Studies in the Book of Hebrews—Chapter 11:22-40

The Works of Faith

THERE IS A tendency on the part of some to insist that faith is of greater importance in the Christian life, than works, while others overemphasize the value of works. Either viewpoint is wrong, for when these two essential elements of Christian character are seen in their true light, it becomes apparent that a comparison cannot be made between their relative importance, for neither one can properly exist without the other. No one can possess true Christian faith without manifesting it by his works, for James declares that “faith without works is dead.” (James 2:17,20) Nor can a Christian perform works acceptable to God other than those which manifest his faith. This is the thought Paul gives us when, commending the Thessalonian brethren, he speaks of their “work of faith” and their “labour of love.” (I Thess. 1:3) Nowhere in the Bible is this proper relationship of faith and works more clearly set forth than in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews.

VERSE 22  “By faith Joseph, when he died, made mention of the departing of the children of Israel; and gave commandment concerning his bones.”

Joseph had been richly blessed by God while in Egypt, and highly honored by Pharaoh, but he knew that Egypt was not his home, nor the home of his people. He believed that in God’s due time the Hebrew children would be taken into the land of promise. He mentioned this, and gave instructions that when it occurred, his bones should be taken to Canaan. This was expressive, perhaps, of his faith in the resurrection. Not understanding the resurrection hope as clearly as it was later set forth in the New Testament, he may have supposed that the actual bones which he possessed when he died would be restored. But Paul explained, “Thou sowest not that body that shall be.”—I Cor. 15:37

VERSE 23  “By faith Moses, when he was born, was hid three months of his parents, because they saw he was a proper child; and they were not afraid of the king’s commandment.”

The word translated ‘proper’ in this verse is translated “fair” in Acts 7:20, where Stephen also applies it to Moses, saying that when he was born he was seen to be “exceeding fair.” The Marginal Translation renders this, ‘fair to God.’ The Greek text justifies this translation. In Exodus 2:2, where we are first told about the birth of Moses, he is referred to as a “goodly child.” Apparently Stephen understood that Moses’ parents saw in this child one whom the Lord desired to use in a special way. This would explain why their faith in God was especially demonstrated by their risking the wrath of Pharaoh in not obeying his edict concerning the destruction of all male Hebrew babies, and hid him for three months.—Exod. 2:2

VERSES 24-26  “By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward.”

It will be remembered that by Divine overruling Moses’ own mother enjoyed the privilege of caring for him during his childhood years, and it is apparent from Paul’s comment concerning his faith that the mother must have taught him thoroughly concerning the promises made to Abraham, and the hope of the Hebrew children in the coming of that “seed” which was to bless all the families of the earth. (Gen. 22:18) Whether or not at that early date the descendants of Abraham had learned to speak of the ‘seed’ of promise as the Messiah, is not revealed in the Scriptures. However, Paul so understood the promises, and he knew that Moses’ decision to be loyal to the promises and to the God of his fathers was equivalent to taking a stand for the Messianic cause.

From this standpoint, all the suffering of the Ancient Worthies resulting from their loyalty to God and to his promises could properly be referred to as the ‘reproach[es] of Christ,’ for all those promises were related to their hope of the coming Messiah. They suffered because of their faith in the Messianic cause. This is quite different from the privilege the church of the Gospel Age has had of suffering “with” Christ, of being “planted together” in the likeness of his sacrificial death.—Rom. 8:17; 6:5

Moses must have been greatly inspired by the promises of God which his mother related to him as a child. The fact that he knew about the God of Abraham, and about the promises he had made, clearly indicates that his mother had these things in mind from the time of his birth, and that it was her faith in the promises that led her to hide this ‘exceeding fair’ child, and thus to save his life. It is doubtful if she was still living when Moses led the nation out of Egypt, but how she will rejoice when, in the resurrection, she learns of the wonderful manner in which the Lord rewarded her faith!

VERSE 27  “By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible.”

The reference in this verse to forsaking Egypt evidently applies to the Exodus, when Moses led the whole nation out of bondage; for, when he left Egypt at the age of forty and fled into the land of Midian, it was largely because of his fear that Pharaoh would have him killed as punishment for slaying an Egyptian. This is further borne out in Exodus 4:19 where the Lord, in giving Moses courage to return to Egypt, assured him that those who formerly sought his life were now all dead.

