1Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
2For by it the men of old gained approval.
Hebrews 11:1 is the clearest definition of faith in the Bible. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for. It is being convinced beyond all doubt that what we hope for in heaven and eternity is real and guaranteed to those who believe. Faith is the conviction of things not seen. It is trusting Christ and His Word about spiritual and kingdom truths even though we can’t see them with the physical eye. It is believing what God says because He says it and being totally confident in what He has said. Believing what God had revealed to them was how the people of old were saved. Abraham believed God, and it was counted to Him as righteousness. There were many more who were saved by their faith as well. God had not yet spoken to them in the coming of His Son, so they were not accountable for that revelation. They were accountable for what they knew and for what they had heard from God. They were accountable for whether or not they would believe God and walk obediently by faith.
3By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible.
Those who walk by faith understand that God created the world by His very word, making what we see from that which was unseen, creating something out of nothing. Those who refuse to believe that God spoke the world into existence as this verse so clearly states have an issue of faith to deal with.
4By 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.
Abel obtained a testimony that he was righteous by faith. In other words, Abel was saved on the basis of his faith by offering a sacrifice that was pleasing to God. We don’t know precisely what Abel knew about how to sacrifice to God, but we do know that God honored his sacrifice and rejected Cain’s. Something was right about Abel’s motives, while something was definitely wrong in Cain’s heart. Cain didn’t do right, and Scripture indicates that he knew better (Genesis 4:7). Abel’s faith leading to his obedience was his salvation. His faith speaks as a testimony to us even today as we learn just what it is that pleases God.
5By faith Enoch was taken up so that he would not see death; AND HE WAS NOT FOUND BECAUSE GOD TOOK HIM UP; for he obtained the witness that before his being taken up he was pleasing to God.
Enoch apparently was taken by God directly into heaven (Genesis ). He never had to suffer physical death because God took him up to heaven directly and miraculously. His testimony to all who would come after him is that he was pleasing to God on the basis of his faith.
6And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.
It is not sacrifices, ritual, or human attempts at piety that impress God. It is faith and faith alone that pleases God. Without faith, pleasing God is completely impossible. Those who come to know God must believe that He is Who He said He was according to His Word and that He rewards those who seek Him out. Saving faith requires that we believe in the God of the Bible, the I Am, not just any generic god. In our time under the new covenant, Jesus is the name through which salvation is possible. Faith also requires that we believe that God will reward us with heaven and an inheritance. There is an incentive to believing, and there is nothing wrong with looking forward to the reward.
7By 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.
God spoke directly to Noah revealing His plan for him and his family and for the world. Noah by faith believed God, and this was how he was saved. His obedience to actually go and build the ark despite the ridicule of the world served as evidence of true faith. His testimony of faith and obedience stood in stark contrast to the lack of belief in the world, condemning it by example. By faith he became an heir of righteousness.
8By 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.
9By 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;
10for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
Abraham demonstrated his faith by obeying God when God spoke to him and told him to get up and go to a place that God would show him in due time. He didn’t know where he was going, but he went anyway. The land to which God took him would become the inheritance for his offspring, the nation of Israel. He was willing to move to the land of promise and leave the familiar customs of his homeland because he believed God. He lived in tents with his sons because he was looking toward the heavenly city with eternal foundations, built and designed by God. His heavenly mindset and desire to please God outweighed any temporal inconveniences because he was looking forward to the treasure of heaven.
11By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised.
Sarah was also considered righteous before God on the merits of her faith. She was granted by God the ability to conceive even though she was well past child-bearing age. Sarah’s faith, like all others in this passage, was imperfect. She, along with Abraham, even laughed at God concerning their promised son. Yet her testimony is that, despite her doubts, she did put her faith in the word of God to her. She believed that God was faithful and that He would keep His promise. Thus, she was saved by faith.
12Therefore there was born even 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.
Abraham had countless offspring through the generations as God had promised him in Genesis 15:5, . This all happened despite the fact that he was an extremely old man when Isaac was born. Physically, he was the father of the Jews, and spiritually, he is the father of all who would believe in faith as he did.
13All 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.
14For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own.
15And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return.
16But 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.
Abraham and Sarah died before they got to see the fruition of God’s promise to them. They enjoyed their children and grandchildren, but it was only many years after they died that Israel would become a great and numerous nation. Even today, spiritually many still follow Abraham’s testimony of faith. Those faithful men and women of old died before receiving the full fruition of God’s promise to them, just as we die before we actually get to experience heaven. We who believe welcome the promises of God by faith even though we cannot yet experience them. We see them by faith, not by sight. We confess that we are but strangers and exiles who make our way through this world even though we are citizens of heaven. Heaven is our eternal home, our true country. While we are passing through this earth and this life, as short as it is, we who walk by faith make it clear that we are much more interested in our true home. Realizing just how much better the true country of heaven is, we press on in faith, not turning back since we recognize the passing ways of this world. Those who walk by faith have a city in heaven prepared for them, the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:2). God is not ashamed to be called their God because they love Him and He loves them. Faith makes this relationship possible.
