Case Study in Faith from Hebrews 11

By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies (Heb 11:31).

Yesterday’s post highlighted the four main components of faith I outlined in my sermon this past Sunday at Covenant Life Church. Rahab, whom the author of Hebrews specifically highlights in the great Hall of Faith chapter, makes for an excellent case study. Here is the text from Joshua 2:

Before the men lay down, she came up to them on the roof and said to the men, “I know that the LORD has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the LORD your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath. Now then, please swear to me by the LORD that, as I have dealt kindly with you, you also will deal kindly with my father’s house, and give me a sure sign that you will save alive my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death” (Joshua 2:8-13).

  • Faith has an object:In whom did Rahab place her faith?
    • “The Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath” (vs 11).
  • Faith has a foundation:What assurance did Rahab have for her faith?
    • “For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea…” (vs 10)
  • Faith has a desired outcome:What was Rahab hoping for from her faith?
    • “Give me a sure sign that you will save alive my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death” (vs 12-13).
  • Faith has a response:What act of radical obedience resulted from her faith?
    • “But she had brought them up to the roof and hid them with the stalks of flax that she had laid in order on the roof” (vs 6).

Rahab’s knew that the Lord was God. She had heard about how he acted for his people, the Israelites in the past, delivering them from Egypt and from the Red Sea. She knew that God would act for them again and wanted to share in that victory, hoping to save her life and that of all of her family. So she hid the spies. Now that, my friends, is faith.

By Faith – A sermon on Hebrews 11

This past Sunday, I preached on Hebrews 11, looking at what it means to live by faith. 4 key thoughts:

  • Faith has an object
    •  Key question: In what do we place our faith?
    • “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith…” (Heb 12:2)
    • Faith is to be centered on God and on his Son, Jesus Christ.
  • Faith has a foundation
    • Key question: What assurance can our faith have?
    • “How long will they refuse to believe in me in spite of the miraculous signs I have performed for them?” (Num 14:11).
    • When we read and hear how God has been faithful to his people in the past, we can be assured that he will act on our behalf as well.
  • Faith has a desired outcome
    • Key question: What are we hoping for?
    • “And without faith it is impossible to please him [God] for whoever would draw near to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Heb 11:6).
    • Hebrews 11 talks about Abraham, Joseph, Moses and more awaiting a reward or promise yet to come. Likewise, our faith anticipates the rewards God has for us.
    • Faith is, primarily, a future-looking thing. Faith is rooted in what God has already done, and looks forward to what he is yet to do.
  • Faith has a response
    • Key question: How does faith play itself out in life?
    • Here are just some of the acts of obedience outlined in Hebrews 11:
      • Noah built an ark in an area where it didn’t rain
      • Abraham left everything not knowing where God was sending him
      • The Israelites crossed the Red Sea on dry land
      • Instead of drawing up battle plans, the Israelites had a parade around Jericho
    • Why did each of them do these things? Because God told them to!
    • Faith in God results in radical obedience to God and to his commands.

On Hebrews 11: Gideon

And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon… who through faith conquered kingdoms… became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. – Heb 11:32-34.

Read: Judges 7:1-25

Interact: Is there such a thing as going into a battle with too big an army? Why did God peel back the number of men in Gideon’s army, especially so drastically?

Reflect: 22,000 men was too many. So was 10,000. God whittled Gideon’s army all the way to the paltry number of 300. The Lord tells Gideon up front why he is doing this: “The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me’” (Judges 7:2). The Lord knew the inclination of the Israelites… an inclination we also share… to think that we had something to do with it. With too many men, Israel would be inclined to exalt her own strength and the size of her own army. But only 300 men, Gideon defeated the entire army of the Midianites. And with so great and so unlikely a victory, there was only one viable reason: God did this. There are many times in the life of faith that we want to explain everything, control all the variables and execute a plan. The temptation for us in this is, like the Israelites, to want to account it to our good planning or strength or wisdom rather than the provision of Almighty God. To break us of that reliance on self, God often whittles away our strengths and our securities, so the only possible reason is that God did this. And herein lies the core of the life of faith: this is about God, not about us. This is about his glory and fame, not ours. It is about his miraculous provision, not our excellent planning and forethought. It is about his strength made perfect in our weakness. It is about taking us to the depths of our brokenness and dependence so that we can see that he was there all along, working out his glorious plan of redemption in your life. Then we, along with Gideon, can declare, “God did this.”

Respond: How are you personally tempted to control all the variables and rely on human strength, rather than on God? Pray, asking God to forgive you of your self-reliance that you and all those around you might see that the God is at work in your life. After all, that is what it means to live by faith.

On Hebrews 11: Moses

He [Moses] considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible – Heb 11:26-27.

Read: Exodus 2:11-15

Interact: Why did Moses kill the Egyptian? Why did Moses run?

Reflect: Was it wrong for Moses to kill the Egyptian? Yes. Was it impetuous and foolish? Was it misguided? Yes. But was Moses’ actions here a sign of something deeper? Yes. The key to this passage comes in the form of a question from one of the Israelites who saw Moses kill the Egyptian: “Who made you a prince and a judge over us?” The simple answer: God did. See, God had a calling on Moses’ life to be the deliverer of Israel from the hands of Pharaoh and Egypt.  Sure, Moses seems to have jumped the gun a little here, but not because he was off base. He was the one who was to protect and intercede for the Hebrews. Just not yet. Two things to particularly take of which to take note in this passage. 1) From early on, God had a plan for Moses’ life to deliver Israel from the oppression of Egypt. It just wasn’t by way of murder. 2) Moses never wanted this role. It’s not like he was asking for it. He was a messed up guy who rushed God’s plan and tried to do it his own way. He was, in many ways, a reluctant leader, quick to point out his own shortcomings so that people look not at him, but at God as the Savior and Deliverer of Israel.

