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Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1

According to the Holman Bible Dictionary, “hope” is:

“Trustful expectation, particularly with reference to the fulfillment of God’s promises. Biblical hope is the anticipation of a favorable outcome under God’s guidance. More specifically, hope is the confidence that what God has done for us in the past guarantees our participation in what God will do in the future. This contrasts to the world’s definition of hope as “a feeling that what is wanted will happen.” Understood in this way, hope can denote either a baseless optimism or a vague yearning after an unattainable good. If hope is to be genuine hope, however, it must be founded on something (or someone) which affords reasonable grounds for confidence in its fulfillment. The Bible bases its hope in God and His saving acts”

Simply put, the world’s understanding of hope is a longing for something that might or might not happen. On the other hand, biblical hope is an assurance that God is faithful to keep His word and fulfill His promises.

“For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.” Isaiah 55:10-11

Faith is the foundation upon which biblical hope is built. Our confident assurance is that we believe in a good and righteous God who is omnipotent and omniscient. Since He is all powerful and all knowing, nothing and no one can thwart His plans. Faith is the evidence, the demonstration and convincing proof, that things which are hoped for and not yet visible will come to pass according to God’s sovereignty and in God’s perfect timing.

This is what the ancients were commended for. Hebrew 11:2

The Old Testament records the exploits of the ancestors and predecessors of the Hebrew believers in Jesus as Messiah who were acclaimed for their faith.

By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. Hebrews 11:3

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Genesis 1:1

This first verse of the Bible is not only a summation of the narrative to follow but speaks of God’s supernatural intervention to create something from nothing. Before the beginning of the creation, only God existed. After the beginning, two realms were created including a supernatural abode for angels and a natural dwelling place for mankind.

By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead. Hebrews 11:4

Abel brought “fat portions from some of the firstborn.” He not only offered the “firstfruits” of his flock, he also offered the choicest parts. Abel was clearly giving the best of what he had to God. Cain, on the other hand, brought “some of the fruits of the soil,” and not the firstfruits. The portion he offered may have been damaged or what Cain considered “leftover.” Abel’s and Cain’s actions were a reflection of their attitudes towards God. Abel honored the LORD and was commended as being righteous.

By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death: “He could not be found, because God had taken him away.” For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. Hebrews 11:5-6

Drawing near to God and seeking Him are deliberate, intentional activities. You do not accidentally draw near to the Holy One. No one ever seeks God apart from God’s first choosing and calling that person (Romans 3:11; 1 Corinthians 1:26-31). But once God has called you to salvation and you have responded in faith to His call, you must exert deliberate effort and intention to seek the Lord. We are to seek God Himself, not just the rewards that He can give us. Knowing the living God is our reward.

By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith. Hebrews 11:7

This is the account of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God. Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth. Genesis 6:9-10

Noah found favor (grace) in the eyes of the LORD. While the rest of mankind acting wickedly and their thoughts were evil, Noah was righteous and walked with GodSo make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out. Genesis 6:14

Noah did everything just as God commanded him. Genesis 6:22

Noah was warned of God’s coming judgment upon wicked mankind wrought through a cataclysmic worldwide flood. By faith, he believed God and was obedient to build the ark and save his family.

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the Promised Land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. Hebrews 11:8-10

Abram did not question the LORD, but faithfully obeyed and embarked on a journey to an unknown land hundreds of miles away. Abram, who was later named Abraham, became the father of Isaac. Isaac was the father of Jacob. They and their families lived as nomads dwelling in tents.

For our light and temporary affliction is producing for us an eternal glory that far outweighs our troubles. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:17-18

By faith Abraham did not fix his eyes on his temporary earthly home but upon his unseen eternal heavenly dwelling.

And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore. Hebrews 11:11-12

Nothing is too hard for the LORD. God is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-wise and He watches over His word to perform it. His promises are yea and amen. The LORD did for Sarah what He promised to do. Although she was ninety years old and beyond child-bearing age, by God’s grace she miraculously became pregnant and bore Abraham a son when he was one hundred years old.

