Hebrews 11:9-19 The Faith of Abraham

Read: Hebrews 11:9-19

Abraham has been called the “father of faith” and is the patriarch to the Hebrew people – it is from Abraham that most every Hebrew would have traced his or her lineage The author of Hebrews takes a large chunk of his accolade to pay tribute to the faith of Abraham – more than any other figure and makes several remarks concerning the faith of Abraham:

  • Abraham left his homeland of Ur and moved because God told him to do so (Genesis 12:1-4). God didn’t tell him were to go, rather he just left and God lead the way.
  • Abraham lived in Canaan – the land that was promised to him — as a foreigner in that land. God promised the land to Abraham (Genesis 17:8), but he did not get to claim it, rather it wasn’t until Joshua’s time that the land was conquered (Joshua 24:3).
  • Abraham and Sarah had a son in their old age (Genesis 17:17-19, Genesis 18:11-14, Genesis 21:1-2). God had promised a great nation to them (Genesis 12:1-4), but this wouldn’t be possible without a son. God made it possible by giving them Isaac.
  • After Isaac was born, God wanted him to offer up Isaac as a sacrifice (Genesis 22:1-22) even though God had promised to specifically bless Abraham through Isaac (Genesis 17:19, Genesis 22:12). The author of Hebrews reckons that Abraham believed that God could raise Isaac from the dead.

Abraham believed God, but he himself really never got to see the promises himself, save the promise of his son, Isaac. The author of Hebrews notes that while Abraham was living in a tent, he was looking forward to a permanent city built by God. This forward looking faith was what made it all possible, and indeed Abraham was faithful. Not only is Abraham the faith of many nations biologically, he is considered the father of faith for all those who believe. Galatians 3 explains how Christ is the “seed” of Abraham which was spoken to in Genesis 22:17-18. For this reason, all who have faith in Jesus are descendants of Abraham (Galatians 3:29). One day, there will be people from every tribe, tongue and nation worshiping God (Revelation 7:9-10). It is here when the promise to Abraham that all the nations of the world would be blessed through him will truly be fulfilled. While life on earth may not be full of blessings, believers can look forward to the permanent city of God where people from all over the globe will worship the one who brings blessing to everyone. Believers are like sojourners passing through this life with great expectations about what God is going to do (2 Corinthians 5:1-6)!

Lord, I am a descendant of Abraham!

Help me to know I’m part of the promise you made so long ago!

Hebrews 10:11-25: Being Confident Together

Read: Hebrews 10:11-25

The author of Hebrews argued the supremacy of Christ in the opening chapters of the book and spends the middle of the book arguing for the sufficiency of Christ. In these eight verses, the author of Hebrews connects the two by quoting from Psalm 110 which he quoted from to show the supremacy of Christ (Hebrews 1:13) and from the verses he quoted from talking about the coming New Covenant from Jeremiah 31:33-34 (Hebrews 8:8-12). Jesus’ offering was himself and was once and for all. After having offered himself, he made provision for sin, so animal sacrifices are no longer necessary. Now, he is waiting for his second coming when his enemies will become a footstool and when the word of God is so prevalent, there will be no need to declare “know the Lord”.

In the interim between the sacrifice and return, the author of Hebrews talks about what Christians should do:

  • Verses 19-23: The author of Hebrews notes the confidence by which believers can draw near to God in confidence. This confidence is brought on the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ, and there is no second guessing. The certainty of the promise is insured by a God who cannot lie (Hebrews 6:9-16).
  • Verse 24: Believers should encourage one another onto to love and good works, rather than worrying rote religion. (Hebrews 10:1-10)
  • Verse 25: Believers should assemble together. This is almost a prerequisite to what was said in verse 24, and the author says to do it all the more as the final days approach. The book of Hebrews was probably written to a group of persecuted Jews (Hebrews 10:32-33), and some of them had deserted. In any case, the author realized that their confidence was greater as a group than the sum of their confidence as individuals, and they would need this confidence.

Jesus’ work is done. In the meantime, Christians are waiting for his return. All the while, they are drawing confidence from the surety of the promises of God through Jesus. The confidence can be solidified and encouraged by other believers too. For this reason every Christians should be a part of a local church so they can encourage and be encouraged by other Christians. It is evident this chapter that the recipients of the letter were doing good together as the first church in Acts 2:42-47 was doing.

Lord, I’m waiting for your return. In the meantime, help me and my church be confident and do good!

Ecclesiastes 11:3-6: Do What Is Certain

Read: Ecclesiastes 11:3-6

Perhaps the only thing that is certain in the world is uncertainty, so the Preacher thinks. The Preacher looks at those that read the signs and try and act according to them. There are those that watch the wind and watch the clouds wait for the opportune time to act according to what they see and interpret. The Preacher thinks this is foolishness, and a person should rather act upon that which is more certain sowing seeds “in the morning” – that is in due time when the time for sowing a particular seed is right. The Preacher suggests this is better because no one knows the mystery of God. Nobody knows when the wind will blow or not blow among other things. And basing one’s actions upon such things is just as uncertain. This isn’t the first time that the Preacher asserts the mystery of the workings of God. The Preacher says that God has set man’s heart on eternity, yet man cannot conceive or understand the works of God (Ecclesiastes 3:11, Ecclesiastes 8:17). Job, after God showed his majesty, repented that he had spoken of things too wonderful to comprehend and repents (Job 42:1-6).

