Hebrews 11:1-40

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After having introduced the vital need for faith (10:39), the writer of Hebrews continued to focus on it, highlighting numerous historical examples of those who displayed remarkable faith. The Greek term for “faith” is pístis and can mean “belief,” “trust,” “conviction,” or “confirmation.” According to the writer of Hebrews, it is the sure foundation for the hope believers have. Earlier, he referred to the hope based on God’s promise about entering his rest (4:9-11), that is, coming to experience the relief from suffering and distress as his approved children in the sinless state. Faith is the inner conviction that the hope based on God’s promise will be fulfilled. Additionally, faith is the “proof” (élenchos) for things that are not seen. The Greek term élenchos can also mean “reproof” or “correction.” Faith in God and his word enables the believer to have unshakable conviction that the yet unfulfilled word is certain to be fulfilled. The believer’s faith corrects what might otherwise be concluded on the basis of the external circumstances. (11:1)

With reference to faith, the writer continued, “In this [it, according to other manuscripts], the elders had testimony borne to them.” Based on the discussion that follows, the elders were men of ancient times who distinguished themselves by their faith in God. The testimony they received was the tangible evidence of divine approval for their faith. (11:2)

“By faith we comprehend that the ages were arranged by the word of God, so that what is seen has come to be from what is not seen.” In this case, “ages” appears to denote everything that distinguishes the ages. According to the opening chapter of Genesis, the whole creation came into existence through the expression of God’s word. Faith or trust involves that which is not as yet seen, and so faith enables its possessor to discern that something previously unseen or nonexistent could come to be seen or come to exist. In the context of the book of Hebrews, faith makes it possible to discern that God’s word will be fulfilled, and so entering his rest in the age to come is a certainty for believers. (11:3)

On account of his faith, Abel offered to God a “greater sacrifice” than did Cain. The writer of Hebrews did not explain in what respect Cain’s sacrifice was inferior. Josephus expressed a view that may have been common among the Pharisees of the first century. It pleased God more when he “was honored with what grew naturally [firstlings from Abel’s flock] of its own accord” than “with what was the invention [cultivated plants] of a covetous man, and obtained by forcing the ground.” (Antiquities, I, ii, 1) The reading of the extant text of the Septuagint suggests that Cain failed to make the offering in an acceptable manner. “If you offered properly but did not divide properly, did you not sin?” (Genesis 4:7, LXX) According to 1 John 3:12, Cain was not in the right condition before God to make a proper sacrifice, for his “works were evil.” (11:4)

Abel received God’s testimony that he was regarded as righteous or upright, for his offering was favorably accepted. Although he died at the hands of his brother Cain, Abel still speaks through his faith, that is, through the trust he had in God and what he knew of his word at the time he presented his offering. The record about Abel has been preserved throughout the centuries, and so he continues to speak through his faith or as one who possessed faith and acted in harmony therewith. (11:4; see the Notes section for comments from the Targum of Jonathan.)

“By faith,” or on account of his faith, Enoch was “changed,” “removed,” “transferred,” or “taken” (metatíthemi) so as not to “see” or experience death. After this occurred, Enoch was nowhere to be found. Before this transferral or removal from the earthly sphere occurred, Enoch received the testimony that he had pleased God. (11:5)

According to the reading of Genesis 5:24 in the extant text of the Septuagint, the Greek term for the “change” or “removal” is the same as in the book of Hebrews. The Septuagint reads, “Enoch pleased God well. And he was not found, for God removed him.” Ancient Jewish writings present the view that the change or removal referred to Enoch’s being taken to another realm without undergoing death. Josephus (Antiquities, I, iii, 4) wrote that Enoch “departed and went to God,” and for this reason nothing was recorded about his death. Philo maintained that Enoch was “carried off in such a way as to be invisible, for then he was not found,” and suggested that he “was translated from a visible place, perceptible by the outward senses, into an incorporeal idea, appreciable only to the intellect.” (Book 41, Questions and Answers on Genesis, I) The “Book of Jubilees” (chapter 4) says that Enoch was conducted “into the Garden of Eden in majesty and honor.” According to chapter 12 of the Book of Enoch, “Enoch was hidden, and no one of the children of men knew where he was hidden, and where he abode, and what had become of him.” The “Targum of Jonathan ben Uzziel” states that Enoch “ascended to the firmament,” whereas the “Targum of Onkelos” says that the “Lord had not made him die.”

