Over the last several weeks we have worked our way through the Hall of Fame of Faith in Hebrews 11. We have looked closely at the examples of faithful living found in this chapter to see how we can live faithfully as well. This morning we reach the end of Hebrews 11, and as the author closes out the section, he gives us a few more examples of faith, as well as a bit of encouragement about how to continue living for the Lord, regardless of the circumstances.
A Quick List
Throughout chapter 11, the author has given several examples of faithful living, and now he concludes by running off a list of several others who have lived faithfully,
32 How much more do I need to say? It would take too long to recount the stories of the faith of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and all the prophets. (Hebrews 11:32, NLT)
Some of the names in this list are familiar to us, but others are not. Just like the writer says, we do not have time today to take an in-depth look at the stories of each of these individuals, but I think it is important for us to quickly remember why he mentions them as examples of faith.
Gideon was asked to lead Israel in battle against the Midianites, and not only was he asked to lead the army, but God told him to reduce the size of his army from 32,000 men down to 300 men. Gideon could have refused to fight, believing there was no way he could be victorious with such a small army, but instead he led this small force in battle, and they were victorious. Gideon’s faith provided an opportunity for God to show His power, and left no question in anyone’s mind as to why they had won the battle.
Barak’s story is similar. God asked him to lead Israel in battle, and despite being initially reluctant to do so, God worked through him to completely destroy a foreign army. His reluctant obedience led to God giving Israel a decisive victory.
Most people know Samson for his feats of strength. He did some amazing things because God had empowered him with a supernatural strength. He didn’t always use that power well, and fell into some bad situations, but ultimately he demonstrated a great trust in the Lord. After he was captured by the Philistines and put on display for their entertainment, he asked the Lord to once again give him strength. This time, he wasn’t asking for strength in order to accomplish his own goals, but to accomplish the Lord’s. In his final act in life, he used the strength God gave him to collapse an entire building, killing thousands of Philistines who were enemies of Israel and of the Lord.
Jephthah was another leader from Israel who was asked to lead the army in battle, and did so, trusting God for the victory. He defeated the Ammonites and God gave Israel peace as a result.
David is probably the one who is the most well-known, and his life is filled with stories of faith. Probably the most famous example was what is now known as the story of David and Goliath. As a young man (probably a teenager), David went up against a giant who was the champion of the Philistine army. He confidently declared that God would use him to defeat both Goliath and the Philistine army, and he faced Goliath with nothing more than a few smooth stones and a sling. God used this young man to miraculously slay the giant warrior who stood before him, and in so doing, caused the Philistine army to run for their lives—all because they had seen God’s power manifested in the faith of a teenage boy.
Samuel was a young boy whose mother dedicated him to the Lord and as a result, he was raised in the temple. When he grew up he became the spiritual leader of Israel and faithfully proclaimed the Lord’s message to the people, and even anointed both Saul and David as kings over Israel.
The prophets was a large group of people (including men like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, as well as many others), who spoke for the Lord, often in the face of incredible opposition. Many times, the messages God gave them were not well-received, and many of the prophets endured intense hardship as they faithfully spoke for the Lord.
Obviously these short explanations don’t tell the whole story of these people’s lives. They only give us a glimpse of how they were faithful. What their accounts hold in common is that they trusted the Lord and followed Him when it would have been tempting (and probably easier) to go their own way. These people showed faith because they trusted God more than they trusted their own judgment or their circumstances.
What is interesting is that none of these people were perfect. They didn’t always follow God. As a matter of fact, every one of their stories contains parts that they would probably be embarrassed to admit to.
When God called Gideon, Gideon told God to call someone else. He was scared to follow…but he eventually did. Barak led Israel in battle, but initially he was unwilling to do so. He only went because God used Deborah to push him to do the right thing. He was scared to follow…but he eventually did. Samson spent most of his life living only to satisfy his own desires even though God had given him great abilities. But when everything was taken from him, Samson realized that his primary purpose in life was to honor God. Through much of his life he didn’t follow God, but he did at the end.
