Well, we have the opportunity tonight to look again at Hebrews chapter 11. Hebrews chapter 11. We have come to the end of this great faith chapter; it is monumental for a number of reasons. It is a monumental case laid for a relationship with God based on faith and not works.
It is monumental as well because it gives us a kind of summary of the Old Testament. It kind of sweeps us through from the family of Adam all the way through the prophets, which brings us virtually down to the New Testament. It is somewhat like the sermon of Stephen, early in the book of Acts, where he summarizes the history of God’s working in Israel. Here, similarly, there is this summary, and the emphasis is on the necessity of faith to have a true relationship to God. Let’s read the verses that we’ll be looking at again tonight.
Verse 30, “By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish along with those who were disobedient, after she had welcomed the spies in peace.
“And what more shall I Say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground.
“And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us so that apart from us they would not be made perfect” – or complete.
Now, as you know, if you’ve been with us - and if you haven’t, I’ll try to give you enough of a summary to catch you up – the Holy Spirit, in this wonderful epistle to the Hebrews, is making a concentrated effort to convince the readers, and anybody else who will read this through history, of the necessity of faith as the only way to God. There are only two possibilities. Either you come to God by faith alone or you don’t. Fair enough? And if you don’t come by faith alone, then you come some other way, and you’re left with some form of works system. You either are saved by faith alone apart from works, or you’re saved by some degree of works. The Bible rejects all works as a way of salvation and leaves us only with the concept of faith.
Faith is believing what God has said simply because He has said it. And in particular, believing Him about what He says about a relationship to Him, that it is available to those who repent of their sin and put their trust in His grace and His mercy. Even in the Old Testament, people, to be saved, had to acknowledge their sin and then come to God and plead for the mercy and the grace which He promised to offer the penitent sinner.
At any point in redemptive history, salvation is always by that kind of faith. Even before the cross, they were believing God that He would give forgiveness and mercy and grace to the sinner who repented and believed in Him, even though they did not yet know the reality of the cross. On this side, our faith embraces the work of Christ in His death and resurrection, but it is still faith.
Now, here is the dilemma. In the New Testament period, as you know, the gospel breaks on the scene in Israel. Most particularly, it is antithetical to the religious establishment and the established religion. Judaism, by the time of our Lord, and really long before that, had become a works system. It had been embellished with all kinds of manmade rules by the hundreds, and people were under the illusion that you work your way to God. It’s not apart from faith, but it’s faith plus your own efforts. You believe in God, you believe in what God has said, but that doesn’t complete the transaction. You have to accomplish certain things, achieve certain things morally, spiritually, and even ceremonially.
When the gospel of grace and the gospel of faith came along, the Jews heard it as if it was an alien message. Because they had been so well trained on works. To come along with this idea that salvation is by faith alone, and that reconciliation with God, forgiveness of sin, and entrance into the kingdom of God and the hope of eternal heaven is a matter of faith and nothing more seemed to them to be a corrupted message. They were convinced that your works and keeping of the Law – therefore a kind of legalistic system – was the way into God’s kingdom.
And so, when the gospel came along, they were offended by it. And the more invested they were in the works system, the more offended they were – and the most invested were the leaders of the system in Israel, and therefore they were the most hostile to Jesus and the gospel of grace and faith.
Well, of course, the New Testament unfolds the significance of salvation and reconciliation with God by faith alone. There are still some Jews who are having trouble getting the point. And the writer of Hebrews understands that because this letter is written to a community of Jews presumably somewhere in – perhaps in the land of Israel. It is to show them that the way of faith is not an alien message; it is not a new message. It is a very old message. To be reconciled to God, you must abandon your works and you must come by faith alone. Faith willingly admits inability and comes to God believing that He is merciful and will save the penitent sinner who believes in Him and in His grace and mercy.
Now, how can the writer of Hebrews prove the point that salvation has always been by faith and never by works? Answer: go back to the very beginning of redemptive history, of biblical history, of human history and look at what we find. He starts with the family of Adam in verse 4 and talks about the faith of Abel, and then in verse 5, the faith of Enoch - two familiar characters in the early chapters of Genesis.
Still in the early chapters of Genesis in verse 7, he talks about the faith of Noah. Still in the early chapters of Genesis he talks about the faith of Abraham and gives a rather extensive treatment to Abraham’s life. And then he talks, starting in verse 20, about the faith of Isaac, and in verse 21 about the faith of Jacob, and in verse 22 about the faith of Joseph; those are the patriarchs – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. And they take up the book of Genesis.
And then you come into the book of Exodus, and he refers to the faith of Moses. And, of course, Moses’ story sweeps through the book of Exodus. Moses then also becomes the author of the Pentateuch, the opening five books of the Old Testament.
