1: Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. 2: For by it the elders obtained a good report. 3: Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear. 4: By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh. 5: By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God. 6: But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. 7: By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith. 8: By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. 9: By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: 10: For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. 11: Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised. 12: Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead, so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable. 13: These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. 14: For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country.
In this classic passage of the heroes of faith we have and interesting insight into the Jewish theology of the OT. First the writer defines faith. It is the believing of what cannot be seen. And then he goes on to describe faiths effects in the lives of the OT saints - they obtained a good report. So what is the writer saying? He is saying that these OT saints heard the word of God and believed it and their faith led to obedience to the revealed will of God and to the testimony of God that they were righteous. Now let’s see if that is so. Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice, because he believed God. In other words, Abel heard Gods instructions regarding how to present a sacrifice to God and he followed Gods directions correctly and therefore – ‘by which he obtained witness that he was righteous’, God testified (in some way, perhaps with fire from heaven!) to his acceptance of Abel’s gift. Enoch was translated because before his translation God testified to him that he pleased God. Enoch was a righteous man. Then the writer break off to explain that those who come to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (In this passage the reward is not mentioned yet every Hebrew reader would know that the reward of righteousness is resurrection into the Messianic Kingdom) Noah heard the word of God and sprang into action by building an ark and through this act he demonstrated that he was a righteous man. Abraham heard the word of God telling him to leave his home and go into a far country. He got up and went. Abraham’s obedience makes him a righteous man. Sara also is credited as righteous because she believed God’s promise. So what were the promises they saw a far off? They saw the Messianic kingdom and they saw the Messiah reigning in righteousness over the whole world. And they believed Gods word and lived accordingly. So were they saved – as christians are? No. their salvation was found in the resurrection to eternal life. (The first resurrection at the beginning of the Kingdom Rev 20) In the OT God spoke to his people and they heard and believed and God declared them to be righteous. And he promised the resurrection to those who kept his word and obeyed his word.