The eleventh chapter of Hebrews is widely recognized as one of the Bible’s most informative discourses about faith. It recounts numerous examples of men and women through history whose lives exemplify the kind of faith the Lord expects us all to have. Nevertheless, not everyone mentioned in this chapter is a person of notable faith or worthy of emulation. A number of individuals are included who would necessarily be placed on the opposite end of the spectrum. Who are they and what can we learn from them?
A Faithless Worshiper
The second person named in this biblical hall of faith is Cain (v. 4), and not in a favorable way. He is mentioned in contrast to his brother Abel, who “offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice” (ESV). Seeing that Abel’s offering was “by faith,” and faith is fostered by listening to and heeding God’s word (Rom. 10:17), the implication is that Cain either blatantly or carelessly disregarded the revealed will of God. An offering of mere convenience, innovation, or outright rebellion is unacceptable. We learn from Cain that worship must never be dictated by human preference and ingenuity. Acceptable worship is by faith, and true faith can only be established on what the Lord has communicated through his word.
A Faithless Majority
The general populace of Noah’s day is alluded to in Hebrews 11:7, condemned because of their failure to exhibit the kind of faith and righteousness that characterized the lives of Noah and his family. Noah’s contemporaries, alienated from God due to their wickedness, were afforded ample opportunity to heed the preaching of Noah (2 Peter 2:5). Sadly, all but eight persistently rejected the invitation to get on board the divine plan until it was too late. We learn from these foolish souls that God’s longsuffering has its limits, and refusing or postponing submissive faith is disastrous.
A Faithless Temperament
In verse 20 of Hebrews 11 Esau is named in conjunction with his father Isaac and twin brother Jacob. While neither Isaac nor Jacob were faultless, their priority of faith afforded them a special place in God’s redemptive scheme. Esau, on the other hand, was an “unholy” (ESV) or “profane” (NKJV) person because his spiritual apathy made immediate and temporal gratification his priority (Heb. 12:16; cf. Gen. 25:34). We learn from Esau that to live with little regard for heavenly things is to lead a disappointing and wasted life.
A Faithless Resolve
Pharaoh and the worldly Egyptians are alluded to in Hebrews 11:23-29, opposing the divine will and oppressing the people of God. When the LORD made demands of Pharaoh that he didn’t like, Pharaoh reacted with stubbornness and pride. While God’s words and actions softened the hearts of Moses and the Israelites, Pharaoh’s heart was hardened. One was stimulated to faith, while the other retorted with anger and rebellion. We learn from Pharaoh and his cohorts that you can’t fight against God with a realistic expectation of victory. Resisting the Lord always ends in defeat.
A Faithless Response
In verse 31 of Hebrews 11 we read of the ancient inhabitants of Jericho. Rahab is portrayed as a heroine of faith, whereas her neighbors are described as “disobedient.” In contrast to Rahab’s receptivity and compliance, her fellow-citizens were resistant and defiant. By faith Rahab and her family were spared and added to God’s family, while all others in the city were destroyed. We learn from the Jericho residents that obedient faith is the necessary response to God, without which sure destruction awaits.
There are many lessons to learn from Hebrews 11 about faith, including negative ones. Since we cannot please God without it (v. 6), let us be motivated by both the good and bad examples to be counted among the faithful, “of whom the world was not worthy” (v. 38).
--Kevin L. Moore
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