Faith is such an abstract concept. You can’t buy or borrow it. You can’t even see it before you choose to grab onto it. But you absolutely must have it to find a life hid in Jesus, so we ought to be very thankful we’re told exactly what it is…
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (verse 1)
It doesn’t get much simpler. It’s a substance; the kind you can squeeze with your heart rather than with your hands. It’s the hook by which to hang your hopes and the foundation on which to build your future. And it comes by believing that which cannot yet be seen.
I haven’t yet seen the sun rise tomorrow morning and yet I believe that it will. That is faith in the unseen built on the solid rock of evidence gathered from that which I have seen.
For by it the elders obtained a good report, Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do not appear. (verses 2, 3)
We are pointed to men, back through the ages, who have been exercising this muscle of faith. And by it we’ve come to understand the world was created by the simple, powerful word of God. Without having been present at creation we can know this is true by the evidence all around us. I was not around when my curly-haired friend delivered her curly-haired daughter. I have no proof that the little girl is hers by birth, but when I look a the one I see glimpses of the other. I do not ever grapple with doubt over the DNA of the child simply because I see the fingerprints of her parents all over her appearance and mannerisms. The evidence is overwhelming, just as it is that creation occurred exactly as scripture records because we see the fingerprints of the God of the Bible all over it.
By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh. By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God. But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith. (verses 4-7)
It’s always helpful to be reminded of real stories where faith has taken action and resulted in good things. Here we’re given examples of such times through the lives and testimonies of the patriarchs. Through the documented testimony of Abel, Enoch and Noah we see the power that faith, quickened by action, has in the life of those with their eyes on God. Even in death, the faith of Abel calls out to us from the ground, compelling us to stay the course unto the end.
By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised. Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead, so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable. These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city. By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure. (verses 8-19)
How fitting that we are reminded so extensively of the life and faith of Abraham! He lived as a sojourner, walking in the hope of things yet unseen, and left us an example of dependence on God. To be a sojourner means to be a temporary resident. God called him to go forth into the land of promise, that he might receive the reward He had for him. Abraham didn’t know where he was going or what would happen once he got there. He had no permanent dwelling place and he lived as a stranger in a foreign land. He was a pilgrim following His God to wherever He chose to lead. Even in that there is a lesson for us: this world is not our home. We are all strangers in a foreign land and it makes no sense to try to look or act like the “natives” who have no hope or desire to one day make the trip Home.
Even Sarah, who laughed at the thought of having a child in her old age, is brought before us as an example of faith. Because though she gave into the flicker of doubt, she ultimately chose to believe the promises of God were sure and able to be trusted. That faith brought forth a people as numerous as the stars in the night sky. Both Abraham and Sarah, as well as their son Isaac, died without seeing the promise of a Saviour fulfilled. They went to rest with their faith intact, however, because they had built it on that which they had seen God do in the past. He’d proven Himself a God of His word.
By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come. By faith Jacob, when he was a dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph; and worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff. By faith Joseph, when he died, made mention of the departing of the children of Israel; and gave commandment concerning his bones. By faith Moses, when he was born, was hid three months of his parents, because they saw he was a proper child; and they were not afraid of the king’s commandment. By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward. By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible. Through faith he kept the passover, and the sprinkling of blood, lest he that destroyed the firstborn should touch them. By faith they passed through the Red sea as by dry land: which the Egyptians assaying to do were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, after they were compassed about seven days. By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace. (verses 20-31)
I see, in verses 20-31, an accounting of imperfect faith which God was still pleased to reward. It shows how carnal man looks on a situation through human eyes and gets it all wrong, and yet when he strives to find God in the midst of it, He shows up in remarkable ways. Isaac preferred one son over the other, but God intervened and saw the chosen one received the birthright and blessing. Moses was born in a time of great fear and the imperfect faith of his parents was rewarded in spite of their concern. By nature, our humanity looks at our circumstances and worries things won’t work out. But God looks at our worry and wonders what it has to do with our circumstances. In His mercy, however, He overlooks our lapses when He sees hearts surrendered to His will. This is clear in the accounting of Rahab, maybe even more than in most.
But don’t miss verse 22 when we’re reminded of how Joseph had glimpsed the coming departure of the Israelites from the land of Egypt and had given instructions concerning his bones. He had lived a life of faith in the face of adversity and God was so near to Him that he could warn of that which had not yet been seen.
And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets: Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions. Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. (verses 32-38)
These verses should be such a balm to our weary souls! Because they are the recounting of many who fought the good fight before the hoped for Redeemer had arrived on the scene. They lived lives of victory with the simple of hope in that which had been promised. David subdued kingdoms; Samuel wrought righteousness; Caleb and Joshua obtained promises; Daniel stopped the mouths of lions; Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego quenched the violence of fire; Moses escaped the sword of the Pharoah; Queen Esther was made strong in her weakness before the king; Jehoshaphat waxed valiant in fight; Gideon overcame the armies of the aliens; the widow of Zarepheth received her dead in life again. The list goes on and on and on. And it all occurred as the result of faith in the God who sees what we cannot see and knows what we cannot know.
There is no battle too great, no circumstance too dark, no heartache too bitter, that He cannot draw us through it. If we will but offer the tiniest seed of our faith, He will water and grow it until it’s capable of moving seemingly insurmountable mountains. Because, even if we should not live to see the face of Jesus when He returns to gather His people, we can pin our hopes on the better resurrection which has the power to awaken us on that glorious day. (This stands in direct opposition to those who have slept without faith and who will awaken to judgement.)
And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect. (verses 39-40)
If these men (and women!) of ages past lived faith-filled lives without the fulfillment of the promised Messiah, how much greater should our faith be with the evidence of that promise before us? The Redeemer came and conquered, unshackling our chains so that we might live in freedom until He comes again…this time to take us with Him!
Disclaimer: I feel like it’s important to point out, I am a Bible student and not a Bible scholar. These studies are a reflection of my own personal journey each morning through one chapter of Scripture. I open the Word only after praying for discernment but I also fully understand the Lord brings increasing light over time, as it is sought. Therefore, I recognize there is much I have not yet come to understand. I welcome Christlike discussion on any of my posts.