We are making our way through the Letter to the Hebrews and we now look at chapter 11. This section is full of references to wonderful stories of real people exercising faith in physical and historical situations recorded in the Old Testament.
Though we have seen that in this new deal, the “New Covenant”, everything seems to have changed, God’s character and purposes have not changed. Faith, hope and love remain supreme as our means of hearing His voice, knowing His promises and understanding His plans. So our author digs deep into the past to encourage his readers to stick in there with active faith despite the difficulties they face.
The chapter begins,
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. By faith we understand (CEV ‘know’) that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. (Heb 11:1-3, NIV)
Faith is a way of knowing something, of being certain. The Contemporary English Version has faith makes us sure of what we hope for and gives us proof of what we cannot see.
That’s because it is based on evidence of the integrity, the absolutely perfect character of the One who promises, who makes covenant with His people, the One who cannot lie.
The study of how we know is called epistemology. We have here biblical epistemology which is based on knowing a person—the living, speaking, listening God. We can know because the One who has spoken in geographical space and earthly time has given us revelation and is absolutely trustworthy. So here in chapter 11 of the Letter, we have a lengthy list of actual historical persons who had this kind of knowing in real situations.
The scientist has a different approach to knowing, based on evidence in the observed physical world, and she sets out to demonstrate by ‘proofs’. But even scientists have to start with faith that something unseen must be there to be discovered. In fact to do any science, they need to believe that something unseen is there, such as the ‘laws of nature’, in which they may place confidence even though there is no guarantee that these same invisible laws will be in force tomorrow.
But we know that God is unchanging and his promises are sure and without any danger of being revoked! ‘Heaven and earth may pass away, but my words will never pass away’, Jesus said.