Faith Through Trials
DIG: Why have so many people in our world been persecuted for their faith? Should believers be surprised when trials come? Why or why not? In verses 39-40, when we glorify God with our faith in Him, what is the result of our faith? How was Gideon’s faith demonstrated? What was the source of Samson’s courage? How was David faithful? Why do you think the Ruach ha-Kodesh selected Samuel as an example of faith? What gave courage to the righteous of the TaNaKh who suffered for their faith? Even though none of them received what had been promised, what was the something better that God had planned for them and for us?
REFLECT: Think about the others in verse 36 who didn’t receive miracles or liberation for their faith. Instead they suffered and even died. Why does it make sense to hold onto your faith even if it doesn’t bring you deliverance from your suffering? How does your faith help you to stand firm in a very evil world?
For a Jew to become a believer in the first century it was always costly. It often cost him his friends, family, synagogue privileges, job, social status, and community respect. Some of the Jews on the edge of salvation receiving this letter to the Hebrews were tempted to return to Jerusalem and the old Levitical sacrificial system. Such hesitant Jews were being shown in this chapter that ADONAI’s faithful followers were not like them. When the righteous of the TaNaKh chose God, they were fully committed because they had a right view of who YHVH is. Right faith is based on right theology. Faith believes and obeys God because faith knows that He cannot lie, cannot make a mistake, cannot do wrong, cannot be defeated and cannot be surpassed. A God like this can be trusted. In fact, with a God like this, it doesn’t make any sense to do anything else but trust Him. Unbelief, of course, is blind to this sort of God and therefore sees trust and obedience as foolish. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (First Corinthians 1:18). There is never enough proof for unbelief. It walks by sight.347 But those who are righteous will live their lives by faith (Hebrews 10:38 CJB quoting Habakkuk 2:4 CJB).
Countless others: There were far too many heroes of faith for the writer to deal with in detail. And what more shall I say? It would take too long to recount all the stories of faith (11:32a). So the author singles out the three best-known judges; a general, David, who is also the best-known king; Samuel the judge-prophet; and other unnamed prophets.
Gideon (Judges 6:11 to 8:35), a judge and military leader, had assembled 32,000 men to fight the Midianites and the Amalekites. To keep Isra’el from thinking the coming victory was won by her own power, Ha’Shem cut her forces down to 10,000 and then to a mere 300. Those 300 were chosen solely on the basis of how they drank water from a spring. The enemy, by contrast, were as thick as locusts; their camels could no more be counted than the sand on the seashore (Judges 7:12). However, Gideon’s men were outfitted only with trumpets and with pitchers with torches inside. With even fewer men and less effort than used to defeat Jericho, the entire heathen enemy army was routed (Judges 7:16-22). Only a fool would have attempted such a courageous approach to battle apart from God’s direction and power. From the perspective of faith, however, only a fool would not attempt such a thing when he has the LORD’s direction and power (11:32b).348
Barak (Judges 4-5): is unknown in Scripture outside the brief account in Judges 4-5 and the mention of his name in Hebrews 12:32. We are told nothing of his background or training. Through Deborah, the judge, Ha’Shem promised that Isra’el would be delivered from Jabin, the Canaanite king, whose great commander, Sisera, had a large, powerful army that boasted 900 chariots. According to the LORD’s instruction, Deborah asked Barak to assemble an Israelite army of only 10,000 men, taken from two tribes, Naphtali and Zebulun. The rest of the tribes were not asked to participate, apparently to show Isra’el, and the Canaanites, that YHVH could be victorious with only a token army from a small part of Isra’el. Barak assembled his men on Mount Tabor and charged Sisera as God had commanded him. At Barak’s advance, the LORD routed Sisera and all his chariots and army by the sword (Judges 4:15). Barak and his men no doubt fought bravely, but the success of the campaign was ADONAI’s. Otherwise, Isra’el would have been slaughtered. Barak was told in advance that the glory of the victory would not be his. Not only did God fight the battle for His people, but He allowed a woman, Deborah, to kill Sisera (Judges 4:9), so that Barak would have even less cause for claiming the credit for himself.
Barak believed God’s promise of victory and was not the least concerned that a woman would get the credit for slaying Sisera. In fact, he insisted that Deborah go to battle with him (Judges 4:8). He wanted her spiritual, not her military, help. She was the LORD’s anointed in those days and Barak wanted the LORD’s anointed with him. The fact that he wanted her along was another indication of his trust in ADONAI. As God’s prophetess, she was of greater value to him than his 10,000 men. Barak was not concerned about Sisera’s power because he had God’s power. By such courageous faith he conquered kingdoms (11:32b).349
Jephthah preceded Sampson as judge of Isra’el, and his responsibility was to subdue the Ammonites, one of Isra’el’s many enemies. Despite his foolish vow (Judges 11:30-31), Jephthah’s trust was in ADONAI (Judges 29 and 32). Even people of faith make mistakes, and God honored Jephthah for his faith (11:32b).
