What is faith? It is the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot yet see.
God gave his approval to people in days of old because of their faith.
By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God's command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen.
It was by faith that Abel brought a more acceptable offering to God than Cain did. God accepted Abel's offering to show that he was a righteous man. And although Abel is long dead, he still speaks to us because of his faith.
It was by faith that Enoch was taken up to heaven without dying -- "suddenly he disappeared because God took him." But before he was taken up, he was approved as pleasing to God.
So, you see, it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that there is a God and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.
It was by faith that Noah built an ark to save his family from the flood. He obeyed God, who warned him about something that had never happened before. By his faith he condemned the rest of the world and was made right in God's sight.
It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance. He went without knowing where he was going.
And even when he reached the land God promised him, he lived there by faith -- for he was like a foreigner, living in a tent. And so did Isaac and Jacob, to whom God gave the same promise.
Abraham did this because he was confidently looking forward to a city with eternal foundations, a city designed and built by God.
It was by faith that Sarah together with Abraham was able to have a child, even though they were too old and Sarah was barren. Abraham believed that God would keep his promise.
And so a whole nation came from this one man, Abraham, who was too old to have any children -- a nation with so many people that, like the stars of the sky and the sand on the seashore, there is no way to count them.
All these faithful ones died without receiving what God had promised them, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed the promises of God. They agreed that they were no more than foreigners and nomads here on earth.
And obviously people who talk like that are looking forward to a country they can call their own.
If they had meant the country they came from, they would have found a way to go back.
But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a heavenly city for them.
It was by faith that Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice when God was testing him. Abraham, who had received God's promises, was ready to sacrifice his only son, Isaac,
though God had promised him, "Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted."
Abraham assumed that if Isaac died, God was able to bring him back to life again. And in a sense, Abraham did receive his son back from the dead.
It was by faith that Isaac blessed his two sons, Jacob and Esau. He had confidence in what God was going to do in the future.
It was by faith that Jacob, when he was old and dying, blessed each of Joseph's sons and bowed in worship as he leaned on his staff.
And it was by faith that Joseph, when he was about to die, confidently spoke of God's bringing the people of Israel out of Egypt. He was so sure of it that he commanded them to carry his bones with them when they left!
It was by faith that Moses' parents hid him for three months. They saw that God had given them an unusual child, and they were not afraid of what the king might do.
It was by faith that Moses, when he grew up, refused to be treated as the son of Pharaoh's daughter.
He chose to share the oppression of God's people instead of enjoying the fleeting pleasures of sin.
He thought it was better to suffer for the sake of the Messiah than to own the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to the great reward that God would give him.
It was by faith that Moses left the land of Egypt. He was not afraid of the king. Moses kept right on going because he kept his eyes on the one who is invisible.
It was by faith that Moses commanded the people of Israel to keep the Passover and to sprinkle blood on the doorposts so that the angel of death would not kill their firstborn sons.
It was by faith that the people of Israel went right through the Red Sea as though they were on dry ground. But when the Egyptians followed, they were all drowned.
It was by faith that the people of Israel marched around Jericho seven days, and the walls came crashing down.
It was by faith that Rahab the prostitute did not die with all the others in her city who refused to obey God. For she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.
Well, how much more do I need to say? It would take too long to recount the stories of the faith of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and all the prophets.
By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions,
quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight.
Women received their loved ones back again from death. But others trusted God and were tortured, preferring to die rather than turn from God and be free. They placed their hope in the resurrection to a better life.
Some were mocked, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in dungeons.
Some died by stoning, and some were sawed in half; others were killed with the sword. Some went about in skins of sheep and goats, hungry and oppressed and mistreated.
They were too good for this world. They wandered over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground.
All of these people we have mentioned received God's approval because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised.
For God had far better things in mind for us that would also benefit them, for they can't receive the prize at the end of the race until we finish the race.