And what shall I say more? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jepthtah, 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. Women received their dead raised to life again.
Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented – of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.
Hebrews 11 has been called “the hall of heroes.” Men and women who did great things for God and were themselves great saints. Yet this portion starts with men that we might not put into that category. Here are some men of whom we might say, “What?! Wait! Why are they included?”
Gideon did indeed bring a great deliverance to Israel, but then led her into idolatry, Judges 6-8. Barak, probably the least known of the four, was a man who reluctantly obeyed God, Judges 4, 5. Jephthah is a man about whom the world and even many Christians have nothing good to say, Judges 11. I’ve done a post on him if you’re interested. He certainly isn’t one who is thought to be a “hero.” Samson, who did do some mighty things, yet is perhaps best remembered for his dalliance with Delilah and his eventual death while a prisoner of and serving to amuse the enemies of his people and his God, Judges 13-16.
Here’s the first paradox.
To have faith doesn’t mean to be perfect and without faults.
There’s only ever been One who was able to say, “I always do those things that please Him,” John 8:29, emphasis added. All the rest of us fall way short.
God doesn’t deny the faults of His people.
But then, neither does He define His people by those faults….
The second paradox is found in the rest of our text.
Some of God’s people may indeed do great things, vs. 33-35a. While it’s difficult to know exactly who, if anyone, the author had in mind on some of these things, still, it could be said of Joshua that he conquered kingdoms. Jeremiah and Ezekiel, even David, received great and wonderful promises. Daniel certainly is one who stopped the mouths of lions. His three friends quenched the violence of fire. More than once, a badly outnumbered Israel turned to flight the armies of the aliens. At least one grieving woman saw her dead raised to life again. There are a lot of people the author could have had in mind.
The paradox is this:
Some of God’s people may suffer great things, vs. 35b-38.
We live in a time when, at least in this country, folks on TV tell us that health and prosperity and all good things are the lot of the Christian. Great ministries have been built on this premise. The truth is that while these things may and do come to Christians, more often than not their history has been written in their own blood. This is especially true of those times when “the church” has sat on the throne. This was true both of Rome and of the Reformers. And suffering Christians, of whom the world [is] not worthy, live today in a large part of the world, and always have. We just don’t see it on the 6 o’clock news.
The Apostle Peter put it like this, Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you, 1 Peter 4:12, emphasis added. The word translated “strange” doesn’t mean “unusual,” but “foreign.” Some folks seem to have the idea that any idea of “suffering,” whether personal or otherwise, should be “foreign” to them. But you can’t really read the New Testament without seeing that this is not true.
But, if this world is all there is, as some think, or if we’re all headed to “a better place,” as others think, why would people endure such things? The answer’s found in v. 35, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Now, that word “might” doesn’t mean “might or might not,” as if there’s some question about it. It speaks to purpose, not just possibility. Faith understands the paradox, but rests on the promise. As Paul put it in 1 Corinthians 5:5, Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God. Or Peter, We according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells [is at home], 2 Peter 3:13.
For the Christian, this world is neither our home, our heaven or our hope.