Father Callan’s Commentary on Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19

Introduction to Hebrews, Chapter 11.

1-38. The close of the preceding Chapter has shown that faith is essential to salvation, and hence the author will now describe so important a virtue and illustrate its value and power by citing some of the religious heroes of the past. These examples of what faith has done for so many of those ancient saints whom Jewish history most revered will be especially consoling to the readers of this Epistle, for it will show them that their own Christian faith is not something new and distinct from the religious assurance and conviction
which sustained their ancestors, but rather a continuation of the same sustaining virtue, only on a much more elevated plain.

11:1 . Now faith is the substance of things to be hoped for, the evidence of things that appear not.

1. We have not here a strict definition of the virtue of faith, but rather a description of some of the practical results which faith produces in those who possess it.

The word hypostasis, here translated “substance,” may be taken subjectively, for assurance or firm confidence; or objectively, for basis or foundation. The Greeks understood it in this latter sense, as that which gives substance and reality to the things hoped for. This sense would be presupposed to the former meaning any way; it is the firm foundation which produces the firm confidence and assurance, though assurance or firm confidence seems to be the more direct meaning of the term here.

The word translated “evidence” may also be taken objectively as proof, or subjectively as conviction, or the result of proof or demonstration. Perhaps the subjective meaning is the one intended here. Thus, by faith we are assured of the future things for which we hope, and convinced of the reality and certainty of the things we do not see.

11:2. For by this the ancients obtained a testimony.

2. Because of their faith God bore witness to the ancient saints of Israel, causing them to be praised in Sacred Scripture as holy and acceptable to Him.

11:8.  By faith he that is called Abraham, obeyed to go out into a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.

8. As Abraham was the supreme example of faith among the Jews, the writer now dwells at length on his faith. The great patriarch’s faith is illustrated: (a) by his obedience to the call of God to go forth from his own country in search of the Promised Land and his wanderings in that strange land (ver. 8-10); (b) by the confidence with which he and his wife Sara received God’s promise of offspring (ver. 11-12); (c) by his willingness to sacrifice Isaac (ver. 17-19).

The call of God came to Abraham in Ur of the Chaldees, and in obedience to it he left home and kindred, wandering and enduring privations and hardships in search of the land of Canaan which God had promised to give to him and his descendants (Gen 12:1ff.).

He that is called Abraham. Here the author alludes to the fact that God, as a mark of special favor, changed the patriarch’s original name Abram to Abraham (Gen17:5).

11:9. By faith he abode in the land as a stranger, dwelling in cottages, with Isaac and Jacob, the co-heirs of the same promise.

9. Faith not only made Abraham obedient to the call of God, but also gave him patience to wait for the fulfillment of God’s promises, dwelling as a sojourner in a foreign country. His son, Isaac, and his grandson, Jacob, persevered in the same faith, never doubting the promise of God. Cf. Gen 12:8, 13:3, 17:1 ff.

11:10. For he looked for a city that hath foundations; whose builder and maker is God.

10. Abraham was sustained in his faith by the conviction that there was an abiding city awaiting him hereafter in heaven, a city whose architect and master-builder is God. The land of Canaan which God had promised him was but a figure of an eternal inheritance which God would bestow upon him above.

A city that hath foundations means the heavenly Jerusalem (12:22; Gal 4:26; Apoc. 21:2).

11: 11. By faith also Sara herself, being barren, received strength to conceive seed, even past the time of age ; because she believed that he was faithful who had promised.
11:12. For which cause there sprung even from one (and him as good as dead) issue like the stars of heaven in multitude, and like the sand which is by the seashore innumerable
.

11-12. Though Sara was already ninety years of age when she received the promise of a son, she believed, even if somewhat less promptly than Abraham, and as a result she was given the power to conceive (Gen 17:17). Likewise, though far beyond the age of begetting children, Abraham, as a reward of his faith, became the father of a posterity as numerous as the stars of heaven and the sands on the sea-shore (Gen 21:17; cf, Rom 4:19).

11:13. All these died according to faith, not having received the promises, but beholding them afar off, and saluting them and confessing that they are pilgrims and strangers on the earth.
11:14. For they that say these things do signify that they seek a country.
11:15. And truly if they had been mindful of that from whence they came out, they had doubtless time to return.
11:16. But now they desire a better, that is to say, a heavenly country. There- fore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for he hath prepared for them a city
.

13-16, In these verses the author interrupts his argument to reflect on the great faith of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The vision which faith had disclosed to them was too glorious to find its realization during their lifetime, or on earth.

The fulfillment of the divine promises they saw dimly in the far future; but they were not disappointed, for they sought a city not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. Therefore, God recognized their faith and bestowed on them a celestial home. If the “country” they sought had been the earthly one whence they had come, they could have returned to it; but the object of their quest was “a heavenly country.”

11:17. By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered Isaac, and he that had
received the promises offered up his only-begotten son,
11:18. To whom it was said: In Isaac shall thy seed be called:
11:19. Accounting that God is able to raise up even from the dead. Whereupon also he received him for a parable
.

17-19. The faith of Abraham was sorely tried when God demanded of him the sacrifice of his son Isaac, but the aged patriarch did not waver (Gen 22:1-18). Isaac was indeed the son of promise, who had been born of a freewoman, and on whom the future depended; but at God’s command Abraham made ready to immolate him, feeling sure that He who had given this son in the first instance by a miracle, could restore him if necessary by a second miracle.

Isaac is called “the only-begotten son,” because to him alone were the promises made, Ishmael being excluded from them.

Whereupon also he received him for a parable, i.e., as a reward of his faith Abraham received his son safely back from the jaws of death, and this delivery made Isaac a “parable,” i.e., a figure or type of the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ.

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One Response to Father Callan’s Commentary on Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19

  1. Pingback: Commentaries for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C | stjoeofoblog

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