As we look at the 11th chapter of Hebrews, let's keep in mind its context in the book. The theme of the book is found in:
Hebrews 10:23 (NKJV) Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.
The very heart of the book is a solemn plea to Jewish believers not to return to Judaism, thus committing apostasy. He was urgently trying to get them to remain faithful. This book is a call to endurance, to faithfulness, and maturity in the midst of trials and persecutions:
Hebrews 10:35-39 (NKJV) Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise: 37 "For yet a little while, And He who is coming will come and will not tarry. 38 Now the just shall live by faith; But if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him." 39 But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul.
We're to live by faith, trusting in God in each and every experience of life. The life of faith is the life of victory. The writer's design in chapter 11 is to encourage us through the examples of those who by faith were victorious.
We come this morning to the story of the fall of Jericho, which is another example of the victory of faith:
Hebrews 11:30 (NKJV) By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they were encircled for seven days.
Turn with me to Joshua 5 and let's look at the historical setting:
Joshua 5:6 (NKJV) For the children of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness, till all the people who were men of war, who came out of Egypt, were consumed, because they did not obey the voice of the LORD; to whom the LORD swore that He would not show them the land which the LORD had sworn to their fathers that He would give us, "a land flowing with milk and honey."
This tells us why there is such a gap between verse 29 and 30 of Hebrews 11.The generation of Israelites that came out of Egypt would not trust God, and because of their unbelief, they spent 40 years wandering in the wilderness until everyone who was over twenty had died.
Joshua 6:1-5 (NKJV) Now Jericho was securely shut up because of the children of Israel; none went out, and none came in. 2 And the LORD said to Joshua: "See! I have given Jericho into your hand, its king, and the mighty men of valor. 3 "You shall march around the city, all you men of war; you shall go all around the city once. This you shall do six days. 4 "And seven priests shall bear seven trumpets of rams' horns before the ark. But the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets. 5 "It shall come to pass, when they make a long blast with the ram's horn, and when you hear the sound of the trumpet, that all the people shall shout with a great shout; then the wall of the city will fall down flat. And the people shall go up every man straight before him."
This is an unusual call for faith; it sure sounds like a strange way to conquer a city. Their situation: They had just crossed the Jordan river, and by doing so had burned all their bridges. They had nowhere to run, they were now in the enemy's territory, and they had to fight or die. Jericho was a walled city, actually a fortress. It contained an armed garrison filled with experienced warriors. Jericho had to be defeated before the valleys of Canaan could be occupied. This is one of the cities that frightened the spies, causing them to say, "The people are greater and taller than we, the cities are great and walled up to heaven". To their eyes, the city seemed impregnable. But by faith, they obeyed God. It took a tremendous amount of faith to follow through with this plan. March around the city? What if the Canaanites shot at them, or dropped rocks on them from the top of the wall? Nothing could seem more foolish than for grown men to march around a strong fortress for seven days on end led by seven priests blowing rams horns.
Joshua 6:10 (NKJV) Now Joshua had commanded the people, saying, "You shall not shout or make any noise with your voice, nor shall a word proceed out of your mouth, until the day I say to you, 'Shout!' Then you shall shout."
Why were they to keep silent? These men were the immediate descendants of the greatest grumblers who ever lived. Their fathers complained and murmured until God swore in His wrath they should not enter into His rest. How much trouble would have been caused if every man had been left free to express his opinion? It only takes one negative griping person to get people stirred up. God was protecting them from themselves.
Joshua 6:15-16 (NKJV) But it came to pass on the seventh day that they rose early, about the dawning of the day, and marched around the city seven times in the same manner. On that day only they marched around the city seven times. 16 And the seventh time it happened, when the priests blew the trumpets, that Joshua said to the people: "Shout, for the LORD has given you the city!"
Joshua 6:20-21 (NKJV) So the people shouted when the priests blew the trumpets. And it happened when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, and the people shouted with a great shout, that the wall fell down flat. Then the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city. 21 And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, ox and sheep and donkey, with the edge of the sword.
They obeyed God and He destroyed the city. Their victory was accomplished by faith. Chrysostom said, "Assuredly the sound of trumpets is unable to cast down stones, though one blow for ten thousand years, but faith can do all things."
