Hebrews 11 has a concise and simple definition of what Faith is, as the author is talking about. The rest of the chapter 11 displays this faith being practiced in history by many heroes of faith. As one carefully observes the stories in this chapter, the layout contains both victory and loss experienced by these heroes of faith. Is there a trick to navigating life to avoid pain, failure and achieve success by faith?
What is Faith?
In an elegant and concise way the author leads his audience into the definition of faith as the guarantee of things hoped for and evidence of the unseen. The rest of this chapter is lead with a poetic “By faith” statements starting with the statement “By faith ancients received approval from God.”
This almost poetic Anaphora “By faith” writing starts with the very first book of the Bible as the place where faith is the way we “understand” that the universe had its beginning. All things seen have indeed come from the unseen God and the beginnings of life were well-orchestrated by God. While the Evolutionist and Big-bang theory scientist can potentially explain how this universe came about, they will still have to surrender their why to this unseen initiator of our universe.
Abel or Enoch
This seemingly two contradictory results of faith are explored by the author in the next lines. The first two of the “ancients” (presbyteroi) showed faith no matter what was going to be the result. We do not exactly know why Abel’s offering was accepted by God and Cain’s was “not respected” by God. This fascinating short narrative in Genesis 4 has a spiraling downward effect of Cain’s jealousy, anger, murder and punishment. The author puts his focus on Abel whose faith speaks although he is dead! An amazing insight into the pre-partriach martyr’s life as a righteous man – who has deeply imprinted the message of faith with his own blood.
We also see Enoch from even short four-verse narrative in Genesis 5:21-24, displays a man who “walked with God” for 300 years and was given an exit from this world without the painful process of physical death. Very little is known about Enoch except that the author contemplates on this idea that Enoch found God’s approval and was pleasing to him, so was “taken”. This leads the author to the idea that it is impossible to please God without having faith (more than just believing) in him and to be confident that God rewards those who have faith in him
Pleasing God = Believing + Trusting
The author tells about how a faith that is pleasing to God involves both believing that he exists (remember even demons believe James 2:19) and trusting him that he rewards (really expecting). Faith has a dependence on God and trusting him that he will reward us even when the reward is not visible or clear or well-known. The rewards given by God are good for us, they may be very different from how he rewards someone just like us, but they are always good. Abel and Enoch both experienced the “rewards” of faith as they showed their trust in God.
Faith that follows through
The phrase “follow through” is a really a phrasal verb version of the word “follow” – it basically means to continue an action or task to its conclusion. This is what Noah showed by his faith, continuing into action and taking the given task to its conclusion. When he was instructed, he obeyed knowing very little about building a life-saving boat for many while he was in the desert. This faith does not sit around to contemplate only but acts with given information in obedience and does not shrink back when the workload is heavy and task requires many years of endurance.
The verses 8-16 are an introduction to the great “Father of Faith” Abraham and his wife Sarah. These two seemingly insignificant Chaldean residents of Ur are called into life in a new land. Having receiving amazing promises (descendants as many as the stars of the sky) but given little information or details of their westward journey, they kept moving along progressively in faith. They did not vacillate about going back to their homeland but trusted their God to make it through. Not having a child or seeing a way into this fulfillment of the promise , they showed greater reliance on God. They were seeking “a better place—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them”
St. Paul reflects on the same story in Romans 4:17,18 as “He(Abraham) believed in God, who gives life to the dead and calls things into existence that do not exist. 18 He believed, hoping against hope, so that he became the father of many nations, according to what had been spoken: So will your descendants be.”