Faith succeeds despite inadequacy (Hebrews 11)

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“And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised…” (Hebrews 11: 32-33)

This is something of a peroration. You can almost imagine the author striding about the room, whilst a hapless secretary struggles to keep up with the dictation.

This brief list takes us from Judges, Samuel and into Kings and Chronicles, just as the previous thirty-two verses have scanned the stories of Genesis through to Joshua. In this way, Hebrews 11 gives us a lightning tour of the entire Old Testament period. The criterion for selection is the life of faith, for “This is what the ancients were commended for.”

And the present verses suggest that it’s a representative, rather than comprehensive list. “I do not have time to tell…” the rest of the stories, but these examples must suffice, he seems to say. So “Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah…” form the roll-call from the book of Judges. Othniel, Ehud and Shamgar (Who?) don’t make the grade. And -surprisingly- Deborah loses out to Barak, without any explanation. It can’t be a gender-specific selection, with the place given to Rahab in the previous verses, so perhaps the author is using some sort of catechetical listing.

Also, if you want to be precise about it, Barak ought to precede Gideon,  Jephthah should precede Samson, and Samuel should come before David! And then we are missing Abimelech, Tola and Jair and several others famous for their anomynity.  My attempt at nit-picking here should remind you that this is a sermon and not a telephone directory. It has a point that is not served by (mere) facticity.

So what do these men have in common? What is the point the author is trying to make? It’s this:  FAITH ENABLES FLAWED PEOPLE TO ACCOMPLISH GREAT THINGS FOR GOD.

The author lists four men from the period of the Judges, followed by “David, Samuel, and the prophets.”

The interesting thing is that these all had some serious shortcomings, but in spite of these flaws, God honoured their faith.

Gideon at first was cowardly and had to be coaxed to do what God called him to do. After his amazing victory with 300 men over the Midianite army of 135,000, he made an ephod that lured Israel into idolatry (Judges 8:24-27). Yet in spite of his failures, the author names him as a hero of faith.

Barak won a great victory for Israel over an army that had 900 chariots, but he only did it at the prodding of a woman, Deborah.

Samson routed the Philistines on numerous occasions, yet he was tripped up by his lust for foreign women.

Jephthah, the son of a harlot, was at first driven away by his half-brothers. But later, the elders of his home town pled with him to return and lead them in battle against the enemy. He won a victory, but then made a rash vow to sacrifice the first thing that came out of his house when he returned from battle. His only daughter came out to greet him, and he foolishly kept his stupid vow.

David was a man after God’s heart, who had great faith even as a teenager, when he defeated Goliath. But he later committed adultery and then murder to cover his tracks.

Even Samuel, although a godly man himself, failed to raise his sons to follow the Lord (1 Sam. 8:1-3).

If you put these men under the microscope, their shortcomings quickly become apparent. But in spite of these flaws, God used them because they trusted Him in some challenging situations.

We would apply this improperly if we shrugged off our sins and shortcomings as no big deal. We should be confronting our sins, growing in holiness and maturity. But this list should encourage us with the fact that God uses imperfect people who trust in Him. While we should never justify our sins, we don’t have to wait until we are sinlessly perfect (which is never!) to serve the Lord.

So faith succeeds despite inadequacy. Aren’t you glad of that? God doesn’t look for a perfect performance.  In the sermon entitled “The Scripture Way of Salvation,” John Wesley described it as having “purity of intention.” That is to say, God looks not for a pure performance but for a pure intention.

And there are three glorious outcomes of that intentionality named here. You join the roll-call of those “who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised..”  

  1. “Conquer kingdoms:” You take territory for God.
  2. “Administer justice:” You establish love and mercy as a way of living.
  3. “Gain what was promised:” You experience favour. 

God already knows that you are inadequate, but He is not thwarted by the knowledge! He looks instead for your faith in His promises.

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