Then he comes - having left behind the patriarchs in Genesis, and Moses in the book of Exodus and the rest of the Pentateuch, he moves to the next group, starting in verse 30. This group of people moves us into the book of, if you will, Joshua and Judges and begins the trek through the books of history in the Old Testament. And he points out here that by faith the walls of Jericho fell; by faith Rahab – you remember the harlot in Jericho – was not terrified by the threat against her life if she hid the spies, but believed in the true God against very, very challenging potential circumstances.
And then he moves on from there to what we’re going to look at today in verse 32 and following, and that’s where we left off. Here we sweep through the – basically the history of the Old Testament, all the way to the end. We start with the judges: Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah. We touch on the kings: David. We touch on the first of the prophets since Moses really: Samuel. And then we sweep through the prophets with just an identification of the prophets. And then following that, there are all kinds of statements made about the kind of suffering that they endured. And in every case, their faith stood the test.
So, the point of the writer is to show us that redemptive history has always made clear that salvation is by faith. The intensity of the chapter is starting to ramp up, however. When we look at Abel and Enoch and Noah; and we look at Abraham; and we look at Moses; we look at Isaac and Jacob and Joseph; we look at the children of Israel, at the walls of Jericho; we look at Rahab, there are significant events going on in which they demonstrate their faith.
But when we get into chapter 11, verse 32, there’s a level of intensity that is added because their faith is now tested in the crucible of a life-and-death situation. A life-and-death situation. And what I read you from verse 32 to verse 40 indicates that this is life-and-death kind of faith. This is where faith is tested at its highest level in the crucible of severe threats.
Now, backing up a little bit, before we go into the text, years before this letter was written, the gospel of Christ had come to this group of people. We don’t know how many years; we don’t know what group of people it is. It’s a group of Hebrews, obviously. But years before the letter was written – and we don’t even know who wrote the letter – the gospel came to this group of people. And if you go back to chapter 2 and verse 3, we learn there how the gospel came to them. Verse 3 of chapter 2, “How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard.” In other words, this gospel was given to this community of Jews by the people who were with Jesus. This is a first-hand, eyewitness account of the gospel passed on to these people. And they weren’t just people who were with Jesus. Verse 4 says, “Their testimony was accompanied by signs and wonders and various miracles” – now who would they then be? Who would the preachers be? Well, according to 2 Corinthians 12:12, “Signs and wonders and miracles are the signs of an apostle.”
So, here is a community of believers who have been with Christ, who have been commissioned by Christ, who in fact are the apostles of Christ who have come to this community of Jews and preached to them the gospel of Christ. And the preaching has been attended by signs and wonders and miracles and manifest gifts of the Holy Spirit.
These people, then, were the recipients of a powerful presentation to be sure. Some in this Jewish community, wherever it was, this Jewish town – some had believed, some believed and opened their hearts and received the message of the apostles and received Christ as Lord and Savior. And we can even assume that their experience with the apostles was after the cross and after the resurrection. So, they heard the full message of the new covenant gospel. Some of them believed it. Some of them fully, genuinely embraced it and formed a church, an ekklēsia.
There were others who were impressed, intellectually convinced, who understood the gospel to some degree, who were drawn to it, who were attracted to it, who associated with the church. This would be consistent with what our Lord said, that the wheat and the tares would grow together – right? You would have believers and nonbelievers in the same environment that would be very difficult to separate. There are people who are interested but not genuinely converted.
So, there were these people, associated with the true believers, who had not truly left their works system behind. They had not come all the way to faith in Christ. Well, this little group of Jews that formed this church, this community, both genuine believers and those associated and interested nonbelievers, apparently came under persecution, which we know to be the case – right? Jesus said it, “In this world you’ll have tribulation. Don’t be surprised if they treat you the way they treated Me. Don’t be surprised if they hate you; they hated Me.”
So, we understand that persecution certain broke out against these communities of believers very early, even in the age of the apostles. In fact, even to the point that the apostles were martyred.
So, when this group of Christians and associates became persecuted, that raised the stakes on being a Christian. The true believers had the faith that endures. The true believers were hanging in there. But the superficial nonbelievers, those who were merely associated and attracted but not genuine, were in danger of leaving. They could be described, I think, pretty easily by the rocky soil or the weedy soil of our Lord’s soils parable. There was an appearance of life, but it wasn’t going to last, especially when the persecution started. They were in danger, then, of going backward, back into their Judaism.
