No doubt anyone who has spent time in Scripture knows full well Hebrews 11 and the “Hall of Faith.” It is one of the greatest passages on faith and trust in the New Testament. Many of the lives of OT saints are used by Auctor to illustrate how ones faith is to be manifested in the face of extreme trial and temptation. But what seems to be odd for the reader at first glance is the placement of this list at this section of Auctor’s sermon. Why, after spending three chapters (Heb 7-10) expounding in some depth the cultic priesthood and sacrifice, does Auctor now shift his focus to a brief history of OT Israel and their faith and trust in God? While it may seem odd to place this historical sketch in its current position, Auctor leaves us clues that this section is coming.
Unbelief in the Wilderness of Sinai
Previously in his Sermon, Auctor takes his readers back into the wilderness (via Ps 95(94 LXX):7-11) as a way to warn his readers that they to can harden their hearts to God and die in the wilderness, not reaching the promised land of rest (4.1). Auctor reminds them that they were denied access because of their unbelief [οὐκ ἠδυνήθησαν εἰσελθεῖν διʼ ἀπιστίαν](3.19). In light of this warning from Ps 95(94 LXX), Auctor exhorts his readers to fear the same consequence
“Therefore, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short of it” [Φοβηθῶμεν οὖν, μήποτε καταλειπομένης ἐπαγγελίας εἰσελθεῖν εἰς τὴν κατάπαυσιν αὐτοῦ δοκῇ τις ἐξ ὑμῶν ὑστερηκέναι.](4.1).
The reason for the tragedy in the wilderness was due to a lack of faith, and the same tragedy now faced the readers of Hebrews. If they do hold fast in faith to the gospel which they were exposed to, they would experience the same judgment that befell Israel (4.2ff). So we see the importance of faith introduced very early on in Auctor’s sermon.
Faith in the Wilderness of Life
After a severe warning (10.26-31), Auctor switches his focus to the current predicament facing his readers: disillusionment. He wants them to remember their former days of joy while suffering greatly for the gospel (10.32-34). They were in danger of throwing away their confidence in God thus forfeiting their reward, namely the promise of eternal rest (10.35-36).
In what may be the text which Heb 11 is in an exposition on, Auctor quotes from Hab 2.3-4. For Auctor Hab 2 serves not as a text for justification by faith (much as it does in Paul), but rather as a reason to persevere and endure [πίστεως εἰς περιποίησιν ψυχῆς]. It is the life that is lived by faith that Auctor exemplifies in Heb 11ff.
In what serves as an introduction, Auctor defines faith as such
I have no intention to discuss in detail the text of Heb 11. Instead I hope that you will read it and understand the broader context and why its placement here is intended by Auctor.
One final note. As I mentioned in my last post I am seeing the parallels to Israel and their wilderness experience a lot these days. And I think that Heb 11 may in some regards be a retelling of the history of Israel, emphasizing of course faith. In Deut 1-3 we see a similar retelling of history by Moses just before they were to enter into their “rest.” Just a nugget to chew on as I leave you.