Sunday School Lesson
Lesson 6 (KJV)
Faith and Righteousness
Devotional Reading: Romans 5:12–21
Background Scripture: Hebrews 11
Hebrews 11:1–4a, 7a, 8, 17–18, 20–23, 32, 39–40
1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
2 For by it the elders obtained a good report.
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.
4a By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain.
7a 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.
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.
17 By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son,
18 Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called.
20 By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come.
21 By faith Jacob, when he was a dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph; and worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff.
22 By faith Joseph, when he died, made mention of the departing of the children of Israel; and gave commandment concerning his bones.
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.
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:
39 And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise:
40 God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.—Hebrews 11:1
Faith That Pleases God
Unit 2: Learning About Faith
After participating in this lesson, each learner will be able to:
1. State the definition of faith.
2. Explain the meaning and significance of the key verse.
3. List one change each in the categories of thought, behavior, and speech by which he or she will become more of a stranger to the world.
How to Say It
Gedeon Gid-e-un (G as in get).
Jephthae Jef-the (th as in thin).
A. Listening to the Trustworthy Voice
I remember a particular game we played during youth group. Someone would be blindfolded and assigned specific tasks to accomplish; another person would be designated as a guide but was allowed only to speak instructions to the one who was blindfolded. The job of other people in the room was to cause distractions by shouting, making noise, giving wrong instructions, etc. The blindfolded person had to have faith in the guide and listen to only the guide.
God functions much like the guide in that game, and He has proven himself trustworthy. We may desire to do something that our limited vision tells us is edifying and appropriate. But if we are listening to our guide and trusting His voice above all else, we may discover otherwise.
B. Lesson Context
When reading a text, it’s always a good idea to know the purpose for which it was written. The natural approach is to look for a clear purpose statement, such as in Luke 1:3–4 and John 20:30–31. The book of Hebrews, however, has no such statement. So the book’s purpose must be inferred from its contents. The extended comparisons and contrasts of Jesus with Old Testament personalities, the Levitical priesthood, angels, etc., signify the purpose being to encourage wavering and persecuted Christians of Jewish background to stand firm in Christ and not retreat into Judaism. Beyond this relatively certain conclusion, there is no consensus regarding the authorship and date of Hebrews. At the very end of the book, the 1611 edition of the King James Version has this footnote: “Written to the Hebrews from Italy by Timothy.” But whether this is original to the text or the conclusion of the translators is debated.
Regarding the date of writing, we have some certainty that the book cannot have been written after AD 96 because Clement of Rome seems to quote from it up to four times while writing his epistle to the Corinthian church. The book of Hebrews also discusses the worship within the temple as though such a structure were still in existence, so a date prior to the temple’s destruction in AD 70 is likely.
Questions of authorship, date, and provenance aside, what is clear from the contents of Hebrews is that the addressees were in danger of giving up due to their suffering for having faith in Christ (Hebrews 10:32–39). Today’s study begins immediately after that danger is addressed.
I. Faith Explained
A. Definition (vv. 1–2)
1. Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
Ancient Greek words translated as faith, faithful, and faithfulness occur some 316 times in ancient New Testament manuscripts. The 37 occurrences of these words in the book of Hebrews comprise almost 12 percent of the 316. However, Hebrews constitutes only about 3.6 percent of the New Testament. Clearly, the subject of faith is vital to the author, thus his offer of the definition we see here.
The concept of faith is complex, not reducible to a single definition. For example, the phrase “the faith” used in Jude 3 refers to a body of doctrine to be believed. But that is not the sense in the text before us now. A key to understanding what the writer of Hebrews intends is the word translated substance. This word is translated elsewhere as “confidence” or “confident” (2 Corinthians 9:4; 11:17; Hebrews 3:14), and that is the sense here. The author does not say that faith creates reality. Instead, the writer emphasizes faith as the answer to the eternal rewards God has promised. Hope and confidence are also connected in Hebrews 3:6.
