Here’s the nugget that you’ve been waiting for, the most familiar bits of Hebrews for those of us raised in the church of the last century. Of course, our teachers loved in a diluted neo-orthodoxy to distinguish between ‘knowing’ and ‘believing’ and reduced ‘faith’ to something less than knowledge, reached by a ‘leap’.
Translators in this century won’t accept the easy reading of pistis as ‘faith’, but more often ‘faithfulness’ (whose, human or divine?) or ‘trust’ to get closer to what the writer meant and readers heard in the original iterations. The seen and unseen stuff is about Greek metaphysics, not a defense of empirical science, despite the oceans of ink spilled by European and American moderns.
This is a devotional and parochial reading. We don’t have to join the academy. Nor do we test membership like episcopal bureaucrats testing cognitive assent. What do you think the ‘faithfulness’ of these biblical figures was, and what was this writer interpreting that ‘faithfulness’ or ‘trust’ on their part to be?
Enjoy this chapter the way we enjoy hearing another itinerant preacher, offering a novel spin on the old, old story. Each of these examples could be, and has been, spun out in turn in communities for the past 2000 years, encouraging Christians across centuries and around the globe to follow these examples. Imagine how varied those responses may have been in varying contexts!
If nothing else, it’s a helpful reminder that we are not the first crew to lose patience, and need encouragement to persistence. Lots of others had it worse, and most died ‘this side of the Promised Land’. But they desired a better country – the motto of the Order of Canada. They didn’t just ‘settle’. Do we?
1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
2Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval.
3By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.
4 By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain’s. Through this he received approval as righteous, God himself giving approval to his gifts; he died, but through his faith he still speaks.
5By faith Enoch was taken so that he did not experience death; and ‘he was not found, because God had taken him.’ For it was attested before he was taken away that ‘he had pleased God.’
6And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.
7By faith Noah, warned by God about events as yet unseen, respected the warning and built an ark to save his household; by this he condemned the world and became an heir to the righteousness that is in accordance with faith.
8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going.
9By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise.
10For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
11By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old —and Sarah herself was barren— because he considered him faithful who had promised.
12Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, ‘as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.’
13 All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth,
14for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.
15If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return.
16But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.
17 By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac. He who had received the promises was ready to offer up his only son,
18of whom he had been told, ‘It is through Isaac that descendants shall be named after you.’
19He considered the fact that God is able even to raise someone from the dead —and figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.
20By faith Isaac invoked blessings for the future on Jacob and Esau.
21By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, ‘bowing in worship over the top of his staff.’
22By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave instructions about his burial.
23 By faith Moses was hidden by his parents for three months after his birth, because they saw that the child was beautiful; and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.
24By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called a son of Pharaoh’s daughter,
25choosing rather to share ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.
26He considered abuse suffered for the Christ to be greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to the reward.
27By faith he left Egypt, unafraid of the king’s anger; for he persevered as though he saw him who is invisible.
28By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel
29 By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned.
30By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled for seven days.
31By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace.
32 And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—
33who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions,
34quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.
35Women received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection.
36Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment.
37They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented—
38of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.
39 Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised,
40since God had provided something better so that they would not, without us, be made perfect.