Samson (Judges 13-16): is not most remembered for his faith, but for his physical strength and personal gullibility. In many ways he was immature and self-centered, unable to cope with the miraculous power of Ha’Shem had given him. However, he was a man of faith. He never doubted that God was the source of his power, of which his hair was only a symbol.
Samson was a judge of Isra’el and was given the special task of opposing the Philistines, who then ruled over Isra’el. Samson’s own motives for fighting the Philistines were often mixed, but he knew he was doing ADONAI’s will in ADONAI’s power. From his early adulthood the Ruach ha-Kodesh had been with him, and we are told specifically that it the Ruach that strengthened him in his amazing one-man battles (Judges 13:25, 14:19, 15:14, 16:28).
Samson knew that Ha’Shem had called him and that Ha’Shem had empowered him to take the lead in delivering Isra’el from the hands of the Philistines (Judges 13:5). God had promised him that power and Samson trusted God for that power. He faced the Philistines not in the courage of his physical prowess but in the courage of faith. We are inclined to judge Samson (no pun intended) by his weakness. But YHVH commends him for his faith (11:32b).350
David stands out as one of the obviously great men of the TaNaKh. His trust in ADONAI began when he was a boy, tending sheep, killing lions and bears, and talking on Goliath with a slingshot. When David faced Goliath he was supremely confident that Ha’Shem would give him the power to defeat the Philistine giant. While the rest of Isra’el, including King Sha’ul and David’s own brothers, were trembling in fear, David boldly walked out to Goliath and announced: This day ADONAI will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head . . . and the whole world will know that there is a God in Isra’el (First Samuel 17:46). It seems that it never occurred to David not to trust in the LORD. Like the other heroes of faith, David wasn’t perfect, nevertheless YHVH called him a man after My own heart, he will do everything I want him to do (Acts 13:22). He pleased God because of the courage of his faith to trust Him and do His will (11:32b).
Samuel is added to this list of warriors, though he was not a warrior. But he fought a battle equal to any that soldiers face. His greatest foes were idolatry and immorality. He had to stand up in the middle of a polluted society (sounds familiar doesn’t it) and fearlessly proclaim God’s truth. His severest opponents frequently were not the Philistines, the Amorites, or the Ammonites – but his own people. It often takes more courage to stand up against our friends than against our enemies. Social pressure can be more frightening than military power. This prophet of God, who was also Isra’el’s last judge, began ministering before the LORD – a boy wearing a linen ephod (First Samuel 2:18), and continued to be faithful to ADONAI throughout his lifetime. He ruled in faith and prophesied (11:32b).
The prophets are unnamed except for Samuel. As the writer had mentioned earlier that it would take too long to recount all the stories of faith (11:32), he does not have time to go into detail about the many other faithful people of the TaNaKh, or to even mention them all by name. These prophets, just like Gideon, Barak, and the others risked everything for the LORD. They cheerfully, courageously, and confidently accepted Ha’Shem’s commands and faced whatever opposition came along. They did not fight on the battlefields, but they had many victories in ADONAI because they believed in Him; they conquered through the courage of faith (11:32b).351
The exploits of 11:33-34 are general and refer collectively to the persons above. Through faith they conquered (Greek: katagonizomai meaning literally to fight down, thus, to struggle against or overcome and signifies a desperate contest) kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions (quoting Dani’el 6:22), quenched the fury of the flames (Dani’el 1:6, 3:1-30), Elijah and Elisha were among those who escaped the edge of the sword (First Kings 17:8-24; Second Kings 6:31ff); whose weakness was turned into strength, and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. God specializes in turning weakness into strengths. He wants to take your greatest weakness and transform it.
Continuing in Suffering: Not all those of faith experienced miraculous deliverance. Although widow of Tzarfat and the women of Shunem received back their dead, raised to life again through Elijah and Elisha’s ministries many did not. But from the Apocrypha we learn how in the days of the Maccabees, the ninety-year-old Torah-teacher El’azar willingly chose to die ‘al Kiddush Ha’Shem (“to sanctify God’s name as in Acts 7:59-60), rather than eat pork and appear publically to have forsaken Judaism – he was among those who were tortured, refusing deliverance, choosing death instead, so that they might gain an even better resurrection, an immortal one.352 The word tortured (Greek: tumpanizo meaning torture with the tumpanum, a wheel-shaped instrument, over which criminals were stretched and then horribly beaten with clubs). Some faced jeers, flogging, and even chains and imprisonment as seen in Jeremiah 20:2, 37:15 and 38:6 (11:35-36).
