In the first part of this series, we discussed what faith is by a biblical definition. (Hebrews 11:1) In the second part of this series we also discussed how faith without works is a “dead” faith. Our faith is useless without good works to show our faith. (James 2:8) This time, we will look at the great examples of faith from the Old Testament by using Hebrews 11 as our reference. In this chapter, of the letter written to the Hebrews, Paul points out the major examples of faith that are mentioned in the Old Testament. Paul references back to these men and points out why they are ‘men of faith’, based on the things they did. Men from Abel to Abraham to King David are mentioned in this chapter. We will go through this chapter verse by verse and examine each individual account of these people and learn why they are “examples of faith”, and how we can apply their faith to our life.
Let’s look at Hebrews chapter 11 and go down verse by verse to identify the key parts of each encounter. In Hebrews 11:1 it says, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” We used this verse in our first study of this series to determine the definition of faith. Paul puts that here to show his readers (in this case the Hebrews) that he is moving on to a different point, and he does this by defining what faith is.
But notice Hebrews 11:2, it says “This is what the ancients were commended for.” Who are the ancients? Well, in the ESV it translates “ancients” as “people of old”. Therefore, Paul is talking about the great men of faith from the Old Testament. He says these ancient people were commended because of their faith. They were praised (which is the definition of commended) for it, and that’s what they’re known for. Basically, he’s introducing the people he’s going to talk about in a moment by telling the Hebrews, that ‘these men of faith are ones to follow. You have heard of them mentioned before, and you need to follow their example.’
In verse 3 Paul gives a brief example of a strong faith, and one that each of these men had and what they believed. Hebrews 11:3 says, “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” What Paul is saying here is that even though we see the earth in which God made, we neither see God, nor did we see God create the earth out of nothing. We can also define faith as believing in something that you can’t see. It is by faith that we know these things, even though having not seen them ourselves.
Verses 1-3 were a startup, or an introduction to the great men he will speak of in the upcoming verses. And here in verse 4, Paul starts to describe the men of great faith mentioned in this chapter. It starts with the story of Cain and Abel. Genesis 4:1-16 holds this story. Here God calls both Cain and Abel to offer up a sacrifice to the Lord. Verse 4 says, “Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also brought an offering, fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering.” And from there on out, Cain was jealous because the Lord did not favor his offering because he didn’t do it out of faith. Going back to Hebrews 11:4, Paul says that because Abel offered up “the best of his sheep”, and he did it out of faith, God favored him more. It even says “By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings.” Abel was a faithful man because he wanted to give the Lord the best he had and he did it out of faith.
In conclusion of this article, we start to see the writing style of Paul and how he is going to finish out the rest of this section on “examples of faith.” He gives an introduction to what faith is and starts to get our minds thinking about faith. As you can tell we only got through one of the examples of faith in this article. This will be a continuous “series in a series”. We have a series on faith, and now a series on examples of faith. Just remember one thing about following examples. “A good example is far better than a good precept.”- Dwight L. Moody