F W Grant.
Division 4. (Heb. 11.)
The path of God's people the path of faith from the beginning.
We come now to the fourth division of the epistle, in which the apostle shows by the example of the saints of old how the practical life of those that at any time pleased God had always been a path of faith. This is, of course, a thing very necessary to his argument, which was, in fact, taking away the sensible things of Judaism and replacing them for that which, however blessed in itself, nevertheless required faith for its enjoyment in every part. It is noticeable, therefore, that when he comes to the law, the setting up of the ordered system in the midst of Israel, he gives us very few and slight examples, comparatively, of the path of faith. All this shows his purpose the more completely. We have the trials and experiences of faith put before us especially, as already said, in those who lived before the Jewish system had been established, as, in the wisdom of God, their own fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob lived — the very men who received the promises. *hat a thing for Jews to realize, that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had lived their whole lives apart from that in which now they had, not indeed overmuch, but such mistaken confidence! The complete setting aside of the sensible things of Judaism left them certainly no worse, and in fact immeasurably better off, than these. Indeed, it is not of that which is seen and sensible that faith takes hold, and those who had only those things found really what was theirs in looking beyond them; by just so much as they rested in these they lost the reality.
There are four sections here; the first giving, after an introductory statement of principles, in three who lived before the flood, a foreshadowing of the path of faith ever since; the second, the gain to it of delaying the blessing; the third, the prophetic outlooks granted to it; while the fourth shows its various trials and experiences.
1.(1) The first section, again, has four parts; the first of which, as an introductory statement, shows the sufficiency of faith as the governing principle of practical life. The power of it is in this, that it is "the substantiation of things hoped for, a conviction of things unseen." The heart is drawn out of the world by the attraction of what is beyond it, of what it is convinced of, though unseen. Thus, there is independence of the world; its allurements solicit in vain; circumstances do not control us. We are masters of ourselves, and thus clear-sighted and steadfast.
Through faith, also, the men of old "obtained a good report" — of course, in God's history of things, not in man's. It is easy to see in Scripture that the thing which made the old worthies what they were was faith. How perfect the contrast between the same men energized by it and when it was at ebb in them! Then, "by faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that that which is seen should not have its origin from things which appear." It would be a good thing if the men of science today would give heed to such a text as this. Take Darwin's "Origin of Species," where he never gets, indeed, to the origin, and owns that he cannot prove that any species ever did originate after the fashion he decrees. And think of originating in his manner Eve out of Adam! Given even the rib, she could not have sprung out of that simply. There must have been what did not appear — the power of God. If it is not perfectly scientific to believe that in her case, we may as well give up Scripture at once, for you cannot expunge the miraculous out of it. If it be only a question of less or more, how unreasonable to measure out the power of God, and how enormous the pretence of being able to say just how much this power, or how or when it shall be fitting for it to be displayed!
God has ordained in His mercy a stable world for man, and we may thank Him that it is so, and see abundant reason for its being so, if we are to be able to reckon on things at all. But then they turn round and talk learnedly of laws of nature, and would bind the Author of nature with them, so that He shall not move except at their bidding; whereas, in fact, a stable world is just what is suited as a background for the miraculous. There could be no miracle without it; and the miracles are a reserve of power most fitted to display Him as the living God amid all this mechanism, and not leave Him to be confounded with it. After all, Scripture is at once the most scientific and rational of books, while it is, besides, a miracle of the most stupendous kind, always ready to hand, and with its own power of conviction for any who will examine it. And this one may say in the face of all the higher critics in the world, who are simply the Darwinians of theology, and who, like them, theorize after the most stupendous fashion and then talk about the credulity of faith.
God manifested in creation! If we only realized just what this means, what a suited setting it would make for the brighter manifestation of God in Christ, and how, day by day, we should walk amid the ministries of all the creatures of His Hand! Day to day would indeed utter speech, and night to night tell knowledge. The universe would then be a glorious house of God, and in what corner of it could we be without Him? Here, then, as the basis of a life of faith, we are taught to realize in nature the supernatural, the seen having its root and origin in the unseen, and which has not given up its work in that primary effort that produced it.
