Hebrews 11:20–31 . . .

“The Faith of Patriarchs, Moses, and Others”

In our previous commentary titled "Examples of Abraham’s Faith," we explored the likely meaning of 11:8–19, which highlighted three life-changing, faith-filled decisions of Abraham. As a recipient of God’s promises and a shining example of the many who shared in those promises, Abraham was an outstanding example of faith amid the lives of Israel's ancestors who appear in chapter 11 as honorary inductees into the Hall of Faith. All of whom responded faithfully to what God had promised them.

Today we'll continue recognizing and appreciating acts of faith of additional Old Testament saintly exemplars who believed outside the bounds of their circumstances, based upon their extraordinary faith in God. Chapter 11 defines faith as "assurance" (hupostasis — a reality) of things hoped for and "proof" (elegchos — a proof or certainty) of things not seen.

By Faith, By Faith, By Faith (11:20–22)

Just as it was for Abraham, faith was the essential element in the lives of his descendants. By faith, Isaac reached into the future as he blessed Jacob and Esau. So, by faith did Jacob, on his deathbed, bless each of Joseph’s sons in turn, blessing them with God’s blessing, not his own, bowing worshipfully on his staff. Also by faith, Joseph, while dying, prophesied the exodus of Israel and made arrangements for his own burial.

20By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future.

21By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.

22By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions concerning the burial of his bones (11:20–22).

A key point here is that many of God's promises have an eternal perspective (11:10). Not every figure mentioned in chapter 11 saw those promises come to full fruition in their earthly lives (11:13). Yet, those promises were fulfilled on earth through their descendants. Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph saw their upcoming deaths and proactively saw the future in unwavering faith. All three clearly viewed their future while exercising strong faith in what had presently been invisible, trusting God to work in unseen ways.

Isaac's example (v. 20)  Isaac received the same promises that God had given Abraham (Genesis 21:12) who passed them along to his children. Despite his being unable to see how or when they'd be fulfilled, and dealing with considerable family strife, Isaac demonstrated faith in God by obeying him, even though he was quite old and hadn't seen total fulfillment of God's plan. Nevertheless, he passed along God’s blessing to his sons, Jacob and Esau. He was able to anticipate the subsequent character of his twin sons' lives because, by faith, he understood how each would relate to God's plans and purposes.

Jacob's example (v. 21)  Jacob continued to trust God by looking to the future. He blessed Joseph’s sons while worshiping God. In Gen. 48:4, Jacob recounts to Joseph the promise God had made: "I am going to make you fruitful and increase your numbers . . . and I will give this land as an everlasting possession to your descendants after you." In his earlier years, Jacob often found it challenging to trust God explicitly. But when he learned that his son Joseph was in Egypt, he too saw the genuine relationship of Joseph's sons — Manasseh and Ephraim — as part of God's plans and purposes. Nearing death, without seeing God's promises come true, Jacob by faith trusted that God had foreordained his next act: He wisely made the bold move to transfer the birthright of Manasseh (Joseph's firstborn) to Ephraim, the younger.

Joseph's example (v. 22)  Joseph, who certainly faced struggle and hardship during his life, also lived out dramatic examples of powerful faith, having confidence that God would deliver the nation of Israel from Egypt. He didn't let his impending death alter his certainty that God would fulfill his promises concerning Israel. In Gen. 50:25, he restated his faith that all of Israel's remnants would leave Egypt one day. Although he died with Israel still living outside the Promised Land, by faith, he gave specific instructions that when Israel would finally leave Egypt and take possession of the Promised Land (four centuries later), they should bring his bones with them, burying them therein. In fact, Joseph's bones were transported personally by Moses (Exod. 13:18–19).

Note: These three patriarchs weren't dreamers or wishful thinkers; by faith, they envisioned realities belonging to Father God's plans for them, adapting their lives and their descendant's lives accordingly.

Examples of Moses’ and His Parents’ Faith (vv. 23–28)

By faith, Moses gave up the throne of Egypt and temporal pleasure to instead be persecuted as a follower of Yahweh because he believed in the future that God promised the nation Israel. By faith, Moses’ parents hid him away for three months after his birth, h aving recognized the child’s beauty while withstanding the king’s decree.

23By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.

24By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. 25He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. 27By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible. 28By faith he kept the Passover and the application of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel (11:23–28).

Moses' parent's example (v. 23)  Our next verse includes a reference to this Scripture: "She became pregnant and gave birth to a son [in Egypt]. When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months" (Exod. 2:2). The Greek adjective for "fine" is asteios, meaning that Moses was an attractive child. That's the same word used in the Septuagint, a translation of the Hebrew word towb, which could refer to either his countenance or appearance being fine. After Moses' birth, his parents faced an immediate dilemma when Egypt's Pharaoh ordered the extermination of Israelite baby boys (1:22). But by faith, they defied his order and obeyed God, keeping their son alive (2:1–10). 

Moses' examples (vv. 24–28)  As an adopted son of the daughter of the Egyptian king, Moses could have kept himself safely separated from the oppression and shame of his Israelite birth people. By faith, Moses, when grown, refused the privileges gained by living in an Egyptian royal house (v. 24). He made this choice by standing up for the Hebrews against the Egyptians (see Exod. 2:11–15), requiring him to forsake Pharaoh, "the destroyer of the firstborn" and his household. His willingness to choose Israel over Egypt suggests that he was also well aware of God's promises to Israel. So he chose a hard life with God’s people, rather than a soft, opportunistic life of sin with oppressors. He rated his suffering in the Messiah’s camp far more valuable than enjoying Egyptian wealth, all "because he was looking ahead to his reward," anticipating that payoff (Heb. 11:25–26).

