If there is any old covenant believer who is synonymous with faith, it is Abraham. He is the chief example of faith when Paul explains the doctrine of justification by faith alone in Romans 3–4 and Galatians 3, and many other biblical passages remind us of his faith as well. Abraham is the next example of faith given to us in Hebrews 11, where the author devotes several verses to his faith and the faith of his wife, Sarah.
Abraham is a fitting example of faith to follow Noah. Just as Noah had nothing but the word of God’s promise to move him to trust the Lord and build the ark, Abraham had nothing but the word of God’s promise to move him to believe the Lord and go to the promised land. Hebrews 11:8 is based on Genesis 12:1–9, where we read that Abraham believed God’s promise to give him the land and thus moved from Ur to Canaan. Abraham did not know where he was going, as Hebrews 11:8 notes, for Genesis 12 tells us that God did not tell Abraham the name of the land He was giving him but only that He would “show” it to the patriarch. Moreover, Abraham barely knew God when he was called to leave Ur. He certainly had no experience yet of the Lord’s keeping the promise made to him. All Abraham had was the word of God’s promise, and it was enough. He trusted the Lord and showed that trust by obeying God’s call. As John Owen comments, “Abraham wholly committed himself to the power, faithfulness, goodness, and direction of God without having the least encouragement about the place he was going to.”
Hebrews 11:9–10 notes that Abraham was happy to live as a temporary resident in Canaan. This reflects the fact that while Abraham made many mistakes, he never complained about not taking full possession of the land. This was because as good as Canaan was, Abraham understood that it was but a foretaste of what was to come, “the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.” This was a city he could not see, but he trusted the Lord to bring it. With Abraham, we today are waiting for this city, the new Jerusalem that will come down from heaven at the return of Christ (Rev. 21).
Sarah is also held up as an example in Hebrews 11, where we read that by faith she conceived Isaac and made Abraham the father of innumerable descendants (vv. 11–12). Of course, Sarah’s faith was imperfect, as is the faith of us all (Gen. 16; 18:10–15). But she came to trust the Lord and became the mother of the messianic line.