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Paul’s Epistle to the Hebrews, Part 13: The Substance of the Faith
Throughout the first 209 verses of this epistle to the Hebrews, Paul has argued that Yahshua Christ is the Son who was promised in the Psalms of David, and He is the Lord which David had anticipated, to whom also the Melchizedek priesthood was appointed forever. Paul also explained that His coming had marked the initiation of the new covenant for the children of Israel promised in Jeremiah chapter 31, which Paul had also cited. Because these things in the prophets had now come to pass, Paul had argued that the Levitical priesthood and the works of the law which it dispensed – which are the rituals, sacrifices and ceremonies – were eclipsed by this new practice of the faith in Christ, something which was actually the expectation of the prophets from the beginning. Doing this Paul also discussed some of the other implications of the coming of the new covenant in Christ, especially making point of the fact that apart from Christ, there is no other propitiation for sin, and for that reason, with Christ alone man has access to God.
Now here in Hebrews chapter 11 Paul discusses the faith of the ancients, and how they did the things which they were credited with because of this faith which had now come in the person of Christ. Paul, speaking to so-called “lost” Israelites of the Assyrian captivity, wrote in Galatians chapter 3 that “22 ... the writing has enclosed all under fault, in order that the promise, from the faith of Yahshua Christ, would be given to those who are believing. 23 But before the faith was to come we had been guarded under law, being enclosed to the faith destined to be revealed. 24 So the law has been our tutor for Christ, in order that from faith we would be deemed righteous. 25 But the faith having come, no longer are we under a tutor; 26 for you are all sons of Yahweh through the faith in Christ Yahshua.”
Now that does not mean that anyone who claims to believe something is a son of Yahweh. Rather, the faith in Christ must in accordance with the promises of the Old Testament which Christ had come to fulfill. For that reason Paul informed these Hebrews that Christ “is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.” And for that reason Paul also told the Galatians, in chapter four of his epistle, that “3 Just as we also, when we were infants, we were held subject under the elements of the Society. 4 And when the fulfillment of the time had come, Yahweh had dispatched His Son, having been born of a woman, having been subject to law, 5 in order that he would redeem those subject to law, that we would recover the position of sons.” As we had seen earlier in this epistle, the Society or “world” of which Paul speaks was that society of the children of Israel established at Sinai, as Paul had used the term in Hebrews 9:26.
So according to Paul of Tarsus, Yahshua Christ is “the faith [that] was to come” and Yahshua Christ is “the faith destined to be revealed”, as he attests in Galatians 3:23. Then Paul explains here in Hebrews chapter 11, at verse 13, that these Old Testament saints whom he is about to describe had acted “In faith... not receiving the promises but having seen them from afar”, and the reference is to the assurance of the promises they had in Christ, the preservation of which was the reason that the children of Israel were then enclosed under the law, which Paul had also explained in Galatians. So to Paul of Tarsus, for both Israelites of the dispersion, such as the Galatians, and Israelites of the circumcision, such as the Hebrews, Yahshua Christ is the end of the faith, in the sense of being its fulfillment, and He was not the beginning of some strange new faith, as the denominational churches may claim. As Paul had said concerning this faith, in Romans chapter 4: “16 Therefore from of the faith, that in accordance with favor, then the promise is to be certain to all of the offspring, not to that of the law only, but also to that of the faith of Abraham, who is father of us all; 17 (just as it is written, "That a father of many nations I have made you,") before Yahweh whom he trusted, who raises the dead to life, and calls things not existing as existing; 18 who contrary to expectation, in expectation believed, for which he would become a father of many nations according to the declaration, ‘Thus your offspring will be.’” Of course, there were neither Israelites, Judaeans, Galatians or Romans when Yahweh made those promises to Abraham, as they are but some of the many nations which later came from Abraham’s seed.
With the understanding that according to Paul, Christ is the objective of the faith of the Old Testament, we may proceed with Hebrews chapter 11:
1 Now faith is expecting an assurance, evidence of the facts not being seen. 2 For by this were the elders accredited.
The 3rd century papyrus P13 has these first two verses to read “1 Now faith is expecting a departure from works, the evidence not being seen. 2 For by it were the elders accepted.” However for the context of the reading of P13 we are compelled to render the Greek word πρᾶγμα as works, where in our translation it is facts. Liddell & Scott define πρᾶγμα as “that which has been done, a deed, act...facts...a thing, matter, affair….” It seems to us that the scribe of P13 may have had an agenda in this instance, as it clearly contradicts the circumstances of the Old Testament. The word order being changed slightly, ἀπόστασις, which is a departure, was written where all of the other ancient manuscripts have ὑπόστασις, which is a substance or an assurance. The word ὑπόστασις fits the context of the clause, while ἀπόστασις does not.
