Your Old Testament Cheering Section

Hebrews 11:32-40 – Our Old Testament Cheering Section

We are rounding the home stretch of Hebrews 11.

  • A good time to remind you, Hebrews is more of a sermon than anything else.
  • Verse 32 is a preaching phrase.
    • “And what more shall I say?”
    • “I” a masculine pronoun, tells us “he” is ramping up!


  • This soundbite-segue turns up the juice into a rapid-fire machine-gunning of final Old Testament/Old Covenant heroes listed.

This Hebrew preacher allowed his mind to roam back over the history of his people.

  • Not completely at random but not coming now in historical or chronological order!
    • Names in pairs by priority.
    • Followed by memorable accounts, miraculous and victorious.


  • Apex highs followed by deep lows of poverty, persecution, suffering, and death.

This sweeping list should be taken as a unit with a targeted punch.

  • To feel its force lets back into these names and events.
  • First unpacking its purpose, explained in verses 39-40.

These verses answer, “Why Old Testament believers serve as our chief cheering section?”

  • If you are like me, you do not think you really need to be cheered on!
  • “Encouragement?”


Whether you are a kid playing soccer, an adult fighting an uphill battle at home or work.

Or someone fighting to keep on in the faith, you need encouragement!

By someone who has gone before you, who’s been there done that, who’s saying, “Go, man!”

I remember as a new dad on the sidelines watching my firstborn play soccer another dad coming up to me saying, “Hey shout out to your kid when they have the ball and watch the effects!”

“They really do hear and distinguish your voice within the crowd and they really do respond!”

So, I tried it and it did make a difference!

On a greater scale, your encouragement to a downcast soul is the difference between someone's perseverance or stumbling.

I will not forget reuniting with an old friend I knew in Southern California.

It had been over ten years since we had met to work through the book “Trusting God” by Jerry Bridges.

Then, he was a newlywed, seemingly with everything going for him.

New life, new job but he was depressed and gripped with fear.

A pastor he knew steered him my way because of our prior working relationship.

We met for maybe six months then and reunited ten years later.

After a burrito, he told me in the parking lot he referenced that time and said, “Jeff, I want you to know that when we met, you saved me.”

I must have looked confused so he said it again.  “You saved me.”

I am still not entirely sure what he meant but it etched in my mind the power of discouragement and the even greater power of encouragement!

“How are Old Testament believers (pre-Christ, pre-Cross, pre-Resurrection) supposed to encourage us like this today?”

Verses 39-40 answer this!


These verses are broken down into basic principles to answer this question.


1. Old Testament believers were not inferior to New Testament believers (v. 39)


a. Their faith was not inferior to New Testament faith (v. 39a)

It is tempting to disregard Old Testament believers as irrelevant to our lives or faith.

  • Their stories seem extraordinary, mythology instead of being applicable.
  • Yet, these men and women were “commended” (v. 39).

“Commended” marteria, they literally “bear witness through their faith” (v. 39).

  • The point is not to put them in an inferior category where they saw or experienced things we cannot relate to.
  • They challenge us by what they persevered through with even less revelation than we have.
    • Less of the full story of redemption history.
    • They did not have the Gospels, Acts, Epistles, and Revelation.


  • They did not know Jesus personally.
    • Key to understand why God allowed sin.
    • Why God chose the Jews and created the Law.
    • Exactly who the prophets preached about.


  • They played the first half knowing they would not play the second.
    • What makes them all the more our witnesses.
    • Examples to follow.


  • They had less revelation while exercising the same faith!
    • Their “commendation” is valid because their faith was stronger.
    • Knowing less they persevered.


b. They died before Christ came but death was not the end (v. 39b)

“Where did Old Testament/Old Covenant saints go when they died?”

  • Those who died before Christ’s birth, the Cross, and the resurrection?
  • They went to heaven.

Luke 16:19-31 speaks of the “rich man” poor in faith and “Lazarus” who was poor but rich in faith.

