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, 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. And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect. Hebrews 11:32-40
The author of Hebrews has expended focused energy on the great figures of the faith, and after approaching the promised land, he marvels over the long list ahead of him and the short amount of time to share it. So, he summarizes. We notice his haste as he approaches Christ himself. It is tempting after all of the characters we have read about to join him in his pace and gloss over this final section. But let’s journey the last leg of the race before culminating in Christ, and let’s consider a couple of his quick references and descriptors, knowing every word carries power to inform our faith.
The first four names—Gideon, Barak, Samson, and Jephthah— are all judges from a time when God’s people repeatedly “did what was right in their own eyes." David and Samuel ushered in an era of redemptive history under a king who strived, although he was not perfect, to return God’s people back to him.
The prophets cover all of Israel’s remaining history before the Messiah arrived—the divided kingdom and periods of time before, during, and after the exile. No wonder the author flies by these! How could he cover that span of events with precision? Instead he offers powerful reminders that signal stories to come racing to the front of our minds.
Maybe a couple of the phrases caught your eye, like, “stopped the mouths of lions.” Probably others, like, “obtained promises,” remained vague or too broad of a category to identify. You might not recall the Zarephath widow or the Shunammite woman who “received back their dead by resurrection” through the ministries of Elijah and Elisha (1 Kings 17, 2 Kings 4). This first section highlights glorious outcomes of victory, where God’s chosen overcome impossible odds through him. It’s exciting! Then it shifts to the other side of the coin rather rapidly.
We tend to prefer the stories of faith that come first in these verses—those where the underdog overcomes, the weakest wins out, and the impossible miraculously gets resolved. You may personally know men and women who experience this kind of end—cancer defeated, car wreck without a scratch, destitute to flourishing. These stories captivate us with awe over the power of our God.
Yet if this is the only script we have for what it means for faith to be real, we will be sorely disappointed with God when hardship comes to us. Our hands will be closed with an agenda for his will rather than open to what he purposes. We’ll succumb to accusations about whether we have enough faith or cast our accusations Godward, defining his character by our fading circumstances rather than his timeless Word.
When these two realities stand on either side of each other, we’re tempted to look at man and wonder, “Whose faith is stronger?” But the strength of faith will always be found in its object.
The author of Hebrews forces us to reckon with the kind of faith that would compel men to face the fury of flames, the multitude of foreign armies, even the mouths of lions—to face death itself—and not flinch. Those in the first section endured similar battles as the second, yet they lived. The nameless men and women of this section faced death with as much conviction and courage as the first, and death greeted them with open arms. Though the ends of their stories diverge, the author unites them by their shared faith.
And what kind of faith is strong enough to face death? Faith that is certain of life on the other side. Faith that is founded upon “resurrection…that they might rise again to a better life” (11:35). The resurrection to life eternal in the presence of our glorious God creates a hope within us that is unshakable, hope that will never put us to shame.
Our hope comes to us in a person, in God himself wrapped in flesh—courageous enough to face death and vulnerable enough to be killed. Christ looked death in the face, staking his faith in God’s trustworthy promises, and took its sting. But God raised him from the dead! He emerged from the grave with a victory he willingly shares with all who place their faith in him. The content of our faith is our Savior, and he is a sure foundation.
When hardship comes to you, what does your response reveal about where your faith is placed?
How does the power of the resurrection inform your faith and grow your endurance?