P13: ἔστιν δὲ πίστις ἐλπιζομένων πραγμάτων ἀπόστασις ἔλεγχος οὐ βλεπομένων.
Manuscripts: ἔστιν δὲ πίστις ἐλπιζομένων ὑπόστασις, πραγμάτων ἔλεγχος οὐ βλεπομένων.
The King James Version has the first verse of this chapter to read “Now faith is the substance [ὑπόστασις] of things hoped for [reading a participle as a substantive], the evidence of things not seen.” This often leaves readers with the impression that Paul is defining faith as the mere act of believing in something unseen, even if that is not what it says. If “faith is the substance” of the things which are hoped for, then faith cannot be held within the heart of man since it must represent some tangible object of any particular hope. If one is promised a horse, then faith in that instance would be the horse itself, the substance of what one hopes to receive. However the participle is not necessarily a substantive, especially without the definite article, and the word πρᾶγμα is not a mere pronoun, where the King James Version has things. While πρᾶγμα in the plural may refer to certain things, we feel the rendering is insufficient. The word facts may well have been rendered as matters. But in any event, where Paul says “evidence of the facts not being seen”, he refers to the expectation of the assurance, or in many translations, the assurance of the expectation, and that expectation of the assurance is what Paul defines as faith. If one is promised a horse, faith in that promise is an expectation of receiving a horse without actually having seen the horse itself.
So faith is the belief that a promise shall indeed be fulfilled, and therefore the faith in Christ is an expectation of the materializing of the promises of the Old Testament made in relation to Christ. So the assurance refers to the substance of the Old Testament promises to the patriarchs, and not to anything in the imaginations of men. Faith is “expecting an assurance”, and the assurance of the faith to which Paul refers is expressly provided in Scripture. Holding, or expecting, the assurances of the promises of Scripture is the substance of the faith, even if the evidence of the facts or matters of the promises have not yet been seen.
Later in this chapter Paul tells us what is not seen, where he says of the Old Testament saints that “In faith these all died, not receiving the promises but having seen them from afar,” So it is the fulfillment of the promises which had not yet been seen, and as Paul has explained where we have cited Galatians and Romans here, Christ is the assurance of that fulfillment. The Old Testament saints saw Him coming but they died before He came, and the Hebrews to whom he writes have a surer confirmation, where Paul attests in verse 40 of this chapter of “Yahweh, foreseeing for us something better, that not apart from us should they [referring to the Old Testament saints] be perfected.” So Paul continues:
3 By faith we perceive the ages to be furnished by the word of Yahweh, in which that which is seen has not come [the MT has “in which the things seen have not come”; the text follows P13, א, A, D and 0285] into being from things visible.
The word καταρτίζω is furnished here, in a past tense, and may have been rendered put in order, or prepared, where the King James Version has framed. As we expect the Word of God to be certain concerning the future, we should also expect it to be certain concerning the past. This is evident in the challenge which Yahweh issued concerning the false gods, where he taunted those who follow them in Isaiah chapter 41 and said “21 Produce your cause, saith the LORD; bring forth your strong reasons, saith the King of Jacob. 22 Let them bring them forth, and shew us what shall happen: let them shew the former things, what they be, that we may consider them, and know the latter end of them; or declare us things for to come. 23 Shew the things that are to come hereafter, that we may know that ye are gods: yea, do good, or do evil, that we may be dismayed, and behold it together. 24 Behold, ye are of nothing, and your work of nought: an abomination is he that chooseth you.”
Here it is evident that, not counting Christ Himself, Paul of Tarsus was the first physicist of the Christian era. Our modern technology perceives that all matter can indeed be reduced to invisible basic components. And while the ancient Greek philosophers had also speculated of these things, here Paul makes a direct and confident assertion in this regard. This is not the only time that Paul made such an assertion, as we may see in Romans chapter 1 where speaking of men who turned away from God he chastised them and said: “19 Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. 20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.”
In 2 Corinthians chapter 4, Paul spoke of this same faith whereby he encourages the Hebrews here and he said “15 For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God. 16 For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man [the eternal spirit instilled in man by God] is renewed day by day. 17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; 18 While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.” Then, as he had suggested in Romans, Paul once again made a reference to an unseen realm and the invisible aspects of the creation of God in the first chapter of his epistle to the Colossians where he wrote praising God and said: “16 For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him.”