(2) In the second place, we have Abel witnessing and witnessed to, bringing to God his fuller sacrifice than Cain, which owns the death that had come in through sin, and in a way contemptible to mere reason, — folly, if it were not faith, — turning that death into an acceptable offering to God, so as to obtain witness that he is righteous, "God testifying of his gifts." But his life exhales from the earth, from which his blood cries still, the world being in opposition to God from its very beginning.
(3) In the third place, we have the heavenward side of this in Enoch, walking with God in a "dedicated" life, upon which no shadow of death comes. How beautiful the gleam of brightness here! Heaven claims him, a type of the heavenly family which now waits, not for the judgment of the earth, though that be at hand, but for the translation at the coming of the Lord.
(4) In the fourth place, Noah gives us the picture of the heirs of earth, Israel and the spared nations, brought through the judgment; his house saved and the world condemned by that faith of his. Here, then, we have already the plain foreshadowing of faith in its various history, these three witnesses together showing us righteousness, communion, and heirship. They are all found in it.
2. The second section gives us, next, the gain to faith in the delay of blessing; and here Abraham is the great example for us. It is striking, the difference we find between Abraham in the Old Testament and as he is presented to us in this account in Hebrews. In the Old Testament you have the circumstances of his life, and his faith in God is manifested and blessed; but of the heavenly country that we are now told he looked for, you find nothing. Typically, of course, there is no difficulty. Wherever we read of Canaan, we rightly think of heaven; but suppose we had not the New Testament, how much should we know? Even now that we have Paul's comment here, it has been sought by some to show that Canaan, both in the Old Testament and the New, was the sole inheritance promised to him, and that it is all he is ever to have. It is impossible to maintain this if we take the statements fairly here; but that it should have been attempted to maintain it shows how little the Old Testament by itself reveals to us of what Abraham had in view. The difference is of interest in other ways; but we may take it as illustrating the gain of delayed blessing. He did not in his lifetime receive the things promised as to Canaan; to the end he was a mere stranger in it; but it thus became for him a shadow of a better and heavenly inheritance. How much in that day God taught men by pictures of this kind must be plain to all who will consider it; and while to us it would be dreadful indeed to have to go back to such things only for ourselves, yet, when it was the large part of what men had, they might be expected to look into it in a way that now, with our fuller light, we scarcely think of doing. That, of course, does not approve our light dealing. Look at the promise of the woman's seed at the beginning, which even the perversions of it among the heathen show to have been accepted as speaking of a spiritual deliverance! Look at God clothing Adam and Eve with the skins of beasts, the fruit of death. And so everywhere at that time: things were under a veil; but we may be sure that God did not allow the veil to be so thick as to hide altogether from faith the glory beneath it.
(1) The first subsection here gives us simply and beautifully the obedience of faith in Abraham, who goes out into a place which he was to receive for an inheritance, not knowing at first where he was going. It seems as if, although his steps had been directed to Canaan, yet it was only after he got there that he learned that that was the inheritance. Alas, even with God's people, how they allow the question of where a thing will lead them, to divert them from the one and simple all-necessary question, Is it God that is leading? Not such a man was Abraham. The Lord give us to be as simple and childlike as he!
(2) The second subsection gives us more the character of the whole, for here we find him, after the births, themselves so long delayed, of Isaac and then Jacob, still a stranger in the land of his inheritance. But what was his compensation? He looked for a city having foundations, whose Architect and Builder (devising the plan and carrying it out) is God. The mention of a city is very striking, if it means that this was actually, as such, before Abraham's sight. It may mean that this it is in which Abraham's faith will, in fact, find its consummation, or it may be that God had revealed to him much more than we have knowledge of; for even the earthly Jerusalem was not then existent as the city of God; so that the type even was wanting, except it were Melchisedec's Salem; and the city here is certainly the heavenly one. The mention of "the foundations" brings before us the very city of the Apocalypse, with its twelve jeweled foundations, like the high priest's breastplate, the glorious lights and perfections of the divine character. A city built upon these must indeed be abiding. Abraham's hope had surely, then, been lifted to a higher plane than that of earth, in the meantime of the delay of that earthly expectation.
(3) Now we come to Sarah, to find certainly a sort of resurrection of the dead for her; and the child so born, what a pledge it was of other fulfilments! Here, again, it cannot be questioned how largely the very delay increased the blessing.
