The close of Heb. 10 leads naturally into the rich unfolding of the power of faith which follows in an order truly remarkable. It was the more in season here, as there had been defection through the absence of it; and its value for God’s pleasure as well as man’s salvation is evident and undeniable, as had just been pointed out. The Jew was peculiarly exposed to overlook its virtue, surrounded as he was by a ritual which appealed to his sight every day; and the Christian Jew had to watch against his old habit, and needed to learn that the great distinctive principle of blessing now as of old lies in faith. Did he value antiquity? Faith distinguished all whom God honoured from first to last; not the law but faith. “Thy faith hath saved thee,” said the Lord; whilst the law is but a ministration of death and condemnation.
Undoubtedly the source of all blessing for sinful man is in the grace of God working by His Son and in the Holy Spirit; as this Epistle shows the ground of it all to be in the glorious person of Jesus our Lord and in His efficacious work of redemption. Still it is by faith that we receive the blessing; and faith is never without repentance to God as its accompaniment, never without love as its fruit, with works and ways suitable and inseparable in the Husbandman’s care. It is of God’s will, but through faith, that we were begotten by the word; it is of faith that we have been justified; it is by faith that we have had and have access into this grace, the true grace of God, wherein we stand; it is through faith that we are all sons of God, as through faith we received the promise of the Spirit; by grace have we been saved through faith, as the believer only has eternal life in the Son of God, and boasts in hope of the glory of God. This is far from all that Scripture attaches to faith but how immense is the blessedness even here intimated!
“Now faith is substance (or, confidence) of hoped-for things, conviction of matters not seen. For in virtue of this the elders were testified of. By faith we apprehend that the worlds have been framed by God’s word, so that what is seen hath not been made out of things that appear” (verses 1-3).
Thus is laid down, what every intelligent believer knows to be true experimentally, that faith realises things hoped for, is a demonstration to the soul of matters not seen. It is no new principle, though it shines as all that is morally noble does in Christianity. All of whom the world was not worthy, all who honoured God and looked above the present and the visible, were marked by it. The O.T. as the N.T. is full of its blessing, and the lack of it opens the door to all ruin. As it inspires with present confidence in the future we hope for, so it affords demonstration of matters not seen: we look, according to the word and in the Spirit of God, at the things not seen and eternal. There is not only certainty but present enjoyment.
Some have made a difficulty for themselves by the mistaken assumption that we have here a definition of faith. This is clearly not the object, but rather a description of its power, range, and effect. Faith scripturally in itself is simply believing God, accepting His word because He says it, not on visible evidence or on reasoning but on God’s authority. Now, under the gospel because of its all-importance, it is receiving the testimony of God which He has testified about His Son (1 John 5:9), believing (not exactly “on,” but) Him that sent the Son (John 5:24); or, as in John 3:32 it is expressed, he that receives His testimony sets to his seal that God is true., while he that does not believe God has the awful guilt of making Him a liar (1 John 5:10).
Before presenting the bright array of believers, the great truth of creation is set out as a question for faith. And so it truly is. Among the heathen all was as confused as the chaos they generally made co-eternal with deity. Yet the fact was once known but got corrupted and lost, notwithstanding the testimony to God’s invisible power and divinity in the things that were made. It might seem a necessary inference that there must be an Almighty Creator; yet who drew it plainly? Nothing but Scripture reveals it simply, suitably, and solemnly; and faith received it of old as now. And it becomes all the more needful to heed it, when the course of this evil age runs strongly toward the darkness of heathen thought, and men find their Bible in science which knows not a single truth of God, being too self-satisfied to sit at Jesus’ feet and hear His word. Yet even the proudest and most hostile of these modern philosophers is constrained to confess, that they can only investigate phenomena, and are absolutely ignorant of the originating power which gave birth to them. Only the mind cannot but own that such there must have been. It is an “unknown God” still, though they are hardly as candid as the Athenians in erecting an altar and inscribing their ignorance. Yet there is no excuse now, where not only the Scripture is read, but the Son of God come has given the amplest proof of the truth.
The inspired statement will reward the closest scrutiny. By faith we apprehend that the worlds have been framed by God’s word, and that what is seen has not been originated out of things apparent. This leaves ample room for whatever changes can be adequately shown to have followed the original creation of the earth; while it also maintains that what is seen did not derive its being from what appears. That all was made out of nothing is what no Christian would say; but that, where nothing existed, God created all things out of His own will and word is just the truth alike simple and profound; and all other hypotheses are as unwise as they are uncalled for and untrue. Evolution may not openly deny God, but at best it robs Him of His personal action and concern in the wisdom, power, and goodness of His will in every part; and its tendency is manifest to exclude Him altogether in contradiction of His word which attests His deep and direct interest in the whole.
It is natural enough that science should boast of what it has discovered and can teach of material phenomena, the laws which govern them, and the results that flow from them. Nor is science to be blamed, because from its nature it cannot rise to moral truth, still less to the knowledge of God. Only those who speak for it are out of court when they venture to deny that anything higher and far more momentous can be learnt in a way incomparably surer than any teaching of man. They are wholly wrong and illogical even, when they affirm that there is nothing to be known beyond the blank wall where all science necessarily stops, unable to lead or go farther. The most thorough-going, the grossest, of materialists must and does confess that science can give no account of the originating cause of all, or, as they say, “the origin of the permanent causes themselves.”37 Science, says another of these sages, “is wholly powerless to penetrate the mystery which lies behind.” But if science cannot discover, God can reveal. And the Bible begins with His revelation in words simple, clear, and worthy of Him. God would not have His people ignorant of the origin of all things through His power and goodness and wisdom, having called them into relationship with Himself, unworthy as they are, till the only Worthy One bring them to Himself in mercy and truth, then to walk in His light.
Meanwhile, during Israel’s unbelief, grace has provided “some better thing” in Christianity with its heavenly association, wherein we who now believe, while Christ is on high, have our blessed portion. And this epistle does its part to that end.
We may just notice how readily even commentators stray, who speak without entire subjection to the words of Scripture. Thus one who objects justly to those who trust not only the ascertained facts of geology, but the changing and uncertain hypotheses of its teachers, cites “In six days God created,” etc. But this is erroneous. The Bible never speaks so. See Ex. 20:11: “For in six days Jehovah made heaven and earth, the sea,” etc. This is the express testimony of the Holy Ghost. The creation proper (Gen. 1:1) was before the six days when particular objects were no doubt created for the Adamic earth. Again, others err by confounding the original creation with the empty and confused state into which (not the heavens but) the earth is shown us in Gen. 1:2; where the idiom as other scripture (Isa. 45:18) rejects the assumption of God’s originally creating a chaos: an idea natural to paganism. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The break-up described in verse 2 was a subsequent state, in contrast with the original order, and with the final one detailed for man.
None should be surprised that God’s creating should be an object of faith. For as creation brings in the activity of God, so the denial of it, which is the darling of modern speculation, excludes God, and exposes souls to the debasing delusion of materialism. But creation is not all, though it supposes God and, as we are here told, by the word of God, without which all is uncertain reasoning. By faith we understand not only that God created the world, but that the worlds have been framed by the word of God. His word therefore reveals the power of that word, which man knowing the impotence of his own word is apt to despise, as if God was such a one as himself. This is much, but not all, for man is fallen, a sinner departed from God. Creation is here declared to be His work; but sin demands of Him a new work. Man needs a Saviour, and a Saviour by sacrifice, that he may be brought to God. This accordingly is the next truth presented to us.
“By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which witness was borne to him that he was righteous, God bearing witness to his gifts, and through it he, being dead, yet speaketh” (verse 4).
No need is deeper than this. Abel felt the truth of it by faith, having weighed the testimony of God to a coming Saviour as well as the solemn effect that His parents, our parents, having rebelled against God, had brought in for themselves and their posterity. There is no way out of sin to God, except through sacrifice. But the only sacrifice that could efficaciously deal with sin before God was that of Christ. For Him therefore all saints waited in faith and had witness borne to them. Meanwhile Abel offered by faith a sacrifice in witness of death for sin, the confession of his own guilt, the confession of the grace of God that would righteously deliver from guilt.
