In chapter 11, the author of The Letter to the Hebrews reminds his readers of the faith of their fathers and to follow their examples in the difficulties they face daily. He cites the faith of Noah, who knew the Almighty and heard and believed God’s warnings, resulting in him undertaking such a huge shipbuilding project, which without faith, seemed to others like the height of madness.
Then Abraham obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. Abraham’s faith journey is a brilliant ‘type’ or pattern for that of each believer in God. We do not know precisely where we are going—so much is unchartered waters for us. We too are like strangers in a foreign country. We together also look forward to the city with foundations whose architect and builder is God. We can only very poorly imagine what it will be like. However we can see all around us the altogether superb creation in the good Earth and the heavens. His design work, though spoilt by human greed, ignorance, carelessness and exploitation, enough beauty and grace remain for us to enjoy and give thanks for, to lift our sights to the day that is coming, the day of renewed heavens and a renewed earth. Fantastic architecture. Unmatched design. Can hardly wait.
Let this sink in. For Sarah, God’s promises seemed just as impossible for them as it was for Noah. Yet they were delivered as promised and we are reading this because those words from God were trustworthy. She is singled out as considering God faithful. Result? All around us, right through history, countless descendants of Abraham and Sarah.
And all these people were still living by faith when they died. So, they did not receive all the promised things, they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.
Right to the very end, they lived by faith, and so must we! Many of God’s promises may not be literally delivered before we pass on. Yet we can welcome them from a distance. God is not watching from a distance but keeps constant watch on our walk of faith—and boy, does that please him! Continuously.
Our author has highlighted Abraham’s traumatic and dramatic test of faith believing that God could raise his son Isaac from death, so sure was he of God’s trustworthiness to make a people of countless number. Imagine the trial of his faith! The agony the struggle against doubt!
And note the marvellous parallel here with God’s one and only Son and his steady, determined stride towards a dreadful and shameful death in Jerusalem and then, a raising to life, in a transformed and glorious body.
Our author then reminds us of Isaac, Jacob and Joseph, patriarchs who believed God, often in the most dramatic circumstances, and changed the course of history.
In verses 24 to 29, Moses’ personal faith journey is then described in terms rather reminiscent of the calling of Jesus’ followers. And he could not leave out the Exodus story as a supreme example: a whole people group marching forward in faith through the sea. Moses could see and hear the invisible God and so he persevered. Nothing can beat perseverance. Press on!
He ends this long catalogue of men and women of faith, who all had a kind of knowing based on the character of their LORD God who speaks to his people, by reminding his readers, and us, that although these people were commended for their faith, yet many of the greatest promises were not received in their lifetime!
And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. (Heb 11:32-40)
What a list of gallant, believing, persevering humans, continuing to the end in faith, despite the suffering, the opposition!
So also for us as well, much that God has promised remains as yet un-received by us. We wait in faith for his return, with suffering, and for the final consummation of his reign of his people on a re-newed earth, this wonderful world renewed in unimaginable delight and splendour for a renewed people who desire above all else that “your will be done!”
They, this great crowd of witnesses coming before us, will with us all experience sure completion in accordance with God’s perfect planning and design. We wait, as they did, living by faith. God has not forgotten his Ancient people.
God’s planning, His timing : better for them and better for us.