And so, throughout this letter, there are repeated calls to them not to do that. And I just read you one back in chapter 2, verse 3, “How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” In other words, don’t neglect – you’ve come this far, don’t neglect this salvation which was preached by the apps, confirmed by miracles. That’s the first warning. They’re warned again, in chapter 3, verse 7, “Just as the Holy Spirit says, ‘Today if you hear His voice, don’t harden your heart as when they provoked Me, as in the day of trial in the wilderness, where your fathers tried Me by testing Me, and saw my works for forty years.’” In other words, don’t be like that recalcitrant, unbelieving group of Israelites who were stuck in the wilderness for 40 years because of their unbelief.
Verse 12, “Take care, brethren” – Jewish brethren – “that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God.” You want to be a true partaker of Christ. Verse 14, “Holding fast” – firm – “to the end.” So, these are warnings.
There are more such warnings in chapter 4. The most familiar warning comes in chapter 6 – in chapter 6, verse 4, “For in the case of those who have once been enlightened” – that’s to have your mind illuminated to know the information – “and have tasted the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good Word of God, and the powers of the age to come.
Now, let’s just stop there. What is this? Who are these people? Who is he describing? Who has been enlightened? Who has tasted the heavenly gift? Who’s been made a partaker of the Holy Spirit? Who’s tasted the good Word of God and the powers of the age to come? Well, please notice none of those terms are ever used anywhere in the Bible to describe salvation. None of them. It doesn’t talk about regeneration, new birth, conversion, justification, salvation, sanctification. These are the words used to describe the experience of those who heard the apostles and saw their miracles and signs and wonders. In that sense, they were enlightened. In that sense they tasted the heavenly gift; they tasted the powers of heaven. They were made partakers of the power of the Holy Spirit coming through the apostles and the signs and wonders and gifts of the Spirit. They tasted the good Word of God, and they tasted the powers of the age to come. That is all those miracle powers which one day, in the age to come, the millennial kingdom will be in full display. They were tasters, not consumers; can we put it that way?
The warning comes, then, in verse 6, “If you have then fallen away, it’s impossible to renew them again to repentance.” In other words, if you have heard the apostolic gospel; if you’ve heard the message of Christ, you have understood it, you are enlightened; you’ve seen the power display by the apostles and the power of the Holy Spirit; all of that is in your experience, and you turn your back, you can’t be renewed to repentance. Why? Because you can’t have any more exposure revelation than that. So, the warning is don’t turn your back on it; you’ll become an apostate if you reject full revelation, and you’ll be guilty of again crucifying the Son of God and putting Him to open shame.
There’s another warning in chapter 10 and verse 26, “If we go on sinning willfully” – and the sin – willful sin here is unbelief – “if we go on sinning willfully” – we Jews – “after receiving the knowledge of the truth” – if you know the truth, you know it fully, you’ve seen it, you’ve seen the display – the undergirding display of the Holy Spirit miracle power that attests to the validity of the message preached by the – if you go on in your sinful unbelief willingly – “then there is no longer any sacrifice for sins.” There’s no other salvation, right? What else can be done? Nothing. “You have nothing left” – verse 27 – “but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.” And listen to this, verse 29, your punishment will be worse. “How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?” Your punishment will be worse because you had full knowledge and rejected it. And for that person, verse 31 says, “It’s a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” You don’t want to know the full truth and walk away from it.
In chapter 12, the last one I’ll refer you to, in verse 25, “See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those who did not escape when they refused him who warned them on Earth, much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven. And His voice shook the Earth then, but now He has promised, saying, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the Earth, but also the heaven.’” If you don’t listen to the word of the Spirit of God and the word of the Son of God through the apostles, all that awaits for you is judgment.
Now, with that we can go back to chapter 11. The truly saved – let’s pull it together – the truly saved were in danger of trying to lessen their persecution by drawing back into old Judaistic patterns, customs, worship, maybe even reconnecting with the priests. They are reminded all through Hebrews that Jesus Christ is a better priest who offered a better sacrifice and who is the mediator of a better covenant. Don’t go back to the old priesthood, the old ceremonies, the old sacrifices, the old worship. But that’s the message to the truly saved: don’t go back and pick up those pieces of the old religion.
The message to the non-Christians is, “Come all the way to Christ. Come all the way to Christ.” Chapter 6 says, “Let us go on to perfection.” Perfection is a term used to refer to salvation by the writer of Hebrews. “Come all the way to Christ.”
Now, how does one come to Christ? By faith. And so, that’s what the emphasis is in chapter 11. This is to help the Christians – the true Christians – hold on to the reality of faith by seeing it as the only way ever to come to God, from Adam’s family on. And this is to encourage the non-Christians who are a part of that community and feeling the pull back away from Christ, turning their backs on the gospel, to come all the way to faith because faith is the only way. The way of law and legalism and works will only condemn and damn.
