Hebrews 11:29-40

If you’re just joining us, you need to read Wednesday’s post to make sense of what’s going on here in Hebrews 11. And yesterday’s.

We’ve looked at the example of Abraham and the other patriarchs. And most recently, Moses. So now we get to the next great hero of faithfulness:

11:29 By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned.

By faith… the people? OK, but isn’t this the story of the great leaders? Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses… surely Joshua (Yeshua in Hebrew) is next, right? Well, he is. But he’s not named. Maybe because there’s a greater Joshua (Iesous in Greek, or Jesus in English) to come at the end of the story.

11:30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the army had marched around them for seven days.

A big, fortified city got destroyed by God’s power without so much as a siege ramp? Really? Maybe trusting in earthly cities for security isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

11:31 By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.

So he mentions Rahab by name, a non-Israelite, a reformed prostitute from Caanan – but not Joshua. Hopefully we end on a better note than this.

11:32 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets,

No time? How about a quick summary of what they did then?

11:33-35a who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again.

Fair enough. But still. He had space for Rahab, but not David and Samuel? He doesn’t even name the prophets like Elijah and Elisha, Isaiah and Jeremiah? It’s like Rahab is the climax of this impressive bit of oratory. The apex, before we climb back down the mountain. Maybe we’d better go back and take a look. (Read the Rahab story if you missed it last year in our look at Jesus’ genealogy.)

You see, Rahab had to make a choice. She had to choose between being loyal to her earthly city, and joining with God’s people to experience the blessing of Yahweh. And guess what. The earthly city did not endure. Just like the earthly cities of the first century will not endure.

But in Joshua 6 we’re told she thenceforth lived among God’s people, experiencing his blessing. Although, as a gentile, she would have had to go “outside the camp” because she was ritually impure. Just like Jesus (Joshua) did on our behalf:

Heb 13:13-15 Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. 14 For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.

Let’s put up with mistreatment by our fellow citizens, if it means getting an enduring city. Just like Rahab. And just like all the other heroes of the faith that time wouldn’t let us talk about in detail:

11:35b-38 There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.

It’s always been this way with the people of God. Because living by faith (in trust, in loyalty) means foregoing the marshmallow now, to get something far greater in the future. Greater than even the Old Testament heroes experienced, because the fulfilment of this enduring city still lies in our future:

11:39-40 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect [or ‘complete’].

These heroes of the faith didn’t get what they were promised in full in this life. They’re still waiting for it. Nevertheless, they remained loyal. They remained faithful. Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses… But that’s for Monday.

To think about

Spend some time contemplating the non-enduring nature of our earthly cities (and all of the other stuff that one day will be gone). How does that help you remain faithful to God and the hope of an enduring city?

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