No sense of this had Cain, an unrepentant, unbelieving, unconverted man, who brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto Jehovah. “Of the fruit of the ground!” What could this avail for sinful man? “Cursed is the ground for thy sake” had the LORD God said; thenceforward it should bring forth to man thorns and thistles, but no salvation. Of the ground was man taken, for dust he is, and unto dust he shall return. But the Last Adam is a life-giving Spirit, the Second man is of heaven; He only could avail for fallen man. Alas! Cain looked not to Him but to himself, as natural men do and perish. Believing Abel looked for the woman’s Seed to bruise the serpent’s head, and “by faith offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which it was witnessed to him that he was righteous.”
There is no righteousness without repentance, and there is no repentance without faith. Abel had both; and, as he looked for the Saviour in due time, he meanwhile offered his sacrifice by faith. Thereby a righteous one confessed himself a sinner; therein God saw the witness of the sacrifice in Christ, and bore witness to his gifts. It was a serious thing for the soul of Abel, and God appreciated the gifts that attested the truth as to both God and man: as to man acknowledging his sin; as to God about to send the Son of man the conqueror of Satan. “And through it he being dead yet speaketh;” for who that believes and heard his voice, has not profited by it? God Himself heard that voice from the ground, though he had died and to every believer it never ceases to speak. Even if Adapt had been after the fall a believer, his voice is not heard: he hid brought in sin and death for all men. But Abel died for his faith, as the witness of righteousness in all the power of sacrifice and of its meaning in the word of God.. and through it he though dead yet speaks. Without sacrifice according to God is no salvation.
But as faith does not always assume the same shape, although it be the same divine principle working in man by the Spirit of God, so in the next witness we see the power of life, not the sense of death. Both are true in Christ, in whom alone they appear in their fullest character, but believers enjoy according to the measure of their faith. “By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death, and was not found, because God translated him; for before the translation he hath had witness borne to him, that he had pleased God; and without faith it is impossible to please [him], for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and is a rewarder of those that seek him out” (verses 5, 6). To the same Messiah Enoch looked. There is no ground to suppose that he did not see death written on all, and sacrificial death the only way of deliverance, as Abel did. He knew as his predecessor that the woman’s Seed must be bruised; but he knew also and felt assured that He would bruise the serpent’s head. He saw life triumphant over him that had the power of death; in that faith he walked, and was well-pleasing to God. And his close on earth was accordingly, not by death like Abel, but by a power of life peculiar to himself. By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death, and was not found because God had translated him.”
We may therefore say that to him it was according to his faith, the witness to that truth a little before the deluge, as was Elijah long after it. Both lived in times of great and growing wickedness; both were prophets of judgment that should not slumber; both were translated on high without death, in witness of the great translation which will be the portion of all the living saints that remain, when the Lord Himself shall descend for them from heaven, and they shall be caught up together with the dead saints, raised to meet the Lord in the air. Enoch testifies of the chancre that awaits Christ’s coming, the mystery shown us in 1 Cor. 15:51, 52. The Holy Ghost comments on this well-pleasing walk of faith as concerning every believer, and possible only to faith — faith day by day in our walk with God, faith receiving that He is and becomes a rewarder to those that search Him out.
The next case attests rather God’s government of the world than the heavenly grace displayed in Enoch. “By faith Noah, oracularly warned concerning things not seen as yet, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; through which he condemned the world and became heir of the. righteousness that is according to faith” (verse 7). Enoch had warned others, himself caught up to heaven, before the deluge came and took away all save those in the ark. Noah had an oracular warning about things not yet seen, was himself warned and moved with godly fear. So the godly Jewish remnant will be at the end of the age, who pass through that solemn time of divine judgment, and emerge to inherit the earth as well as the righteousness according to faith, for lack of which the world was condemned. It would have been Noah’s ruin, as it was theirs, not to have believed the prophecy till it was accomplished; and so it will be with the world again in a day that hastens.
Any Christian can see that the faith of Enoch is of an evidently elevated character, and aptly finds its answer in our awaiting the Son of God from heaven to take us there; as the godly Jewish remnant corresponds to Noah, looking by-and-by for deliverance through judgment. But we have surely to share his faith also in testifying of that day and the world’s doom, a revealed element of separating power. However offensive to the false hopes of men, we are the more bound to proclaim the approaching judgment of the quick as Noah did. The wise and prudent may mock; but faith owes it to God to be outspoken, and love to man should add vigour to the warning, now in particular that we perceive children of God blinded as to the revealed future by unhallowed commerce with the world and the influence of its philosophic incredulity. For men wilfully forget what God has already done in judging the race, and the Saviour’s solemn warning that so it is to be again shortly when He is revealed suddenly and unexpectedly as Son of man.
These are the great general and fundamental principles of truth to which faith bows. The universe is not self-existent, but God’s work; which if not believed exposes to atheism, as unbelief of His sustaining care and power leaves one a prey to deism. But sin came in through man’s unbelief and Satan’s malicious wiles — and only a divine Saviour, yet man, can avail by the sacrifice that shadowed His. Again, Enoch shows us the walk that pleases God and is associated with heaven. And Noah teaches the believer of the judgment which awaits the world, himself not only condemning its evil but preserved to be in another world founded on sacrifice. Hence Noah represents the earthly saints, as Enoch the heavenly.
Among the elders attested in virtue of faith Abraham has a most honourable place. Of him first is it written in the O.T. that he believed [in] Jehovah, and He counted it to him for righteousness; and in the N.T. he is called father of all that believe; in both, the “friend of God.”
Abraham gives occasion to a large and varied scope of faith, and stands at the head of those who illustrate its patience, rather than its energy which wrought in Moses and those that follow. And this is the true moral order: first, waiting on God who had promised; secondly, overcoming difficulties and dangers in His power.
“By faith Abraham, being called, obeyed to go out into a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise as one not his own, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob the joint-heirs of the same promise; for he awaited the city that hath the foundations, whose artificer and maker [is] God” (verses 8-10).
Abraham is the first sample of God’s call as a public principle. Whatever the secret working of grace in all the saints heretofore, as in Abel, Enoch, Noah, no one had ever been called by God to quit his country, kindred, and even father’s house, as Abraham was. It was the great and new fact of separation to God, and in a land which He would show, sustained by His promise of blessing to himself, yea, of blessing in him to all the families of the earth. It was the more remarkable, because after the deluge God had instituted government to repress evil; and in the days of Peleg the earth was divided by the sons of Japheth, Ham, and Shem, after their families and tongues, in their lands and nations. In Abraham’s time even Shem’s progeny served other gods — an evil most portentous, and unknown before the deluge. Out of this was Abraham called of God. The rest of the world was left to itself. God called the man of His choice not to attack or reform the evil, but to Himself and a land He would show him with blessing assured. Separation to God on the call of His grace we see in the man, the family, the nation in which He will be magnified for ever.
This, if believed, involved obedience at once; and so it is here written. The old relationships remained for all but Abraham, in the sphere of divine providence, as of judgment at the end of the age. But the separated man was to follow as God in grace led. He is the depositary of promise, and thus his faith was tested, not at the start only but continuously. The land to be shown in due time was as yet unknown, so as to cast him on simple-hearted confidence in God. He went out in subjection to God’s promise, not knowing whither he went. God would show the next step when Abraham took the first. He did not ask, Whither? He trusted God implicitly. Thus his faith was unmixed with calculations of self, resting solely but fully on His word who loves and never deceives.
It was the wise and wonderful working by ways suited to His glory in a world departed from God into idolatry, where present ease, wealth, honour, power, are the bribes of the enemy for all misled by him. Faith gives up all at God’s word with not one thing gained for the moment, but the certainty of His guidance and ultimate blessing in the richest manner. Yet in the history of Genesis it was not faith unmixed: in Haran they halted till Terah died; then “they went forth into the land of Canaan, and into the land of Canaan they came.” The Canaanite too, the vessel of evil devoted to God’s curse, was still in the land while Abraham moved about a stranger. Even after this, faith failed under pressure of famine, and Canaan was left for the plenty of Egypt, but the denial of his wife through fear, and the treasures of the world which followed. Yet God was faithful, judged the prince of the world, and brought back the pilgrim to the land he ought not to have left without His word who had brought him there.
