V1717By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten [son];. After the parenthesis of the verses 13-1613All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.14For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own.15And indeed if they had been thinking of that [country] from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return.16But as it is, they desire a better [country], that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them. the writer is now going to say something about the individual patriarchs and how they believed God. The first is again Abraham. You have already paid attention to several proofs of his faith. Those are impressive proofs, don’t you think? But the writer quotes now an example of his faith, which is of an unprecedented size. This proof of his faith is again related to the son he and Sarah received.
When he and Sarah were too old to beget children he persisted in believing that God was still able to give him a son. God after all promised that, didn’t He? And because God is faithful to what He promises, it is a matter of waiting for His time to provide in what He has promised. For him it became a reality that what is impossible with men is possible with God (Mk 10:2727Looking at them, Jesus *said, “With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.”). But now God is asking him to offer up his son. That is a test of unprecedented gravity.
The first time he was promised a son, which he received by faith. Now God is asking him to sacrifice this son, though this son was the heir through whom God was going to realize His promises. This couldn’t be true?! This test of his faith was yet much heavier than the previous one. Still Abraham offered his son up as a burnt offering when God asked him to (Gen 22:1-101Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.”2He said, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.”3So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him and Isaac his son; and he split wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him.4On the third day Abraham raised his eyes and saw the place from a distance.5Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go over there; and we will worship and return to you.”6Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son, and he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together.7Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” And he said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”8Abraham said, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together.9Then they came to the place of which God had told him; and Abraham built the altar there and arranged the wood, and bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood.10Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.). With this offering Abraham put all promises he had accepted on the altar. He was promised to have descendants and also a land, but he gave this all back to God in Isaac when He asked for it. He offered up “his only begotten son” (Gen 22:22He said, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.”).
V1818[it was he] to whom it was said, “In Isaac your descendants shall be called.”. He did not do that impulsively. He pondered on the question God asked him. He must have struggled with the question how God could ask him that. It did not match with the former commitments God made with him, did it? God was going to realize His promises through Isaac, wasn’t He? And not through another son, for example Ishmael, was it? No, God explicitly mentioned the name of Isaac when He said: “In Isaac your descendants shall be called.” Therefore he had considered, that is: he had formed a conviction by consideration and calculation.
Then the conclusion was that there was only one possibility and that is that God was going to raise Isaac from the dead. Therefore he says in Genesis 22: “And I and the lad will go over there; and we will worship and return to you” (Gen 22:55Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go over there; and we will worship and return to you.”). That means that he believed in the power of God, a power that great by which He can “even” raise dead people.
Therefore Abraham’s faith is that great, because we don’t know if Abraham had an example of someone being raised from death. Because of his consideration on what God had said about His might to carry out His word he came to this conclusion. A genuine faith is absolutely no ‘wishful thinking’ or a visualization of things to get what you want, as long as your imagination is strong and persistent enough. A genuine faith always clings to some statement of God in His Word. God is being honored by such a faith.
V1919He considered that God is able to raise [people] even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type.. When Abraham tied up his son Isaac on the wood and took the knife to slay his son he did not know that God was going to tell him that he did not need to offer Isaac up (Gen 22:11-1211But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.”12He said, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.”). To God the proof was delivered of the faith of Abraham in Him as the God of the resurrection. In a certain way Abraham received Isaac back from death. It is true that God spared Abraham a pain that He did not spare Himself. God gave His Son in death.
To the Hebrews this example of Abraham’s faith is of great encouragement. After all they also lived that long in faith that their miraculous national inheritance was a gift from God. Now they are to abandon that. They moved away out of it, but what they had abandoned was still alluring them. To really separate from it and to abandon it it is necessary to believe in a God Who had better promises for them than everything they had abandoned.
V2020By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau, even regarding things to come.. Also Isaac has done things that were only possible through faith. He has blessed his sons concerning future matters. From the blessings he blessed each of his sons with, his faith in God’s promises becomes apparent. It appears from the blessing he blessed Jacob with that Jacob is in the line of the promises. He transfers the blessing of Abraham to Jacob: the promise to posterity and to the land.
He also blesses Esau, but with another blessing. From the blessing to Esau it appears that Isaac kept him out of the line of the promise consciously. That too testified to his faith. Although in his weakness he preferred Esau to Jacob, regarding the blessing, he associated to God’s thoughts. It is important not to be guided by human weakness in your judgment on God’s promises, but by God’s thoughts. Then you will always end up well.
V2121By faith Jacob, as he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, [leaning] on the top of his staff.. With Jacob his faith also appears from the blessing he blesses with. Jacob too blesses two sons. They were not his own sons, but they were two of his grandchildren, the sons of Joseph. And like Isaac he blesses the younger with a greater blessing than the elder. Those are the sons of Joseph, the elected among his brethren (Gen 49:2626“The blessings of your father
Have surpassed the blessings of my ancestors
Up to the utmost bound of the everlasting hills;
May they be on the head of Joseph,
And on the crown of the head of the one distinguished among his brothers.
; Deu 33:1616And with the choice things of the earth and its fullness,
And the favor of Him who dwelt in the bush.
Let it come to the head of Joseph,
And to the crown of the head of the one distinguished among his brothers.