As we had concluded in relation to these things while discussing Hebrews chapter 10, “We should not be so vain as to imagine that what we can see with our fleshly eyes in this world is all that there is in God’s creation.” But this is also where we must walk a thin line, since merely because we can understand that there is more to the creation of Yahweh than what we see, we should refrain from creating imaginary worlds out of our own vain deceit. The apostle John had even warned against this where he said in chapter 3 of his first epistle “2 Beloved, now we are children of Yahweh, and not yet has it been made manifest what we shall be. We know that if He is made manifest, we shall be like Him, since we shall see Him just as He is.”
With this Paul begins to proceed from the Genesis account of Creation and through the Old Testament, taking as examples men and women who did wonderful things based on their faith in the Word of God. The first promise of salvation to the Adamic man is found in Genesis 3:22 where it says “And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever.” Ostensibly, while the ancient records of every major Adamic culture demonstrate an apparently limited understanding of man’s eternal nature in the realm of the spirit, Abraham alone was chosen by God to be the bearer of the true promises of life through Yahweh God in this world, to be fulfilled in his seed through Jacob and Jacob’s descendants after him. The very fact that we even have these very similar ancient myths from so many White nations which have been eclipsed by history informs us that this interpretation is sound.
But the modern and Christian nations of Europe are – for the most part – the progeny of Abraham through Jacob, and it is not a coincidence that they alone had directly received and that they have borne the Gospel of Christ, who represents the fulfillment of those promises to Abraham. No other races received the Gospel from the apostles, although pockets of the children of Israel received it in various Old World places outside of Europe. Neither is it a coincidence that with the coming of the Gospel, the pagan myths were laid aside, and that is because the better promise in Christ is a better understanding of the things which the Adamic race had always believed from the beginning, although various branches of the race had their own embellishments. Here Paul asserts that the promises of reconciliation to God and eternal life were manifest from the beginning, as he first goes through the patriarchs from Abel down to Abraham. Then he seems to magnify the promises once he gets to Abraham, and continues to illustrate the manifestations of faith amongst the ancient Israelites.
4 By faith Abel offered to Yahweh [P13 wants “to God”] a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he was accredited to be righteous, having testified of Yahweh by his gifts, and being slain because of it he still speaks.
The Codices Sinaiticus (א), Alexandrinus (A), and Bezae (D) have “having testified by his gifts to God”; the text follows the 3rd century papyri P13 and P46, the Codex 0285 and the Majority Text.
Here we have done something contrary to every other translation we have seen, where we translated the phrase “having testified of God [Yahweh] by his gifts”. Now we maintain the veracity of our translation. One objection to our translation informed us that the verb being in the present tense, Abel cannot still be speaking because he is dead. However we would refer that individual to Hebrews 12:24 where Paul attests that the sprinkling of the blood of Christ “speaketh better things than that of Abel”, as the King James Version has it. So ostensibly, and metaphorically speaking, Paul having used the present tense there as well, through his sacrifice Abel still speaks, while Christ speaks even better than Abel through His Own sacrifice.
Here in this passage, Abel is already the subject of the clause, and there is no indication that the subject had changed. The verb, having testified, is a present active participle and may have better been rendered as testifying, as Paul inferred in Hebrews 12:24 that Abel still speaks through his bloodshed. Both the verb and the word for God are in the genitive case, and the phrase in the Greek word order μαρτυροῦντος ἐπὶ τοῖς δώροις αὐτοῦ τοῦ θεοῦ, quite literally reads: “of [or from] having testified by the gifts of him of God”. Paul uses the genitive form of the participle to show that Abel’s having been “accredited to be righteous” is of, or from, his “testifying by [or through] his gifts of God” In other words, the fact that Abel was accredited came from Abel’s having testified of Yahweh by his gifts. Thus the translation of the text here is simple and very literal.
If God were testifying of Abel’s gifts, the word for God should have been in the nominative case, and the phrase for gifts, τοῖς δώροις, should be in the accusative case rather than in the dative case. The preposition ἐπὶ, which is by, would not have been necessary at all. So for all of these reasons, we stand by our translation of the passage as being the correct translation.
Here Paul only informs us that Abel’s sacrifice was better than Cain’s, and all things being equal, we may be left to wonder why. Many commentators follow the idea posited in Josephus’ Antiquities, that Cain had forced the ground, very much like the devils commonly do today. But we do not agree with Josephus, as there is no indication in Scripture itself that upholds his thesis even if it seems credible. Other commentators look to the sacrifices themselves, making suppositions about the blood of a living animal as Abel was a shepherd, compared to the fruits of the ground offered by Cain as Cain was a farmer. However those arguments are also conjectural to a fault, as there is no basis for believing that blood was required as a sacrifice for sin at such an early time. And in fact, Paul of Tarsus himself had written in Romans chapter 5 that “until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law.” Sin not being imputed, there was certainly no need for blood sacrifice. Rather, both men offered according to the fruits of their own labours, which seems to be fair and reasonable, as outside of the law Christians are expected only to give according to their ability (1 Corinthians 16:2, 1 Peter 4).