Later, however, when Pharaoh let the Israelites leave the country, he said, “Get thee from me, take heed to thyself, see my face no more; for in that day thou seest my face thou shalt die. And Moses said, Thou hast spoken well, I will see thy face again no more.” (Exod. 10:28,29) There is no evidence here of fear. Moses was ready to forsake Egypt, and to take the Israelites with him, trusting in Him who was invisible to care for them as they journeyed toward the promised land.

VERSE 28  “Through faith he kept the passover, and the sprinkling of blood, lest he that destroyed the firstborn should touch them.”

Moses received specific instructions concerning the sprinkling of the blood and keeping the Passover feast. Not to have obeyed these instructions would have represented a serious lack of faith in the Word of God. His faith was rewarded in the passing over of Israel’s firstborn.

VERSE 29  “By faith they passed through the Red sea as by dry land: which the Egyptians assaying to do were drowned.”

It required great confidence in God and in the assurance of his protection, for Moses and the Israelites to pass through the Red Sea as they did. This was truly a work of faith. While it may be possible to explain this miracle, it is not necessary to do so in order for us today, who have faith in God’s promises and power, to believe the Biblical record of what occurred. Christian faith would be lacking its most essential element if it did not believe that God is able and willing to do things for his people that they are unable to do for themselves.

VERSE 30  “By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, after they were compassed about seven days.”

Here the faith of Joshua, the successor to Moses, comes prominently to the fore. When he received instructions from the Lord concerning the strategy to be used in capturing Jericho, he did not question the wisdom of the plan, though from the human standpoint it would not seem to be a procedure which would result in victory. But he believed God. The Israelites followed his leadership, and their faith was crowned with victory. Many have also endeavored to explain this miracle, but we should exercise the same faith as did Joshua, and believe that God gave them the victory. Faith that does not go beyond human ability to understand is not genuine faith at all.

VERSE 31  “By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace.”

James tells us that Rahab’s faith resulted in her justification (James 2:25)—not a justification to life, but to a position of friendship with the Lord, a friendship based upon her confidence in his promises. It is a mistake to suppose that the term justification is used in the Bible only to describe the life standing of those on behalf of whom the merit of Christ has been applied. The subject of justification takes on a new luster, and becomes simple and understandable, when we recognize the wider use the Bible makes of the term.

Rahab’s initial work by which she demonstrated her justifying faith, was her concealing of the spies. She hid them on the roof of her home, concealing their presence by covering them with flax; and then, when she was asked where they were, she further concealed them with her tongue. In expressing her willingness to do this, she explained to the spies that the people of the city had heard of Israel’s victories over their enemies, and had become very fearful, and for herself she had concluded that if Israel’s God was as great and powerful as the reports indicated, the thing to do was to yield oneself to him and become his servant. This was apparently the beginning of her change of heart and conduct. See Joshua 2:8-13.

Rahab is called Rachab in Matthew 1:5, where we find her in the same honorable position as Ruth in the lineage of Jesus. After the fall of Jericho, she evidently accepted the faith of the Israelites and became one with them, marrying Salmon. Thus her faith and courage in protecting the spies were rightly rewarded by God at that time. Paul indicates, she demonstrated her worthiness of a position with the Ancient Worthies in their “better resurrection.”—vs. 35

VERSES 32-34  “What shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets: Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought 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, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.”

Here Paul ceases to give detailed examples of individual faith, realizing that his letter would become altogether too lengthy. He begins to generalize, mentioning a few more names and incidents as a group, finally omitting even names, including all the remainder in the expression, ‘and of the prophets.’ The subduing of kingdoms is evidently a reference to Gideon’s victory over the Midianites (Judges 7); Barak’s over the Canaanites (Judges 4); Samson’s over the Philistines (Judges 14); Jephthah’s over the Ammonites (Judges 11); David’s over the Philistines, the Moabites, the Syrians, the Edomites, and the Ammonites.—II Sam. 5:17-25; 8:1; 8:2,10-12

These ‘wrought righteousness,’ that is, they stood for a righteous cause, and their faithfulness was accounted unto them for righteousness. They ‘obtained promises.’ Here the Greek word rendered promises is the same as used by Paul when he tells us that after Abraham endured he “obtained the promise.” (Heb. 6:15) It is a word which is slightly stronger in meaning than the one used in the statement that “God made promise to Abraham.” (vs.13) Paul uses it to convey the additional thought of assurance.

‘Stopped the mouths of lions,’ is a likely reference to Daniel’s experience in the lions’ den.

‘Quenched the violence of fire.’ This seems to be alluding to the experience of the three Hebrews in the fiery furnace.