Respond: What is God calling you to in life? How are you trying to rush his plan? How do your shortcomings point people to Christ? Pray, asking God to forgive you of rushing his plan but share your eagerness for him to use you, shortcomings and all, to point people to the God who saves.

On Hebrews 11: Moses’ Parents

By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict – Heb 11:23.

Read: Exodus 2:1-10

Interact: Why was Pharaoh so intent on killing off the Israelite boys? What would it have been like to find out you (or your wife) were pregnant?

Reflect: The edict comes down from Pharaoh: All Israelite boys that are born are to be thrown into the Nile to drown, but girls were allowed to live. Imagine being a would-be parent, finding out that the wife is pregnant. There were no ultrasounds. For nine months, you anticipate the birth of a child, knowing its life or death was to be determined by the presence or absence of a Y chromosome. The day finally arrives; the wife goes into labor. At long last come those words, “It’s a ____.” If it’s a girl, the parents sigh a deeply sigh of relief. If it’s a boy, the sentence has been cast: death by drowning in the Nile. That is the angst-filled dilemma of two parents one day when the wife gives birth to a little baby boy. But instead of obeying the king’s edict, they hide him. And when they can hide him no more, they trust him into the Lord’s care. And instead of drowning in the Nile, he is discovered by Pharaoh’s own daughter in the Nile, floating in a basket. She rescues him. She saves his life. Because they walked by faith, in obedience, defying the orders of Pharaoh, they got to see God’s miracle working power to save his life at that moment, and then to watch firsthand as God delivered Israel from bondage to Egypt and Pharaoh by Moses’ hand.

Respond: How are you being asked to walk by faith when the outcome seems so shaky, even unavoidable? Pray, asking God to give you, this week, opportunities to obey when all doors seem shut so that only God can receive the glory when he does something that only he can do to deliver or provide.

On Hebrews 11: Joseph

By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones – Heb 11:22.

Read: Genesis 50:22-26 and Joshua 24:32

Interact: Why did it matter so much to Joseph to have his bones taken out of Egypt? What was Joseph anticipating to happen some time in the future?

Reflect: In his final words before he died, Joseph offered this last wish: When the Israelites leave Egypt one day, take my bones with you. It’s a strange request to us when we read it, but even more so when we consider that in Egypt he was royalty, second in command behind Pharaoh himself. He would have had the most elegant of burial surroundings. Maybe he would even have gotten his own pyramid to be buried in. Instead, he asks the Israelites to hold on to his remains and take them out of Egypt. As it happens, that is some 400 years later. The important question here: Why? Why would this matter so much to Joseph? Joseph knew that Egypt wasn’t the land God promised forever. He knew his future lied somewhere else… somewhere better. He knew that the Israelites would, one day, inherit that good land.

Faith in Christ doesn’t promise us avoidance of physical death. Joseph died. So will you and I one day. That is the penalty for our sin. But in Christ, death is not our final destiny. Just as Egypt wasn’t Joseph’s home, neither is this world our home. Egypt wasn’t Joseph’s inheritance and this world isn’t ours. Joseph’s inheritance… and our inheritance… is somewhere better. Our home and our inheritance is life eternal in the presence of God, in the real Promised Land.

Respond: In what are you placing your hope? What is your deepest longing for the future? Where do you find your destiny? Pray, asking God to give you, this week, a taste of our final destiny and our eternal inheritance that we have in Christ.

On Hebrews 11: Abel

This week, I am leading a team from Covenant Life Church on a missions project in New Orleans. As a missions team, we are studying Hebrews 11, the so-called “Hall of Faith” chapter. In addition to studying it corporately in our team time, each day we are going to study one of the characters named in Hebrews 11. To start with, on Sunday, we will be studying Abel. Each day I will post a devotional out of Hebrews 11 for your reflection.

By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks – Heb 11:4.

Read: Genesis 4:1-7

Interact: Why did God accept Abel’s sacrifice and not Cain’s? Why did God accept Abel and not Cain?

Reflect: Accepted. A simple word that provides the hinge between Cain and Abel. Hebrews 11:4 twice says “acceptable” and then “accepting” with respect to Abel’s gifts to the Lord. Conversely, in Genesis 4:7, the Lord asks Cain, “If you do well, will you not be accepted?” Cain did what he was supposed to do. He made the sacrifice. In fact, the closest we get to a qualitative difference is that Cain’s sacrifice is described as “an offering,” whereas Abel’s is described as “firstborn” and “fat portions,” seemingly indicating that Abel gave his best, not just some. But even to get caught up there is, I believe, to miss the point. It was more than a qualitative difference. It was a difference in faith. As Hebrews 11:6 tells us, “without faith it is impossible to please” God. Cain and Abel both made sacrifices. They both did what they were supposed to do. Only Abel’s was accepted. The difference: Abel’s gift and his life were marked by faith. Cain’s gift and his life were not. The offer was before Cain to do well. He did not, as we find out in the rest of the story. And the difference: Abel walked in faith, the only way to please God.

Respond: Is your life marked by the faith that pleases God and makes your life acceptable to him? Pray, asking God to teach you to walk in faith, making your sacrifices, and your life, acceptable to God.