Daily Archives: June 14, 2018

June 14 Integrity Endures Criticism

“For this reason at that time certain Chaldeans came forward and brought charges against the Jews…. ‘There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over the administration of the province of Babylon, namely Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed–nego. These men, O king, have disregarded you; they do not serve your gods or worship the golden image which you have set up.’ ”

Daniel 3:8–12


Expect spiritual opposition.

Have you noticed that whenever you take a public stand for righteousness you feel the reaction of the world more strongly? Even something as noble as doing your work with integrity and diligence can bring ridicule, rejection, or even open hostility. But that shouldn’t surprise you. Jesus said, “ ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). The apostle Paul warns that “indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12).

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed–nego were well–acquainted with spiritual opposition, and in today’s passage they are targets of envious Chaldeans who want to see them put to death. The accusations brought against them were not entirely true because they had not disregarded the king. On the contrary, they were model citizens and exemplary leaders. They had attended the king’s ceremony and fulfilled all their other civil duties insofar as those duties did not violate their responsibility to God.

Their accusers weren’t motivated by loyalty to the king or by their personal allegiance to his religious views. They were jealous and resentful because they hated having Jewish captives ruling over them (see Dan. 2:49).

Sometimes Christians today will do their work excellently and be promoted over their peers, only to incur the displeasure of jealous workmates who criticize or bring false and discrediting accusations against them. If ever you are in that situation, you need to be especially diligent to do your work as unto the Lord (Col. 3:23), to guard your own attitude, and to let the Lord be your defender.


Suggestions for Prayer: In obedience to the Lord, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27–28).

For Further Study: Read Daniel 6. What parallels do you see between Daniel’s situation and our current passage? ✧ How did God prove Himself faithful in each?[1]

[1] MacArthur, J. (1997). Strength for today. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

READING: 1 Kings 10-11, 2 Chronicles 9, Proverbs 30-31

“Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.”

Proverbs 30:5

As a young believer, I heard my pastor say over and over again, “The Bible is God’s perfect Word.” I did not know at the time all the varied nuances of that statement, but I learned early on to trust the Word of God. Little did I know then, however, just how much that trust would matter over the years.

Now many years later, I can say with the writer of Proverbs, “Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him” (Prov. 30:5). Every word, the writer said, has proven true; that is, it has stood the test of time as a perfect, flawless communication from God. So many times I have turned to the Word for guidance, and I’ve continually found it to be trustworthy. Sometimes I’ve found it difficult to trust it immediately, but God grew my faith by showing me its trustworthiness over time. At other times I’ve struggled understanding it, but prayerful study has opened my heart and mind to its message. In the times of my deepest struggles, I’ve learned to lean into the Word as truth—and I’ve always come through the struggle with renewed confidence and trust.

What I’ve learned is that the God who makes Himself known to us through His Word is trustworthy. He is both a shield who protects me and the refuge to which I run. I continue to learn to love Him and His Word.


  • Praise God for revealing Himself to us through His Word.
  • Even if you face a difficult day today, trust God and His Word.

PRAYER: “Father, please keep teaching me to rely on You and the promises of Your Word. Thank You that Your Word has proven itself over time.”

TOMORROW’S READING: 1 Kings 12, 2 Chronicles 10

via 06/14/18 Our Shield and Refuge — ChuckLawless.com


I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, That unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.

—Isaiah 45:23

I can empathize with those troubled beings who lie awake at night worrying about the possible destruction of the race through some evil, misguided use of the world’s store of nuclear weapons. The tragedy is that they have lost all sense of the sovereignty of God! I, too, would not sleep well if I could not trust moment by moment in God’s sovereignty and omnipotence and in His grace, mercy and faithfulness….

Revelation describes the age-ending heavenly and earthly events when our Lord and Savior is universally acknowledged to be King of kings and Lord of lords. All will acclaim Him victor. God’s Revelation leaves us with no doubt about that.

