I. A Faith of Conquest – vs. 30-31
By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they were encircled for seven days. By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe, when she had received the spies with peace. – Hebrews 11:30-31
In the journey of the faithful recorded for us in Hebrews 11 we make a rather large leap from the Israelites and Moses crossing the Red Sea in verse 29 all the way to the fall of Jericho in verse 30. That is a skip of well over 40 years. Why? What does that tell is about the generation that died in the wilderness? It shows us that those who left Egypt were not the ones who entered the Promised Land, except for Caleb and Joshua. Moses died before entering the Land as a direct result of his sinful behavior at Meribah (Numbers 20). The rest of the people died without entering the Land due to their lack of faith. They did not believe God and the result was that they did not enter the Land Promised to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
The sin of faithlessness is a serious offense as it finds us declaring with our minds and emotions that God cannot be trusted. A whole generation failed to believe even though they were the ones who had seen God deliver the people from Egypt through the plagues, through parting the Red Sea, through the provision of food and water, through a pillar of cloud and of fire to lead them by day and night. Their shoes did not even wear out.
The nation rejected God’s promise and then wandered in the wilderness for 40 years until that faithless generation had died while still wandering with no home. Joshua and Caleb believed God, spied out the Land and reported back that God was able to deliver the Land to them, and they were part of the people who inherited the Land.
Now we come to the fall of Jericho and what a victory this was. Jericho was a large city ringed by a set of two walls over 30 feet high. The outer wall was 6 feet thick and the inner wall was 12 feet thick. The city was built into the side of a hill and so had to be attacked on an upward incline. Most cities fortified and situated like this were attacked, surrounded, supplies were cut off, and the enemy waited until those in the city starved to death. Otherwise they could not take the city.
This was the first city that the Israelites were commanded to take. They were to kill the inhabitants for their grievous sins against God, and they were to leave the city in ruins. The order from God was to take nothing. No spoils. No captives. Nothing. Leave the city in ruins for their sin. The only people to be spared were Rahab and her family, but we will read more about that later.
God promised that He had already given Jericho to the people. To Him it was a done deal. He told Joshua how the city would be taken. The army of Israel was to march around the city one time a day for six days. The seventh day the city was to be marched around seven times and then seven priests were to blow trumpets. When the trumpets sounded the people were to shout. And the walls would fall down.
This gave the people an opportunity to see the power of God. They only knew of the stories of the power of God in Egypt from their parents second hand. They had not seen the plagues or the parting of the Red Sea. But now they would see a mighty city destroyed simply by an act of faithful obedience.
They did what they were told and marched around once a day for six days. On the seventh day they marched seven times and when the trumpets sounded Joshua shouted, “Shout, for the Lord has given you the city!” The people shouted and the walls fell. The term used is translated that the walls fell “flat” but the Hebrew word used means literally under or beneath. They did not fall outward. They literally crumbled and sank into (under, beneath) the ground, making the place where the wall had been a flat surface that could be walked over directly into the city.
The ruins of Jericho prove the Scriptures to be true. The walls are rubble stacked upright underneath the ground as if they sank straight down into the earth. Of course they are there – the Word of God is true. Israel was able to walk into the city and take it. God did what He said He would do. He said He gave them the city. They believed. And God gave them the city. The most well fortified city cannot stand in the way of what God has planned.
What a victory. What faith. What a demonstration of God’s power. What a faith builder for the people. Before Jericho fell, before the army of Israel marched around the city seven times on the seventh day or once a day for six days, before Israel started to conquer or inherit the Promised Land, before all this there was an encounter with a harlot that would change the history of the world.
Joshua had sent spies to Jericho to gather information about this great city that they surely would have to conquer when they entered the Land. Those spies were hidden by a woman named Rahab. She was a harlot. She hid the men from the king of Jericho and then lied about knowing where they were from or where they had gone. She made sure they were sent safely away to report to Joshua. She expressed faith in God based upon what she had heard about God, Israel, and the Exodus from Egypt, and she asked them to save her and her family. The spies agreed that she would be saved for protecting them.
When they came to attack Jericho they had instructed Rahab to put a scarlet cord out of her window to mark where her house was, as it was one of many homes built into the city wall. She did. There is one section of the walls of Jericho, located to the north of the city, that did not fall and still stands today. There in that section of the wall are houses. One of those was Rahab’s. God saved her.
Now the Bible never commends her lying, but it does commend her faith and the actions that her faith produced in sparing the lives of the spies. This harlot, this woman of ill repute, confessed faith in God, was accepted into the nation of Israel, and in fact was used in God’s plan to bring the Messiah to be born. For Rahab is one of five women listed in the genealogy of Jesus Christ. She was the mother of Boaz, who married Ruth, who gave birth to Obed, who begot Jesse, who was King David’s father. Rahab was the great-great grandmother of David and a distant direct relative of Jesus.