The writer emphasizes this in the phrase that follows, using terms that enhance the two ideas in the first half of this verse. One enhancement is the movement from the word faith to the word evidence; the latter word is to be understood in the sense of “verification” or “certain persuasion.” Another enhancement is the movement from the phrase things hoped for to the phrase things not seen; the latter more precisely describes the desired result of hope. The Christian’s ultimate hope is not in anything in the present, visible world (John 17:16; James 4:4; 1 John 2:15). Rather, our hope is in the unseen eternal reality yet to come (2 Corinthians 4:18).
Belief and faith are closely related, but faith is the stronger of the two concepts (compare James 2:19). The writer is setting the stage for the numerous illustrations of this fact.
What Do You Think?
How will you live in faith that God will be present with you in the upcoming week?
How does the definition of faith in Hebrews 11:1 assist you in facing daily circumstances?
2. For by it the elders obtained a good report.
The elders are the Old Testament faithful, and the word it refers to their faith as just defined in the previous verse. God is the one who gave them a good report (the same word is translated “witness” in Hebrews 11:4b, not in our printed text). With this observation, the writer both begins and ends (see 11:39) what has come to be called the “Hall of Faith.”
B. Foundations (vv. 3–4a)
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.
Faith is necessary to understand things that are real but cannot be observed, such as God’s creating the worlds. This faith is not “blind faith,” which is a belief in something without evidence to support that belief. Instead, what we’re talking about is faith based on evidence. Since the evidence of God’s holy character and limitless power have been established many times over, we can trust that His account of the creation of the cosmos—unseen by humans—is true. That’s faith based on evidence, not blind faith (compare John 20:30–31).
4a. By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain.
This account is found in Genesis 4. Abel offered the best of his flock, while Cain “brought of the fruit of the ground” (4:3). The different types of offerings were in accordance with the brothers’ respective occupations per Genesis 4:2. God’s favor on Abel and not Cain was because Abel brought his best, not keeping it for himself. As a result, he is known as “righteous Abel” (Matthew 23:35), while Cain—who murdered his brother (Genesis 4:8)—is infamous as a negative example (1 John 3:12; Jude 11).
II. Faith Lived Out
(Hebrews 11:7a, 8, 17–18, 20–23, 32)
A. Noah (v. 7a)
7a. 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.
Noah’s account is found in Genesis 6–9. Building the ark was no small exercise in faith! The expression of things not seen as yet is connected with the beginning of Hebrews 11:1. Thus, Noah’s faith was based on the word of God concerning the flood, which Noah was not yet able to see.
The Value of Fear
Jason felt increasingly isolated at his high school as more and more of his friends began dabbling in recreational drugs, underage drinking, and premarital sex. As Jason resisted those temptations, his friendships dwindled.
One thing kept Jason from following their path: fear. Jason’s dad repeatedly warned him of the consequences of substance abuse and sexual immorality. Jason feared for his physical health and dreaded the thought of disappointing his father.
The spiritual consequences can be more devastating, however. God sees everything we do, hears everything we say, and knows every thought we think. The Bible speaks of “fearing God,” “fearing the Lord,” etc., at least 80 times. A holy fear of God that directs our actions, speech, and thoughts is as appropriate today as it was for Noah. As Jesus said, “Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him” (Luke 12:5). How do we keep from domesticating God so that we give no thought to fearing Him? —D. D.
B. Abraham (vv. 8, 17–18)
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.
The call of Abraham is found in Genesis 12:1–3, with the man’s walk of faith recorded from 12:4 through 25:11 (compare Acts 7:1–7). Abraham had to trust the unseen, invisible God rather than the visible, fictitious gods (idols) of his culture. And he did so as he departed for an unknown land several hundred miles distant. Considering that Abraham was the man who “believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6), it is certainly fitting that he is included on this list.
But that doesn’t mean Abraham never sinned (see Genesis 16:3–4; 12:12–13; 20:2). As we consider the faith-walk of several members of the Hall of Faith, we will remind ourselves that they were not without flaws.
17–18. By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called.
This account of the near-sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham is detailed in Genesis 22; a much-abridged version is found in James 2:21. Both passages focus on how the man’s faith was evidenced by action. When God commanded him to sacrifice his son, Abraham arose early in the morning in obedience (Genesis 22:3)—no delay. Abraham reasoned that God could raise Isaac from the dead (Hebrews 11:19). While there are certainly resurrections predicted and recorded in the Old Testament, none are noted as occurring as far back as in the time of Abraham, who lived about 2000 BC (see 1 Kings 17:17–23; 2 Kings 4:18–37; 13:21; Isaiah 26:19; Daniel 12:2). Perhaps Abraham believed that God was willing and able to do something that Abraham had never seen or heard of. The last line of the text at hand quotes Genesis 21:12.