Abraham which means “Father of Many” would be the patriarch of numerous natural children (like the sand of the seashore) through Ishmael (the Arabic tribes), through Isaac (the tribes of Israel), as well as through Keturah’s six sons whom he married after the death of Sarah. Abraham is not only the father of many natural children, but also the father of many spiritual children (like the stars in the sky) who by faith have undergone the circumcision of their hearts (Romans 4:11-12).

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own.  If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. Hebrews 11:13-16

The first readers of this epistle were tempted, under the threat of persecution, to go back to their Jewish religion. The implication of our text in its context is that to go back to Judaism would be like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob going back to settle permanently in Mesopotamia. God had promised them a new country, the land of Canaan. But, being men of faith, they looked beyond their temporary earthly dwelling place to the heavenly country that God had prepared for them.

These men of faith admitted that “they were foreigners and strangers on earth.” This refers to Abraham’s telling the Hittites, when he sought to buy a burial plot for Sarah, “I am a foreigner and stranger among you.” (Genesis 23:4). When Jacob, near the end of his life, met Pharaoh, he twice referred to his life as a pilgrimage (Genesis 47:9).

By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death. Hebrews 11:17-19

God told Abraham to take his “only son” Isaac to the region of Moriah. Yet we know that Abraham had another son Ishmael at that time. When Ishmael and Hagar were sent away it was clear that Ishmael was not to be the rightful heir, but it is also clear that Ishmael would remain Abraham’s son. God said, “Nevertheless, I will make the slave girl’s son into a nation, since he, too, is your offspring” (Genesis 21:13). Ishmael, though loved by Abraham and an offspring from his body, was not the promised heir. Isaac alone was the heir. He was the “only son” of the promise. Father Abraham was told to take his “only son” whom he loved and sacrifice him on a mountain in the region of Moriah.

Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Genesis 22:6-7

Abraham did not place the wood for the burnt offering in Isaac’s arms, but placed it on his son Isaac’s shoulders. As they he walked up the mountain Isaac asked his father, “Where is the lamb?” This is a prophetic picture of God’s only Son whom the he dearly loved bearing the cross for our sins.

Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together. Genesis 22:8

Abraham declared that God himself will provide (future tense) the lamb that would serve as an atonement offering. Two thousand years later John identifies the promised lamb as God himself.

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! John 1:29

Abraham who was well over 100 years old could not have forced Isaac to be bound and laid upon the altar. Isaac willingly laid down his life. Even if it meant that he had to die, Isaac submitted his will to the will of his father. This is another powerful prophetic picture of the coming Messiah.

Figuratively speaking, Abraham received Isaac back from the dead. The testing of Abraham and the submission of Isaac is a prophetic picture of the future atoning death and resurrection of the Messiah.

By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future. Hebrews 11:20

Isaac gave the blessing to Jacob. Even after learning that it had been by means of a shameful deception that he had been tricked into doing so, Isaac confirmed the destiny regarding both his sons. Isaac had the uttermost faith that his inspired words of blessing which he had spoken concerning them would come to pass.

By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff. Hebrews 11:21

Some time later Joseph was told, “Your father is ill.” So he took his two sons Manasseh and Ephraim along with him. Genesis 48:1

Jacob proclaimed from his death bed that he was adopting Joseph’s two sons. His grandsons would be elevated to the position of sons of Israel. Joseph would now receive a double portion, which is the privilege of the firstborn. When it came time for the tribes of Israel to possess the Promised Land, Ephraim and Manasseh would each inherit their own portion of territory.