The women listed in this genealogy are significant and show God’s plan that the gospel is to be preached to all people. Those five women are Tamar, a Canaanite who posed as a prostitute to seduce her father-in-law Judah. Rahab was a gentile harlot who came to faith, spared the spies and was herself spared. Ruth was a Moabite woman and thus her offspring were forbidden to enter the assembly of the Lord. Bathsheba, Uriah’s wife, committed adultery with David. And Mary the mother of Jesus was accused of being pregnant outside of wedlock.
God used each of these women to accomplish His purposes in bringing about the birth of the Savior. Their sins were never praised, but their faith is. They believed God and were forgiven and used for His glory.
You see, God can use each of us and we are all sinners. He came to seek and save that which was lost, to forgive our sins and free us from the power and penalty of them. It is indeed incredible that God used sinners, and also that in the written Word He made a specific point to include women, even Gentile women, in the genealogy of Christ. Women were not usually mentioned in genealogies, but God makes a point here. Men and women of faith, no matter their lineage or their past, are called and used by God to accomplish His purposes.
II. A Faith of Consequence – vs. 32-34
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: who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. – Hebrews 11:32-34
Verse 32 starts, “And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of ……” In other words, there is not room in the Book nor words enough to adequately detail all those who have been faithful to God. What a truth. So often it seems that true solid believers are far and few between, but the reality is that there are many, so many faithful that there are not enough words to tell about them. There is not time to cover them all. That makes me glad that eternity is forever – that will give us all the time we need to get to know the faithful.
There are so many faithful and so many works that result from faith that there is so much more to be said. We each have a part in saying what needs to be said. Our testimony is a valuable contribution to these things that the writer of Hebrews did not have time to say.
Have you ever thought that there are so many faithful? Have you ever thought about the fact that we really are not ever alone? No matter how lonely we feel, Jesus never leaves or forsakes us and we are surrounded indeed by so great a cloud of witnesses, of the faithful who know and trust God and encourage us on as we run the race of faith.
What more can we say? There is plenty more to say as we look at those who are faithful and as we strive to see and know the One who is the Object of that faith. Remember – we are never alone. Never. God is always there with us.
We have been given quite a list here in these few verses – a list that the author just does not have time to recount. These are (or should be) familiar stories from the Old Testament about those who trusted God and lead and ministered to the people of God. They walked by faith.
Let’s review who these people are. Who are these who have been added to the Hall of Faith? Each of them in these verses is a prophet or a judge. David as King is the only king listed in the Hall of Faith, and he is also a prophet, having written the Psalms which include prophecy, including predictions and prophecies fulfilled by Christ. Let’s look at this group.
“The children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord.” And so the Lord used the Midianites to oppress and impoverish Israel for 7 years. As a result the nation finally cried out to the Lord for help and deliverance.
Gideon was called and appointed by God through the message of the Angel of the LORD to be a judge over Israel. He had a desire to save his people but was concerned at that start of his ministry because he was from the small tribe of Manasseh. Remember Joseph’s sons blessed by Isaac? Well Gideon was a descendent of Joseph through his son Manasseh.
The Lord directed him to tear down the altar of Baal, but the Scriptures tell us that because Gideon “feared his father’s household and the men of the city too much to do it by day, he did it by night.” Indeed, the men of the city, upon learning that the altar had been desecrated and torn down and that Gideon was responsible, demanded that he be put to death. But Gideon’s father Joash told these men that if Baal was indeed a powerful god then he should be allowed to plead for himself. Hereafter Gideon was known by the nickname Jerubbaal, which means “Let Baal contend.” The Bible says that he earned this nickname as people would say, “Let Baal plead against him, because he has torn down his altar.”
Later, as the Midianites and others encamped against Israel and prepared to attack them, Gideon received instructions from the Lord. He was told that he would be used to protect Israel by overcoming their enemies. Yet his faith faltered and he sought assurance from the Lord by means of a fleece.
Judges 6:36-40 gives us the account:
36 So Gideon said to God, “If You will save Israel by my hand as You have said— 37 look, I shall put a fleece of wool on the threshing floor; if there is dew on the fleece only, and it is dry on all the ground, then I shall know that You will save Israel by my hand, as You have said.” 38 And it was so. When he rose early the next morning and squeezed the fleece together, he wrung the dew out of the fleece, a bowlful of water. 39 Then Gideon said to God, “Do not be angry with me, but let me speak just once more: Let me test, I pray, just once more with the fleece; let it now be dry only on the fleece, but on all the ground let there be dew.” 40 And God did so that night. It was dry on the fleece only, but there was dew on all the ground.
