So Great a Cloud of Witnesses!
“Because we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, . . . let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”—HEBREWS 12:1.
1, 2. (a) What figurative setting may Paul have had in mind when writing to Hebrew Christians? (b) Why did Hebrew fellow believers need firm faith?
PICTURE yourself as a runner in a stadium. You press onward, straining every muscle, your eyes fixed on the goal. But what about the observers? Why, all of them have been triumphant runners! They have been not mere spectators but active witnesses in both word and deed.
2 The apostle Paul may have had such a figurative setting in mind when writing to Hebrew Christians (c. 61 C.E.). They needed firm faith. (Hebrews 10:32-39) Only by faith could they heed Jesus’ warning to flee when Jerusalem was surrounded by encamped armies (in 66 C.E.) a few years before its destruction at Roman hands (in 70 C.E.). Faith would also sustain them when they were “persecuted for righteousness’ sake.”—Matthew 5:10; Luke 21:20-24.
3. At Hebrews 12:1, what is “the sin that easily entangles us,” and Christians are urged to run what race with endurance?
3 After reviewing pre-Christian acts of faith (in Hebrews, chapter 11), Paul urged: “Because we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also put off every weight [that would encumber us spiritually] and the sin [lack of faith] that easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race [for life eternal] that is set before us.” (Hebrews 12:1) Paul’s review of faith in action highlights various aspects of it and will help us, whether we are anointed Christians running the race for immortality in heaven or we are part of the “great crowd” with the goal of endless life on a paradise earth. (Revelation 7:4-10; Luke 23:43; Romans 8:16, 17) But just what is faith? What are some facets of this spiritual gem? And how will we act if we have faith? As you seek answers to such questions, please read cited verses of Hebrews chapters 11 and 12 during private and congregational study.
What Faith Is
4. What is faith?
4 Paul first defined faith. (Read Hebrews 11:1-3.) In part, faith is “the assured expectation of things hoped for.” The person having faith has a guarantee that everything God promises is as good as fulfilled. Faith is also “the evident demonstration of realities though not beheld.” The convincing proof of unseen realities is so powerful that faith is said to be equivalent to that evidence.
5. By faith we perceive what?
5 By means of faith “men of old times had witness borne to them” that they pleased God. Also, “by faith we perceive that the systems of things”—the earth, the sun, the moon, and the stars—“were put in order by God’s word, so that what is beheld has come to be out of things that do not appear.” We are convinced that Jehovah is the Creator of such things, although we cannot see him because he is an invisible Spirit.—Genesis 1:1; John 4:24; Romans 1:20.
Faith and the “Ancient World”
6. Why did Abel have an “assured expectation” that Jehovah’s prophetic words about the ‘seed of the woman’ would come true?
6 One of the many facets of faith is appreciation for the need of a sacrifice for sins. (Read Hebrews 11:4.) In the “ancient world,” faith in a blood sacrifice was shown by Abel, the second son of the first human pair, Adam and Eve. (2 Peter 2:5) Doubtless Abel discerned in himself the death-dealing effects of inherited sin. (Genesis 2:16, 17; 3:6, 7; Romans 5:12) Evidently he also noted the fulfillment of God’s decree that brought laborious toil upon Adam and considerable pain during pregnancy to Eve. (Genesis 3:16-19) So Abel had “the assured expectation” that other things spoken by Jehovah would come true. These included the prophetic words directed to the archdeceiver Satan when God said to the serpent: “I shall put enmity between you and the woman and between your seed and her seed. He will bruise you in the head and you will bruise him in the heel.”—Genesis 3:15.
7. (a) How did Abel show appreciation for the need of a sacrifice for sins? (b) In what way did God ‘bear witness respecting Abel’s gifts’?