The faith of Joshua and the children of Israel serves as a good illustration of the Christian life. A Christian is never going to live the Christian life without running, sooner or later, into some Jericho; some massive kind of problem. It is by this same faith that other Jerichos, both large and small, can be overcome.
2 Corinthians 10:3-4 (NKJV) For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. 4 For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds,
Our warfare is spiritual and so are our weapons.
We all have our Jerichos, and it is by faith that we conquer them. Did Jericho fall because of the shouting, or trumpets, or marching around it? NO, it fell by faith; God told them what to do and they obeyed Him. Believer, you can't conquer your problem by marching around it, God never told you to do this. This tactic has been used by many believers in order to get something from God. I know of believers who have marched around land claiming it for God. Please, it was their faith, not their particular actions, that caused Jericho's fall. "By faith the walls of Jericho fell down." Believer, whatever your Jericho is, find a promise from God that is applicable to it, and trust Him for the victory.
In Verses 32-35, (We'll look at verse 31 next week) The author gives us some other examples in which faith has enabled the people of God to be victorious over incredible opposition:
Hebrews 11:32 (NKJV) And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets;
The implication of the rhetorical question is that there is no need for further elaboration - "I don't have time to continue to go into detail." These names are no more than a random sampling of the many deserving of mention. The selection made is rather startling, I would not have chosen these men as an example of faith, but God did.
The writer does not go into detail about what these men did. But if we examine the Old Testament record, we find that each man battled against overwhelming odds so that, humanly speaking, there was little chance of his coming out on top. For men in such positions, faith in God was not a formality. It meant real trust when the odds seemed stacked against them. They set worthy examples for the readers in their difficult circumstances.
They also show us that faith is not a rarity, which the readers might be unlikely to experience. It has been often found, and can be found today. Let's look at some of the examples the writer uses:
Gideon - We're all probably familiar with the story of Gideon; God took a cowardly, weak man and turned him into a man of faith.
Judges 6:11-12 (NKJV) Now the Angel of the LORD came and sat under the terebinth tree which was in Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, while his son Gideon threshed wheat in the winepress, in order to hide it from the Midianites. 12 And the Angel of the LORD appeared to him, and said to him, "The LORD is with you, you mighty man of valor!"
This is actually comical, Gideon is hiding as he attempts to thrash wheat, and the Lord calls him a "Mighty man of valor."
Judges 6:13 (NKJV) Gideon said to Him, "O my lord, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, 'Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?' But now the LORD has forsaken us and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites."
He questions God's presence with them. Have you ever done that- doubted God's presence in times of trouble?
Judges 6:14-16 (NKJV) Then the LORD turned to him and said, "Go in this might of yours, and you shall save Israel from the hand of the Midianites. Have I not sent you?" 15 So he said to Him, "O my Lord, how can I save Israel? Indeed my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father's house." 16 And the LORD said to him, "Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat the Midianites as one man."
"Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat the Midianites as one man" - this is the foundation of his faith, he has God's word, but it took some convincing before Gideon was ready to obey. Gideon repeatedly asked for confirmatory signs, he was slow to trust God. I can relate to Gideon, can't you? Through a series of events, God took Gideon from a cowering coward to a man of great faith. With 300 men with no weapons, Gideon went up against 135,000 armed trained warriors. The point should be obvious, they certainly weren't trusting in themselves, it was all up to God.
Judges 7:19-22 (NKJV) So Gideon and the hundred men who were with him came to the outpost of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, just as they had posted the watch; and they blew the trumpets and broke the pitchers that were in their hands. 20 Then the three companies blew the trumpets and broke the pitchers; they held the torches in their left hands and the trumpets in their right hands for blowing; and they cried, "The sword of the LORD and of Gideon!" 21 And every man stood in his place all around the camp; and the whole army ran and cried out and fled. 22 When the three hundred blew the trumpets, the LORD set every man's sword against his companion throughout the whole camp; and the army fled to Beth Acacia, toward Zererah, as far as the border of Abel Meholah, by Tabbath.
This is how you are to live the Christian life, by faith in God, and not in yourself. Trust in Him, and let Him fight your battles for you. It took a lot of faith to do what Gideon did, he believed God, and he tackled the impossible. Apart from faith, what he did was stupid.
