By Sam E. Stone
The original recipients of the letter to the Hebrews were evidently Jewish Christians. Some of these believers were slacking in their service, even turning back to the Old Covenant under which they had been raised. This book was designed to show the superiority of the New Covenant, and to motivate faithfulness (Hebrews 10:19-25). Old Testament heroes are used as examples for the readers in Hebrews 11, often called the “faith chapter” of the Bible.
The other section of Scripture being considered today is Psalm 46. It appears to have been written soon after a dramatic victory given by the Lord to his people. Some Bible scholars suggest that it recalls the great deliverance that took place in the days of Hezekiah (701 BC) when Sennacherib’s forces suddenly abandoned their siege of Jerusalem (2 Kings 18-19).
Faith Pleases God
The previous chapter concludes with a quotation from the prophet Habakkuk: “My righteous one will live by faith” (10:38). Faith is the guiding life principle of God’s child. Faith is confidence in what we hope for. To have faith is like having a title deed to a home in Heaven. It provides assurance about what we do not see. We live as if we can see what will be ours. God’s promises are the basis for our hope.
The ancients—the followers of God in the past—are examples of this. In the verses that follow, the writer lists many of them to illustrate his point. They were not commended for their talents or abilities, but for obedient faith. They had little evidence available to them, compared to all that we have.
What you believe about creation is basic. Who created the world when there was nothing? Debates about creation are not new. People have always had to choose whether to place their faith in God or try to explain the universe in another way.
In verse 4 the writer begins listing well-known figures from Genesis to illustrate true faith. Cain and Abel were commanded to bring an offering to God. Abel’s was accepted; Cain’s was not (Genesis 4:3, 4). Some suggest that Cain sacrificed only as a formality without having his heart in it. It is also possible that he failed to follow God’s direction. Since “faith comes from hearing the message” (Romans 10:17), God must have commanded a certain type of sacrifice. Abel did what God had directed, and was honored for his faith. The fact is, he still speaks, even though he is dead. What we do and say lives on after we depart from this world.
The case of Enoch is also significant since he was taken from this life, and did not experience death. “Enoch walked faithfully with God” (Genesis 5:24). Scripture tells us, “Then he was no more, because God took him away.” Perhaps his translation to Heaven was similar to that of Elijah (2 Kings 2:10-12). It is his faith that was significant! Without faith it is impossible to please God. This principle is illustrated over and over in Hebrews 11. We must have absolute trust in God, believing everything he says.
Faith Recognizes God
The order of the words in the Hebrew emphasizes the word God. He and nothing else can be our refuge when we face calamities of every kind. H. C. Leupold explains, “He is first like a strong fortress into which a man may flee and be absolutely safe; he is at the same time an unfailing source of strength, enabling one to cope manfully with the dangers that assail him.”
Even though the earth is torn apart and the mountains fall into the sea, the child of God can be confident of the Father’s care. In contrast, there is a river whose streams make glad the city of God. The “water of life” is a common illustration in Scripture. Those of every nation can see what the Lord has done. The psalmist explains how one is to respond: “Be still, and know that I am God.”
When Luther faced opposition from the pope, it was this psalm to which he turned. On it he based his well-known hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” Lynn Gardner observed, “God’s presence gives us security and sustains us when encompassed with troubles. Our confidence is strengthened as we review what he has done through the centuries (Psalm 46:8). Accept his peace to rule in your heart.”
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.