However there are several ways in Scripture to demonstrate that Cain was not the legitimate son of Adam, in spite of the English or Greek texts of Genesis 4:1. It is demonstrable that the only passage which states such a thing is grammatically corrupt, and several Scriptures stand in refutation of it. So the apostle John in his first epistle had written that Cain “was from of the Wicked One and slaughtered his brother; and with delight he slaughtered him, because his deeds were evil, but those of his brother righteous.” So Seth was a replacement for Abel, while Cain did not need such a replacement as he was never Adam’s proper heir. For that reason, two men were directly referred to as devils by Christ, both Cain and the Edomite Judas Iscariot.
Ostensibly, Abel’s sacrifice was better than that of Cain, because Abel being the rightful heir stood up for the natural order of the laws of Yahweh God and asserted his position as family priest, whereby he was found righteous, his sacrifice was accepted, and Cain’s sacrifice was not.
5 By faith Enoch was translated, not to see death, and was not found because Yahweh translated him; for before the [the MT has “his”; the text follows P13, P46, א, A, D, and 0285.] translation he was accredited to be well pleasing to Yahweh.
The only other Biblical figure who did not see death was Elijah. It may be an assurance to Christians, however, that Moses did see death, yet he appeared at the Transfiguration on the Mount along with Elijah, an event which is record in both Matthew (17) and in Luke (9).
The so-called canonical Scriptures do not inform us of Enoch to any great extent. It only says in Genesis chapter 5: “21 And Enoch lived sixty and five years, and begat Methuselah: 22 And Enoch walked with God after he begat Methuselah three hundred years, and begat sons and daughters: 23 And all the days of Enoch were three hundred sixty and five years: 24 And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him.” Then besides this mention by Paul, he appears in the genealogy of Christ which is provided in Luke and in a passage in the brief epistle of Jude.
In Jude we learn that Enoch was reckoned as a prophet, where the apostle wrote “14 And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints, 15 To execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” Since Jude must have had access to writings by Enoch in order to make this citation, we may imagine that the writings attributed to Enoch and found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, which are from the same time as the apostles, may certainly be credible and worthy of our attention.
As a digression, where Jude asserts that Enoch is “seventh from Adam”, we may see once again that Cain was not of Adam. This is apparent because Enoch was the 6th generation from Adam, as we read the generations from the genealogy in Genesis chapter 5 the following: Adam, Seth, Enos, Cainan, Mahalaleel, Jared, and then Enoch. That would make Enoch sixth from Adam, so to understand Jude, we must add either Cain or Abel to the list of the first born of Adam’s generations, which is evidently what Jude must be referring to. If we add Cain, we must wonder why Seth was a replacement for Abel, and if so, how could we omit Abel? We cannot, so we must omit Cain and add Abel, whom Seth replaced, and understand that Cain never belonged in the list in the first place. A similar predicament becomes manifest in 2 Peter chapter 2 where that apostle calls Noah the “eighth preacher of righteousness”, and Cain must once again be excluded.
6 But without faith it is impossible to please [God being inferred]. Indeed it is necessary for one approaching Yahweh to believe that He is, and for those seeking Him, He becomes a rewarder.
This is a proof of the faith, but it is generally only manifest to the individual who experiences it. On the other hand, it is impossible to convince those of the scoffers who have not had such an experience. Our option is to believe the testimony of this “great cloud of witnesses”, as Paul later refers to them, and hope for such an experience for ourselves, or to ignore them and continue in doubt.
As for those seeking God, Paul had spoken to the Athenians, as it is recorded in Acts chapter 17, and he said in reference to the descendants of Adam, that Yahweh “26... hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation [a reference to the division of the Adamic families at Genesis 10:25 and Deuteronomy 32:8]; 27 That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us.” Of all of those Adamic families who could have sought God, Abraham was chosen, so that Yahweh God would execute His Will for man through Abraham.
7 By faith Noah was warned. Being cautious about things not yet seen he prepared a vessel for preservation of his house; by which he condemned the Society, and of that righteousness in accordance with faith he became heir.
From the Wisdom of Sirach, chapter 44: “16 Enoch pleased the Lord, and was translated, being an example of repentance to all generations. 17 Noah was found perfect and righteous; in the time of wrath he was taken in exchange [for the world;] therefore was he left as a remnant unto the earth, when the flood came. 18 An everlasting covenant was made with him, that all flesh should perish no more by the flood.”