They ‘escaped the edge of the sword.’ When Israel was faithful to the Lord, the nation was protected from their enemies, and in their weakness, the faithful were made strong. They were given strength also to put to flight the ‘armies of the aliens’ who entered their land for purposes of conquest.

VERSE 35  “Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection.”

While there were two occasions when children were awakened from the sleep of death (I Kings 17:17-23; II Kings 4:18-37), the reference here seems to be more particularly to the hope of a future resurrection for their loved ones which was engendered in the hearts and minds of all the women in Israel by the promises of God. See Jeremiah 31:15-17.

Others were ‘tortured’ says Paul, ‘not accepting deliverance.’ The Greek word here rendered tortured is a very strong one, meaning to be stretched out on a rack and tormented. The Scriptures do not record any incidents of literal torture in this fashion. Paul may have used the word as symbolic of the severe trials of various kinds to which the faithful of Israel were subjected. The three Hebrews, for example, were offered deliverance from the fiery furnace if they would worship the image which had been set up.

Such devotion to principle, Paul explains, was inspired by faith in a ‘better resurrection.’ The Prophet David explains that those who were “fathers” in Israel, are to be made “princes in all the earth.” (Ps. 45:16) Jesus explained that in the kingdom they will be recognized by the people of the whole earth—from east, west, north, and south—as the Lord’s representatives. To occupy this position as the human representatives of the kingdom, they will need a measure of perfection from the start, and this seems to be what is implied by the expression, ‘better resurrection.’ The world in general will reach perfection by a gradual process, but the Ancient Worthies, having proved their faithfulness under trial, will be thus rewarded when first awakened from the sleep of death.

VERSES 36-38  “Others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, 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 in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.”

If all the detailed experiences of the Ancient Worthies were known it would doubtless be found that Paul is here alluding to trials which literally came to one or more of them. Hanani was imprisoned for his faithfulness. (II Chron. 16:10) Micaiah was also put in prison. (I Kings 22:26,27) Jeremiah also thus suffered. (Jer. 32:2,3) Zechariah was stoned. (II Chron. 24:20,21) Traditional writings say that Isaiah was sawed in two by Manasseh, the evil king who succeeded Hezekiah to the throne of Judah.

The Holy Land was especially suited by its geologic formation and its wilderness aspects to afford shelter to persecuted persons. So it did to one hundred of the Lord’s prophets whom Obadiah hid in a cave (I Kings 18:4,13); and also to Elijah. (I Kings 19:9,13) All remember the story of how David hid in a cave when Saul was persecuting him.

The world (kosmos) of the prophets’ day was not worthy of those faithful representatives of God. Nor did the people of the world then know that those whom they persecuted were proving themselves worthy, by their faithfulness, of a high position of honor in God’s new world, as the human representatives of the Divine Christ.

VERSE 39  “These all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise.”

They had the assurance that their unwavering fidelity to truth and righteousness was pleasing to God, but they did not receive the fulfillment of the promises God made to them. That must wait until they are raised from the dead.

VERSE 40  “God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.”

Here is a clear statement of one of the important truths of the Bible, one which reveals that, in the plan of God, all do not receive the same reward. ‘Some better thing’ is provided for the church of this Gospel Age than that which will be received by the Ancient Worthies. John the Baptist was the last of the Ancient Worthy class, and of him Jesus said that while none greater had ever been born of women, yet the least in the “kingdom of heaven” would be greater than he. (Matt. 11:11) The ‘kingdom of heaven’ here mentioned by Jesus is the spiritual phase of that kingdom. Jesus will be the chief one therein, and the church, exalted to the Divine nature, will reign with him. But John the Baptist as one of the Ancient Worthies, will be in the human or earthly phase of the kingdom.

In chapter nine, verse thirteen, Paul speaks of the blood of bulls and of goats, and also the “ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean.” “Tabernacle Shadows of the Better Sacrifices” points out that the bullock sacrificed on Israel’s Day of Atonement typified Christ, while the sacrifice of the goat pointed forward to the church’s share in the “better sacrifices” of the Gospel Age. (Heb. 9:23) It is also suggested that the ashes of the heifer mentioned in this verse typified the sacrifices of the Ancient Worthies.

We believe that this is the right viewpoint, and it seems not unreasonable to us that Paul had this in mind when writing the eleventh chapter of this wonderful epistle. Having referred to that in the type which represents the sacrifices and sufferings of God’s people in two ages, he then shows how realistically it has worked out, and continues to be true in the actual experiences of those who are loyal to the Messianic cause.

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