They were put to death by stoning (11:37a). This was a well-established method of execution as seen in the stoning of Achan after the fall of Jericho (Joshua 7:24-26). Zechariah, one of the righteous of the TaNaKh, a faithful man, was also stoned to death (Second Chronicles 24:20-22). It was, in fact, the means of carrying out the death penalty in Isra’el. However about the time Jesus was born, the Romans took away the right of the Jews to use their method of execution and instead implemented the cross, the Roman method of execution, in its place. That’s why Jesus was executed on the cross and not stoned to death.
They were sawed in two (11:37b). This was a commonly known form of torturing people to death, and according to the first century book, The Ascension of Isaiah, the prophet Yesha’yahu (Isaiah) was killed in this way. The Talmud gives this description, Rabbi Shim’on ben-‘Azzai said, “I found a genealogy scroll in Yerushalayim and it is written there that King M’nasheh (Manasseh) killed Yesha’yahu.” Raba said, “Before killing him, M’nasheh staged a trial and said, ‘For men shall not see me and live’ (Exodus 33:20); but you say, ‘I saw Adonai sitting on a throne, high and lifted up’ (Isaiah 6:1).” Yesha’yahu replied, “It is well known that you do not receive what people tell you; so if I answer your accusations, I will only turn you into a willful murderer.” So Yesha’yahu said a Name [of God, thought of as having supernatural power] and was swallowed up by a cedar. However, the cedar was brought and sawed in two; and when the saw reached Yesha’yahu’s mouth he died; [this was his punishment] for having said: I live among a people of unclean lips (Isaiah 6:5) (Yevamot 49b).353 Like Abel, however, he continues to speak to us even after death.
And the sword killed them because they would not deny their faith (11:37c). Great faith conquers great fear. But we need to remember that more believers have been killed and are being killed than in any time in the history of the world.
The faithful went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and holes in the ground (11:37d-38). The description fits Elijah (First Kings 19:9), as well as the pious Jews who fled from the persecution of Antiochus IV in the time of the Maccabees (First Maccabees 2:38). Yochanan the Immerser wore camel skins (Matthew 3:4) and led a similar life, while Yeshua Himself had no home to call His own (Luke 9:58). In other words, the righteous of the TaNaKh were utterly unrewarded and unappreciated during their lifetime; the other side of that coin is seen when our author writes that the world was not worthy of them.354
The world is not worthy of having such people in its midst, just as these people did not deserve the sufferings they received. For its inflicting the suffering, the world will be judged and punished; for their enduring the suffering the faithful will be resurrected and rewarded. They knew with Rabbi Sha’ul that the sufferings of this world are not worthy to be compared with the glory that will be revealed to us (Romans 8:18), and they looked forward with Peter to an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven (First Peter 1:4). God does not promise us deliverance from all suffering. Yeshua said: If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you (John 15:20).355
Counting on Salvation: True faith has the courage to count on salvation. They knew very little about the nature of the time or the means of God’s salvation. But they knew it was coming, and this was the basis of their trust. They had an abiding confidence that one day ADONAI would do the necessary thing to redeem them and reward them. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised (11:39), that is, they only foresaw that it would be fulfilled and died in faith since God had planned something better for us. ADONAI provided this something better for us that is for those under the B’rit Chadashah, which is why only together with us would they be made perfect (11:40). That is, not until after the cross could their salvation be completed, or made perfect. Until the shedding of Messiah’s more superior blood (see Bz – The Better Tabernacle Purified with Better Blood), no salvation was complete, no matter how great the faith the righteous of the TaNaKh may have had. Their salvation was based on what Christ would do, ours is based on what Christ has done. Their faith looked forward to a future promise; ours looks back to a historical fact.356
As we learn from this chapter, the life of faith isn’t always easy. Many of the heroes of faith suffered persecution, deprivation, or martyrdom. Knowing this, do not be surprised when trials come your way, but expect them as a normal part of the life of faith. Mediate on the following verses to prepare yourself to face your next trial: Acts 14:22; Romans 8:18; First Corinthians 10:13; Philippians 1:29-30; James 1:2-4; First Peter 2:20-21 and 5:10.357