Hebrews 11:38

Thursday, 4 April 2019

…of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth. Hebrews 11:38

This is a description of those who have been referred to in the preceding verses. He has described their plight, their character, and their ill-treatment by the world. He now tells about their status in relation to the world around them by saying, “of whom the world was not worthy.” Vincent’s Word Studies notes what the term “world” signifies in this particular context –

“By the world (κόσμος) is not meant the corrupt world, as in John and Paul (see on Hebrews 11:7), but the world considered as an economy which was unworthy of these, because ruled by sense and not by faith. Their plane of life was higher.”

These men were placed by God into the stream of time and human existence (see Acts 17:26-28), but they were out of place in relation to the world around them. They were living by faith in something which lay ahead of them, and thus, that sphere of time and placement was not worthy of them. It is as if because of their faith they were living in the kingdom of the Lord even though they were among those who had no comprehension of what that meant. All others around them were living apart from the promise of Messiah, and their lives were mere futile moments of living for self. Despite this exalted state in which they lived, the author says, “They wandered in deserts and mountains.”

This is probably a reference to the book of 2 Maccabees. It is a historical record of the life of the Jewish people. Though not inspired Scripture, it was a text which the author would have been aware of. In that book it says –

“But Judas Maccabeus with nine others or thereabout, withdrew himself into the wilderness, and lived in the mountains after the manner of beasts, with his company, who fed on herbs continually lest they should be partakers of the pollution;” 2 Maccabees. 5:27.

Other prophets throughout the Old Testament, such as Elijah, wandered in such a manner as well. They were men often without homes, without ordinary lives of working the land, and they lived a very skimpy existence in comparison to those around them. The author then continues with, “in dens and caves of the earth.”

The word translated as “dens” is the Greek word spélaion. It signifies a cavern, and equates to a cave or a hiding place. One can see the root of our modern word for cave explorers, or spelunkers, in it. The next word, translated as “caves,” is the Greek word opé. It signifies a hole, as if where light enters, and so it can be a cavern, a spring of water (see James 3:11), etc. One can see the root of our modern word for “opening.”

These men, at times, lived in places that seem more suited for jackals, lions, or bats. David, at times, dwelt in caves. This is seen in 1 Samuel 22:1 –

“David therefore departed from there and escaped to the cave of Adullam. So when his brothers and all his father’s house heard it, they went down there to him.”

Despite already being promised that someday he would be king of Israel, he was also a man who could dwell in a cave in order to survive. His character was such that his hope of Messiah allowed him to live life in a way that the world around him mattered little. This is true with all of those who wholeheartedly live by faith. Present difficulties are merely a temporary stepping stone to the life which is truly life.

Life application: Go back over the past 37 verses and remind yourself of whom the author states “the world was not worthy.” They were all fallible people who lived fallible lives. They failed their spouses and their children; they deceived family members; one committed adultery and murder; one was a prostitute and another the son of a prostitute. And the list goes on. These people lived lives just like each of us. But “the world was not worthy of them.” It is their faith in something greater that set them above the other peoples and systems of government in which they lived. Many of them, while the rest of the world was living in spacious homes or palaces, wandered without any true comfort at all. They were pilgrims, simply living life for the future; not worried about that which is temporary. One wonderful story of the Rechabites comes to mind. This family, detailed in Jeremiah 35, was given a directive by one of their forefathers –

“But they said, ‘We will drink no wine, for Jonadab the son of Rechab, our father, commanded us, saying, ‘You shall drink no wine, you nor your sons, forever. You shall not build a house, sow seed, plant a vineyard, nor have any of these; but all your days you shall dwell in tents, that you may live many days in the land where you are sojourners.’ Thus we have obeyed the voice of Jonadab the son of Rechab, our father, in all that he charged us, to drink no wine all our days, we, our wives, our sons, or our daughters, nor to build ourselves houses to dwell in; nor do we have vineyard, field, or seed. 10 But we have dwelt in tents, and have obeyed and done according to all that Jonadab our father commanded us.’” Jeremiah 35:6-10

They steadfastly followed the directive of their father and God used them as an example of faithfulness. This is in contrast to the people of Israel who continuously failed to follow the directives of their God. Indeed, so pleased was God with the example of the Rechabites that He made this promise to them –

“…therefore thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘Jonadab the son of Rechab shall not lack a man to stand before Me forever.’” Jeremiah 35:19

Lord, thank You for the gift of our faith that You have given us. We know it is what is truly pleasing to You. Never let us slip or falter in it, but rather increase it so that we may always walk in a manner that will bring You glory and demonstrate to others our joy in serving You. Amen.

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