Chapter 11

On this chapter, we have a panorama of faith’s heroes, and their victories of Old Testament times. Not indeed all that faith is or does, but enough to shew us by the examples cited, how faith operates, both in doing and suffering. It was by their faith that these elders of ancient time were attested. Thus they became witness-bearers. So too must we walk; our motto is to be—“I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me” (Acts 27:25).

Verses 2—“By it the elders obtained a good report.” Who these elders or seniors are, verse 39 tells. The saints of olden time trusted God; they were swayed by things unseen. They said, “I believe God,” and thus they pleased Him. So too must we.

Verse 3. When He tells us that it was by His word that the worlds were framed, we believe Him, and the very same voice that said “Light be,” is the voice that throughout this chapter encourages us to fight the good fight of faith, by holding forth the reward of victory. Let us believe Him in this also. If when He tells us He made the “worlds” by His word, we believe Him, in like manner let us take Him at His word when He sets the glory and the victor’s crown before us, and take our place with a rejected Christ outside the camp down here. For faith not only exults in drawing near to God up there, but dares to seek to be identified with Christ in His shame and rejection down here. Various examples of faith in its operations, its doings and sufferings, as seen in these ancient worthies, pass before us. They may be divided into four sections, as follows. First, the faith of a sinner looking onward to the blood of the Lamb. Second, seven specimens of faith with its eye fixed on the glory to come. Third, cases in which the faith of saints in surmounting difficulties and enduring trials of the present, appears. Fourth, a brief hint of “some better thing” still in reserve for us, “better” than any of these elders had ever thought of.

Verse 4.—“By faith Abel offered.” It is significant that Adam’s faith is not recorded here; that he had faith is clear from his word in Gen. 3:20; but the Spirit of God puts Abel in the fore-front, because he came as a sinner confessing his sin, and his entire dependence on the blood, for his acceptance before God. This must ever come first, for how can a sinner look into the future until he has known a present justification and peace with God (Rom. 5:1). Thus, the first of this line of faith, was a sinner saved by blood. He knew that he was accepted. “He obtained witness that he was righteous.” What religious people often put at the end, to be gained by imaginary attainments of their own, God puts at the beginning. The sacrifice was accepted: the offerer declared righteous. Seven specimens of faith with its eye fixed on the future. The first two, Enoch and Noah, are dispensational: the second two, Abraham and Sarah, have a doctrinal application; while the last three, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, tell us of what is experimental. Thus we shall see, they are not thrown together haphazard. The Word of the Lord is definite; the lessons are exact.

Verses 5-7.—“By faith Enoch was translated.” From the faith of a sinner in the blood, to translation to the presence of God, is a single step; it shews there is nothing between us and our hope. Enoch was a typical man 3 typical of the heavenly calling. He was taken out of the world, caught away without seeing death, ere the judgment came. Noah, on the contrary, was a witness for God to the end, passing through it unscathed. In Enoch, is foreshadowed the call and hope of the heavenly people: in Noah the earthly people are represented. Very little is said of Enoch. He was evidently a stranger in the earth, where Cain’s sons (Gen. 4) made themselves great. He walked with God, and he testified for God (Jude 14), and had the testimony that he pleased Him. His prophecy recorded by Jude, shews that he was not a world-flatterer: he told men their character and their doom, as he had learned both in the Divine presence. So if we walk with God, shall we see men and things in their true light, and not be deceived by the false appearance of things, as many are. Noah was not taken away; he was left to testify to the end, yea, to be borne through the judgment, to a region where the olive leaf and the promise awaited him. Thus early does the Spirit of God give indication of the Divine purpose, to have a heavenly and an earthly people.

The ark with its inmates, affords another type of the safety of all who are in Christ, because the deluge of wrath has been borne by Him, and in Him, they have passed into a new order of things, in which there is no condemnation. And that ark rested on Mount Ararat on the very same day as the Son of God emerged from the tomb (see Gen. 8:4, with Exod. 12:1, where the seventh month was changed to the first month).

