Faith always involves the future. You cannot read the examples of Old Testament saints in this chapter and not come to that conclusion. As I read their inspiring stories, I am always obliged to agree with the parenthetical beginning of verse thirty-eight that tells us “the world was not worthy” of these worthies. So I would be caught off guard and brought up short with verse thirty-nine, if I had not read it so many, many times. What? After such faith as this, they “received not the promise? After all they endured, their faith in the future appeared to be in vain. Yet the writer of Hebrews, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, tells us that God gave them high marks for their seemingly unrequited faith. They received a good report card.
Of course, verse forty gives us the story behind the story (and there always is one). The answer to their faith was far beyond their expectations, a principle that still remains true. They were part of something much bigger that encompassed not only them but also us, the Church of Jesus Christ. The very definition of faith in verse one of this chapter involves something hoped for but not seen, at least not with physical eyesight. Verses twenty-six and twenty-seven tell us Moses saw Christ, who was invisible at that time.
What is the lesson God is teaching us in this chapter? I think it shows us two kinds of faith. Faith rewarded with crumbling walls, parting seas, victories in battle, deliverance from lions, even bodily resurrection of loved ones; and “others,” faith, rewarded with homelessness, prison, torture, nakedness and destitution. Both groups are viable, sterling examples of faith, and no doubt, verses thirty-nine and forty refer to them all. My question is, do you and I give as high marks to the second group as we do the first? Or do we regard faith rewarded openly and spectacularly as superior to faith left to wander in the “deserts, and in the mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth”? I would wager that if there were such an imbalance in the weight of faith, God’s partiality would lie with the latter group (Jno. 20:29).
A pending answer to prayer is a sure sign of something better on the way.