We are in the middle of the accounts in Hebrews 11 concerning those who did not shrink back from Christ and face destruction, but rather who had faith and preserved their souls, and we are about to we move on from the era of the patriarchs.
All too often, these people are presented to us in such a way that we can be crushed. Their faith seems to tower like mountains, while ours barely seems to amount to a molehill. We need to remember that the writer does not list these “heroes of the faith” (unhelpfully so-called) in order to belittle and discourage us. He actually wants us to be encouraged by them! What matters here is that we have this kind of faith that preserves souls – because it is a gift from God to those He has chosen for salvation! These examples in Hebrews 11 show us the fruit of this faith in the lives of God’s children. How much of it we have is another matter entirely. God will give grace as we need it to strengthen our faith to persevere, to endure and to accomplish the good works that He has prepared in advance for us to walk in.
So let’s examine ourselves first to make sure that the fruits of soul-preserving faith are being produced in us. This will keep us from shrinking back from Christ and being destroyed, Once it is clear that we have this faith (which God will give to those who humble themselves and ask for it) we can look to God to grow this faith in us and to equip us to face whatever trials and challenges may come our way in His good providence!
LOOKING BACK (Hebrews 11:17-22)
The big idea we saw in this passage was this:
Faith anchors the soul to the unbreakable promises of God — even when they’re not going to be fulfilled in your lifetime.
We were called to deeper faith in Christ – to lift our eyes upward from wherever we find ourselves in our faith journey at this time to the central point of light in Jesus, so that by believing in the promises of God, we will have all the blessings of the gospel.
We focused on the account of Abraham’s faith as God tested him by asking him to offer up his son, Isaac – the child of God’s promise, and the one through whose descendants God had said all the peoples of the earth would be blessed. This was the one on whom all Abraham’s hope rested for the fulfillment of God’s amazing and precious promises. This was the one impossibly born by God’s power to a couple well beyond the usual time for childbearing. This was the one called “laughter” because of the joy his coming (and the manner of his coming) brought to Abraham and Sarah. Yet now, in this moment, and paradoxically at God’s command, Abraham raises a knife and prepares (without openly questioning God, it seems) to offer up Isaac in sacrifice.
Peter talks about the tested genuineness of our faith, which will result in praise, glory and honor (commendation from God) when Jesus is revealed. Sure enough, in this world our faith will be tested – not so that God may find out if it’s genuine, but that we might. Sometimes the tests can be very demanding. Sometimes the test involves those nearest and dearest to us in this world – and this was the nature of the test Abraham faced now.
At the critical moment, when Abraham was a split second away from using the knife, an angel called out to stay his hand and figuratively speaking, Abraham received his son back from the dead.
Why did God put Abraham through this trial? First, as we have seen, to prove to Abraham the strength and genuineness of his faith. This was a different man than the Abraham who tried to accelerate the fulfillment of God’s promise by fathering Ishmael through Sarah’s maid, Hagar. Now he reasons that God’s promises are so sure that if need be, He will raise Isaac from the dead to fulfill them.
But also God caused these events to happen and to be recorded for us, to give us the example of Abraham’s faith and a clearer view of God’s faithfulness in action.
Lastly, these events are overflowing with images about Jesus and references to Him. “God Himself will supply the lamb for the offering”, Abraham had told Isaac as they drew near to the mountain. Isaac carried the wood upon his back. And Jesus came as the Lamb of God, to take away the sins of the world, carrying his cross to the mount of crucifixion. Abraham was about to sacrifice the son of his love, and figuratively receive him back from the dead. God in reality sent His only Son, Jesus, to the cross, poured out His undiluted wrath upon Him for the sins of His people, and received Him back when He rose from the dead. The ram that God supplied to Abraham served as a substitute, dying in the place of Isaac, just as Jesus died as a substitute for His people so they may not die but rise to new life. And where did these Old Testament events take place, except on the very mountain range where, centuries later, the Son of God would hang, bound to a cross, as the Father put Him to death for the sins of His people?
Isaac lived on, and the promises of God and the example of Abraham’s faith were passed to Jacob and to Joseph, both of whom walked in the same faith. And now the promise is ours if we trust in Jesus.
If we have a similar faith to Abraham, it shouldn’t surprise us if it gets tested so we may see the reality of what God has done for us and in us through Jesus. And the tender mercy and faithfulness of God should be our refuge to help us come through the trial with praise and thanksgiving to God!
LOOKING FORWARD (Hebrews 11:23-29)
During the 400 years that followed Joseph’s death, the people of God were increasingly oppressed and subjugated by the Egyptians, and they cried out to God for help. God had compassion on His people and sent them a deliverer (Moses) whose life in many ways prefigures that of Jesus, Whom the writer has already set before his readers as better than Moses in every way.
These few verses in Hebrews describe some early events in the life of Moses and his parents. In them, we see certain actions that sprang from their soul-preserving faith:
- Fearlessness. As the hymn-writer said, “Fear Him, you saints, and you will then have nothing else to fear.” Moses’ parents were not afraid of Pharaoh’s edict to destroy all newborn male children (verse 23). They saw there was something special about Moses and kept him alive and hidden for three months. In God’s providence, Pharaoh’s daughter then adopted Moses and paid Moses’ own mother to look after him as he grew up!
- Faithfulness. Moses chose to suffer along with the suffering people of God. He could have disowned them (and their God), escaped their oppression and lived in earthly luxury as a member of Egypt’s royal family. Instead, he identified himself as one of them, bringing their afflictions upon himself (verse 24-25).
- Foresight. More than this, he considered these afflictions as wealth – delighting to bear the reproach of Christ because he was looking forward to a heavenly reward – far greater than anything Egypt had to offer (verse 26)
- Fortitude. As Moses and Israel were leaving Egypt, Pharaoh was very angry with him, but Moses was not afraid (fearlessness again!) and was able to endure this trial because, through eyes of faith, he was enabled to see “Him Who is invisible” (verse 27)
- Fidelity. The Lord gave very precise instructions to Moses that had to be followed to the letter if the firstborn of Israel were to be preserved from the Lord’s destroying angel. Moses did not doubt the word of God but executed the directions precisely, so that all Israel was redeemed through the blood of the lambs that were slain (verse 28).
- Fear of God. The people had faith to march on dry land through the Red Sea, with walls of water on either side of them. They trusted in the power of God and in His desire to save those He had redeemed. When the Egyptians tried to follow Israel, the waters closed over them and they were destroyed. (verse 29). The heart of the people at that time is summarized in Exodus 14:30–31: Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. 31 Israel saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.
To a greater or lesser degree, we should see similar behaviors to those mentioned above in all who have the same kind of soul-preserving faith – whether in the original readers of the letter or in we who have trusted in Christ in the present. Let’s take a moment to look at these hallmarks again and see to what extent we possess them. If we see even the smallest traces of them in our lives, let’s thank God and ask that we may grow in faith and display more of these fruits going forward. If we honestly can’t see anything like these traits in our hearts and lives, then we need to come to God and ask that He might redeem us through the blood of Christ and cause this soul-preserving faith to be planted in us and to grow up to eternal life.