By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions concerning the burial of his bones. Hebrews 11:22

When he saw his death approaching, Joseph comforted his brothers with the assurance of their return to Canaan according to God’s promise to the patriarchs. As a testimony of his own faith, Joseph charges his brothers to keep his remains unburied till that glorious day, when the twelve tribes would be settled in the land of promise. Thus Joseph, by faith in the doctrine of the resurrection, and the promise of Canaan, had them swear an oath concerning his bones.

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. Hebrews 11:23

Pharaoh had published an edict, ordering every Hebrew male child to be cast into the Nile River. Instead of obeying this order, by faith Moses was hidden for three months by his parents Amram and Jochebed (Numbers 26:59).

By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. Hebrews 11:24-26

As the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, Moses enjoyed a position of high honor in Egypt. When he identified himself with the Hebrew slaves, he became the object of contempt and scorn. As a family member in Pharaoh’s court, Moses enjoyed whatever pleasures anyone could seek. He lived in luxury, ate the best food available and he was robed in royal garments. He had wealth and position. But by faith, Moses gave up the fleeting worldly pleasures of sin and sought the blessings of eternal reward.

By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible. By faith he kept the Passover and the application of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel. Hebrews 11:27-28

At the time of the Exodus, Moses left Egypt not fearing Pharaoh’s anger because he saw a manifestation of the invisible God at the burning bush. He later spoke with God “face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend” (Exodus 33:11). Finally, he asked to see God, and God allowed him to see His “back” (Exodus 33:22-23).

At the culmination of the plagues, God gave Moses instructions for how Israel was to observe the Passover (Exodus 12). At the heart of that celebration was the sacrifice of an unblemished male lamb. Its blood was to be smeared on the doorposts and lintel of each house. God warned that He would go through the land on that night and kill every firstborn male in homes that did not have the blood on the doorposts. Moses by faith kept the Passover.

By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned. Hebrews 11:29

The situation that the enemy thought would bring them an easy victory led to their defeat. God miraculously piled the water up as a wall on both sides for Israel to walk through on dry ground (Exodus 14:21-22). He moved the pillar of cloud behind them until they all passed through. Then He let the Egyptians pursue them in blind fury. The Egyptians abandoned reason and common sense and rushed into the sea to their own destruction. And so a helpless, defenseless, unorganized band of two and a half million slaves were delivered from a powerful, well-equipped army.

By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the army had marched around them for seven days. Hebrews 11:30

On the seventh day of Joshua’s marching campaign at Jericho, the people awoke at daybreak and marched around the city seven times. The seventh time around, when the priests sounded the trumpet blasts, Joshua commanded the people, “Shout! For the LORD has given you the city!” (See Joshua 6:15–16). Then the walls of Jericho fell down.

By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient. Hebrews 11:31

The day Jericho fell to the Israelites, all the nation of Israel awaited Joshua’s orders. As the trumpets sounded, Joshua issued a loud command and the people shouted in response. When the great city wall collapsed, the men of Israel charged into the city, putting every living thing within to death. Only Rahab the prostitute and her household were spared.

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. Hebrews 11:32-34

Just as the commander Joshua informed his men that Yehovah had given the Israelites the city of Jericho, and at the sounding of the shofar blast they were to shout; so did Gideon tell his men that Yehovah had given the Midianite camp into their hands, they were to blow their shofars and then shout.

Gideon and the hundred men with him reached the edge of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, just after they had changed the guard. They blew their trumpets and broke the jars that were in their hands. The three companies blew the trumpets and smashed the jars. Grasping the torches in their left hands and holding in their right hands the trumpets they were to blow, they shouted, “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!” While each man held his position around the camp, all the Midianites ran, crying out as they fled. Judges 7:19-21

The pagans divided the duties of their watchmen into three watches of four hours each. The first watch was from 6:00 PM to 10:00 PM. Most of the men would have gotten to bed early in order to rest up for the battle they expected to engage in on the following day. By 10:00 at night, they were sleeping soundly.