(4) Fourthly, it is emphasized for us how long this trial of faith lasted. They "died in faith, not having received the promises," and thus upon earth, during their whole time on it, were strangers and sojourners. The land, too, which they had left lay, in the wisdom of God, all this time as it were within sight, inviting their return; but they persisted, desiring a better country. Here was, then, once more, how great a gain! God therefore openly links Himself with them as their God. "The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob" was His own specifically declared memorial Name; and He has prepared for them a city.
3. The third section shows us faith in its prophetic realizations, which sprang, as always, from the apprehension of God in the sanctuary, where everything is seen in reference to Him alone. Here, again, there are four subsections:
First, we see Abraham offering up, at the word of God, the son in whom the promises were to be fulfilled to him. Isaac shall be brought back, therefore, his faith argues, even from the dead; from which, indeed, he is in a figure received.
Next in Isaac, though at first obscured by fleshly impulses, faith manifests itself in the recognition of God's rights as against nature, the ruin of nature being implied in it, and His separation of His people from the world.
Thirdly, Jacob rehearses, as it were, in the blessing of the sons of Joseph, his own history; but now at the end of human strength, the struggler becomes a worshiper, and the eyes, dulling to earthly things, are lighted up with far-off glories. It is, again, a sort of resurrection story, with the issues (as always thus) in God's hand alone.
Fourthly, in Joseph's case, the departure of Israel out of Egypt is anticipated by him, and he ordains his bones to be for them a continual admonition of the change awaiting them.
4. The chapter closes with a more varied yet slighter sketch of the generations following these early patriarchs. As we come to the establishment of the legal system, the record is scanty, and even Moses himself does not appear after the Red Sea deliverance. As a fourth section, trials and experiences characterize it generally.
There are seven subsections:
In the first we have a remarkable simplicity of faith in Moses' parents, which acts upon grounds which to most would appear slight enough, — the beauty of the child. God yet answers it, for it was faith in Him; and how largely He answers, for this is Moses the deliverer! Is there not here one of the natural indications of the mind of God, which we are so unskilled in finding? which the poor and unlearned, perhaps, read best, and which are apt to be confounded with mere superstition, and indeed are separated from it by a line too indefinite for general appreciation; but God makes no mistake, and, wherever faith is, with Him it will be found in honor.
In the second place, we come to Moses himself, with whom faith argues, as it might seem, in the very teeth of a most wonderful providence. He will not be a patron to the people of God, but a sharer in their humiliation, which he esteems but "the reproach of Christ," and values above all the treasures of Egypt. The language here, no doubt, assumes a New Testament character; but Moses' faith, in fact, looked forward to Israel's Deliverer, who was to come.
Thirdly, we find the sanctuary in which he abides, the unseen presence of God; which, upon his return to Egypt, delivers him from even fearing that wrath of the king which once he did fear, and which is now shown to be powerless. While in the passover and the sprinkling of blood, he draws Israel also into the same sanctuary, as delivered from a greater fear than that of the king of Egypt, by that which has always been a sign of the recognition of the judgment upon man, in that which puts it away forever. In this way, the two illustrations of faith given here are linked together.
The fourth subsection gives us, in contrast, the experience of faith and the assaying of unbelief, at the Red Sea. To faith God opened the way, which unbelief, having evidence for its eyes that it was open, sought to walk in, and so perished.
In the fifth subsection the fall of Jericho again furnishes two contrasted examples of the weakness of man and the power of God. The walls of the city fall at the mere blast of a trumpet; while Rahab, whose house is on the wall that falls, is preserved amid the destruction which comes upon the unbelieving.
We have, then, in the sixth subsection the time following Israel's entrance into the land. Only six names are mentioned, and of these nothing specific is recorded, though their history is familiar to us; but there follows a long catalogue of various and contrasted forms in which faith in such as these overcame, most even in the way of the cross, by what seemed mere defeat. While in the last place we are carried on in thought to the time of perfect fruition for which they wait until we too receive it, we for whom, meanwhile, something better than they enjoyed has been reserved. So, in his way of constant encouragement and admonition, the apostle reminds these Hebrews.