This dual test was not an exhibition of faith, but of doubt. Gideon even pleaded with God not to be angry with him, knowing that he was testing the Lord after having been told to his face by the Angel of the LORD that he would lead the Israelites to victory. Thankfully, we see that God graciously gave Gideon the signs he had requested in order to bolster his faith.
Gideon was to lead an army to defeat the Midianites in a well known battle. He raised an army but the Lord said that there were too many men. When they won the victory that He promised He knew they would claim the glory so God wanted to make it clear that He was giving them victory. He had Gideon narrow down his army. First Gideon told anyone who was scared to fight that they could go home. Twenty-two thousand men left.
Secondly he was instructed by God to take the men to the river to drink, and when they drank those who cupped the water in their hands and lapped it were to be chosen for the battle. Having started with 32,000, then having 10,000 God narrowed the group down to only 300 men who lapped the water.
God gave Gideon the battle plan. Gideon divided the force into three groups of 100 men. They each had a trumpet and a torch. The torch was covered in a jar and when Gideon gave the order they broke the jar so that the light shone out and they blew the trumpets. The enemy though they were surrounded by a great and fierce force and in the confusion the Midianites started fighting and killing each other. The survivors fled, God received the glory, and Gideon was noticed for his faith.
Barak was a judge who served with Deborah, also a judge. Israel had begun to fall into sin again and the king of Canaan was oppressing them. Barak, a military commander and a judge was appointed to drive Jabin and his armies out of Israel. However, while he is remembered for his faith he is also known for relying on Deborah to win the victory. He was unsure on his own but when Deborah went with him into battle he led the armies of Israel to victory.
Because he insisted that Deborah go with him instead of leading as he should have, Barak was told that a woman would get credit for killing the commander of Jabin’s army, a man named Sisera. So while Barak’s army drove them out and defeated them Sisera escaped.
Sisera fled and hid in a tent, resting from the battle. The tent was where Jael and her husband Heber lived. Jael asked him to come rest, covered him with a blanket, and when he asked for water to drink she gave him milk instead. He was weary and surely the milk helped induce sleep. As he was drifting off he told her to stand guard and deny that he was there if anyone came looking for him.
As surely as Deborah had prophesied to Barak for his dependence upon a woman, a woman, Jael, killed Sisera. While he was sleeping she took a tent peg and a hammer and nailed him to the floor, driving the peg through his temple through to the ground. She then showed his dead body to Barak who had been pursuing him.
Barak, with Deborah’s help, led the nation to freedom from oppression and into a time of peace. He was faithful. He did ultimately trust God and God gave him the victory.
As we study these men and women we need to pause every once in a while and remember the lessons learned through these snapshots of the history of God’s people. Today, ask yourself, “What is God doing in my life right now that only He can get the glory for?” If you have to think too long without an answer get to praying. God delights in the impossible and He alone deserves the glory. Ask Him to do things in your life that only He can take credit for. Glorify and magnify Him.
Samson was born to Manoah and his wife, who was barren. Israel had fallen into sin and was being overrun by the Philistines, a bad situation that just got worse and worse for 40 years. All of course because of the people’s sin. But God sent Samson to judge Israel and bring them freedom from the Philistines and to turn them back to God.
What we learn here in the text is that God can and does use sinners. I am glad, because “all have sinned” and if God did not use sinners then He would not have anyone to use. Of course, we also learn from the story of Samson the great and terrible price for sin. God uses sinners and He forgives sin, but the wages of sin is still death.
As Samson was appointed by God to deliver His people he was given by God great strength. The Spirit of the Lord would come upon him and he could do incredible feats, such as killing a lion with his bare hands. Other situations find him being betrayed and as a result burning down the Philistines wheat fields and even on one occasion when they tried to arrest him, he broke free from the ropes that bound him and with the jawbone of a dead donkey as a weapon he killed 1,000 Philistine men. Another time when they tried to trap him he tore the huge and heavy city gates off the wall and carried them to the top of a hill. As they say in the South, “All by his lonesome.”
He did have a weakness in the midst of the amazing feats of strength though. Women. Women who worshipped false gods. One in particular, a woman named Delilah, caught his eye. The Philistines knew of his interest in her and induced her to seduce him. She tried and tried to find out what caused his great strength and time and time again he misled her and would not tell her. He really was daft you know, loving this woman who over and over tried to get him captured or killed.
The secret to his strength of course was that he was empowered by the Holy Spirit. He had been set apart for this work and was a Nazarite. As a result of this vow he did not cut his hair. Eventually he told Delilah that the source of his strength was that his hair was not cut. So what did she do? He ended up with a hair cut, no strength, and a new set of chains to wear. When the vow was violated it says that the Spirit departed from him. There was no anointing any longer. He was like any other man.
