Hebrews 11:39, 40, Faith and Final Things.

[39]And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, [40]God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect without us.

These are tremendously interesting verses.  The writer has listed a whole bunch of “heroes of the faith,” going clear back to Abel, but then he seems to be saying in these verses that we have something to do with them, indeed, that without us, they would be lacking something.

Read the verses again:  And all these [heroes of the faith], having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect [or, “brought to completion”] without us, emphases added.

???

As I’ve thought over these verses, I’ve come to a different view of them than I had originally.  In fact, I had to rewrite most of this post.

There’s a lot of discussion, and has been through church history, about what the church is, her place in God’s redemptive purpose, and, especially, her relationship with Israel .

One view is that God did indeed choose Israel to be His people, and Jesus came to “offer” the kingdom spoken of in the OT to her, but when she rejected and crucified her Messiah, God in effect said, “Oops,” and began the church as sort of a plan B.  This was the view I grew up around and the view of the Bible college which I attended.

As I began to read Puritan and Reformed writers, I came across another view.  This view taught that when Israel rejected and crucified her Messiah, God in effect said, “That’s it!  I’m done!”  The church came in as a replacement to Israel, and all the OT promises became hers.  The church is the goal and fulfillment of all those promises and prophecies.  “The church” is a spiritual kingdom; there is no “literal, earthly” kingdom with Jesus on a throne in Jerusalem.  Believers are “spiritual Israel.”  There is no future for ethnic Israel; God is finished with her.

There is a wide variety of teaching in both of these viewpoints.

I don’t claim to have all the answers or to understand everything in the Scriptures, and I’m sure that this post will not lay the discussion to rest, but I believe both views are wrong.

The church is not “Plan B”!  It seems to me that the very idea that God could be, as it were, caught by surprise and have to come up with “Plan B” doesn’t say very much about our view of Him, to say nothing of what it says about Him!  And I don’t know about you, but if God had to change or rework His plan every time I mess something up, He’d be way beyond Plan B.

It seems to me to be more Scriptural to say that the church is “Part B” in God’s redemptive purpose.  We’ll return to this thought in a minute.

Now, there are a lot of things we could say about and around this topic.  Without going into great detail, suffice it to say that, if words have any meaning at all, the Bible is clear that God is not done with Israel.  True, Scripture says that she had been temporarily (emphasis on “temporarily”) put aside.  Micah 5:1 says they shall strike the judge of Israel on the cheek, as a result of which, therefore He shall give them up, until the time that she who is in labor has given birth, v. 3, emphasis added.  Indeed, the rejection of the Messiah is the means through which Israel will ultimately be redeemed.  Romans 11:25, 26 refers to this.  Paul wrote to the church at Rome, For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.  Israel has been put on the shelf, so to speak, and Gentiles have come into the blessings of the Gospel.  But Paul doesn’t stop there.  He doesn’t say that God is done with Israel.  On the contrary –

 And so all Israel shall be saved, as it is written:  ‘The Deliverer will come out of Zion, and He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob.’

“All Israel shall be saved.”

Not “every Israelite who ever lived will be saved,” as some have said we believe, but rather that every Israelite alive at the time will be saved.  In chs. 9-11, Paul is writing about ethnic Israel, his countrymen according to the flesh, and so, the “Israel” of 9:26 cannot refer to “spiritual Israel,” that is, you and me, as a preacher once claimed in the worst exposition of Romans 9-11 I’ve ever heard.

There is coming a time in which Israel shall blossom and bud, and fill the face of the world with fruit, Isaiah 27:6, a time which Paul refers to as their fullness, Romans 11:12. In vs. 11, 12, Paul wrote I say then, have they stumbled [see 9:23] that they should fall?  Certainly not!  but through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles.  Now if their fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for Gentiles, how much more their fullness!

As an example of the difficulty some people have with the idea that God still has plans for the nation of Israel, the preacher whom I mentioned above interpreted v. 12 like this, “Now if their (Israel) fall is riches for the world, and their (Israel) failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness.”  This is how he actually wrote it out.  He simply would not or could not see that if the first two instances of “their” referred to Israel, then the third one has to, as well.  Israel has yet to have, and will have, fullness.

So what does all this have to do with our text?

