Canton, Ohio, is home to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It is where those who excelled at the game are recognized for their achievements on the field. Hebrews 11 is home to the Hall of Faith. Here the champions of the Old Testament are recognized for their achievements as they followed God by faith. Success for them didn’t bypass suffering. Instead they trusted God and ran the race to the end. To encourage his readers to keep going, the author of Hebrews reminds them that they’re not the first to travel the faith road. Others have encountered the hardships of the race and crossed the finish line.
11:11-12 Sarah is an example of the power of God in a person’s life. She was unable to have children, and Abraham was as good as dead in terms of ability to procreate. In fact, Hebrews only gives us the conclusion to the couple’s infertility story. When God promised her a child, Sarah laughed (Gen 18:11-12). She thought it was a joke. Eventually, though, she had faith that the one who had promised was faithful (11:11). It took twenty-five years to get from promise to baby. Oftentimes God doesn’t complete what he wants to do in your life until you’re spiritually prepared.
11:13-16 At this point, the author pauses before continuing. He points out that all these believers died in faith, although they had not received all the things that were promised (11:13). They walked by faith, but God didn’t plan to deliver the promise while they were on earth. Though they could have turned around and given up (11:15), they were seeking a homeland (11:14); they desired a better place—a heavenly one (11:16). Their approach to life, then, was based on an eternal perspective, a kingdom perspective. When you know the one who’s preparing a better city for you, you can survive the wait. And when that’s your mindset, God is not ashamed to be called [your] God (11:16).
11:17-19 After years of waiting, Abraham received his son Isaac. Thus, the promise was fulfilled and the testing began. God told him to sacrifice Isaac—the very son through whom Abraham was to become the father of a nation (11:17-18). Make no mistake. In one way or another, God will test how much you love him. Do you love the gift or the Giver more? So, how did Abraham cope when it seemed like God’s command contradicted his promise? He considered that God was able to raise the dead (11:19). And why would he think that? Because Sarah was barren (11:11), and Abraham was “as good as dead” (11:12); nevertheless, it is God who gives life, and he had a promise to keep.
Don’t forget what God did for you yesterday. The situation you face may be different than anything you’ve experienced before, but God is the same. The receiving back of Isaac is an illustration of the same type of divine intervention that God’s people can expect today if they live by faith.
11:20-22 These verses illustrate a legacy of faith. By faith Isaac blessed his sons concerning things to come (11:20). By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed his grandsons while he worshiped (11:21). By faith Joseph, near the end of his life, told the Israelites to bury his bones in the promised land when they got there.
If you’re a parent, you’re going to pass on many things to your kids. Make sure that you pass them the baton of faith in God above all else. Let them pray with you about things you’re trusting God for so they can see your faith in action.
11:23-29 Here we see a summary of Moses’s life: eighty years are covered in seven verses. His parents valued God instead of the evil culture and refused to let their baby be killed (11:23). When he grew up, Moses himself chose God over the surrounding culture. He opted to suffer with the people of God rather than to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter (11:24-25). By faith he left Egypt . . . instituted the Passover, and crossed the Red Sea (11:27-29). Why? Because he was looking ahead to the reward. He considered suffering reproach for the sake of Christ to be greater wealth than Egypt’s riches (11:26). Don’t miss that Moses chose Christ in the Old Testament era! Though it doesn’t always appear to be true on the front end, choosing Christ is never a losing deal.
11:30-40 The walls of Jericho fell as a result of the most bizarre military strategy enacted in history (11:30). And as a result of her willingness to align with God’s people, Rahab the prostitute—the lowest of the low—got recognized alongside Abraham and Moses as a hero in the Hall of Faith (11:31). How can these things be? Simple. God tells us, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not my ways,” declares the Lord (Isa 55:8).
Then, like a preacher, the author rolls through a list of even more Old Testament heroes of faith and how they lived. Some conquered; others perished. All lived by faith in God (11:32-37). When faith is inaugurated in your life and you keep on going, your circumstances don’t have the final word. The world was not worthy of them (11:38), but they were approved through their faith (11:39). Did you catch that? The world didn’t deserve them, but God applauded them. Whose approval are you seeking? You can’t please both the world and God.
The author concludes the chapter by observing that God provided something better for us New Testament believers so that we can all be made perfect (11:40). Salvation in Christ is the culmination of God’s plan of redemption for eternity and deliverance in history.