STUDIES IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
“And 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: who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.”
It takes only so many examples to make a point; ordinarily two or three are enough. So far in his catalogue of men and women of faith in the Old Testament, the author of Hebrews has named ten examples to make his point that faith is the substance of things hoped for and evidence of things not seen. All of the persons on his list lived and acted on the basis of words and promises of God.
There is no need for more examples, he says, nor is there time for them. But he wants us to know that there were many more names he could have included. He mentions just a few of them without going into any detail about them individually. Instead he speaks generally about the victories that they won by the power of God because they walked by faith rather than by sight.
The list of their victories makes us think of familiar lessons from Old Testament Bible history. Gideon, one of the judges, defeated the superior forces of the Midianites. Samson won victories over the Philistines. Samuel “worked righteousness,” meaning that he faithfully administered justice as a judge. Barak, one of the judges, “obtained promises”: he routed Sisera and his fearsome iron chariots in fulfillment of a divine promise spoken to him by Deborah the prophetess. David successfully fought a lion that was attacking one of his sheep. “The violence of fire” brings to our minds the three men in the fiery furnace. Anyone familiar with Bible history could come up with other names that match the victories listed here.
But need we stop with names from Bible history? The whole idea of this list of people of faith in Hebrews 11 is to encourage all who read it—including you and me as we read it today—to live our lives trusting in God’s Word and acting on it. Might our names also be included in the list of those who live lives of faith? Though God has not called us to go out against Midianites or Philistines, He has called us to resist the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh—spiritual enemies that are fierce and dangerous.
One characteristic of the figures from Bible history mentioned here ought to be especially encouraging to us all. It is that “out of weakness [they] were made strong.” (verse 34) Bible history is not a record of superheroes. It is a record of ordinary people whom God called to do great things with the strength and courage that He gave them. The history of men such as Gideon and Barak especially teach this. Both were reluctant to step into the role that God had laid out for them, but they did so when assured that God would be with them and give them the victory.
Another encouraging thing said of Old Testament people of faith is that they “obtained promises.” All of us New Testament believers in Jesus Christ are called to this very thing. By His death for us by which He took away our sins, and by His resurrection, we have the promise of eternal life. We have it in God’s Word. We do not yet see it, but the examples that we have in Bible history encourage us to believe the promise and order our whole life according to it. And like the people whose names are recorded here in Hebrews, we too will obtain the promises.
John Klatt is pastor of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Loveland, Colorado.