Reflections on Hebrews (3): Faith and Sight in Chapter 11

In the past few weeks I have been posting reflections on Habakkuk and Hebrews. This week, my interest in these two books dovetailed as I got into Hebrews chapter 11, the famous “hall of faith.” Hebrews 11 follows from 10:35-39, in which the author of Hebrews quotes Habakkuk 2:4 (as Paul does in Romans 1:17 and Galatians 3:11 [cf. my first post on Habakkuk]) and sets forth two possibilities for his suffering readers: (1) faith (v. 38)/endurance (v. 36) or (2) shrinking back (v. 38)/throwing away confidence (v. 35). Its very significant that faith and perseverance are associated in the mind of the author of Hebrews, as evidenced by his concluding statement: “But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls” (v. 39). This statement naturally leads to his discussion of Old Testament examples of faith/perseverance in chapter 11. Chapter 11 then naturally leads into the exhortations of 12:1ff. (e.g, the “cloud of witnesses” in 12:1 refers to all the individuals and groups mentioned in chapter 11).

What struck me about most about chapter 11 this past week is how frequently the idea of sight/visibility comes up throughout the chapter. Consider the following examples:

1Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

3By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.

7By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household.

8By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. 9By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. 10For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.

13These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.

26(Moses) considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.

27By faith (Moses) left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible.

Faith is determined by hope – by the forward looking certainty of what is unseen, and what may seem impossible, but is utterly certain, because it is grounded in the promise of God. Lane (149) remarks, “faith expresses now the reality of the future blessings which make up the objective, or actual, content of Christian hope. Faith gives the objects of hope the force of present realities, and it enables the person of faith to enjoy the full certainty that in the future these realities will be experienced” (italics his).

This is why, for the author of Hebrews, Christian faith is inseparable from Christian perseverance. Since faith is grounded in hope, in the utterly certain future reality of God’s faithfulness and deliverance, how could it not result in endurance? A tree which has deep and strong roots grows tall and wide. In the same way, since faith has the deepest and strongest of roots, the roots of hope, how can it not grow up into steadfast endurance?

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.”

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s