Hebrews 11 has been called the Faith Chapter. It lists many of the biblical heroes of faith, and it shows what living faith looks like and what it will produce.
One of the most famous chapters in the Bible gives memorable summaries of Old Testament heroes of faith and shows what these men and women did that so pleased God. These brief vignettes of faithful and faith-filled people of God demonstrate the power of trust in God and how to grow in it.
This Hebrews 11 Bible study will explore the chapter to find what God wants us to learn about faith today.
The context of Hebrews 11, the Faith Chapter
The book of Hebrews contains exhortations, warnings and encouragement to Jewish Christians facing trials and was probably written not long before the Romans destroyed God’s temple and its worship system in A.D. 70. The book gives reminders of how Jesus Christ superseded the Old Covenant priesthood and sacrifices.
In chapter 10, the author reminds the readers that God is faithful (verse 23) and that the just shall live by faith (verse 38). This is especially important as the time of Jesus Christ’s return approaches (verses 25 and 37).
This leads into a discussion of what faith is and what it looks like.
Faith: the evidence of things not seen
The Faith Chapter begins with this key summary:
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). “Substance” can mean essence or reality, and “evidence” can mean proof or conviction. Faith gives us solid assurance that God’s promises will be fulfilled and a clear vision of the invisible spiritual reality.
The author of Hebrews “is particularly interested in the opposition of faith to sight. Faith is ‘the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen’ (Heb. 11:1). He emphasizes the point that men who had nothing in the way of outward evidence to support them nevertheless retained a firm hold on the promises of God. In other words, they walked by faith, not by sight” (New Bible Dictionary, “Faith,” 1982, p. 368).
Faith provides spiritual vision
This spiritual vision is demonstrated in an example recounted in 2 Kings 6:14-17. In this chapter, the king of Syria was making war against Israel. When he heard rumors that God’s prophet Elisha was supernaturally aware of the Syrian battle plans, the king of Syria “sent horses and chariots and a great army there, and they came by night and surrounded the city.
“And when the servant of the man of God arose early and went out, there was an army, surrounding the city with horses and chariots. And his servant said to him, ‘Alas, my master! What shall we do?’
“So he answered, ‘Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.’
“And Elisha prayed, and said, ‘LORD, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.’ Then the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw. And behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”
Elisha’s servant was encouraged by seeing with own his eyes the powerful spiritual reality that Elisha already saw by the spiritual vision of faith.
The kind of faith that pleases God
Hebrews 11:6 gives another foundational summary statement about faith: “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”
Coming to know that God exists is a starting point. We know the universe exists—we can see it, hear it, touch it, measure it. But how did it come to be? How could anything come out of nothing?
It physically can’t happen. However, “by faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible” (verse 3). Read Romans 1:20 and study more about God as the Creator in our section “Is There a God?”
He is a loving, giving God—“a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”But believing God exists is not enough—even the evil demons “believe—and tremble!” (James 2:19).
To please God and to be motivated to faithfully follow God’s commands, we must also believe that His awesome promises for the future are true. He can foresee the future because He is all-knowing and all-powerful. And He can control the future. He is a loving, giving God—“a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”
Assured and motivated by faith
Hebrews 11:13-16 demonstrates how these heroes of faith were motivated by their spiritual vision and steadfast belief in God’s promises:
“These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.
“And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return.
“But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.”
That wonderful country is elsewhere described as the Kingdom of God that Jesus will bring to this earth at His return. The amazing city He has prepared is called the New Jerusalem, which comes to the new earth in Revelation 21 and 22.
Study more about His amazing promises in our free booklet God’s Purpose for You: Discovering Why You Were Born.
Heroes of faith
The bulk of the Faith Chapter involves stories of faithful men and women from the Old Testament. Altogether 16 heroes of faith are named, and the stories of many others are summarized.
Hebrews 11:4-7 lists three faithful men from the time before the Flood:
- Abel (Hebrews 11:4; his story is told in Genesis 4:2-10).
- Enoch (Hebrews 11:5; his story is found in Genesis 5:21-24).
- Noah (Hebrews 11:7; his story fills Genesis chapters 6-9).
Hebrews 11:20-22 lists three more men who acted on faith:
- Isaac (Hebrews 11:20; this event is recorded in Genesis 27:26-40).
- Jacob (Hebrews 11:21; this story is in Genesis 48:1-20).
- Joseph (Hebrews 11:22; this story is found in Genesis 50:24-25).
“With all three the significant thing was their firm conviction that death cannot frustrate God’s purposes” (Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary, note on Hebrews 11:20-22).
Rahab also is given a verse to herself in Hebrews 11:31. Her story is recounted in Joshua 2 and 6.
In addition, six more men are listed in one verse, Hebrews 11:32:
- Gideon (see Judges 6:11-40; 7:1-25).
- Barak (Judges 4:6-24).
- Samson (Judges 13:24–16:31).
- Jephthah (Judges 11; 12:1-7).
- David (see especially 1 Samuel 16 and 17).
- Samuel (see especially 1 Samuel 7:3-17).