There are books and books about prophecy, from every viewpoint.  Although, as I’ve said elsewhere, I expect that when it’s all said and done, that all of us will discover that we didn’t have everything figured out.

One thing is certain.  In the final description of the city which has foundations, Hebrews 11:10, the Apostle John wrote that he saw the great city, the holy city, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God.  Her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal.  Also she had a great and high wall with twelve gates, and twelve angels at the gates, and names written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel:  three gates on the east, …on the north, …on the south, and…on the west.  Now the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, Revelation 21:10-14.

Although I’m not sure how it’ll all play out, it seems that Israel and “the church” will never lose their distinctive identities.  Without “the church,” in this sense, it seems to me, Israel would not be “complete.”  This is why the OT saints never “received the [fulfillment of the] promise.”

It wasn’t time yet.

Hebrews 11:32-38, Faith: Paradox and Promise.

[32]And what shall I say more?  For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jepthtah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets:  [33]who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked 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, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.  [35]Women received their dead raised to life again.
Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection.  
[36]Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment.  [37]They were stoned, they were sawn in two, 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 mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.

Hebrews 11 has been called “the hall of heroes.”  Men and women who did great things for God and were themselves great saints.  Yet this portion starts with men that we might not put into that category.  Here are some men of whom we might say, “What?!  Wait!  Why are they included?”

Gideon did indeed bring a great deliverance to Israel, but then led her into idolatry, Judges 6-8.  Barak, probably the least known of the four, was a man who reluctantly obeyed God, Judges 4, 5.  Jephthah is a man about whom the world and even many Christians have nothing good to say, Judges 11.  I’ve done a post on him if you’re interested.  He certainly isn’t one who is thought to be a “hero.”  Samson, who did do some mighty things, yet is perhaps best remembered for his dalliance with Delilah and his eventual death while a prisoner of and serving to amuse the enemies of his people and his God, Judges 13-16.

Here’s the first paradox.

To have faith doesn’t mean to be perfect and without faults.

There’s only ever been One who was able to say, “I always do those things that please Him,” John 8:29, emphasis added.  All the rest of us fall way short.

God doesn’t deny the faults of His people.

But then, neither does He define His people by those faults….

The second paradox is found in the rest of our text.

Some of God’s people may indeed do great things, vs. 33-35a.  While it’s difficult to know exactly who, if anyone, the author had in mind on some of these things, still, it could be said of Joshua that he conquered kingdoms.  Jeremiah and Ezekiel, even David, received great and wonderful promises.  Daniel certainly is one who stopped the mouths of lions.  His three friends quenched the violence of fire.  More than once, a badly outnumbered Israel turned to flight the armies of the aliens.  At least one grieving woman saw her dead raised to life again.  There are a lot of people the author could have had in mind.

The paradox is this:

Some of God’s people may suffer great things, vs. 35b-38.

We live in a time when, at least in this country, folks on TV tell us that health and prosperity and all good things are the lot of the Christian.  Great ministries have been built on this premise.  The truth is that while these things may and do come to Christians, more often than not their history has been written in their own blood.  This is especially true of those times when “the church” has sat on the throne.  This was true both of Rome and of the Reformers.  And suffering Christians, of whom the world [is] not worthy, live today in a large part of the world, and always have.  We just don’t see it on the 6 o’clock news.

The Apostle Peter put it like this, Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you, 1 Peter 4:12, emphasis added.  The word translated “strange” doesn’t mean “unusual,” but “foreign.”  Some folks seem to have the idea that any idea of “suffering,” whether personal or otherwise, should be “foreign” to them.  But you can’t really read the New Testament without seeing that this is not true.

But, if this world is all there is, as some think, or if we’re all headed to “a better place,” as others think, why would people endure such things?  The answer’s found in v. 35, that they might obtain a better resurrection.  Now, that word “might” doesn’t mean “might or might not,” as if there’s some question about it.  It speaks to purpose, not just possibility.  Faith understands the paradox, but rests on the promise.  As Paul put it in 1 Corinthians 5:5, Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God.  Or Peter, We according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells [is at home], 2 Peter 3:13.

For the Christian, this world is neither our home, our heaven or our hope.

 

Hebrews 11:30, 31, Faith and the Walls of Jericho

]30]By faith, the walls of Jericho fell down after they were encircled for seven days.  [31]By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe, when she received the spies with peace.