Jephthah trusted that God would give him victory, but he made a foolish vow as a way of trying to show how much he trusted God. His bravado caused him incredible pain, and he ended up sacrificing his daughter. David was known as a man after God’s heart, but he wasn’t perfect. Probably the most obvious example of this was when he had an adulterous relationship with Bathsheba, and when he found out she was pregnant with his child, he had her husband killed in order to cover it up. But in spite of this terrible series of sins, David is an example of faith. And Samuel served faithfully, speaking against those who would lead Israel astray, but failed to rein in his own children, and allowed them to ultimately lead the nation away from the Lord.
Here’s the lesson we can learn from these individuals: God does not rely on perfect people, on amazing individuals to accomplish great things—He uses regular, flawed, men and women like you and me! What we can learn from these people is that no matter what lies in your past, no matter how badly you’ve fallen, it is never too late to return to (or begin) faithful living. You don’t have to be perfect to be an example of faith, you just need to follow the Lord. It also reminds us that you may never know how God is going to use you. Simple, seemingly insignificant acts of obedience can have a big impact in the world around you, because even though you feel like you can’t do much, you serve a God who can. And that is really the essence of faith—instead of focusing on ourselves, our failures, and our weaknesses, we choose to focus on God, His perfect judgment, His plan, and His strength and act accordingly.
The Results of Faith
After quickly listing off these additional examples of faith, the author talks about what happened to those who lived faithfully. He gives two separate lists; the first points to the mountaintop experiences of faithfulness, the second points to the valleys that also come with faithfulness.
33 By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight. 35 Women received their loved ones back again from death. (Hebrews 11:33-35, NLT)
God used people who acted faithfully to do amazing things in this life. These are the things we think about as the “success stories” of faith—the times when God miraculously changed circumstances and made His power evident through faithful individuals.
God demonstrated His power over political forces by helping faithful people overthrow kingdoms and rule with justice. He showed his power over nature by causing hungry lions to keep their mouths shut, by preventing a fiery furnace from even singing the clothes of those thrown into it, by bringing the dead back to life, and by allowing the faithful to escape situations that seemed like certain death. And time and again, He provided men and women with a supernatural strength to face whatever lay before them.
These accounts remind us that God has the power to change any situation, and to bring about any outcome that He desires. So when we are faced with the choice of whether to remain faithful or not, we should rest comfortably in the fact that no matter how hopeless a situation seems, when we follow the Lord, there is always hope.
Practically, these stories encourage us by helping us see that God can change any circumstance.
- When we feel like our society is on a downward spiral and we are helpless to stop it, we remember that God has changed entire civilizations through the faithfulness of a few.
- When we wonder how we are going to pay the bills with the money that we have, we remember that God has often caused the resources of the faithful to stretch further than they could have ever imagined.
- When we feel like someone we care for will never recognize their need for a savior, we remember that God has changed even the hardest of hearts through the faithful prayers and actions of others.
- When we feel like we’ve made such a mess of our lives that we can’t possibly recover, we remember that God’s specialty is making broken people whole again and that some of the greatest examples of faith are seen in people who started out living unfaithfully.
- When we feel like we’re all alone in our efforts to live faithfully, we remember that God often uses one faithful person to inspire others to do the same.
The point is this: nothing is impossible with God. This belief is at the core of what faith is. The person who believes that nothing is impossible with God will boldly do what He tells them, no matter what the odds seem to say or what our brains say is going to happen. The faithful person trusts that God knows what He is doing, and that He can use our faithfulness to accomplish things we never would have thought possible.
At the same time, we recognize that though nothing is impossible with God, it doesn’t mean that God always does the seemingly impossible. Sometimes God doesn’t do the miraculous because He has a bigger plan in mind. This is what the second list in this section is about.
But others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection. 36 Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. 37 Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. 38 They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground. (Hebrews 11:35b-38, NLT)
Faithful living doesn’t always result in miracles—and even when it does, those miracles usually don’t come right away. The truth is, it is hard to live faithfully, because there are often severe consequences in this life for following the Lord. The Hebrew church didn’t know it yet, but they were about to become the object of intense persecution by the Roman Empire. Christianity would soon be outlawed and Christians would be hunted down and tortured for refusing to worship the emperor as a god. They would be imprisoned for preaching the gospel, they would be forced to flee their homes to escape the government, and they would be left poor as people refused to do business with them because of their faith.