And since this community apparently is under persecution, this last part of chapter 11 becomes maybe the most applicable to them. We have talked about all kinds of aspects of faith. We have talked about all kinds of aspects of faith. We’ve talked about how faith walks. We’ve talked about how faith works. We’ve talked about many of the features of faith. But the last segment we’re looking at now is on the courage of faith. Faith – true faith – stands the test of persecution. It stands the test of life-and-death situations.
So, the word to have in your mind, in this last section, particularly verses 32 and following, is the courage of faith – the courage of faith. Courage in struggle, courage in suffering, courage in waiting – waiting. Because remember now, as the close of the chapter says, they hadn’t received what they had put their faith in.
So, let’s just break it down. Let’s talk about the courage and struggle that’s illustrated here. Verse 30, the struggle at Jericho we already talked about from Joshua chapter 6. The struggle of Rahab, Joshua chapter 2 and chapter 6. Both the story of Jericho, and in particular the story of Rahab, demonstrate that faith conquers in a struggle, that faith is courage. As the New Testament puts it, it is a faith that endures. That’s how Peter opens up his epistle. Right? You have a faith that endures. That’s the test of real faith.
Now, when you come to – and we covered that in our last time several months ago – but verse 32, we’ll pick it up. We move here from the patriarchal period of those names in the book of Genesis and Moses and Joshua. And we move from the arrival to the Promised Land to the land of Canaan itself and the early history of Israel, which would be the history of the judges and then the history of the kings. There are six men mentioned to us in verse 32, and they are not in chronological order, but they were all very critical men in the nation of Israel who demonstrated their faith in God in crisis situations. They were all courageous in faith.
So, let’s just briefly look at them. “What more shall I say? For time will fail me” – and I love that feature; that’s so human of the writer and speaks to the reality of a human author - certainly under divine inspiration, but nonetheless a human author – who would love to tell the whole story of everything, but just doesn’t have the time to do it. But he does mention very familiar names, and the people would be able to pick them up quickly. They are essentially the heroes of the early history of Israel. Remember, when Israel comes back into the land of Canaan under Joshua, Moses having died before coming into the land because he struck the rock and didn’t speak to the rock – they are now in the land. The land is segmented there. They conquer the Canaanites, as we know. They settle in the land, and now that they are in the land, there are heroes who rise from time to time in the pre-monarchy period who lead great triumphs and great victories for the people of God.
The first one is a familiar name to us; his name is Gideon. And if you want to read the story of Gideon, you open your Bible to the seventh chapter of Judges. We can’t take the time to do all that for each of these characters. We could; that would be a whole different emphasis. But Gideon is a judge. Now, the term “judge” doesn’t mean that they were the ruling president of the nation; it simply means they were elevated to a place where their leadership and their wisdom put them in a ruling position somewhere in the life and the land of Israel. This judge had to face the Midianites. And the Midianite army had 135,000 men – 135,000 men in the Midianite army.
Now, you remember the story of Gideon. You open our Bible to the seventh chapter of Judges. He starts out with 32,000. Right? Thirty-two thousand – not impossible odds, but 32,000 against 135,000 not real good odds. And then God comes to him and says, “You have way too many men. You have way too many men, Gideon; you’ve got to pare this down and pare this down and pare this down.” And finally it gets pared down to 300. Three hundred? And those are not good odds against 135,000.
Now, of course, all military strategy is out the window, at this point, because there is no military strategy by which the 300 men can defeat 135,000 soldiers. So, Gideon is now at the mercy of God. God has pared down his men to only 300. So, God is going to have to indicate what the strategy is as to how these 300 men are going to defeat 135,000 Midianites. God gives him strange instruction in the seventh chapter of Judges. He tells him to get pitchers – pitchers used to pour water – trumpets, and torches, and go find the Midianite army. “You go find them.” Now, in history, no one has fought a battle with torches, pitchers, and trumpets. You might announce the battle with a trumpet. You might have a torch if you want to protect yourself at night, but that’s not how you fight a battle. It is an absurd strategy, humanly speaking.
And Gideon, perhaps, if he were thinking the way any normal human being would think, would say, “Lord, I’m not moving; are You kidding? You’ve pared me down to 300 people, and the only reason the 300 are the 300 is because of the way they drank water out of a stream? This is absurd.” But Gideon didn’t argue because his faith was so strong, and he understood the odds, and he understood potential for death was 100 percent on a human level. And you remember what happened; they split into three groups. Gideon took his hundred, and a couple of other hundreds. They got on the circles of the hills around where the Midianites were. And they lit their torches, and at the appropriate time of the announcement, they smashed the pitchers – which made noise, and revealed the torches, and the trumpets began to blow, and the Midianites went into panic, probably assuming that for every torch there was an entire division of troops when it as just one guy with a pitcher and a torch and a trumpet. And the Midianites panicked, and the Midianites rolled out of their bunks – or off their pads on the ground – and massacred each other in an absolute slaughter, thinking they were fighting these massive hordes of Jewish troops who had descended upon them. It’d be pretty hard to believe God in that setting unless you had a supernatural faith in a supernatural God.