In these verses, the writer looks at Israel’s entrance into the land with two vivid and very different examples of faith.

1. Jericho.

Jericho has been the subject of much speculation and doubt down through the years.  Skeptics have said that the story in Joshua was just a folk tale designed to explain the ruins at Jericho.  Others have scoffed that Israel could not have defeated a well-fortified and supplied city like Jericho.

Others have dated the evidence in those ruins and claimed that the destruction was by Egypt and not by Israel, at a time much earlier than the Bible says.  They have been shown to be wrong, though.  The evidence of the ruins shows that Jericho was destroyed at the time the Bible says that it was, by whom it was, and not earlier.

I remember seeing pictures of this event, with Israel marching around a level city with one wall.  Archaeology tells us it wasn’t like that at all.

Jericho was well-fortified, make no doubt about it.  The area of the city wasn’t “flat” but surrounded by and built on an earthen mound or embankment almost 50 feet high, with a stone retaining wall at its base.  Aerial photos of this mound are impressive, to say the least. This retaining wall, which followed the slope of the mound, was 12-15′ high.  On top of this was a mudbrick wall 6′ thick and 20-26′ high.  At the crest of the embankment was a similar wall, whose base was about 46′ above the ground where the Israelites marched.  The top of this second wall would have been 60-70 feet above that ground, or about the height of a 7-story building.  In Deuteronomy 9:1, Moses told the people that they would encounter cities great and fortified up to heaven.  We’re used to skyscrapers hundreds of feet high, but to the Israelites, Jericho must truly have seemed to reach “up to heaven.”

Furthermore, there was an abundant spring, which still exists, so the people would have had plenty of water to drink.  And, it was harvest time, Joshua 3:15.  Archaeologists found many storage jars full of grain, so the people would have had plenty to eat, as well.  Grain was a treasure, so the fact that there was so much left shows both the swiftness of the destruction and the fact that, except in one instance, Israel obeyed the injunction that the plunder of the city belonged to the Lord and they weren’t to take it for themselves.

The city could have survived for years.

Yet, Joshua 6:24 says that Israel burned the city and all that was in it with fire in seven days.   Archaeologists found layers of burned ash and debris about 3′ thick.

What happened?

God intervened.

In the words of the old song, “The walls came a-tumbling down.”

What about those walls?

Joshua 6:20 tells us that the wall fell down flat.  A more accurate reading would be, “the wall fell beneath itself.”  What happened?  Some believe that the tramping of the Israelites around the city for seven days and the blowing of the trumpets on the seventh day loosened things so that the walls collapsed.  Maybe.  Others believe that God sent an earthquake to destroy the walls.  There is some evidence in the ruins to support that view.  Some have objected that there are no fissures, but there aren’t always fissures when the ground rumbles.   The idea of an earthquake doesn’t automatically rule out the idea that God was behind it all – that it wasn’t a “miracle,” after all.  It just means that God used what we might call a “usual” occurrence in an unusual way. And at exactly the right moment.

Besides, God simply tells us that the walls collapsed without giving us any details about how.

There are a couple of other things here, as well.

Remember that there was a 12-15′ high retaining wall around the embankment.  There are remains which indicate that the lower wall collapsed over this retaining wall, forming a sort of ramp over which the Israelites could scramble.  And Joshua 6:20 says that the people went up into the city – up over the retaining wall and the ruins of the lower wall, up the slope of the embankment, and up over the ruins of the upper wall and into the city.

One final thing about this event.  Archaeology has confirmed that there is one area of the lower wall which didn’t collapse.  And there are houses built with this wall as part of their structure.  This brings us to the second example of faith.

2. Rahab, 11:31.

In one of these houses lived a woman, described as a harlot.  Joshua 2 records her story.   Apparently, she had neither husband or children, because they’re never mentioned, either here or in 6:23.    We’re really told very little in this story, only that she was willing to protect these foreign interlopers.  In Joshua 2:8-11, she tells us why.  As she was hiding the men from the soldiers who were looking for them (vs. 2-7,) she told them, “I know that the LORD has given you the land, that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land are fainthearted because of you.  For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were on the other side of the Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed.  And as soon as we heard these things, our hearts melted; neither did there remain any more courage in anyone because of you, for the LORD your God, He  is God in heaven above and in earth beneath.”

