Examples of Faith
Text: Hebrews 11:4-40
Genesis 4:1-8 gives us facts but doesn’t reveal much in the way of motivation. Cain was a farmer, while Abel was a herdsman. Both offered to God the results of their labor. Cain’s offering was rejected while Abel’s was accepted. The difference was the faith of Abel according to the writer of Hebrews. Knowing this, we look back at the two sacrifices as see that Cain offered some of his produce but Abel brought lambs from his flock and offered the best cuts of the meat to God. Where is the faith? Lambs are the potential for the continuance of a flock, but Abel offered them before they breed, produced wool, or could be used for meat. Thus, Abel demonstrated faith in God’s future care and showed that he desired to give God the best that he had. For that God witnessed that Abel was righteous by having regard for his sacrifice (Genesis 4:4).
Cain wasn’t an unbeliever, but he didn’t show the same level of trust or desire to give God his best as his brother. Rather than improve, Cain acted on his jealousy and killed his brother, despite God’s warning. Thus, Abel did not see the result of his trust in God because he did not live long. But his faith outlives him (Genesis 4:10). Abel continues to teach of faith through the record of his story by God.
Abel was faithful despite his brother’s disagreement with him. Sometimes family members don’t like how bad you make them look. They pressure you to change, but Abel is an example of the respect gained by being faithful to God.
It was by faith that Enoch did not see death as other men did (Genesis 5:24). All the Genesis account tells us is that Enoch walked with God; that is, he lived a life in obedience with God. Thus, between the two statements about Enoch, we see that faith and obedience are related topics (Hebrews 3:18-19; James 2:14-26). We know that Enoch’s life pleased God because he was taken up without experiencing death.
Enoch’s faith stands in contrast to the description of how the world became (Genesis 6:5). This slide into corruption was gradual, so we can conclude that it was noticeable in Enoch’s day. Jude tells us that Enoch was a prophet of God (Jude 14-15) speaking of judgment on sinners. He also named his son Methuselah, which means “when he dies it comes.” Enoch did not remain around to see the destruction of the evil, but the world was destroyed in the flood that came the same year Methuselah died.
Some argue that they are only human. Because everyone else falls short, then we are excused to sin too. Enoch wasn’t sinless, but he was a man who pleased God sufficiently to avoid death, even while living in a depraved world. His case is rare, but Enoch does show it is possible with sufficient faith.
The Necessity of Faith
Both Abel and Enoch show that men can please God through faith. The writer of Hebrews takes the point future to emphasize that without faith it is impossible to please God. There are two fundamental things that are must be believed. You must believe that God exists. Perhaps it is obvious, but you can’t please someone you don’t even think is real. If you think God is an imaginary character, why would you even try to please Him? The second is that God rewards those who diligently seek after Him. If you don't believe there is a benefit to doing good or that Heaven doesn't really exist, then you would not put any effort into being righteous.
Noah’s faith illustrates the point that faith is the conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1). Being warned 120 years in advance (Genesis 6:3), Noah built an ark because of his fear of God. He, too, was a preacher of righteousness (II Peter 2:5).
It is possible that rain wasn’t known in the world before the flood (Genesis 2:5-6). Imagine spending 120 years warning people that water would fall from the sky and wipe out all life in a world that had never seen rain. The only ones Noah managed to save was his own wife, his sons born 20 years after God’s warning, and their wives. In a world completely given over to sin, Noah did not cave to peer pressure.
However, the fact that Noah built the ark and entered it shows that it is possible to believe what you have not yet experienced and to hold to your trust in God despite the rejection of a world full of evil people. Yet, Noah did not completely escape sin. It remained in the world, even after the flood. But Noah still inherited righteousness through faith, even though he wasn’t sinless.