By faith, indifferent to the king’s blind rage, he departed Egypt. Having kept his eye on the One whom no eye can see, Moses kept on going (v. 27). By faith, he also demonstrated a trusting obedience to God when he observed and honored the first Passover feast, applying Passover blood onto each house's doorframes so that the destroyer of the firstborn would pass over and spare all who stayed inside those marked houses. Moses' obedience resulted in exactly what God had promised: All the blood-marked houses were spared from the death of their firstborn, which was the last and worst of Egypt's plagues (Exod. 12:21–30).

By Faith, People Passed Through and Marched Around (vv. 29–30)

By faith, all of Israel walked through the Red Sea on dry ground. The Egyptians tried it and drowned. Also by faith, the Israelites marched around the walls of Jericho for seven days until the walls fell flat.

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

30By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the army had marched around them for seven days (11:29–30).

The people of Israel (vv. 29–30)  This is the story of the exodus, shortly after the Israelites had left Egypt. They made good progress on their departure, but Pharaoh, who'd let them leave to escape further plagues in his nation, changed his mind and had his armies and powerful chariots pursue them. When the Israelites came to the Red Sea, the Egyptian armies were at their back, trapping them. The Israelites complained to Moses (Exod. 14:12) who attempted to reassure them, saying that God would fight for them.

Warren Camp's custom Scripture of Hebrews 11:29

Click to enlarge and print
Warren's Scripture Picture.

The example in v. 29 highlights a point made in v. 6: "Without faith it is impossible to please God." Those who lack a trusting, godly faith can't please God; obedience, without faith, is useless. God told Moses to lift up his rod, stretch it out, and divide the sea. By faith, he did so and the Israelites escaped on dry land amid the sea's raging waters. And by faith, the Israelites walked through the dry riverbed with the sea on both sides of them. When the Egyptian army followed, sent by vengeful Pharaoh, God again ordered Moses to stretch out his hand over the sea to have it fall onto the Egyptians. By faith, Moses did so and God saved Israel because they trusted God (see Exod. 14:30–31).

And, just as Israel faithfully crossed the parted Red Sea and was saved, v. 30 tells us of Israel's capture of Jericho, the first major obstacle to the conquest of the land of promise. Both accounts confirm the fact that when we obey God as a result of our trust, victory is at hand. The Israelites' attack on Jericho was certainly built upon a unique battle plan that defied traditional battle plans; it was successfully achieved by faith in God.

Although Jericho was surrounded by impenetrable walls and securely barred gates, God commanded Israel to attack and take the city. To do this, God gave what would have seemed like a preposterous command: Spend seven days marching around the city once, with seven priests blowing trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark; on the seventh day, march around the city seven times, having the entire army give a loud shout. By faith, having obeyed the Lord's command for seven days, the wall collapsed, everyone charged straight in, and they took the city. [For a detailed blow-by-blow account of this miraculous battle, read Joshua 6.]

Rahab’s Reliance on the Knowledge of the LORD (v. 31)

To close today's study of faith, we see in v. 31 how, by faith, Rahab, a Jericho harlot, after agreeing to welcome Israelite spies, escaped the destruction that came on those who refused to trust God.

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

Rahab's example (v. 31)  Most interestingly, Rahab wasn't an Israelite but was a Gentile who trusted God's promised deliverance of her and her family. But her motive was not merely to be saved; she was convinced about who and what God was, saying to the Israelite spies, "for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below" (Josh. 2:11b). That faith was honored when the city's walls collapsed and everyone within Jericho were killed, except Rahab and her family.

Because Rahab knew of Israel's conquests in the wilderness and at the Red Sea, she expected them to assault Jericho many years earlier, knowing that their victories came from their faith in God. Her obedience to God is shown by her godly faith, reliance on what she knew of the LORD, and her trust in him to appropriately control the future. All these attributes prompted her to obey God (Josh. 2:15–16) and not live in fear of man (2:3–6).

Realizing that Rahab's faith was genuine, Apostle Matthew made sure to list her as one of Jesus' ancestors. She'd marry Salmon, become Boaz' mother, and thus be David's great-grandmother. By faith, Rahab overcame a sinful life and was delivered from a pagan religion. She was granted a place of honor among the heroes and heroines listed in "Hebrews" Hall of Faith.

Closing Considerations (from Dr. Charles Stanley)

Uncertain circumstances characterized Moses' entire life. God had pledged to be with Moses every step of the way (Exod. 3:12). The Israelite leader fixed his focus on that promise and on the One who'd made it. No matter the extent of struggles and challenges, he steadfastly carried on, by faith, which God's Word defines as "the confidence that we hope for will actually happen" (Heb. 11:1 NLT). Because he'd learned how to see "Him who is invisible" (v. 27), he was able to grasp the reality of his invisible Lord's character and promises.

Though Moses didn't live perfectly, the Scriptures commend him for walking by faith. From his example, we can learn how to persevere through life's unknowns. And with the Holy Spirit's help, we can trust that He'll guard our way and bring us victory over trials, enabling us to become men and women of great faith.

It Makes You Wonder . . .
  • Q. 1   What do you learn about faith when you read Moses' examples highlighted in vv. 24–28?
  • Q. 2   What physical, emotional, psychological price was paid to achieve the great results presented in vv. 29–30?
  • Q. 3   How has your life changed as a result of your faith in God?

This Week’s Passage
Hebrews 11:20–31

New International Version (NIV) or view it in a different version by clicking here.
Listen to chapter 11, narrated by Max McLean.