7 Abel displayed faith in the promised Seed by presenting to God an animal sacrifice that could substitute pictorially for Abel’s own life. But his faithless elder brother Cain offered bloodless vegetables. As a murderer, Cain thereafter spilled Abel’s blood. (Genesis 4:1-8) Yet Abel died knowing that Jehovah considered him righteous, “God bearing witness respecting his gifts.” How? By accepting Abel’s sacrifice offered in faith. Because of his faith and divine approval, about which the Inspired Record continues to bear witness, ‘although Abel died, he yet speaks.’ He saw the need for a sacrifice for sins. Do you have faith in Jesus Christ’s far more significant ransom sacrifice?—1 John 2:1, 2; 3:23.
8. (a) What do we learn about faith from Enoch’s courageous witnessing? (b) How was Enoch “transferred so as not to see death”?
8 Faith will move us to speak God’s message with boldness. (Read Hebrews 11:5, 6.) Jehovah’s early witness Enoch courageously foretold divine execution of judgment upon the ungodly. (Jude 14, 15) Doubtless Enoch’s foes sought to kill him, but God “took him” so that he did not suffer the pangs of death. (Genesis 5:24) First, however, “he had the witness that he had pleased God well.” How so? “By faith Enoch was transferred so as not to see death.” Similarly, Paul was transferred, or “caught away into paradise,” evidently receiving a vision of the future spiritual paradise of the Christian congregation. (2 Corinthians 12:1-4) So Enoch apparently was enjoying a vision of the coming earthly Paradise when Jehovah put him to sleep in death, safe from enemy hands. To be pleasing to God we, like Enoch, must speak God’s message with boldness. (Acts 4:29-31) We must also believe that God exists and “becomes the rewarder of those earnestly seeking him.”
9. How did Noah’s course show that following God’s instructions closely is another facet of faith?
9 Following God’s instructions closely is another facet of faith. (Read Hebrews 11:7.) Acting in faith, Noah did ‘just as God commanded.’ (Genesis 6:22; 7:16) Noah received “divine warning of things not yet beheld” and believed Jehovah’s statement that an earth-wide flood would occur. In faith and with reverential fear of God, Noah “constructed an ark for the saving of his household.” By obedience and righteous acts, he thus condemned the unbelieving world for its wicked works and showed that it deserved destruction.—Genesis 6:13-22.
10. Although Noah was building the ark, he took time for what other activity?
10 Noah was also one of Jehovah’s witnesses in that he was “a preacher of righteousness.” (2 Peter 2:5) Although busy building the ark, he took time to preach, as Jehovah’s Witnesses do today. Indeed, Noah spoke out boldly as a herald of God’s warning to those antediluvians, but “they took no note until the flood came and swept them all away.”—Matthew 24:36-39.
Faith Among Post-Flood Patriarchs
11. (a) How did Abraham show that faith includes complete confidence in Jehovah’s promises? (b) In faith, Abraham was awaiting what “city”?
11 Faith includes complete confidence in Jehovah’s promises. (Read Hebrews 11:8-12.) By faith Abraham (Abram) obeyed God’s command and left Ur of the Chaldeans, a city with much to offer in a material way. He believed Jehovah’s promise that “all the families of the ground” would bless themselves by means of him and that his seed would be given a land. (Genesis 12:1-9; 15:18-21) Abraham’s son Isaac and grandson Jacob were “heirs with him of the very same promise.” By faith Abraham “resided as an alien in the land of promise as in a foreign land.” He looked forward to “the city having real foundations, the builder and maker of which city is God.” Yes, Abraham awaited God’s heavenly Kingdom under which he would be resurrected to life on earth. Does the Kingdom hold such an important place in your life?—Matthew 6:33.
12. What happened because Sarah had faith in Jehovah’s promises?
12 The wives of the God-fearing patriarchs also had faith in Jehovah’s promises. For instance, by faith Abraham’s wife Sarah, though barren until about 90 years old and “past the age limit,” was empowered “to conceive seed, . . . since she esteemed him [God] faithful who had promised.” In time, Sarah bore Isaac. Thus from 100-year-old Abraham, “as good as dead” as regards reproduction, eventually “there were born children just as the stars of heaven for multitude.”—Genesis 17:15-17; 18:11; 21:1-7.