As one set of guards were leaving their posts and a new set of guards were taking their positions, the enemy soldiers were suddenly aroused out of their slumber. They were dazed and confused by the sudden blast of the shofars and the wild shout of a war-cry yelled from every side. They stumbled out of their tents, without leaders and without knowledge of the numbers of their foe. All around they saw the flaring torches and heard the trumpet-blasts which seemed to indicate an immense attacking force, so they fled crying out in panic and in the midst of chaos.

When the three hundred trumpets sounded, the Lord caused the men throughout the camp to turn on each other with their swords. Judges 7:22a

With only 300 men, Gideon’s weakness was turned to strength and by faith he routed foreign armies.

Then Deborah said to Barak, “Go! This is the day the Lord has given Sisera into your hands. Has not the Lord gone ahead of you?” So Barak went down Mount Tabor, with ten thousand men following him. At Barak’s advance, the Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots and army by the sword, and Sisera got down from his chariot and fled on foot. Judges 4:14-15

Barak led the Israelite charge of 10,000 men against Sisera’s army. It seems that the LORD’s intervention on behalf of the Israelites was in the form of a rainstorm causing the Kishon River to flood which made chariot travel for the Canaanites extremely difficult.

Barak pursued the chariots and army as far as Harosheth Haggoyim, and all Sisera’s troops fell by the sword; not a man was left. Judges 4:16

As the chariots became bogged down in the mud they would overturn and the charioteers would be easy prey for the Israelite foot soldiers. By faith Barak and his foot soldiers defeated a Canaanite army and their charioteers.

Then Samson reached toward the two central pillars on which the temple stood. Bracing himself against them, his right hand on the one and his left hand on the other, Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines!” Then he pushed with all his might, and down came the temple on the rulers and all the people in it. Thus he killed many more when he died than while he lived. Judges 16:29-30

Despite all of Samson’s moral weaknesses and his disregard for the restrictions of a Nazarite, Samson turned back to God in faith before he died. God in His sovereignty used Samson to fulfill His purpose. Samson’s death did much to impede the oppressive actions of the Philistines against the Israelites by killing all five Philistine rulers in his final act of supernatural strength.

Then Jephthah went over to fight the Ammonites, and the LORD gave them into his hands. He devastated twenty towns from Aroer to the vicinity of Minnith, as far as Abel Keramim. Thus Israel subdued Ammon. Judges 11:29-33

The Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah endowing him with an extraordinary measure of courage and wisdom, and all other qualities necessary to render him fit to be a ruler of his people. The people had chosen him for their leader and now God publicly declares his approval of their choice and anoints him as their judge.

Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah and Samuel were all judges of the Israelites before the time of the kings. The Judges were both prophets and warriors who sought to bring God’s people to repentance and deliver them from the hands of their enemies. Their role was to turn the people back from idolatry and thus restore the authority of the Mosaic Law. The judges were leaders or rulers who took charge of the affairs of several tribes in times of war. They also assumed leadership of their respective tribes in the subsequent times of peace. They through faith conquered kingdoms and administered justice as did King David.

Nebuchadnezzar had assembled musicians from all over the civilized world to form his orchestra. As soon as the sound of six instruments was heard, the provincial rulers and administrators from all the nations that comprised the Babylonian Empire were to bow down and worship the image of gold that he erected or be thrown into a fiery furnace.

At this time some astrologers came forward and denounced the Jews. They said to King Nebuchadnezzar, “May the king live forever! Your Majesty has issued a decree that everyone who hears the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music must fall down and worship the image of gold, and that whoever does not fall down and worship will be thrown into a blazing furnace. But there are some Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon—Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego—who pay no attention to you, Your Majesty. They neither serve your gods nor worship the image of gold you have set up.” Daniel 3:8-12

Even with the prospect of being thrown alive into a blazing furnace, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did not hesitate whether or not they should comply with the king’s command. They knew that must obey God rather than man. They believed that God would deliver them, either from death or in death. By faith they “quenched the fury of the flames.” They emerged from the furnace unharmed. Their robes were not burned, not even a hair singed, while the cords that had been used to bind them were consumed.

