7 Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says,
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion,
on the day of testing in the wilderness,
where your fathers put me to the test
and saw my works for forty years.
19 So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.
2 For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened (Heb 3:7-9,18; 4:2).
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 3 By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. 7 By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen… 13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar… 27 By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible (Heb 11:1,3,7,13,27).
Heb 11 invites an implicit comparison and contrast with Heb 3-4. I think the author likely intends us to read Heb 11 against the backdrop of Heb 3-4. These are two groups of people. In a sense, two types of people.
And the author presents a paradoxical twofold contrast between them. On the one hand, the Exodus generation did far less with greater evidence while the faithful did far more with lesser evidence.
In other words, it's not that both groups basically had the same evidence, but one responded in faith while the other responded with disbelief. It's not just a contrast between the faithful and the faithless. For there's an irony to the contrast. Those who do so much less with so much more over against those who do so much more with so much less.
On the one hand, the Exodus generation witnessed God's miraculous works over a span of 40 years. The plagues. Passage through the Red Sea. Manna from heaven. Water from rocks. The pillar of fire. Signs on Mt. Sinai. As well as miraculous judgments when they sinned. They had sustained exposure to God's existence, presence, and power. God's public miracles. Spectacular miracles. Repeated miracles. Yet they remain faithless from start to finish.
On the other hand, the faithful generally have less evidence to work with. Oblique evidence. Or even apparent counterevidence.
The Exodus generation saw plenty, but believed little. The faithful see nothing directly, yet they forge ahead, one step at a time.
For instance, the creation is visible, but the Creator is invisible. The source of the world is the invisible word of the invisible God.
And even though words are audible, the author's audience wasn't present during the creation week to hear God's creative word. They can only judge by the effect as well as the written record.
Even more to the point, they live by hope and faith in God's promise. But the reward is invisible. That's because the promised reward is a postmortem reward. The living cannot see it. It is out of sight because you must die before it comes into view.
They live in the present with a view to the future. But the future is naturally unforeseeable. You can't see the future with physical eyes. By revelation, God can give you a preview, yet most Christians must muddle along without that foresight. Instead, they live in hope.
But it's not just the inevident nature of the reward. There are obstacles to faith. Challenges to the faithful. Persecution. Set-backs.
But unlike the ill-fated Exodus-generation, the faithful press ahead. Persevere. Cross the finish-line.