Hebrews 11, popularly called "the Faith Chapter," contains the recitation of the names and deeds of several men and women of faith from creation to the time of Israel's entering of the Promised Land. In it, the author—most likely the apostle Paul—presents illustrations from the Old Testament to bear out his opening statement: "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good testimony" (Hebrews 11:1-2).
In the lives of individual after individual, he shows that their expressions of faith in God, despite the lack of material evidence, proved they were righteous (verse 4), pleased God (verse 5), and were heirs of righteousness (verse 7). The remarkable acts that they accomplished—from Abel's offering of an excellent sacrifice to Rahab's hiding of the Israelite spies—were done because, believing the Word of God, they envisioned a heavenly future that others could not see.
We see, then, that the heroes of faith not only lived righteous lives in the present, but also moved and acted with a steady eye on the future. Their faith had its foundation in the invisible God whose Word they obeyed, yet their foreknowledge of God's plan for mankind contained in the promises that God gave to them and to Israel also played a major role, one not nearly recognized enough among professing Christians. It was not just the promise of salvation or even of eternal life dangled before them that made them so unflinchingly faithful. It was also their steadfast hope of a better tomorrow in God's Kingdom.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
David the Prophet
It was by faith that the elders, meaning those who lived long ago, the ancients, received God's approval and made a good testimony. Because of faith, they were enabled to become good witnesses. We need to connect this word "testimony" or "witness" with Hebrews 12:1, where it is said that we are "surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses." The author does not mean that these people are watching us as unseen spirits, but that they witnessed through their lives that they had faith in God, and we see them now in our mind's eye.
These heroes of faith are dead and still in their graves. However, we can look at the record of their lives in Scripture, and it is as though they yet live. It is similar to Paul saying that the blood of Abel crying out from the ground yet speaks, for that story tells us a great deal about Cain and Abel. This great cloud of witnesses is there in the Bible for us to observe so that we can examine the testimony that they left—how that they used their faith, how they endured, how they glorified God by the things they said and did.
It was faith that strengthened them and enabled them to overcome. It enabled them to suffer and to endure the privations of their lives. This patient waiting under trial is the primary object, teaching, or subject of this wonderful chapter.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Faith (Part 2)
This sets the stage for the remainder of the chapter by showing its importance: Others we respect have lived by faith before us, and as a result, God approved of their lives.
The apostle implies that, if they could do it, why can we not do as well, since the same factors that existed for them are still working? Namely, God is still on His throne, and His truth stands firm. We should desire to please and trust no one else in the entire world above God. This is an important point regarding faith because this faith must be lived toward God.
Remember, God as a personal Being and His message given through Jesus Christ are the objects of our trust. It is easy for our attitude to be oriented toward pleasing other people. God does not deny this to us, but pleasing Him must dominate our attitude. We must choose pleasing Him as the primary desire of our lives, or conviction has little chance of growing.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Three)
At our calling we were excited about having found God and His truth. We may have even thought we were ready to face the lion's den, crucifixion, the fiery furnace, or boiling oil. In retrospect, however, our failure to follow all God's instructions, our weakness in trials, our impotence in tests of faith are mute testimony that our zealous, early faith, though encouraging, was not the kind Christ is looking for in His elect. He seeks mature faith as we see in these Christians of Hebrews 11. They were faithful in little and followed through when everything was on the line. This is the mature, living, unwavering faith required for salvation that allows us to please Him.
Have we reached the point where we do not fear those who can destroy the body, but He who can destroy both body and soul? Do we practice this living faith in our daily walk? The just—those who are righteous—shall live by faith, and in doing so, will inherit the Kingdom of God!
Martin G. Collins
Basic Doctrines: Faith Toward God
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Hebrews 11:2: