Moses is the second major example in this chapter of faith. The life of Moses is introduced and concluded by two actions of defiance to the king. His parents hid Moses when he was born because “they were not afraid of the king’s edict” (Heb. 11:23, ESV), and Moses left Egypt, “not being afraid of the anger of the king” (Heb. 11:27, ESV). The most significant action of Moses, however, was that he “refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter” (Heb. 11:24). The reference to Moses’ adoptive mother as “Pharaoh’s daughter” suggests that he was slated to be the next Pharaoh. Moses, however, was willing to leave behind the prospect of becoming the ruler of the most powerful nation at that time and to become, instead, the leader of newly freed slaves—refugees, actually.
The greatness of Moses was that he was able to see beyond the promises of the king of Egypt and look toward the unseen, namely, the promises of God. Hebrews says the key was that Moses’ sight was fixed on “the reward,” not on the riches of Egypt. This reward is the same reward mentioned in Hebrews 10:35, which God has promised to all who believe in Him.
Paul’s words about Moses’ decision must have echoed powerfully in the hearts of his original readers. They had been enduring reproaches and insults because of their faith in Christ. They had also been afflicted and lost their possessions (Heb. 10:32–34). Some were in prison (Heb. 13:3). In parallel, Moses chose to be mistreated with God’s people, exchanging the wealth of Egypt for bearing the insults associated with Christ because he believed that the reward of Christ was greater than whatever Egypt could offer.
Rahab is probably the most unexpected character whom we find in Hebrews 11. Rahab is one of two women mentioned by name. She is the tenth in the list, the first nine being forefathers and patriarchs of Israel, and each one was regarded as being righteous. When we come to her, we find that she is not only a woman but also a Gentile prostitute.
The most surprising thing is that she is also the thematic center and climax of the chapter. The list is organized in a unique way. Each entry begins with the repetitive use of the phrase “by faith.” The basic pattern is “By faith So-and-so did such-and-such” or “By faith such-and-such happened to So-and-so.” This repetitive pattern increases the expectation in the reader to hear the climactic assertion that “by faith Joshua led the people into the promised land.”
But that’s not what the text says. Instead, Joshua is passed over, and the prostitute takes his place. After the mention of Rahab, the repetitive pattern ends abruptly with, “And what more shall I say?” (Heb. 11:32, NKJV). Then, Paul hurriedly lists some names and events that he does not explain in detail.
Rahab’s deed of faith was that she heard, believed, confessed, and obeyed, even though she did not see. She did not see the plagues of Egypt, or the deliverance in the Red Sea, or water flow from the rock, or bread descend from heaven; yet, she believed. She was a good exemplar for the audience of Hebrews, who did not hear Jesus preach or see Him do a miracle, and for us as well, who did not see any of these things either.
Paul then continues (Heb. 11:35–38) with a list of the hardships many faced. The phrase “refusing to accept release” (Heb. 11:35, ESV) implies that they had the possibility to escape but chose not to, because their sight was on the reward of God.