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.

Advertisements

The Gospel According to Job

Wait!

What?

Job?

Gospel!?

Job’s about bad stuff!  No way! …

Way!

There does seem to be a negative attitude toward this book.  Possibly that’s because those who are against it have never really read it.  And, I suppose, that might be understandable.  It’s a difficult book to get your mind around.

Just lately, I’ve read comments that the book puts God in a bad light.  Others say that it teaches that God isn’t sovereign, after all.  One blogger recently went so far as to say that he believes that the sovereignty of God is the greatest trick that Satan has ever put over on Christians (!)  Needless to say, I don’t agree with that statement!  Nor, I think, does Scripture.

Now it’s true that Job and his friends didn’t have “the Gospel” as we understand it, but they knew a great deal more about spiritual things than they generally get credit for. That’s due in part to a popular teaching in fundamentalist Christianity that between the Fall of man and the giving of the Law at Sinai, men and women were left to the guidance of their own consciences.  There was no revelation from God.  They were on their own.

That’s not true.

While we for the most part don’t have actual records of what might have transpired, there are enough incidental references to show that there was an abundant revelation from God between the times of Adam and Moses.  To quote just one example among many, in Genesis 26:5, God said of Abraham that he “obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.”  What’s He talking about if there was no revelation before the Law?  Abraham lived a long time before Sinai.

Job also lived a long time before Moses and Sinai.  There’s no mention of Israel or Moses or the Ten Commandments.  There’s no priesthood – Job himself offered sacrifices on behalf of his children and later for his friends.  He knew spiritual truth, cf. Job 1:1.  How could he “fear God” if he didn’t know anything about Him?

Even Job’s “friends” knew spiritual truths.

1.  They knew that man is sinful. 

In Job 25:4-6, Bildad said, “How then can man be righteous before God?  Or how can he be pure who is born of woman?  If even the moon does not shine, and the stars are not pure in His sight, how much less man, who is a maggot, and a son of man, who is a worm?”

I remember hearing a radio preacher railing against such “worm theology.”  He didn’t like it at all!  After all, man is pretty good – made in God’s image.  There must be some spark of divinity, some trace of goodness, in man that just needs to be fanned a little to become a bright flame and show what man really is.

And I imagine most of us “aren’t so bad;” we can find someone we think is worse than we are.

The problem is those three words, “righteous before God.”

Paul put it like this:  There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God, Romans 3:10, 11.

Habakkuk describes God like this:  He is of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness, Habakkuk 1:13.  He just couldn’t understand how such a holy God could use the vile Chaldeans to judge Israel for their sin.

In contrast to the holiness of God, Eliphaz described man like this:  “What is man, that he could be pure?  And he who is born of woman, that he could be righteous?  If God puts no trust in His saints, and the heavens are not pure in His sight, how much less man, who is abominable and filthy, who drinks iniquity like water!”  Job 15:14-16.

They knew the truth that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, Romans 3:23.

2.  Job knew man couldn’t “fix” the problem. 

Job said, “Truly I know it is so, but how can a man be righteous before God?  If one wished to contend with Him, he could not answer Him one time out of a thousand,”  Job 9:2, 3.

There’s no way that we could ever really account for what we’ve done with the lives God has given us.  At our best, we’re still not good in the sight of God.

3.  Job knew they needed a mediator, a “go-between.” 

Job said, “For He is not a man, as I am, that I may answer Him, and that we should go to court together.  Nor is there any mediator between us, who may lay his hand on us both,” Job 9:12, 13.  

Job may not have known directly of the Lord Jesus, but he knew the need for Him. Further than that, though –

4.  Job knew he had a Redeemer. 

He said, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth,” Job 19:25.

We don’t know how much Job knew of “salvation,” but he said in 13:16, “He [God] also shall be my salvation.”  Every sacrifice spoke of Him and of Christ’s victory over sin, death and Satan, cf. Hebrews 2:14, 15.  He knew enough.

5.  Job knew of the resurrection. 

Continuing the thought in #4, Job said, And after my skin is destroyed, 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.