In our present period of time, however, there is little recognition of God’s sovereignty or of His plan for His redeemed people. Go into the marketplace, into our educational institutions and—yes—even into our popular religious circles, and you will find a growing tendency to make mankind large and to make God small. Human society is now taking it for granted that if God indeed exists, He has become our servant, meekly waiting upon us for our will. JIV014-016

Lord, I long for the day when every knee will bow and every tongue will swear allegiance to You. Come, take the throne You so rightly deserve. Amen. [1]

[1] Tozer, A. W., & Eggert, R. (2015). Tozer on the almighty god: a 365-day devotional. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

June 13 Daily Help

BUT we do not observe God’s hand as much as we should. Our good puritanic forefathers, when it rained, used to say, that God had unstopped the bottles of heaven. When it rains nowadays, we think the clouds have become condensed. If they had a field of hay cut, they used to plead of the Lord that he would bid the sun shine. We, perhaps, are wiser, as we think; and we consider it hardly worth while to pray about such things, thinking they will come in the course of nature. They believed that God was in every storm; nay, in every cloud of dust. They used to speak of a present God in everything.[1]

[1] Spurgeon, C. H. (1892). Daily Help (p. 168). Baltimore: R. H. Woodward & Company.

June 13, 2018 Evening Verse Of The Day

The Power of Faith

By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised; therefore, also, there was born of one man, and him as good as dead at that, as many descendants as the stars of heaven in number, and innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore. (11:11–12)

Faith is powerful. Faith sees the invisible, hears the inaudible, touches the intangible, and accomplishes the impossible. Unfortunately, some faith is all talk and never really gets down to action. True faith is active, powerfully active.

Faith was active in the miracle of Isaac’s birth. From the human standpoint, it was impossible for Abraham and Sarah to have a child. Not only had Sarah always been barren (Gen. 16:1), but by the time she was 90 years of age she was far beyond the proper time of life for childbearing. Yet at that age she conceived and gave birth to the promised son (Gen. 21:2).

The Genesis account gives no indication that Sarah ever showed much faith in God. Both Abraham and Sarah, on different occasions, had laughed at God’s promise of a son in their old age (Gen. 17:17; 18:12), but Sarah had even taken matters into her own hands by persuading Abraham to have a son by her maid, Hagar (16:1–4). She did not trust God’s promise and was bent on doing things her own way, which, she soon found out, was not the way either of obedience or of happiness. Her idea and Abraham’s acquiescence produced a son, Ishmael, whose descendants from that day to this have been a plague on the descendants of the son of promise. Ishmael became the progenitor of the Arabs and every Jew since his birth has faced the antagonism of the Arab world because of Abraham’s and Sarah’s disobedience. Sarah’s impatience was costly.

If we study Hebrews 11:11 carefully, I believe we discover that the faith mentioned here does not apply to Sarah but rather for her. Received ability to conceive (katabolēn spermatos) means literally “to lay down seed.” A woman, however, does not lay down the seed that produce conception. This phrase, therefore, must refer to Abraham, making him the understood subject of the sentence. It seems best to construe the phrase autē Sarra as a dative of accompaniment or association. In other words, the verse could be saying that Abraham, in association with Sarah, received power to lay down seed. I believe the faith was Abraham’s, not Sarah’s. Through Abraham’s faith God miraculously fulfilled His promise.[1]

Faith in the Promise

Hebrews 11:11–12

By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore. (Heb. 11:11–12)

In the world you will have tribulation.” That is how our Lord Jesus concluded his time with the disciples in the upper room before heading out to the Garden of Gethsemane and his arrest (John 16:33). Peter, who heard those words and learned the truth of them, said in his first epistle, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12). This is something pastors learn very quickly, that there are much trouble and sorrow in the world. And every one of us will learn and experience this if we only live long enough.

It is important for us to realize the certainty of trouble when we are talking about faith, as does the eleventh chapter of Hebrews. Faith does not sprout only in the soil of blessing, or grow only when the sun is shining. Christian faith is not like faith in our favorite sports team, which blossoms only in the midst of a winning streak, or like faith in other people, which so easily withers when they let us down. What makes Christian faith so different is that its object is truly and always worthy of our trust. Our faith is in God, and even in sorrows and trials we are to say by faith, “The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation” (Ps. 118:14).

