Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).
If there is one thing we see in the epistle to the Hebrews, that the people reading the letter needed most, it was faith. Of their ancestors, the author writes, they failed to enter the promised land because “the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened” (Hebrews 4:2). He exhorts them not to follow their faithless example, but instead to “strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience” (4:11). We find some of the hardest passages in all of Scripture in Hebrews, warning of the danger of forsaking the faith. Chapter 10 verses 26-31, arguably the most solemn warning in the epistle, is followed in verses 32-39 by a call to endure in the faith. In writing don’t throw away your confidence, which has great reward (10:35), the author goads his readers to endure in the faith and not give up the fight. He encourages them to look forward to the future promise of eternal life, kindling a desire to finish the race with endurance. As we look for an eternal abode that is greater than our present existence, knowing that only those who endure to the end will make it there, we are inspired to not shrink back unto destruction, but instead to live by faith. Chapter 10 concludes comparing those who live by faith with those who shrink back: “but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him. But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.”
As we come to the highly anticipated chapter 11 of Hebrews, the author will furnish us with examples of those who lived by faith in the Scriptures. Some of these names are expected – Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and Samuel; while others are quite unexpected – Rahab, Jephthah, and Samson. We will learn from these examples what it means to be a believer with a faith that pleases God. Ultimately, we find Jesus as the ultimate example of perfect faith (12:1-3).
Prior to illustrating faith from this wide array of Old Testament characters, the author begins chapter 11 by explaining how faith behaves. Faith assures that what is promised will happen; it convinces us of that which is unseen (11:1). By faith we trust what is invisible, whether in the past, as we were not there to see it, or in the present, though we cannot feel it, or in the future, because it is yet to occur. Faith is the conviction that these unseen realities are truly real, so that we build our lives upon them and base our life-decisions on them – this is what it means to live by faith. Many have walked this journey before us whose example we can follow. We are not alone; thankfully other men and women, not so different from ourselves, have endured and finished the race, so you can too!