The Heroes of Faith: For further Consideration.

‘And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection.’ (Hebrews 11:32-35a).

By the time we get to verse 32 of this magnificent chapter the writer infers he could give many more examples – as if he was saying: “Well, I’d love to go on – there are so many people from our heritage who showed considerable faith, but, I’ve made my point – do I need to say more?!”  The writer knows, however, that lessons can be learned from these examples, and therefore, he encourages his readers to think about them – especially as some reflected ‘far-from-prefect’ faith!

Gideon was hesitant, demanding signs from the Lord then being so afraid, he carried out the Lord’s first command by night (Judges 6)!  Barak would not lead the army into battle without the prophetess Deborah to hold his hand (in a metaphorical sense), and so, he forfeited the glory of a victorious commander (Judges 4:6-9)!  Samson may have had a body that matched Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime, but, most of the time, he had the mind-set of an adolescent!  As for Jephthah, he may have been a mighty warrior, but he had a big mouth, and made silly vows that others paid for (Judges 11:29-40)![1]  Could it be any clearer?  These people failed as much as they displayed faith, but God used them despite of this!  Samuel and David do not quite come into this category, although David had his failings, and Samuel may have made some of Eli’s mistakes and neglected to discipline his sons (1 Samuel 8:3).  David’s inclusion maybe more to do with prophecy, as his name is linked with Samuel and other unnamed prophets.

But the point is the Lord worked mighty acts though these people, whether it was by the delivering or ruling of his people.  The curious phrase: ‘stopped the mouths of lions’ is probably a reference to Daniel (Daniel 6), although Samson also had a memorable encounter with a lion (Judges 14: 5-6).  As Raymond Brown points out: ‘All six men were vastly different in human personality, social circumstances and spiritual opportunity, yet, it in various ways God used them.  He did not press them into an identical mould or demand the same response from each of them.’[2]  The reference to: ‘fire’ undoubtedly refers to Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and their encounter with the fiery furnace (Daniel 3:8-27).  The phrase; ‘escaped the edge of the sword’ could easily apply to David whose life was under threat at various times before and during his reign.  However, it could also apply to others as it: ‘sums up a wide range of violent action’ and: ‘the phrase is a familiar one in the Old Testament.’[3]  Being: ‘made strong out of weakness’ might apply to King Hezekiah’s prayer for healing (2 Kings 20:1-11) and the beginning of verse 35 to the many mighty acts by those in the book of Judges or the establishment of a strong kingdom under David.  Elijah and Elisha’s ministries are clearly referenced with the phrase: ‘Women receive back their dead by resurrection’ as both of their ministries were marked by this mighty miracle indicating their considerable faith (1 Kings 17:17-24 and 2 Kings 4:18-37).

But once again the writer has reminded his readers that God works even through imperfect faith.  What a major encouragement to those who were wavering in their faith and were thinking of returning to their former Jewish beliefs.  They were to keep going and trust the Lord!

Want to listen to a sermon on this passage? Conquering Faith, Imperfect Faith, Suffering Faith, what Faith Achieves.

[1] As you can imagine much ink has been committed to paper about Jephthah’s vow.  Did he really sacrifice his daughter or was she subjected to perpetual virginity because of this rash vow?  The tragedy was that the Law did allow him a way out (Leviticus 6:2-7).  There are commentators on both sides of the argument that I respect greatly.  I personally think that it was quite possibly perpetual virginity due to his daughter’s statement and behaviour in Judges 11:36-40.  However, these were dark and desperate times when men did dark and desperate things and the passage can easily be read and understood the other way as well!

[2] Raymond Brown, The Message of Hebrews, Christ Above All, The Bible Speaks Today(Leicester, Inter-Varsity Press, 1982), 221.

[3]Donald Guthrie, The Letter to the Hebrews, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Leicester, Inter-Varsity Press, 1983), 244.

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *