Hebrews 11 Bible Commentary

John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes

(Read all of Hebrews 11)

Verse 1

[1] Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

The definition of faith given in this verse, and exemplified in the various instances following, undoubtedly includes justifying faith, but not directly as justifying. For faith justifies only as it refers to, and depends on, Christ. But here is no mention of him as the object of faith; and in several of the instances that follow, no notice is taken of him or his salvation, but only of temporal blessings obtained by faith. And yet they may all be considered as evidences of the power of justifying faith in Christ, and of its extensive exercise in a course of steady obedience amidst difficulties and dangers of every kind.

Now faith is the subsistence of things hoped for, the evidence or conviction of things not seen — Things hoped for are not so extensive as things not seen. The former are only things future and joyful to us ; the latter are either future, past, or present, and those either good or evil, whether to us or others. The subsistence of things hoped for - Giving a kind of present subsistence to the good things which God has promised: the divine supernatural evidence exhibited to, the conviction hereby produced in, a believer of things not seen, whether past, future, or spiritual; particularly of God and the things of God.

Verse 2

[2] For by it the elders obtained a good report.

By it the elders — Our forefathers. This chapter is a kind of summary of the Old Testament, in which the apostle comprises the designs, labours, sojournings, expectations, temptations, martyrdoms of the ancients. The former of them had a long exercise of their patience; the latter suffered shorter but sharper trials.

Obtained a good testimony — A most comprehensive word. God gave a testimony, not only of them but to them: and they received his testimony as if it had been the things themselves of which he testified, Hebrews 11:4,5,39. Hence they also gave testimony to others, and others testified of them.

Verse 3

[3] Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.

By faith we understand that the worlds — Heaven and earth and all things in them, visible and invisible.

Where made — Formed, fashioned, and finished.

By the word — The sole command of God, without any instrument or preceding matter. And as creation is the foundation and specimen of the whole divine economy, so faith in the creation is the foundation and specimen of all faith.

So that things which are seen — As the sun, earth, stars.

Were made of things which do not appear — Out of the dark, unapparent chaos, Genesis 1:2. And this very chaos was created by the divine power; for before it was thus created it had no existence in nature.

Verse 4

[4] By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh.

By faith — In the future Redeemer.

Abel offered a more excellent sacrifice — The firstlings of his flock, implying both a confession of what his own sins deserved, and a desire of sharing in the great atonement.

Than Cain — Whose offering testified no such faith, but a bare acknowledgment of God the Creator. By which faith he obtained both righteousness and a testimony of it: God testifying - Visibly that his gifts were accepted; probably by sending fire from heaven to consume his sacrifice, a token that justice seized on the sacrifice instead of the sinner who offered it.

And by it — By this faith.

Being dead, he yet speaketh — That a sinner is accepted only through faith in the great sacrifice.

Verse 5

[5] By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.

Enoch was not any longer found among men, though perhaps they sought for him as they did for Elijah, 2 Kings 2:17.

He had this testimony — From God in his own conscience.

Verse 6

[6] But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.

But without faith — Even some divine faith in God, it is impossible to please him.

For he that cometh to God — in prayer, or another act of worship, must believe that he is.

Verse 7

[7] By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.

Noah being warned of things not seen as yet — Of the future deluge. Moved with fear, prepared an ark, by which open testimony he condemned the world - Who neither believed nor feared.

Verse 8

[8] By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.

Genesis 12:1,4,5

Verse 9

[9] By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise:

By faith he sojourned in the land of promise — The promise was made before, Genesis 12:7.

Dwelling in tents — As a sojourner With Isaac and Jacob - Who by the same manner of living showed the same faith Jacob was born fifteen years before the death of Abraham.

The joint heirs of the same promise — Having all the same interest therein. Isaac did not receive this inheritance from Abraham, nor Jacob from Isaac, but all of them from God. Genesis 17:8

Verse 10

[10] For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.

He looked for a city which hath foundations — Whereas a tent has none.

Whose builder and former is God — Of which God is the sole contriver, former, and finisher.

Verse 11

[11] Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised.

Sarah also herself — Though at first she laughed at the promise, Genesis 21:2.

Verse 12

[12] Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead, so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable.

As it were dead — Till his strength was supernaturally restored, which continued for many years after.

Verse 13

[13] These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.

All these — - Mentioned Hebrews 11:7-11.

Died in faith — In death faith acts most vigorously.

Not having received the promises — The promised blessings.

Embraced — As one does a dear friend when he meets him.

Verse 14

[14] For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country.

They who speak thus show plainly that they seek their own country — That they keep in view, and long for, their native home.

Verse 15

[15] And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned.

If they had been mindful of - Their earthly country, Ur of the Chaldeans, they might have easily returned.

Verse 16

[16] But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.

But they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly — This is a full convincing proof that the patriarchs had a revelation and a promise of eternal glory in heaven. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: seeing he hath prepared for them a city - Worthy of God to give.

Verse 17

[17] By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son,

By faith Abraham — When God made that glorious trial of him.

