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Hebrews chapter 11

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What does Hebrews chapter 11 mean?

Hebrews chapter 11 dives deeply into the writer's application of all the information given so far. Chapter 10 ended with both a warning and a word of encouragement. That encouragement specifically referred to "those who have faith," in contrast to "those who shrink back" (Hebrews 10:39) Here, in this passage, the writer gives a direct definition of faith, along with numerous examples to make his meaning crystal clear.

Faith, according to the Bible, is not blind. More than half of the verses in the book of Hebrews are dedicated to explaining reasons and evidence to accept the new covenant in Jesus Christ. Nor is faith gullible, or senseless. Instead, godly faith is exemplified by trust. That trust is based on what we know of God, relying on Him for the things we do not know. In particular, godly faith looks forward, from an eternal perspective, and produces obedience, even in the face of hardship. God takes what we cannot see, or cannot understand, and uses it to make good on His word. Since faith relies on what we've seen of God, and trusts Him for the future, it becomes the "assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1–3).

Most of the rest of the chapter is devoted to giving examples from Scripture to clarify this particular definition of faith. In each case, the same basic pattern emerges. These figures knew enough about God to trust Him, and so they obeyed, even when they were faced with doubts or challenges. In some cases, this meant trusting that God's promises were ultimately meant to be fulfilled in eternity, not necessarily their own lives.

In the first set of examples given, the writer focuses on examples of general, life-long trust in God. Abel and Enoch are strongly contrasted in the way their earthly lives ended. Abel was murdered (Genesis 4:8), while Enoch was taken by God without even experiencing death (Genesis 5:23–24). Part of the lesson here is that what happens in our earthly lives is not the end of God's plans for us, nor does it represent everything He intends for our future. Others, such as Noah, Abraham, and Sarah, are also referenced as examples of those who honored God in their lives, and were in return honored by God (Hebrews 11:4–12).

After bringing out these early examples, the writer then points out that godly faith is not aimed at our earthly lives, but at eternity. People like Abraham were able to trust in God, in part, because they were not explicitly concerned with this life. They were looking forward, but beyond even their own death, to "the city that has foundations" (Hebrews 11:10), and to a "better country, that is, a heavenly one" (Hebrews 11:13–16).

The next set of examples focuses on those who trusted in God in the midst of immediate, direct personal challenges. Abraham is mentioned again, in the ultimate example of godly faith. When ordered to sacrifice Isaac, Abraham obeyed. This obedience was driven by his prior experiences with God, and the Lord's ability to prove Himself righteous, even when Abraham could not see all ends. Other patriarchs are also mentioned, for their willingness to pass along God's words, and God's blessings, to their children. Moses, also, is mentioned, as one who was willing to endure hardship for the sake of honoring God (Hebrews 11:17–28).

The writer also refers to the crossing of the Red Sea, the conquest of Jericho, and the rescue of Rahab as examples of victory earned through faithful obedience to God (Hebrews 11:29–31).

At this point, the book of Hebrews launches into one of the most inspiring passages in Scripture. Without giving detail, the writer reminds his readers of Old Testament heroes, such as the Judges, the prophets, and David, who accomplished amazing feats as a direct result of their faith. Those achievements are listed, also in a rapid-fire style, culminating in the ultimate example of victory: resurrection from death (Hebrews 11:32–35).

Next, this passage reminds the reader that these same heroes of the faith suffered many earthly hardships. They were willing to endure persecution, torture, and even death, rather than forsake their obedience to God (Hebrews 11:36–38).

And yet, those same heroes are still waiting for God to grant them the full promise of His word. This is for a humbling, crucial reason: us. In order to grant those still living the opportunity to share in that same reward, God is allowing us time to hear, to respond, and to obey (Hebrews 11:39–40). The first words of chapter 12 flow directly from this theme, encouraging the reader to "hold fast" despite hardship, and to face whatever circumstances might occur. Christ, our ultimate example, did the same: obediently enduring pain and suffering, because He knew the reward which was waiting in eternity (Hebrews 12:1–2).
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