The Many Faces of Faith.


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, 34 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. – Hebrews 11:32-38 ESV

The list goes on. The author of Hebrews draws this chapter to a close, but can’t help but add a few more names to his growing list of the faithful. He mentions Gideon, who lived in Israel during a time of spiritual apathy and moral depravity. God had given the Israelites over the the hands of the Midians as punishment. “For whenever the Israelites planted crops, the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the East would come up against them. They would encamp against them and devour the produce of the land, as far as Gaza, and leave no sustenance in Israel and no sheep or ox or donkey” (Judges 6:3-4 ESV). But when the people cried out to God, He sent them Gideon as a judge to deliver them. But Gideon was a reluctant deliverer. When God called him, his response was less than enthusiastic. “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house” (Judges 6:15 ESV). And God’s response to him was simple and direct: “But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man” (Judges 6:16 ESV). Gideon would go on to accomplish great things for God, delivering His people from the oppression of the Midianites – by faith. Each step of the way, Gideon had to believe God’s promise that He would be with him.

This is true of each of the individuals listed in the verses above. Barak had to face the overwhelmingly superior armies of Sisera on the words of Deborah, a prophetess. The odds were against him, but He obeyed the word of the Lord and God gave Israel a great victory.

Then there was Samson, a somewhat surprising addition to the list. His story is a sad one and does not end well. He was driven by his desires and eventually defeated by them. But on the final day of his life, having been blinded by the Philistines and chained between two pillars, he called out to God in faith. “O Lord God, please remember me and please strengthen me only this once, O God, that I may be avenged on the Philistines for my two eyes” (Judges 16:28 ESV). That prayer of faith, lifted up in his most vulnerable, weak condition, was answered by God. “Then he bowed with all his strength, and the house fell upon the lords and upon all the people who were in it. So the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he had killed during his life” (Judges 16:30 ESV). He died in faith, trusting in His God and giving his last minutes of life to destroy the enemies of God.

What about Jephthah? He had been born as a result of his father’s immoral affair with a prostitute, and when he became an adult, Jephthah was thrown out of the family by his brothers. He ended up living in a form of exile from his family and found himself in the companionship of “worthless men.” But when the Ammonites began to oppress the Israelites, they sought out Jephthah to deliver them because he was a mighty warrior. In his newfound position as the judge of Israel, Jephthah turned to the Lord, and he made a vow to God. “If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the Lord‘s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering” (Judges 11:30-31 ESV). Jephthah believed that God could and would deliver His people. But he wrongly assumed that God would want something in return, so he bargained with God. I suggest that Jephthah fully believed that God would come through and that he would be required to follow through on his vow. But little did he know that after God had given him the victory over the Ammonites, it would be his own daughter who came out of the house to greet him. He would go on to sacrifice his daughter. This is a bizarre and disturbing story. It seems a bit strange to include this man in the Hall of Faith. But while Jephthah’s understanding of God was somewhat flawed, he did believe in the power and deliverance of God. He trusted that God would and would come through. His problem was that his faith in God was marred by a faulty understanding of God.

In the case of David, the stories that exemplify his faith in God are many. The psalms he wrote echo his belief in God and his unwavering faith that God was his savior and sustainer. From the moment David was anointed the next king of Israel, he had to live a life of faith in God, spending years trusting in the promise of God while running for his life from the wrath of King Saul. He had been anointed king by God, but Saul was still on the throne. David learned to wait on God, believe in God, trust in God, and rely on God. And his life reflects that faith.

From his earliest days as a young boy serving in the house of the Lord under the watchful eye of Eli the priest, Samuel developed a growing faith in God. He would become a prophet for God, speaking on his behalf and leading the people of Israel to obey the will and word of God. Samuel would eventually be called on by God to anoint Israel’s first king. And while he was reluctant to do so, he obeyed. Throughout his life, Samuel would learn to trust God. He had to believe that God knew what He was going, even when it seemed to make no sense. His faith is best seen in his faithful obedience to the will of God. What God said, he would do. What God declared, he would believe. Trusting that God knows what He is doing even when you can’t comprehend it or completely appreciate it is a hallmark of faith.

The author of Hebrews goes on to illustrate that faith is oftentimes accompanied by rousing success, including military victories, strength in the midst of weakness, deliverance by the hand of God, and mind-blowing miracles. But just as often faith can be accompanied by less-than-ideal circumstances. He mentions torture, mocking, flogging, chains, imprisonment, stoning, destitution and even death. Faith doesn’t always result in a happy ending. Samson died under the very rubble that destroyed the Philistines. David died never getting to build the temple he dreamed of constructing for God. Jephthah would see the accolades for the victory over the Ammonites go to a woman. The focus of our faith should always be God. Faith is trusting Him regardless of what we see happening or not happening around us. The presence of difficult does not mean the absence of God. The lack of answer is not proof of God’s lack of power or interest. Faith that is God-focused is willing to wait and comfortable accepting seemingly unacceptable outcomes knowing that God is not done yet.

 

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