Captured And Captivated By Christ: Hebrews 11:29-31 – Faith in the Promise-Keeping God

  Grace For The Journey

We are studying our way through the Book of Hebrews, verse-by-verse and we have spent a several days in Chapter 11, the great “roll call of faith” as it is often called.  Like a coach inspiring a room of athletes by making them watch videos of great football plays over and over again, or a baseball pitcher, or a boxer, or a golfer watching the video and learning what to emulate, and how to mirror or copy all the right moves – so the writer of Hebrews points to all of these Old Testament believers and says, “Look at their faith!  See how they believed!  See how they obeyed!  Now, get out there and do the same!”  That is how we are to read chapter 11.  It is not that these people are perfect or even that they are great moral leaders.  They had their faults and we have talked about a number of them in past blogs.  But what the writer of Hebrews is doing is pointing out what they did right.  And where their faith was worth pointing out, the writer points it out!  And he says, “Have faith like that.  Obey like that.”

We have learned from the faith of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, and others.  And we left off yesterday with Moses as Moses leads the Israelites out of Egypt.  There is a shift from verse 28 to verse 29, a shift from individual faith to corporate faith.  There is a shift from the faith of Moses as an individual person, to the faith of the Israelites a collective people.  We note that in the pronoun “they” in verse 29.  We will study verses 29-31 today.  In saying that, let me go on to say that there is a lot here and we have been slowing our pace a bit so that we can learn from these Old Testament believers.  We should take care not to become so familiar with the Old Testament stories that we become jaded and dull overly familiar with these stories as though there were nothing new to learn from them.  My prayer is that these examples will move us to greater heights and living that will bring greater glory to God.  

We ought to read the Word of God and listen to the Word of God every time as though we had never read it or heard it before!  When we do that, God just opens it up to our heart.  It has often been said that “love is not just something you have but it is something you live.”  Love is not just a noun, love is a verb.  Love is something you do.  In the same way, faith is not just something you have but it is something you live. Faith is not just a noun, faith is a verb.  Faith is something you do.  Faith is both belief and obedience.

The Apostle James notes this truth in his letter, especially in Chapter 2, verse 14 where he asks, “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?”  The implication is that it does not profit at all.  A faith that does not result in obedience is a useless faith.”

The writer of Hebrews is showing us that God is a promise-keeping God. He promises His people great things and He intends to keep His promises.  All He requires of His people is that they both believe and obey.  Faith is both having trust and obeying.  As the hymn-writer puts it: “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to (both) trust and obey.”

What does obedient faith look like?  How does obedient faith work?  Let me share three things in answering those questions . . .

Obedient Faith Is . . .

1) Faith no Matter the Peril – Verse 29.

Faith no matter how dangerous, how daunting, or how disturbing is the path before us.  Faith no matter the peril.  One of my life verses is Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust the Lord with all of your heart.  Do not lean upon your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths.”  I have them posted in my office and frequently point them out as I am doing pastoral counseling.    Nowhere is His directing the paths of His people more evident than in the verse before us.

God directed the path of His people as they crossed the Red Sea, an actual historical event that occurred some 1,400 years before Christ.  The background of the narrative is found in Exodus 14.  This chapter records how God miraculously delivered His people from bondage in Egypt, forced slavery, and mistreatment in Egypt.  After the 10 plagues, in a demonstration of His glory, God uses Moses to stand up to Pharaoh and God works through the events to lead His people out of Egyptian bondage.  We noted yesterday that Moses’ name means “to draw out” because Pharaoh’s daughter drew him out of the water when he was a baby. 