He was captured, bound, his eyes put out, and he was made to work as a grain grinder, pushing a stone in a mill in a prison. At one point the Philistines were celebrating having defeated their enemy and capturing Samson so he was paraded in front of them and their gods were worshipped and exalted because he had become a prisoner. He asked a boy to help him lean up against the pillars of the pagan temple where this party was being thrown. He prayed for strength and vengeance and God answered. He tore the pillars down and the temple collapsed, killing around 3,000 Philistines. He died himself, but did so in an act that once again helped rescue Israel from their persecutors.
Samson teaches is that no one is above sin and no one can succeed without God and His strength. As he is mentioned in Hebrews 11, he had faith. He trusted God and leaned upon Him and died defending His people.
This man of faith judged Israel for 6 years and we read about him in Judges 11 and 12. He was born the child of a harlot and was rejected by his father’s other children. He was forsaken but not helpless. He commanded a band of raiders who were asked after an attack by the Ammonites to lead the army of Israel.
While he was a brilliant military leader and was used of God to free the people from this attack by Ammon, Jephthah is better known for making a rash vow. Have any of us ever done that? Have we made a promise to God, saying that if He will do something for us then we will do something for Him? This was what Jephthah did. He promised to God that if he was given the victory over the Ammonites then when he returned home, whatever came out of his house first would belong to the Lord.
That does not sound too bad until we realize what he meant. He made a vow – if God gave him victory then he would give God, as a sacrifice, whatever first appeared from his house when he went home.
Surely he thought it would be an animal of some sort that he could sacrifice to God. But instead, after God gave him the victory and he came home, the first thing to come out that door was his daughter! She was his only child, a young woman, still a virgin. And he had made a promise to God.
After telling his daughter, who knew how serious a vow to God was, she asked for two months to “bewail” this decision. She went to the hills and with her friends mourned her impending death. This is an incredible view of making a vow. Both Jephthah and his daughter knew that what he had promised God he had to pay!
After two months she returned home and was sacrificed. It became a custom in the land then for young virgin women to spend four days a year mourning for her because of this rash vow.
Several factors must be considered here for there are several lessons to learn, and Jephthah is listed in the Hall of Faith. First we must understand that Jephthah had a wrong view of vows, for provision was made to redeem a person who had been consecrated to the Lord by a vow. Once they were set apart for the Lord (not to be killed but set apart for some service) they would then be redeemed, or bought back, at a price set in Leviticus 27:1-8. So Jephthah was not required to sacrifice her! He apparently was ignorant of the Law in this case and actually did what was an abomination before God and sacrificed his daughter, killing her on an altar.
We must see how seriously he and his family took making a promise to God. Think about it – how often today do people lie and break vows? We think of marriage and divorce, but even the little things, the white lies we tell violate God’s Law. Jephthah took making a promise to God so seriously that he was willing to kill his only daughter to keep that promise. How seriously do we take making a vow to others or especially to God?
When we make a promise to God, we must mean it and keep it. We need to be sure that we understand what we are promising! We should not make promises just to get a favor from God. That is ignorant. God does not bargain with us. If we are facing a hard situation He desires that we pray and fellowship with Him and His people for strength and counsel and guidance. There is no need for rash vows that we will break or that will lead us into sin. Talk to God about it and let Him work all things out for our good and His glory – He promises nothing less.
David is best known as a great King, the Psalmist, and a “man after God’s own heart.” For all his greatness, he started out in the humble position of serving his family as a shepherd. Shepherds were just about the lowest rung on the social ladder in that day and time. It was not great job, no great social position, and no great honor. Watching the flocks was one of the chores that went to the youngest member of the family or the lowest slave in the household.
And yet David, as a young boy, was a faithful shepherd. He fearlessly defended his flock against a lion and a bear. Later when a young teen, as he was taking provisions to his older brothers who had gathered with King Saul and the armies of Israel to fight the Philistines, David overheard the mocking blasphemy of a giant Philistine warrior named Goliath.
Rather than sit still and allow this uncircumcised Philistine to mock God and Israel, David volunteered to fight him. Saul and the others thought he was crazy but also were too afraid to do anything themselves. So Saul had David put on his armor to prepare for battle. The armor was too big of course, as David was a teenager and Saul was “from his shoulders upward…taller than any of the people” (1 Sam 9:2). David removed the ill fitting armor, went to the brook and picked up five smooth stones, and went to face this giant with his staff and sling, the weapons of a shepherd.
Goliath was nine feet nine inches tall. He had an armor bearer who carried his shield out in front of him. He was armed with a sword, spear, and javelin. David proclaimed that he was coming in the name of the Lord whom Goliath had defied. David even proclaimed a brief word of dooming prophecy to Goliath:
“You come to me with a sword, with a spear, and with a javelin. But I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 This day the LORD will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you and take your head from you. And this day I will give the carcasses of the camp of the Philistines to the birds of the air and the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel. 47 Then all this assembly shall know that the LORD does not save with sword and spear; for the battle is the LORD’s, and He will give you into our hands.” – 1 Sam 17:45-47
David ran toward Goliath, pulled a stone from his pouch, put it in the sling, and hit Goliath in the forehead. The Bible says that the stone sunk into his head killing him. David did not have a sword, so he took Goliath’s, and to show that he was dead, cut his head off, just as he had prophesied and promised.
