Study #13 “Our Greater Advantage” Hebrews 11:32-40
by Bob Burridge ©2022
Hebrews 11 has shown us several examples of faith.
Our earlier studies looked at Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, & Rahab. Their faith wasn’t the kind of faith most religious people tell us about. Instead of being just an optimistic hope, their faith was a confident trust that God can be taken at his word.
Hebrews 11:32 goes on to list more of these examples of a true God-induced faith, “And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets-”
Verses 33-34 tells about them. It says, “who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.”
Then in verse 35 he mentions women who, “… received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life.”
In verses 36-38 he mentions others who, “… suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated– of whom the world was not worthy–wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.”
It would have been very lengthy to name them all so he groups them together to make his point.
Their actions showed their trust in
God’s promises and instructions to them.
Hebrews 11:39, “And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised,”
They each had a sincere faith in promises God had made. It wasn’t just a blind, irrational leap in the dark, or wishful thinking the way some use the word “faith”. In their fallen condition people often refer to “faith” as if hoping will make things happen. It wasn’t a faith in their own abilities and efforts to make things work out.
The faith we see in these examples is a spiritual gift of God put into their hearts by grace. That’s what makes us fully trust, love, and obey what God’s said. It’s a full expectation that God will do what he says and will honor his commitments.
Where there is a promise from God, faith needs nothing more.
Their faith in God’s promise produced great examples of obedience. Even though many of them faced dangers and a loss of earthly comforts, they acted on what God said. They were confident that his promises can’t fail. They believed and obeyed because they knew God’s instructions are always the only right choice.
Faith isn’t just believing something is true. Satan and the demons believe things too. They are convinced that there is a God. But they don’t love the God they know is real, and they certainly don’t obey what God’s said. James warns us that a claim to faith that doesn’t make us trustingly obey, isn’t a true faith at all. It’s a dead faith. James 2:17, “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” James 2:26, “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.”
The obedience of these biblical examples is commendable. They were each rewarded with God’s care. Not that God blessed them with outward comforts. He gave them what they really needed in each situation.
Like these biblical examples, we might have to face uncomfortable situations, and lack of some earthly things. God blesses his faithful people by meeting their inward needs.
They may face challenging and uncomfortable challenges, but through it all there can be true peace and comfort knowing that they are honoring God.
Their real comfort didn’t come from health, wealth, and worldly comforts. Some wealthy, successful, and admired people have taken their own lives; because they lacked inner satisfaction: A true faith produces a sound confidence in God’s promises and instructions. It enables those of faith to humble worship and obedience. This is what brings God’s inward peace. This inner peace passes the understanding in those who don’t know the life of faith. Philippians 4:4-7, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
It’s far better to be filled with peace and joy in discomfort, than to have guilt, tension, and fear while you have just outward comforts. There can be inward peace while living in a war-torn country. There can be an inward comfort while material things are on the decline in our lives. Even in times of declining health and serious injuries there can be an inward peace. God promises that inner comfort when we’re honoring him in our thoughts and lives.
The primary promise that drove these examples
of biblical faith is now completed in Christ.
The second part of Hebrews 11:39 tells us that the greater promise of God wasn’t known to these examples of faith.
They “… did not receive what was promised,” but, they saw it afar off.
They didn’t trust more because they knew more than we do. They knew less. They didn’t have Bibles to carry around, or commentaries to consult about what God’s said. They didn’t know how God’s promises would be fulfilled in the Messiah who would be crucified for them. They trusted what God had made known by their time, and they knew what God had already done.
Some have recommended that we keep a Promise Notebook or Promise File on our computers or cellphones. It’s a list of the promises God’s made to his people. It’s recommended that we read through those notes regularly to be reminded about what God promises.
Another list to make up is a Praise Notebook or Praise File. List the wonderful characteristics of God which he reveals to us in his word! He’s the Creator and Preserver of everything. He’s the Sovereign Ruler over all, the King of Kings. For his people he’s their Father, Savior, Comforter, Good Shepherd, and so on. And he’s the final Judge, and the Rewarder of each of us sinners he died as the Christ to redeem. When we center our thoughts on him, and keep his promises fresh in our minds, there will be good soil in which our faith will grow and yield good fruit. That crop expands into joyful obedience and inward blessing.
The same God of Abraham, Moses, David and the Apostle Paul is our God! Just as he cared for these examples of faith, he’ll care for us. God doesn’t change. He always keeps his covenant pledges with His people. These examples of faith trusted in the promise of a Messiah in the far off future. We know it as historic fact! We know how all those rituals and symbols of the Old Testament depicted what the Messiah would be and do.
These great examples of faith are not made perfect without us!
Hebrews 11:40, “since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.”
