The first verse of Hebrews 11 is one I memorized many years ago in the King James Version. “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” The substance of things hoped for; the KJV was written to be read out loud and it’s poetic language, combined with rhythm and cadence, is the reason it is so often read today in public ceremonies and gatherings. In my case it’s what I grew up with so with many important passages of scriptures those are the words I know by heart.
“For by it the elders obtained a good report.” Most of chapter 11 is a listing of Old Testament figures and what they did in faith. I will not repeat the entire list here, you can and should read each chapter as part of the Bible study process. It was not uncommon for Old Testament writers to summarize the history of Israel or recite to God things he had done. The writer of Hebrews uses that same convention to build a case. The end of chapter 10 was about persevering in the faith and not shrinking back, encouraging the reader to continue and to expect the reward for remaining in the faith. All the faith heroes listed in 11 look forward to the fulfillment of God’s promises. The slaves that left Egypt did eventually reach the promised land, or their children did; Abraham’s descendants did become a great nation. But none of the Old Testament faithful received what Hebrews 12 will identify as “the founder and perfecter” (or the author and finisher) of our faith. Abraham’s offering of Isaac, the blood on the doorposts in Egypt, all of these were shadows and images of things to come.
By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. Heb. 11:3
I could preach a good sermon on verses 1 -3 without ever mentioning any of the names, which would be a shame. Things that are seen – everything created we observe with our senses in the physical world – are not made by things that are visible, or which can be observed. That takes faith to believe and understand but it is also logical by our definition and understanding of logic. Every possibility for why the universe exists ends with accepting “facts” which cannot be observed or recreated. The same logic that tells us to believe in a quantum singularity which eventually results in the cosmic Big Bang could also support creation by an omnipotent (Almighty) God. The reason string theory and other unified field theories exist today is because the old theories, taken to their rational conclusions, suggested an intelligent design which by extension presupposes a designer. It is not “good science” to start with an absolute truth – such as there is no God – and work toward proving it but that’s where theoretical physicists are today. I am fully aware that Stephen Hawking was more intelligent than myself but the man literally wrote “the universe can and will create itself.” I draw your attention to “what is seen is not made by things that are visible,” which science used to support.
When considering the long list of faithful examples, and again please do read through that list, note that Abraham and his family take up verses 8 through 22. The importance of Abraham and his family, the subject of much of the book of Genesis, cannot be overstated in the history of Israel. We are obviously meant to learn a lot from this narrative which is why it figures so prominently in the Old Testament and in this chapter of Hebrews. God provided something better than they received, but waited for… and which we will get into next week.