This summary takes stock of the final outcome and the faith shown by these men. The Old Testament stories are not sanitized or stories of perfect people. Sometimes their flaws are as memorable as their faith. But in the end, the writer of Hebrews focuses on their examples of faith, which we can learn from.
After listing these six, he adds “and the prophets,” evoking dozens more stories told throughout the historical and prophetic books of the Old Testament. Learn more in our section on the “Prophets of the Bible.”
Abraham is mentioned 10 times in the book of Hebrews, and his example of faith is a major one in Hebrews 11. Abraham and Sarah’s story is told in verses 8-12 and 17-19.
His story began with God’s command to leave his homeland (Hebrews 11:8; Genesis 12:1-4). “To leave the certainties one knows and go out into what is quite unknown—relying on nothing other than the Word of God—is the essence of faith” (Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary, note on Hebrews 11:8).
Sarah’s faith is highlighted in verse 11. She and Abraham waited a quarter century—long past Sarah’s childbearing years—to have the promised son, Isaac (Genesis 12:1-4; 17:19; 18:10-14; 21:1-2, 5).
Then Abraham’s greatest test came as God asked him to sacrifice Isaac (Genesis 22). After 25 years of waiting for this promised son, and after seeing the miracle of his birth to a woman past childbearing age, Abraham would have been shocked and confused. But He knew God, the giver of life, “was able to raise him up, even from the dead” (Hebrews 11:19).
Though God did not require faithful Abraham to follow through, this incident was preserved as an object lesson in the tremendous sacrifice God the Father and Jesus Christ actually made for us. Read more about this in our article “The Faith of Abraham.”
Faith of Moses
Moses’ story of faith also received longer treatment in Hebrews 11:23-29. The story begins with Moses’ parents hiding him to protect him from Pharaoh’s command to kill all Israelite baby boys (verse 23; Exodus 2:1-10). Their faith was rewarded as he was found by Pharaoh’s daughter and raised in the royal court.
But when the time came, Moses himself chose to give up the “passing pleasures of sin” that Egypt pictured and to suffer “the reproach of Christ”—the affliction faced by God’s people (Hebrews 11:24-26; Exodus 2:11-15).
“Moses looked forward to the ‘reward.’ … He was not deceived by the glitter of the Egyptian court and the security of worldly safety” (Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary, note on Hebrews 11:26).
Faith allowed Moses to leave Egypt twice (Exodus 2:15; 12:31-42). It allowed the Israelites to be spared from the death of the firstborn on the Passover night (Exodus 12:21-28). And faith allowed them to walk between walls of water through the Red Sea, while the Egyptian army chasing them was destroyed (Exodus 14).
Women of faith in the Bible
In addition to Sarah and Rahab mentioned above, Hebrews 11 summarizes many other stories of faith, including women who “received their dead raised to life again.”In addition to Sarah and Rahab mentioned above, Hebrews 11 summarizes many other stories of faith, including women who “received their dead raised to life again” (verse 35). Prominent Old Testament examples of this include the raising of the son of the widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:17-24) and the son of the Shunammite woman (2 Kings 4:32-37).
Read more about faith-filled women in our “Women of Faith” section.
Faith and God’s timing
Hebrews 11:33-38 summarizes what these named and unnamed heroes of faith did and what they endured. The examples of God’s miraculous interventions (verses 33-35a) can help build our faith, as we recognize that no problem is too hard for God.
But God reminds us that His ultimate promises are not in this life, and that faith is also a gift to help us endure the terrible trials of this evil age. God’s people have not always been spared from trials, tortures and martyrdom (verses 35b-38). Their faith and endurance prepared them for the awesome future God has planned.
Though we know God can protect and heal us in any circumstance, we do not know if He will in each situation. Faith means “we’re not sure what the future holds, but we know who holds the future. … It is the response of obedience that qualifies the characters in ch. 11 as people of great faith” (NKJV Study Bible, p. 2095, “Heroes of Faith”).
Amazingly, God has waited to add “us”—New Testament Christians—to the rolls of the faithful before any “receive the promise” (Hebrews 11:39-40). The ultimate promise is resurrection to eternal life as a child of God at Christ’s return (1 Thessalonians 4:16; 1 John 3:2; see our article “Purpose of Life”).
After studying the Faith Chapter
“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1).
The author and finisher of our faith
Then comes the encouragement to look to greatest example of faith and endurance:
“Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (verse 2).
Jesus is the author of our faith because faith itself begins as a gift to those who are called to follow Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8). It is a fruit of God’s Spirit (Galatians 5:22). Jesus is the finisher of our faith because “He is our example and model, for He focused on the joy that was set before Him. His attention was not on the agonies of the Cross, but on the crown; not on the suffering, but the reward” (NKJV Study Bible, note on Hebrews 12:2).
With Jesus Christ’s example and help, we don’t need to succumb to weariness and discouragement (verse 3). We will learn that even chastening shows God’s love (verses 5-11).
Chapter 13 powerfully sums up the foundation of our faith and the source of our encouragement: “For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we may boldly say: ‘The LORD is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?’” (verses 5-6).
God is faithful, and He wants us to believe in Him and believe Him. He gives faith and wants us to grow in faith. Study more about this vital subject in these articles: