No prizes for guessing what this chapter is about! But notice, the faith being talked about is not some special kind of faith shown by a few super-saints of the past, no this is the indispensible requirement for any who would be saved (10:39). The length of this explanation of the nature of true faith is an indication of its importance. Here is the nub of the writer’s concern for his readers – he fears they might “throw away their confidence” (10:35).
Because it is a long chapter, do be selective – you will not be able to cover every verse. I might suggest just doing vv.1-7 and then looking at Abraham and Moses.
If we were asked to define “faith” we might more readily talk in terms of trust, trust in all that Christ accomplished on the cross. From what we have seen earlier in the letter the writer does not at all want to disagree with that, but his perspective is that Christ’s death has secured for us a fantastic future. Faith looks forward to that hope. It’s a certain hope because it rests on God’s Word, or promise. Our doctrine of creation (v.3) reminds us that this world is not ultimate. We are quick to trust what we can see and touch, but there is something more real and certain on which everything in this world depends: the word of God.
The three examples of faith in vv.4-7 all demonstrate the necessity of faith to be accepted by God, to live in a way that pleases him, and finally to be saved from judgment. What distinguished Abel’s sacrifice was that it was offered “by faith” – it was the attitude of his heart, not the outward act. Notice how v.6 brings us back to the emphases of v.1.
Abraham’s faith was a response to God’s word, a word which included both command and promise, so the response was marked by both obedience and trust. He took God at his word and acted accordingly, holding on to the promise of a new home and a new people though both seemed unlikely. The other aspect of his faith which the writer emphasises is that it was focussed on the future, a future beyond life in this world. That is underlined in the summary comment in vv.13-16: their hope was not set on things in this world, but on “a better country – a heavenly one” (v.16). That is where they consider to be home. God is not ashamed of people who live like that (v.16), and perhaps implicitly we might say that Christians who live as if this world were home, caring little seemingly for all God has promised, are an embarrassment in heaven.
You might well skip these three illustrations from the patriarchs, each of which speaks how they died. Faith is often seen in how we face death. They each died, looking forward, holding on to the promises of God.
Interestingly the story of Moses’ life begins with his parents’ faith, as for many of us. His faith led him to make an extraordinary choices (vv.24-26): notice what he turned his back on, and what he chose instead, and consider how it is that faith makes such a choice. Notice too how faith leads us to identify with God’s people, despite the cost: something the original readers had once gladly done (10:33,34) but were now tempted not to (10:25). Faith overcomes fear (v.27) by looking to “him who is invisible”. And faith trusts God’s provision to save us from his wrath (v.28).
Again, though these verses contain lots of encouraging lessons, time is perhaps better spent dwelling on other bits of this chapter. There are reminders of great things achieved by faith, and great suffering endured by faith. The faith they displayed was Heb.11:1 faith, clinging to God’s promises which were fulfilled in the coming of Christ (v.40)