Rahab provides an interesting contrast to the Israelites themselves.  While it’s true that this generation of Israelites was being obedient to God, much of Israel’s history proves that this is an exception to a generally dismal picture of their relationship with God.  Indeed, they hadn’t been in the land very long when they began to revert to their old ways and brought the same judgments on themselves that they had given out to the Canaanites.

The illustrations Rahab gives of God’s power are at either end of Israel’s wilderness experience, but the Israelites seem not to have profited very much from their experiences.  Cf. Hebrews 4:2.  Exodus and Numbers, the two books which deal with Israel’s travels more than the other writings of Moses, show repeated rebellion and failure on Israel’s part.  Because of this failure, it had taken Israel 38 years to complete what ordinarily was an 11-day journey, Deuteronomy 1:2.

On the other hand, here was a woman who, in the words of Ephesians 2:12, was an alien from the commonwealth of Israel and a stranger to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.  She was a member of a race condemned to destruction because of their sin.  Yet she and her family were spared.  Not only that, she became an ancestor to Israel’s Messiah, that One who would ultimately deliver all His people from their sin, Matthew 1:21.

You see, she had been willing to take a chance.  Perhaps, if she helped and protected God’s people, she – and her family – could escape judgment.  True, we’re not told her reasoning on this, just what she did.

Perhaps we could learn from her.

John 3:18 says, He who believes in [the Lord Jesus] is not condemned, but he who does not believe is condemned already because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

We live in an age where this verse is not believed.   We’re taught that everyone is a child of God, that we’re all headed to “a better place.”

That’s not what the Scripture teaches.  It teaches that, because of our sin, we’re under a much greater judgment than what the Canaanites were under.  It teaches us that we, too, in the words of Ephesians 2:12, have no hope and [are] without God in the world.

In ten days, as I write this, it will be Easter.  Here, too, the world has substituted its own meaning into the day, a meaning that has nothing to do with redemption or salvation.  As far as the world is concerned, it’s all about eggs or clothes.  It’s about the arrival of Spring.  Only a few people seem to understand that it’s about an empty Cross and an empty tomb.

In Rahab’s time, the Cross was still a distant promise.  We’ve seen that promise fulfilled.  We’ve seen that there was One who came to take the place of sinners, to take their place of condemnation and to suffer what they should suffer.  To die on a Cross.  And those who believe in Him are no longer condemned, but have everlasting life.

It’s not just about “religion.”  There was plenty of “religion” in Canaan.  There had been plenty of “religion” in Egypt.  And there’s plenty of “religions” in our own day and time.  Only one has an empty Cross and an empty tomb.

Only one has a Savior.

Hebrews 11:23-29, “The Worst Part of Christ”

[23]By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful child; and they were not afraid of the king’s command.
[24]By faith Moses, when he became of age, 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 passing pleasures of sin, [26]esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to 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]By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, lest he who destroyed the firstborn should touch them.
[29]By faith they passed through the Red Sea as by dry land, whereas the Egyptians attempting to do so, were drowned. (NKJV)

These verses tell of three phases of Moses’ life:
1. His parents, v. 23.
2. His persuasion, vs. 24-27.
3. His passage, vs. 28-29.

1. His parents in Egypt, v. 23.
The situation in Egypt was dire for the Israelites at the time of Moses’ birth.  They had been welcomed to Egypt as a result of Joseph’s role in the delivering Egypt from severe famine.  They’d even been given the best of the land in Egypt, Genesis 47:6.  That hadn’t lasted very long.  They had been both prosperous and prolific, Exodus 1:7, but then there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph, v.8.  Likely this didn’t happen right after Joseph’s death.  Time passed and what Joseph did was forgotten.

Now, it’s believed that this king arose from a group of invaders called the Hyksos.  Even though they were powerful, they were still an ethnic minority and the king feared this growing power of the Israelites as a threat to him and his own people.  So he enslaved them.  When this didn’t work, and Israel continued to multiply, he ordered that all male babies were to be killed, Exodus 1:11-22.

This is the background of Moses.  His parents were under orders to kill him, but they didn’t.  The story is in Exodus 2:1-8.  Ultimately and in the providence of God, he came to live in the palace or at least the family of the very Pharaoh who had ordered his death.