Verse 22 says Lazarus went to “Abraham’s side” a title for heaven.


  • Heaven here is left non-descript with a few hints.
    • People there are known by name.
    • Heaven is comfort and Hell is “torment” and fire (v. 24).
    • There is a great chasm between these two worlds and the difference where you go comes down to faith.


  • The rich man begs for Lazarus to go back to earth to “warn” his brothers (v. 28).
  • Verse 31 confirms this:

ESV  Luke 16:31 He said to him, 'If they do not hear aMoses and the Prophets, dneither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.'"

Death for the believer was not their end.  Alive and Well!

ESV  Hebrews 12:23 and to athe assembly1 of the firstborn who are benrolled in heaven, and to cGod, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect,

Though they “did not receive what was promised,” they were still “commended” (v. 39).

  • Not failed missions.
  • Played the first half and there was always going to be a second.
  • There were rewards and victories.

“They did receive ‘promises’ plural 6:15 but not “the promise.” [Kent]

ESV  Hebrews 6:15 And thus Abraham,1 ahaving patiently waited, obtained the promise.

  • Experienced answers to many prayers and saw God fulfill His word numerous times.


c. They model how true faith perseveres all the way to death

Let us run through all the examples from verses 32-38.

  • “All” (v. 39) refers to entire list of examples in this chapter and more.
    • These listed in our text are representative of a larger number of godly persons in the OT era.


  • The preacher knows time and space do not allow for a detailed exposition.


i. In victories (vv. 32-35)

Not listed here in chronological order.

Listing first the person he thought more significant.

  • Barak (Judges 4-5) precedes Gideon (Judges 6-8).
  • Jephthah (Judges 11-12) precedes Samson (Judges 13-16).
  • Samuel (1 Samuel 1-28) precedes David (1 Samuel 16 – 2 Samuel 24).

“Prophets” as a category shows he could go on and on!

An underlying point of God’s grace begged in this list.

There are underlying weaknesses and sins that cannot be ignored.  

  • Barak, not brave enough to go to battle without Deborah (Judges 4:8).
  • Gideon lacking faith, asking for signs (Judges 6:36-40).
  • Gideon made an ephod catapulting Israel to sin (Judges 8:24-27).
  • Samson’s sexual sins, impulsive acts that are infamous (Judges 13-16).
  • Jephthah foolishly vowing to sacrifice his own daughter (11:30-31, 34-40).
  • Samuel had sons that did not turn out well and appointed them as judges anyway (1 Sam. 8:1-3).
  • David committed adultery with Bathsheba and murdered Uriah (2 Sam. 11).

Still, not any of these extreme sins and failures are not mentioned.

  • Their faith and trust in God are what is remembered!
  • Persevering faith is not the same thing as perfection.
  • One may sin dramatically and still persevere in faith.

Think of Samson.

  • Judges tell us the Lord had not abandoned him, despite his dalliance with Delilah.

ESV  Judges 16:22 But the hair of his head began to grow again after it had been shaved.

  • Samson put hands-on pillars but could do nothing if the Lord was not with him (Judges 16:25-30).
    • The story of Delilah tells us when the Lord was not with him he was useless.
    • Samson died trusting the Lord, despite his extreme failures.

Verse 33 builds beyond these weaknesses to what faith accomplishes!

  • Faith trusts in what cannot be seen, producing concrete effects in the real world!
  • Concrete ways!
  • The victory of Barak over Sisera (Judges 4-5).
  • Gideon’s faith over Midian with small odds (Judges 8-9).
  • Jephthah over the Ammonites (Judges 11-12).
  • Samson against Philistines (Judges 13-16).
  • Samuel had victory over the Philistines (1 Sam. 7).
  • David won battle after battle as a warrior and king of Israel.

Both Judges and Kings were responsible to administer “justice” (v. 33).

They “obtained [immediate] promises” through their victories against enemies.

