Faith Heroes: Honorable Mentions

The creation of an ordered cosmos, with a uniquely prepared earth for us, implies divine purpose and validates faith in God’s progressive revelation of Himself, despite human rebellion and rejection. The Hebrews writer has sketched a panorama of faith in God and His promises from the dawn of human history in individuals and then a nation through whom He will fulfil His ultimate redemptive purpose toward men. As conquering Israel entered its appointed inheritance, divine grace received a Rahab.

Great Triumphs of Faith – Divine Interventions (vv32-35a)

The writer pauses and exclaims, “What more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets” (v32).[1] The list goes on and on; each life of faith is worthy to be remembered and recounted for its witness to God’s principles, His power and His promise.

Those mentioned encompass the remainder of Old Testament history. A few comments about each will suffice to remind us that whether in favorable or difficult times, faith is essential to victory and pleasing God. Sadly, Israel, in their inheritance, quickly abandoned faithfulness to God and were overcome by their enemies. When they cried to God, He raised up judges as deliverers of His people. As a young man, Gideon sought to preserve what he could for God’s people from the Midianite oppressors. Though hesitant in his initial steps of faith, of which his fleece remains a reminder, Gideon was brought to rely upon God alone, not human might or wisdom, and a great deliverance was achieved. For a number of years, there was respite and a measure of recovery from idolatry.

Barak was another hesitant leader, unwilling to go without the prophetess Deborah. Yet through her words from the Lord and her stirring counsel, he was brought to action, and the Lord used him to deliver His people from Sisera and his iron chariots (“out of weakness were made strong,” v34).

In the days of Samson, the Israelites were so intimidated under Philistine rule that they never rallied behind him, despite his exploits, even handing him over to his enemies! Samson himself remains a paradox of supernatural strength through Nazarite separation, with the Spirit of the Lord upon him but betrayed by his own fleshly weakness. His tragic failure with Delilah left him blind and bound (Israel’s deliverer? in a Philistine prison?). Yet in his final crisis, he calls upon God. Faith is heard, and more were slain at his death than in his lifetime of exploits. He served alone, fought God’s enemies alone, and died alone (“became valiant … turned to flight the armies of the aliens,” v34).

Jephthah enters the narrative with a tragic family past, and leaves the record with family tragedy haunting him again (Jdg 11). Returning from exile, he made a costly vow before the Lord, and the Lord granted him victory over the Ammonites, delivering Israel from their oppression.

There are many examples in the life of David of faith and courage in battle, of faith in God in all his extremities and dangers, of faith and love expressed in worship and praise. His faith in God developed early in life, preparing him to be Israel’s deliverer from the giant Goliath and the Philistine army. David brought Israel out from under oppression and established a powerful kingdom with supremacy over their enemies (“subdued kingdoms,” v33).

Samuel is an amazing link in the history of Israel: he closed the period of the judges, and introduced the period of the kings, anointing Saul, then David. Samuel was, in his amazing career, a judge, a deliverer, acting priest, and prophet. The faith of his mother Hannah was replicated in him, and Samuel was used of God to bring about a far higher standard of righteousness in the leadership of God’s people than witnessed under Eli and his two wicked sons (“worked righteousness,” v33).

An illustrious line of faithful prophets of God is on record, each bringing something of God’s presence and purposes into the midst of His people, often in very adverse conditions. God revealed glimpses of His final purposes, while also dealing with immediate issues.

The victories of faith listed (vv33-35a) embrace all areas of life, and trigger memories of many thrilling Old Testament stories of God’s interventions on behalf of those who trusted Him, even His power over death itself. Should it be a surprise that “women received their dead raised to life again” (v35; 1Ki 17; 2Ki 4)?

Great Trials of Faith – No Divine Intervention (11:35b-38)

While the life of faith may seem adventurous and thrilling (in vv32-35a), faith may result in conflict, persecution and suffering at the hands of the enemies of God. Instead of death being revoked, others went into death under extreme torture in faithfulness to the living God. “Not accepting deliverance” (v35b) means that they would not compromise to escape, as offered by their tormentors, looking beyond death to “a better resurrection.” What does this imply? God will recompense suffering and loyalty for His Name. Other faithful believers have been exposed to cruel contempt and whippings, and have been thrown into prison and held in confinement (v36).

Jewish tradition holds that Isaiah was sawn apart by the wicked king Manasseh; other prophets were also murdered (Act 7:52). The path of faith has always included martyrs and suffering saints. Some were forced to flee for their lives, leaving everything behind and existing as wandering vagabonds, clothed in animal skins, being “destitute, afflicted, tormented” (vv37-38).  We who have peaceful and secure conditions of life can hardly enter into the pathos of these verses (“of whom the world was not worthy,” v38). So despised, humiliated and oppressed on earth were these individuals, yet they were the nobility of heaven, and approved of God (v39).

God’s Pleasure and Pledge – Final Perfection (11:39-40)

Though now safe and at rest in the divine presence as “the spirits of just men made perfect” (12:23), these heroes of faith are still waiting for the ultimate fulfilment of God’s promise, because we, as “the church of the firstborn [ones]” (12:23), take priority in God’s great program. Christ will bring us to final perfection first at the Rapture of the Church. Resurrection is an important part of God’s eternal purpose for man, as is reigning with Christ. They cannot receive their completeness until we receive it! This is the delightful assurance given to weary Jewish Christians under persecution from their fellow countrymen. May we also endure in our faith till He comes!

[1] All Scripture quotations in this article are from the NKJV.