After this battle and great victory David and Jonathan became best friends, making a covenant together to take care of each other and their family for the rest of their lives.
Even after this victory, Saul was often distressed. The Lord would send a distressing spirit from time to time and the only relief Saul could find was found in David skillfully playing his psalter (a stringed instrument that is a cross between a hand held harp and a guitar). Saul also became jealous of David as the people sang about his victory over Goliath.
One day Saul became distressed enough that he tried to kill David by throwing a spear at his while he sat at the King’s Table having dinner with him and his family. Saul drove David out and in the conflict that resulted David had several opportunities to capture or kill Saul but he would not raise his hand against God’s anointed authority over him.
David’s faith is demonstrated not just in his bravery, but also in his willingness to do things God’s way. As things settled down for a time in Israel God sent Samuel to anoint David, testifying that he, and not any of Saul’s sons, would be the next king of Israel.
After this David led a group of “Mighty Men” and defeated several enemies of Israel, including the Philistines, Moabites, Syrians, and Edomites. Later as Saul and Jonathan were killed in battle with the Philistines, David fulfilled his promises to Jonathan caring for his family members for the rest of his life.
As he then became king of Israel, we know that he did great things for God and for the nation. He expanded the kingdom, brought peace, and even penned many of the Psalms giving us poetry put to music for the worship of God.
He was indeed identified as a man after God’s own heart. And yet, even though he was mentioned for his faith in Hebrews 11, we have to note the obvious. David was just a man. He was a sinful man. He was at times obedient and a shining example of what it means to believe and obey God. There are no better passages in Scripture that help us see God’s awesome majesty than the Psalms. But he was still just a man.
He had problems with his kids, raising one son, Absalom, who would murder his half brother Amnon and then rebel and even try to take the kingdom from his father. Of course we know about David and Bathsheba. He committed adultery with her and then had her husband killed in battle to cover up his sin. He was confronted by the prophet Nathan and at first would not confess his sin, but once he did he wept bitterly and repented, even fasting before God. The son conceived of adultery died, but later we know that Bathsheba had a son, Solomon, who would be one of the greatest kings the world has ever known.
David knew what it was to sin, to rebel against God, and also to repent and to desire being restored to the joy of the Lord’s salvation. He believed God.
Instrumental in the formation of the kingdom of Israel by the anointing of Saul and then David to be kings, and overall as a godly influence throughout the land, we are all likely familiar with the story of the birth, life, and ministry of Samuel.
I want to examine the first part of his life and hold him up as an example not only as a faithful prophet, but also as a godly child. Samuel did much for the Lord and I want to focus on when he was born and when he was young. I hope this will encourage us all to have the faith of a child, and also that it will give us an opportunity to teach and encourage our children. No one is ever too young (or too old) to be used by God!
The Book of 1 Samuel tells us that before his birth, Samuel’s mother Hannah was barren. She was very much loved by her husband but could not have children. The Bible is clear that it is the Lord who closes and opens the womb but even in this dark providence Hannah found little encouragement as she was mocked by her “rival,” her husband’s other wife who had many children. People who often have things that others want can be unusually cruel. It does not help Hannah that the Bible is surely true when it states that one of the things in this world that can never be satisfied is the womb of a barren woman (Proverbs 30:15-16).
As the story is recorded for us, Hannah so wanted children that during an annual pilgrimage to worship the Lord and make sacrifices at the Tabernacle she went alone to be before the Lord and pray for a child. As she prayed with hurt in her soul and tears in her eyes, her lips were moving but no sound was coming out of her mouth. Eli, the priest, thought she was drunk. She was not and explained the sadness she faced. Eli pronounced that she would have what she asked for, and she had just asked for a son so that she could dedicate him to the Lord for His purposes and use.
Later, Hannah did conceive and gave birth to Samuel. His name means “heard by God” and of course he was so named because God had heard the prayers of his mother. After he was weaned she took him to the Tabernacle to dedicate him to the service of the Lord. He lived there with Eli, serving in the worship of God, and learning about Him. His mother visited him on her annual pilgrimages always thanking God for His hearing her prayer.
Samuel Ministered before the Lord
1 Samuel 2:18 records for us these amazing words:
Samuel ministered before the LORD, even as a child, wearing a linen ephod.
