Hebrews 11

1 The Greek word for "assurance" or "substance" really connotes "continual support." Faith then can be seen as the infrastructure of our walk with God. Faith by it's very nature indicates that we do not yet have what God has promised (e.g., freedom from sin, perfect relationship with God, etc.). Faith is also characterized by the conviction that God will do what He has promised, even though we don't "see" it yet. The most important thing to remember about faith is that it is not "wishful thinking." Faith is the complete and absolute trust in God. Everyone has faith about something, but the only faith that matters to God is faith in Him.
2 Faith has always been the standard of God's measure of approval.
3 We could rephrase "things not seen" on verse 1 as "things we can not test scientifically." One prominent example is the questions of origins and cosmology. The majority of scientists have faith in "the big bang" or in "evolution" of the universe. However, if you really study these topics you will find that there is little, if any, solid evidence for these theories. Evolution is a faith that says that God is not necessary to explain the universe or life. The reason it must be called a faith is because scientists can not go back and test how the universe began. Scientists also have no way of going back in time to test evolution of life. Similarly, the Christian can not go back and observe creation, but we are convinced that God was there and that He has indeed communicated to us what has happened.

Thus, Bible believing Christians have faith that God created the entire universe just by speaking a few sentences over a period of six days (now that is power). We are also convinced that God created matter out of a "vacuum." Since time began God has given evidence of His handiwork by the complexity and design seen in all created things.

4 But God did not create the universe and walk away. God has continued to work in the lives of men and women throughout history. The author of Hebrews now gives and extensive list of people whom demonstrated faith in God by their actions. God strengthened their faith by working in their lives. This list is commonly referred to as the "faith hall of fame."

The first example of faith given is Able. He was the first person we know about who demonstrated faith in God and repentance from sin. He offered a blood sacrifice to acknowledge that he had offended God and that only innocent blood could cover that sin. Cain, on the other hand, offered a plant sacrifice. There is a time and a place for such offerings, but in this time frame it was not what God prescribed. We see shortly thereafter that Cain was an angry, vengeful man and refused to feel remorse about the sins he committed. God gave him a chance to repent and do what was right, but Cain refused. Thus we see that Cain had faith in his own works and ways, but they failed him. Able had faith in God and His ways, and thus he was commended.

It is because these records were written down that we could still learn from and share in the faith that Able displayed.

5 Next the author discusses Enoch. Enoch's faith in God was so profound that God translated him directly into heaven. Judging by the relative ages people lived in his times, Enoch did not even have to suffer the agony of old age.
6 If you want to know what pleases God, it is faith in Him. If someone does not have faith in God, or worse yet if someone does not believe that He exists, that person will not look for Him, love Him, listen to Him, or obey Him. Even worse, that person will place their devotion on other people or things. Even worse yet, that person might attempt to destroy those people that do have faith in God. But for those that do seek, love, listen, and obey God has a rich reward waiting for them.
7 Noah is another profound example of faith. Before the flood it might never have rained (Gen 2:5). It is impossible to know if Noah could even conceive what a flood was, much less the cataclysm it would be (even today with the massive fossil beds as evidence, many people do not see the profound impact that this flood had). Nonetheless, Noah spent upwards of 120 years (Gen 6:3) building a preposterously large boat on dry land. Since this is the first record of a boat, people may have had little or no idea what seafaring was. During this time he preached both by word and example that God would judge the world because of their lack of faith. In the entire world, only Noah and his seven closest relatives had enough faith to board the ark at the right time. Certainly, those outside the ark gained faith once the flood began, but by that time it was too late. God had given then plenty of opportunity to display their faith before then.

I notice it interesting that the author did not say that Noah "inherited the earth." Yes, Noah and his family "owned" the entire earth after the flood, but their real inheritance was righteousness and the hope of living with God after death.

