Summary: What is faith? We see faith worked out in what we call heros of the Old Testament - but they, like us, were stretched and confronted with problems as they learned to trust God.
Last time we began chapter 11 of Hebrews - the great chapter on faith.
Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
We learned that faith is believing that God is who He says He is and that He will do what He promised He will do - even though we can’t see it, we have evidence for it based on the Word of God, the presence of Jesus, the witness of the Apostles and the prophets.
We learned that faith is coming to God on His terms not our own (Cain & Abel). We learned that faith was acting on God’s Word, even if it contradicted what we would have done (Noah & Abraham). We also learned that faith is not a scheme to get God to do things for us - like a vending machine. Faith is not blind - it trusts in and is convicted by evidence in something someone greater than ourselves has said. Nor is faith a system you can inherit or just join. Faith is something individual and dynamic.
Today we are going to see faith in action in the lives of what are called the "heroes" of faith. Sometimes this chapter is called the "Hall of Faith" instead of the "Hall of Fame." Verses 17 through 40 contain a huge list of people, all who had to chose whether to trust God or not - to have faith, or not. From them we learn lessons about what faith is, and when God forces us into that same choice.
We start up where we left off - with Abraham. Last time we saw Abraham’s faith in knowing God was moving him to a new city, though he had never seen it before - and that God would provide a promised heir - the down payment on a blessing of uncountable descendants. This time we pick up with God almost taking away that very promised child:
17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, 18 of whom it was said, "Through Isaac shall your offspring be named." 19 He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.
(Genesis 22:1-19) Abraham was told to do something that might at first seemed to undo the promise - by killing the very thing that would provide the fulfillment of what God told him.
God told him to offer up Isaac as a sacrifice and Abraham had the knife ready to cut his own son’s throat until God stopped him. Why would Abraham throw away the impossible gift of a son? Because he figured that if God could bring about a baby in his old age, He could also bring the child back to life. It prefigured Jesus’ death at the hands of the Father as a sacrifice for our sins. Abraham had no assurances other than God’s Word and the demonstration of that Word he had witnessed in Sarah’s pregnancy.
20 By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau.
(Genesis 27) Isaac said the older would serve the younger - seemingly contrary to what Isaac would have done and what he wanted. The story of how Jacob "stole" the blessing isn’t the important point here - it’s that God chose to bless the younger over the older - again, not how we would have done it.
This reminds me of:
1 Corinthians 1:26-29 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise ; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. ESV
Jacob, then, does the same thing as Isaac later on:
21 By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff.
(Genesis 48) Jacob had given up on ever seeing his son Joseph again - yet God came through in a wonderful miraculous way. Jacob then trusted God enough to bless the younger first. He’d learned this lesson the hard way - for years he’d tried on his own wits to get ahead - but when he gave his life to God, and allowed God to prune him and then break him - he learned that God’s ways are better, even if they don’t make sense.
This reminds me of:
Isaiah 55:8-9 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways , declares the LORD. 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. ESV