Abraham and Sarah
We meet Abram, who later has his name changed to Abraham, moving from Ur to Haran. At the age of 75, he was told to move to a place that he would receive as an inheritance; yet, when he left he did not know where he was going. He lived in that land as a nomad as two more generations came. The land was never put in Abraham’s possession during his lifetime. But it didn’t bother him because he was looking for something more permanent than an earthly city in which to live.
Sarah’s faith was rewarded with the ability to conceive and bear a child at the age of 90 because she believed that God was able to keep His promise. Abraham, himself was 100 when Isaac was born. Before his death, Jacob was born, but Abraham did not see his children become more numerous than the stars.
Consider how many people say, “If you can prove it to my satisfaction, then I’ll believe.” Of course, they never believe because you can never manage to gather enough evidence for them. Abraham and Sarah show that faith doesn’t have to be seen to exist.
Faith Without Receiving
In each example, the people died without fully receiving what God promised, but they believed that those promises would be fulfilled in the distant future. They did not personally need to receive the results because they viewed their life here on earth as temporary. They were looking for a better home than the one they came from. They were looking for a heavenly home. This is why God was not ashamed to be called their God, and He did give them a home.
I have known several who gave up because they didn’t find benefits to them. The changes that come with following God didn’t happen soon enough for them, or they didn’t occur at all. “If I don’t get something out of it now, why bother?” And so they abandoned their faith.
Abraham was told that it would be through Isaac that God’s promises would be fulfilled; yet, God tested Abraham’s faith by telling him to offer Isaac to Him. Instead of declaring that God was asking the impossible, Abraham reasoned that the Creator of the Universe would be able to raise the dead. Though God stopped Abraham before the actual sacrifice, Abraham did in a sense receive his son back from the dead since he was committed to killing him as God had asked.
Here, then, is the answer to those who balk and say that it is too hard or that God asks too much.
Isaac tried to pass on the blessing to Esau, instead of Jacob as God foretold before their births. He was defeated in his attempt, but he refused to change the blessing because he recognized that God’s hand was in this. Although his faith was less than his fathers, he still had faith to obey God and told each son his future.
Just prior to Jacob’s death, he gave a blessing to each of his sons. Those blessings were prophecies about each son’s descendants and for the gift Jacob worshiped God. He didn’t live to see those prophecies come to pass, but he believed that they would happen.
Joseph knew of the promises God gave to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. When he was dying, he left orders that when Israel returned to Canaan that they were to take his bones with them and bury them in that land. Again, he was given a view of the distant future and believed God would fulfill his promises, even though he would not see the fulfillment himself.
Because of their faith, Moses’ parents hid him for three months. They saw he was a beautiful child. Though God didn’t promise them anything, they trusted in God’s protection and were not afraid of the government.
Their son, Moses, was raised in Pharaoh’s household, but when Moses reached adulthood he refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He believed God had greater treasure than all the might of Egypt. He preferred to suffering with God’s people and consider the reproach a greater treasure.
Like his parents, Moses didn’t fear the government, especially Pharaoh’s anger. His focus was on God who cannot be seen.
Faith also played a part in following the instructions for the first Passover meal. He believed that God would do as He said. He did have evidence from the plagues God placed on Egypt to know not to question this last plague.
Some refuse to believe God because they see some of His actions as being too harsh. They refuse to believe in a God who punishes evil.
Israel was trapped between the Egyptian army and the Red Sea when God opened a path through the sea. It was by faith that Israel crossed – the same path that then destroyed the Egyptian army when they attempted the same thing. Israel had to trust God even when what was asked of them appeared impossible.
A similar thing happened with the conquering of Jericho. They were told to march around the city once per day and on the seventh day march around it seven times and then blow trumpets and shout. How this would lead to conquering a city was not apparent; yet, the walls fell and Jericho was destroyed.
Consider what Rahab, a Canaanite prostitute, did: She heard stories of this nation that 40 years ago left Egyptian captivity by crossing a great sea on dry land. She heard stories of how two kings had fallen and their nations destroyed trying to stop them. She knew that the whole city was in terror of the Israelites coming their way.