You can go later and review the history of how God’s people escaped the Egyptian task masters and fled from the Egyptian army as they went out of Egypt.  They do not get too far down the road before the Egyptians came after them with horses and chariots.  As God’s people approach the vast, Red Sea, it appears as if it is all over, and their deliverance may well be a short-lived deliverance!  They will never get to the Promised Land now!  How will they cross this huge sea to keep ahead of the Egyptians in their run for freedom?  The theological answer is that they will cross by faith.  Verse 29 captures the theology explanation for how they crossed, “By faith they passed through the Red Sea as by dry land, whereas the Egyptians, attempting to do so, were drowned.”  All the details of that crossing are found in Exodus 14. There we read how Moses stood before the people there at the sea.  The waves crashing this way and that and their way forward blocked.  Initially, the people are frightened.  They cry out to their leader, to Moses, and say, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you took us out here to the wilderness to die?”  That is a sarcastic question.  They are really implying that it is all over.  The Bible says that Moses said to the people in Exodus 14:13, “Do not be afraid.  Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today.  For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever.”  Then Moses raises the staff that God had given him, holds it up high above the waters, and God works a mighty miracle.  The sea divides in two.  A wall of water on their right and on their left as they passed through the Red Sea on dry land.  That took faith, didn’t it?  I mean at any moment it would seem, miraculous as it was to have a wall of water at their right and left that they could come back together at any moment.  But God held the waters as God’s people passed through the perilous sea.   And after all the people had passed through safely, what happened next?  The Egyptian army comes running from behind.  All of Pharaoh’s men with their chariots in hot pursuit.  They attempt also to pass through on dry land, but what happened?  Verse 29 gives the terse summation, “The Egyptians, attempting to do so, were drowned.”  God brings the waters back together over the Egyptians, the horsemen, the chariots, and every single Egyptian dies.  The great movie classic “The 10 Commandments,” by Cecil B. Demille captures the scene graphically – with special effects that cause modern viewers to smile, at times, but pretty impressive for 1956.  Charlton Heston is a pretty convincing Moses.

The whole biblical narrative is concluded in the last verse of Exodus 14:31, “Thus Israel saw the great work which the Lord had done in Egypt; so the people feared the Lord, and believed the Lord and His servant Moses.”  And that is what the writer of Hebrews emphasizes, that the people believed the Lord as He spoke through His servant Moses.  He does not here bring up again how they lapsed later on into unbelief and disobedience.  He has addressed that in earlier chapters, namely Hebrews 3 and 4.  Again, his point in Chapter 11 is to call attention to when God’s people acted in a way worthy of imitating.  When they crossed the Red Sea, they had faith, faith no matter the peril.  

As they ran across that recently dried-up sea floor they had faith that God would hold back the waters.  It would seem at any moment that the wall of water on their right and left could come back crashing down upon them.  But God holds the water back in keeping with HIs promise to His people.  And when the unbelieving Egyptians try to pass through, God unleashes His wrath upon them, bringing the waters of judgment crashing down upon them.

Water in the Bible is often used as a judgment upon unbelievers. 

  • Recall the earliest act of God’s judgement in flooding the entire earth.  The waters sweeping away all unbelieving and unrighteous people, with only Noah and his family escaping that judgment in an ark. 
  • Then you have the waters of judgment here in the story of God’s people escaping judgment through the Red Sea and that sea engulfing the unbelievers. 
  • There is also Jonah.  Thrown into the sea, and sinking down into the waters of judgment before God rescues him from the waters by way of a big fish of all things.  
  • Christian baptism pictures union with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  It is a sign of beginning the Christian faith.  Death to the old us.  Raised to walk in a new way of life.  That is pictured in baptism.  The baptismal waters serve as a picture of salvation from judgment.  We are drawn up out of the waters as a picture of our being drawn up and out of death.  Praise God!
  • It is the truth of the old Gospel hymn: “I was sinking deep in sin far from the peaceful shore, very deeply stained within, sinking to rise no more, but the Master of the sea heard my despairing cry, from the waters lifted me, now safe am I.”

Have you been lifted from the waters of sin?  The Red Sea crossing is a beautiful foretaste of redemption through Jesus Christ.  Jesus lifts us up and saves us from the penalty of sin.  And how does this gift come to us?  By faith.  Remember verse 6: “Without faith it is impossible to please God.”  Believe in Him and go on believing in Him.  Faith no matter the peril.  Faith no matter how scary the path appears before you this week.  Remember God is with you. 