Comments about Enoch contained in the Scriptures do not provide enough details for reaching any definitive conclusions about what actually happened to him. It would appear that Jesus’ words (in John 3:13) do not support the view that Enoch was taken to heaven. “No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.”

Without faith, one cannot please God, for the individual who draws near to him must believe that he “is and that he becomes the rewarder of those who seek him.” It is impossible to have a good relationship with anyone whom one cannot trust and whose word is undependable. Therefore, the one who distrusts God and does not believe his promises could never have his approval. It is not enough just to believe that God exists. One must believe that he is good, generous, and just, that he rewards those who seek him. Such seeking means earnestly desiring to have a close relationship with him and sincerely wanting to do his will. With the kind of trust that distinguishes a deeply loved child, believers can draw near to God, petitioning him for aid and guidance without any fear of not being heard. (11:6)

Noah had no reference point for a coming flood of such proportions as was divinely revealed to him. By faith or trust in God’s word about events that had not happened before and that no human had ever seen, Noah demonstrated his godliness when he heeded the divine warning and constructed an ark to save his household from the future calamity. By his faith, which was evident from his responsiveness to God’s word, “he condemned the world and became an heir to the righteousness that accords with faith.” The world of mankind that heard Noah’s proclamation about the coming flood and witnessed his preparations for it did not believe the divine warning. So by his faith, Noah condemned the world for a total lack of faith and an unwillingness to heed God’s word. Noah did what was right when he acted in harmony with his faith in the divine revelation he had been given. This made him an heir or a possessor of the righteousness (the doing of what is right) that springs from faith or trust. (11:7)

Abraham responded in faith to God’s call, obediently going to a place he would receive as an inheritance. It required faith, for he set out not knowing the land to which he would be going and which was far away from where he had lived for many years among his relatives. Although he did not personally inherit the land, the divine promise respecting it was so certain of fulfillment for his descendants that it could be spoken of as Abraham’s inheritance that he could pass on to them. In fact, his grandson Jacob, on his deathbed in Egypt, expressed himself as a possessor of this inheritance. (11:8; Genesis 48:5, 6, 21, 22; 49:13-15)

When in the land God had promised to give him as an inheritance, Abraham lived there as a resident alien and a tent-dwelling nomad, moving from one location to another with his flocks and herds. His son Isaac and his grandson Jacob, who were heirs of the same promise, likewise lived in tents, with no permanent home in one of the cities of the land. (11:9)

By living as a nomadic resident alien, Abraham demonstrated that he had not attached himself to any place as if it were his permanent home. He lived for the reality that he perceived by his faith in God’s promise to him. In view of his living for what was unseen, he could be said to be waiting for the city having enduring foundations, a city of which God is the designer and builder. God is the one who made the promise, and the tangible fulfillment of that promise is what Abraham expected. At the time, however, he did not know just what the reality would personally mean for him. (11:10)

When Sarah first heard that she would be the mother of a son, she could not believe it. She was then past child-bearing age, and Abraham was too old to father a child. (Genesis 17:15-17; 18:9-15) So it would appear that the writer of Hebrews spoke of Sarah’s being able to conceive “seed” (literally, “received power for a foundation of seed”) as happening by faith because God’s promise that Abraham had embraced in faith when he first left his native land and in which she shared included the assurance that he would become a great nation. (Genesis 12:2) Without the original response in faith, Isaac would not have been born, and the foundation for a “great nation” would not have come about through Sarah. As a sharer with Abraham in the promise, Sarah considered God, the maker of the promise, as faithful or trustworthy. (11:11; see the Notes section.) Therefore, from one, Abraham (a man as good as dead from the standpoint of being able to father children), a nation of numerous descendants came into being, descendants “like the stars of heaven in number and countless like [grains of] sand” on the shore along the sea. (11:12)

The words “all these died” could apply to all those previously mentioned as persons who had faith in God and acted accordingly. It is more likely, however, that the reference is to the patriarchs, starting with Abraham. They were the ones who lived as strangers and resident aliens in the land that had been divinely promised as their inheritance. Abel, Noah, and Enoch, though men of outstanding faith, had not been given the same promise. From the standpoint of not personally seeing the fulfillment of all the promises they had been given during their lifetime, the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did not receive them. Nevertheless, they, in faith, saw the fulfillment of the promises from afar and “greeted” or welcomed them and acknowledged themselves as being strangers and resident aliens in the land, with no permanent home as their own. (11:13)

By the way they lived and the expressions they made, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob revealed that they were seeking a “fatherland,” one that God, their heavenly Father, had promised to give them. (11:14; compare Genesis 23:4; 26:3; 34:30; 47:9.)

Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob could have returned to the land of their roots, the land where their relatives lived. If they had “remembered” that land or thought fondly about being at home there with relatives, they would have had the opportunity to return. They could have resumed permanent dwelling in their fatherland instead of continuing to live as nomadic strangers and aliens among the native inhabitants of the land that had been divinely promised to them. (11:15)

The life of the patriarchs, however, revealed that they lived for God and what he had promised to give them. With their hope being based on their faith in him and the trustworthiness of his word, they reached out for a “better” fatherland, a heavenly one. Their focus was on an acceptable relationship with God, and so they reached out to him and, therefore, to a heavenly place. In turn, he was not ashamed to be called upon by them as their God, and he has made a “city ready for them.” Its being called a “city” points to its being their permanent home to be enjoyed in an enduring relationship with him. (11:16)

When Abraham’s obedience to God was severely tested by the command to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice, he set out to do so. His faith enabled him to attempt to offer the only son by his beloved wife Sarah, the son who was intimately bound up with God’s promises. (11:17; see the Notes section.)

It was concerning this son by Sarah that it had been divinely declared to Abraham (Genesis 21:12, LXX), “In Isaac will your seed be called.” This indicated that the descendants of Isaac would be most closely identified with Abraham and that through the line of Isaac the promised one (the “seed”) would come through whom all families of the earth would be blessed. (Genesis 22:18) This promised “seed” proved to be God’s unique Son, Jesus Christ. (11:18)

In view of the divine promise about Isaac, Abraham considered that God would be able to raise him from the dead. In having gone to the point of nearly completing all that was needed for the sacrifice, Abraham figuratively (literally, “in parable”) did receive his son back as if by a resurrection. (11:19)

Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau. The pronouncements of blessing related to future developments and were of a prophetic nature. These future developments had been divinely revealed to Isaac. His expression of the blessings demonstrated that he believed what had been revealed to him. Accordingly, by faith, he blessed his sons. (11:20; Genesis 27:27-29, 39, 40; 28:3, 4)

When about to die, Jacob blessed the sons of Joseph, Ephraim and Manasseh. His pronouncement of blessing was also revelatory, indicating that Ephraim, though not the firstborn, would become the more prominent as a tribe. (Genesis 48:14-20) Therefore, as in the case of Isaac’s pronouncement of blessing, Jacob’s blessing Ephraim and Manasseh was by faith. (11:21)

At the time, Jacob was ill and very weak. A short time before blessing Ephraim and Manasseh, he had made Joseph swear that he would not have him buried in Egypt. According to the reading of the Septuagint (Genesis 47:31), Jacob thereafter “bowed [proskynéo] on top of his staff.” In connection with the blessing of the sons of Joseph, the writer of Hebrews used the same words as found in the Septuagint in Genesis 47:31. In the book of Hebrews, where these words are repeated, many translations render proskynéo to signify “to worship” or “to bow in worship.” (NAB, NCV, NIV, NRSV, REB) In its basic sense, however, proskynéo means to prostrate oneself, and the meaning “bow down” would have the support of Genesis 47:31 in the Hebrew text. So the reference may be to Jacob’s bending down over the staff that provided support for him. The German Einheitsübersetzung says that he “bent over the upper part of his staff” (neigte sich über das obere Ende seines Stabes). Young’s Literal Translation reads, “by faith Jacob dying — each of the sons of Joseph did bless, and did bow down upon the top of his staff.” (11:21; see the Notes section regarding Genesis 47:31.)

