We should not expect to have pleasant, easy, and comfortable lives through faith, and suffering is not a sign of little faith. Indeed, to be like our Lord, we are called to take up our cross and follow Him. But in so doing, we ought to rejoice because just as Christ triumphed through the cross so now does He lead His church to triumph through suffering.
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. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.
Hebrews 11:32-40 ESV
As we come to the conclusion of Hebrews 11 and its marvelous survey of the Old Testament saints who lived and died by faith, we ought to once again ground ourselves in context. Again, the key verse of chapter 11 is actually found at the end of chapter 10, where after citing Habakkuk 2:3-4, the author exhorts: “But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls” (10:39). Chapters 3-4 already gave us an example of those who shrank back in fear and were destroyed. The exodus generation of Israelites rebelled against the Yahweh, who proved His might and provision to them over and over again, because they were afraid of the giants within the land of Canaan. On this side of the sermon-letter’s central focus upon the priestly work of Christ, the preacher has been giving us example after example of those who have faith and preserve their souls. He wants to flood his readers with these heroes of the faith because their own faith shall be tested by the crucible of persecution. These were all regular men and women, not superhuman demigods like the pagan heroes, who by looking by faith for the heavenly city that is to come received the greatest prize in all the cosmos: the commendation of their Creator.
And the question that this chapter and the entire sermon-letter sets before us is: Will we do likewise? When push comes to shove, will we shrink back in fear like the exodus generation, or will we have faith and receive the commendation of our Father?
Of Judges, Kings, & Prophets// Verse 32
As we have already seen in 9:5, the author of Hebrews is fully aware of his time constraints. Although he would have enjoyed working through every piece of furnishing in the tabernacle to show how each pointed forward to the coming of Christ, he kept his focus on the goal of his sermon-letter and continued on. A similar point has now been reached in our present chapter. After working his way from Abel to Rahab (skipping already many more examples of faithfulness that could have been told), the author now seems to catch himself from going further, realizing his need to wrap up this discourse on faith:
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–
Moving on from Joshua, which recorded the events described in verses 30-31, the author now gives a list of six names, four from Judges and two from 1-2 Samuel. He then ends by saying “and the prophets,” which was large number of men who served from the time of David onward.
By faith, Gideon, Barak, Samson, and Jephthah were each judges of Israel after the conquest of Canaan and before there was a king in Israel. The Book of Judges is an unpleasant book because it describes the gradual descent of Israel into wickedness as great or even greater than the nations around them. That descent is recorded through downward cycles of sin and rescue. In each cycle, Israel worships false gods, God gives Israel into the hand of an enemy, Israel cries out for rescue, God raises up a judge to deliver them, and the cycle repeats. Thus, each of these men were raised up by God during a time of great crisis and defeat in Israel, and all were given victory over their enemies through the strength of the LORD.
Gideon is probably the best example. He prepared to fight the Midianites with 32,000 men, but Yahweh commanded him to let those who were afraid go home. So 22,000 left. Yet God further whittled those 10,000 down to only 300 so that all would have to confess that victory came from the hand of Yahweh. By faith, Gideon obeyed the commands of God and delivered God’s people from their enemy. The same was also true of Barak, Samson, and Jephthah. They each obtained victories in battle because they believed God’s words to them and responded in obedience.
Of course, the examples of the faith of David and Samuel would be a lengthy list in itself. Samuel was faithful to God’s command even when it meant defying the highly unstable King Saul. David’s devotion to the LORD earned Him the distinction of being called a man after God’s own heart.
Yet as with everyone else in this chapter, these six men were not always faithful. After his victory over the Midianites and after rejecting the people’s demand for him to rule over them, Gideon made a ephod of gold, “and all Israel whored after it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and to his family” (Judges 8:27).
Although Barak did conquer kingdoms and put armies to flight by faith, his was a weak faith that was dependent upon Deborah, who was the actual judge of Israel at that time. And because of his wavering faith, the glory of his victory was given to another woman named Jael.
Jephthah was not any better. After his victory, he made a vow to offer whatever greeted him upon returning home to the Yahweh, but his daughter came to him rather than any of his animals. Rather than repent of his foolish vow, he offered his daughter as a burnt offering to the LORD, which revealed that he did not know God’s law or else he would have remembered Deuteronomy 12:29-32:
When the LORD your God cuts off before you the nations whom you go in to dispossess, and you dispossess them and dwell in their land, take care that you be not ensnared to follow them, after they have been destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire about their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods?–that I also may do the same.’ You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way, for every abominable thing that the LORD hates they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods. Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it.
Samson is perhaps the weakest in faith of the bunch. Although he was used by the LORD to fight back the mighty Philistines, he mostly seems to fight for his own self-interest. Even as he made his final prayer for renewed strength after having his eyes gouged out, he prayed, “O Lord GOD, please remember me and please strengthen me only this once, O God, that I may be avenged on the Philistines for my two eyes” (Judges 16:28).
David succeeded were Saul failed, both in good and in evil. The LORD was his chief glory and delight, yet the great king still sinned. He committed adultery with the wife of one of his most faithful servants and attempted to cover up his sin by sending Uriah on a suicide mission, just as Saul once tried to do to David.
While we are not told of any explicit sins on Samuel’s part, we do read about his sons that they “did not walk in his ways but turned aside after gain. They took bribes and perverted justice” (1 Samuel 8:3). Thus, for all of Samuel’s faithfulness, the overt wickedness of his sons would have likely left him unqualified to serve as an elder of a church under the new covenant.
What are we to make of such broken examples of faith?