The Nineteenth in a Series of Sermons on the Epistle to the Hebrews
While all the Old Testament saints mentioned in Hebrews 11 believed the same covenant promise–that God would save them from their sins and grant them eternal life–not all of them believed that promise under the same set of circumstances. Although a large family who believed in YHWH, the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob–the fathers of Israel) believed God’s covenant promise to grant their descendants the land of Canaan, make them a great nation, and give them so many descendants that they cannot be counted. Moses, however, came on the redemptive historical stage some four hundred years after God appeared to Abraham, when two of these covenant promises had already come to pass. Although effectively held captive in Egypt for many generations, the Israelites had become a great nation, and despite the difficult circumstances in which they found themselves, had grown in number well into the hundreds of thousands. But someone would have to lead the Israelites from their captivity in Egypt, across the Red Sea, through the desert of the Sinai, and then into the promised land of Canaan which was occupied by a number of very fierce Canaanite tribes. That leader was Moses.
As we return to our series on the Book of Hebrews, we are working our way through Hebrews 11, the so-called “hall of faith.” Throughout our time in this chapter, I have made the point that the author’s primary purpose is not to give us a list of people to emulate (“have faith like Abraham”). Rather, his purpose is to remind us that each of these people mentioned in this chapter believed God’s covenant promise to provide a redeemer who would save them from their sins, and who would ensure that all the covenant promises which God makes to his people are fulfilled. To enable us to devote sufficient attention to each of the people who make the catalogue of those who believed God’s covenant promise, I have divided our study of this chapter into small sections dealing with the individuals who make the catalogue according to the period in redemptive history in which they live.
In vv. 1-3, we discussed the author’s definition of faith–“faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” In vv. 4-7, we discussed those men known as the pre-diluvians because they lived before the time of Noah’s flood. All three of these men Abel, Enoch, and Noah, believed God’s promise, were justified, and then demonstrated their faith in God by living in obedience before him. Then in verses 8-16 we took up a discussion of Abraham, the man of faith, who believed God’s promise that he would have so many descendants that they could not be counted, despite the fact that Abraham and his wife Sarah were well beyond child-bearing years.
Last time (when we covered verses 17-22), we discussed Abraham and his immediate descendants, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph (the so-called patriarchs, the fathers of Israel). As recounted in Genesis 22, when God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac–the very one through whom God’s covenant promise would be fulfilled–Abraham obeyed God, took his beloved son Isaac up the mountain and prepared to sacrifice him as a burnt offering. According to the author of Hebrews’ interpretation of this event, not only did God provide a substitute for Isaac in the form of a ram, but Abraham knew that should he take Isaac’s life, God had the power to raise him from the dead. In fact, God must raise him if the promise to be fulfilled.
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