Hebrews 11, continued. Part 26.
It’s still getting worse. Every day the numbers are increasing by tens of thousands of infections and by thousands of deaths. As of this week COVID-19 has infected 740,000 Americans, and 40,000 have died, sons, daughters, mothers, fathers. Globally 2,316,000 are infected, and 159,000 have died. Each day that I worked on this post, more were infected and died, and with greater rapidity than last week. We’re still climbing the mountain, heading toward the peak that will mark our very worst days.
Someone wrote that March lasted three years, while April will probably take three to five. Yet these trying times, these unknown realities, are the places where God meets us, where an awareness of our mortality is impressed upon us, drawing us to turn toward the Lord’s immortality, toward his victory over sin and death, and toward his comfort in even this, for our souls are eternal, and we need him. This week my husband and I were tested and were greatly relieved when the results were negative.
Hebrews 11, this chapter of faith, is especially pertinent right now. The people of old also faced struggles that tested and refined their faith. They were just like us. For our encouragement, the Word of God records the absolute truth about the people listed throughout.
We have a faith established on facts, nothing hidden. God’s Word details the reality of sinners learning to love and to live for the Lord, their mistakes and failures, as well as their victories. Confidence in God during hardship was their anchor then as it is ours today, no matter the outcome.
“Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For, ‘Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.‘
“But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls. Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible…And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 10:35-39; 11:1-3, 6 ESV).
When we think of faith, we envision feelings and emotions, and yet the Bible says that faith is action and endurance. Faith remembers the truth of God’s Word, even during trials, trusting him, rather than our feelings, even if our knees are knocking, even if we fearfully run away but then return to step back into his arms. We can lean on Jesus throughout.When we think of #faith, we envision feelings and emotions, and yet the Bible says that faith is action and endurance. Even if our knees are knocking, we can lean on Jesus throughout. #COVID19 Click To Tweet
Conviction and assurance of the reliability and truthfulness of God and his written Word produce action in the lives of the faithful, no matter how we feel. Facing down lions, being killed in the Colosseum — all of these would produce terror, and yet, the recipients of this letter endured these. The letter to the Hebrews was written to them to inspire confidence in their trials. We can have that same confidence today.
Whenever we fail in these tests of confidence in Christ, and we most certainly will (remember, his disciples ran), with God’s help we can get back up again. He puts us back together, even when we run or deny him, for he is the One who enables and sustains us.With God's help we can get back up again. He puts us back together, even when we run or deny him, for he is the One who enables and sustains us. #COVID19 #faith Click To Tweet
[Be encouraged by What a Beautiful Name]
Beginning with Adam, God knit together a family who would produce his only begotten Son, the One we need so desperately. God’s Son is fully man with a human lineage and yet also fully God with a pure and incorruptible nature. Thus, he could crush the serpent’s head and conquer sin and death.
Psalm 139 shows us the intricate involvement of the Lord in the creation of each unique human being in the womb and of their entire family tree.
For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.
Like them, the Lord has already written our days, every one of them — a calming fact in a time of pandemic. He knows our span upon this earth, just as he knew theirs."Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them"(Ps139:16). A calming fact in a #pandemic. Click To Tweet
God wove together Jesus’ family tree, beginning in this way: “Adam, Seth, Enosh; Kenan, Mahalalel, Jared; Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech; Noah, Shem, Arpachshad, Shelah; Eber, Peleg, Reu; Serug, Nahor, Terah; Abram, that is, Abraham” (1 Chronicles 1:1-4, 25-27 ESV). Gradually life spans shortened with each generation, as was also recorded in the Sumerian King List.
Abram knew his family’s entire lineage and their stories. His ancestors had witnessed or had heard firsthand accounts of the earliest events in human history. They passed these down orally. Think about that a moment. How might that impact your view of God? How might it shape your faith?
“By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith” (Hebrews 11:7 ESV). (Jesus confirmed.) (2 Peter 3:5-7)
Abram knew the facts of these earth-shattering events. He knew what actions had made the world so evil that God had destroyed it with a flood. Abram also knew that after the flood the worship of false gods and the practice of evil increased yet again, for he lived, along with his two brothers and their wives, within his father Terah’s multi-generational family in the polytheistic culture of Ur of the Chaldeans, Mesopotamia, modern-day Iraq.
Ur possessed a well-developed urban culture for that time period, including a ziggurat under construction for worshiping the moon goddess, Ur’s patron deity. Before its completion, Terah relocated his family westward to Haran.