If you go back and read Exodus 14 you will read about how God manifested His presence with the people in a pillar of cloud and the Angel of the Lord, reminders that He was always right there with them.  This is the same God who promises to be right there with you, Christian.  He will never leave you nor forsake you.  He is with you always.  Whatever you face this week, however daunting, however scary, God is with you.  Have faith, no matter the peril.  Number two:

2) Faith No Matter The Plan – Verse 30.

One of the most delightful things about how God works is that His ways are not our ways.  This is clearly stated in Isaiah 55:8-9, “’For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord.  ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.’”  The way God carries out His will is often mysterious and curious to us.  He acts this way in a demonstration of His glory, power, and sovereignty.  Verse 30 records a significant battle God’s people fought not long after Joshua leads them into the Promised Land.  We simply read the conclusion of the event in verse 30, “By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they were encircled for seven days.”  If we knew nothing about this event from the Book of Joshua we would just assume it was a typical battle.  But it was not typical at all!  You know the song, right?!    Catchy tune!  But how did the walls come tumbling down.  The writer says, “By faith.”  By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they were encircled for seven days.

Joshua 6 gives the story.  It was an interesting battle plan to say the least!  God tells the people to walk around the city seven times.  Each morning the people got up, the priests went before them with the rams horns and the ark of the covenant ahead of them, and the army behind.  But they do not fight or speak.  They just march around the city.  And after going around the entire city and then they went back to their tents.   They did that every day for a week.  Then on the seventh day, they were to go around the city seven times.  After the seventh time, the priests were to blow the trumpets and the people were to shout the battle cry and then the walls came tumbling down.  

Interesting way to fight, isn’t it?  But imagine the Canaanites living inside the city of Jericho watching this go on for seven days.  They have got to be thinking, “What in the world is happening with these folks?!”  Maybe they laughed the first day or so.  After all, the city of Jericho was heavily fortified.  But I will bet as the days went by, they became more fearful of the way this was all looking.  Some of them had heard about the One True and Living God.  Some had heard about how He brought His people safely across the Red Sea.  I am sure the people living in Jericho became fearful as they watched God’s people marching around the city.

Jericho was heavily fortified.  Like most big cities in the ancient near east there was a double wall, both an outer and an inner wall.  And when the walls came tumbling down, Jericho 6:20 tells us that the walls “fell down flat,” a Hebrew phrase indicating that the wall “fell beneath itself.”  Archaeological evidence suggests that is exactly what happened.  The two walls and the outer wall there was supported by a stone retaining wall.  Excavation reveals that, as the mud-brick wall fell, it fell down flat, depositing bricks down at the base of the stone retaining wall.  Archaeologist Bryant Wood (Associates for Biblical Research) explains the significance, “Excavations have shown that the bricks from the collapsed walls formed a ramp against the retaining wall so that the Israelites could merely climb up over the top.”

The Bible is very precise in its description of how the Israelites entered the city: “the people went up into the city, every man straight before him [i.e., straight up and over],” (Joshua 6:20). The Israelites had to go up, and that is what archaeology has revealed. They had to go from ground level at the base of the wall to the top of the rampart in order to enter the city.  That is unbelievable!  The impenetrable, unassailable fortress could be surmounted after all.  How?  By faith.  God’s people believed that He would do just as He said.  He would keep His promise to deliver the city to them.

Why do you suppose God used this seemingly ridiculous battle plan?  He told them how everything was going to happen.  Circle the city each day for a week.  Just march around it.  I am sure it did not seem to make much sense to the people at first.  God’s ways are not our ways.  I am sure there was some snickering from inside the city wall.  You remember that this week, when unbelievers snicker at you, too.  

This mighty destruction of the city

Is such that only God can get

The glory for its demise.

Clearly God did this and He did it through the faith of His people.  

3) Faith No Matter The Person – Verse 31.

This brief narrative tells us about one occupant of the city of Jericho, an interesting person, a lady named Rahab.  But she was no lady, if you know what I mean.  She was a shady lady, at best.  She is described as a harlot, that as an archaic word for prostitute.  She had a past.  But look as we look at the next verse – What a surprise! 

Verse 31 states, “By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe (or obey), when she had received the spies with peace.”  This prostitute is listed among the great “roll call of faith!”  Faith works no matter the person.  No matter who you are, what you have done, the moment you exercise faith, God works.  Without faith it is impossible to please Him, but with faith, all things are possible to him who believes.

Joshua 2 tells us that Rahab became a believer in the One True and Living God.  She had heard about God’s mighty works, namely His delivering the Israelites through the Red Sea.  Word had reached Rahab there in Jericho and she believed.  The Israelites sent out two men to spy out the land, especially the city of Jericho.  Someone sees them and tells the king.  Providentially, God leads the two spies to Rahab who hides them in her house, literally hiding them in the stalks of flax that formed the roof of her house.  When the authorities come knocking at her door, she tells them that yes, they had come by, but were no longer here.  She tells them that they had left at evening when it was dark.  Then she goes back to the men and says, “We have heard all about you all, about your God, about how he has delivered you through the Red Sea.  Many of us here in Jericho are shaking in our boots for fear.”  Rahab makes this strong profession of faith in Joshua 2:11, “The Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath.”  Rahab believes.  And God begins a work of grace in her heart, changing her as the days go by.

She sends the spies off to safety, letting them down the wall by a rope through her window because her house was one of those that was built on the city wall.  And she tells them to flee to the mountain nearby for a couple days until it is safe to return to the Israelite camp.  But first she asks that when they come back to destroy the city, that she and her family be spared, be saved from the destruction.  The spies agree and they tell her to tie a scarlet cord in the window through which she had let them down.  This way when the Israelite army returns to take the city, they will know which house Rahab lives in and will avoid that one, seeing the red cord hanging from the window.

Let me quote again from Archaeologist Bryant Wood, “The German excavation of 1907–1909 found that on the north a short stretch of the lower city wall did not fall as everywhere else.  A portion of that mud-brick wall was still standing to a height of over two meters (eight feet).  What is more, there were houses built against the wall!  It is quite possible that this is where Rahab’s house was. Since the city wall formed the back wall of the houses, the spies could have readily escaped.  From this location on the north side of the city it was only a short distance to the hills of the Judean wilderness where the spies hid for three days (Joshua 2:16, 22).  Real estate values must have been low here, since the houses were positioned on the embankment between the upper and lower city walls.  Not the best place to live in time of war!  This area was no doubt the overflow from the upper city and the poor part of town, perhaps even a slum district.”

I just love the way archaeology confirms what we already know to be true when we read God’s Word.

Faith no matter the person.  Even a prostitute can believe and be changed.  You may feel unworthy of God’s grace.  You have sinned and you feel dirty and guilty.  If God can work through the harlot Rahab, he can work in and through you.  Just turn to God.  Believe in Jesus.  Accept Christ and begin walking by faith.  God will change you, grow you, and do mighty things through you.  Faith no matter the person.

We have talked about faith today.  Faith no matter the peril, no matter the plan, no matter the person.  Some of you are saying, “I need faith to live this week.  I have got things coming up and things I fear and things I do not know how they are going to work out.  I need faith.”  Right now, you can say in your spirit, “Dear God, help me live by faith right now.  I surrender.  I trust you.  I believe you will do the right thing in me and through me.”

Others of you have been trusting in the wrong things, living for the wrong things.   You need to repent.  Let go of sin and turn to Jesus.  Trust Jesus Christ who saves you from the judgment to come, who “draws you out” of the judgment upon your sin, just as God drew His people out of the judgment of waters of the Red Sea.  Trust Him as your Lord and Savior.

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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