The word for “commendation” here is a bit elusive to me. The original Greek word means “to be a witness, to bear witness, i.e. to affirm that one has seen or heard or experienced something”. So some scholars say the idea communicated here is that these “people of old” had witness borne TO them because of their faith, the idea possibly being that because of their faith, these people experienced revelation of knowledge about God. However the English word often used to translate this word is “commendation” or something similar, implying that because of their faith they were in some way positively labeled by God.
The King James takes a middle road approach saying “they obtained a good report”, which could mean that they either heard a good report about God in the form of revelation, or that good things were reported about them because of their faith.
In the Hebrew language and writing style, it is often the case that multiple, non-contradictory meanings are intended, so this may be the case here in a book written by a Hebrew, for Hebrews.
The Greek word translated “the universe” here more literally means “the ages”. This seems significant to me, since it includes not just all that is and has been but time itself as a creation of God. Scientists have since come to agree that time itself has a beginning, which would seem to once again place the word of God ahead of the curve when it comes to our understanding of life and the realities around us.
In this immediate context, the author seems to be refuting an idea circulating in the first century that there was no God and yet there WAS some kind of “creation” event. The author affirms the creation event and identifies its source as God. This perception and understanding comes, as the author says, because of faith.
People often think of faith as something we hold on to when we don't understand something. And at times that's certainly true when life hits the fan. But as the author points out here, faith also facilitates understanding. For example, there are many scholars who subscribe to very late dating of the Old Testament books. But as we track down the specific reasons they give for dating the books these ways the logic is flimsy and the reasoning manufactured out of a seeming desire to deny the possibility of predictive prophecy and other miraculous events described in the Bible. But as faith allows for even the possibility of the miraculous, self-imposed mental barriers are destroyed and data comes together to reveal things that should have been more obvious before.
While Cain simply brought an offering of “the fruit of the ground”(Genesis 4:3) to give to Yahweh, Abel more specifically and sacrificially gave “the firstborn of his flock”(4:4). The very first “profit” Abel gained from his work as a shepherd he gave to God. By not protectively clinging to his first profits, Abel showed trust that God would provide for him. He also communicated something about the worth of God by giving something so precious.
Because Abel gave in this way, God considered him to be “righteous”, meaning that he was fulfilling the standards set forth by God. It wasn't the gift itself, but the trust and love it communicated that counted as “righteousness”. And this example of “faith” still speaks to us today.
Unlike the trends in sci-fi storytelling that present faith as a barrier to knowledge and discovery, faith in what God has revealed actually allows us to think and perceive more clearly, understanding reality better.
And although it may be a tendency among us geeks to keep a tight grip on our hobbies and comforts, faith also results in love and risk-taking sacrifice for God.