Joseph, too, demonstrated his faith in God’s word, not doubting that Canaan, the land promised to Abraham, would be given to Jacob’s descendants. When he was about to die, Joseph mentioned the future exodus from Egypt to his brothers (the “sons of Israel” or Jacob) and directed that his bones then be taken back to the land of Canaan. (11:22)

Moses’ parents, Amram and Jochebed, showed faith. When he was born, they, seeing his beauty, hid him for three months, not fearing the order of the king, Egypt’s Pharaoh. At the time of Moses’ birth, Pharaoh’s official decree required that every Hebrew male baby be cast into the Nile River. (Exodus 1:22; 6:20) So, with faith in God’s power to shield them and their son from the severe penalty (likely death) that could have been imposed, they fearlessly defied the official order of Pharaoh. (11:23; see the Notes section.)

Upon coming to be an adult, Moses acted in faith. He refused to be called the “son of Pharaoh’s daughter” and chose to be mistreated with “the people of God,” preferring this course to the transitory enjoyment of sin. For Moses to have identified himself with the Egyptians as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter would have meant rejecting his own people and the promise God originally made to Abraham. It would have revealed that the position, honor, and riches associated with being a member of Pharaoh’s household meant more to him than anything linked to God’s promise. Whatever he might have enjoyed as a member of Egypt’s ruling family would have been short-lived, ending at his death. Had Moses opted to turn his back on his own people and thus to treat God’s promise as valueless would have been the sin of faithlessness. In that case, the benefits from his faithless course would have been the short-lived enjoyment of sin. He could not have served as a suitable instrument in the fulfillment of God’s purpose for his people. (11:24, 25)

Egypt’s ruling family controlled great wealth, including an abundance of gold and precious stones. Moses, however, regarded the “reproach of Christ” as of greater worth than the “treasures of Egypt.” He remained focused on the “payment of the reward.” (11:26)

In the case of Moses’ ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, they looked forward to the fulfillment of God’s promise, which included the coming of the “seed” through whom all the families of the earth would be blessed. (Compare Genesis 12:1-3; 15:13, 14; 22:16-18.) So the “reproach of Christ” could signify the reproach the Egyptians would heap on Moses for choosing to believe in and act in harmony with God’s promise that would be completely fulfilled when the “seed,” the Messiah or Christ, would arrive. In faith, Moses looked forward to the payment of the reward in which the fulfillment of God’s promise would result. In the context of the book of Hebrews, this reward is entrance into God’s rest, being liberated from the hardships and distress of the past and coming to enjoy the blessings he would grant to those whom he recognizes as his own. (11:26; see the Notes section for other possible meanings for the expression “reproach of Christ.”)

When, after killing an Egyptian oppressor in defense of a fellow Israelite, Moses fled from Egypt, he did so out of fear. (Exodus 2:11-15) This was not the case decades later when he led the people of Israel out of the land. Based on his experience with Pharaoh, Moses knew that the Egyptian ruler might change his mind about having allowed the Israelites to depart. Moses, though, did not fear Pharaoh’s anger. He remained steadfast or strong as if actually seeing the “invisible one,” God. In faith, Moses looked to YHWH as the one who could and would deliver his people from whatever Pharaoh might attempt to do. (11:27)

Along with the rest of Israelites, Moses observed the Passover, which included sprinkling the blood of the animals that were then eaten on the two doorposts and lintels of their houses. He did so in faith, believing that this was the divinely designated provision for the firstborn of the Israelites to be spared from the death which would befall all the Egyptian firstborn and that all who kept the Passover would be able to leave Egypt. (11:28; Exodus 12:3-13, 29-32)

“By faith,” the Israelites passed through the Red Sea as over dry land. The crossing involved faith, for the people needed to believe that the passage would remain open until they had safely reached the other side of the sea and that the pursuing Egyptians would not be able to harm them. When Egyptian forces followed the Israelites, they did so without any regard for God and in defiance of his purpose for his people. The sea returned to its usual state, and the pursuing Egyptians drowned. (11:29)

A fortified city’s walls do not fall upon having an army merely march around them once on each of six days and seven times on the seventh day. So, “by faith” in God’s word that this would happen, the Israelite army marched around Jericho for seven days, and the walls did fall. (11:30; Joshua 6:3-20)