Christians are no less susceptible to musing about the unknown. Here are two biblical examples:

  • The time and date of Jesus’ return. There have been many failed prophecies over the year concerning the exact date of Jesus’ return. But this is no surprise, because Jesus himself said that no one knows the date and time of his return (Matthew 24:36).
  • God’s judgment and mercy is often called into question by any number of people. Paul argues in Romans 9:3-23 that God has the right to act for his purposes, and is not unjust in doing so. Paul by way of analogy says that people cannot question God in this manner any more than a lump of clay can question a potter. The potter can make a vessel for one purpose or another in the same way God acts for one purpose or another.

Isaiah 55:8-9 declares that God’s ways and thoughts are higher than mans. The schemes and works of God are as the sky is to the earth – much higher. This is no excuse to be intellectually lazy in grappling with tough issues and trying to know God better. What it does require, however, is a dose of humility to accept the fact that there are going to be some issues that will not be resolved as Job did. Christians have been hashing out issues since the early church and there does not seem to be any reprieve from this. Rather than get caught up in these debates though, one would do well do what is more certain such as believe in Jesus, love God, love others and make disciples. There can be little debate and uncertainty about these things!

Lord, help me to do the things I know that are certain!

Ecclesiastes 8:1-15: The Problem of Evil

Read: Ecclesiastes 8:1-15

The Preacher in Ecclesiastes 8 addresses what has become known to in modern philosophy as the “problem of evil”.  The Preacher asks a number of questions concerning the nature of bad things happening to good people and the flip side of that, good things happening to bad people. He begins by speaking of the certainty of one thing that is the common fate of all people, and that is death. He says that no one can know the future. Death as he sees it comes to all and there is nothing that saves one from it and even more so to the ones who practice wickedness, because it will not save them either. The certainty of death then prompts the preacher to look at other matters concerning wicked: First he sees the wicked being praised in the cities in which they did much wickedness and they are being buried with honor. Second, he sees the wicked doing much wrong to the point they are not afraid to do it anymore. Third, he sees good people being treated as if they were wicked, and wicked people being treated as if they were good. All these things he says are meaningless.

The problem of evil has perplexed thinkers for ages as it did the Preacher. The reason why is because of a discrepancy in many the states of affairs that people are in and a purported inaction by God to resolve the state of affairs for good rather than evil. The argument may look something like this:

  1. If God exists, God is all loving and all powerful
  2. An all loving and all powerful God should remove evil.
  3. Evil exists.
  4. Therefore either:
    1. God does not  exist.
    2. God exists and is all loving but cannot remove evil.
    3. God exists and is all powerful but not all loving therefore does not want to remove evil.
    4. God exists but is neither all loving nor all powerful.

In any case, the conclusion purports a contradictory state of affairs in spite of what many believe about God. The problem with this is that the argument in most all forms obligates God to something that God is not necessarily obligated too. In the example above, premise 2 supposes that God “should” do something about evil by virtue of his that he is all loving and able. The only way the contradiction exists is if one supplies the extra premise that God “should” or “ought to” do something about evil. If premise two does not exist, then the contradiction does not exist.

On the other hand, one can supply another premise that says so long as there is a possible reason for evil to exist, there is no reason to doubt God’s existence, his goodness, or his ability to remove evil. A reason that attempts to explain evil is called a theodicy. There are many possible theodicies that are found in the Bible.

  • The Freewill Defense: The Bible is replete with verses that talk about the sinfulness of man, and how it pervades everyone who exists (Romans 3:23, Romans 5:12, Proverbs 20:9, Ecclesiastes 7:20). This freewill defense says evil is a result of man choosing sin.
  • The Greater-Good Theodicy – This reason says that sometimes evil occurs to bring about a net gain of good for the many. This is most clearly seen in Genesis when Joseph was sold into slavery and he endured much evil as a result. But in the end, Joseph says that what his brother intended for evil, God meant for good (Genesis 50:20).
  • The Soul-Making or Soul-Building Theodicy: This theodicy suggests that people endure evil to help build their character and faith. The motif of God disciplining children can be found in Hebrews 12:4-13. Hardship can produce a strong, more mature believer.
  • The Eschatological Theodicy: This one is uniquely Christian; in that all is made right in the cross by Jesus’ sacrifice and that there will come a time when evil is removed. There will be a new heaven and new earth with no crying, pain, or death (Revelation 21:1-4).

What one needs to realize though is these are only possible reasons for what God does. Usually when one is enduring evil, it is difficult if not impossible to know why bad things are happening. Even after sufferings have passed, sometimes the reason is not apparent. This was the case with Job. The readers of Job get to see the full picture of the matter, but Job never ascertains why he endured so much suffering. At the end of the book, he basically concedes that God’s reasons are too wonderful to know (Job 42:1-6). In all of his pondering on the problem of evil, the Preacher never questions the goodness of God, rather sees it better that one should do good in their lives because this is right in the sight of God and he sees the blessings that come from work as a gift from God. The Preacher was correct in noting that death is inescapable, but for Christians, there is the prospect of eternal life in a place where there is no evil. For the reasons the Preacher mentioned and the escape from evil when God creates a new heaven and new earth, it is most certainly more wise to side with God. Furthermore, there is no reason to doubt his goodness and power so long as God has a good reason for allowing evil to persist – even if the reason cannot be ascertained.

Lord, you are good! Help me to trust you even when I cannot understand why bad things are happening!