2. His persuasion concerning Egypt, vs. 24-27.
The writer skips over the early life of Moses and brings him to the point of what we might call emancipation, that is, when children become independent of the family and go out on their own.  We’re not told what happened, but only that Moses made a choice – not to be identified as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter.  He turned away from a very rich and respected heritage.

It’s here that the title of the post comes into play.  The text says that he esteemed the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt.

Think about this –

“The reproach of Christ” –

(what a Puritan writer called, “the worst part of Him”) –

greater riches than the treasures in Egypt.”

Even after 3500 years, we’re amazed at the “treasures in Egypt”.  Archaeology has shown us probably just a tiny part of them.  What must they have been like to Moses?!  To walk among, nay, to live in and be part of, those “treasures.”  To walk around and live in the splendor and luxury of Pharaoh’s palace.  To see the pyramids as new.  He could have told us how they were built, which is still a topic of discussion.

He rejected all that.

Why?

He knew of a far greater treasure –

the reproach of Christ.

I wonder how a “modern” Moses might have handled this.  Just think of the opportunity, the power, he could have had!  Why, he might even become Pharaoh!  He could have helped his people be free of their bondage.  He could have provided for them.  He could have given them all kinds of advantages.  He could have given them political power, as it were, and made them a force to be reckoned with.

He didn’t do any of that.  Egypt wasn’t their home.  He chose to identify with his natural people, not their oppressors.  Granted, when he first tried to intervene, it didn’t go well and he was forced to flee for his life, Exodus 2:11-15.

Enough about Moses here.  What do we “treasure” about Christ?

Here in the US, we still have a measure of freedom and prosperity.  But there are countries in which even to be suspected of being a Christian is to invite persecution, even death.  Unbelievable atrocities are committed against these people, and in other countries where Christianity is forbidden or frowned upon, and there is no outcry about it.

But here we meet in air-conditioned or heated buildings with comfortable pews or chairs, good lighting, and plenty of electronic aids for “worship.”  We get in our comfortable cars and drive home to our comfortable houses.  We have electricity and hot and cold running water, and turn on the big flat-screen TV for entertainment.  We’re able to have clean clothes, and some have closets full of them.  We have plenty to eat.  Granted, there are some who don’t have all these things, but, for the most part, we do have them.

And we’re told that prosperity and plenty are the natural result of “faith,” that if we’re sick or in need, all we need is “faith”.  If we’re not healthy and happy, something’s wrong.  We don’t have enough “faith”.

But, what does all this have to do with “the worst part of Christ”?

Moses had more than we can possibly imagine, even if he didn’t have the internet, but he gave that all up for something he thought worth immeasurably more – reproach and persecution with God’s people.

Our Lord had something to say about all this.  As He finished giving “The Beatitudes,” He gave a final one that we don’t pay nearly as much attention to as we do to the first eight: “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil things against you falsely for My sake.  Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven,” Matthew 5:11, 12, emphasis added.  But even the eighth one says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” v. 10.

Another time, He said, “The time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service,” John 16:2.  Though we can trace such killing through much of church history, beginning in Acts, we see it in what’s happening in the Middle East today with ISIS.  They believe in killing Christians that they are serving God.

I believe that’s coming even here.  How will we fare?

What will we choose?

How was Moses able to choose?

a. His concern, v. 26, he looked to the reward.
Paul had made a similar choice.  Apparently he had been on the way to becoming a “superstar” in his culture.  He was on the way to the top!  But then, the Lord Jesus met him.  After this happened, in comparing his former life with his present outlook, Paul wrote, But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ.  Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish…, Philippians 3:7, 8.

At the same time, it isn’t always about what we have to give up.

Sometimes it’s about what we have to endure.

Paul knew something of this, as well.  He wrote to the Corinthian church:  We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed, 2 Corinthians 4:8, 9.   What was his reaction to this?  Did he throw a pity party?  Did he give up?  Not at all.  He wrote, …we do not lose heart.  Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day,  For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory….  For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed [that is, if we die], we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens, .4:16, 17, 5:1.  He goes on to say that we long for this transformation, this final move to an eternal abode.  Then he wrote, Now He who prepared us for this very thing is God, v. 5, emphasis added.  You see, even in the OT, and certainly in the New, God never intended His people to be earth-bound, but to realize and understand that we’re destined for something far beyond what this impoverished world has to offer.  See also Romans 8:18-23.  It’s sad that so few in our day seem to look at it this way.

b. His consciousness, v. 27, he endured as seeing him who is invisible.
There’s some discussion about when the first part of v. 27 happened:  he didn’t fear the wrath of the king.  Some think this is when he fled to Midian after standing up the first time for his people, Exodus 2:11-15, but v. 14, 15 expressly says that he feared and that he fled.  It’s more likely this refers to the time just before the Exodus, when Moses had severe confrontation with Pharaoh – the plagues and such, Exodus 5-11.  He knew that One Who is inconceivably greater than any and all earthly power.

Daniel 11:32 says, the people who know their God shall be strong and do exploits. (KJV).  While this is a prophecy of a specific time and people, still the principle holds true that true strength comes only from knowing the true God.  The reason the church in America is so weak and the forces of evil are so strong is that we have almost completely lost the knowledge of that God.  We’ve taken a verse or two of Scripture and a couple of words here and there and formed our own god.  The people who first came to this country had a robust knowledge of God.  Today, we not only deny that God, but deny that they knew this God.  And the result is the corruption, violence and filth we see on every hand and folks who in earlier generations would have been scorned and rejected are elevated to high positions and honor.

3. His passage from Egypt, 11:28, 29.
Just a couple of things in closing.  First, who would have though of animal sacrifices as a means of deliverance from slavery?  Well, God did.  The animal substituted for the firstborn of the Israelites, who, without the blood put on the doors of their homes, would have died themselves.  This blood was the evidence of the faith of the people inside – that what God said and promised was worth believing, trusting and obeying.

There is one thing about the Passover.  We studied it in church and as I was reading through the account in Exodus, there was one thing – an omission – that struck me.  I had never noticed it before.  Nowhere in that account is it written that those Israelites, having done all that was required, would be forgiven.  Read through it for yourself to see if that isn’t true.  Now, it’s true that 1 Corinthians 5:7 refers to Christ our Passover, but even there it’s in the context of getting rid of leaven, which was the other thing the Israelites in Egypt were to do in preparation for the Passover, Exodus 12:14-20, especially v. 19.  The Passover and the blood on the doorposts and lintel were a rite of separation of Israel from Egypt.  Likewise, because of Christ, His people are to be separated from the sins of this world, 1 Corinthians 5:1-8 (which rebukes the Corinthians for not dealing with grievous sin in their midst).  We are to be a pure people.

Second, the writer mentions the crossing of the Red Sea.  Unbelief and skepticism ridicule this idea and claim that the water just very shallow, it was just muddy, or there wasn’t any water at all.  Some of the maps of the crossing attempt to show this last viewpoint.  However, the text tells us that the Egyptians were drowned in this “shallow water,” every last one of them, Exodus 14:26-31.  Yet Exodus and Hebrews both tell us that the people walked through the sea on dry land, Exodus 14:29; Hebrews 11:29.

There is no contradiction.  My own view, for which I will not be dogmatic because I may not be right, is that the force of wind, Exodus 14:21, required to divide a body of water sufficient to drown Pharaoh’s army would have frozen it, and also the ground that was uncovered.  The ground would, in effect, be dry. And v. 22 says that waters were a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.  And something Moses said reinforces this idea.  In rejoicing over Israel’s deliverance and praising God for it, Moses said, “The floods stood upright like a heap; the depths congealed in the heart of the sea,” Exodus 15:8, emphasis added.  As for Pharaoh’s army:  “The sea covered them; they sank like lead in the mighty waters,” v. 10.  So much for “shallow water” or mud!

And it all began because, 40 years earlier, Moses made a choice,

for –

“the worst part of Christ.”

Hebrews 11:20-22, Men Come and Go. God Remains.