Samuel is an example to us of the truth that even children can serve the Lord. He did. This was no little service. In his service he wore a linen ephod. This was a seamless garment, a robe made for him by his mother. But more than that, it was specifically a priestly garment. It was an outer garment worn by the priest as he officiated before the altar in the sacrifices and worship to God (Exodus 28:6-14).
Even as a young child Samuel was assisting in the worship of God as a priest. He ministered before the Lord. This reminds us that while those who minister in the church do preach to the congregation, the truth is that the ministry of the church is ultimately and always “to the Lord.” Throughout the Scriptures we see that true service and ministry is service and ministry to God, not for God. Often we think that we go to church so that we can be the recipients of some blessing, but in truth, we should be going to minister to God instead of looking for a ministry from God. How easy is it to flip that focus around and make church about us instead of Him?
Samuel Grew in Stature and Favor with God and Men
The next thing we notice about Samuel is that he grew in stature and favor with God and men (1 Samuel 2:26). This means that he grew up and matured and also that he grew in grace. He ministered effectively to God and to men. Even as a child, he was seen to be maturing and growing into a godly man.
How do we view children and young people? Do we see them as growing and maturing? Do we believe that God can and does use young people and even children to accomplish His purposes? He does. Samuel is all the proof we need. He ministered before the Lord and he matured and grew up in grace, serving God and his fellow men. Who else do we know that the Scripture speaks about in this manner?
And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men. – Luke 2:53
Interestingly, as we mentioned the linen ephod, the seamless priestly robe, did you know that this was the kind of robe that Jesus wore? In fact, it was the very kind of garment that the soldiers cast lots for while He was dying on the cross.
Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took His garments and made four parts, to each soldier a part, and also the tunic. Now the tunic was without seam, woven from the top in one piece. They said therefore among themselves, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be,” that the Scripture might be fulfilled which says:
“They divided My garments among them, And for My clothing they cast lots.” Therefore the soldiers did these things. – John 19:23-24
Samuel provides for us a type of Christ in the Old Testament – a picture and a parable as to what the Messiah would be like.
The Lord Called Samuel
In seeing his faith, even from childhood, we know that in 1 Samuel 3 Samuel was called by God at a young age and began to receive prophecies from the Lord. Likely he was a young teenager at this point, as it is the same word used for “boy” that is used of David when he killed Goliath when he was around the age of 14. Josephus puts Samuel’s age here around age 12. The point of course is that God has already proven that He can and will use people of all ages to speak His Word and accomplish His purposes. We should never think our children, or ourselves, are too young to serve the Lord or be an example to the church (1 Timothy 4:12).
One night as Eli and Samuel prepared to go to bed, God called out to Samuel. He thought it was Eli so he went to him, but it was not Eli, so he went back to bed. Then God called again. Again he thought it was Eli and so he went to him. It was still not Eli calling. By the third time Eli caught on to what was happening and he instructed Samuel that the next time the Lord called he was to answer, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” The Lord called again and Samuel replied as instructed. The Lord spoke to Samuel. This was the beginning of his prophetic ministry to Israel.
Here we find the best example of what it means to be a godly child and a man of faith. Whether young or old when God calls we should be ready to listen. When the Spirit speaks to us through the Word read, preached, and meditated upon we should be willing to hear. Samuel responded to God’s call by exclaiming that he was listening. Have we learned how to hear His voice? How to listen to God? Have we taught our children to listen to God? Are we sensitive enough to know when God is calling us or our children?
Samuel shows us what it is to be a godly child of God. Today, do you have the faith of a child? Simple trust, knowing that God is there calling and leading. Listen, do you hear His voice?
We have studied the lives of many of the people who the Old Testament was written about or by, and now having seen faith in the lives of “Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel,” we have come to “the prophets.” Who were these men? What was their message? Why are they included as a group in this list of the faithful?
Just as the writer of Hebrews did not have the time or the words to describe all of these and their faith, so to it would be a daunting task to try and list and describe every prophet mentioned in the Scriptures. Men like Elijah and Elisha, Isaiah and Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel, and all the others – some listed as “major prophets,” some as “minor,” not to differentiate between their messages but only the length and placement in history of their ministry and works. Some were embraced and listened to and sought for counsel, others were rejected and mocked and even killed for speaking the truth of God’s Word.
Truly we do not have time in this venue to examine closely all the prophets and their ministries so instead I want to spend a few minutes taking a look at what Jesus had to say about the prophets. Jesus, as a prophet Himself, not only spoke prophetically but also fulfilled prophecy. Let us see how He related to these men of faith. The Book of Matthew gives us more evidence of Jesus as the Messiah in direct fulfillment to prophecy than any other New Testament book, so let us start there.
For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. – Matthew 11:13
Jesus referred to all the prophets as those who spoke forth the Word of God up until John the Baptist. It is not that John was the last prophet, but certainly he was the last Old Testament prophet. With the coming of the Messiah, which John foretold and for whom he prepared the way, the main focus of the ministry of the prophets had been accomplished.