17By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son;
18it was he to whom it was said, "IN ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS SHALL BE CALLED."
19He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type.
Abraham was tested by God and asked to offer up his son Isaac, the son of the promise and the one he had waited so long for (Genesis 21:12). Yet Abraham was willing to obey God because he believed that God would raise him from the dead. He was so convinced that God’s promise to him was sure that he was willing to even sacrifice Isaac knowing that God would have to bring him back. That is amazing faith. In a sense, Isaac, the only begotten son of Abraham, served as a type of Christ Who was to come to die and be resurrected for the sins of all people.
20By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau, even regarding things to come.
Isaac also was saved by faith. Only one of his sons could receive the blessing, and Jacob stole it from Esau. Isaac’s faith, even though he was deceived by his son, was shown in that he believed the promise of God to Abraham as his blessing demonstrated (Genesis 27:27-29).
21By faith Jacob, as he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff.
Jacob’s faith was demonstrated as he was dying by blessing each of the sons of Joseph, believing in God’s promise to Abraham (Genesis 48:16). He also worshipped God, which is a guaranteed outcome for those who believe His words.
22By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the exodus of the sons of Israel, and gave orders concerning his bones.
Joseph demonstrated his faith by believing that Israel would one day exit from Egypt. He, too, believed God’s promise to Abraham that Israel would receive the promised land. In fact, he ordered that his bones would be kept until they were buried in that land (Genesis 50:24-25, Exodus ). He had full confidence in God’s word.
23By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful child; and they were not afraid of the king's edict.
Moses’ parents demonstrated faith by believing that God had a purpose for their son and by refusing to allow him to be executed. Instead, they hid the child and trusted God for his preservation, being unafraid of the king’s edict to kill the young children.
24By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter,
25choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin,
26considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward.
27By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured, as seeing Him who is unseen.
28By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of the blood, so that he who destroyed the firstborn would not touch them.
Moses demonstrated his faith in God’s plan and purpose for Israel and that God was the one true God. He decided to give up the comforts and status of being raised in the king’s palace, and he chose to be associated with the slaves of Israel. He gave up the passing comforts and temporary pleasures of sin for the sake of God’s purposes. The reproach of His Lord was more important to him than the wealth of Egypt. Even though Moses didn’t even know the name of Christ, Scripture says that he considered the reproach of Christ. This implies that anytime an Old Testament person believed God, they also believed Christ. They couldn’t worship God without also worshipping His Son even if they didn’t know His name. By faith, they honored Christ by honoring God. Looking toward the heavenly reward is so central to the gospel. We must be those who look forward to eternity and the pleasures of heaven. Moses didn’t fear the wrath of the king in that he trusted God enough to do what was right. This doesn’t mean he wasn’t concerned enough to flee to the wilderness. Surely, he felt fear, but he didn’t let fear dictate his decision-making. He let faith lead him. Thus, he endured by walking by faith, seeing Him who is unseen. Moses also obeyed God by faith by keeping the Passover and sprinkling the blood as God had told him to do so that the firstborn of Israel would not be killed along with the Egyptians (Exodus 12:12-13).
29By faith they passed through the Red Sea as though they were passing through dry land; and the Egyptians, when they attempted it, were drowned.
At least some of Israel passed by faith through the Red Sea, trusting God for their safety and miraculous preservation.
30By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days.
At least some of Israel had faith enough to believe God that just by doing as He said, walking around the wall and shouting, that Jericho would be defeated.
31By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish along with those who were disobedient, after she had welcomed the spies in peace.
Rahab, though living a sinful lifestyle as a prostitute, chose to walk by faith (James 2:25) and welcome the spies from Israel in peace as they were scoping out the land in order to defeat it as God had commanded them. By cooperating with God, despite the risks to her life, she demonstrated faith. In fact, she is named in the genealogy of Christ (Matthew 1:5).
32And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets,
33who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions,
34quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.
35Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection;
36and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment.
37They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated
38(men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground.
The author testifies that there are countless others who also walked by faith, from Gideon to Samson to David and even to unnamed prophets of God. Most suffered ill repute because of their testimony before God. Many suffered greatly, some were grotesquely martyred, and some performed miracles. The bottom line is that they all believed God and did what He said no matter what. Daniel, Isaiah, and Jeremiah among others were outstanding testimonies of faith, refusing to compromise and being willing to say what God told them to say no matter the cost.
39And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised,
40because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect.
Approval before God was gained by faith in each and every case, and the same is true today. Today, we have a fuller and more complete understanding of salvation and God’s working throughout history. God has something even better for His church because He has drawn near by indwelling the hearts of those who believe. The salvation of the faithful men and women of old was ultimately culminated in Christ’s shed blood, just as ours is today. They, like us, are made perfect in and through Christ. They did not know His name, but by worshipping God by faith according to the revelation of God given to them, they worshipped Christ and were saved.