What Do You Think?
How can you manage the emotions of disappointment, grief, or anger that may arise when God’s will doesn’t make sense?
Who can you turn to for wise counsel when God’s will doesn’t make sense?
C. Isaac (v. 20)
20. By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come.
After Isaac was born in about 2067 BC, he grew up to become the father of Jacob and Esau, twins born in about 2007 BC. Isaac, like his father Abraham, was something of a mixed bag of character traits. Isaac obeyed God by faith (see Genesis 26:1–6), but Isaac also adopted his father’s practice of deception (26:7). He was also guilty of the parental error of favoritism (25:28). God sometimes uses people in His service despite themselves.
Jacob and Esau were born to Isaac and Rebekah. This family wrestled with the sins of deceit and favoritism (see Genesis 25:28; 26:7). However, when it appeared that God’s plan might be in danger as a result of these situations, the author of Hebrews reminds us that God was still at work. Isaac blessed his sons, looking forward to how God used them in His plan (27:27–40). Some scholars believe that Jacob is mentioned before Esau because it was through the lineage of Jacob that the promise would be fulfilled in Christ.
D. Jacob (v. 21)
21. By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph; and worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff.
This verse is a quotation from Genesis 47:31. The quotation here may not fully match up with 47:31 in your Bible because the writer is quoting from the Septuagint, the ancient Greek version of the Old Testament. When Jacob blessed both of Joseph’s sons, he essentially adopted them as his own. As a result, 2 of the 12 “landed” tribes of Israel descend from them: the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh (Joshua 14:4). Jacob’s faith is evidenced by his worship of God, which he continued to his deathbed. His sins involved deception (Genesis 27:18–24), manipulation (25:29–33; 30:37–43), and favoritism (37:3–4)—but the Lord used him in service nevertheless!
E. Joseph (v. 22)
22. By faith Joseph, when he died, made mention of the departing of the children of Israel; and gave commandment concerning his bones.
This verse reiterates Genesis 50:24–26. In about 1899 BC, Joseph’s brothers sold him to Ishmeelites when he was 17 years old; in turn, the Ishmeelites sold him into Egyptian slavery (37:2, 28). At age 30, Joseph had been appointed second-in-command in Egypt (41:46), facing numerous challenges to his faith in the intervening years.
As we see the phrase the children of Israel, we may immediately think of Israel as the organized nation it would become 430 years later, after the exodus (Exodus 12:40–41). But we should not lose sight of the fact that the word Israel in this context refers specifically to Joseph’s father, Jacob, who had his name changed to Israel (Genesis 32:28; 35:10; 46:8).
Joseph’s directive concerning his bones was that they not be left in Egypt when the exodus occurred (Genesis 50:24–25). This directive was rooted in God’s promise made to his father Jacob, grandfather Isaac, and great-grandfather Abraham concerning possession of the land of Canaan (15:7; 48:3–4; Exodus 6:8; etc.).
What Do You Think?
How can you be a blessing and encourage a younger person this week?
What role does sharing our faith have in blessing those around us according to Galatians 3:9?
F. Amram and Jochebed (v. 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.
This passage treats the lives of Abraham and Moses as journeys of faith. Thus they are the prominent figures presented in today’s lesson. The extended version of the fact noted by the writer of Hebrews is found in Exodus 2. We note that the faith of Moses’ parents is at issue here, not the faith of Moses himself. According to Exodus 6:20, the parents’ names are Amram and Jochebed.
The phrase proper child is a complex expression. Some think it means “beautiful.” It may carry the sense that Moses’ parents had an awareness that the child would grow to be someone special. The Hebrew word behind this phrase in Exodus 2:2 is merely the typical word for “good.”