Verses 8-22. Abraham and Sarah are the next witnesses. Sarah, that the flesh profiteth nothing; that death is written on all below. Abraham, that life is in resurrection. The call of the God of glory (Acts 7:1), severed him at once from his native land and its idols. So we, when we hear the call of a risen Christ in glory (Acts 26:13-16), leave the world, and go forth as pilgrims to the heavenly country. He “obeyed.” Yes, faith always involves obedience: to believe is to obey. And as further revelations of God come to the soul, faith appropriates them, hugs the promise, and contents itself with pilgrim fare, while looking for the heavenly city. Isaac and Jacob are witnesses to the same faith, as the force of the word “with,” in verse 9, shews. “The stars of the sky,” refer to the heavenly people: “the sand of the sea,” to the earthly (Jer. 23:22); for Abraham is the representative of both (Gal. 3:7, 29). The land of Canaan was the promise of the earthly seed (Gen. 13:27); the “heavenly country,” the “city which hath foundations,” for the heavenly. O, to let our lives so speak that they shall “plainly say,” we are no longer of the present world, only strangers here, passing through it, to that country on which our affections are already set.

Verses 17-19. Abraham’s faith was long and sorely tried: not so severe at first, for here, as in nature, there is the blade, the ear, and the full corn. The fervour and zeal of youth, is followed by the mellow and matured faith that bends its head like the ripened grain; tested by the varying circumstances of life, yet holding on to God, and to His divine call. Abraham’s faith in the God of resurrection, enabled him to promptly, joyfully, render full obedience to His Word. Isaac was offered: he was as good as dead, but as his words in Gen. 22:5—“I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again,” shew, he accounted that God was able to raise him up. Never before had the glorious truths of death and resurrection shone out so brightly, as when Abraham saw the ram offered in Isaac’s stead, and “the only-begotten son “loosed from the altar, was received back as from the dead, to his father’s arms and home.

Verses 20-22. The three instances of faith’s working that follow, are experimental. Isaac once gave way to nature’s desires, and would have thwarted the purpose of God, by giving the blessing to Esau; but faith quickly regained his full acquiesence to God’s most holy will. Jacob, who much of his life, acted according to nature, is seen at its close to act as one who had through much discipline, learned the goodness of God, and now when asked by Joseph to do the very thing that Isaac his father desired to do, he refuses. Isaac, whose usual way was obedience, oscillated there, while Jacob, whose life had much resembled an untamed colt, “worshipped leaning on his staff,” and blessed Joseph’s sons. He thus judges all the glory of Egypt, while he distributes Canaan among his sons, as if he were actually reigning there. His was indeed a bright close to a cloudy day. In Joseph we see one who had been what the world calls “a prosperous man”: he had risen from being a prisoner in Egypt’s dungeon, to being next to the throne; yet here in the closing scene, when what a man really is oftenest comes out, it is seen that his eye is on the future. All the years of his sojourn in Egypt, his soul had been sustained by the promise of God, that His people Israel would be brought out. Thus, while surrounded by Egypt’s pomp and splendour, his heart was not there at all, but with his people in their future glory and blessing. And so when the day of their departure came, Israel took up his bones, and carried them for forty years, as an inspired reminder that the promise of God could never fail (Exod. 13:19: Josh 24:32). The next group tells of faith’s action in regard to the present. Moses’ parents, as we gather from Ex.6:20, were of nearer kin than was allowed by God, yet in that same chapter JEHOVAH reveals His Name, and unfolds His character in seven “I wills,” as if just to shew what grace can do for and by, very ignoble and worthless instruments. Moses’ parents had learned God’s Name, and put their trust therein. The eye of faith saw in that helpless babe, one “beautiful to God” (Acts 7:20), marked out by Him as His chosen instrument, and that faith acted, fearing not the king’s commandment. Nor was their faith in vain: God honoured it, and the child was saved, yea, raised to a position which by no other course He could ever have reached. And although grace does not run in the blood, yet it must have often encouraged Moses in his later years, to remember, how his preservation as a child, was due to his parents’ hearing ear and seeing eye. Then his day of trial comes, in each of the two ways by which Satan can tempt a soul with the circumstances which surround. First, by pleasure, next by fear. Pleasure is the most common snare for youth: fear for maturer years. Dressed up in various garbs at different seasons, but in their nature still the same. Moses made his twofold choice, fully and deliberately. He “refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter:” he chose to “suffer affliction with the people of God.” His separation from Egypt and his identification with the afflicted people of God, were the proofs of his faith, and are so still. He might have reasoned as many do, that to remain in the palace would be more beneficial to his people; that he could better serve them by retaining his influence there; but he had not learned the world’s adage “Out of two evils choose the less.” His separation from the world was complete. So his identification with God’s people was hearty. Thus by his example, do we learn the two-fold character of faith’s choice. That such a choice involves “affliction” and “reproach” is true now as then, but faith judges that the worst of Christ’s, a share in His reproach, and the afflictions of His people, is infinitely better than the best the world has to give. “The recompence of the reward “is the divine counterbalance for all this, to which, like him, we are to “look off,” and which amid reproach and shame will enable us to suffer cheerfully for Christ. O how His smile and His “well done,” will recompense any loss for Him here. “By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king,” for his eye was on the invisible God. To see One who to nature’s eye is invisible, is faith: to bring God into everything is to endure. And to those who by thus resisting temptation prove that they love God, there is not only the promised crown (James 1:12), but the present companionship of the Father and the Son (John 14:23), and an ever-increasing knowledge of, and intimacy with both.