Noah was chosen explicitly because he was “perfect in his generations”, and therefore we see that the maintenance of racial integrity is an important component of the faith of which Paul speaks. The man in the garden sinfully ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and was told that as a remedy, he would find eternal life if he held onto the Tree of Life.
8 By faith Abraham being called had obeyed, to go out into a place which he was going to receive for an inheritance, and went out not knowing where he would go.
Paul is referring to the first recorded interaction of Yahweh and Abraham, which is found in Genesis chapter 12: “1 Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee: 2 And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: 3 And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.” So we see that Abraham “went out not knowing where he would go.”
As for the promise concerning “all the families of the earth”, many commentators insist that may included families of other races, who did not descend from Noah. However in Genesis chapter 10, only two chapters prior to the call of Abraham, we read of the descendants of Japheth in verse 5: “By these were the isles of the nations divided in their lands; every one after his tongue, after their families, in their nations.” Then we read of Ham in verse 20: “These are the sons of Ham, after their families, after their tongues, in their countries, and in their nations.” Then we read of the sons of Shem in verse 31: “These are the sons of Shem, after their families, after their tongues, in their lands, after their nations.” And finally of all the sons of Noah in verse 32: “These are the families of the sons of Noah, after their generations, in their nations: and by these were the nations divided in the earth after the flood.”
These are “all the families of the earth”, which is not the planet but the land upon which the race inhabited, as they are the only families within the Biblical context, and they were the families which were within the scope of Abraham’s consciousness. The families of other races which are never a concern of the Scripture cannot be justly forced into this Genesis chapter 12 context. This is why we have a genealogy in Genesis chapter 10, so that we may recognize these nations. If all of the world’s races were descended from Adam, the identity of the families of Noah would not even matter and therefore there would be no need for such a genealogy. Yet history proves that all of the descendants of Noah were originally White, and we can identify them with this same list.
9 By faith he [Abraham] sojourned in a land of the promise, as an alien having dwelt in tents with Isaak and Jakob, the joint heirs of that same promise.
In a land of the promise, where the King James Version and others have relocated the definite article and most, but not all, of the popular translations follow. We may contend that other Scriptures show there was ultimately more than one land of promise for the children of Israel, which is evident in Deuteronomy 32:8 and in 2 Samuel 7:10. Here, however, Paul refers to the land of Canaan, and that is where the patriarchs dwelt in tents until Jacob went with his sons to Egypt.
This may be conjectural, but dwelling in tents, their stature remained humble, and never being perceived as a threat by their enemies, ostensibly they were never a target and were able to dwell harmlessly among them. When men have the protection of Yahweh God, they do not need walls. This we see in Zechariah chapter 2, in another context, where it speaks of the captivity and the prophet writes: “3 And, behold, the angel that talked with me went forth, and another angel went out to meet him, 4 And said unto him, Run, speak to this young man, saying, Jerusalem shall be inhabited as towns without walls for the multitude of men and cattle therein: 5 For I, saith the LORD, will be unto her a wall of fire round about, and will be the glory in the midst of her.” To this we may contrast 2 Chronicles chapter 12, where it is explained that Rehoboam the son of Solomon strengthened his defenses, forsook the law of Yahweh, so was promptly overpowered by the Egyptians and humbled.
Paul continues to speak of Abraham:
10 For he was awaiting a city having those foundations of which Yahweh is craftsman and fabricator.
Paul makes an analogy of this aspect of the life of Abraham: that he dwelt in no city because he awaited the City of God. In Psalm 46 we read: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 2 Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; 3 Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. 4 There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the most High. 5 God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God shall help her, and that right early.” While Jerusalem was an ancient type, the eternal city is described in the closing chapters of the Revelation in this same manner.
11 By faith also Sarah herself [P46 and D insert “barren”; the text follows P13, א, A and the MT] received strength for a deposit of seed [D inserts “by which to bear children”], and [the MT inserts “she gave birth”; the text follows P13, P46, א, A and D] beyond the usual age, since she regarded as trustworthy He who promised.
In Romans chapter 9 Paul explains that the children of Isaac are the seed of the promise where he says “8... They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed. 9 For this is the word of promise, At this time will I come, and Sara shall have a son.” Where Paul refers to the “children of the flesh” it is in contrast to the “children of the promise”, which are through Isaac and then, as Paul explains in the verse which follows, through Jacob. So the children of Ishmael, the sons of Keturah, and the descendants of Esau are all excluded because, even though they are Abraham’s seed according to the flesh, they are simply not included in the promises of Yahweh.