  • Barak was promised victory over Sisera’s forces (Judges 4:6-7).
  • The angel of the Lord promised Gideon victory over Midian (Judges 6:12-16).
  • Samson was promised victory over Philistines (Judges 13:5).
  • David would be anointed as king (1 Sam. 16:13) and dynasty (2 Sam. 7).

Who “stopped the mouths of lions” (v. 33).

  • Samson tore apart a lion with his bare hands (Judges 14:6-7).
  • David killed lions threatening his flock (1 Sam. 17:34-36).
  • The lions did not tear Daniel apart when casting into the den (Dan. 6:19).

Faith trusts in God’s promises through high-risk situations.

Who “quenched the power of fire” (v. 34).

  • Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego defying Nebuchadnezzar.
    • They would not bow (Dan. 3).
    • When thrown into the fire, not burn even a hair of their heads was burned (Dan 3:16-18).

Who “escaped the edge of the sword” (v. 34).

  • Repeatedly, God’s people conquered in spite of the odds!
  • In weakness, Gideon triumphed (Judges 6-7).
  • The Lord put his people in desperate situations, to trust Him rather than themselves.

Who were the “Women [who] received their sons back from the dead?” (v. 35).

  • Elijah raised the widow of Zarephath’s son (1 Kings 17:17-23).
  • Elisha raised the Shunammite’s son after he died (2 Kgs 4:18-36).

“Tortured” from Greek word tumpanizo.

  • Same root as tympani, a kettledrum.
  • Tortured stretching someone over a large drum-like container, beating them with clubs.
    • People willing to be beaten to death rather than renouncing their faith.
    • Proving they are going to be raised “…again to a better life” (v. 35).

Those who suffer for God’s sake receive a “better resurrection” meaning better than the “sons” raised from death by the prophets.

  • They died and rose but would die again.
  • Their resurrection points to a better and permanent resurrection, a resurrection to a life that never ends.


ii. Through suffering (vv. 36-38)

After the great exploits and victories won through faith, he turns toward those who kept trusting God in the middle of suffering.

The mental-physical anguish of “mocking” (v. 36).

“They were stoned; they were sawn in two” (v. 37).

  • Jeremiah was “beaten” and put in “stocks” (Jer. 20:2; 37:15).
  • Zechariah was stoned to death for rebuking the people (2 Chron. 24:20-21).
  • Tradition tells us Jeremiah was stoned to death in Egypt.
  • Tradition also holds Isaiah was sawn in two.

“They went about in skins of sheep and goats” (v. 37).

  • The clothing of people of God (cf. 2 Kings 1:8) signifying poverty and being forsaken by society.
  • Poor, persecuted.

“Destitute, afflicted, mistreated” (v. 37).

  • Making a huge contrast with the world.

Obadiah took a hundred prophets and hid them by fifties in a cave and fed them bread and water (1 Kings 18:4).

“of whom the world was not worthy” (v. 38).

  • Those who seem to be misfits within this world, who really were!
  • In fact, this world was not worthy of them.


2. New Testament believers must finish what Old Testament believers began (v. 40)

“since God had provided something better for us…” (v. 40).

During our lifetime, we have something “better” than they had (v. 40a).

  • This word “better” used over and over again connotes a complete revelation and deeper and more immediate access to God through Christ.
  • We have a greater knowledge of the meaning of grace because we know the rest of the story of redemptive history.

We get a window into this reality when Jesus ascended Mount Transfiguration.

  • We are not going to take the time to open up the account from Matthew 17.
    • Only to say, that with Christ’s transfigured glorious state, Moses and Elijah were also physically there.
    • Pre-resurrected but foreshadowing the resurrection, recognizable, human, named, and interactive.


  • They specifically were there to represent how the Law and the Prophets were all pointing to Jesus.

ESV  Luke 24:27 And abeginning with bMoses and call the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

ESV  1 Peter 1:10-12 Concerning this salvation, athe prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11 inquiring awhat person or time bthe Spirit of Christ in them was indicating cwhen he predicted dthe sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.12 aIt was revealed to them that bthey were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you cby the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, dthings into which angels long to look.


