham was forced into a radical posture of trusting God.  Our author’s logical deduction is that “Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead” (11:9) – the only way that both the promises and the command could be fulfilled.

THE AUTHOR OF HEBREWS MOVES RAPID-FIRE THROUGH THE NEXT THREE GENERATIONS IN HIS EXAMPLE LIST, USING HIS FORMULAIC PATTERN CITED ABOVE (11:20-22).  By faith Isaac offered a blessing to Jacob and Esau (Gen. 27:27-40).   By faith Jacob continued the pattern, blessing the sons of Joseph, Ephraim and Manasseh (48:8-22).  By faith, Joseph himself spoke about the exodus from Egypt and provided instruction as to what should be done with his bones (50:24-25).  In each of these events death confronted the person of faith, who spoke of things that were as yet unseen.

MOSES HS BEEN PRESENTED ALREADY AS A STELLAR EXAMPLE OF FAITHFULNESS IN 3:1-6.  In that passage the author uses the lawgiver as a picture of “servant faithfulness,” who fulfilled his duty to God as leader of the Israelites.  The author focused on the greatness of Moses to highlight the even greater status of Jesus as God’s faithful Son.  Moses was specially venerated by Greek-speaking Jews of the first century as one who was unusually close to God.  In certain expressions of Jewish tradition, he was considered to be the greatest person in history.  Therefore, it is not surprising that in his example list (11:23-28) the writer gives sustained attention to Moses.

THE AUTHOR’S TREATMENT OF MOSES ACTUALLY BEGINS WITH THE FAITH EXPRESSED BY MOSES PARENTS (THE EMPHASIS IN THE HEBREW TEXT IS ON MOSES’ MOTHER) WHEN HE WAS A BABY.  “BY FAITH MOSES’ PARENTS HID HIM FOR THREE MONTHS AFTER HE WAS BORN, BECAUSE THEY SAW HE WAS NO ORDINARY CHILD, AND THEY WERE NOT AFRAID OF THE KING’S EDICT.”  This synopsis recounts the narrative of Exodus 2:1-4.  Two points of the retelling are significant.  (1) In describing the child, Moses, the author of Hebrews follows the LXX in using the word asteion. a word meaning “beautiful, attractive.”  The only other New Testament text to use the word is Acts 7:20, where we are told that Moses was “beautiful before God.”  This probably communicates a superior quality about the child.  Thus, the NIV translates Hebrews 11:23 with a phrase “no ordinary child.” The writer therefore depicts the parents has having spiritual insight into his significance.

(2) AS A RESULT OF HIS INSIGHT THEY DIRECTLY DISREGARDED THE KING’S COMMAND TO DRAWN THE BOY IN THE NILE (EX 1:22).  THE AUTHOR OF HEBREWS STATES THAT “THEY WERE NOT AFRAID OF THE KING’SEDICT,” DEDUCING THIS FACT FROM THEIR ACTION OF HIDING THE CHILD.  This lack of fair does not speak to the parents’ not having the negative emotions we generally associate with fear, but rather suggests a firm boldness in which they refused to shrink before the hostility of Pharaoh.

MOSES HIMSELF ALSO EXHIBITED SUCH BOLDNESS, AND THE WRITER TO THE HEBREWS POINTS OUT THREE EVENTS FROM THE LAWGIVER’S LIFE THAT ILLUSTRATE HIS FAITH.  (1) Moses chose to identify with God’s people rather than with the godless (11:24-26).  The author already has made much of the virtue of standing with those under duress because of their commitment to God (e.g., 10:32-34).  Moses chose his biological family over his adoptive family at great personal cost, loss of wealth, relinquishment of status, and intense mistreatment.  The author explains that he “regarded disgrace for the sale pf Christ as of greater value than the measures of Egypt.”  The NIV’s disgrace for the sake of Christ” (lit. “disgrace of Christ”) renders the genitive tou Christou in terms of the “benefit” or “advantage” for Christ.  Yet, the sense of this phrase may be understood more accurately as “the disgrace experienced by Christ.” P.E. Hughes comments.

(This disgrace) was not simply the reproach accepted by identifying himself with the people of God, more precisely, the approach of the coming Messiah with whom he was united by faith.  Hence (as Stephen reminded his accusers) his assurance to the Israelites.  “God will raise up for you a prophet from your brethren as he raised me up” (Acts 7:37), and hence, also, the rebuke of Jesus Christ to his adversaries: “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote of me.” (John 5:46).

Thus Moses experienced the same kind of reproach experienced later by Christ – rejection faced by a prophet standing on the side of God, proclaiming the word of the Lord as boldness against an ungodly generation.

(BY FAITH MOSES LEFT EGYPT AND PERSEVERED IN THE MISSING GIVEN HIM BY GOD (11:27).  THIS VERSE SEEMS TO DISCOUNT EXODUS 2:14, WHICH SAYS THAT MOSES WAS AFRAID CONCERNING THE CONSEQUENCES OF HIS ACT OF KILLING THE EGYPTIAN.  But the author of Hebrews wishes to emphasize the boldness of Moses’ actions rather than his negative emotion of dread.  He made a decision to leave Egypt, and that step the writer understands as a step of faith.  In line with his larger emphasis on endurance (e.g., 10:32, 36, 12:1-3, 7). the author notes that Moses persevered because he paid attention to the unseen God rather than to a visible king.

(3) BY FAITH MOSES LED THE ISRAELITES IN THE OBSERVANCE OF THE PASSOVER ORDINANCE (11:28).    THE MENTION OF THE “SPRINKLING OF BLOOD” CALLS TO MIND THE AUTHOR’S EARLIER REFERENCES TO CHRIST’S SACRIFICE AS PARALLELING THE OLD COVENANT SACRIFICIAL RITUALS (9:12-14, 18-22).  Here, however, he specifically has in mind the smearing of blood on the Israelites’ door posts to avoid the death angel’s work.  This act was an act of faith since Moses led the Israelites in obedience to God’s command with regard to an as-yet-unseen event.

THE AUTHOR ROUNDS OUT HIS PRIMARY EXAMPLE LIST WITH THREE OTHER EVENTS FROM THE LIFE OF God’s COVENANT PEOPLE.  IN 11:29 HE MENTIONS BRIEFLY THE CROSSING OF THE RED SEA (SEE EX. 13:17-14:31).  THE CONFESSION THAT THEY PASSED THROUGH THE BODY OF WATER “BY FAITH” DOES MUCH TO ILLUSTRATE THE EMPHASIS THE AUTHOR PUTS ON ACTS OF OBEDIENCE CARRIED OUT IN LIGHT OF GOD’S COMMAND.  This group of people, according to the Old Testament narrative, in general was marked by timidity, complaining and lack of trust in God or his deliverance, as the author already has detailed in Hebrews 2:17-19).  However, when God told them to “move on” (Ex. 14:15) they did so, and this constituted an act exemplifying faith.


FINALLY, RAHAB, IN ACCORDING WITH GOD’S WILL, HELPED THE SPIES WHO HAD COME TO INVESTIGATE THE LAND (JOSH 2:1-15).  Her faith is expressed in her confession of 2:9 (“I know the LORD has given this land to you”) and was rewarded with deliverance from death. – NIV COMMENTARY

Professor Thomas A. Rohm