They preached the revealed Word of God to His people and the world in order to point them to the coming promised Savior. They presented Christ in prophesy, veiled in types and shadows. The ministry of John ended as Christ was revealed fully and finally to His people. Luke 16:16 refers to the change by noting that the prophets and law were until John but then came the preaching of the kingdom of God. It is not that the prophets were not part of the kingdom or did not allude to the kingdom, but there was a change from the Old to the New Covenants in the message and the messengers.
In the Old we have promised a Savior who is coming, yet to be revealed. In the New, the veil is taken away and the Messiah is seen coming in the flesh, God with us. That to which the prophets and law pointed had come in the Person of Christ.
Perhaps one of the most thorough comparisons in the Bible between the Old and New Covenants in this regard (other than the Book of Hebrews) is found in 2 Corinthians 3. In this chapter we are shown the glory of the New Covenant. The Old was glorious. The work and lives and ministry of the prophets was ordained of God for His purposes and was a glorious thing. But the New, the self-revelation of God through His Son, that is even more glorious. The prophets spoke of the glory to come, the apostles show us in the New Covenant the glory that is now here.
So we find that the prophets were men of faith, men who believed God and obeyed Him. They were used to give us the Word of God in the Old Testament and along with the Apostles, they form the very foundation of the church, of which Christ is the cornerstone. They are not just men of faith, they are foundational to the faith itself (Ephesians 2:20).
Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. – Matthew 5:17
As Jesus took up where the prophets left off, so to speak, He tells us plainly that He did not come to undo what they had done. This is important. Why? Because there is a disease in the church today that is trying to kill her! It is this dangerous and horrible idea that the Old Testament is not for Christians today. Some will misapply the statement that we are under grace, not law. Others say that the New Testament alone contains what the church needs to operate and succeed. Some reject the Old Testament as nothing more than a history book, not relevant to their faith.
However, the Bible is the Bible, it is One Book, comprised of 66 Books, containing the Old and New Testaments. It starts at Genesis and ends with Revelation. And it is all the Word of God, God-breathed Scripture that is “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). While Paul says that we are under grace and not law, he never meant that to be taken that the Old Testament is useless and irrelevant to the believer today. He could never have thought such. Think about it. When Jesus preached and ministered and the church was birthed at Pentecost, the only Bible they had was the Old Testament as the New was yet to be recorded for us.
So while Jesus challenged the teachers of His day and the traditions of men, He never intended to destroy the law or prophets. No! He came to fulfill them. This means not only that He is the fulfillment of prophecy, but that also He came to keep the whole law perfectly in our stead. This speaks to the righteousness imputed to us by faith when we are justified. Jesus obeyed all the law and kept everything the prophets said.
He did not come to undo what they had founded, but to finish the work, to lay the rest of the foundation, and to prove that indeed the Old Testament is not irrelevant or useless because the Old Testament testifies on every page one simple truth – He is. Just as God identifies Himself as “I AM”, so to the Old and New Testament reveals to us Christ. He is. He fulfills the Word, He is the Living Word, He is why the Bible was written. To cut the first 39 Books of that revelation off and toss it away is to reject the truth that all Scripture is given by inspiration.
Jesus is the climax of the Word of God. Its every page points us to Him. He is the substance that has cast the shadows of the Old Testament. He is the focus of every lesson, every story, every parable, and every Word. The prophets are not contained in the Hall of Faith simply because they trusted Christ. There is more to it than that. The prophets laid the foundation for the work that He would accomplish, they gave us the Word of God that He would fulfill and keep on our behalf.
On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets. – Matthew 22:40
Jesus not only fulfilled the law and prophets, but He also tells us specifically what they all mean. Even if we get lost in trying to figure out the application and interpretation of prophesy we can be sure of this one thing, everything that has been given to us in the law and prophets hangs on the two greatest commandments. This is the plumb line that we can use for determining what a prophesy or passage means as it is recorded in the pages of Scripture. What are these two greatest commandments?
When the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him, “ ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
All of the law, all of the prophets hang on these two things. All of the Old Testament can be placed in one of these two categories. Simply put, here is what the Bible teaches us – to love God with all we are and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
We see this even from the Ten Commandments. The first four tell us how we are to love God. The second six tell us how we are to love our fellow man. All of the Word of God hangs then on this principle of love – absolute, unconditional, unfeigned love for God and others.
Sadly, many use the law and prophets to preach a word of death and destruction and hate. How many “hate groups” use Scripture to try and defend their positions? But they cannot. Ultimately, Jesus by His own authority and in His own Words tells us that all the law and all the prophets depend upon and point to these two great truths about God and others – we are to love.