“Rahab the harlot” manifested her faith when she hid the two Israelite spies who came to Jericho. She must have known that this would have been regarded as a treasonous act, and, if caught, she would have been severely punished. Based on what she had heard about YHWH’s making it possible for the Israelites to pass through the Red Sea and concerning the defeat of the Amorite kings Sihon and Og, Rahab believed that YHWH would give the land of Canaan to the Israelites. Therefore, she welcomed the two spies “in peace,” extending to them the customary protection that was accorded to guests. (Joshua 2:17-22) As a result, Rahab did not perish with the “disobedient ones,” that is, the inhabitants of Jericho who did not respond in faith to the same evidence that Rahab acted upon. The people of Jericho continued to live in a manner that was contrary to the voice of conscience. (11:31)

Continuing his discussion of those who displayed faith, the writer of Hebrews acknowledged, “And what more can I say? For the time would fail me if I were to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David as well as Samuel and the prophets.” All of them had faith in or trusted God and, for this reason, were divinely empowered to accomplish what would otherwise have been impossible. Despite the unresponsiveness of the Israelites, the prophets faithfully discharged their commission while being subjected to mistreatment. (11:32)

The writer of Hebrews commented about the exploits and experiences of those who manifested faith. They triumphed over kingdoms. (11:33) Under the command of Joshua, the Israelites defeated the nations of Canaan. (Joshua 11:16-23; 12:7-24) Ehud led the Israelites against the Moabites and subdued them. (Judges 3:15-30) Barak, accompanied by Deborah, set out against the superior forces of King Jabin under the command of Sisera. With divine help, he and the Israelites under his command gained the victory, putting an end to Jabin’s cruel oppression. (Judges 4:2-5:31) Gideon and his men triumphed over the better equipped and more numerous Midianite invaders and oppressors. (Judges 7:2-8:21) Through the leadership of Jephthah, the Ammonites were defeated. (Judges 11:4-33) Samson single-handedly battled against the Philistines. (Judges 14:15-16:30) Samuel filled the role of both judge and prophet, taking a courageous stand against idolatry and the enemies of the Israelites. (1 Samuel 7:3-17) His intercession for the Israelites led to a victory over the Philistines who had assembled against them. (1 Samuel 7:7-14) With full trust in YHWH’s aid, David, having only his shepherd’s staff, a sling, and five stones, faced the well-armed giant Goliath and gained the victory. Repeatedly thereafter David succeeded in defeating the enemies of his people. (1 Samuel 17:32-51; 18:5-7) As king, David subdued the Philistines, Syrians, Amalekites, Moabites, Ammonites, and Edomites. (2 Samuel 8:1-14; 10:6-19; 1 Chronicles 18:1-20:8)

Men of faith “worked righteousness,” doing what is right or administering justice. (11:33) This description would apply to Samuel. When he called attention to his service to the nation and asked the people to present any testimony against him, they acknowledged that he had not defrauded or oppressed anyone. (1 Samuel 12:2-4) Among others who “worked righteousness” or justice was David, for he administered “judgment and justice for all his people.” (2 Samuel 8:15, LXX)

To “obtain promises” would signify to experience the fulfillment of the promises. Gideon, for example, was divinely assured that he would be used to defeat the Midianites. With divine backing, he and a small force of 300 men threw the Midianite camp into confusion, causing the Midianites to slaughter one another in the dark. (11:33; Judges 7:7-22)

The prophet Daniel was delivered from being cast into a den of lions, and both Samson and David encountered lions and succeeded in killing them. (Judges 14:6; 1 Samuel 17:34-36; Daniel 6:22) The writer of Hebrews may have had all three in mind when speaking about those who shut the “mouths of lions.” (11:33)

The companions of Daniel (Shadrach [Hananiah], Meshach [Mishael], and Abednego [Azariah]) were thrown into a fiery furnace for refusing to bow down to the image Nebuchadnezzar had set up. (Daniel 1:7; 3:1-28) Their faith in God was rewarded, as they were delivered by means of an angel and thus could be said to have “quenched the power of fire.” Among those who escaped the “edge [literally, ‘mouths’] of the sword” were Moses, David, Elijah, the prophets whom Obadiah hid, and Elisha. (11:34; Exodus 18:4; 1 Kings 18:7-13; 2 Kings 6:11-19; Psalm 144:10, 11)