Old Testament saints are in heaven currently awaiting consummation, awaiting resurrection.

a. We are responsible to finish the great commission (v. 40b)

“…that apart from us they should not be made perfect” (v. 40).

This is a fairly confusing statement on the face.

  • The key is to understand that the term “perfect” means the resurrection.

A brief survey of “perfect” or “perfection” from Hebrews simply states that it is “eternal” and “forever” (5:9, 7:28), maturity (6:1), cleansing of sin and conscience (9:9), not through the priesthood or Law but through Christ only (7:11, 19; 10:1; 10:14), by faith (12:2).

So, if Christ is the one and only one who makes someone perfect then what do we have to do with an Old Testament saint being “made perfect”? (v. 40).

You have to understand that we will be made finally perfect at the resurrection!

  • When Christ returns, the dead in Christ will rise!
    • That event is the resurrection of those who have died.
    • Everyone who is in heaven now and up until Christ returns.


  • In addition, we will meet them in the air.
  • This is the resurrection.

ESV  1 Thessalonians 4:16 For athe Lord himself will descend bfrom heaven cwith a cry of command, with the voice of dan archangel, and ewith the sound of the trumpet of God. And fthe dead in Christ will rise first.


This should be connected to the term, “glorification.”


ESV  Romans 8:30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also ajustified, and those whom he justified he also bglorified.


This all comes under the category of the consummation that we are looking forward to as we run our race!  Our finish line!

The best way to understand how this all works is to take a peek at the first two verses of Hebrews 12.

  • Hebrews 12:1-2 begins with the words “Therefore” tying everything to what we have just been talking about.
  • Verse 1 goes on to say, “since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses...let us run!” (Heb. 12:1).
    • The picture is a marathon where we as New Testament Christians are running the second half of this race!
    • The finish line is coming into view and along the sidelines, there is a “great cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12:1).

Looking back to verse 40, you see the phrase “that apart from us they…” (v. 40).

  • Who are the “us they?”
    • The “us” is us!
    • The “they” are them.
    • Whom we have been learning about in Hebrews 11.
    • Old Covenant Saints!
    • They are cheering us on to finish this up!


  • Matthew 28:18-20 and Acts 1:8 and 2 Peter 3:12 (“…waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God”) all point to our mission, our race we are currently running.

ESV  Hebrews 10:25 anot neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and ball the more as you see cthe Day drawing near.

We too are looking future, toward the consummation.

  • In one sense, New Testament believers have received all of the Gospel.
    • The D, B, R,
    • We look back to the same hope the Old Testament believers looked forward to.
    • Every believer from every era stands in the same grace and together anticipates consummation!

ESV  Matthew 20:16 So athe last will be first, and the first last." (Mat 20:16 ESV)

  • The point is that we ultimately finish the race together!

Philipps translation: “All these won a glowing testimony to their faith, but they did not then and there receive the fulfillment of the promise.  God had something better planned for our day, and it was not his plan that they should reach perfection without us.”

During their lifetime, which was during their race, Old Testament saints did not have the “completed” revelation we have.

  • They then did not know how the story would end!
  • Their access had limitations.
  • Nevertheless, they persevered “by the exact same faith” that we have.

“The strength of their faith is seen in the fact that during their lifetime they still received not the promise.” [Kent]

Persevering by faith no matter the cost is Christianity.

  • Whether you are an athlete or not you are running.
  • Competing has been explained to me as “ruling your own universe!”
    • Victory is measured within your own life circumstances.
    • You may have to overcome your health, your financial pressure, your persecution.

Every believer, no matter who you are, or where you come from, should feel the encouragement from these heroes!

All of these men and women presently shout for your success!

“Keep going” “We did it to the death!”

“Don’t quit” “God has put more in you then he allows to come on you, so you can bear it up!”

“Don’t quit” “So we can finish this race together!”

“Keep running” “We will celebrate consummation together!”

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