[20]By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come.
[21]By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff.
[22]By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the departure of the children of Israel, and gave instructions concerning his bones.
(NKJV)

1. Isaac, 11:20.

Genesis devotes about 10 chapters to Isaac; the writer to Hebrews gives him 11 words, and these are about his sons, Jacob and Esau.  Genesis 27:26-40 gives us the actual account.  The writer of Hebrews passes over the favoritism of Jacob for his son Esau and the deceit fostered by Rebekah for her favorite son Jacob (cf. Genesis 25:27, 28) because when the truth came out, Isaac probably remembered what had been said of these sons even before their birth.  Rebekah evidently had a hard pregnancy, and so she went to the LORD, who told her, “Two nations are in your womb, two peoples shall be separated from your body; one people shall be stronger than the other, and the older shall serve the younger,” Genesis 25:23, emphasis added.  Isaac had been ruled by fleshly desire and natural inclination, but God overruled everything and brought about His own desire and will.  Notice, also, that God doesn’t just refer to these two boys, but the “nations” which will come from them.  We talked about this in our post on “An Eye for an Eye,” how that there’s a whole world wrapped up in a “baby bump,” though we never think of it that way.  And this is true, whether you look back or ahead.  God says to take care of it.

2. Jacob, 11:21.

The story is found in Genesis 48.  Hebrews leaves out all the travail of his life recorded in Genesis and just gives us the last thing that Jacob did: the blessing of his grandchildren.  The blessing was that these two young teenagers would grow “into a multitude in the midst of the earth,” v. 16.

3. Joseph, 11:22.

Each of these three men were at the end of their lives.  Jacob and Joseph were dying and Isaac knew that his time was rapidly coming to a close.  Yet the record doesn’t show them focusing on this, but rather on the future.  The nation had fairly recently moved to Egypt, but Joseph thinks of their departure.  Remember, it would be 85 years until the birth of Moses and 165 years until the Exodus.  Still, Joseph wasn’t looking at the frailty of human nature, but at the faithfulness of God.  He said, “I am dying; but God will surely visit you, and bring you out of this land to the land of which He swore to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,” Genesis 50:24.

Too often, we look to some mere human being.  And God made us that way.  He made us as social beings; very few of us are content to be by ourselves all the time.  But whatever relationships we form tend to come and go, especially as we get older ourselves.  Only God is “forever.”  His word is forever, and His promises.  And, in His faithfulness, those promises are as good as done, even though far in the future, as with Joseph.

Indeed, His word says that His people have already been “glorified,” Romans 8:30, though the mirror tells us otherwise.  My mind has a hard time sometimes believing that I’m as old as I am, but my body says, “You’d better believe it!”  Not glorified, yet, but it’s as certain as that the Sun rose this morning and is shining brightly on the covering of snow on the ground.

God has promised it.

Hebrews 11:13-16, Dying in Faith

[13]These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.  [14]For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland.  [15]And if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return.  [16]But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country.  Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.  (NKJV)

“These all died in faith.”

It’s one thing to live by faith, but when life comes to an end, with the things that sometimes attend that end, “faith” may waver a little.  One thing that bolsters faith is the firm and settled conviction that this life isn’t all there is; there is something better just beyond that exit called “death.”  And this conviction doesn’t depend on “out-of-the-body” experiences, or books written by those who say they’ve been to heaven, and it’s “real.”  Perhaps they have been there.  And certainly, heaven is real.  So is hell.  Even so, though, the Apostle Paul said that he had been caught up to the third heaven, but he didn’t have the words to describe what he experienced, 2 Corinthians 12:1-5.  Regardless, the true believer’s hope for the future isn’t found in “experience,” but in God’s promise, cf. Jeremiah 29:11; Revelation 21:1-4, the city which has “foundations,” v. 14.

not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off.

Even though Isaac himself was evidence of the power and faithfulness of God, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Jacob never saw the fulfillment of God’s promises about their inheritance of the land. (Now I believe that Israel [and they] will possess that land; the OT is filled with promises about that.  That, however, is a post for another time.) Nevertheless, they

were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.

The attitude of faith isn’t one of expectation of great things in this life.  They may come.  They may not.  We mentioned in an earlier post that faith gives us a different perspective about this world, about fundamental differences between God’s children and the world’s children.  One of them is found in Psalm 17:14, where the Psalmist refers to men of the world who have their portion in this life.  Another verse is Luke 16:25, which records something our Lord said of two men and their experiences in the after-life.  One was a child of God and the other one wasn’t.  Some are troubled by the things mentioned in verses 19-31 and try to lighten what they say.  Whether these verses are just a parable or an expression of something real is beyond the scope of this post.  But even parables address things which are real.  There is something our Lord said, however, which, even if it is just a parable, is vitally important.  In v. 25, it is said to the one who was lost, “Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things, but now he is comforted and you are tormented.”