13, 14. (a) Although Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob “did not get the fulfillment of the promises,” how did they react? (b) How can we benefit from considering the patriarchs’ loyalty to Jehovah even if we do not see the immediate fulfillment of his promises?
13 Faith will keep us loyal to Jehovah even if we do not see the immediate fulfillment of his promises. (Read Hebrews 11:13-16.) The faithful patriarchs all died without seeing the complete fulfillment of God’s promises to them. But “they saw [the promised things] afar off and welcomed them and publicly declared that they were strangers and temporary residents in the land.” Yes, they lived out their lives in faith, for generations passed before the Promised Land became the possession of Abraham’s offspring.
14 The fact that they did not get the fulfillment of divine promises in their lifetime did not embitter Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob or cause them to become apostates. They did not abandon Jehovah and go back to Ur, becoming immersed in worldly activities. (Compare John 17:16; 2 Timothy 4:10; James 1:27; 1 John 2:15-17.) No, those patriarchs ‘reached out’ for a place far better than Ur, “that is, one belonging to heaven.” So Jehovah ‘is not ashamed to be called upon as their God.’ They maintained faith in the Most High until death and will soon be resurrected to life on earth, part of the domain of the “city,” the Messianic Kingdom God made ready for them. But what about you? Even if you have ‘walked in the truth’ for years, growing old in Jehovah’s service, you must maintain your confidence in his promised new system. (3 John 4; 2 Peter 3:11-13) What a reward you and the faithful patriarchs will receive for such faith!
15. (a) What enabled Abraham virtually to offer Isaac as a sacrifice? (b) How should our faith be affected by the event involving Abraham and Isaac? (c) What was prophetically portrayed by that event?
15 Unquestioning obedience to God is a vital facet of faith. (Read Hebrews 11:17-19.) Because Abraham obeyed Jehovah without question, he “as good as offered up Isaac,” his “only-begotten son”—the only one he ever had by Sarah. How could Abraham do this? Because “he reckoned that God was able to raise [Isaac] up even from the dead,” if necessary, to fulfill the promise of offspring through him. In a moment the knife in Abraham’s hand would have ended Isaac’s life, but an angel’s voice prevented this. Hence, Abraham received Isaac out of death “in an illustrative way.” We should likewise be moved to obey God in faith even if our life or that of our children is at stake. (1 John 5:3) It is noteworthy, too, that Abraham and Isaac then prophetically portrayed how Jehovah God would provide his only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, as a ransom so that those exercising faith in him might have everlasting life.—Genesis 22:1-19; John 3:16.
16. With regard to our children and faith in God’s promises, what example did the patriarchs furnish?
16 If we have faith, we will help our offspring to set their hope on what God promises for the future. (Read Hebrews 11:20-22.) So strong was the faith of the patriarchs that although Jehovah’s promises to them were not completely fulfilled in their lifetime, they passed these on to their children as a cherished inheritance. Thus, “Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come,” and dying Jacob pronounced blessings on Joseph’s sons Ephraim and Manasseh. Because Joseph himself had strong faith that the Israelites would leave Egypt for the land of promise, he made his brothers swear to take his bones with them when departing. (Genesis 27:27-29, 38-40; 48:8-22; 50:24-26) Are you helping your family to develop comparable faith in what Jehovah has promised?
Faith Makes Us Put God First
17. How did Moses’ parents act in faith?
17 Faith motivates us to put Jehovah and his people ahead of anything this world has to offer. (Read Hebrews 11:23-26.) The Israelites were slaves needing deliverance from Egyptian bondage when Moses’ parents acted in faith. ‘They did not fear the king’s order’ to kill Hebrew males at birth. Rather, they hid Moses for three months, finally placing him in a papyrus ark among the reeds by the bank of the Nile River. Found by Pharaoh’s daughter, he was ‘brought up as her own son.’ First, however, Moses was nursed and spiritually trained in the home of his father and mother, Amram and Jochebed. Then, as a member of Pharaoh’s household, he “was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians” and became “powerful in his words and deeds,” mighty in mental and physical capabilities.—Acts 7:20-22; Exodus 2:1-10; 6:20.