Abram’s Great Sorrow

Hebrews 11 continues with the life of Abraham as an example of faith, and brings to our attention God’s remedy for the great sorrow of his life. Verse 11 says, “By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised.” This verse refers to the time when God came to Abraham with a promise of great blessing: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great” (Gen. 15:1). Imagine hearing such words from the Lord, and yet when Abram (as he then was called) heard them, instead of rejoicing he complained. “O Lord God,” he said, “what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?… Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir” (vv. 2–3).

This scene encourages us that God does not dismiss us in anger when we complain to him despite the many great blessings he provides. Here Abram resembles us. He is the beneficiary of amazing grace, yet his heart is breaking because of the one thing dear to him that he does not have. The writer of Hebrews draws our attention to this circumstance so as to add more lines to his portrait of the life of faith.

Abram’s sorrow was made especially poignant by his name, which means “father of many.” Yet he was into his later years and had not fathered a single child. Long before, God had promised, “To your offspring I will give this land” (Gen. 12:7), but after decades Abram had no offspring. This would be a source of great consternation in our society, but in the Orient where Abram lived it was a galling humiliation. Donald Grey Barnhouse notes that Abram was a prominent man in a land that was a crossroads for travelers. He imagines a likely conversation with a merchant stopping by: “In the evening time the merchants would have come to Abram’s tent to pay their respects. The questions would have followed a set pattern. ‘How old are you? Who are you? How long have you been here?’ When the trader had introduced himself, Abram would be forced to name himself: ‘Abram, father of many.’ ” It must have happened a hundred times, a thousand times, and each time more galling than the time before. “Oh, father of many! Congratulations! And how many sons do you have?” And the answer was so humiliating to Abram: “None.” And many a time there must have been the half-concealed snort of humor at the incongruity of the name and the fact that there were no children to back up such a name. Abram must have steeled himself for the question and the reply, and have hated the situation with great bitterness.

This is the way great sorrow and longing often rears its head. It sours otherwise pleasant encounters. Single people find it hard to be in married company, sometimes shying away from the church for that reason alone. People like Abram and his wife, who cannot have children, often find the mere sound of children a constant reproach and burden. Men who think themselves failures cannot stand the success of others. Women who think themselves homely envy the beauty of those more blessed among their kind. On and on it goes, with life seeming like a parade of sadness and envy, heartbreak and discontent. However much we have, there is often something missing that embitters our existence. We know, therefore, what it is like to be in Abram’s shoes, responding to God’s grace with an angry, teary cry: “What can you give me, since I do not have this!”

The Bible responds to our cry of discontent directly, unabashedly making promises of great blessing. We find this in the case of Abram. Genesis 15 goes on to depict one of the most marvelous scenes in all of Scripture. First, God promised Abram that a son from his own body would be his heir. Abram had heard this before, and he was incredulous. Therefore, as he so often does, God appealed to another of Abram’s senses, taking him outside under the canopy of stars. He said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.… So shall your offspring be” (Gen. 15:5). Imagine the scene! Abram was led by God out into the night to gaze upon the countless multitude of the stars as the measure of his coming blessing. How overwhelming it must have been; indeed, we know that it was overwhelming enough to overpower his unbelief. The next verse tells us Abram’s response, in what the apostle Paul uses as a paradigm for us all: “Abram believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:3).

The God of Promises

God relates to his children in this world largely through promises. In the Old Testament, the Israelites were a people looking beyond the horizon, looking for the promise yet to come, yet to be fulfilled. That great coming arrived in the person of Jesus Christ, and yet Christians, too, are waiting for things that are yet to come. The New Testament believer is also one who looks for that which is yet to come, for the promises yet to be fulfilled. As 2 Peter 1:4 says, “He has granted to us his precious and very great promises.”