Then there was Barak. I love the story of Barak. It’s one of the most interesting of Bible stories. I will take you to this one because it’s a little bit shorter. If you go back to Judges chapter 4, it’s one of my favorite stories, probably for somewhat bizarre reasons. Barak had 10,000 men, and he was going against the mighty and massive force of Sisera.
Now, Sisera was a Canaanite commander of some confederated chariot troops. Incredible odds, no way to win. But God sent a message to Barak through a woman by the name of Deborah. Barak believed the message. Barak believed that God would give him the victory. In verse 7, “I will draw out to you Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his many troops to the river Kishon, and I’ll give him into your hand.” That is the message from God through Deborah who was deemed there a prophetess because God uses her as His mouthpiece.
“Barak said to her, ‘If you go with me, then I will go; if you don’t go with me, I will not go’” – I want the spokesman of the Lord with me.
“She said, ‘I will surely go with you; nevertheless, the honor shall not be yours on the journey that you’re about to take, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hands of a woman.’” In other words, if you’d just trusted God and didn’t have to take along Deborah, you’d have gotten all the credit. Now you’re going to be sort of embarrassed. The Lord will sell Sisera into the hands of a woman.
Well, of course the victory came; it was an incredible victory. Skipping down to what I think is one of the most interesting events, “The Lord routed Sisera” – verse 15 – “and all his chariots and all his army with the edge of the sword before Barak” – just massacred them – “and Sisera alighted from his chariot and fled away on foot.” That’s the general of the army. Well, that didn’t work out. “Barak pursued the chariots and the army as far as Harosheth-hagoyim, and all the army of Sisera fell by the edge of the sword; not even one was left.” That is a massacre. Sisera is still running in the other direction.
Listen to this; he ran. “He fled away on foot to the tent of Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite, for there was peace between Jabin the king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite.” He was associated with Jabin. “Jael went out to meet Sisera, and said to him, ‘Turn aside, my master, turn aside to me! Don’t be afraid.’ And he turned aside to her into the tent, and she covered him with a rug.” Come on in here and I’ll hide you.
“He said to her, ‘Please give me a little water to drink, for I am thirsty.’ So, she opened a bottle of milk and gave him a drink; then she covered him. He said to her, ‘Stand I the doorway of the tent, and it shall be if anyone comes and inquires of you, and says, “Is there anyone here?” that you shall say, “No.”‘ But” – this is the interesting part – “Jael, Heber’s wife, took a tent peg and seized a hammer in her hand, and went secretly to him and drove the peg into his temple; it went through into the ground; for he was sound asleep and exhausted.” I love the last line, “So, he died.” I guess. If somebody ran a tent peg from one side of your head through the other into the ground, that would do it. This is a small band of almost unarmed infantry routing a tank division by faith, stepping courageously into an unbelievable battle, trusting God. These are men of faith.
Well, then we come to Samson. Who doesn’t know about Samson? Everyone knows about Samson - Judges 13 to 16. He was Israel’s champion against the Philistines. And, of course, the Philistines we always identify, I think, as the primary enemy of Israel. They seem to show up on the scene more often than any others. And in spite of his stupidity, in spite of his bad relationship with Delilah – and I don’t think in my entire life I’ve ever met a human being named Delilah. There’s a reason for that. And in spite of his tragedy with Delilah, in spite of his loss of strength, this man had years of great, strong faith in God. He recovered from that, and he demonstrated great courage, stupendous courage and power. That man Samson, that man who had risen to a place of leadership because of his prowess and his strength, was called by God really to conquer the Philistines. And he approached it with immense courage. He never feared to enter into battle. And he knew that at any point in time his strength came from the Lord. There was a symbol of his strength: a Nazarite vow. But his strength came from the Lord, and he knew when he went into battle that at any moment that strength could disappear because he knew his own heart, and he knew he was not a man who had, by any means, deserved this power. He trusted God, let’s say, not to pull the plug. He never feared the enemy – never.
First, in anger at the father of his Philistine wife, for giving her away to somebody else. He tied the tails of 300 foxes together, with torches in between them, and set the torches on fire and sent them through the Philistine’s grain field and burned them all up. Now, he knew that could irritate the Philistines. And again, he’s only one man, and he knows that God has given him his power. And since it came from God, God could withdraw it at any point. But he has this strong faith in his calling.