Verses 28-31. The Passover, the Red Sea, and the Jordan, are typical of the salvation of God in its threefold aspect. At each step, the way of faith is marked. “The sprinkling of blood,” tells of God dealing in righteousness. Not only were the sons of Israel not destroyed with Egypt’s first-born, but the destroyer did not even “touch” them under the crimson banner. At the Red Sea, God was for His people, and against their foes. They trod the open path through death, to life and liberty. The one is like John 3:14: God dealing in righteousness; the other like John 3:16: God manifesting His love. Egypt’s judgments tell what we have been saved from. Across Jordan, in Canaan, tells of what Christ’s death and resurrection has brought us unto. There is nothing said here of the wilderness: it is a blank, for unbelief wrought in most who wandered there. Rahab’s scarlet line and living witnesses, complete the testimony. Not the scarlet thread alone, for what would it have availed, had not the living spies returned to fulfil their promise? But Salmon, the great-grandfather of David, a prince of Judah, who most likely was the spy who pledged his word to come again and save her. did all that he had promised, and took Rahab for his bride as well (Josh. 6:25: Ruth 4:21: Matth. 2:5).

Verses 32-40.—These verses tell more of faith’s victories: it is ever triumphant. Nothing is too hard for it to do, or to suffer. It stays itself on the living God, with whom nothing is impossible. Of many of its sacrifices, its services, and sufferings, we know but little now, but when He comes to distribute His rewards, they will all shine forth in their full lustre in heaven’s own light. And now that He has come and manifested His Father’s Name and His own love, providing for us what the saints of old knew not, surely we may expect to find that the victories of faith, though all unknown at present, will, when made known, far exceed those of ancient time, and utterly astonish the unbelieving world, and many heartless professors of Christ’s Name. For this, faith patiently waits. Both they of old, and we of His church, look for His coming, when, not only rest from toil and suffering such as those who pass one by one to be with the Lord, enter upon, but glory which is to be entered by all together then. Both shall be perfected in resurrection. Even there, “some better thing” is provided for us, for, as the next chapter makes plain, (Verse 23,) there will be no confounding of the Old Testament saints with the church, which is His Body and His Bride. Well may we therefore wait and suffer for Him here. It will not be for long. Lo! He comes! He comes!