“These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth” (v. 13).
God’s self-revelation in Scripture does not come to us as just one book or one genre of literature. Scripture contains sixty-six different books and many literary genres that together give us a rich and multifaceted depiction of our Creator and the life of faith. For a realistic explanation of how faith works itself out in the lives of ordinary sinners, few portions of the Bible give a clearer picture than the Old Testament narratives. In these stories, we read of adulterers, thieves, liars, murderers, and tyrants who were transformed by God and who persevered in faith even though they sometimes fell back into sinful patterns. In other words, we relate easily to these stories because they are about people just like us.
One thing the Old Testament makes particularly clear is that passionate faith and the sometimes brutal nature of reality go hand in hand. So often we see that turmoil was the crucible in which the faith of the old covenant saints was formed. The greatest Old Testament examples of trust in God are found in accounts of the most diffcult of circumstances, just as we find in our own day.
Hebrews 11 gives us many examples of faith as it comments on the lives of several faithful old covenant men and women. Verse 8, for instance, reminds us that Abraham left Ur and journeyed to far-away Canaan “by faith” (Heb. 11:8). This was no easy feat for the patriarch. He was elderly and well established when he heard the Lord’s call (Gen. 12:4), and he had to leave behind almost everything he knew and many of his comforts to go to a land he had never seen. This was great faith indeed, for who could make such a journey apart from confident trust in our Creator?
Abraham not only believed in God; he believed God. He had not the faith of demons, who know God exists, but saving faith that reveals itself through obedience to the Lord (James 2:14–26). We better understand the greatness of the patriarch’s faith when we see that Abraham remained a stranger on the earth even during his time in Canaan (Heb. 11:13). He never owned any part of the Promised Land except his burial plot (Gen. 23), so from a worldly perspective he foolishly left everything behind in Ur. But Abraham was no fool. He bought the plot in confidence that the land would be his, that he would inherit it at the resurrection. Placing his bones there was a kind of deposit that showed his trust that he would finally receive his inheritance (Heb. 11:14–16; see also vv. 17–19, 22).
Coram DeoLiving before the face of God
Many people in this world will regard us as fools for leaving everything behind for God. So often, the sacrifices that we make do not lead to any evident reward in this life, so it is easy for earthly minded people to believe Christianity is a fool’s game. Yet, we know that the Lord will bless us abundantly at His return for all that we have given up for His sake (Mark 10:29–31). And as these heavenly treasures cannot be lost, we actually make the wisest decision possible when we follow Christ.