Offered up Isaac — The will being accepted as if he had actually done it.

Yea, he that had received the promises — Particularly that grand promise, "In Isaac shall thy seed be called." Offered up - This very son; the only one he had by Sarah. Genesis 22:1,etc.

Verse 18

[18] Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called:

In Isaac shall thy seed be called — From him shall the blessed seed spring. Genesis 21:12.

Verse 19

[19] Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure.

Accounting that God was able even to raise him from the dead — Though there had not been any instance of this in the world.

From whence also — To speak in a figurative way.

He did receive him — Afterwards, snatched from the jaws of death.

Verse 20

[20] By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come.

BlessedGenesis 27:27,39; prophetically foretold the particular blessings they should partake of.

Jacob and Esau — Preferring the elder before the younger.

Verse 21

[21] By faith Jacob, when he was a dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph; and worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff.

Jacob when dying — That is, when near death. Bowing down on the top of his staff - As he sat on the side of his bed. Genesis 47:31

Verse 22

[22] By faith Joseph, when he died, made mention of the departing of the children of Israel; and gave commandment concerning his bones.

Concerning his bones — To be carried into the land of promise.

Verse 23

[23] By faith Moses, when he was born, was hid three months of his parents, because they saw he was a proper child; and they were not afraid of the king's commandment.

They saw — Doubtless with a divine presage of things to come.

Verse 24

[24] By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter;

Refused to be called — Any longer.

Verse 26

[26] Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward.

The reproach of Christ — That which he bore for believing in the Messiah to come, and acting accordingly.

For he looked off — From all those perishing treasures, and beyond all those temporal hardships Unto the recompence of reward - Not to an inheritance in Canaan; he had no warrant from God to look for this, nor did he ever attain it; but what his believing ancestors looked for,-a future state of happiness in heaven.

Verse 27

[27] By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible.

By faith he left Egypt — Taking all the Israelites with him. Not then fearing the wrath of the king - As he did many years before, Exodus 14:15, etc.

Verse 28

[28] Through faith he kept the passover, and the sprinkling of blood, lest he that destroyed the firstborn should touch them.

The pouring out of the blood — Of the paschal lamb, which was sprinkled on the door-posts, lest the destroying angel should touch the Israelites. Exodus 12:12-18.

Verse 29

[29] By faith they passed through the Red sea as by dry land: which the Egyptians assaying to do were drowned.

They — Moses, Aaron, and the Israelites.

Passed the Red Sea — It washed the borders of Edom, which signifies red. Thus far the examples are cited from Genesis and Exodus; those that follow are from the former and the latter Prophets.

Verse 30

[30] By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, after they were compassed about seven days.

By the faith of Joshua.

Verse 31

[31] By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace.

Rahab — Though formerly one not of the fairest character.

Verse 32

[32] And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets:

After Samuel, the prophets are properly mentioned. David also was a prophet; but he was a king too.

The prophets — Elijah, Elisha, etc., including likewise the believers who lived with them.

Verses 33-34

[33] Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, [34] Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.

David, in particular, subdued kingdoms. Samuel (not excluding the rest) wrought righteousness. The prophets, in general, obtained promises, both for themselves, and to deliver to others. Prophets also stopped the mouths of lions, as Daniel; and quenched the violence of fire, as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. To these examples, whence the nature of faith clearly appears, those more ancient ones are subjoined, (by a transposition, and in an inverted order,) which receive light from these. Jephthah escaped the edge of the sword; Samson out of weakness was made strong; Barak became valiant in fight; Gideon put to flight armies of the aliens. Faith animates to the most heroic enterprises, both civil and military. Faith overcomes all impediments effects the greatest things; attains to the very best; and inverts, by its miraculous power the very course of nature. Judges 7:21.

Verse 35

[35] Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection:

Women — Naturally weak.

Received their dead — Children.

Others were tortured — From those who acted great things the apostle rises higher, to those who showed the power of faith by suffering.

Not accepting deliverance — On sinful terms.

That they might obtain a better resurrection — An higher reward, seeing the greater their sufferings the greater would be their glory. 2 Kings 4:35

Verse 36

[36] And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment:

And others — The apostle seems here to pass on to recent examples.

Verse 37

[37] They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented;

They were sawn asunder — As, according to the tradition of the Jews, Isaiah was by Manasseh.

Were tempted — Torments and death are mentioned alternately. Every way; by threatenings, reproaches, tortures, the variety of which cannot be expressed; and again by promises and allurements.

Verse 38

[38] (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

Of whom the world was not worthy — It did not deserve so great a blessing.

They wandered — Being driven out from men.

Verse 39

[39] And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise:

And all these — Though they obtained a good testimony, Hebrews 11:2, yet did not receive the great promise, the heavenly inheritance.

Verse 40

[40] God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.

God having provided some better thing for us — Namely, everlasting glory.

That they might not be perfected without us — That is, that we might all be perfected together in heaven.