18. Because of his faith, what position did Moses take with regard to Jehovah’s worship?
18 Yet, Egyptian education and the material splendor of the royal house did not cause Moses to abandon Jehovah’s worship and become an apostate. Rather, “by faith Moses, when grown up, refused to be called the son of the daughter of Pharaoh,” a course implied when he defended a Hebrew brother. (Exodus 2:11, 12) Moses chose “to be ill-treated with the people of God [Israelite fellow worshipers of Jehovah] rather than to have the temporary enjoyment of sin.” If you are a baptized servant of Jehovah who has a solid background of proper spiritual training, will you follow Moses’ example and stand firm for true worship?
19. (a) How is it evident that Moses put Jehovah and His people first in life? (b) Moses looked toward the payment of what reward?
19 Moses threw in his lot with Jehovah’s people “because he esteemed the reproach of the Christ as riches greater than the treasures of Egypt.” Most likely Moses ‘esteemed the reproach of being an ancient type of Christ, or God’s Anointed One, as riches greater than Egypt’s treasures.’ As a member of the royal household, he could have enjoyed wealth and fame in Egypt. But he exercised faith and “looked intently toward the payment of the reward”—eternal life through resurrection on earth in God’s promised new system.
20. What is there about Moses’ experience that shows that faith makes us fearless as Jehovah’s servants?
20 Faith makes us fearless because we are confident in Jehovah as a deliverer. (Read Hebrews 11:27-29.) After hearing that Moses had killed an Egyptian, Pharaoh sought his death. “But Moses ran away from Pharaoh that he might dwell in the land of Midian.” (Exodus 2:11-15) So Paul seems to allude to the Hebrews’ later Exodus from Egypt when he says: “By faith he [Moses] left Egypt, but not fearing the anger of the king [who threatened him with death for representing God in Israel’s behalf], for he continued steadfast as seeing the One who is invisible.” (Exodus 10:28, 29) Although Moses never actually saw God, Jehovah’s dealings with him were so real that he acted as if he did see ‘the invisible One.’ (Exodus 33:20) Is your relationship with Jehovah that strong?—Psalm 37:5; Proverbs 16:3.
21. As regards Israel’s departure from Egypt, what happened “by faith”?
21 Just before Israel’s departure from Egypt, “by faith he [Moses] had celebrated the passover and the splashing of the blood, that the destroyer might not touch their [the Israelites’] firstborn ones.” Yes, it took faith to hold the Passover with the conviction that Israel’s firstborn sons would be spared while those of the Egyptians would die, and this faith was rewarded. (Exodus 12:1-39) Also “by faith they [the people of Israel] passed through the Red Sea as on dry land, but on venturing out upon it the Egyptians were swallowed up.” What a marvelous deliverer God proved to be! And because of this deliverance, the Israelites “began to fear Jehovah and to put faith in Jehovah and in Moses his servant.”—Exodus 14:21-31.
22. Regarding faith, what questions remain for consideration?
22 The faith of Moses and the patriarchs is indeed a model for Jehovah’s Witnesses today. But what happened when God dealt further with Abraham’s descendants as a theocratically organized nation? What can we learn from further acts of faith in ancient times?
How Would You Answer?
□ What is faith?
□ Enoch’s example teaches us what about faith?
□ How did God-fearing patriarchs show that faith includes complete confidence in Jehovah’s promises?
□ What action by Abraham indicates that unquestioning obedience to God is a vital facet of faith?
□ What actions by Moses show that faith means putting Jehovah and His people ahead of anything the world has to offer?