For that reason Paul once again referred to the miraculous birth of Sarah in Romans chapter 4, and said: “13 For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect: 15 Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression. 16 Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all … 18 Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be. 19 And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sara's womb: 20 He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; 21 And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform.” God did not promise any substitute for Abraham’s seed, but rather, God Himself insisted that Abraham’s seed come out of Abraham’s loins.
Then, after discussing the promise to Sarah made in Romans chapter 9, where Paul had also said that “they are not all Israel, which are of Israel”, he went on to say that “10 And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac; 11 (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;) 12 It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. 13 As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” Paul’s need to explain this was to explain the apostasy in Judaea which he discussed at the beginning of that same chapter, and here, as the histories affirm, he alludes to the fact that many of those in Israel are not of Israel because they are descendants of Esau. The Edomites had moved into the lands of Judah and Israel after the time of the Assyrian and Babylonian deportations, attested to in Ezekiel chapters 34 and 35. Not quite two centuries before the ministry of Christ, they were all converted to Judaism by the Maccabees, and Herod and many of those whom he had appointed to offices were Edomites, the opposition to Christ.
However through those deportations, and the history of Israel preceding them, those many nations promised to Abraham had come into being through the children of Israel, so Paul says here in verse 12:
12 On which account even from one have been born, and these being dead, “just as the stars of heaven in multitude, and as the innumerable sand which is by the shore [P46 and D want “which is by the shore”] of the sea.”
Here Paul paraphrases from Genesis 22:17, where Yahweh says to Abraham that because he was willing to sacrifice Isaac on Yahweh’s account, “That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies...” And after Jacob inherits the promises made to Abraham, it is also spoken of him in Genesis 32:12, that Yahweh had said to him: “I will surely do thee good, and make thy seed as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.”
The key to understanding Paul’s ministry is that Paul went where Abraham’s seed was, to the nations of Europe and Anatolia that did not exist at the time of Abraham, because they descended from Abraham. This is evident throughout his epistles, and especially in places such as Romans chapter 4, 1 Corinthians chapter 10 and Galatians chapters 3 and 4. Josephus agreed, where he stated that in his own time, the first century, there were an innumerable number of Israelites beyond the Euphrates, in the regions where the Germanic tribes are found in history.
13 In faith these all died, not receiving [A has a word, προσδέχομαι, which is more appropriately “accepting”; P46, D and the MT have λαμβάνω, א and I the synonym κομίζω] the promises but having seen them from afar, and welcoming and professing that they are strangers and sojourners upon the earth.
This is actually an indirect challenge to his readers, as Christ had said in the Gospel, in John chapter 8, “56 Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad.” So Paul, speaking of these very Hebrews as well as the scattered Israelites of the nations, wrote in Romans chapter 15: “8 Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers: 9 And that the Nations might glorify God for his mercy; as it is written, For this cause I will confess to thee among the Nations, and sing unto thy name.”
Having faith is believing that the promises will be delivered. The substance of the faith is the actual delivery. Here Paul elevates his Hebrew readers as if they had actually received the promises, which are fulfilled in Yahshua Christ. Christ alone is the Mediator of a new covenant with Israel, and Israel once reconciled to Yahweh God through Christ, the substance of the promises begins to materialize into reality.
There is a facet of Scripture wherein historically, the children of Israel are informed that they would dwell in lands that were not their own. So in the law, in Leviticus chapter 25, even before the children of Israel divide the land of Canaan for themselves we read “23 The land shall not be sold for ever: for the land is mine; for ye are strangers and sojourners with me.” Then, much later and during the Kingdom era of Judah, it says in 1 Chronicles chapter 29 in words attributed to David: “13 Now therefore, our God, we thank thee, and praise thy glorious name. 14 But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able to offer so willingly after this sort? for all things come of thee, and of thine own have we given thee. 15 For we are strangers before thee, and sojourners, as were all our fathers: our days on the earth are as a shadow, and there is none abiding.”
Interestingly, Abraham descended from Arphaxad, one of the sons of Shem. Of all the sons of Shem, Elam, Asshur, Arphaxad, Lud and Aram, only Arphaxad cannot be identified with any particular country in ancient history, and the land where Abraham’s fathers dwelt was called Padanaram, or the Plain of Aram. Therefore the children of Israel, looking forward or looking back, had no identifiable ancestral homeland of their own. So it also says in the law, in Deuteronomy chapter 32: “8 When the most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel.” This could not describe the land of Canaan, from which many other descendants of Adam were displaced as well as the Kenites and other accursed races. But at this early time, Europe was to a great extent unsettled, and it would be the children of Israel who would begin to settle it.
