“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)
Hebrews chapter 11 is known as the “Hall of Faith,” as it eloquently inspires us to press on and remain faithful. For it was by faith that the saints of old persevered and were justified before God. The author of Hebrews transitions from offering the details of Moses’, Abraham’s & Sarah’s faith and offers us a more sweeping view of others: Gideon (Judges 6-8), Barak (Judges 4-5), Samson (Judges 13-16), Jephthah (Judges 11-12, 1 Samuel 12:11), David (Ruth 4, 1-2 Samuel) and Samuel (1 Samuel; 1 Chronicles 6, 9, 11, 26; 2 Chronicles 35:18) are all presented as examples of faith despite their failures that the Old Testament chronicles. The bible never glosses over the failures of the saints because their lives are never intended to be our primary focus – God is our focus.
The focus in the second half of Hebrews 11 remains on faith; the author lists some inspiring results of faith: conquered kingdoms, obtained promises, enforced justice, closed the mouths of lions (most likely Daniel), quenched the power of fire (most likely Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Dan. 2:49–3:30)), escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness (for the timid among the readers), became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight, women received back their dead (Elijah raised the son of the widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:17–24), and Elisha raised the son of a Shunammite woman (2 Kings 4:18–37)). I can hear the sermon now: as you exercise faith you will overcome to woes of this world! Sometimes that is true, but then verse 36 interjects itself.
The tone of overcoming victory turns to difficult endurance and a faith that does not always result in victorious overcoming in this life. Others were tortured (with the hope of resurrection to a better life sustaining them), mocked, flogged, imprisoned, stoned, sawn in two (stoned & sawn in two represent the traditional belief of how Jeremiah & Isaiah were killed), killed by the sword; destitute, afflicted, mistreated (they went about in skins of sheep and goats was a prophets clothing) “of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.” (Hebrews 11:38 ESV). They were vessels of God’s grace, which wicked humanity did not deserve. These people only got a small glimpse (if any) of what God promised. They were sustained by a greater, deeper hope. A hope that God would ultimately provide a better, heavenly county (verse 16).
But God has provided something better for us – Jesus; direct access to God, new hearts that desire to know Him & obey Him, no more sacrifices, the intimacy of His Spirit. Their story is incomplete without Jesus and our redemption through Him. We are playing a role in God’s cosmic drama throughout the ages. The church, established by the Son of God, is the final chapter before He restores all things to Himself. We are not better, more enlightened, smarter or more sophisticated – we were born in the 21st century as part of God’s sovereign plan and purpose. This is His story and He allows us to play a small part. To God be the glory! Regardless of where you find yourself today – whether in a place where your faith is yielding victory or whether it is just difficult and there appears to be no victory this side of heaven – find hope that God is making all things new, that He has set His saving affections upon you and that He has adopted you as a child of His. If you find yourself in a difficult place – like Isaiah, Jeremiah or countless others – find encouragement that God is still in control and is working out His sovereign plans.