“How my heart yearns within me!”

Job could teach us a thing or two, couldn’t he?

6.  Job knew of the coming of Christ.

Again, we don’t know exactly what Job knew, but he knew that his Redeemer would stand at last on the earth, v. 25.  While this may refer to Christ’s first coming, we believe it has more reference to His second coming – which wouldn’t have happened without the first coming.  The first time, Jesus came to be ignored, rejected and murdered, though He did so willingly.  The second time – ah, that will be a different story! Zechariah 14 describes that coming more fully.  There will be no doubt who He is, no escaping Him.

7.  Job expressed extraordinary faith in God. 

In 13:15, he said, “THOUGH HE SLAY ME, yet will I trust Him.” (emphasis added!)  What a contrast to much of today’s thought, where “health and wealth” are expected as ordinary consequences of faith.  I recently heard one of these false prophets say that because Moses lived to be 120 without his natural vigor decreasing and Caleb, though 85, was as ready and able to conquer his enemies as he had been at 45, that that was what the Holy Ghost wanted for you – this speaker’s audience.

Tell that to the dear sister in her mid 70s who has suffered lifelong with lupus and who was recently diagnosed with ALS.  She has become paralyzed and needs around the clock care.  A joy to know, a faithful witness for God – paralyzed and unable to do for herself.  Or tell that to Joni Eareckson Tada, paralyzed from the shoulders down and for 30 + years confined to a wheelchair.

Some dismiss this as a “lack of faith.”

Away with such thoughts!!

It takes a great deal more “faith” to be a Job or a Joni or a Julie (not her name) than it does when the sun shines and all goes as we think it should!

After all, Job had already rebuked his wife when she told him to “curse God and die,” when he said, “Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?” Job 1:10.

We’re more than ready to “accept the good;” the “adversity” – not so much.

It amazes me that one of the greatest “confessions of faith” in Scripture is found in the Old Testament.  Another such confession is in Habakkuk 3:17, 18.

8.  Job received witness from God. 

A lot of people sneer at Job, saying he accused God falsely.  I wonder how they – or we – would do under similar circumstances.  We’re more likely be like his wife than him, I’m afraid.

When rebuking his three friends, God said to them, “My wrath is aroused against you… 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 will 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,” Job 42:7, 8.

God “accepted” him.  What else needs to be said?

9.  Job stands as God’s object lesson.

Job stands as proof that there are those who serve God for Himself, not for what they can get out of Him!  While it’s true that Job received double what he had lost, he didn’t know that going through everything.

“The God of My Salvation”

Habakkuk 3:17-18 (NKJV).

I find it interesting that three of the greatest confessions of faith in God are found in the Old Testament.  I think a lot of people have the idea that the Old Testament is stern and foreboding, all thunder and lightning.  And it’s true that there are verses and events in it which are strange, even contrary, to our modern way of thinking.  Another of these confessions of faith is found in Job 13:15, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.”  The third one is the famous, or infamous, I guess, depending on your viewpoint, “sacrifice” of Isaac by his father, Abraham.  I’m working on a post on that one.  It’s grossly and unfairly categorized as a terrible event.

You also need to note that not a single one of these confessions happens when the sun is shining and all is well with the one making the confession.  Job is sitting in the shambles of what’s left of his life, family, possessions and health all gone.  All that’s left is a wife with no sympathy for his integrity.  Habakkuk is looking at the coming destruction and dissolution of his beloved nation.  Abraham is weighing what he’s been asked to do against the promises of God concerning this very son.  I wonder how many of us could echo their sentiments in similar circumstances.

I was reading and thinking about the verses in Habakkuk one morning, and they almost rearranged themselves into verse form.  Here they are.

Though the fig tree may not blossom,

Nor fruit be on the vine.

Though the harvest of the olive fail,

And food be hard to find.

Though the flock may come to nothing

And no oxen in the stall –

Yet I’ll rejoice in Yahweh

My joy, my God, my All.

May God bless it to you as He did to me.