The commandment of the “new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph” (Exodus 1:8) initially stated that all newborn Hebrew boys were to be killed (1:16). When this directive was disobeyed, the king tried again by requiring that “every son that is born ye shall cast into the river” (1:22). Since baby Moses was put into a waterproof ark before being cast into the Nile River, the parents had obeyed this command—technically speaking!
What Do You Think?
How do you trust God even when you can’t immediately see the results of His plans?
How do the examples of Hall of Faith encourage you in that regard?
G. Others (v. 32)
32. And what shall I more say? For 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.
The Hall of Faith continues, as the writer ensures that readers don’t think the importance of faith ended with Moses. Instead, exercises of faith continued through the centuries. The story of Gedeon (Gideon) is found in Judges 6–8. He served as a judge from 1192 BC to 1152 BC. He’s most notable for his 300-man force defeating the Midianite army. Barak—a contemporary of Deborah, who judged from 1239 BC to 1199 BC—raised an army to defeat the Canaanites, according to Judges 4. Samson served as judge from 1075 BC to 1055 BC; his opposition to the Philistines is found in Judges 13–16. The leadership of Jephthae (Jephthah) against the Ammonites is recorded in Judges 11–12; his judgeship extended from 1086 BC to 1080 BC.
The extensive record of David (reigned 1010–970 BC) runs from 1 Samuel 16 through 1 Kings 2. The ministry of Samuel—who is pivotal for being the last of the judges and the first of the prophets—is found in 1 Samuel 1–25. These individuals of faith were not faultless, however. Faith in a Blessed Future Sheila didn’t say much anymore. An 80-square-foot room in the local nursing home had become her dwelling. The 93-year-old woman had outlived her husband and two sons, so she didn’t have many visitors. Sheila’s failing eyesight and memory made Bible-reading increasingly difficult. Her circumstances seemed to be some of the saddest in the nursing home.
Yet Sheila had developed a surprising reputation among the nursing-home staff. In the few times daily that she did speak, she would communicate joy with her soft voice, weathered by life.
“I waited 18 years to marry my husband,” she would say. “I won’t have to wait that long to see my Shepherd.”
Sheila has since joined the great “cloud of witnesses” of Hebrews 12:1, a group whose lives were informed by a future they couldn’t see. How does your faith compare with Sheila’s? —D. D.
III. Promises Because of Faith
A. Not Received (v. 39)
39. And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise.
The writer repeats the thoughts of Hebrews 11:13 (not in today’s lesson text) but in a condensed form. The word translated having obtained a good report is the same as that in Hebrews 11:2, above; it carries the idea of “having been witnessed” doing something through faith. Since the faith of those being considered looked ahead to the arrival of Jesus, which did not come about in their lifetimes, they received not the promise (contrast Matthew 13:16–17). But they had faith nonetheless.
B. Something Perfect (v. 40)
40. God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.
The better thing is the promise fulfilled in the earthly mission of Christ. Both we and they are made perfect in His suffering (Hebrews 2:10; 5:8–9; 7:28). In combining such facts with the conjunction “wherefore” that begins the next verse, Hebrews 12:1, the author prepares the readers to relate the Old Testament Hall of Faith to themselves.
What Do You Think?
What are some examples of knowledge and resources we have today that the heroes of the past could have never imagined?
How do you think God would like you to use these blessings?
A. The Faith of Imperfect People
The writer of Hebrews selected some very faithful people as examples, people who also had some significant imperfections.
We are to walk faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7), and this should be easier for us than for the Old Testament luminaries. They lived with only a promise and a hope, while we live with the cross and resurrection as accomplished facts (1 Peter 1:12). But although we are privileged to see much more of God’s plan fulfilled, some promises remain to be fulfilled—a resurrection body, a new heavens, a new earth, etc. Many times we must make decisions without being able to see their results. A faith-based decision is based on believing the promises of God and determining to do what God has called you to do, regardless of how it might look in your eyes or the eyes of others. May the Holy Spirit empower us to do so!
Heavenly Father, we thank You for these faithful servants of Yours whose deeds inspire us in our faith. May we prove to be at least as faithful as they were. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
C. Thought to Remember
Faith overrides imperfections!
Standard Publishing. KJV Standard Lesson Commentary® 2023-2024 (pp. 439-457). David C Cook. Kindle Edition.