God was using the examples of those who had gone before to prepare the church for what was coming. He was giving them the ammunition they would need to continue trusting Him, even when things got tough. He was reminding them that when they faced hardship because of their faith, they would be in good company. The pages of scripture are filled with the stories of those who continued to remain faithful even though they paid dearly for doing so. Some saw God work miraculously, but others didn’t get to see what God was doing during their lifetimes; some were shunned by their communities, others were tortured, and some were killed for standing firm for the Lord. It would be tempting for us to think that because God let them experience these hardships, He must not have cared about them—that their faith was in vain. But nothing could be further from the truth.
Sometimes God delivers us from the trials that are before us, and sometimes He gives us the strength to press through them. Sometimes God changes our situation, but sometimes He uses the situation to change us. Times of trial force us to dig deeper in our faith. They force us to trust in God alone, rather than relying on our own devices. What we must remember is that even in the midst of trying times, God is still with us, and He will give us the strength to carry on.
How do we keep being faithful in the midst of hard times? The Apostle Paul gives us a good example of how to do this. He was often persecuted for his faith, being imprisoned and beaten many times for serving the Lord, and he was ultimately killed for his faith. But Paul kept going because he was looking forward to the future. He understood that there was a bigger picture. Paul believed that God had a plan that was more marvelous than he could imagine, and that God would use him, if he was just faithful. I don’t know if Paul got a chance to see how God used his faithfulness during his lifetime or not, but look at how God used him. Because he was imprisoned, he had lots of time to write letters to the early Christian churches to instruct and encourage them. Those letters are what make up most of our New Testament! Paul’s imprisonment was uncomfortable, but God was using even that situation to do more than he could have imagined. Like Paul, we need to focus on the big picture, believing that God has a plan even when we can’t see it.
At the end of a chapter that lists all these great examples of faith, why would the writer of Hebrews end with this list of hardships? I think he ends this way because the whole chapter focuses on the high points in these people’s lives—and he wants us to remember that living for the Lord has very high times, but it also has low times. This section reminds us that following the Lord isn’t easy, but it is worth it. I think he included this section to remind the Hebrews (and us) that just because things are difficult, it doesn’t mean that God has forgotten about us—He is still working behind the scenes.
There are many preachers today who will tell you that if you serve God faithfully, then God will bless you with health, wealth, and easy living. And there’s a grain of truth in this—we are told that God will bless us if we are faithful, and He will! But not all blessings come in this life. Sometimes God does give health and wealth to the faithful, but often He does not. We shouldn’t get discouraged when things get difficult, because it is a natural result of serving the Lord. Remember Jesus told his disciples:
If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. (John 15:18, NLT)
Difficult times do not necessarily mean that God is punishing you. Sometimes trials are simply a result of following the Lord in a world that hates the Lord. These examples remind us that mountaintops and valleys are a normal part of living for the Lord, so we should continue to follow, in good times and hard times.
Hebrews chapter 11 is a fun passage to read, because it is fun to see how God used ordinary men and women to accomplish extraordinary things. The encouragement to us should be that we are not that much different from Abraham, Moses, and the other examples in these chapters. They were regular people who trusted in a God that was in control of all things. The God we read about in the first 10 chapters of Hebrews is the One in whom the people listed in Hebrews 11 had placed their faith. As we see how God worked through their lives, we should be encouraged that He can work through ours as well.
But as he concludes this section, the writer of Hebrews gives us one more reminder to keep us going in the hard times.
39 All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. 40 For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us. (Hebrews 11:39-40, NLT)
He reminds us that even though God did great things through these men and women, none of them got to see the whole story played out in their lives. They were simply a part of the bigger picture of what God was doing. And he tells us that the story isn’t over yet. God’s plan includes not only Abraham, Moses, and these other stalwarts of faithful living, but it includes you and me as well. God isn’t finished with us yet—so let’s keep striving to be faithful, in good times and in hard times. Hopefully, those who follow after us will see our examples of faith and be led to serve the King as well.