Series on Hebrews, V Superior Privileges, C Superior Participation, The Faith of The Originators, Text: 11:8-22, Title: Abraham’s Children?


In this chapter we have seen faith in general as the key to life. We have seen faith in the old pre-flood world  as the essential ingredient in true worship and service. Today we look at the faith of the originators. Abraham is called the father of faith in the Bible. The patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are the originators, not because they were the first men to believe, but because they were the first Jews. The word Hebrew comes from Abraham’s grandfather Eber . This is the beginning of the formation of a particular people, a nation which would serve the Lord. Thus it is very relevant to the people to whom Hebrews is written who were Abraham’s  biological descendants. Tragically the rabbis had long taught that Abraham pleased God because of his works. They believed God looked around the earth and finally found an outstandingly righteous man, Abraham, who because of his goodness was selected to be the father of God’s chosen people. That false teaching needed to be corrected. It was necessary to show, from the Old Testament itself, that Abraham was not righteous in himself but was counted righteous by God because of his faith. Faith is the instrument of salvation because salvation is a gift of God. It is not the greatness of our faith but the greatness of our God which counts. The infinite, eternal, unchangeable God does his will and since he is invisible, and discerned only by those who can see the invisible, faith in us is the only instrument he can use. The glory is entirely His. Thus in a chapter that seems to exalt heroes of faith there is only one real hero, God. Faith in us is just his way of doing his work. As we look at the faith of the originators today we see this illustrated in the pilgrimage, the patience, and the proof of their faith. Abraham illustrates all of these: Isaac, Jacob and Joseph are added because they also illustrate the same point.

I  Pilgrimage

Verses 8-10 declare, By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.  By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. As we read of Abraham’s pilgrimage we learn, first of all, that he left his country and people with no idea where he was going. His ultimate goal was a city whose builder and maker was God. As you read down to verse 16 you see that this was a better heavenly country. Instead of exalting Abraham first by commending his vision, perhaps we should ask why would a man do a crazy thing like this? It was of course because God called him. However that call was not just the voice of God speaking it was the power of God working. Faith is the instrument of grace. You can’t have Biblical faith apart from God’s grace. God had a purpose in calling Abraham and that purpose was going to be fulfilled. It was a purpose of grace and the faith created in Abraham was part of that gracious purpose. If you want a commentary on this turn to Ezekial 16. The prophet speaks to a disobedient people in captivity for their sin. God is tired of their pride in being Abraham’s children. He is tired of their abuse of his mercy, and it says, The word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, confront Jerusalem with her detestable practices and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says to Jerusalem: Your ancestry and birth were in the land of the Canaanites; your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite. On the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to make you clean, nor were you rubbed with salt or wrapped in cloths. No one looked on you with pity or had compassion enough to do any of these things for you. Rather, you were thrown out into the open field, for on the day you were born you were despised. “‘Then I passed by and saw you kicking about in your blood, and as you lay there in your blood I said to you, “Live!”  I made you grow like a plant of the field. You grew up and developed and became the most beautiful of jewels. Your breasts were formed and your hair grew, you who were naked and bare.”‘Later I passed by, and when I looked at you and saw that you were old enough for love, I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness. I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Sovereign LORD, and you became mine. There was nothing special about Abraham. He pursued the pilgrimage because God captivated him with a vision. That fascination, that enraptured vision, is what we call faith. God does that in us as he did in Abraham. The result is separation from this world and its doomed goals. God becomes our reward.

II Patience

And so we read in verses 11-16, By faith Abraham, even though he was past age—and Sarah herself was barren—was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore. All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. Abraham’s patience is illustrated  by his persistence in spite of many disappointments. The epitaph for all these Old Testament saints is written in v.13, All these people were still living by faith when they died. The faith of Abraham was tested at every turn both with respect to God’s promise of the land-for God said he would possess the land of Canaan, and with respect to his offspring, for God had said your seed shall; be as the stars of heaven and in your seed will all the nations of the earth be blessed. He lived as a stranger and pilgrim in the land and he was childless. However, lest we think his perseverance was due to the character with which he was endowed,  we take note of the twisted, winding, crooked course of his life. Particularly with respect to the promise of seed, both Abraham and Sarah succumbed to the temptation to take matters into their own hands, and Abraham begot a child, Ishmael, by Sarah’s handmaid Hagar. God rejected Ishmael and said this is not your seed, you will still have a child.  And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.  Remember Sarah laughed. They were such ordinary people. The reason that Abraham persevered was that God had a purpose to fulfill in him. His staying power was the direct result of God’s grace and that abiding vision we call faith. Two thousand years later Abraham’s seed, Jesus, walked the lonely road to the cross. Hebrews 2:10 says,  In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering and again in Chapter 12:3 we read,  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. He patiently endured the suffering and this is why Abraham was patient.

III Proof

The final act of faith is in verses 17-19, By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death. Abraham’s faith was proved in that one great act of devotion which most closely pictured the devotion of the one whom he served. Like God, he gave his only son. At that moment every promise of God was tied to this one and only son. A lifetime of hardship and a future of hope were laid on that altar on Mount Moriah. Every thing he ever lived for and every thing he ever longed for and desired was under the curse. The author of Hebrews says v.19, Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death. The point is not to make a big display of Abraham’s precocious faith. The point is to show that nothing Abraham had done meant anything apart from God’s grace. God takes it all away that he may give it all back. Faith is nothing more than the openness to receive what grace gives. Grace is not a word, or a thought, it is an action. Faith is the ability God gives to let him fulfill his purpose in us. I read a poem,, by Nancy Spiegelberg, “Lord I crawled across the barrenness to you with my empty cup uncertain in asking any small drop of refreshment. If only I had known you better I'd have come running with a bucket.” J. Wilbur Chapman often told of the testimony given by a certain man in one of his meetings: "I got off at the Pennsylvania depot as a tramp, and for a year I begged on the streets for a living.  One day I touched a man on the shoulder and said, "Hey, mister, can you give me a dime?"  As soon as I saw his face I was shocked to see that it was my own father.  I said, "Father, Father, do you know me?"  Throwing his arms around me and with tears in his eyes, he said, "Oh my son, at last I've found you!  I've found you.  You want a dime?  Everything I have is yours." Think of it.  I was a tramp.  I stood begging my own father for ten cents, when for 18 years he had been looking for me to give me all that he had."  We hear a story like that and we say if only the man had more faith in his father. That is the wrong response for then we are begging for a small drop when what we need is a bucketful. Grace doesn’t come in small doses. GRACE DOESN’T COME IN SMALL DOSES.  Genuine faith produced by God’s grace says I have nothing and I need everything. It’s living in the expectation that God’s purpose will be fulfilled. That is the point of adding the names of Isaac, Jacob and Joseph in verses 20-22,  By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future. By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff. By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions about his bones. These men failed all the time but they blessed their children with God’s purpose. Likewise Joseph gave orders for his bones to be buried in the promised land. Grace is the hopeless hoping, the helpless being helped, the weakest being strong. Faith is the empty vessel. And without grace it is useless. Jesus loved me and gave himself for me. Faith says everything he has is mine. Ephesians 2: 8-10 declares, For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.  For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do just as Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Joseph were created by grace through faith.