Good morning! Today we finish the book of Hebrews with a climactic series of faithful examples from Scripture, each giving further testimony to the power of God to strengthen human behavior for good. The writer then calls on readers to live with such strength and perseverance that their faith is never in doubt.
Hebrews 11 defines faith as confidence in something despite being unable to see it, then gives one example after another of religious heroes who demonstrated faith in sacred history. To be honest, I’d quibble with some of the stories included as examples of faith, since they’re sometimes just what happened, through no action of the protagonist. Though the “binding of Isaac” is here and often praised as a sign of Abraham’s faithfulness, I find a better example at the beginning of his story, when he and Sarai set out to an unknown destination, with only the assurance that God promised to show them the way there. The author of Hebrews extends this journey further though, crediting them with establishing a heavenly homeland and not just another piece of property. As the recitation of one figure after another continues, I can hear the cadence of this preacher rising in emphasis and excitement—a sign that these words were meant to be proclaimed when read aloud, rather than just spoken. Those who triumph are lauded for their faith, but also those who died as martyrs, and here the preacher may well be talking about contemporary scenes for the first audience: torture, stoning, persecution and hiding from captors. This great group of “witnesses” (the Greek word here is “martyria”, evidencing the close connection between the faithful and the martyrs) all cheer on those who currently proclaim the faith amid challenging circumstances. The first several verses of chapter 12 are one of the crescendo points of this symphony, and they’ve been justifiably lauded as great memory verses.
Once the narrative of the faithful climaxes with Jesus, the writer turns a corner and exhorts readers to demonstrate similar loyalty no matter the challenges before them. I struggle in these verses with the suggestion that God uses the trials of life as discipline and correction. It’s worth saying again that a good God does not visit pain on people for the sake of teach a lesson or thickening the skin of endurance. Rather, I believe Jesus reveals God coming alongside a world already in pain, choosing to draw even closer and share in human suffering. Though God does not inflict sorrow for this purpose (contrary to Hebrews), divine inspiration manifests when new meaning and possibility emerge in the face of hardship.
Hebrews finishes with a catalogue of practical applications for those who live by faith, demonstrating in word and deed their fidelity to God. This is the “so what” at the end of the sermon. We’ve considered a great many things about Hebrew history and exemplars of faith, so what do we take away with us? Considering all the preceding chapters, the writer gives a series of instructions for the church in chapter 13 before signing off. Faith must proceed in action, according to the writer of Hebrews. This message will only be further amplified by what we turn to next. Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is James. Thanks for reading!