Barak - we're probably not too familiar with Barak. But according to God, who inspired the writing of Hebrews, he was a man of faith. The story of Barak is in Judges 4. Barak took 10,000 men and attacked and defeated the mighty massive force of Sisera. Practically speaking, there was no way Barak could handle Sisera, but God told Barak, "I will deliver him into your hand."Barak believed God, and won the battle.
Samson - we're all familiar with him, but we might not of thought of him as a man of faith, but he was:
Judges 15:14-18 (NKJV) When he came to Lehi, the Philistines came shouting against him. Then the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon him; and the ropes that were on his arms became like flax that is burned with fire, and his bonds broke loose from his hands. 15 He found a fresh jawbone of a donkey, reached out his hand and took it, and killed a thousand men with it. 16 Then Samson said: "With the jawbone of a donkey, Heaps upon heaps, With the jawbone of a donkey I have slain a thousand men!" 17 And so it was, when he had finished speaking, that he threw the jawbone from his hand, and called that place Ramath Lehi. 18 Then he became very thirsty; so he cried out to the LORD and said, "You have given this great deliverance by the hand of Your servant; and now shall I die of thirst and fall into the hand of the uncircumcised?"
He knew that his strength was from the Lord. It takes a lot of faith to fight 1,000 men, no matter how strong you are. Samson's conquests illustrate the truth of 1 Samuel 14:6; that God is able to save by many or by few.
Jephthah - this is another man that we are not too familiar with.
Judges 11:1 (NKJV) Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty man of valor, but he was the son of a harlot; and Gilead begot Jephthah.
He was a bastard, yet God placed His Spirit upon him and advanced him to the highest dignity and function among His people and prospered him exceedingly:
Judges 11:9 (NKJV) So Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, "If you take me back home to fight against the people of Ammon, and the LORD delivers them to me, shall I be your head?"
Jephthah trusted in the Lord. He faced tremendous odds, yet believed God and won the victory.
Judges 11:32-33 (NKJV) So Jephthah advanced toward the people of Ammon to fight against them, and the LORD delivered them into his hands. 33 And he defeated them from Aroer as far as Minnith; twenty cities; and to Abel Keramim, with a very great slaughter. Thus the people of Ammon were subdued before the children of Israel.
David - David spent his whole life facing incredible odds and trusting God for the victory. David said to Goliath in 1 Samuel 17:46, "This day will the Lord deliver thee into mine hand." David's victories were by faith. As we read through the life of David in the Bible, we see that when he trusted God he was strong, and when he didn't trust God he was filled with fear.
Samuel - He never fought in any wars, but he fought the battle of idolatry and immorality. He had to stand up in the midst of a polluted society and speak for God, and that takes faith.
The Prophets - Samuel and the prophets balance the warriors. To fight for God takes faith, but it also takes faith to speak for Him.
All of these men listed are just men, they weren't perfect, they often failed. They were men of like passions with us, and from that fact we may take comfort. He lists among the faithful: Gideon, a big coward ( it took a lot of convincing to get him to trust God); Barak, he wouldn't go into battle unless Deborah went with him (what a man); Samson, he married a Philistine- he was so weak as to yield the secret of his strength. In so many ways, Samson was a failure, he was a sinful man, and yet he was an example of faith; Jephthah, because of a rash vow, he sacrificed his only daughter (Judges 11:30-35,39); David, an adulterer and a murderer, and yet used as an example of faith.
Surely, there is a lesson to learn here. These examples are all real people who were not perfect, but in the midst of their weakness, they trusted God, and as they trusted God, they were made strong. But when they failed to trust God, they were weak. Strong faith does not await perfection of character. Faith is a response to who God is, not what we are. It's encouraging to me that God would use these men as examples of faith It helps me to see that I don't have to be perfect to trust God, but as I learn to trust Him, I'll grow. It also shows me that faith can be strong one minute and weak the next, and the key to strong faith is keeping our eyes on God. Is faith practical? You bet it is, and the next three verses show us just how practical it can be.
Hebrews 11:33-35 lists the accomplishments of faith, their variety shows how many different situations to which faith can be applied. These believers overcame every imaginable type of adversity through faith:
Hebrews 11:33 (NKJV) who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions,
The Greek word for "subdued" is katagonizomai, it means: "to fight down" or "to overcome" They were victorious; Joshua, David, Gideon. We too are called to overcome a kingdom, "the kingdom of self":
Romans 8:13 (NKJV) For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
This may often seem like a hopeless task, but we can do it by faith. The Old Testament gives us physical pictures of spiritual realities.