Then verse 9 points out a fine and new trait of the Spirit’s working. “By faith he sojourned [not in Egypt, but] in the land of promise as in one not his own, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob the joint-heirs of the same promise; for he awaited the city that hath the foundations, whose artificer and maker [is] God.” As faith led him into the land, unnamed and unknown to him, so when in it faith not only looked to have it another day from God, while he was content to be an alien without a foot of it as yet, but learnt to await a brighter and better scene. For the city here described stands in contrast with all that is earthly or can be shaken and removed. It is the scene of heavenly glory. Compare verse 16 and Heb. 12:22. The word he heard gave him to look up; and believing he made no haste nor should he be ashamed. Returned from Egypt he has his tent, as had Isaac and Jacob in due time. What did Egypt know of the tent? still less of the altar unto Jehovah. Even the called-out man had neither there: back in the land he has both. The spirit of the’ world is incompatible with either strangership or worship. And both helped him to draw, from His word who is now before his soul, higher things than those he saw, more durable than the earth, and more worthy of Him who devised and effectuated the universe but is above it all. “The God of glory,” as Stephen says of him, became far better known than at the first. Abraham walked by faith, not by sight.
Yet men have not been wanting to say that the city which God here designs and forms is the earthly Jerusalem. It is impossible to conceive an idea less spiritual or more ruinous of the truth intended. The Epistle as a whole assiduously raises the eyes of those addressed to the city out of sight and on high, which Abraham saw by faith and was glad. Here we have no continuing city, whatever the Jews may receive by-and-by.
It seemed good to the Holy Spirit, at this point of setting before us the worthies of faith, to present the lesson taught by a woman who had learnt from God. And it is the more instructive to us, as perhaps no one without the inspired comment would have drawn it from the inspired text. We are quick to discern failure. It needs great grace to appreciate a little grace. How slow to admonish the disorderly, to encourage the faint-hearted, to support the weak, to be long-suffering to all!
“By faith also Sarah herself received power for deposition of seed even beyond seasonable age, since she counted him that promised faithful. Wherefore of one, and that become dead, were begotten even as the stars of heaven in multitude, and as the innumerable sand that is by the sea-shore” (verses 11, 12).
Here is made good the fresh victory of faith. It surmounted utter weakness aggravated by lapse of time far beyond the due age; and on both sides, though the mother is named in the first place, and the father described so as to heighten the wonder of such an overflowing progeny from one as good as dead. If any looked at the parties concerned, if they considered themselves or each other, there were the amplest materials for doubt. And it is evident from the history in Gen. 17 that even Abraham at first had no confidence to boast in an accomplishment so unprecedented, and prayed at that very time that Ishmael might live before God.
Sarah, however, persisted longer in her unbelief; and when Jehovah at a subsequent day set a time for Sarah to have a son, she laughed incredulously and stood gravely reproved — the more because she denied it. But all this makes the grace of God so marked and cheering, as we find an entire oblivion of these early failures, and the later triumph alone here recorded. How undeniable the proof that He loves to speak well of His own! “Is anything too hard for Jehovah?” He overthrew all the thoughts and reasonings of her mind. Her doubts, her equivocations, deepened her self-judgment. His own word carried its own convincing light along with it; henceforward she “counted him that promised faithful.” May we not ask, Is anything too good for Jehovah? Abraham appears to have been peaceful in faith before the turning-point came for his wife. But come it did; and God singles it out for the permanent blessing of souls, tried with doubts as she had long been, that they may rest as she at length did on the word of Him who cannot lie.
And it may be added that, if ever a people passed through difficulties and dangers, distresses and destructions, calculated and planned to defeat the promise of God, even on the comparatively narrow question of their numbers, it was the lot of the Jews. Who knows not the express design and cherished policy of nations great and small, near and far off, often reappearing in the ages, to cut them off from being a people? But even when the power of Rome took away their place, scattering them as captives over the earth, it could not absolutely destroy their nation. Long, long have they abode without king and without prince, and without sacrifice, and without pillar, and without ephod or teraphim. Yet scattered though they be after this anomalous sort, they are perhaps as numerous as ever. Not yet indeed have they returned into the land of their possession. they are in the city of refuge grace has provided for them, however little they think so or understand His way with them. But the day hastens when, freed from their pollution of blood, they shall look on Him whom they pierced, and be planted in the land that Jehovah gave their fathers, and their blessings be as countless as themselves in that day. For He is faithful that promised. “Thus saith Jehovah, If ye can break my covenant of the day and my covenant of the night, and that there should not be day and night in their season; then may also my covenant be broken with David my servant, that he should not have a son to reign upon his throne; and with the Levites the priests my ministers. As the host of heaven cannot be numbered, neither the sand of the sea measured; so will I multiply the seed of David my servant, and the Levites that minister unto me.”
That Abraham now has children spiritually in Christians is quite true, as the Epistle to the Galatians demonstrates; but that God has cut off His ancient people Rom. 11 expressly and solemnly denies. His word on which we rest by faith is no less certain for Israel by-and-by, whom He will surely restore and bless nationally, and through them all nations. Psalm 67 with a crowd of other scriptures teaches it, whatever Gentile casuists may argue to the contrary. But the same Rom. 11 had forewarned the professing Gentile, grafted into the olive-tree of promises instead of those Jewish branches broken off through unbelief, that they have no indefeasible claim but stand through faith. And as they are now high-minded and without fear, dishonouring God and His word, in pride of privilege no less than erst the guilty Jews, so shall they be cut off for God to ingraft again the godly remnant of the future “into their own olive-tree”; and “so all Israel (after judicial pruning) shall be saved.”
But “that day” is not yet come; and we return to their fathers. From the rising above difficulties insuperable save to God on whose word they relied (verses 11, 12), we have a summary in verses 13-16, which brings out the patriarchs refusing all temptation, and by faith holding on their pilgrim way to death consistently with the accomplishment of promise. This is the reason why the phraseology chances in the beginning of verse 13. It is no longer “in” faith, that is, in virtue (or the power) of faith as in verse 2, where such a force is requisite, and not the mere notion of element or matter as in 1 Cor. 11:20 and very often. Nor further is it the proximate cause, the dynamic or instrumental dative as in verses 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 11, and again in 17, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 27, 29, 30, and 31. Still less does it distinguish faith as the means “through” which, as in 4, 7, 33. Here (verse 13), if we say “in,” we mean according to faith, contrasted with sight or possession of the things promised. What indeed would be the sense of saying that “by” or “through” faith all these died? Nor is it “in” i.e. in virtue of faith, but according to faith as in verse 7 of our chapter, where the precisely same phrase occurs. The Vulgate gives “juxta fidem” here, “per fidem” in verse 7. We may see it again in Titus 1:1, and modified by “common” in 4, in both of which the Vulgate has “secundum.” Conformity with faith is here predicated of Abraham and those patriarchs that followed, not for perseverance to the end though this was the fact, but in being content to wait for God’s fulfilling the promises in due time.
“According, to faith died these all, not having received promises, but from afar having seen and saluted [or, embraced] them, and confessed that they were [“are,” historical] strangers and sojourners on the earth [or, land]. For they that say such things clearly show that they seek after a fatherland. And if indeed they were38 calling to mind whence they went out, they would have had opportunity to return; but now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly. Wherefore God is not ashamed of them to be called their God; for he prepared for them a city” (verses 13-16).
The aim in these verses is to present vividly that common pilgrim path in which the patriarchs walked, even to their death, before the Spirit takes up characteristic workings of faith, even in Abraham as well as in each of those that followed, as far as it bore on the subject in hand and the special help of those virtually addressed. How timely and needful it must have been we may gather, because they expand the truth already set forth briefly in verses 9, 10.
Neither death, nor the unseen state that succeeds, was the accomplishment of the promises. On the contrary their death without receiving what was promised was in accordance with faith, and the witness of its single-eyed integrity. And the accomplishment of the promises supposed, what they could not as yet understand any more than anticipate, the second advent of the Lord even more than the first, although the first was the far more solemn in itself, and the righteous basis of the blessings and glories which await the second. Hence the force of our Lord’s word in John 8:56, “Abraham rejoiced that he should see my day, and he saw and was glad.” Neither technically nor substantially was the first mainly in view as has been thought, but that day when God’s word and oath shall be vindicated before a wondering and rejoicing world. The patristic dream, which some dream over again, that it refers to what Abraham beheld after death when our Lord was here, is as unwarranted a perversion as the Socinian interpretation which Meyer justly stigmatises (Abrah. exultaturus fuisset, si (
ἵνα!) vidisset diem meum; et si vidisset, omnino fuisset gavisurus). The design of our Lord and of that chapter is to prove Himself the Light and Word and Son and God Himself; and hence the contrast between Abraham who believed and his seed who did not. Whatever glimpse Abraham may have had of the truth to which the sacrifice on Moriah pointed, it was to the full accomplishment of the promise he looked, and saw by faith what still awaits fulfilment, the period of Christ’s manifested glory, “My day.” In this hope brightly breaking through the clouds Abraham exulted, and he saw, as faith ever sees, and rejoiced. He, like the rest, saw the promises in their accomplishment from afar off.
