Hebrews Chapter 11
The book of Hebrews was written by an unknown author (with a great deal of speculation as to who it might have been). It was written to Jewish Christians in an attempt to bridge the gap of understanding between the larger Jewish revelation and the Christian understanding of that material. One view of the Christian message which was taken to other cultures to enrich them, is that it was “Judaism lite – for export purposes”. This is in contrast to having people become culturally Jewish in order to avail themselves of the religious insights from that culture.
Central to the presentation is the author’s consideration of exactly who Jesus was, in his estimation he was the Messiah, the long expected Savior within the Jewish tradition (and expectation which continues today, as Jews do not acknowledge that Jesus was in fact that Savior).
Some readers have noted the strong Greek influence of “idea” as the basis of life and “thought” as the primary reality – with “material world” being more an expression of thought and idea. Plato, of course talked about the “ideal” and the “real”. I remember my philosophy professor pulling out a $10 bill and saying which would you rather have, the idea of this $10 bill, or the actual $10 bill?
Whether or not this author was heavily influenced by the Greeks, his argument is that the Old Testament is a foreshadowing of, and a less-than-perfect representation of what exactly Christ did in relation to humanity.
In fact, his description of temple ritual and tradition is one of the main sources of that information because the temple itself was destroyed in 70 A.D. during a rebellion of the Jewish people against the Romans. As with all historical source material, one has to be careful of how that material is being used by the author who happens to present it, but it does in fact present some quite precise detail about the old ritual, as he goes on to show it significance in relation to Jesus – and his readers would be quite familiar with that tradition.
It was at this time that the Jewish community shifted its emphasis off the actual ritual sacrifice procedure (which coincided with the destruction of the Temple, a necessary place if sacrifice was going to take place at all) to an emphasis on prayer as the “sacrifice” of a penitent heart – an emphasis brought to the front by a series of Old Testament prophets.
In the Christian community, Christ’s death on the cross replaced the ritual sacrifice of the Temple, and is represented in a variety of ways by the Roman Catholic Mass, and a remembrance service centered around that sacrifice in the Protestant church, called Communion.
[Note also Hebrews chapter 12 in this collection as well]
The people who would be reading this particular document were undergoing a great deal of persecution, the nature of which was quite serious – and life-threatening. Towards the end of the document the author talks about Faith and in the 11th chapter – referred to under this heading, “when you lack faith”. He opens up his consideration of the subject with what is generally considered the classic Christian definition of faith.
In the English language the word faith tends to have two major meanings
- faith is often used as a shorthand word for any collection of classical beliefs – “keep the faith baby”.
- faith is also used as a synonym for trust or reliance – as in, “I put my faith or trust in you my dear”.
It is in the second sense that the word is talked of here. The author then goes on in this chapter to talk about a number of great heroes of the Old Testament – and these fall into two categories:
- heroes of the faith for whom God expressed His reliability by intervening in their bad contexts
- heroes of the faith for whom God expressed His reliability through supporting them in situations in which He did not intervene.
The implication of this breakdown of the two groups is that faith or trust is needed both for dying for what one commits to, as well as for living for what one commits to. In effect, what is being talked about here is the degree to which we truly want to move to a higher quality of life in our relationships and activities.
Reference is also made to the fact that there is spiritual resource that carries us through the difficult times when we take on this challenge in life. Reference in Isaiah chapter 40 (elsewhere in this list) is made to the way God helps us and carries us through difficult times.