9 God promised Abraham that he and his descendants would "own" the promised land. However, the only land he ever "owned" was the gravesite he buried his wife in. Similarly, Isaac and Jacob did not build permanent dwellings in the land. After that the Hebrew clan moved to Egypt for 400 years. None of these people had any permanent place in the promised land of Canaan.
10 The author explains that the faith of the patriarchs was not a faith that desired the land of Canaan, but a faith that desired a different and better promised land, namely a permanent and eternal dwelling in the presence of God. Revelation describes the city that God has built for His people to live in forever.
11 The author makes an interesting statement here. From reading Gen 18:12-15 we get the distinct impression that Sarah did not have faith, at least at first. Perhaps the unusual conversation that followed her laugh of disbelief convinced her that God could indeed to all things. But here again, she would have had faith that God alone could do this, since she had already acknowledged that she was past the age of bearing children.
12 Because of the faith of Abraham and Sarah, the couple did indeed have many physical descendants. However, more importantly, those who have Abraham's faith gain the privilege of sharing this inheritance of righteousness, even though we may not be his direct descendants (Rom 4:16).
17 This is a significant matter of faith. God detests human sacrifices, but in this case He tested Abraham's faith by asking him to kill his son as a sacrifice. Abraham immediately obeyed. Whatever reservations he had he put aside because God had already promised that Isaac would grow up and have children. Abraham trusted God to do this, even though God had directed Abraham to kill Isaac.
19 Right when Abraham is about to deliver the deathblow, God stops the sacrifice of Isaac, satisfied that Abraham's faith was strong. Isaac was as good as dead because Abraham was intent on following through on God's command. Thus, figuratively speaking Abraham did receive Isaac back from death.
20 God had told Isaac what would happen with his two sons. He believed God and boldly pronounced their futures.
21 In the same way, Jacob trusted what God said about his sons' futures. Some of these prophecies were good, others were bad, but above them Jacob worshiped God.
22 God had given Joseph a message of what was to happen to Israel in the distant future. Even more amazingly, the Israelites carried out Joseph's instructions 400 years after he gave them.
23 Moses' family saw that he was not an ordinary child. Convinced that God would use him, they hid him from Pharaoh, who had ordered that the Israelite parent put their newborn sons to death.
24 Moses was raised as a son of Pharaoh, but later turned away from his adoption family to follow God.
26 From some of Moses' writings it is apparent that he had some idea about Jesus. It is also possible that God translated Moses to the time of Jesus for a brief glimpse of Him and His redemptive work that would save anyone who had faith in God.
27 By the time of the Exodus, Moses was no longer afraid of Pharaoh because he saw the great miracles that God performed, had spoken with Him, and had learned faith in Him through the most trying of circumstances. It is a paradox to say that Moses saw something that can not be seen. Faith in God makes things possible that can't be done by the flesh itself.
28 Every Israelite that had enough faith in God to sprinkle blood on their doorposts was spared the last plague of Egypt.
29 Both the Israelites and Pharaoh's army had faith that they could walk on the dry land that formed when the Red Sea parted. However, the Israelites had faith in God to protect them. The Egyptians had no faith in God, and He destroyed them.
30 It was not faith in marching and sounding trumpets that caused the walls of Jericho to fall. It was the faith that God would follow through on His promise to destroy the city.
31 Of all the people in Jericho, only Rahab had faith that God would follow through on His promise to destroy the city. Her faith in God saved her.
35 While some escaped the edge of the sword and overcame their problems, others suffered and died by the sword or did not see their problems resolved. This is a reminder that our circumstances are neither an indicator of our faith nor of God's concern for us. We often look for the blessing of a solved problem, but there is another blessing in holding to one's faith even when there is no relief from the suffering. We must remember that God will make all things right in the end, and God will praise us even more in the afterlife for trusting Him through the most difficult trials.
36 While the previous verses show how God can triumph over the world using His people, the author also reminds us that God also allows the world to afflict His people. God may have many reasons for allowing this. Persecution can sharpen Christians and strengthen their sincerity. God may also allow this to further contrast the sinner from the saint.
37 In the Bible we see the suffering of prophets and a few Christians in great detail. Even though they preached the truth of God, their words were not accepted. Sometimes the persecutors were those who believed that God existed did not have faith that God meant what He said. Since they had faith in their own ability to discern what God wanted, they did not listen to the word of God. Instead they chose to kill God's people in all sorts of cruel ways.

It is a traditional belief that Isaiah was the prophet that was sawn in two when he attempted to hide from his pursuers in a tree trunk.

Some of the other signs of rejections are not discussed in the Bible, but would apply to early Christians who were exiled or "had" to hide their faith when Rome and other countries outlawed Christianity.

38 Even though the world rejected them, the world could not see that these men and women were "too good for them." The Christian really must consider if he is willing to have the world take everything away from them. Even today there are several places where Christianity is illegal. The governments will often seize all of a Christian's possessions. Most persecuted Christians may be imprisoned. Some of those will be tortured. Others escape this, but must then find alternate living conditions.

The western world has persecuted Christians to a far lesser degree. But the Bible says that at some point near the Last Day Christianity will be "illegal" worldwide.

39 God promises His people eternal life, love, peace, etc., and yet we see His people suffer terribly at the hands of the world. It is not God's promises that are failing, it is our worldly perception that fails. What the world can not see is the future. As Christians who believe the Bible, we are given the privilege of knowing that God will take care of everything in the end. Even here we get a taste of the joy of God inside our hearts. It is only after death and resurrection that we will experience it in full.
40 The faith of these people is still working and alive in Christians today. God has determined a time when faith will reach its full potential. He wants to save everyone who is willing to have faith in Him, which is the reason He has waited "so long" before judging the world.