Notes on Hebrews
There are many references to faith in the Word of God, however, when an effort is exerted to discover the key to a successful Christian life there are three verses we should consider. In James 2 we see the Visibility of faith. Show me your faith by your works. Matthew 17:20 reminds us of the Vitality of faith, it is as a grain of mustard seed; i.e. it grows. Hebrews 2 tells us of the Victory of faith; it reminds us that faith links us eternally to the One who is all powerful and thus makes us victorious in Him.
It is important to notice that faith is not being defined in Hebrews 2. It is being described. The writer in a most beautiful way unfolds the fabric of the lives of great men and women of God and shows us what distinguished them in a world of sense and sin. It was faith, “Faith,” says the writer, “is the substance (evidence) of things not seen.” We do know that the things which are seen are temporal, whereas the things which are not seen are eternal. In other words faith is the evidence of eternal things. There is no doubt that the chapter is taking us beyond the mundane affairs of time and sense, beyond the cares of this world and beyond the temporal and unimportant. Faith takes us into the realm of the spiritual, eternal, unknowable and incomprehensible, and makes them our own. Faith links us eternally to the everlasting throne of God and makes the God of Heaven become the God of man.
This chapter divides time into three periods, at least time before the Cross: the primeval (vs. 1-7), the patriarchal (8:22) and the Israelitish (23-38). Each respectively is headed by Abel, Abraham, and Moses. All three, in what they offered, emphasized faith in the sacrificial death of Christ. In the first we have faith in what was commanded, in the second we have faith in what was promised, in the third we have faith in what was endured. The venture of faith is illustrated in the three heads of these categories. Abel ventured on the blood of atonement for acceptance, Abraham on the promises of God for continuance and Moses on the recompence of God for the future. Three attitudes may be noted in Abraham’s life; he obeyed God, not knowing where; he embraced the promises of God, not knowing how; he offered up his only son, not knowing why. In the exercises of such faith he earned the title of the friend of God.
Faith is the conviction of things not seen. It is the vision of the reality of the invisible (vs. 8-16) and of the accomplishment of the improbable (vs. 17-22). Moses endured because the eye of faith was on the invisible God. Abraham started out on the invisible path of faith (v.8) with his eye on the invisible city of God (v.10). He and Sarah and their seed greeted the invisibilities from afar (v.13). Their faith was pleasing to God for He is not ashamed to be called their God and He prepared for them a city (v.16).
But faith is not only the vision of the invisible, it anticipates the accomplishment of the improbable. These men and women of faith trusted God against all odds. It was improbable that God would deliver Isaac (v.19), that the younger should receive the blessing (vs. 20-21), that Israel should be delivered from Egypt (v.22).
Moreover, faith in God leads to a true estimation of things in this world. Moses’ parents considered that preserving a man for God was greater than their fear of the king (v. 23). Moses valuation of the court of Egypt was small compared to the recompence of the future. Three motives urged him on to a wise choice: he had respect for the future (v. 26), he saw the invisible God (v.27) and he was persuaded that the world’s false show and glory would end in judgment (v. 28). Thus we have faith’s achievements (23-34) and faith’s endurance (35-38).
The chapter takes on a very interesting aspect when we consider the approach that the writer is taking. He sees the Christian life as a race and takes the olympic games of Greece as the illustration. The Christian is to run with the knowledge that the prize is before him. He is to exert every ounce of spiritual energy in order to win the prize. As he runs he is conscious that there are spectators. He looks a little closer at the crowd and makes a startling discovery, they are all olympic champions; they have run the race before and have been victorious. He will now apply every pressure, lay aside every weight and make a concentrated effort on winning the prize. The key verse to the above analogyis found in chapter 12:1, “Seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses… let as run.” The obvious question still remains, “What can faith do for the Christian?” May we suggest five things from the chapter before us:
1. Faith overcomes the illogical,
2. Faith overcomes the impossible,
3. Faith overcomes the impregnable,
4. Faith overcomes the invisible,
5. Faith overcomes the irrecoverable.
First, Faith overcomes the illogical (vs. 1-7). The lives of three great men are before us, all lived by faith in the realm of the illogical. The lesson to be learned from Abel’s life is that of forgiveness. He brought his offering to God not recognizing the reason but merely accepting that it was God’s way of dealing with sin.