Now Daniel so distinguished himself among the administrators and the satraps by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom. At this, the administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent. Finally these men said, “We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God.” Daniel 6:3-5

Daniel was taken captive to Babylon in 607 B.C. Forty-eight years later in 539 B.C., Babylon was conquered by the Medes and the Persians. For nearly half a century, Daniel had faithfully served his captors. His exceptional and trustworthy character was beyond reproach. King Darius was planning to place Daniel in the position of prime minister over all the empire to root out waste and corruption. The other administrators and the satraps were so concerned about having an honest man in a position of power and authority over them that they sought to discredit Daniel. Realizing that they could not bring charges of misconduct against Daniel because he was a diligent worker and a man of integrity; the other government officials sought to make it illegal for Daniel to follow his religious practices.

Using flattery, these administrators and satraps sought to persuade Darius into issuing a royal decree forbidding anyone to petition any god or man except the king for the following thirty days. The penalty for disobeying this edict would be a horrible death – being mauled and devoured by lions. The intent of these greedy officials was to ensure that Daniel would not live to oversee their corrupt practices.

Daniel, having learned that the decree forbidding prayer to anyone but the king was now officially enacted, went home and prayed to God. He did not pray in secret in a closet, but went upstairs where the windows opened towards Jerusalem and prayed as he had been doing previously.

Daniel answered, “May the king live forever! My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight. Nor have I ever done any wrong before you, Your Majesty.” Daniel 6:21-22

Although the penalty for his actions would result in his being thrown to the lions, through faith Daniel trusted the LORD to deliver him.

Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Hebrews 11:35a

Scripture records that both Elijah and Elisha raised the dead. Their actions were also a prophetic picture of the ministry of the Messiah. Elijah raised the son of the widow of Nain, while Elisha raised the son of the Gentile woman. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus also raises the son of a widow from Nain, placing himself in the company of the greatest of all the prophets.

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. Hebrews 11:35b-38

During the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, there was great persecution of the Jewish people and the temple in Jerusalem was defiled.

“He will be succeeded by a contemptible person who has not been given the honor of royalty. He will invade the kingdom when its people feel secure, and he will seize it through intrigue. Then an overwhelming army will be swept away before him; both it and a prince of the covenant will be destroyed. After coming to an agreement with him, he will act deceitfully, and with only a few people he will rise to power. When the richest provinces feel secure, he will invade them and will achieve what neither his fathers nor his forefathers did. He will distribute plunder, loot and wealth among his followers. He will plot the overthrow of fortresses—but only for a time. Daniel 11:21-24

The contemptible person was Antiochus IV Epiphanes. His self-proclaimed title, Epiphanes which means “God manifest” demonstrated his egomania. Because of his cruelty and irrational behavior many people referred to him instead as Antiochus Epimames (“The Madman”).

Antiochus Epiphanes outlawed the Jewish religion and ordered the Jews to worship Greek gods. His soldiers descended upon Jerusalem, massacring thousands of people, sold many more into slavery including women and children, and desecrated the city’s holy Second Temple by erecting an altar to Zeus and sacrificing pigs within its sacred walls. The persecution not only involved a complete abomination of the Temple and the altar, but copies of the Torah were burned, and Sabbath keeping and circumcision were forbidden. Possession of Jewish scriptures was made a capital offense.

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. Hebrews 11:39-40

Although these men and women were lauded for their faith, they did not live to receive the great promise – the coming of the Messiah and salvation in Him. No one was “made perfect” under the Old Covenant, because Christ had not yet died. They were saved, but not until Jesus’ work on the cross was complete could salvation be perfect. Their salvation looked ahead to what Christ would do. Ours looks back to what he has done. Ours is “more” perfect now but someday in glory it will be totally perfect.