Thursday, August 8, 2013

A brief guide to Hebrews, 11:8-21

By Faith they sought a heavenly city
There is no question Abraham is a massively important figure in the Bible.  Naturally, the writer spends a large portion of chapter eleven talking about Abraham and his descendants.  The story of Abraham begins in Genesis 12 (his genealogy appears in 11), climaxes in Genesis 22, and continues until his death in Genesis 25.  In the Bible, he is the quintessential picture of a life of faith.  God’s covenant with Abraham included two things: land and descendants.  Both of these were hugely important to ancient people and intimately connected.  Hebrews stresses Abraham took God at his word at every turn and obeyed God, having faith he would provide land and descendants.  His life was a nomadic one and he never settled in the land God called him to but he never returned to the land he was called out of.  Isaac and Jacob also had opportunities to return to their father’s homeland but did not, even though they too never really settled in Canaan.  They all died in faith, which the writer argues reveals they were not trusting in a earthly homeland but a heavenly city built by God himself.  God miraculously provided a son, Isaac, through Abraham’s wife Sarah even though both of them were close to death and incapable of having children.  For years, Abraham struggled to follow God and was by no means perfect in trusting God, but he never gave up hope.  The climax of his life is when God asked him to sacrifice his son Isaac.  It appears that God gave a command contradictory to his promise, but Hebrews testifies that Abraham believed God was capable of resurrecting Isaac.  Romans 4:20-21 tells us Abraham’s great faith is demonstrated in that he considered the conundrum between God’s command and promise to be God’s problem to sort out.  Abraham merely took God at his word and obeyed.  Thus, while he never saw the full promises of God fulfilled, he saw them in part, for he was given a son and God always provided what they needed to stay in Canaan, particularly when the Hittites gave him a place to bury Sarah (Gen. 23:4).  Isaac and Jacob both passed on the promises of God to their descendants and maintained faith throughout their lives, even though they faced their own challenges and struggles with God along the way.
By Faith demonstrated righteousness
What should be understood is not just the great faith the patriarchs had in God and his promises, but also that they were flawed characters whose faith in God enabled them to do what was right at critical times.  They left Ur and never returned.  Abraham permitted his nephew Lot to take the seemingly better land (Gen. 13).  He did not take the spoils of war and tithed to the righteous worshipper of Yahweh, Melchizedek (Gen. 14).  God considered him righteous on account of his faith (Gen. 15), and Abraham obeyed God when called to sacrifice his son (Gen. 22).  Isaac ensured that the promises and blessings of God were passed on to his son Jacob, even though Esau was overlooked (Gen. 27:27-40).  Jacob blessed his two grandsons by Joseph with the blessings and promises of God (Gen. 48).  None of them realized the full promises of God, but all of this reveals they were not trusting in a temporal city, but an eternal one that God himself would build.

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