Next, Paul uses this experience of the patriarchs, which also became the national experience of Israel, as an analogy and says:
14 For they saying such things make clear that they are seeking a fatherland. 15 And if indeed they remembered from where they had come from, they would have had an opportunity to return.
It is not that Abraham and Sarah did not know where they came from, and in fact, Abraham and Isaac each arranged to obtain wives for their own sons, Isaac and then Jacob, in Padanaram, the land of Abraham’s kin. Rather, Paul means to relate that they did not bother to hold in remembrance or, as we may say, they did not long for the land of their fathers, so therefore they did not bother to attempt to return. They never attempted to return, holding instead the expectation that Yahweh would indeed fulfill His promises of providing a better place for them, so Paul continues:
16 But now they reach for a better, that is, a heavenly place, on which account Yahweh is not ashamed of them, to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.
There is a spiritual dimension to being strangers and sojourners on the earth, which the physical represents as a type, or an analogy. The apostle Peter wrote in the second chapter of his first epistle, addressing his intended readers, who are scattered Israelites as he also explains here by citing Hosea: “9 But you are an elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people, so that you should proclaim the virtues for which from out of darkness you have been called into the wonder of His light, 10 who at one time were ‘not a people’ but now are the people of Yahweh, those who ‘have not been shown mercy’ but are now shown mercy. 11 Beloved, I exhort as emigrants [or strangers] and sojourners that you abstain from fleshly desires which make war against the soul….” If the children of Israel are born from above, as Yahshua Christ was from above, then they are indeed strangers and sojourners on the earth. So Peter alludes to this same thing a little earlier, in chapter 1 of his epistle, and says “23 being engendered from above not from corruptible parentage, but from incorruptible, by the Word of Yahweh who lives and abides, 24 since "All flesh is as grass and all of its glory as a flower of grass; the grass withers and the flower falls off…”
So while Paul informs us that Yahweh had prepared a city for the patriarchs, speaking allegorically of a heavenly place, Yahshua Christ had told his disciples similarly, where in John chapter 14 He suggested that a place was already prepared: “1 Your hearts must not be troubled. You have faith in Yahweh and you have faith in Me. 2 In the house of My Father there are many abodes. But if not, I would have told you that I go to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I should go and prepare a place for you, I come again and take you to Myself, in order that where I am you also would be. 4 And where I go, you know the way.”
Because of these promises, now evident from the Old Testament as well as the New, Paul continues to speak of Abraham’s actions, which resulted from his belief that God could accomplish what He had promised:
17 By faith Abraham, being tried, had offered up Isaak [P46 has “By faith he offered up Isaak, being tried”; the text follows א, A, and the MT, and D which varies slightly], and the best-beloved being offered up took upon himself the promises, 18 in reference to whom it was said: “That in Isaak shall your offspring be called.”
Paul quotes Genesis 21:12, where Isaac is distinguished from Ishmael and it says: “12 And God said unto Abraham, Let it not be grievous in thy sight because of the lad, and because of thy bondwoman; in all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice; for in Isaac shall thy seed be called.”
The use of the term μονογενής (Strong’s # 3439) here, which is a Greek word that literally means only-begotten, where there are clearly other sons, informs us that the term must represent a Hebrew idiom and therefore it should not necessarily be literally translated as “only-begotten”. The translators of the Septuagint must have understood this idiom, where they wrote “thy son, the beloved one” in reference to Isaac in Genesis 22:2, where in the King James Version the corresponding Hebrew was literally translated as “thy son, thine only son”.
In his own writing Flavius Josephus also used this Hebrew idiom in the same manner, as the term was used in Antiquities 1:13:1 (1:222) and 20:2:1 (20:17). The noted translator of Josephus, William Whiston, makes note of the idiom at those points in his translation, and shows that the term was used metaphorically for “best beloved” or “most loved”, as we have written here in this passage of Hebrews, and as the Septuagint translators clearly understood when they translated Genesis 22:2 into Greek from Hebrew. For this reason we have translated the term in this same manner where it appears in several other places in the Gospel and epistles of John (1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; and I John 4:9). [So with this understanding it is also manifest that by no means do those passages which refer to Christ as God’s “only-begotten Son”, an idiom for “most beloved Son” conflict with the statements describing the children of Adam or of Israel as the children of God. (Deuteronomy 14:1; in the Septuagint at Psalm 28:1; Psalm 82:6; Matthew 5:45; Luke 3:38; John 10:34-36; Acts 17:28-29; Romans 8:14-39; Hebrews 2:13 and 12:8; I John 3:1-2.) Christ, the first-born among many brethren, is the most-beloved of the many sons and daughters of Yahweh.]