And so died these all in accordance with faith as they lived, looking forward to Messiah’s day for making good the promises. The additions of “and were persuaded” in the Received Text has scanty support of no account, though Dr. J. Owen makes much of it in his Exposition as have many others since. It really enfeebles the truth. It is a delicate question whether the next clause keeps up the figure of “greeting” as well as seeing from afar, or adds the different side of truth in their warmth of taking their hope by faith. But the practical result is as weighty as undeniable; they confessed that they were strangers and sojourners on the earth.
The land even of promise was not their home, still less Chaldea which Abraham left at God’s word. They looked higher — to heaven. Life and death alike bore witness that nowhere were they dwellers on earth. Even as they dwelt in tents as pilgrims strangers in the land of promise as a land not their own (yet theirs in hope that makes not ashamed), so they declared plainly throughout that they were in quest of a fatherland on high. Many an opportunity presented itself to return to their old country, had such been their mind. Though they knew not Jesus as we, nor had they as yet known redemption or the Holy Spirit as the Christian, yet their path may well engage us to sing more stedfastly the well-known lines slightly modified-
We’re bound for yonder land
Where Jesus sits supreme;
We leave the shore at His command,
Forsaking all for Him.
‘Twere easy, did we choose,
Again to reach the shore;
But this is what our souls refuse —
We’ll never touch it more.”
We look for Him who is not here but risen. It is the world, and we are not of the world as He is not who is coming to receive us to Himself and give us mansions in the Father’s house. For His rejection unto the death of the cross and ascension to heaven have made the earth to us His empty tomb. But we await the glory to be revealed when all the groaning creation shall follow suit of God’s heirs, and our bodies changed into the likeness of Christ’s body of glory shall herald the regeneration in the delivering power of the Redeemer at that day.
No interpretation is farther from truth than that of Grotius and his followers who cannot rise above Judea and Jerusalem in a better state. Had this been all God saw in the life and death of these fathers, He would have been ashamed of them to be called their God. But it is not so. They were men of faith, and looked above, not as a mere sentiment but in living power, as their detractors did not. And God is not the God of the dead but of the living. They live to Him, and shall appear in glory with Christ, when the promises too take effect fully in that day of reprisals. God prepared for them a city better than man’s eye looks on.
Last of these instances which set out the patience of faith comes the crowning trial of Abraham; and worthily does it close the list.
“By faith Abraham, being tried, (hath.) offered up39 Isaac, and he that accepted to himself the promises was offering up40 his only-begotten son, as to whom it was said, In Isaac shall thy seed be called, having counted that even from the dead God [is] able to raise; whence also in a figure (parable) he received him” (verses 17-19).
It was indeed putting the father of the faithful to the, severest test conceivable, not only abandoning to the altar his only son and heir, and sacrificing him with his own hand, but jeopardising to all appearance the promises both for his seed and in it blessing for all families of the earth. Alike natural affection, and religious hope when raised to high degree and wide extent by God’s word in Isaac, seemed to reason by such a command arbitrarily, distressingly, and irrevocably lost. But we can see with James (James 2:22), that faith wrought with his works, and that by works faith was perfected. In earlier days in hope against hope he believed to his becoming father of many nations, “According, to what had been spoken, So shall thy seed be (Rom. 4:18). Now that the child of the promise was given, how tremendous the wrench at the summons of God so true and gracious! Yet he hesitated through unbelief no more at the surrender, in its form to him most painful, than before at the promise in spite of its utter improbability. Such is faith in which Abraham found strength, giving glory to God, as true faith does.
But there is somewhat more precious and specifically instructive in this instance reserved to the final place for Abraham after the general notice of the patriarchs. Nowhere in the O.T. do we find such absolute trust in God, as when the father was proved willing to sacrifice his only son, with whom were bound up all God’s promises and his own expectations. To man death is the end of hope; to God it is but the occasion to exercise the power of resurrection; and in the assurance of His power on behalf of Isaac, Abraham confided without a waver. He rose early in the morning, he took Isaac his beloved son, and “on the third day” he saw the place afar off. Arrived there he built the altar, set the wood in order, bound Isaac, laid him on the altar, and took the knife to slay him, when the angel of Jehovah interposed at the last moment. The proof was complete. Faith then could to no farther. God was absolutely counted on to make good in resurrection the seed (with the promises in the seed) given up at His word to die. What fresh gain for Abraham, as for those who, doing His will, give up all that is dearest after the flesh, to receive all better than ever in resurrection! In a figure Abraham recovered his son as from among the dead.
God Himself beheld in that solemn transaction the figure of His own gift of the only-begotten Son of God, whom He spared not but delivered up for us all. For Him no substitute was or could be found, if our sins were to be judged and borne and blotted out. In the antitype, far more truly and fully than in the type, God did provide Himself the lamb for a burnt-offering, in His Son the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world. In His case the death was as real as the resurrection; and the efficacy of the Saviour’s death such that, while the special promises remain for the numerous seed on another day fast approaching, in Him the one risen Seed is blessing come, as the apostle showed the Galatians (Gal. 3), to Gentiles as freely as to Jews. It was outside flesh and beyond law, of God’s grace, founded on sacrifice and declared in resurrection, heavenly glory being its issue and proper display.
See how Christ has made the truth plain in this case as in every other; for indeed He is the truth. He was the true grain of wheat, which, if it fell not into the ground and died, abides alone; but if it die, it bears much fruit. He came that believers might have life and might have it abundantly. He is the Good Shepherd and laid down His life for the sheep. And on this account the Father loved Him, because He laid down His life that He might take it again. No one took it from Him, but He laid it down of Himself. He, and He only from the glory of His person, had title as well as power to lay it down; as He alone had just the same authority to take it again. Hence He, the Son of man, was glorified in death, and God was glorified in Him. And as God was thus morally glorified in Him, God also glorified Him in Himself, and glorified Him immediately after redemption at His right hand, instead of still waiting for the day when He shall come again in power and glory for the world-kingdom. It was Christ cut off and having nothing (Dan. 9:26); but if He thus gave up His rights as Messiah and accomplished redemption in His death, God raised Him, not only to secure all that seemed lost but “some better thing,” to be Heir of all things in heaven and on earth, and to have heavenly joint-heirs, as well as His ancient people and all the nations here below.
To the Hebrews addressed, what could be more telling and instructive? Was it hard to see a light that bedimmed the golden lamp of the temple, and all the splendour of the law? God has provided for us some better thing through Christ dead and risen and ascended.
The next portion is a kind of supplement to the setting forth of that patience of faith, which had its fullest illustration in Abraham. Yet each case has its own distinctive lesson for the disciple.
“By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come. By faith Jacob when dying blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshipped on the top of his staff. By faith Joseph when ending life made mention of the departure of the sons of Israel, and gave charge concerning his bones” (verses 20-22).
