Have you ever felt the emotional drain that comes with constant arguments, disputes, contradictions, bitter words, hurt feelings or broken relationships? Imagine that in such a condition you go to your clergy for comfort, only to be met with ferocious rejection. Add to that persecution, damage and loss of property, and you begin to understand what these Jewish believers in the early church were experiencing and why, under such wearisome conditions, they had become discouraged, even feeling like altogether giving up on their new faith.
How do you encourage people to hold fast to a faith that holds great unseen promises for the future, but in the present often involves suffering and trials and relentless battle? This is the challenge of the author of Hebrews. In chapter 11 he turns to examples of heroes of Scripture who endured in the faith to the end. Faith is the assurance that God’s promises will be realized, even if the human eye and sense appear otherwise (vs 1-2). In verses 8-22 he uses the examples of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph to emphasize that faith trusts God to fulfill His promises for the future even for what seems impossible. The theme of faith for a hopeful future when life is difficult continues in the example of Moses, Israel in Egypt and at the battle of Jericho, and Rahab in verses 23-31. Writing about these exemplars who walked by faith amidst circumstances even more trying than those experienced by the readers of the epistle, was meant to encourage these disheartened new Jewish believers in the First Century church to persevere.
As we come to the last section of chapter 11, the author realizes that this list of Old Testament examples could go on for some time, so he quickly lists other familiar heroes from the Scripture and Judaic history who exercised faith while accomplishing great exploit (vs. 32-35a), as well as amid great persecution, suffering, weakness, and apparent loss (vs. 35b-38). In the chapters last two verses (39-40), he brings the entire teaching on faith to a fitting conclusion by linking his audience to these past witnesses, once again emphasizing that with what they possess in Christ, they have something even greater than anything their past heroes had. Ultimately these verses provide a transition to Hebrews chapter 12 where we learn of the greatest exemplar of faith – Jesus Christ. It is to Him, who ultimately all these previous heroes point; and it is to Him who the victorious Christian must look if he is to run and finish his or her race of faith into eternity.