The book of Hebrews is much more a sermon than a letter. It is carefully crafted apologetic for Jesus Christ, consisting of well-reasoned arguments from the Old Testament punctuated by exhortations to its recipients to remain faithful to God by recapturing their confidence in Christ. And like most effective messages, it has some well-placed illustrations.
For example, in 2:1 the readers are exhorted to “pay the most careful attention” to what they had heard concerning Jesus. The writer goes back to the consequences suffered by those who failed to obey the previous covenant God gave through Moses as an illustration of what happens to those who don’t heed God’s words (2:2). This is repeated in 10:28ff. Since he’s writing to Jewish Christians who had grown up in the synagogue, this would be familiar terrain for them. So would his example of the generation of Israelites in the wilderness that is cited as a case of the unbelief they are to avoid (3:7ff, 4:2ff). Esau is likewise an illustration of a godless person (12:16). But far and away the most well-known illustration used by the Hebrew writer is the most extensive—the “hall of faith” he refers to in chapter 11.
The context for this illustration is found in 10:35ff, where they are told not to “throw away” their confidence in Christ (i.e., renounce Him as the Messiah by returning to Judaism). Instead, they need the perseverance that comes from faith (v. 36-38). The nature of faith is discussed in v. 1-3, 7, and then illustrated in the rest of the chapter with the stories that are familiar to us.
Familiarity may breed contempt, but it’s can also cause us to turn off our truth-seeking sensors and content ourselves to travel down well-worn trails. It’s not unlike going to work the same way every day—your focus can narrow to your route and you become blind to anything beyond it. What are some truths about Hebrews 11 that we need to see?
One glorious truth concerns the people who are on the list. Who is it that finds favor with God? Is it only Jewish males like Abraham, Moses, and David? No, there are also women such as Sarah (v. 11), Jochebed (v. 23; Exodus 6:20)—and oh yes, Rahab (v. 31).
Rahab is of special interest not so much because she was a prostitute, but because she was a Canaanite. At this time in history, the Canaanites had sunk to the lowest forms of depravity—incest, homosexuality, bestiality, and child sacrifice (Leviticus 18:3ff). For this reason, the judgment of God was about to come upon them in the form of the Israelites (v. 24-25). Despite the tremendous darkness of her culture, Rahab was receptive to God (Joshua 2:9ff) and acted upon her faith.
In the Hebrews’ hall of faith then is a Canaanite woman. Peter’s words, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right” (Acts 10:34-35), while a new truth to Peter—was not to God!