The structure of the phrase in verse 20 draws attention to the difference in the objects of the blessings; for each of Isaac’s sons has the article in the Greek. There might have been no article at all, in which case the mention would have been simply historical. There might have been but one article for both names, the effect of which is to associate as a company at least for this occasion. The repetition has of course the opposite aim of marking their distinctiveness, even though both were blessed concerning things to come. And this is precisely what Gen. 27 clearly indicates, a chapter not a little humbling throughout. Of Esau nothing more need be said than to recall his profanity in selling his birth-right for a pottage of lentiles (Gen. 25), and in his Hittite marriages which caused bitterness of spirit to Isaac and Rebekah (Gen. 26). Yet Isaac loved him because of his venison, as Rebekah loved Jacob as to whom Jehovah had given her a remarkable word before the twins were born (Gen. 25:23). This Isaac slighted at a critical moment (Gen. 27) when his faith failed at first, no less than his dim eyes. Rebekah was the instigator of Jacob to deceitful ways, instead of both crying to the Lord who would surely have heard Rebekah, corrected Isaac, and honoured Jacob. Alas! sin wrought shame all round but grace did not fail to secure the purpose of God, while chastising each in His moral government, for all were grievously to blame. Yet the full blessing of promise fell to Jacob in spite of some bad ways, and Esau got through his father’s blessing more than he deserved. Isaac’s trembling very exceedingly (verse 33) was on the discovery, not only of the guilt of Jacob, but of his own will against God who had overruled him; whereon he says emphatically that he had blessed him, “yea, he shall be blessed.” Nature in Isaac sought to bless otherwise, and had seemed all but to prevail; but “by faith Isaac, blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come” according to God.
What a contrast appears next! “By faith Jacob when dying blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshipped on the top of his staff” (verse 21). When young, he was a sorry saint, a supplanter of his brother, a deceiver of his father, an outcast from his too fond mother, a wanderer to Padan-aram, cheated of Laban though cheating too, living a chequered and sorrowful life once more in Canaan, and a stranger in Egypt, loving his family, yet almost all at home one way or another a source to him of grief and shame. His closing scenes were lit up with brightness, himself kept and blessed of God in spite of himself, that it might plainly be not of him that wills any more than of him that runs, but of God that hath mercy. He is just a miniature of the people, of whom he was progenitor, and to whom he gave his own name of honour through grace. Yet he, the aged pilgrim, blesses the greatest king then on earth, and without any dispute the less is blessed of the better. Now when dying, he blessed each of the sons of Joseph, though not at all so sundered as Jacob and Esau, yet with a distinction which at the moment displeased Joseph usually so quick to discern and interpret the mind of God. But Jacob’s eyes, dim as they were and unable to see naturally, were illuminated then with light divine; so that Joseph’s arrangement of his sons according to nature, with Ephraim toward Israel’s left and Manasseh toward his right, embarrassed not the patriarch for a moment. For he laid his right hand upon Ephraim’s head albeit the younger, and his left hand upon Manasseh’s head, guiding his hands wittingly or crossing them, for Manasseh was the first-born. It was of God to set Ephraim before Manasseh. But how worthy of grace that he who in his youth used such base means to gain the blessing he valued, should ere he died resist, in calm and believing earnestness, the importunity of his godly and honoured son, their own father!
Nor was this all; he “worshipped on the top of his staff,” clearly leaning on it in his weakness. It is remarkable that this act really preceded the blessing of his grandsons and is recorded in Gen. 47:31, as given in the Septuagint. No doubt both the Hebrew “bed” and the Sept. “staff” are alike true; and the Sept. gives “bed” in Gen. 48:2. He reminds Jehovah in Gen. 32 of first passing the Jordan, before he recrossed it when he had become two companies. And what changes he had proved since that day, God ever chastening Jacob’s ways and ever faithful to His purpose, even then blessing him afresh while He crippled his thigh. Now his eye of faith anticipated His glory who would make all good when pilgrimage should yield to dwelling in the land; and he worshipped.
As Jacob’s blessing of Joseph’s sons is put immediately with Isaac’s blessing, so Joseph’s faith follows immediately Jacob’s worship (compare Gen. 47:29-31). “By faith Joseph when ending life made mention of the departure of the sons of Israel and gave charge concerning his bones.” Only it seemed good to the inspiring Spirit to record it here of Joseph; who also impressively charged his sons not to bury him with his fathers, as Jacob sought and had, but to embalm him as the pledge of their quitting Egypt in God’s time for the land of promise. No splendour in Egypt dimmed the light of promise to his faith: the nearest to the throne of the world, he is a stranger, looks for resurrection, and anticipates Israel’s restoration to the land according to the divine oath to their fathers.
Now comes a fresh series in the display of the power of faith no matter what the enemies, the dangers, or the difficulties; Moses has a place as marked in its power as Abraham had in its patience.
“By faith Moses, when born, was hidden three months by his parents, because they saw the child [was] beautiful; and they were not afraid of the edict of the king. By faith Moses, when grown up, refused to be called son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to share ill-usage with the people of God than to have temporary enjoyment of sin, deeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking away unto the recompense” (verses 23-26).
Patriotism and family affection could have little play in a strange land; but be as it might, all alike were defied and trampled under foot by the cruel mandate of Egypt’s king; and neither feeling, though benumbed by oppression and slavery, could be lacking to a race called and guided and kept as the seed of Abraham had been in and out of Canaan. But a still deeper principle lay underneath the promises made to their fathers, which bound together with these grand family expectations a hope still more ancient, mysterious, and wonderful. From the beginning of man’s sinful and sad history the revelation of the woman’s Seed shone as a star from the darkened heavens, the sure pledge of the serpent’s destruction one day; and the blessing, not of their own line only but of all families of the earth in one of their line might be dormant, but could not be forgotten, no, not even in a day of affliction. And had not the word of Jehovah come to the first and greatest of their fathers, telling, him that his seed would be a sojourner in a land not theirs, in bondage and affliction four hundred years, but that the nation which oppressed them should be the object of divine judgment, after which the chosen people should emerge with great substance? Was not the fourth generation to see them return to Canaan?
Faith is ever by the word of God; and by what He had spoken of old, supplemented by the dying but inspired words of Jacob and Joseph, faith wrought in the parents of Moses. Nor was the extraordinary beauty of the child a vain sign to the mother’s heart. Much more was felt by both than either their own natural instincts of parental love or the horror produced by the merciless command. They looked for the people’s deliverer from Egypt ere long; they looked for the Deliverer from Satan they knew not when. Might not this very babe be the leader out of Egypt for Canaan in the fourth generation? Certain it is, they believed in God’s intervention for His people and judgment of their enemies, and acted on their faith in hiding their child for three months. It Was no slight matter to keep the little one so long despite the unscrupulous monarch’s edict, and apparently near his palace. When the mother could no longer hide her son, she took for him an ark of papyrus, and daubed it with bitumen and pitch, and laid it with the child therein among the flags of the river’s brink, as we are told in Ex. 2. How God used Pharaoh’s daughter, and little Miriam, and the mother for the child’s care, is known from the same source. Stephen could add that he was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in his words and works. Never was there a case more strikingly providential.
But faith wrought in Moses himself, and in a way full of instruction to us, who need to stand on our guard in a world of appearance and unreality. “By faith Moses, when grown up, refused to be called son of Pharaoh’s daughter.” If providence brought him into her house, faith led him out. It was assuredly from no want of ability to estimate the advantage of his position. If the object, again, had been merely the relief of Israel by influence, or even their peaceful migration to Canaan by the skilful use of circumstances, no one could have a fairer opportunity or be better fitted to accomplish the event diplomatically or otherwise. But this would have redounded to the praise of Moses, not to the glory of God, as faith ever and rightly seeks. Accordingly Moses turned his back on all natural and worldly advantages, that God might act for His people and against His foe and theirs.
Here too we are briefly but distinctly shown how it was: “Choosing rather to share ill-usage with the people of God than to have temporary enjoyment of sin” (verse 25). It is, till the kingdom come, an undying claim, and even more imperious since Christ’s rejection, and the intimate mutual relation of the members of His body. But Moses is declared here to have entered into its spirit by faith. He apprehended what the people of God are to God, and the responsibility that attaches to the privilege, as he himself was one of them. They were at the lowest ebb, debased, oppressed, hated, feared, and persecuted. He was the nearest man to royalty, and fitted in mind and manners and opportunity to enjoy all that was in and of the world in that day. But he read the sorrows and shame and sufferings of Israel in the light of God’s choice, and the intentions of His goodness for a day of power and glory; and he saw the pleasures and pride and pomp in the same light which wrote death and judgment on all as alien from God and hostile to His nature, will, and plan. This is faith; and it was that of Moses, and facts made it clear in due time. For as he went out to his brethren and saw their burdens, he saw an Egyptian smiting one of them, and smote him, supposing that his brethren understood that God by his hand was giving them deliverance. In this he was premature, as fleshly zeal mingled with his faith; and he and they had to learn experimentally ere deliverance came. The day following taught him a serious lesson, when he would have reconciled two as they strove: vainly appealing to them as brethren when he that did his neighbour wrong, as usual, thrust Moses away as more intolerable still! Yet God made the repulsed peacemaker a ruler, judge, and deliverer.
