By Faith Abraham
(The following text is taken from a sermon preached by Gil Rugh in 1978.)
The writer illustrated true saving faith in Hebrews 11:1-7 using the examples of three men: Abel, Enoch, and Noah. The writer defined faith in verse 1; 'Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.' Faith is believing what God says, despite the fact that we cannot see Him, touch Him, or hear Him. When we walk by faith and not by sight, we will mature and have assurance of our future reward.
In verse 4 the writer illustrated that true, saving faith was the cause of obedient worship. He said, 'By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts, and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks.' Because Abel had faith, he was able to worship God in the way that he was commanded.
The writer also illustrated that faith is the cause of our obedient lifestyles in verse 5; 'By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death; and he was not found because God took him up; for he obtained the witness that before his taking up, he was pleasing to God.' Enoch, through his faith, was able to be 'pleasing to God.' As a reward, Enoch never saw physical death.
Finally, the writer illustrated the obedient faith of Noah in verse 7. He said, 'By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.' Because Noah, by faith, believed that God would destroy mankind with a flood, Noah obediently built an enormous ark.
He endured much persecution for his faith, however by his example of faith, Noah condemned those who rejected God and was declared righteous by God. By God's grace, he and his family were saved from destruction.
'By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.'
'By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised; therefore, also, there was born of one man, and him as good as dead at that, as many descendants as the stars of heaven in number, and innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore. All 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. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But 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.'
'By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac; and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; it was he to whom it was said, 'In Isaac your seed shall be called. 'He considered that God is able to raise men even from the dead; from which he also received him back as a type.'
'By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau, even regarding things to come. By faith Jacob, as he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff. By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the exodus of the sons of Israel, and gave orders concerning his bones.'
The writer continues his examples of faith in verse 8. He says, 'By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going.' Abraham is as an illustration of the saving faith that we are to have. In Romans 4:1-3 Paul says, 'What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about; but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? 'And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness'' (See also Romans 4:10-11, 4:16-17, Galatians 3:6-10, 3:27-29).
Abraham was not the first person to have faith (as we saw with Abel, Enoch, and Noah). However, he was the first person of whom it is so clearly stated. Abraham believed God, and God credited that faith to Abraham as righteousness (Genesis 15:6). The focus of verse 8 is that Abraham 'obeyed' God. God called Abraham to leave his home and go to a new place which he had never seen to receive an inheritance. Did Abraham question God, and dilly dally around? No. He packed up all of his belongings and departed. (See Acts 7 for a detailed look at Abraham's history; also see Genesis 12, and Joshua 24:23)
It is important that we understand how incredible Abraham's faith was. It was not a practical faith, humanly speaking. We miss much of the blessing that God has for us as His children because we are consumed with being practical. We are told that Abraham 'obeyed' God, and went out to a place he knew nothing about, and had never seen. He left a very modern, very thriving city (Ur of the Chaldeas). He left his job, his house, his friends, and any inheritance he had in that city. He uprooted his family and obeyed God, going where God told him to go. This is the perfect example of the definition of faith seen in Hebrews 11:1, 'Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.'
You may say, 'OK, so Abraham obeyed God, and left his house to go somewhere new. I will bet that, when the story ends and he comes to the land of Canaan, God will reward him with a bigger house and more land, right?' Wrong. Hebrews 11:9 says 'By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow-heirs of the same promise.' So even though Abraham and his son Isaac, and Isaac's son Jacob had entered the promised land, they did not own any of it. From the time Abraham entered the land (at the age of 75 years), until he died (at the age of 175 years), they lived as strangers in their own land.
Why did they live as 'aliens' in the promised land? The writer gives us the answer in verse 10; 'for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.' The key to his faith is that Abraham had his eyes fixed on something other than the physical rewards. He had his eyes on the spiritual promises of God. He was not looking for an earthly city or house. He was looking to the time in the future when he would be in the presence of God. This should be the pattern for you and me as well. As believers, we are to be fixing our eyes on the heavenly rewards that we will receive, not dwelling on our earthly possessions.
The writer illustrates a very unique situation in these verses. He says, 'By faith, even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised; therefore, also, that there was born of one man, and him as good as dead at that, as many descendants as the stars of heaven in number, and innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore.' This verse, along with the fact that Sarah willingly traipsed around the promised land for 67 years, shows that Sarah was a godly woman. However, the true emphasis, of verses 11 and 12, is on Abraham.
The verse is more accurately translated, 'By faith he (Abraham), together with Sarah was empowered to deposit seed....' The Greek expression for 'ability to conceive' is cotoblain spermatos, which actually means 'to deposit sperm.' So it was Abraham who was given the ability to fertilize Sarah for conception and the birth of Isaac (Romans 4:19-22). Remember, the emphasis of this passage points to the faith of Abraham. Abraham had faith that God would give him reproductive capability, even at an old age.
Now, it would have been one thing if Abraham and Sarah had believed God, and nine months later, she was pregnant. But that is not what happened. They waited 25 years before Sarah got pregnant. Talk about faith! Abraham was 99 and Sarah was 89 when she conceived. That is the type of faith we should have. How many of us have trusted God for something for 25 years? Typically, we get impatient after 25 days. It would have been so easy for Abraham and Sarah to say, 'Look - God promised that we would have a child and we do not have one. He said that we would have decedents like the number of grains of sand on the seashore, and this has not happened. Let us just go back to Ur and return to our former lives. It was much easier there.' They did not return to Ur. They believed God from the day they left Ur, until the day when they did have a child. God kept His word. He gave Abraham, a man so old that he was 'as good as dead,' the ability to have children and created an entire nation that was as 'innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore.' Amazing!
The faith of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob continued the entire time they lived as 'aliens' in the promised land. In fact, they all died before seeing the physical realization of God's promises. Verse 13 says, 'All 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 earth.' I suspect that, for most of us, there might be some discontent with God when, after years and years in a foreign land, none of His promises came true in our lifetimes. Abraham left his home, and witnessed the death of his wife (Genesis 23:1,2) in this foreign land; but did this curtail his faith? No. He accepted his circumstance, and continued to trust the Lord and as verse 13 proclaims, he 'died in faith.'
Verses 14-16 illustrate Abraham's attitude; 'For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But 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.' Sure, Abraham could have complained about his situation and returned to Ur, but he had his eyes focused on his heavenly reward. This is the same kind of attitude that we are to have. We, as strangers and aliens in this world, are to direct our attention the future kingdom.
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