The Family of Faith
(Hebrews 11:39, 40)
"And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect"
(verses 39, 40). Several details in these verses call for careful consideration. First, to what does "the promise" here refer to? Second, in what sense had the O.T. saints "not received" the promise? Third, what is the "better thing" which God provided for us? Fourth, what is here meant by "be made perfect"? Widely different answers have been returned to these questions, and even the most reliable of the commentators are by no means agreed; therefore it would ill-become us to speak dogmatically, where men of God differ. Instead of wearying the reader with their diversive views, we will expound our text according to what measure of light God has granted us upon it.
As we approach our task there are several considerations which need to be borne in mind, the observing of which should aid us not a little. First, ascertaining the relation of our text to that which precedes. Second, discovering the exact relation of its several clauses. Third, studying it in the light of the distinctive and dominant theme of the particular epistle in which it occurs. Fourth, weighing its leading terms in connection with their usage in parallel passages. If these four things be duly attended to we ought not to go far wrong in our interpretation. Our purpose in enumerating them is principally to indicate to your preachers the methods which should be followed in the critical examination of any difficult passage.
As to the connection between our present verses and those which precede, there is no difficulty. The apostle, having so forcibly and largely, set out the virtue and vigor of faith, by the admirable workings and fruits thereof, both in doing and in suffering, now gives a general summary: they all "obtained a good report." The relations of the several clauses of our text to each other, may be set out thus: "and these all" refer to the entire company which has been before us in the previous verses; a "good report" is ascribed to them; yet they had not "received the promise"; because God had provided something "better" for the N.T. saints. The dominant theme of Hebrews is, The immeasurable superiority of Christianity over Judaism. The leading terms in our text will be pondered in what follows.
"And these all, having obtained a good report through faith." Two things are here in view: the persons spoken of, and that which is predicated of them. The reference is to all spoken of in the previous parts of the chapter, and by necessary inference, to all believers before the incarnation of Christ who exhibited a true faith. The words "these all" is restrictive, excluding others who had not the faith here mentioned. "Many more than these lived before Christ was exhibited, yea, lived in the time and place that some of these did, yet received no good report. Cain lived and offered a sacrifice with Abel, yet was none of these. Ham was in the ark with Shem; Ishmael in Abraham’s family with Isaac; Esau in the same womb with Jacob; Dathan and Abiram came through the Red Sea with Caleb and Joshua: many other wicked unbelievers were mixed with believers, yet they obtained not any such good report. Though their outward condition was alike, yet their inward disposition was much different" (W. Gouge).