Enoch’s life is a graphic lesson in fellowship.
“He walked with God, could grander words be written?
Not much of what he thought or said is told;
Not where or what he wrought is even mentioned;
He walked with God — brief words of fadeless gold.
“How many souls were succoured on his journey,
Helped by his word, or prayer, we may not know,
Still this we read — words of excelling grandeur,
He walked with God while yet he walked below.
“Such be the tribute of thy pilgrim journey,
When life’s last mile thy feet have bravely trod,
When thou hast gone to all that there awaits thee,
This simple epitaph — he walked with God.”
Noah’s life could be summed up by the word fear. He was moved through fear to build an ark. His life was lived in the fear of God. He recognized the awesome majesty of his Creator. Noah’s life illustrates the principle “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
Second, Faith overcomes the impossible (vs. 8-19). Two lives come into focus here, that of Abraham and Sarah. In Abraham we see the principle of pilgrimage, whereas in Sarah we see the principle of production. The marvel of these two lives can only be ascertained by a study in depth. However there are three fascinating words used in the passage to describe the reproach of God’s pilgrims such as Abraham (1) XENOI translated “stranger” (v.13). A stranger was always regarded with contempt and suspicion. (2) PAROIKEIN translated “to sojourn” (v. 9). A paroikos was a resident alien and was forced to pay tax. He was always regarded as an outsider. (3) PAREPIDEMOS translated “pilgrim” (v.13). This word describes someone who was staying only temporarily and had a permanent home elsewhere. The patriarchs saw beyond the impossible situation of life. Abraham, ‘hitched his wagon to a star’ that star being the very throne of God. Barrenness was turned into fruitfulness and faith was rewarded by an heir.
Third, faith overcomes the impregnable (vs. 20-22). Three lives, that of Isaac, of Jacob and of Joseph, hold our attention next. It is indeed incredible that of all the possible experiences in the lives of these three men, the writer chooses in all cases to speak of their death. What are the implications? It is faith accomplishing the improbable. In Isaac we see prophetic vision piercing to the future and overcoming the flesh. In Jacob we see faith giving serenity and magnanimity in death and overcoming Satan. In Joseph we see his assured confidence at the end of life and faith overcoming the world as seen in Egypt.
In chapter three the writer speaks of the people who fell in the wilderness because they believed not. In this chapter, however, he speaks of the walls of Jericho (representing the multitude of difficulties in the Christian life) falling by faith. Faith makes the difference. We can either stand by faith or fall through the lack of it. We can by faith face the enemy positively and surely or we can cringe in the face of the impending conflict and fall in the face of temptation.
Fourth, faith overcomes the invisible (vs. 23-30). Moses is a graphic picture of the possibility of seeing beyond this life. He saw Him who was invisible. If there is one lesson that the life of Moses teaches us more than any other it would be the importance of placing first things first. The greatest danger confronting Christians today is that of total involvement in the things of this passing world to the exclusion of the enduring and eternal. Faith is the ingredient which always allows us to objectively place our values in the right perspective and consider the value of important things.
Finally, faith overcomes the irrecoverable (vs.31-40). The story of Rahab is remarkable. She should have been lost for two reasons: she was a citizen of Jericho, a city at enmity with God. Then she was a deeply-dyed sinner. From a natural point of view there was no recovery. But she had faith and that faith was expressed in doing what she was told. Faith is simply believing God. It is our response to God’s revelation of Himself.
The chapter closes with a remarkable statement, “These all… received not the promise.” They recognized that the promise of God was not to be realized in their lifetime.