Samson proved to be one who was “made powerful from weakness,” or was strengthened subsequent to his having been reduced to a weak state. After Delilah betrayed him, the Philistines blinded him and made him grind grain as a prisoner in Gaza. They credited their god Dagon for having delivered Samson into their hands. Later, at a celebration in honor of Dagon, some three thousand men and women assembled in an edifice, and Samson was brought in for entertainment purposes. In answer to his prayer, Samson was given the strength to push apart the two supporting pillars of the structure, killing all the assembled Philistines as the final act of his life. (Judges 16:18-30) Joshua, Ehud, Barak, Gideon, Jephthah, King Saul’s son Jonathan, David, David’s mighty men, and others were made “strong in war” and put foreign armies to flight. (11:34; Joshua 10:1-12:24; Judges 3:12-30; 4:12-23; 7:9-25; 11:29-33; 1 Samuel 14:6-23; 2 Samuel 5:17-25; 8:1-14; 23:8-23)

By a resurrection, a widow in the city of Zarephath received her son back from dead, as also did a woman who extended hospitality to the prophet Elisha. Both women demonstrated faith in God, for they manifested proper regard for his representatives, the prophets Elijah and Elisha. (11:35; 1 Kings 17:8-24; 2 Kings 4:8-10, 32-36)

Others revealed their faith by choosing death instead of availing themselves of divinely unacceptable means to preserve their lives. In faith, they looked forward to a “better resurrection,” a resurrection to life as persons who had remained faithful to God. (11:35) During the time Antiochus Epiphanes (in the second century BCE) carried out his vicious campaign to make the Jews forsake obedience to the law, the aged Eleazar, a prominent scribe, could have saved his life by eating pork or making a pretense of eating the meat of a sacrificial meal, but he refused to do so. (2 Maccabees 6:18-31) Seven brothers and their mother who were severely tortured to death could likewise have escaped terrible suffering if they had been willing to violate the law and eaten pork. (2 Maccabees 7:1-41) The mother encouraged her sons to remain loyal to God because of her faith in the resurrection. She exhorted each of them with the words, “I do not know how you came into existence in my womb; it was not I who gave you the breath of life, nor was it I who set in order the elements of which each of you is composed. Therefore, since it is the Creator of the universe who shapes each man’s beginning, as he brings about the origin of everything, he, in his mercy, will give you back both breath and life, because you now disregard yourselves for the sake of his law.” (2 Maccabees 7:21-23, NAB)

Particularly the prophets suffered much, being mocked, flogged, put in bonds, and imprisoned. (11:36) The prophet Hanani’s reproof so angered King Asa that he ordered him to be imprisoned. (2 Chronicles 16:7-10, LXX) Zedekiah, a false prophet, slapped the true prophet Micaiah and mocked him as one who did not speak YHWH’s word, and King Ahab ordered that Micaiah be imprisoned and given less bread and water than other prisoners. (1 Kings 22:24-27) Repeatedly, the prophet Jeremiah was subjected to insult. (Jeremiah 15:10, 15) The priest Pashhur struck him and had him confined in stocks. (Jeremiah 20:2) On another occasion Jeremiah was beaten and then imprisoned. (Jeremiah 37:15, 16)

Faithful servants of God were stoned to death. (11:37) This happened to Naboth for not violating God’s law and selling his inheritance to King Ahab or exchanging it with him for another property. (1 Kings 21:2-14) Zechariah, the son of the priest Jehoiada, moved by God’s spirit courageously declared to the people that YHWH had forsaken them because they had transgressed his commands and forsaken him as their God. Thereafter, by the command of King Joash, the people stoned Zechariah to death in the courtyard of the temple. (2 Chronicles 24:20-22)

Although included in fifth-century Codex Sinaiticus and numerous other manuscripts, the Greek verb for “they were tried” is missing in the oldest extant manuscript (P46, c. 200 CE). If original, the meaning could be that the godly ones were submitted to severe pressure to induce them to violate God’s law. (11:37)

Among those who maintained their faith to the death were individuals who were sawn asunder or executed with the sword. (11:37) According to an apocryphal work thought to date from the second century CE (“Ascension of Isaiah,” 1:9; 5:2, 14), King Manasseh had the prophet Isaiah sawn asunder. The prophets whom King Ahab’s wife Jezebel commanded to be executed were killed with the sword. (1 Kings 18:4; 19:10)