) and who was declared to be the firstborn (1Chr 5:1-21Now the sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel (for he was the firstborn, but because he defiled his father’s bed, his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph the son of Israel; so that he is not enrolled in the genealogy according to the birthright.2Though Judah prevailed over his brothers, and from him [came] the leader, yet the birthright belonged to Joseph),). In the blessing of both his sons Jacob gave Joseph the double blessing of the firstborn (Deu 33:1717“As the firstborn of his ox, majesty is his,
And his horns are the horns of the wild ox;
With them he will push the peoples,
All at once, [to] the ends of the earth.
And those are the ten thousands of Ephraim,
And those are the thousands of Manasseh.”
). Joseph is a wonderful picture of the Lord Jesus, the Firstborn Whom God will bring into the world (Heb 1:66And when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says, “And let all the angels of God worship Him.”) soon.
In relation with Joseph Jacob becomes a worshipper. In faith he sees how the counsel of God and His ways, lead to the fulfillment of His counsel, coinciding in the true Joseph. It is God’s intention that the Hebrews and we honor and worship Him for the fulfillment of His counsel and the ways He goes for that. The rod of Jacob is the symbol of his long history. He leant on it as a pilgrim and as a cripple. At the end of his life he still leans on it, not to walk anymore though, but to worship. Our life path comes out with the Lord. Then we shall worship Him for all the grace with which He surrounded us, in order to bring us into the land He promised us.
V2222By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the exodus of the sons of Israel, and gave orders concerning his bones.. Was Jacob’s faith related to the person of the true Joseph, the faith of Joseph was related to God’s people and God’s land. In faith he saw the redemption of the people from Egypt and the entrance into the land of Canaan. All the glory he had in Egypt became nothing, compared to the coming glory of Israel under the government of the Messiah Whom he saw forward in faith. He wanted to be there and with that in view he commanded that his bones were to be taken from Egypt to the promised land. What a proof of his faith in the resurrection!
The Hebrews also had to learn to forsake the world (of which Egypt is a picture) and to look forward to everything they gained through their relation with the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And that applies also for you, doesn’t it? His death is your death and His resurrection is your resurrection. In His resurrection all will be made alive who are related to Him to share in His kingdom (1Cor 15:20-2820But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.21For since by a man [came] death, by a man also [came] the resurrection of the dead.22For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.23But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming,24then [comes] the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power.25For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet.26The last enemy that will be abolished is death.27For He has put all things in subjection under His feet. But when He says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him.28When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all.).
V2323By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful child; and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.. The section we have had, has shown faith in action with the view to the future, which means faith as the “assurance of [things] hoped for” (verse 1a1Now faith is the assurance of [things] hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.). In the next section in verses 23-3823By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful child; and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.24By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter,25choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin,26considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward.27By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured, as seeing Him who is unseen.28By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of the blood, so that he who destroyed the firstborn would not touch them.29By faith they passed through the Red Sea as though [they were passing] through dry land; and the Egyptians, when they attempted it, were drowned.30By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days.31By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish along with those who were disobedient, after she had welcomed the spies in peace.32And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets,33who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed [acts of] righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions,34quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.35Women received [back] their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection;36and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment.37They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated38([men] of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground., the writer presents a number of examples of faith that clarify how faith operates as “conviction of things not seen” (verse 1b1Now faith is the assurance of [things] hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.). In other words: after faith that looks forward, we now have faith that looks upward.
Faith that looks upward trusts that God is present in hardships and that He gives strength to endure. Here you see the energy of faith that rests in God in the midst of circumstances. This faith overcomes the power of the devil and the charms and difficulties of the world.
The first example is that of Moses. A comparison between the faith of Moses and that of Abraham makes the difference between ‘forward faith’ and ‘upward faith’ wonderfully clear. You may say that the faith of Abraham was related to the future world and that of Moses to the present world. The faith of Abraham looked forward to the future world and the faith of Moses overcame the present world. The similarity is that neither has experienced the fulfillment of God’s promises in their lives.
Before he goes into details regarding the faith of Moses, the writer refers to the faith of Moses’ parents. By their faith they encountered the command of the mighty pharaoh. Ordinarily people are to obey legal law, but this is a situation that God is to be obeyed rather than men (Acts 4:1919But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge;; 5:2929But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.). The faith of the parents discovered in this child something exceptional to God. “They saw he was a beautiful child”, not beautiful just like that, but beautiful to God (Acts 7:2020It was at this time that Moses was born; and he was lovely in the sight of God, and he was nurtured three months in his father’s home.). Therefore they did not deliver him into the hands of murderers, but they hid him at home.
That was not an easy thing to do, especially because their home was, as it seems, very close to the palace of the king. Nevertheless, they counted on it that God was going to take care of him.
This is a beautiful example for all young parents who are aware of the bloodthirstiness of the world wherein they live and wherein their children also have to learn to find their way. Faith counts on God for protection and makes effort to protect and guide the child on its life path.
Now read Hebrews 11:17-23 again.
Reflection: Which aspects of faith confidence in God, regarding the future, are presented here? What do you learn from that for the practice of your faith life?