She was not an Israelite. She did not see these miracles. They were only stories; yet, she believed in the God of the Israelites. She believed that He was the one and only God ( Joshua 2:11). She asked for the spies’ pledge to spare her father’s household. She believed that their promise would save her family.
Before she even talked to these men about sparing her family, she was willing to go against her king. When the king demanded the men, she sent the king and his men on a wild chase. True, she lied, but then she grew up as a pagan and a prostitute. She had heard of the God of the Israelites, but she had not had an opportunity to learn of God’s laws. That does not excuse either her lies or her harlotry, but it does explain her actions. What would have happened to Rahab if her house was searched and the spies were found? She risked death for her belief.
Think about something else: she hung a scarlet cord from her window that all could see for eighteen days before the Israelites came. Her extended family had to be there when the city was conquered. What would have happened if any of them told an authority before the city fell? Since she did not know when the army would come, her family had to be there for several weeks. Think, too, that when the Israelites came to the city, they did nothing but march around the walls for six days. Rahab would not have known the plan. She would not know that on the seventh day the walls would fall. What if she gave up?
Here is an example of faith where you would not expect faith to exist. Our sinful past does not prevent faith from existing.
There are many more the writer could site as examples of faith. Some are obvious, but some are puzzling when you first think about the matter. Gideon was hesitant and frequently asked for confirmation, but he did obey the Lord (Judges 6-7). Barak refused to go to battle without the prophetess Deborah joining him, but he did go (Judges 4:1-24). Samson spent most of his life immersed in sin, but by the end of his life, he committed himself to God (Judges 14-16; 15:14; 16:28). Jephthah made a rash vow to sacrifice the first thing that came out of his tent to God. As a result, he dedicated his only child, his daughter, to God. He kept his word because he knew God aided him in battle (Judges 11). What connects all these men was not their moral excellence or perfect obedience. What connects them was their faith in God.
Because of faith, people did marvelous things:
- Conquered kingdoms (Joshua)
- Performed acts of righteousness (Ehud - Judges 3:15-30; Samuel - I Samuel 7:15)
- Obtained promises (David)
- Shut the mouth of lions (Daniel - Daniel 6:7,22)
- Quenched the power of fire (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego - Daniel 3:15-26)
- Escape the edge of the sword (David fleeing from Saul; Elijah - I Kings 19:3; Elisha - II Kings 6:16)
- From weakness were made strong (Hezekiah - II Kings 20; Job 42:10)
- Became mighty in war (Joshua; Jonathan - I Samuel 14:13; David - II Samuel 8:1; Psalms 18:29-42)
- Put foreign armies to flight (David - I Samuel 7:51-52)
- Women received back their dead by resurrection (Elijah - I Kings 17:19-22; Elisha - II Kings 4:18-37)
But all was not positive. Others endured near impossible hardships because of their faith:
- Refusing release
- Mockings (Elisha - II Kings 2:23; Micaiah - I Kings 22:24; Jeremiah)
- Scourgings (Jeremiah - Jeremiah 20:2)
- Chains and imprisonment (Joseph - Genesis 39:20; Micaiah - I Kings 22:27; Jeremiah - Jeremiah 20:2)
- Stoned (Zechariah - II Chronicles 24:21; Naboth - I Kings 21:13)
- Sawn in two (Jewish tradition says this happened to Isaiah)
- Tempted (Job)
- Killed by the sword (the prophets of Elijah’s time - I Kings 19:10)
- Wore skins for clothing (Elijah - II Kings 1:8)
- Living in deserts, mountains, and caves (Prophets - I Kings 18:14; Elijah - I Kings 19:9)
They endured these things because they wanted to obtain heaven (Hebrews 11:35) and the world was not worthy of them.
Did Not Receive What Was Promised
They gained God’s approval because of their faith, but they did not obtain what was promised. God held off to provide Christians something better so that they and those in the past could be made perfect.