When the Philistines found out who did it, they killed Samson’s wife and father-in-law. He even was more angry, and Scripture says he smote them with a great slaughter. When they tried to retaliate, he took the jawbone of an ass and killed a thousand more of them. They tried to trap him in Gaza; he just picked up – you remember this? – the city gates, post and beam, and walked up a mountain carrying them. He believed the promise of God, that God had called him to fight for Israel against the Philistines, even against unimaginable odds. One against tens of thousands never phased him.
And finally, you remember, after recovering strength, he went into the Philistine temple and brought it down on all of them, his last courageous act of self-sacrificing faith.
Now, he knew his calling. He knew his calling. Listen to 13:5 of Judges. His parents are told, “Behold, this young man – you’re going to give birth to a son. You’re going to conceive and bring forth a son; no razor will come at his head, for the boy shall be a Nazirite” – that takes a vow of separation to God – “from the womb; he shall begin to deliver Israel from the hands of the Philistines.” So, he always knew when he was doing that, that he would know and experience the power of God. This is faith. This is faith and nothing but faith, and he never flinched in conflict.
Now, the next name that we see there is Jephthah – Jephthah. And he also is in the book of Judges, and the story about him is pretty brief. Verse 32 of chapter 11, “Jephthah crossed over to the sons of Ammon” – he crossed over the Jordan River; Ammon is on the east. There is a city there today that you would know as Amman Jordan. Amman is just a variation of Ammon. This is the land of the Ammonites. “So, Jephthah crossed over to the sons of Ammon to fight against them; and the Lord gave them into his hand. He struck them with a very great slaughter from Aroer to the entrance of Minnith, twenty cities, and as far as Abel-keramim. So, the sons of Ammon were subdued before the sons of Israel.” Another group, of course, of Israel’s Canaanite enemies were the Ammorites, conquered again by the courage of Jephthah.
We leave the book of Judges, and we enter the book of 1 and 2 Samuel, because the next name is David. And we know many instances against all kinds of odds. “Saul has killed his thousands, but David his ten thousands.” David was a triumphant, courageous general who fought the fight for the people of God.
Of course his most familiar fight was a one-on-one battle with what we might deem a human monster by the name of Goliath in chapter 17 of 1 Samuel. Goliath is just shocked that they would send this little shepherd boy out against him. And he, of course, is the great hero of the Philistines. And so, “He says,” verse 43, “‘Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?’ And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. The Philistine also said to David, ‘Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the sky and the beasts of the field.’
“Then David said to the Philistine” – probably in a squeaky voice – “‘You come to me with a sword, a spear, and a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have taunted. This day the Lord will deliver you up into my hands, and I will strike you down and remove your head from you. And I’ll give the dead bodies of the army of the Philistines this day to the birds of the sky and the wild beasts of the Earth, that all the Earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not deliver by sword or by spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and He will give you into our hands.’” Wow. You would say that is a lot of moxie for a little shepherd boy, but we know the end of the story, don’t we? Yes.
“It happened when the Philistine rose and came and drew near to meet David, that David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine.” He’s running after it; he’s going into this battle full force in faith. “David put his hand into his bag and took from it a stone and slung it” – and believe me; that was a divinely directed stone. I’m sure David was good because he had fought off the wild animals while he was protecting the sheep. But there was no way this one would miss; divine providence was involved. “It struck the Philistine on his forehead. And the stone sank into his forehead so that he fell on his face to the ground.
“Thus David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone, and he struck the Philistine and killed him; but there was no sword in David’s hand. Then David ran and stood over the Philistine and took his sword and drew it out of its sheath and killed him, and cut off his head with it.
“When the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they fled.” They must have thought, “You know, if a teenage boy is this powerful, what are the men going to be like when they show up?”
“The men of Israel” – verse 52 – “arose and shouted and pursued the Philistines as far as the valley and the gates of Ekron” – one of the major cities of Philistia. “And the slain Philistines lay along the way to Shaaraim, even to Gath and Ekron. The sons of Israel returned from chasing the Philistines and plundered their camp. And David took the Philistine’s head and brought it to Jerusalem, but he put his weapon in his tent.” What in the world would give this man the courage to do what he did? It is faith in the calling of God. These are men of faith.
The next name is Samuel, and for that, of course, we’re already in 1 Samuel because we’re where David is. Samuel also appears here in the first 25 chapters. He dies in verse 1 of chapter 25. Samuel was a great man of faith. He was facing a rebellious people. He was facing an idolatrous people. He faced them with the courage of great conviction. He spoke God’s word. He thought nothing of personal protection and personal safety.