The prophet Elijah wore a hairy garment. (2 Kings 1:8) This would have been a garment made from animal skin to which either the hair or the wool remained attached. Other prophets must have been similarly attired in sheepskins or goatskins, especially in times of persecution when they would have been unable to obtain the customary garments. The hounded prophets of YHWH found themselves needy, in distress, and subjected to mistreatment. (11:37)

The world (humans in a state of alienation from and at enmity with God) was “not worthy” of the godly afflicted ones in their midst. Those who were hostile to God did not deserve to have faithful prophets and other godly persons among them. It was common for persecuted ones to seek refuge in deserts, mountains, caves, and crevices in the earth. (11:38) During the reign of King Ahab, one hundred prophets of YHWH, with fifty hiding in each of two caves, survived on the food and drink that God-fearing Obadiah provided for them. (1 Kings 18:4) In the time of Antiochus Epiphanes, many Jews who wanted to live in conformity with God’s law fled to the mountains and the desert, the arid region south of Jerusalem and west of the Dead Sea. (1 Maccabees 2:29, 30)

Those to whom the writer of Hebrews made reference were enabled to accomplish what they did and to endure much suffering on account of their faith in God and his word. So they received testimony or divine approval “through,” or because of, “their faith.” Nevertheless, they did not receive the “promise,” that is, they did not experience the full realization of what God had promised, for the fulfillment of the divine promise was then still future. (11:39)

The things to which the prophets and other godly Israelites looked forward began to be fulfilled when Jesus Christ came to the earth. (Matthew 13:17) For all who put faith in Jesus Christ and the surrender of his life for them, forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God as his beloved children became a reality. This was something better than the prophets and other faithful servants of God had experienced in the past, and their perfecting on the basis of faith in God and his word does not precede the perfecting of those who put faith in Jesus Christ. Perfecting signifies coming into possession of the actual sinless state as God’s approved children and thus entering his rest as persons liberated from affliction and distress. (11:40)

Notes:

According to the “Targum of Jonathan ben Uzziel,” God told Cain, “If you do your work well, will not your guilt be forgiven you? But if you do not do your work well in this world, your sin is retained until the day of the great judgment.” This Targum also includes a discussion between Abel and Cain. Abel insisted that the world was created in goodness, that it is “governed according to the fruit of good works,” that there is a future judgment and another world, that a good reward will be given to the righteous, and that the wicked will face retribution. After denying all this, Cain killed Abel.

Many have thought that the literal expression “power for the foundation of seed” (in verse 11) to be more appropriate in describing the man’s role in the procreation process, and the Greek text does not contain any feminine pronouns. This is the reason for renderings that make the application to Abraham. “By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old — and Sarah herself was barren — because he considered him faithful who had promised.” (NRSV) “He was too old to have children, and Sarah could not have children. It was by faith that Abraham was made able to become a father, because he trusted God to do what he had promised.” (NCV) “By faith he received power to generate, even though he was past the normal age — and Sarah herself was sterile — for he thought that the one who had made the promise was trustworthy.” (NAB) Based on the opening words of the extant Greek text (“by faith also [barren (included in P46, the oldest extant manuscript, as well as other manuscripts] Sarah herself”), these interpretive renderings are questionable because they require assuming that the original Greek text read differently.

In verse 17, Isaac is called monogenés, meaning “only-begotten one.” This identified him as the unique son of Abraham by his wife Sarah.

The consonants for the word “bed” and “staff” are the same in Hebrew. Whereas the later Hebrew scribes understood the word to be “bed,” the translator or translators of the Septuagint thought the reference to be to a “staff.” This explains why, in Genesis 47:31, the Septuagint says “staff,” whereas the Masoretic Text reads “bed.”

A number of manuscripts (at the end of verse 23) add that Moses acted in faith when he killed the Egyptian when witnessing the oppression of his brothers, fellow Israelites.

The “reproach of Christ” (in verse 26) could mean the reproach that Moses would bear as God’s anointed or appointed one to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Another possibility is that the reproach Moses experienced by his choice was like the reproach Jesus Christ willingly bore.