Here however it is faith which is notified, as not only refusing the grandest associations of the world but, harder still when the people of God were so unworthy in their own spirit and ways, choosing to share ill-usage with them rather than to have temporary enjoyment of sin, were it glossed over not only as position in a court quite unsought, and the duty of gratitude to a benefactress, but with prudent regard for the interests of his brethren, as well as the plea of providence rarely heard under trial, rarely missing when flesh and blood are flattered. When will saints learn that God tries the heart now, and often allows overtures most alluring to test not conscience only but the heart purified by faith? If therefore thine eye be single, said the Saviour, thy whole body shall be full of light; and no man call serve two masters. We have to seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness, “deeming”“ (as Moses did) “the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of41 Egypt” (verse 26). It is faith’s reckoning which is sure of the end, and thus makes the narrow path pleasant as well as safe. “For he was looking away unto the recompense.”
But here it is not without importance to remark that the reward, even in glory, is never the motive which wins the heart to God, but His grace in Christ, when nothing but this could suit God or save us. It is only grace that puts us in our true place or gives God His place. Grace does both fully, whilst it maintains the truth from first to last. But when grace has called us, looking away to the recompense comes in happily and mightily to encourage the heart in the path of trial. Otherwise it would be a balance of other-worldliness set against this world, playing into thoughts of self at bottom, to the exclusion of Christ’s will and glory.
The faith which rises above difficulties, and is strong in the power of God in face of the apparently overwhelming and adverse resources of man, is next set out.
“By faith he forsook Egypt, not afraid of the wrath of the king; for he persevered as seeing the Invisible” (verse 27).
It is the more striking and instructive, because we know at first how far it was otherwise. Then he consulted his eyes and “looked this way and that way; and when he saw that there was no man, he slew the Egyptian, and hid hint in the sand.” When an unjust and heartless Israelite gave him soon to learn that it was no secret, “Moses feared and said, Surely this thing is known” (Ex. 2:12-14). Such is the most heroic man, that no flesh may glory; but he that glorieth let him glory in the Lord. So we see in one that seemed to be a pillar and was named of the Lord honourably in accordance: yet did Peter fail miserably wherein he was most confident, and grace, when natural force was gone, intervened to effect all he vainly hoped in himself and let him know long beforehand that so it would be for his cheer. How wholesome these lessons are! For the believer too readily assumes that he acts in faith when he is trusting his own thoughts and feelings, and so falls under rebuke. We need to look to and lean on the Lord habitually and in detail. So did Moses at length when he forsook Egypt, not, afraid of the wrath of the king. The great secret is added; for he persevered as seeing the Unseeable. It is something to realise that He sees me; but there is far more in my seeing Him.
“By faith he [lit. hath] instituted the passover and the sprinkling of the blood, lest he that destroyed the firstborn should touch them, By faith they passed through the Red Sea as through dry [land]; of which the Egyptians made trial and were swallowed up” (verses 28, 29).
A previous difficulty is now faced, the most solemn which can arise between God and the creature; for it is about sin. And the creature when awakened owns its sins, and accepts now in faith His judgment of them as He reveals it; while unbelief palliates and puts off till destruction falls. This was the question raised for Israel in view of Jehovah smiting the firstborn throughout Egypt. Were not the sons of Israel obnoxious too? Could God slur over sin in their favour? Impossible: God cannot deny Himself. Sin must be judged, adequately in His eyes. Thus only can He righteously secure from judgment, which otherwise must surprise the guilty to, their inevitable ruin.
Therefore was the Passover and the sprinkling of the blood. Its standing value lay not in the mere rite, but in the truth it attested; for its most unique feature, the putting of the blood upon the door posts, was never repeated. What a witness to the one offering which avails for ever, in the midst of a system of many and manifold sacrifices till He came whose death vindicated and fulfilled all! Sin was only judged with absolute perfection in the Lamb of God; and herein was God glorified.
So here “When I see the blood, I will pass over you.” Jehovah then executed judgment (pledge on a small scale of what is to be complete by-and-by); and the seen blood of the lamb staid His hand. He that destroyed the firstborn did not touch those who hid it for a token on their houses. Faith is not our estimate of the Lamb’s blood, but rests on God’s perfect estimate. How blessed for every believer!
But God has given us more comfort still, though nothing can be morally deeper than what the Passover expresses. In it, however, God was judging sin and kept outside by the sprinkled blood. But in Christ’s death and resurrection we have more: God intervening manifestly as Saviour, and not only as Judge. He turned the waters of death which overwhelm the enemy into ramparts of victory, where He is for us in van and rear. Such is the force of the Red Sea typically: not God staid and kept outside by the Lamb’s blood, but now, with that basis laid, His power on our behalf in Christ dead and risen. We believe on Him that raised up from the dead our Lord Jesus, who was delivered for our offences and was raised again for our justification. The type of redemption was not complete till the passage of the Red Sea was added to the Passover.
Many souls stop short at the Passover and lose consequently the assurance of God for them. No doubt it is faith, but “the gospel of our salvation” goes farther, and they should receive it simply and heartily. So even, in the type of Exodus, however safe Israel was on the paschal night, only at the Red Sea do we hear “Stand still, and see the salvation of Jehovah.” Truly Jehovah “saved that day.” Salvation in the gospel sense goes far beyond safety or life, though many to their own loss make it less — and how does not Christ’s work in death and resurrection suffer unwitting disparagement thereby? The word of truth corrects all defects of ignorance or of prejudice.
How impressive too is the Holy Spirit’s allusion to the Egyptians essaying to cross the Red Sea and drowned. It is just what a large form of unbelief answers to in Christendom. They have adopted the idea of salvation, and we may add of heaven, and strive without faith, without Christ, in their natural state, to claim the hope — at any rate on a deathbed. We do not hear of a single Egyptian sprinkling his door-post with a lamb’s blood. People would like to be saved, without confessing their sins or God’s judgment of them in the cross of Christ, which is the sole righteous ground of their remission. There could have been no triumph for Israel across the Red Sea without the Passover which preceded.
It is instructive to observe, how the passage of the Jordan is entirely omitted in this Epistle which notices so many persons and facts in the line of faith; how notably the Red Sea is crossed by the sons of Israel. The omission of the one is as characteristic of the truth in hand as the mention of the other. They both illustrate the divine wisdom of inspiration as carrying out the design of God, often if not always beyond the cognisance of the writer. Thus is all scripture truly God’s word. If the Jordan had to be introduced in any of the Epistles, that to the Ephesians would have been the place; as in fact the last chapter does distinctly allude to the main scope of the Book of Joshua, the anti-type to Jewish conflicts with the Canaanites. But this is not the theme here, which has in its foreground the wilderness and the tabernacle, and the High Priest, and the sacrifices, especially that of the day of Atonement. Here therefore the Passover and the Red Sea have an all-important and emphatic place, because they present in figure redemption as far as it is accomplished, not yet of course that of the body or of the purchased possession. It is not only shelter under the Lamb’s blood, but bringing out to God from the power of the oppressor. Those who hitherto had been slaves were set free to hold a feast to their Deliverer in the wilderness. The answer to these shadows of the past is in the death and resurrection of Christ, who was delivered up for our offences and was raised for our justification. On this, grounded of course on His personal glory, rests the doctrine of the Epistle to the Hebrews unfolding Christ in the presence of God on high for its.
But the Epistle to the Ephesians goes higher and brings out our death and resurrection with Christ, and characteristically our being seated in the heavenlies in Him. In the Passover God was a Judge, in the Red Sea a Saviour; He brought Israel not only to be screened from inescapable judgment but to Himself by a deliverance manifest and complete. So for the believer it was His work in Christ dead and risen for us. But in Ephesians we learn that, when we were dead in offences and sins, God quickened us together with Christ and raised us up together, and seated us together in the heavenlies in Him. This is what Jordan prefigures: not redemption, completed at the Red Sea, the figure of His death and resurrection for us, but our death and resurrection with Him and our place in Him on high before we are actually with Him. Hence conflict follows in its season with the principalities and the world-rulers of this darkness — in short, the spiritual (hosts) of wickedness in the heavenlies. This clearly answers to the main contents of the Book of Joshua; not the future rest in heavenly glory, but our wrestling against the wiles of the devil who would hinder our taking possession (in the Spirit of Christ) of our heavenly privileges now, as one with Christ above. Here Puritanism failed no less than Catholic tradition. Neither Augustine nor Chrysostom surpassed John Bunyan or John Owen. Nor were Bishops Hall or Jer. Taylor quite equal to the learned or unlearned nonconformists.
