Wednesday, November 11, 2020
Letters of Light
Hebrews, Ch 11 & 12
Chapter 11 opens by taking up the concluding theme of Chapter 10- faith. Translators have always found 11.1 to be difficult to express; several of the words are open to different meanings. The best translation I’ve found is: Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not yet see. The author gives a lengthy and skillful review of people of faith from the First Covenant (remember Hebrews was addressed to Christians from a Jewish background). We’re familiar with all of them, except Enoch. He appears in Genesis 5.21-24 which says “he walked with God and was no longer here,” implying the belief that he did not die. The connection with the theme would be: he was righteous because of faith and was taken up to God. (PS- Genesis says he was the father of Methuselah who lived for 969 years!) The faith of Abraham is emphasized in this section: he obeyed God and left home for a new land. The letter notes that all these persons died before God’s promises were fulfilled (11.13), but they “were sure of what they hoped for and certain of what they did not yet see.” 11.19 presents Isaac as a symbol of the Risen Christ. With faith in God’s promises, Isaac blessed his son, Jacob (the father of the 12 tribes of Israel); in faith, Jacob’s son, Joseph, foretold the Exodus from Egypt.
Moses takes center stage. His humility in setting aside his royal status (11.24) as the adopted son of Pharaoh’s daughter) and his sharing his people’s ill-treatment (11.25) make him a symbol of Christ. He left Egypt how? In faith (11.27). In faith he had the people sprinkle the blood of the Paschal Lamb on their doorposts (11.28) ring any bells? “Lamb of God…..”). The walls of Jericho fell (11.30) because of the people’s faith (led by Joshua, though he is not mentioned by name.). The author then gives a quick list of judges (eg Gideon), King David, and Samuel (as well as other unnamed prophets) who all lived by faith. 11.33-38 graphically recall persecutions which the people endured in faith (especially in the time of the Macabees who revolted against their oppressors). Do you get the picture? It’s all about faith. The comment “without us they (all those people just mentioned) would not be perfect” (11.40). The author is saying that in Christ, God’s promises have been fulfilled (perfected) and through faith in Christ we already share in that fulfillment.
Ch 12 presents our ancestors as inspirations (12.1) and presents Jesus as the culmination; he is our leader, our perfecter, in faith (12.2). His example in suffering encourages us in ours. For us, trials can be an opportunity to grow in spirit. The strong exhortation: “Strengthen your drooping hands….”(12.12f) and the warning against straying (12.14-17) is followed by a wonderful word picture. The author contrasts the terrifying revelation of God (Exodus 19.12f; Deuteronomy 4.11 and 5.22f) with the panorama of the city of God, the Jerusalem of heaven. It is a place where angels dressed for celebration, the saints of the Kingdom are made perfect; it is made rich by the presence of God the Father and Jesus (12.18-24). Bringing things full circle from 11.4 (about Abel), the author insists that the sprinkled blood of Jesus “speaks more eloquently than that of Abel and gives us confidence of entering that Kingdom (cf 10.19).
In faith we are sure of that Kingdom we hope for and are certain of that Kingdom that we cannot yet see. Chapter 12 concludes with a stirring exhortation to perseverance reminding the reader/listener/us that it is God Himself –“a consuming fire”- toward whom we owe “gratitude, reverence and awe” (12.29).
Something to consider:
The author of Hebrews gives us a “line-up” of the holy ones who kept faith with God. Do we realize that we are in that “line-up” too? We stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us and are the most recent ones that have been called to faith.
Read Hebrews, Ch 13