Without a doubt, this is one of the finest chapters in the Bible. It has been called “God’s Hall of Fame” because it contains a superb roll-call of the heroes of the faith from the Old Testament. Read originally by Jewish readers, these men and women of faith were more than just inspiring historical figures — they were family.
It is easy to focus on the individual stories behind the names in this chapter and miss the point of it. This is a chapter about faith. What is faith? Some people say that faith is an irrational commitment to beliefs despite evidence to the contrary. Others say that faith is like a blind leap into darkness (that’s not faith — that’s stupidity). Faith is actually the opposite. You could describe faith as a leap out of darkness back into the light. Faith is not irrational. It is based upon coherent and consistent reasoning. Faith isn’t simplistic, but it is simple. Faith provides future hope for your soul.
Here is my definition of faith, based on verse 1: Faith is the confident assurance that God is in control of the future and that He will keep His promises to me because He has a purpose for me. Faith is building your life on the fact that God is in control, and that God will fulfill His promises even when you don’t see those promises materializing. That kind of thinking is the only way to please God (v.6).
The men and women listed in this chapter were not perfect people, but they were people of faith. In a way, our faith is different from theirs, because we look back to what they looked forward to: the death of Jesus on the cross. (Note: the Old Testament saints were saved “on credit” by their faith; Jesus paid it in full on the cross!) But our faith is like theirs because we, too, trust a God we cannot see to do what He has promised. We have trusted our lives and our eternal destiny to Him. The lives of these faithful ones inspire us to exercise greater faith and to trust God more. Though they are long dead, they still speak to us (v.4).
The list begins with Abel, who trusted in God’s way to worship and to seek forgiveness. It continues with Enoch, who walked by faith — straight to heaven. Noah is next, who had faith that God would save him from the flood and built a boat before the first drop of rain had fallen. Abraham, the paragon of faith, left his home and moved his family when God told him to do so, even though he did not know where he was going. He believed God would give him a son when he was impotent and his wife (Sarah) was post-menopausal. He had faith that God would provide a substitute sacrifice for his son, Isaac. Isaac was far from perfect, but he believed like his father, as did his son Jacob and his grandson Joseph.
The section about the faith of Moses is my favorite in this chapter (v.23-28). He chose God’s way even though it meant refusing luxury and being mistreated. It was a far-reaching faith that saw the eternal implications of his faithfulness and the true significance of his obedience. Rahab, “the prostitute” of Jericho, exercised genuine faith in God when she helped the Israelite spies. Verse 32 gives a sampling of the leaders who guided God’s people by faith, and verses 33-38 deal with unnamed people of faith who trusted God in spite of impossible odds, severe poverty, and crushing persecution.
Study the lives of these people of faith and you will find that God can be trusted. Let their testimonies of faithfulness inspire your faith. And may your faith inspire those who are watching you.