Although therefore it fell not within the divine plan to develop here what we find thereby elsewhere, two illustrations of the power of faith follow of deep interest.
“By faith the walls of Jericho fell, having been compassed for seven days. By faith Rahab the harlot perished not with the disobedient, having received the spies with peace” (verses 30, 31).
Jericho was the first city that confronted the host of Jehovah; it was the key of the land, and a fenced town with a wall such as to admit of a house upon it. It was of all moment that Israel entering on the promised land should learn, that, however they might have to fight, victory depended on Jehovah, and their place was unqualified obedience of His word with confidence in His power. Hence the directions were such as tried the faith of His people and cast them wholly on His intervention; nothing could be devised less reasonable to the eyes or mind of man. The circuit of the city made once for six days by the men of war, following seven priests blowing seven trumpets of rams’ horns after the ark, was a strange sight to the warriors within, each day increasing their scorn. Then came the seventh day with its seven circuits, and the long blast of rams’ horns followed by the loud shout of all the people. Who ever heard of a siege so conducted? Yet was it suited above all to impress not Israel only but their enemies, that He was there to make them more than conquerors. For the city wall fell down in its place, so that the people went up into the city, each straight before him, and took Jericho devoted to utter destruction. It was evidently and unmistakably before Jehovah, prince of His host. It was only His doing in power; it was theirs in faith subject to His word. It is ours to notice, to believe, and obey now.
And this was the very time when grace wrought conspicuously, where no man could have looked for it, if God had not revealed it there. “By faith Rahab the harlot perished not with those that were disobedient, having received the spies with peace.” The people of Jericho were no more ignorant of Jehovah’s doings in the midst of Israel than Rahab. “I know (said she to the spies before the approach of Israel) that Jehovah hath given you the land, and that your terror is fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. For we have heard how Jehovah dried up the water of the Red Sea before you, when ye came out of Egypt, and what ye did to the two kings of the Amorites,” etc. Grace wrought in this disreputable woman, and gave her to believe the bond of goodness on Jehovah’s part with a people utterly unworthy. Grace found not but produced in her the fruit of righteousness by faith, and gave her a place in Israel, Gentile though she was, in the direct line of David the kin(, and so of One incomparably greater, at once David’s Son and David’s Lord. If the king and the people as a whole perished, it was not through ignorance but disobedience of the testimony which she believed, and because of which she risked her life, receiving the spies with peace. For real faith is energetic and dares to please God in the face of death, deaf also to the pleas of nature and the reasonings of unbelief. Therefore has she her place, not only in the noble army of faith here, but with Abraham himself in the record of the works of faith in the Epistle of James. But these works. were not what men call “good,” they were
καλὰ (comely) rather than
ἀγαθά (benevolent). They were works which were not only impossible without faith, but owed all their virtue to faith; for apart from faith Abraham’s act would have been heartless murder in its worst shape, as Rahab’s would have been treason against her king and country.
After Rahab the Holy Spirit leads to a summary of the faithful without drawing out individual cases as before.
“And what more do I say? For the time will fail me relating of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah; of David too,42 and Samuel and the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped lions’ mouths, quenched fire’s might, escaped sword’s edge, were strengthened from weakness, became powerful in war, turned to flight camps of aliens. Women43 received their dead by resurrection, and others were racked, not accepting their deliverance (or redemption), that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others had trial of mockings and scourgings yea, and of bonds and imprisonment” (verses 32-36).
It is remarkable and surely not without purpose that historical order is not observed in the names enumerated, any more than in the acts or sufferings of faith which follow. Thus in time Barak comes before Gideon, Jephthah before Samson, Samuel before David; and again the known instances of lions’ mouths stopped, and of fire’s might quenched, were long after women received their dead by resurrection; as others making trial of mockings and scourgings, and bonds and prison were before the conspicuous cases of those racked or tortured, refusing the deliverance they might have had, that they might obtain a better resurrection.
In the Judges as they are called, who succeeded Joshua before the kingdom, faith shone in times of crisis during the ever-advancing declension; and individuality becomes prominent. Gideon’s faith stands justly before that of Barak who shared it with another — a woman — to his reproof; and the captain of a freebooting troop has no such place in divine history, as the mighty Nazarite, morally feeble though he was, alone against the Philistines at their zenith. Had he been truly separate, instead of guiltily seeking marriage and evil intercourse with the enemy, what had not God wrought by him! But what a proof of the state of Israel, that all the witness for Jehovah their God then hung on that most failing man! Still Jephthah, especially by his terribly rash vow, so clouded the testimony of faith that one cannot wonder he finds here a place after Samson. It is impossible, if there be any force in what is now suggested, to accept the view that Jephthah, David, and Samuel constitute a second group as compared with the previous three, on the common text which shows a connective particle after Barak, as there really is after David.
It would appear most correct that David only is thus distinguished, to introduce a new character, and Samuel named after him not only as less marked but to connect him with the prophets. Compare Acts 3:24; Acts 13:20. For notwithstanding dark blots, none was so conspicuous a type of Messiah in both His sufferings and the glory of the Kingdom.
In what follows verse 32, where in allies begin to disappear, we have the converse of the earlier order in our chapter. For examples of the power of faith are first given in verses 33, 34, and the first clause of 35, while the patience of faith is celebrated thenceforward. The introductory “who” passes from those already mentioned down to the latest times of O.T. inspiration if not later still.
We need not particularise, where the scripture before us recounts only signal acts without further specification. But it may be profitable to remark that the energy of faith in subduing kingdoms, being made strong in war, and putting to flight armies or camps of aliens, however in keeping with the time which preceded the gospel, is in no way the model of what the Christian is now called to. Working righteousness must ever rule for man on earth, even when “promises” shall be fully accomplished instead of “obtained” as of old, miracles or no miracles, such as lions’ mouths stopped, fire’s might quenched, or the edge of the sword escaped. “Made strong out of weakness” has quite a different application in ordinary Christian experience from its meaning of old as here referred to. The ground of our difference is plain. Grace is now revealed and reigns as it did not till Christ came, died, rose, and took His seat in heaven. This, as the N.T. shows throughout, chances the whole state of things. To faith old things are passed; new are come. Who can wonder that believes the grand truth even of personal privilege, through Christ dead, risen, and ascended? If one is in Christ, he is a new creation, though the body awaits His coming to change it to the likeness of His glory. But already even it is the Holy Spirit’s temple. Our bodies are Christ’s members. With this go new and heavenly relationships and responsibilities. We are not of the world as Christ was not, and we are called to suffer with joy from earthly enemies as He did, our conflict being with the spiritual powers of darkness on high.
After the transitional first clause of verse 35, we find an array of sufferings in which faith triumphed of old. Here is what is more akin to what the Christian may have to face at various times and places.
If the sketch of suffering in faith is pursued still further in these verses, it is the Spirit of God delighting to set out the endurance of the saints for the truth’s sake in the worst of times, to encourage souls thus persecuted after Christ came, which Jewish disciples least of all expected. The solution of the enigma lay in His coming again, we who now follow filling up the cap chiefly, though not exclusively, as the prophetic part of the Revelation clearly shows Hence verses 39, 40 point out the connection and withal distinction of the Christian calling, that no intelligent saint might confound things which differ not a little, whatever their partial agreement.
They were stoned, were tempted, were sawn asunder;44 they died by slaughter of sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, destitute, afflicted, evil-entreated (of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and dens and the caves of the earth. And these all, having been witnessed of through their faith, received not the promise, God having foreseen some better thing for (or, concerning) us, that apart from us they should not be perfected” (verses 37-40).
