Today: [Hebrews 11:] Testimonies of a Lesser Covenant: In chapter 11 of Hebrews the writer gives us what is known as the Roll Call of the Faithful. These Old Testament heroes accomplished more under the lesser covenants of their dispensation than many of us have walked out under the better Covenant made available in Christ. What then is the message? That we are to look to Christ and not even these great worthy men and women, as our ultimate example.
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[Heb 11:1-19 KJV] 1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. 2 For by it the elders obtained a good report. 3 Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear. 4 By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh. 5 By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God. 6 But without faith [it is] impossible to please [him]: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and [that] he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. 7 By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith. 8 By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. 9 By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as [in] a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: 10 For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker [is] God. 11 Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead, [so many] as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable. 13 These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of [them], and embraced [them], and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. 14 For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. 15 And truly, if they had been mindful of that [country] from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. 16 But now they desire a better [country], that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city. 17 By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten [son], 18 Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: 19 Accounting that God [was] able to raise [him] up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure.

Hebrews 11 is a chapter that is so often quoted in such an incomplete way that its overall message is considerably lost to us unless we pause and read it in context with the previous chapter and the chapter following. Chapter 10 describes for us how Jesus as our high priest gives us access into the presence of God on the basis of the sacrifice of Himself and not our moral qualities or religious performance. Chapter 11 provides us with what some call the “Roll Call of the Faithful,” but it does so following up in Hebrews 12:1 with this declaration:

[Heb 12:2 KJV] 2 Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of [our] faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

We revere the faith of the patriarchs, but that is not the point the writer is making. All of these died not having obtained the promises secured for us by the high priestly ministry of Jesus. Chapter 11 declares to us that they as well as we ourselves please God by faith. The Old Testament saints looked forward by faith to the cross just as we look back to the cross. Why is this lesson of faith inserted into a letter emphasizing Jesus as our high priest? Because Jesus is not a mediator of our good works, he is a mediator of our faith.

In John 14:6 Jesus declares that no man comes to the Father but by Him and the only way to approach Jesus covenantally is through faith and nothing else. This was foreshadowed in Gen. 15 when God made the covenant with Abraham:

[Gen 15:12, 17-18 KJV] 12 And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him. … 17 And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces. 18 In the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates:

In coming into covenant with God, the Father caused Abraham to fall into a deep sleep as God Himself came down and ratified the covenant with Abraham only standing in witness to the provision that God had made. The sleep that fell on Abraham is the rest that is referred to in Hebrews ch. 4:9 “…there remaineth a rest unto the people of God…” Until Abraham entered into rest, the promise was not covenantally secured in his behalf. You must cease from your labors as they don’t bring you to God they keep you from God. The tree of disobedience in the garden was the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil. Your good keeps you from God just as your evil keeps you from God as Gal. 2:16 insists works do not justify us as the previous chapter of Hebrews in concluding declares (Heb. 10:38) the just shall live by faith…”

Why is faith important. Because it is the means by which the eternal unseen provisions of the promise make their way into our temporal existence. By faith, we understand (v. 3) that the world was framed by the word of God. God did not make the world through a word of judgment He made it through the word of faith and then gave man dominion to maintain the world through faith that He created in faith. The fall and disobedience broke that accord. What Adam rescinded by disobedience in the garden of Eden Jesus reconstituted by faith through the work of the Cross.

Hebrews chapter 11 gives us a pedigree of faith from Abel to the unnamed saints of the captivity as examples of those who obtained the good report but did not receive the promise in full, but we have – in the person of Jesus.

[Heb 11:20-40 KJV]

20 By faith, Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come. 21 By faith Jacob, when he was a dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph; and worshipped, [leaning] upon the top of his staff. 22 By faith Joseph, when he died, made mention of the departing of the children of Israel; and gave commandment concerning his bones. 23 By faith Moses, when he was born, was hid three months of his parents, because they saw [he was] a proper child; and they were not afraid of the king’s commandment. 24 By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; 25 Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; 26 Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward. 27 By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible. 28 Through faith he kept the passover, and the sprinkling of blood, lest he that destroyed the firstborn should touch them. 29 By faith they passed through the Red sea as by dry [land]: which the Egyptians assaying to do were drowned. 30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, after they were compassed about seven days. 31 By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace. 32 And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and [of] Barak, and [of] Samson, and [of] Jephthae; [of] David also, and Samuel, and [of] the prophets: 33 Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. 35 Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: 36 And others had trial of [cruel] mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: 37 They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; 38 (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and [in] mountains, and [in] dens and caves of the earth. 39 And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: 40 God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.

From verse 32 through the end of the chapter the writer summarizes the faith of those who subdued kingdom, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouth of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the invaders and received their dead back to life. Also not left out were those not accepting deliverance who were tortured, mocked, scourged, bound, stoned, sawn asunder, slain with the sword, destitute, afflicted, tormented of whom the world was not worthy. Now people read these last examples claiming that God wants us to suffer these things but make note that their testimony is framed as those who did not receive the promise reserved for us that God provides us as a better covenant on better promises.

We venerate these testimonies and the lives of those who lived them. They accomplished more under a lesser covenant than the majority of believers have appropriated under the New Covenant. We respect them and honor them but according to the command in Hebrews 12:2 we don’t look to them as our witness or example – we look to Jesus as the author and founder of the faith that we are walking out in better promises after a better covenant not based on the outpouring of the blood of bulls and goats but the blood of God’s only begotten son shed in our behalf not only to recognize our transgressions but to deliver us from sin altogether.

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1 Comment

  • Alisea says:

    Powerful and reflective. I’m still digesting “Jesus is not a mediator of our good works, he is a mediator of our faith.” Thank you!

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