The Letter to the Hebrews: a commentary & meditation 
The Heroes of the faith

Scripture: Hebrews 11:30-40
30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. 31 By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given friendly welcome to the spies. 32 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 -- 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, received promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, that they might rise again to a better life. 36 Others suffered mocking and scourging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 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, ill-treated -- 38 of whom the world was not worthy -- wandering over deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. 39 And all these, though well attested by their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had foreseen something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.
Meditation: The author to the Hebrews concludes his description on great acts of faith with a list of Old Testament heroes and heroines noted for their faith and trust in God.  They accomplished great deeds because they looked not to their own strength but to the strength that comes from God alone.  Jericho was known as a well-fortified city that could not be penetrated by outside forces.  The Israelites made a public declaration of their faith by marching around the outside walls while singing and chanting praises to God for seven days (Joshua 6:1-20).  The inhabitants of Jericho must have thought them foolish and weak since they made no attempt to attack the walls directly.  The Israelites were able to occupy the city when God acted on their behalf by destroying the walls that stood in the way.  The fall of Jericho remains a powerful example for us that nothing can stand in the way of God when he decides to act for his people.  When you meet insurmountable obstacles and difficulties in your life, do you praise God for his faithfulness and power to bring you victory over the forces of evil and destruction?

Why is Rahab the harlot noted as a great heroine of the faith?  After all, she was not an Israelite but an inhabitant of Jericho before its great fall. No one in Jericho would have believed that the Israelites could overtake their great city.  Rahab not only believed in the God of Israel but she staked her whole future on this belief  that God could do the impossible when she gave hospitality to the Israelite spies. She had the faith and courage to take God's side even when it looked doomed for failure. She welcomed the spies with these words: ""I know that the LORD has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt ..for the LORD your God is he who is God  in heaven above and on earth beneath." (Joshua 2:9-11)  Rahab protected the spies and enabled them to escape unharmed.  For her faith and hospitality she and her family were spared when the city was overtaken.  She is mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1:5) and the Letter of James praises her for her faith and good works (James 2:25).

The list of heroes that follows have a characteristic feature to them.  They all won decisive victories for God against insurmountable odds.  Gideon with 300 men overtook a numerous force of Ammonites who had terrorized the Israelites for a long time (Judges 6-7).  Barak and his band, under the inspiration of the prophetess Deborah, overtook the superior force of Canaanites (Judges 4-5). Samson alone defeated the Philistines against overwhelming odds because he found strength and victory in God (Judges 13-16).  Jephthah, called back from exile, overtook the Ammonites against great odds as well (Judges 11-12).  David the shepherd defeated the Philistines by slaying Goliath with a single stone.  As King he won many decisive battles and united the twelve tribes of Israel (1 Samuel 16:13-20).  The prophet Samual time and again bore faithful witness to God among a people who were rebellious and discontented.  Many prophets in turn rallied the people to put their hope and trust in God alone rather than in the strength of their armies or human resources.

The author to the Hebrews ends his praise of  great heroes by telling us what these men and women of faith did in the name of God.  His audience would have been very familiar with the biblical stories surrounding the themes he mentions. Daniel stopped the mouths of lions (Daniel 6:23).  Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego escaped unharmed from the fiery furnace (Daniel.3:19-28).  The prophets Elijah and Elisha escaped destruction by the sword (1Kings.19:1ff, 2Kings.6:31ff).  Judith saved her people from destruction when she single-handedly cut the head of Holofernes and threw his army into panic. All these examples serve as a reminder of what God had accomplished in the past through men and women of faith.  They remind us that God is still at work today, ready to fight for us against the spiritual forces that would destroy both body and soul in hell. When we acknowledge our own weakness and sinfulness, then we are on the right path to true humility and greatness in the kingdom of God.  Heroes of the faith were men and women just like us. They struggled with temptation and testing, with doubt and hopeless causes.  They found strength and hope to overcome all odds in one source alone -- in God who never abandons those who trust in him. What made them great was not their natural gifts, talents, wits or resources.  It was their whole-hearted trust in God and in the power of his kingdom.  They believed against great odds in the God who is faithful to all his promises.  They never wavered in hope even when there was no cause for human hope, because their hope was in God. They all died before seeing the fulfillment of God's promises in Jesus Christ. We are the heirs of Jesus Christ who died and rose for our sake.  May their example inspire us to greater faith and confidence in Jesus our Redeemer.  And may we do great deeds for God as we look not to our own strength but to the strength which comes from God alone.

"Lord Jesus, you show us the way to victory through your humble obedience to the will of your Father in heaven.  May we never doubt your strength and saving help as we seek to do your will."


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(c) 2001 Don Schwager