Samuel always said what he believed to be right against all threats. He was fearless when he warned people. And he warned people - believe me - including even the great High Priest Eli.
And then it mentions, in verse 32, the prophets. And with that, we sweep all the way from 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, the books of history, the period of the kings, the period of the unified kingdom, the divided kingdom. We sweep all the way through the prophets, all the way down to the end of the Old Testament. The prophets.
And you can go back to Hebrews chapter 11 because we’re going to remain there for just a few more minutes. And here he just mentions the prophets. That takes us right to the end of the Old Testament. The wisdom literature was authored by the kings predominantly – Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Solomon. There are other historical books: Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job goes back to the patriarchal period. But we pretty well have swept across the Old Testament, and now we come to the prophets.
And here you have no more names, but you have experiences that belonged to the prophets. These defining experiences we can find on the pages of the Old Testament. It’s a list of horrible experiences which these men faced – and women – with unconquerable courage and faith.
“The prophets” – verse 33 along with all the rest – “who by faith” – or through faith in every case – “conquered kingdoms” – literally katagōnizomai, overcame, overpowered, overthrew – literally means to fight down or to subdue. And this would describe the judges. This would describe Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, and David. And they not only conquered kingdoms, they wrought or “they performed righteousness” – literally they executed justice; they executed judgment – leaders who upheld justice in very, very challenging times. They were men who did what was right no matter what the cost.
It says of David, for example, in 2 Samuel 8:15, “David reigned over all Israel; and David administered justice and righteousness for all his people.”
And then it says they obtained promises. There are many illustrations of that. Joshua was given a promise of victory. Gideon was given a promise of victory. Barak was given a promise of victory. David was given promises by God that were fulfilled and some that were to be fulfilled later.
And then we move past those when we come to the next phrase, “shut the mouths of lions” – who does that describe? Daniel. Daniel chapter 6, verses 22 and 23. Daniel who obeyed God when it meant he had to go to the lion’s den, believing God would take care of that, and God shut the mouths of the lions. “Quenched the violence of fire” – who would that refer to? Daniel’s three friends: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, as we them by their Babylonian names, who standing in the fire were not burned. And in fact, there was a companion in the fire, very likely an appearance of the Son of God. They conquered. They went into the fire. And do you remember what they said? They said, “We’re not going to bow down to you. And if we go in the fire, we’ll burn or maybe we won’t burn. But in any case, we will not bow down to you.” They conquered by faith.
It can be said of these heroes also “they escaped the edge of the sword.” Who was it that was always trying to kill David? Saul, wasn’t it? No matter how often Saul tried to get David’s head within the reach of his sword, he never could. And then, of course, there was Goliath. And then there was Elisha. Do you remember when Joram was rushing after Elisha in 2 Kings 6, wanted to kill him with his sword, but he could not? And then it says they were “from weakness” – verse 34 – “made strong.” Do you know who comes to mind when I read that? Hezekiah. Remember Hezekiah prayed for long life? He prayed for more life. Because he was a good king, God gave him more life. He had no son. In a death struggle, he believed in God’s promise and power. And Hezekiah prayed and was healed and lived another 15 years and eventually bore a son, 2 Kings chapter 20.
It further says about these heroes who lived by faith that they “became mighty in war and put foreign armies to flight.” And we just read about them back to the Judges and the kings, and even more of the kings, particularly in the southern kingdom.
And then I love this; it is through the faith of these men, verse 35, that “women received back their dead by resurrection.” When did that happen? First Kings 17, that’s Elijah. Elijah healing the dead son of the widow of Zarephath. And then in 2 Kings 4, it’s Elisha raising the child of the Shunnamite woman from the dead. The faith of these prophets in death brought great victory.
So, this is a faith that conquers very, very challenging, life-threatening circumstances. The petty problems of suffering that these Hebrews, to whom the letter was written, might have been going through, for their identification with Jesus Christ, was nothing like what these men experienced. But that’s not the whole picture. Sometimes God chooses not to let his people conquer and struggle, but rather refines them through a struggle.
Verse 35 again, “others were tortured, not accepting their release” – that’s not a victory - that’s not a release from torture, but an endurance – “so that they might obtain a better resurrection.”
Now, here we saw the achievements of faith in the midst of the threat. Here we see the endurance of faith in the midst of the trial. Verse 35 says “tortured” – tumpanizō. Very interesting Greek word, literally to torture with the tympanum. What is a tympanum? It’s a torture instrument of ancient times. It’s a wheel-shaped contraption over which criminals were stretched as though they were skins. And they would have all their extremities stretched to the circumference of the wheel, and they would rotate on the wheel while people pummeled them with clubs. This is the basis of the word “torture.” There have been those people of faith who have been tortured. They rejected denial of the faith. They rejected release. They would not banish from their lips the name of the true and living God because they looked for a better resurrection. They looked to the future. Others experienced mockings, and scourgings, and chains, and imprisonments.