Abram’s experience shows at least two reasons why God deals with us through promises. The first reason is to lift our eyes above the realm of our circumstances, even as he lifted Abram’s eyes high into the heavens. All through our lives, God’s promises lift our aspirations higher. On our own we would be content with some happy relationships; God wants us to have union with the Son of God. We aspire for earthly success; he intends for us heavenly glory. We would settle for health and wealth; yet he has everlasting life in store for us.

Such was the case with Abram. He wanted a son, but God intended that he would become the father of all the redeemed. Already God had told Abram that through him he would bless all the nations (Gen. 12:3). But Abram’s appetite was shaped, as ours generally is, by his local and recent experience—by his felt needs, as they are called today. He just wanted the caravan leaders to think highly of him. He wanted to know the human joy of looking into the eyes of a son. He wanted respect; he wanted to fit in; he wanted to feel good. These are things we want, too. They are good things, as far as they go, but they fall far short of what God intends for us. Paul reminds us, “No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor. 2:9). To keep us from filling ourselves on lesser things, God leaves us in circumstances of want and also gives us promises of great blessing, far beyond our imagining.

The second reason God deals with us through promises is related to the first, and is also revealed in Abram’s example. God is moving us along, directing us to our feet for a journey. Given a choice, we would all settle down in this life, in this world, this fleshly existence. Abram, we can be sure, would have been all too happy to raise a brood of sons alongside a good, clean well, with mud-baked bricks to form the walls of a sturdy house. But this world is not our home, it is not where God would settle us forever. Again, Paul tells us, “For the present form of this world is passing away” (1 Cor. 7:31). We were not meant for this place. Our souls were not created only for this life, so God uses the combination of want and promises to raise us to our feet and move us along the way.

When we realize that God deals with us through promises, and when we start looking for them, we soon begin to feel like Abram underneath the starry host. The promises of God are great beyond all reckoning. J. C. Ryle puts it well:

There are “shalls” and “wills” in God’s treasury for every condition. About God’s infinite mercy and compassion; about His readiness to receive all who repent and believe; about His willingness to forgive, pardon and absolve the chief of sinners; about His power to change hearts and alter our corrupt nature; about the encouragements to pray and hear the gospel and draw near to the throne of grace; about strength for duty, comfort in trouble, guidance in perplexity, help in sickness, consolation in death, support under bereavement, happiness beyond the grave, reward in glory—about all these things there is an abundant supply of promises in the Word. No one can form an idea of its abundance unless he carefully searches the Scriptures, keeping the subject steadily in view. If anyone doubts it, I can only say, “Come and see.” Like the Queen of Sheba at Solomon’s court, you will soon say, “The half was not told me” (1 Ki. 10:7).

Faith That Waits

Abram received God’s great promise with faith, yet the years to come proved hard nonetheless. His wife particularly seems to have suffered from her inability to bear children. In Genesis 16 we see how she responded: “Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. She had a female Egyptian servant whose name was Hagar. And Sarai said to Abram, ‘Behold now, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her’ ” (vv. 1–2).

Abram slept with Hagar and she conceived, bearing him a son named Ishmael. This may have seemed like an answer to prayer—a blessing from God—but if so, the delusion was soon dispelled. The first result was turmoil within Abram’s house, as Hagar and Sarai predictably launched a bitter war for pride of place and authority. This took place when Abram was eighty-six years old, ten years after his arrival in the land. The second problem emerged thirteen years later, when Abram was ninety-nine. God came to reaffirm the original promise and inform Abram that Ishmael would not be the son of blessing.

The problem with Sarai’s suggestion and Abram’s action was that it tried to achieve God’s promise by man’s power. Abram had grown weary over so many years, and his wife’s discouragement wore away at his resolve. Finally, he gave up on the idea of such an elderly woman bearing a child—something humanly impossible—and decided to help things along by taking Hagar to his bed.

That is the kind of thing we are tempted to do. We have a great longing and trust that God intends to bless us according to his wisdom. But just to help him out, we take matters into our own hands, according to our wisdom, even employing sinful means to attain the ends we want. Tired of waiting for a husband, we give in to premarital sex in order to win a man’s heart. Anxious to get that promotion we so richly deserve, we lie or take advantage of other people. We justify all this by saying it is faith, just as Abram and Sarai must have done, when in fact it is unbelief that is holding our hands. Doubting God’s power for what seems impossible, we manipulate what is possible by our own devices.

