After talking about the pre-patriarchal characters followed by Abraham, the list of faith heroes today picks up with the family that became Israel, highlighting selected heroes down through the time of the conquest of the Promised Land.
This laundry list begins with the son of promise, Isaac, who of course had two sons who were twins…
20 By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future.
21 By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.
What is interesting in these two generations of the family is that the younger is blessed over the elder. Birth order and genealogical blessing were a big deal in the Hebrew mind. But we know from multiple places in Scripture that the younger son Jacob received the blessing over Esau. As with Cain and Abel, one had a heart for God, whereas the other did not – all of which was fleshed out over time. The same is true of Joseph, who was next to last of the many sons of Jacob. Reuben was the oldest, but Joseph was the one who would save the family through trusting God in faith in Egypt. And the younger of his sons was the more blessed by their grandfather Jacob, and the tribe of Ephraim especially prospered – the name Ephraim sometimes being used synonymously of the northern 10 tribes in the way Judah was used of the southern kingdom.
22 By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions concerning the burial of his bones.
OK, so what’s the big deal with this? Joseph wanted to be buried back in the Promised Land, back to the place where God was to bless the family and nation. Generations in advance, Joseph believed it would happen, though it would be another 400 years before it actually occurred. And it was the great character Moses who would lead them out of Egypt and back to Palestine…
23 By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.
24 By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. 25 He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. 27 By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible. 28 By faith he kept the Passover and the application of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel.
Moses had parents who could discern in some way that this child was destined to accomplish something great for the nation, and in hiding him from the edict of Pharaoh, they risked their own well-being.
You know the story of Pharaoh’s daughter finding Moses hidden in the bulrushes, thus saving his life and putting him into a place of prominence and privilege. The main idea of this entire long paragraph is that Moses could have chosen the easy life that was fully open to him, but he rather identified with the despised slave nation of Israel. This was a choice that was made in faith and confidence in the one true God, though it put him at odds with the most powerful nation of that time. It would mean a lifetime of hard living in wilderness areas surrounded by an ungrateful mob of people. But he obeyed God in faith, with eyes on the bigger picture of God’s work in the world.
Moses led the nation through some of the most incredible displays of God’s power …
29 By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned.
Would you want to pass through two columns of water standing up tall on two sides – with the wind blowing and the threat that it could all come crashing down upon you, as it did on the Egyptians? Israel passed through that scene in faith.
30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the army had marched around them for seven days.
31 By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.
Jericho was a powerful city. The Israelites were told to march around it for seven days. Did this make sense … just walking around a city? It only would, if done in faith that God was going to do something incredible because you obeyed him.
Rahab risked everything. It would have been much more logical for her to have told the authorities of her own people about the spies she hid and about all that she knew from them. Instead, she believed in faith that the God of Israel was the one true God, and that she could trust him to deliver her.
By bringing up these stories to the Hebrews, the readers were reminded that they were far from the first to suffer for identification with Christ and with God’s plans. And they were not the last. We live in a time when there are actually more martyrs for Christ than in any other century or age.
It could happen even to us. Yes, it is a stretch to imagine, though not as much of a stretch as even just a few years ago. But in any event, it is not as if we hope for such to occur, but if it does, it is not something to fear or be shameful about – not if you have the big picture in mind of God’s greater eternal work and reward.