I think of one who went through just about all of this, and that would be Jeremiah – tortured, chained, imprisoned, thrown into a pit – Jeremiah 38 – scourgings, beatings, imprisonments. That would be true of Daniel, too, wouldn’t it? And there are surely others.
Verse 37, “They were stoned” – that happened to Jeremiah, according to tradition, and the Old Testament record of Zechariah as well indicates a stoning. “Sawn asunder” – tradition says Isaiah the prophet’s life ended when he was sawn in half. “They were tested” – that’s probably a better translation than “tempted.” “They were tested” – the torture of being tested, pressured to deny their God which they would not do. These aren’t the triumphant ones on a human level; these are the ones who suffered even death. “They were put to death with sword.” Died by sword.
And some of them became exiles. “Some of them went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, destitute, afflicted, ill-treated” – mistreated, treated with evil force is the Greek verb. And then, down in verse 38, “Some of them wandered in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground.” And I think all of these things would be somewhat familiar to the Jewish people who were hearing this being read in their congregation. They knew the stories of these people that we don’t know because they’re not necessarily contained in the pages of Scripture, but likely much of it was passed down. And so, in a cryptic fashion, it can be rehearsed to them. They were wanderers, vagabonds, just existing because they had been put out of society. That was the price they paid for their faithfulness to God.
And then the most commendatory statement that is made in this entire chapter is in parenthesis in verse 38, and it really ought to be in italics, “(these are people of whom the world was not worthy).” Isn’t that a great statement? The world was not worthy. The world thought them unworthy. The world deemed them unworthy to live, unworthy to be comfortable, unworthy to be affirmed or approved or left alone. The world felt itself somehow diminished by their presence. The truth is the world was not worthy of them.
Why did they do this? Why did they do this against all this kind of terrible treatment? They did it because of what they believed was in the future waiting for them: a better resurrection. But look at verse 39, “All these, having gained approval through their faith, didn’t receive what was promised” – they didn’t have anything in their hand. It was all faith, right? It was all faith. They didn’t even know about Christ. Oh, they knew the prophecies about Him, but they didn’t know who He was. He had not come; He had not died; He had not risen from the dead. There was no confirmation that this would ever happen. They had to believe God’s promise. And they did.
“They gained approval through their faith, though they didn’t receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us so that apart from us they wouldn’t be made perfect.” None of them would ever be in heaven if it weren’t for what happened that we know about. Right? The cross and the resurrection. The better thing’s the new covenant. Perfect means saved in the book of Hebrews. Perfect means access open and granted to God. Full access to what the old covenant couldn’t give. Access into the presence of God both in time and eternity. They lived by a faith in something they couldn’t see. They lived – and that’s how the chapter’s beginning launches it, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. That’s how these great heroes lived. Their faith was courageous faith. They conquered in struggling. They continued in suffering, and they counted on a salvation that would be provided in a way they could not see.
Now I’m going to read verse 1 of chapter 12, “Therefore” – this is not the end of the story and shouldn’t be the beginning of a new chapter – “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us” – we know who they are, right? – we just met them all. And to what do they witness? To what do they witness? They witness to the validity of a life of – what? – faith. “Let us lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the faith race set before us.” These are given to us as models and examples to stimulate our commitment to run an enduring race of faith.
Now, as I said, the chapter shouldn’t end at the end of the chapter and should go into chapter 12; so, it will next week; we’ll look at the twelfth chapter.
Father, thank You again for a wonderful day of worship and fellowship. And we have been so greatly enriched tonight to be swept through the ages, wrapping our minds around these great pinnacle people, these heroes of the faith, these great men and women who endured so much for what they couldn’t see.
Blessed are the ones who have not seen and yet believe. May we run this faith race as they did. For while we have seen through the eyes of biblical revelation the full record of Christ in His death and resurrection, we have yet not seen the future. We have not seen what God has prepared for them that love Him. May we endure in faith. May our faith be a real and genuine saving faith, an unwavering, enduring faith tested and proven true. And may we enjoy the trials and tests that come against our faith, because as Peter says, they produce endurance, and endurance has a perfecting work. We cherish the trials that demonstrate that our faith holds, because that gives us assurance that it’s the real thing. And there’s no greater joy for us than to know that our faith is real, and our salvation is genuine.
We thank You for the consistency of Scripture and how it sweeps over vast eras of history without wavering from its integrity and the message that a relationship to God is always based on faith. And faith will triumph where works must fail. Strengthen our faith we pray, through these examples, in Christ’s name, amen.
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