Who were these examples of faith? They were prophets, poets, pilgrims, patriarchs, but they also included farmers, shepherds, housewives, even a prostitute! Their strength didn’t rest in how specially skilled they were, or how high a rank or celebrity status they had. It wasn’t based on what they could accomplish by their diligent efforts, or in how special they were looked upon when compared to others. They were exemplary because they rested with confidence in God and his promises.
So, who are we who read this 11th chapter of Hebrews? We are sales representatives, husbands, housewives, parents, children, students, engineers, managers, craftsmen, cooks, nurses, teachers, laborers … yet in whatever God’s given us to be and do, we’re all to be servants of God, trusting in his promises. Like these examples in Hebrews 11, our strength doesn’t rest in ourselves, our skills, and diligence. It comes from trusting in the promises of that same God.
Verse 40 says that these great examples of the faith are not perfect without us! The Greek word translated as “perfect” here is “telei-o-tho-si” (τελειωθῶσι). The root word in Greek means “complete” in the sense of reaching some completed condition or state. It doesn’t mean that because of us they became perfect in that we help them overcome their sins or faults. It means that in what they lived for by faith is now brought to completion in us. Very literally it could be translated, “… in order that without us they are not made complete.” (ἵνα μὴ χωρὶς ἡμῶν τελειωθῶσι)
These examples of faith lived looking forward to the promises they didn’t fully understand. Now in glory in the presence of God, they rejoice all the more seeing what we live in today with fulfilled promises.
Most of these examples struggled in oppressive times far worse than what we deal with today. Daily living was very corrupt with ungodly leaders in Israel, and the dominance of pagan empires. Pagan gods were endorsed by the state. There was state sponsored prostitution, and homosexual acts were part of the popular forms of worship, They often had to live under empires that enslaved them or conquered them. There were executions without trials, slaughters of thousands by evil kings, and so on.
Though we live in pagan and very unbelieving times, it’s not yet reached that level of ancient depravity. Our outward situations could still decline, but that’s not what makes our age greater.
Our greater advantage is that we live in an age where God’s promises are more fulfilled. We have more of God’s word explaining how those promises will be yet more to be fulfilled. Since we know God and his plan more fully, we have an immense advantage over these ancient examples of faith! We know and have seen the work of the promised Messiah! Christ didn’t come just to give us hope in wonderful promises. We see how God took on a human nature to live and die in our place. We know more fully how the Holy Spirit works in us to guide us to grow in honoring God in our lives. Though we understand more about how God’s promises are fulfilled, we still learn from these old examples of faith.
By learning to accept and trust in what God’s said and done we engage the work God calls us to do. By trusting in our Lord, we can chip away at well embedded sinful attitudes and practices in our lives. We learn to stand confidently in the face of those who promote an ungodly way of life. We aren’t like a painter with a blank canvass to work on. We’re more like the sculptor who cuts away a rock or block of wood to bring out the shape that ought to be there.
Our lives, with all our bad habits and sins, are like that rock or block of wood. God tells us what we should be like. We can recognize what doesn’t belong, and cut away what shouldn’t be there. By his power and the now fulfilled promises we can remove those thoughts and ways that don’t please God. Like those examples of the faith we learn to keep our eyes on the promises and the one who promised them.
A life of true faith begins with what we refer to as “Saving Faith”.
Before we can live by and be truly encouraged by faith in God’s promises, we need to be true children of God.
The faith we’re to live by emerges in us by the work of the Holy Spirit once we are regenerated.
Saving Faith is that God given trust that we are his children through the work of our Savior, Jesus Christ. John Calvin defines saving faith in his Institutes3:II:7. He said that faith is “… a firm and sure knowledge of the divine favor toward us, founded on the truth of a free promise in Christ, and revealed to our minds and sealed on our hearts by the Holy Spirit.”
As we saw at the beginning of this series of studies, Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” The King James Version says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
This is more of an operational definition than telling us the meaning of the word. It tells us what it produces. Of course faith is the confidence God gives us in his promises and in what he’s done for us. But this verse tells us what that true faith produces in us. It gives us an assurance of what we hope for in God’s blessings, and the conviction of what’s coming even before we see it all fulfilled.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 86 asks, “What is faith in Jesus Christ?” The answer summarizes what the Bible says about it, “Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon him alone for salvation, as he is offered to us in the gospel.”
We need to keep our eyes on the examples of
faith and obedience in these biblical examples.
We need to understand God’s promises well enough to put our hope in them, and to live with those promises in mind. Recognize the things that get in the way of trusting and living with those promises in mind, things that don’t belong in your life. Cut them out by sincere and humble repentance and reliance on God’s enablement. Keep in mind the promises for now and those that are yet to come. Prayerfully strive to conform to the most perfect example — Jesus Christ.
Live, every minute of every day, by faith, trusting that the God Who made you and died for you will always keep his word.
Note: Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.
Hebrews 11 index: “Faith and What Flows From It“