To put it another way, this world is as close to heaven as some people will ever get, and for other people, this world is as close to hell as they will get.   To a world that believes that everyone goes to “a better place” at death this idea is troubling.  And there’s no way of knowing simply by the circumstances of their lives whether any particular person is saved or not.  A mansion may house a vile wretch and a cardboard box may shelter a godly person.  In that regard, prosperity or poverty don’t matter.

The point is, lest I wander too far in this direction, that the true Christian, the true believer, understands that this world isn’t all this is to his or her existence and that God’s promises don’t always come true in this life.  They didn’t for Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  They also understand that these promises will come true eventually.  We’ll see a little more of this as we go through Hebrews 11.

Our problem too often is that we try to measure God’s providence by our own tape measure.  We try to fit Him into the little box of our own understanding.  That’s like trying to teach an ant how to drive.  And the difference between us and that ant is insignificant compared to the distance between us and God.  And just so you don’t misread it, we are the ant.  Sorrowfully, way too many people would put God in that position.

Too often, we define “blessing” as things which we think are “good:” health, prosperity, good “relationships”.  He’ll heal our sicknesses and fix the broken things.  Now, I believe in healing.  My own mother experienced it.  She nearly died after having me and the doctors said that she’d never walk again.  Well, they were wrong.  And I’ve known others who were healed of serious illnesses.  On the other hand, I know a dear sister in the Lord who suffered from Lupus her whole life and was diagnosed with ALS shortly before she died.  It got to the point where she couldn’t talk, but even then, she showed more joy in the Lord than most of us who are a lot healthier than she was.

And sometimes, God is pleased just to use the broken things.  I think of Joni Eareckson Tada.  The tools in His workshop aren’t all new and shiny.  After all, which of us, in one way or another, isn’t “broken”?

The people of whom Hebrews speaks in vs. 13-16 understood a little of the temporary and sometimes difficult nature of this world and life.  (See also vs. 35-38.)  That’s why we read of them that they –

confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.

If they had simply been concerned about this world,

they would have had opportunity to return.

After all, the promised land was right in the middle to the trade route between north and south.  There were probably caravans often traveling through it.  They could have left at any time.

But they had a different perspective:  they were looking for –

a homeland.  …They desired a better, that is, a heavenly country.

Of Abraham himself, v. 10 says that he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.  I’ve read somewhere that Ur was built in a marsh and really didn’t have a firm footing, or foundation.  So Abraham was looking for something “solid,” as we might put it.

We really have a very sparse account of what happened between God and men in those early years.  In fact, it’s believed by many that from the Fall of Adam and Eve until the giving of the Law through Moses that there wasn’t any revelation from God.  Men were simply guided by their own “conscience.”  I think that’s an inadequate view.  There are incidental references which tell us of an abundant revelation.  For example, in Genesis 26:5, God appeared to Isaac and testified of his father that “Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My law.”  This tells us that there were “commandments” and “law” long before Moses.  We just have no, or very little, record of them.

Another example is Job, who certainly lived before the events at Sinai, and a long way from Israel.  There’s no mention of the priesthood or the Tabernacle, but the book is filled with references to sin, righteousness and judgment.  Indeed, the book opens with Job offering burnt sacrifices just on the possibility that his sons had sinned and cursed God in their hearts, Job 1:5.  And he did this regularly.  He’s described as one who was blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil, v. 1.  How could this be, if there was nothing to tell him about God and what He required?  Or that defined “evil”?

Beyond that, some of the greatest “confessions of faith” come from him.  Job 13:15,  “Though He slay me, yet I will trust Him.”  I’m afraid today that we say, “If He heals me, I will trust Him.”  He had insight into the resurrection, “And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.  How my heart yearns within me! Job 19:26, 27 (emphasis added).  He had alluded to this earlier when he referred to his “change,” 14:14.

Granted, he said some things that he shouldn’t have, but God defended him against his three “friends” (and against those who would scold him today):  the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “My wrath is aroused against you and your two friends, for you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has.  Now, therefore, take for yourselves seven bulls and seven rams, go to My servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering; and My servant Job shall pray for you.  For I will accept him, lest I deal with you according to your folly; because you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has,” 42:7, 8, emphasis added.

Job, too, “died in faith.”

And, unless the Lord comes back first,

It will be said of all God’s people:

These all died in faith.