Stoning was a punishment enjoined by the law for Jews guilty of idolatry, blasphemy, or other forms of profane rebellion against Jehovah. Hence the peculiar enormity of the death of Naboth and of Zechariah, the wickedness being wholly in those high in authority who perverted it to hurt saints. Nor can we conceive ordinarily a grosser and more daring wrong than that the pious should suffer the death of impiety at the hands of impious rulers, whether by crafty falsehood or in ungovernable rage.
“Tempted” has perplexed the commentators. Some, in the face of overwhelming evidence for the text, have dared to invent readings out of their own heads; as the Syriac (Pesch.)45 has wholly dropped it. No believer ought to question the wisdom of God in giving so striking a place to a sort of trial peculiarly dangerous to certain souls, as the history of even Christian martyrs recalls to mind: some inflexibly resisting at all cost; others alas! that had run well yielding to their shame; some again, who did yield strengthened to suffer triumphantly at last.
“Sawn asunder” was indeed a brutality unknown to the Levitical institutions. David was in a wretched state when he dealt thus savagely with the Ammonite prisoners; as the Syrians retorted at a later day with the inhabitants of Gilead. That the heathen should be cruel was no wonder; but it ill became the generous king, himself long schooled in adversity. Power and prosperity proved greater dangers than to be hunted for his blood by his royal father-in-law.
Massacre by the sword was a common death for the prophets in Israel, if we only hear of Urijah thus slain in Judah.
Next follows the more prolonged suffering in life of those who for one reason or another were not slain. “They went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, destitute, afflicted, evil-entreated:” to some a still more trying test of their faith than if suddenly despatched, whether law or violence might do the deed. The apostle himself had experience of both beyond most — perhaps all. But so it was when the faithful had not the same privileges.
Still before or after Christ the substantial fact remains: God has ever had a line of sufferers that believed. And it was their faith which made them objects of dislike and persecution. Nor was it so much their denunciation of the world, its pursuits, pleasures, iniquities, or impieties, but the most quiet and most telling of all testimonies — separation from it to God and His word. Now we can add distinct and positive witness of Christ crucified, yet glorified. This is above all things offensive, especially when backed by the solemn assurance of His coming to judge the world, but surely (as being true) due in love and compassion to it as to His glory, too. Hence the deepest hatred underneath the placid pretensions of today’s liberalism. But it will break out afresh, as the Revelation proves. They are those whom the world cannot overcome, say or do what it may. “Of whom the world was not worthy,” though they were counted unworthy of a place in it or even of life. But, as has been said, in condemning them it condemned itself; and God forgets neither.
Hence they were outcasts often, roaming in deserts and mountains, and dens and the caves or chinks of the earth. How this was repeated in pagan and papal persecutions since the Epistle was written needs no evidence here. In the world’s eyes they were implacable and impracticable. Nothing won them, wealth, ease, or honour; nothing subdued them, detraction, hatred, prison, or death. They refuse present glory, They remember who was crucified and by whom; they await His day and see it approaching.
“And these all, having been testified of through their faith, received not the promise, God having foreseen some better thing for (or, about) us, that they apart from us should not be perfected.”
Whatever the differing circumstances, enemies, or sufferings of these saints, this is true of them all. However attested through their faith, and receiving promises to sustain them they did not receive the promise fulfilled, for which all wait. For God had meanwhile to bring in a new and better thing on our behalf, while Christ, having been rejected, is at the right hand of God on high. Hence, though the ground was laid for all blessing when Christ came the first time, the fulfilment of all awaits His coming again; and when God’s provision for us is complete, they will be perfected, not before.
Verses 39, 40 are all the more striking because they are the conclusion of a chapter remarkable for the honour which the Spirit of God puts on the faith of God’s witnesses from the beginning of the O.T. But there is the preliminary correction of the Jewish tendency to begin with Abraham and confine their regard to the father and the sons of the chosen people. Abel, Enoch, and Noah occupy each a bright place in the goodly roll. Again, at the close still more care is taken to impress on the Hebrew believers the special privileges peculiar to the Christian. This the Spirit itself throughout shows that they had not as yet duly estimated; and even those who had once known it are apt, under stress of trial and little faith, to forget if not slight it,. Where these new blessings have never been understood by divine teaching, how common it is to hear objectors ask, Do you mean to say that such as you are more blessed than faithful Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? Is your portion richer than that of Moses or Joshua? Of Samuel or David? Of Isaiah, Jeremiah, or Daniel? Such thoughts quite overlook the incalculable change brought in by the world’s rejection of the Christ the Son of God; by the redemption He accomplished for those who believe; by His glorification at God’s right hand is the pledge of ours; by the Holy Spirit sent down meanwhile to abide in us as unction, seal, and earnest.
The apostle does not here enter into the details by the way, but he does allude to the incomparable riches of grace now made ours through Christ’s cross, and displayed in Him risen and seated in heaven. These the objectors ignore in the unbelief which would reduce all to a dead level, and leave no room for the working of sovereign grace to the praise of the crucified Lord of glory, and of the Spirit’s personal indwelling presence to reveal divine counsels previously hidden. That “God foresaw some better thing for us,” as compared with all that of old obtained witness through faith, is thus briefly summed up. There are other Epistles which develop our heavenly standing in Christ yet more than this to the Hebrews.
But what could any saint of the O.T. have made of such language as we find given here throughout? He “having made the purification of sins sat down on the right hand of the Majesty, on high”(Heb. 1:3).”Both he that sanctifieth and the sanctified [are] all of one” (Heb. 2:11). “Christ as Son over his house, whose house are we, if indeed we hold fast the boldness and the boast of hope firm to the end” (Heb. 3:6). “Having therefore a great high priest, passed as he is through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast the confession” (Heb. 4:14). “Though he were Son, he learned obedience from the things which he suffered, and having been perfected, became author of everlasting salvation to all that obey him” (Heb. 5:8, 9). “Anchor of the soul both secure and firm, and entering within the veil where Jesus entered, forerunner for us, became high priest for ever according to the order of Melchizedek” (Heb. 6:19, 20). “Such a high priest became us, holy, guileless, undefiled, separated from sinners, made higher than the heavens” (Heb. 7:26). “Now he hath obtained a more excellent ministry, by so much as he is mediator of a better covenant, such as hath been established on better promises” (Heb. 8:6). He “by his own blood entered once for all into the holies, having found an everlasting redemption” (Heb. 9:12).
These wondrous facts of His atoning work and priestly office involve commensurate blessings for those to whom they are now made known. Take this example from Heb. 10:2: “the worshippers once purged should have no more conscience of sins.” How could any saint before redemption have conceived such a boon? The difficulty is to find one since apostolic days who really appropriates truth so opposed to natural thought. Another from verse 19 of the same chapter may suffice: “Having therefore, brethren, boldness for the entrance of the holies by (or, in) the blood of Jesus, a recent and living way which he dedicated for us through the veil, that is, his flesh, and a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, as our hearts have been sprinkled from a wicked conscience, and our body washed with pure water,” etc. Truly if these known blessings had been all, God provided “some better thing for us,” which the most intelligent saint before Christ’s work was done and the Holy Spirit given, could not even have apprehended.
But God was pleased for His own glory, and to the honour of His crucified and exalted Son, thus to bless believers now, as those of old were not nor could be. Meanwhile His heirs and Christ’s joint-heirs are being called according to purpose, before the Lord comes, when we and all the O.T. saints shall be perfected in the likeness of His body of glory, and go to meet Him on high.
37 Mill’s Logic, eighth edition, 398-400.
38 Tischendorf and Tregelles read the present, others the imperfect.
39 It is difficult to express in English the force of the Greek perfect and imperfect. The one gives the result of the act as if accomplished, the other the historical fact that it did not actually take place. “Hath” here is not really admissible in our tongue; yet it may be in a bracket to enforce the truth.
41 It is scarce needful to point out how superior in moral force is the critical reading “of Egypt” ( D E K L P) to the Text. Rec. or Lachmann’s strangely elliptical form.
42 Later editors reject the copula after David on small but ancient authority.
43 Lachmann adopts here the evident blunder of A Dp.m. (to which we can now add p.m.) which strangely made “women,” not the subject as it is, but the object, and, stranger still, in apposition with “their dead.”
44 The order differs in MSS. Dgr. L P, etc., have “tempted” before “sawn,” the rest in the more common way.
45 The Philoxenian Syr. Version fails after verse 27.