By: Daniel Goepfrich
The Faith of the Patriarchs
Hebrews 11 expounds on the nature of persevering faith, providing examples of many great heroes from Israel’s history. The readers would have been well-versed in all the stories recounted (which is why the writer could simply give names or broad details toward the end of the chapter, knowing the readers would understand), and the faith of the fathers would have bolstered their own.
The writer chose the only three faithful patriarchs from before the flood (Heb. 11:1-7). Abel sacrificed in faith, Enoch walked with God in faith, and Noah built the ark and saved his family and the animals in faith. No one else in Genesis 1-6 merited recognition as a person of faith. Yet, “without faith it is impossible to please” God, something the original readers were in danger of giving up.
The Faith of Those After the Flood
Between the Flood and the Law, the writer elaborated on the great patriarch and matriarch of Israel: Abraham and Sarah (Heb. 11:8-19). It was their faith, exhibited multiple times over, that God rewarded. Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph basically receive honorable mentions (Heb. 11:20-22). Isaac was a mostly faithless man. Jacob started poorly, lived with a modicum of faith, but finally died in great faith. Joseph learned to live in faith through suffering and was allowed to give a prophecy about Israel’s exodus from Egypt.
It is important to note that the writer did not mention the Law at all in this chapter. Again, possibly due to Paul’s influence, there is no Law in the chapter on faith, as the two are mutually exclusive. In the section on Moses’ life, the writer recounted Moses’ birth (which was more accurately his parents’ faith), his intention to live as a Jew rather than the Pharaoh’s son, the establishment of Passover, and the Red Sea miracle (Heb. 11:23-29). Each one of these is a significant foreshadowing of Jesus himself. Jericho and Rahab are the final examples mentioned before the writer simply listed names and events (Heb. 11:30-40). His point was that the readers must not give up in their suffering when so many who had gone before had died in faith without ever yet receiving their promises. Persevering faith transcends this life.
Interestingly, this includes Adam. After Genesis 1-2, Adam is never mentioned in a positive way in Scripture. Rather, he is always set up as the progenitor of the sin and destruction that Jesus had to correct. Whether he was a true believer or a life-long rebel is never clarified.
Verses 17-19 answer the question that Genesis 22 never does: what did Abraham expect to happen when he offered Isaac as a sacrifice? Genesis 22 reveals Abraham’s faith, but not the basis on which his faith rested.
Each Thursday, DPH runs a Chapter-by-Chapter blog by Daniel Goepfrich, progressing readers chapter-by-chapter through the New Testament. This series is taken from New Testament Chapter-by-Chapter, published by Trust House Publishers, a division of DPH. Daniel serves as Pastor of Oak Tree Community Church in South Bend, Indiana, and blogs at www.TheologyIsForEveryone.com
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