"Wrought righteousness" - literally the Greek means: "they executed justice," it refers to leaders who upheld justice against pressures.
"Obtained promises"- by faith they received what God had promised:
Joshua 21:43 (NKJV) So the LORD gave to Israel all the land of which He had sworn to give to their fathers, and they took possession of it and dwelt in it.
"Stopped the mouth of lions" - who do you think this refers to?
Daniel 6:10-13 (NKJV) Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went home. And in his upper room, with his windows open toward Jerusalem, he knelt down on his knees three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early days. 11 Then these men assembled and found Daniel praying and making supplication before his God. 12 And they went before the king, and spoke concerning the king's decree: "Have you not signed a decree that every man who petitions any god or man within thirty days, except you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions?" The king answered and said, "The thing is true, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which does not alter." 13 So they answered and said before the king, "That Daniel, who is one of the captives from Judah, does not show due regard for you, O king, or for the decree that you have signed, but makes his petition three times a day."
Daniel would not be forced into compromising by the threat of the lions, nor should we be by the mocking words and actions of the world's lions today. Paul wrote, "But the Lord stood at my side.....and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion."
Verse 34 "Quenched the violence of fire."
Daniel 3:13-15 (NKJV) Then Nebuchadnezzar, in rage and fury, gave the command to bring Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. So they brought these men before the king. 14 Nebuchadnezzar spoke, saying to them, "Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the gold image which I have set up? 15 "Now if you are ready at the time you hear the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre, and psaltery, in symphony with all kinds of music, and you fall down and worship the image which I have made, good! But if you do not worship, you shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you from my hands?"
They refused to bow. They knew what God's word said:
Exodus 20:5 (NKJV) you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me,
What would you do? Notice their faith:
Daniel 3:16-17 (NKJV) Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego answered and said to the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. 17 "If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king.
"Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us" - They knew that their God was able to deliver them from the furnace, but they had no means of knowing if He would:
Daniel 3:18 (NKJV) "But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up."
"But if not... " - had they received a special revelation that their lives would be spared, it would have called for considerable faith to act upon it in the face of the burning fiery furnace, but to behave as they did without any revelation of the kind called for much greater faith.
The people to whom this epistle was sent might well have a fiery ordeal to face in the near future, but whether life or death was their portion, they could be sure of divine companionship in the midst of it such as the three Hebrews enjoyed.
Look at the outcome of their faith:
Daniel 3:28-30 (NKJV) " 28 Nebuchadnezzar spoke, saying, "Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, who sent His Angel and delivered His servants who trusted in Him, and they have frustrated the king's word, and yielded their bodies, that they should not serve nor worship any god except their own God! 29 "Therefore I make a decree that any people, nation, or language which speaks anything amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made an ash heap; because there is no other God who can deliver like this." 30 Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego in the province of Babylon.
All because they trusted God. God was exalted, and they were physically preserved and promoted.
"Escaped the edge of the sword"- David escaped the sword of Goliath and Saul, and there are many other examples.
"Out of weakness were made strong"- to everyone who has been mentioned above and who will be mentioned below, this declaration is applicable, for faith is the response of all who are conscious of their own weakness and accordingly look to God for strength. This principle can be seen in the last feat of Samson as he destroyed the temple of Dagon or in David's slaying of Goliath.
The key to the Christian's strength is in maintaining a consciousness of his weakness (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). In our weakness, we look to God's strength.
"Became valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens"- there are many, many examples of this in the scripture. All of the judges cited, in addition to David, put foreign armies to flight (1 Samuel 17:51).
Hebrews 11:35 (NKJV) Women received their dead raised to life again. And others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection.
"Women received their dead raised to life again"- Elijah raised the dead son of the widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:17-24). Elisha raised the dead son of the Shunammite woman (2 Kings 4:18-37). The faith of these prophets brought back those children from the dead.
I think that it's clear that the dominant thought in all these examples is triumph over adversity; victory in battle because of faith in God.
The chief reason why believers experience so little victory in their spiritual lives is because their faith is so little in exercise. We think we are strong, and that's why we're so weak. We trust too much in ourselves and our own resources and too little in God.
May we be encouraged from these examples, and grow in our faith. God is worthy of our trust in every situation.
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