In reference to the sacrifice of Isaac, Paul continues:
19 Inferring that it is the ability of Yahweh even to raise from the dead, from which He also rescued him in an analogy.
The Codex Alexandrinus (A) has the beginning of the verse to read “Inferring that even from among the dead Yahweh is able to raise...”; the text follows the 3rd century papyrus P46, the Codices Sinaiticus (א) and Claromontanus (D), and the Majority Text. The phrase “rescued him in an analogy” may have been rendered something like “preserved him in a parable”. So Paul infers that Isaac’s being rescued from being sacrificed was itself an analogy for the ability of God to resurrect men from the dead, for the ultimate rescue of the children of God from the grave.
Ostensibly, as it is evident from the writings of the nations of the ancient world, when a man placed something on the altar of a god the object became dedicated to that god, becoming the property of the god and disposed of as the god saw fit. Of course, in the pagan world that left the fate of the dedication up to the priests, since there were no real gods. However Isaac is the only individual ever offered up willingly to be dedicated to Yahweh, the ever-living and true God at the request of God. So Isaac was sanctified, dedicated to the purposes of God. That would include both the children of Jacob, whom Paul describes as vessels of mercy, as well as the children of Esau, whom Paul described as vessels of destruction, in Romans chapter 9. So Paul writes concerning these and says:
20 And by faith concerning coming things Isaak blessed Jakob and Esau.
Isaac had blessed Jacob first, and out-of-place, an arrangement which was made by Rebecca his mother because she knew that the elder son Esau was not worthy of the inheritance of the first-born. Paul concurs, and calls Esau a profane man and a fornicator here in Hebrews chapter 12. We shall discuss Esau further when we present that chapter later on in this series. Esau begged his father for a blessing, and Isaac relented, but Isaac could not restore to him the birthright promises which he had already passed on to Jacob. Now Paul sets Esau aside and continues with Jacob:
21 By faith Jakob, dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph and “made obeisance upon the top of his staff.”
Here Paul quotes from the Septuagint version of Genesis 47:31, where in Brenton’s English it says: “28 And Jacob survived seventeen years in the land of Egypt; and Jacob's days of the years of his life were a hundred and forty-seven years. 29 and the days of Israel drew nigh for him to die: and he called his son Joseph, and said to him, If I have found favour before thee, put thy hand under my thigh, and thou shalt execute mercy and truth toward me, so as not to bury me in Egypt. 30 But I will sleep with my fathers, and thou shalt carry me up out of Egypt, and bury me in their sepulchre. And he said, I will do according to thy word. 31 And he said, Swear to me; and he swore to him. And Israel did reverence, leaning on the top of his staff.” Soon thereafter, as it is recorded in Genesis chapter 48, Jacob fell ill, and summoning Joseph, he had blessed his sons individually.
It is notable that Paul cited this blessing to these Hebrews, since demonstrably, none of them are of the posterity of Joseph. Rather, they are, ostensibly, descended exclusively from the small remnant of the tribes of Judah, Benjamin and Levi which had returned from the Babylonian captivity six centuries earlier. The blessings to Joseph were never fulfilled in Palestine, but it is very explicit that the sons of Joseph were to become “a multitude of nations”. Jacob blessed all of the tribes before his departure, as it is recorded in Genesis chapter 49, but here Paul seems to have intentionally mentioned this more specific blessing instead. Doing this, once again Paul seems to be discreetly defending the statements which he made at the time of his arrest in Jerusalem, for which the Judaeans had hated him. These elements of Paul’s exposition support our contention that this epistle was written in Caesareia shortly after Paul’s arrest, as he was kept under bonds there for two full years.
Luke records in Acts chapter 22 that Paul was speaking concerning his commission from God and we read: “19 And I said 'Prince, they know that I was imprisoning and flaying those believing in You throughout the assembly halls, 20 and when they spilled the blood of Stephanos Your witness, even I myself was standing by and consenting, and keeping the garments of those slaying him!' 21 And He said to me 'Go, because I shall send you off to distant nations.' 22 Now they listened until this word, and raised their voice saying "Take such as him from the earth! For it is not fit that he lives!" 23 Then upon their crying out and hurling their garments and throwing dirt into the air, 24 the commander ordered him to be brought into the encampment, saying to interrogate him with a whip that he may discover for what reason they addressed him thusly.”
These distant nations to which Paul was sent were the nations descended from Joseph and the other tribes of ancient Israel that had been scattered abroad, the nations of Abraham’s seed that Paul describes in Romans chapter 4. Their acceptance of the Gospel demonstrated the truth of the words of the prophets concerning Israel, made manifest the fulfillment of the promises to Abraham, and they constitute the substance of the faith.