At some point before they arrived, Abram had a personal encounter with God, who called Abram to leave behind his family and his father’s religion and traditions. Abram had married his half-sister Sarai, a common practice in ancient times to keep their tribe intact and to preserve family wealth. God’s plan included Sarai, which he clarified for Abram numerous times (Genesis 15, Genesis 22), starting here:
“The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you’” (Genesis 12:1-3 NIV). The blessing to come was the Messiah.
To produce a great nation, you have to have a child, and Sarai was to be the mother. Yet, this is a big ask. Every bit of their identity and security was in their family. Families were tribal, tightly knit together. To leave the family removed all human support. Yes, these promises are enormous, but they hinged on a bold step of obedience. Abram must take Sarai and go forth.
“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise” (Hebrews 11:8-9 ESV).
Though he didn’t know where he was going and he was afraid, still, Abram demonstrated faith by setting out toward an unknown location with his wife and all of his livestock and workers. Imagine a trip into a foreign, hostile, and unfamiliar land without knowing your destination.
Because of his importance and his wealth, Abram left a trail. His name is recorded in an ancient text from Dilbat. God later changed his name and Sarai’s as a mark of their growth in faith. This changed name of “Abraham” is recorded in the Egyptian Execration Texts [20th-19th centuries B.C.]— lists of Egypt’s enemies and “troublesome foreign neighbors,” compiled for the purpose of cursing them. Other names from his family tree are listed in The Mari texts [18th centuries B.C.]. These are verified historical records.
Our faith rests upon real-life experiences that Abraham had with God. This was not a fairy tale or religious story made up for hearers. These people truly walked the earth just as we do. These ancient records confirm it.
Abram believed God, leaving the “cradle of civilization” to dwell in the wilderness, because “he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Heb.11:10 ESV). A flimsy goat-leather tent in the wilds wasn’t his goal, nor was an ancient city. Abram’s aim was an eternal city, one designed and built by God, where he would dwell with God for eternity. Abram envisioned life beyond the grave.
God had promised that Abram’s offspring would bless all the peoples of the earth, becoming a great nation. In a later revelation, God even detailed the coming enslavement in Egypt and that it would last four hundred years, preparing Abram and his family. Abraham’s belief in God and God’s plan was credited to him as righteousness. Abraham heard God and took action.
We all know that his belief was messy, just as our faith journey often is. His fear often drove him to make foolish decisions, as our fear does as well. There were blunders, mistakes, and sins along the way, just like with us.
Because he was afraid, he gave his wife Sarai/Sarah away twice. As a result, he had problems with Pharaoh, hence his listing in the Egyptian Execration Texts, and later he had problems with Abimelech. After taking along his deceased brother Haran’s son Lot, Abram dealt with a nephew who wanted to enter Canaanite city life. As a result, he fought battles.
Abraham also took matters into his own hands when Sarah couldn’t conceive, a tactic we still use today — self reliance. Finally, a couple of decades into his journey, after complicating things greatly by having a son with Sarah’s handmaid Hagar, Abraham and Sarah had learned many lessons. They learned slowly, like we do. God is patient. Though both had earlier laughed, Abraham and Sarah finally trusted God.
“By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past age, since she considered him faithful who had promised” (Hebrews 11:11 ESV). Isaac was conceived and was safely delivered, the next branch in the family tree that would result in Messiah Jesus. “Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore” (Hebrews 11:12 ESV).
A Redeemer was coming, the One who had been promised in the Garden.
Abraham’s contemporaries also knew this. Melchizedek, priest of Salem and worshiper of the Most High God, and, Job, who may have lived a few generations later, though there is evidence that he lived at the same time. Their faith showed in their words and their actions. Though they suffered, in their trials they turned again and again to face God.
Job said this:
I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that in the end he will stand on the earth.
And after my skin has been destroyed,
yet in my flesh I will see God;
I myself will see him
with my own eyes—I, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me! (Job 19:25-27 NIV)
Confidence in our God, conviction that Yahweh, the One true God, had proven himself faithful throughout generations of believers and can be trusted, this is the solid faith that undergirded the Old Testament believers.
This is why the author of this letter urges the first-century believers, and us, to be steadfast. We are followers of the One who descended from this family tree built on God’s promise to our first ancestors. The Lord keeps his word. We can trust him wholeheartedly. Messiah Jesus, Creator and Sustainer of the universe, is the solid bedrock of our faith.
How does this demonstration of God’s faithfulness strengthen your faith and your confidence in Jesus Messiah? How is God sustaining you in these difficulties we currently face?