Abraham: Faith in Receiving God’s Promises
8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; 10 for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. 11 By faith Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed, and she bore a child when she was past the age, because she judged Him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born as many as the stars of the sky in multitude—innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore. 13 These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. 14 For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. 15 And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them. 17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, 18 of whom it was said, “In Isaac your seed shall be called,” 19 concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense. (Hebrews 11:8-19)
Hebrews eleven focuses on the patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Each of these men lived their lives in hope of receiving a promise only to die before their inheritance could become a reality. Abraham being the preeminent prototype of faith for all believers in God in both the Old and New Covenants (Gen. 15.6; Neh. 9:7,8; Rom. 4:1-3; Gal. 3:6-9; Js. 2:21-23). Naturally, his faith is given the most comprehensive treatment of all the heroes of faith mentioned in this chapter.
Abraham Waited On a Son for Future Blessings
Setting Off at God’s Summons
When God called Abraham, he was living in the ancient pagan city of Ur. God called and immediately Abraham began to pack without even knowing his destination (Heb. 11:8). He had faith in God to show him the way (Gen. 12:1). His was not a blind faith for with the eyes of faith he followed the unseen God. We too “walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Cor.5:7). He may have been a man without a country for the rest of his life, but he was not a man without a destiny and guide. Oswald Chambers wrote, “Faith never knows where it is being led, but loves and knows One who is leading.”
Sojourning for a City
The second example of Abraham’s faith comes as he lived a nomadic pilgrim’s life in Canaan (Heb. 11:9,10). He would live in what would become the Promise Land, but never own any of it. He did purchase a small plot in which to bury Sarah (Gen. 23:9-20). All this time the patriarchs lived in tents not him homes. They never built or even designed a city. They merely pitched tents. Both Isaac (Gen. 26:2-5) and then later Jacob (Gen. 28:12-22) would become co-heirs with Abraham. All three men would never see the city of God in their lifetime. Their lives were focused on a strong desire to have what was in the future. “The verb ‘looking forward’ connotes intensely looking forward to and waiting for that city.” (Barton 185). The worldly city of Ur was in contrast to the city created from Him by God (Heb. 11:10). It is superior to any city men could hope for. After all, God is not only the architect but the builder. They were not looking for just a piece of real estate for a few years.
The author of Hebrews further develops the concept of this city. “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem” (Heb. 12:22a). “For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come” (Heb. 13:14). It is called the New Jerusalem in the Revelation of John. As we wait all our lives in hope of heaven how wonderful and grand it must be. “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Cor. 2:9).
Siring A Son With Sarah
Many translations focus on the faith of Sarah. However, the phrase “received strength to conceive seed” could only be applied to Abraham’s potency for it literally means “received power to produce sperm” (Ger 193). Perhaps the New Century Version can best translate the intended meaning of this passage: “He was too old to have children, and Sarah could not have children. It was by faith that Abraham was made able to become a father, because he trusted God to do what he had promised.”
God’s promise of a son seems outrageous. Sarah even laughed at the idea (Gen. 18:12-15). She even came up with a plan of her own by giving her handmaid, Hagar, to Abraham as a second wife for him to have a child (Gen.16:1-4). They were too old. Abraham was a hundred and Sarah ninety years old at the time. Furthermore, Sarah was barren. Paul also remarks about this example of Abraham’s faith. “And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb” (Rom. 4:19).
The reward for the faith of both Abraham and Sarah is the birth of Isaac. Through this lone son would come the multitudes of descendants. Their number would be compared to the stars in space and the sand on the seashore (Gen. 22:2,17; 15:5).
Seeking a Homeland, Died
After making a remark about Abraham being as good as dead, verse thirteen speaks of him dying. Yet they would not lose sight of the object of their faith – a heavenly land (11:14-16). Vance Havner said, “We are not at home in this world because we are made for a better one” (Barton 187). They kept on living by faith till the day they died without receiving the promise they hoped to receive. Any of them could have abandoned the quest and returned home.
In the Epistle of Diognetus Christians are given a description very similar to this passage: “They live in their own homelands, but as foreigners. They share in everything as citizens, but endure everything as aliens. Every foreign country is their homeland, but every homeland is a strange country to them…They spend their time on the earth, but their citizenship is really in heaven” (Fudge 195).
These patriarchs did not obtain the land or the heavenly abode The only reward they did obtain was that God is proud to be their Father.
Sacrificing The Son of Promise
Before leaving the example of Abraham’s faith, Hebrews mentions the great test when God commanded him to sacrifice Isaac (Heb. 11:17-19). Of this story Albert Barnes wrote, “It is the strongest illustration of faith, undoubtedly, which has ever been evinced in our world.”
“The verb ‘to offer as a sacrifice’ is used repeatedly in Hebrews both for Jewish Levitical sacrifices (5:1,3; 8:3-4; 9:7,9; 10:1,2,8,11) and for Christ’s death on the cross (see 8:3; 9:14,25,28; 10:10,12,14)” (Michaels 437,438). The Hebrew writer is encouraging the Jewish brethren to remain faithful and not return to the sacrificial system of the Old Law. The sacrifice made by Abraham was of faith and the sacrifice of Christ is greater than all.
Abraham’s faith was not blind but based on reasoning. Abraham believed in the ability of God to resurrect the dead. Although there had never been any example of the dead being raised. The Old Testament is not without hope in an afterlife (Job 19:25; Ps. 16:10; Dan. 12:2). Abraham’s faith logically deduced that God could raise Isaac from the dead. God promised him a son. God gave him a son. This son was the only son of promise. Only through Isaac could the promises be fulfilled. Therefore God would not let him die without using his power to bring him back to life. After all Abraham was “as good as dead” when he sired Isaac. Sarah’s womb was dead when it brought forth life. God does not lie. He keeps His promise one way or another.
The phrase “in a figurative sense” is from the Greek parabole which is often translated parable. This does not imply that Isaac is a type of Christ. It means his resurrection is figurative as opposed to literal. In the mind of Abraham Isaac was as good as dead. When God did spare Isaac’s life it was as if Abraham received his son back alive.
– Daniel R. Vess