This happens in churches, too. Eager to do God’s work but unwilling to wait on his timetable, many churches go about it in man’s way. Thus we use psychological manipulation to create the appearance of conversions, when in fact only God can convert the soul. Eager to fill the church—surely God wants that!—we resort to cheap marketing and other patently unbiblical measures. Though God says his Word is sufficient for all our needs, churches all too easily cast Sarai aside for the seemingly more fertile embrace of Hagar. Whenever churches do this, they (like Abram) bear illegitimate children who (like Ishmael) are denied the blessing of God.

Genesis 17 tells us of God’s return to Abram, when Ishmael was thirteen years old. God challenged him, even while renewing the promise. He said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly” (vv. 1–2). God was confronting Abram for his unbelief and sin. “I am God Almighty,” he said, forcefully asserting his worthiness to be trusted absolutely, his omnipotent power to accomplish all that he had promised. “Walk before me, and be blameless,” he then commanded, pressing his requirement of obedience. Both rebuking Abram’s unbelief and encouraging him to new faith, God added, “I will make [or ‘confirm’] my covenant … and multiply you greatly.”

Abram was ninety-nine years old, but his success with Hagar showed that he could produce children. Therefore, it must have been a great encouragement to Abram, however astounding it might have been, when God declared that henceforth his name would be Abraham. Not Abram, the “father of many,” but Abraham, “father of a people.” Surely God intended this to be a sign of Abram’s faith. Abram had stumbled in his faith, but God placed him back upon his feet with an even greater sign of blessing and a call to renewed trust.

Imagine aged Abram coming back from this meeting, setting his one and only child beside him and announcing that he had a new name. People would have whispered, “He finally couldn’t take it anymore. It’s going to be Abechad, ‘father of one.’ ” How astonished they must have been when the man of faith announced, “My name is no longer Abram, father of many, but Abraham, father of a nation.” This was the kind of absolute conviction and commitment that God demanded of Abraham, and demands of us as well.

The point is that faith must wait upon the Lord. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out for Canaan, eighty-six when he gave in and had a child with Hagar, and ninety-nine when God set him back on his feet with a new promise and a new name. Faith receives God’s promise and faith waits on him, often for very long periods.

The Psalms constantly extol this theme. Psalm 27 ends, “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (v. 14). Psalm 37 says, “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.… Wait for the Lord and keep his way” (v. 7, 34). Psalm 130 puts it in words perhaps closest to our hearts: “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning” (vv. 5–6). Spurgeon comments: “This is a most divine precept, and requires much grace to carry it out. To hush the spirit, to be silent before the Lord, to wait in holy patience the time for clearing up the difficulties of Providence—this is what every gracious heart should aim at.” Waiting on the Lord is difficult, but it is the sign of a wise and believing heart that trusts an omnipotent and gracious God. Spurgeon concludes, “Time is nothing to him, let it be nothing to thee. God is worth waiting for.… Wait in obedience as a servant, in hope as an heir, in expectation as a believer.”

To wait upon the Lord is to rely on him; it is to study and trust his attributes. It is, for instance, to know that he is faithful, often in ways we had never considered. It involves committing ourselves to his power, his goodness, and his wisdom, as all of these unite to superintend the affairs of our lives, not according to our plan but according to his. These are the things the Psalms talk about as they exhort us to wait upon the Lord. Psalm 27, for example, begins with words of comfort, based on who and what God is: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (v. 1).

Faith waits upon the Lord. Arthur Pink says:

Faith provides a firm standing-ground while I await the fulfillment of God’s promises. Faith furnishes my heart with a sure support during the interval. Faith believes God and relies upon His veracity: as it does so, the heart is anchored and remains steady, no matter how fierce the storm nor how protracted the season of waiting.… Real faith issues in a confident and standing expectation of future things.

Despite stumbling into unbelief and sin, Abraham sets a great example of waiting on the Lord in faith. The New International Version of Hebrews 11:11 rightly links Abraham’s faith with Sarah’s, saying, “By faith Abraham, even though he was past age—and Sarah herself was barren—was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise.” Romans 4:20–21 gives another classic description of Abraham’s waiting faith. Speaking of Abraham, Paul writes, “No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.”

All of Grace

Hebrews 11:11 seems to have a specific episode from Abraham’s life in mind, because it includes Sarah’s faith that also received the promise. Indeed, there is some question as to who is the main subject of this verse, Abraham or Sarah. Different versions make one or the other the subject of this verse. The flow of thought makes Abraham the main subject, especially in connection with verse 12, yet it was together that this sorrowful pair found grace to trust in God and in his promise.

Abraham was ninety-nine when God renewed the promise, yet he did not have the child of promise. God had changed his name; he also changed the name of his wife from Sarai to Sarah, a name that means “princess,” to indicate that his promise still dealt with her. Yes, Abraham would father a nation, but not through young slave girls he bought and brought to his bed. It would be through his legitimate wife, Sarah, despite her advanced age and barren womb. God said: “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her” (Gen. 17:15–16).

God’s insistence that Abraham’s offspring would be born through Sarah is a sign that salvation is by grace alone. God promised great blessing to Abraham in terms of offspring. We have mentioned the embarrassment he must have suffered in going so long without children, but there is another matter that is far more significant. Abraham’s childlessness brought God’s covenant into question—God’s faithfulness and his plan of salvation. How would the world be blessed? How would the seed of salvation come? Would it be by natural means—by works—or by supernatural means—by grace alone? We find God’s plain answer in his promise regarding Sarah. “She shall become nations,” God said of this ninety-year-old, wrinkled woman. “Kings of peoples will come from her.”

On the surface, this really was laughable. In fact, Abraham did laugh at the idea. In the verses that follow, we find that “Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, ‘Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?’ … [But] God said, … ‘Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him’ ” (Gen. 17:17–19).

This is how God has designed salvation to work: in a manner that confounds human expectation and leaves all the glory to him alone. In Genesis 18 God made the same promise again, this time in the presence of Sarah, and she laughed too (Gen. 18:12). But Genesis 21 tells us that Abraham went to her and she bore a son. They named him Isaac, which means “laughter.” They no longer laughed in unbelief but cried tears of joy in renewed wonder at the power and faithfulness of the promise-keeping God.

Hebrews 11:12 tells us what can happen when faith waits upon God’s promise: “Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.” Fighting through their natural tendency to unbelief, Abraham and Sarah trusted the Lord. It is wonderful that Hebrews 11 says nothing about their unbelieving laughter and complaints—sins that were washed away by the blood of Christ—but speaks only about their faith, which God remembered. Believing God, they came together as husband and wife, and by the power of his grace God brought life from the dead womb, bringing a salvation that is all of grace.

In that manner, the barren womb signifies salvation by grace all through the Bible. Isaiah could boldly write, “Sing, O barren one, who did not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud, you who have not been in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of her who is married” (54:1).

This rose to a new level when another descendant of Abraham, indeed the special seed that God had in mind all along, was born not of the barren but of the virgin womb. The barren womb speaks of human failure and weakness and futility; the virgin womb speaks of a work that belongs to God alone, in which human works have no place at all—a rock cut not with human hands. God spoke to Joseph about a child from his virgin fiancée’s womb: “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21).

The virgin birth tells us that the means by which the gospel produces its ends are not natural or man-controlled; they are not things we can manipulate for our own success, or that rely upon us. The blessing God promised to Abraham could come about only if a barren and elderly woman could conceive and give birth. When it comes to Christ, we find that there will be salvation from our sins only if a virgin girl can do the same. That Sarah conceived and gave birth, and that Mary did the same, tells us that the salvation we trust is of God from first to last, and to the glory of his name alone. Therefore, let us trust ourselves to this God who gives life to the dead and produces blessing from the barren womb, even salvation through the virgin womb that bore our Lord Jesus Christ.

Surely this exhorts us to turn to God for the whole of our need, and with all of our longings, trusting his might and waiting upon him for all the precious promises we receive in Scripture. Jeremiah Burroughs exhorts: “Every time a godly man reads the Scriptures … and there meets with a promise, he ought to lay his hand upon it and say, This is part of my inheritance, it is mine, and I am to live upon it.”

Then let us realize that our greatest inheritance is God himself; his greatest promise is this: “I will be your God, and you will be my people.” It is God himself that we receive as we rest upon his promises. And it is our hearts that he is seeking through this long and sometimes difficult life of faith as he calls us to wait upon him. Through the faith of Abraham, we too may receive the words of blessing: “Fear not, … I am your shield; your reward shall be very great” (Gen. 15:1).[2]

11 These comments will follow TNIV, which has, rightly in my view, placed in the text what in the NIV was given as a footnote (see note below for the textual issue). As we noted above, the inclusion of Sarah within the account of Abraham’s faith is a surprise, especially when she is not only listed as an example of “faith” but is said to have “considered him faithful who had made the promise.” In Genesis 18:10–15, Sarah hears the promise she will have a son and laughs, not with pleasure, but out of cynicism, and is rebuked for her unbelief. When eventually her son is born, the laughter of unbelief gives way to the laughter of joy, from which Isaac gets his name (Ge 21:6–7), but there has been no indication in the narrative that the change was the result of faith rather than of the undeniable evidence of pregnancy. It is not surprising, therefore, that the verse was found difficult and that variants arose which attributed the faith to Abraham rather than to Sarah. But our author has apparently judged Sarah by her whole experience rather than by the specific incident recorded in Genesis 18:10–15. For a hitherto barren woman of ninety (Ge 17:17) to bear a child was a remarkable instance of God’s overruling of circumstances, and the woman at the heart of the story, even if initially unable to believe it, must have been a woman who took God seriously, though at first she had to lean on Abraham’s faith rather than her own. Thus, despite her initial unbelief, “even Sarah” (the phrase reveals the author’s own awareness of the boldness of his claim) finds herself, along with Moses’ mother (v. 23) and Rahab the prostitute (v. 31), representing the women of the OT in our author’s gallery, just as in 1 Peter 3:5–6 she stands as a representative godly wife for Christian wives to imitate.[3]

11:11–12 / The second example of Abraham’s faith (drawn from Gen. 17:15–21; 18:9–15; and 21:1–7) involves the fulfillment of God’s promise of descendants. Abraham put his trust in God’s faithfulness. Because he considered him faithful who had made the promise: this trust enabled Abraham and Sarah to accomplish the humanly unthinkable (cf. Abraham’s response, Gen. 17:18; and Sarah’s in 18:12 and 21:7). Thus despite his (and Sarah’s) age and Sarah’s (and his) barrenness, Abraham was enabled to become a father (lit., “received power to beget”). The result of faith in this instance was that from this one man, who was “worn out,” “impotent,” or as good as dead, as the participle can be construed, came forth an abundance of offspring. This abundance, now seen as fulfillment, is deliberately described in the language of the covenantal promises to Abraham recorded in Genesis (see Gen. 15:5; 22:17; 32:12). God was faithful to his promise, and it was by their faith that Abraham and Sarah experienced God’s faithfulness. Our author’s argument here is very similar to Paul’s in Romans 4:16ff. There Paul refers to God as the one “who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were” (Rom. 4:17). He too describes Abraham’s body with the expression “as good as dead” (4:19), using the same word as the author of Hebrews; and he describes Abraham’s attitude in these words: “being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised” (4:21).[4]

[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1983). Hebrews (pp. 332–333). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Phillips, R. D. (2006). Hebrews. (R. D. Phillips, P. G. Ryken, & D. M. Doriani, Eds.) (pp. 446–456). Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing.

[3] France, R. T. (2006). Hebrews. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, p. 152). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] Hagner, D. A. (2011). Hebrews (p. 190). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.