At times this may seem overly simplistic, but then the Word of God and the gospel is simple. Not cheap. Not easy. But simple. And if anyone ever tells you that it is easy they do not know what they are talking about. Following Christ is not easy. Loving God is not easy. Loving others is not easy. It is not natural for us as sinners to love anyone other than ourselves. Thankfully we are not “natural” men and women if we have been redeemed, regenerated by the power of the Spirit, and enabled to love because God is love.
So as Jesus related to the ministry and faith of the prophets, it was to use them to point to Himself, so that we might love Him and love each other without fail. If we can read the prophets and not grow in our love for Christ then we may be seeing the words on the page but we are failing to hear what they are saying. Look for Jesus on every page – as the Bible was given to us to reveal Him in all of His glory.
Captives of Faith
Studying these men and women of noteworthy faith we have seen a constant theme of God’s providence, protection, and provision for His people through those that believed Him with all their heart. After naming a few of them from the Old Testament the writer of these verses now tells us what these, and others who remain unnamed, did because of their faith. So once again we see that faith leads to action when it is real and sincere faith.
The list of accomplishments include describing those “who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.”
We have studied the subduing of kingdoms and the faith that was accounted as righteousness as well as the promises that were made and kept by God to His people starting with Abraham and his family. Some of my favorite accounts are listed next – the stopping of lions mouths and the quenching of the violence of fire. These of course are the stories we find recorded for us in the Book of Daniel.
Daniel was faithful and his faith was definitely a working faith. He prayed daily and unashamedly. He was used mightily of God in the Kingdom of Babylon and later the Medes where he and his friends had been taken in the captivity of Judah. They were noted for their strength and character and trained and educated to serve in the King’s palace.
His faithfulness and his faith got him in trouble though with those who were jealous of him. The story is familiar enough. Wicked men tricked the King into outlawing all prayer to anyone but to him. They knew Daniel would pray to his God so they waited for him, had him arrested, and persuaded the king to uphold the law. The penalty? Death! Death by being fed to hungry lions.
Daniel was thrown in to the lions den but God spared him. The lions mouths were shut and they did not bother him. God was glorified as the king praised Him for preserving Daniel from this wicked scheme, and in the end, the wicked men who plotted against him were thrown to the lions. Lest we believe that Daniel was spared only because the lions were not hungry or vicious, we are told that the wicked conspirators thrown in to the den were dead and torn to pieces before their bodies hit the floor.
Daniel’s friends had also seen a death penalty carried out against them. Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were later renamed and better known as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. On the day that all the people were called together to worship an idol set up by the King, they refused to bow. The would not worship the idol, even though they had heard the threat of death for failure to comply.
As surely as they worshipped only the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, their faith was tested, tried, and proved. The King said to them, “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?” And they replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. 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. 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.”
Their faith was such that even if God did not spare their lives, which they trusted He was able to do, they would still not bow to an idol. As threatened, they were thrown in to the fire as the king attempted to put them to death. What happened? We all know the story, I hope.
They not only were alive, but were walking around in the fire – the ropes burned off their hands and feet – and the Son of God was walking around with them! They came out and did not even smell like smoke, and Nebuchadnezzar worshipped and glorified God as a result.
A great gospel song written by Arthur Smith and recorded by Johnny Cash memorializes these men and the fiery furnace by declaring:
They wouldn’t bend, they held on to the will of God so we are told.
They wouldn’t bow, they would not bow their knees to idols made of gold.
They wouldn’t burn, they were protected by the fourth man in the fire.
They wouldn’t bend, they wouldn’t bow, they wouldn’t burn.
So here we have two examples of faith in action. Lives were spared in the midst of deadly trials. Those who had this faith knew that even if God did not spare their lives they could still trust Him. Jesus summed it up this way, “He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.” What lessons can we learn from just these 2 stories? An important one I think it to remember that while many people say that they are willing to die for their faith we must be willing to live it.
More to Say
There is so much more here that can be said. All of the stories of the Old Testament faithful and their feats of courage, strength, devotion, and faith should be told over and over as we study through the Bible with our children and our friends. There is no end to what we can learn from the pages of Scripture and these brief glimpses of what God can and has accomplished with redeemed men and women is a blessing, and encouragement, and a motivation indeed to press on in the faith.
As we started looking at these few verses I wondered what all we would cover. I could never have the time I would like to spend going through these verses and the related passages in the Scripture, but as we have worked through them we have seen a common thread of course – faith in God.
Which is more important? The faith or the object of that faith? At first we often would answer that the object of our faith is more important. Yes God is bigger than our faith. But, we must remember too that faith is one of the means that God uses to reconcile us to Himself. It is His free gift of grace, given by the Spirit, so that we might believe the Word we have heard and be saved and sanctified, growing closer and closer to Him and looking more and more like His Son.
In taking a look at what more can be said about these faithful and the God in whom they put their trust, let’s look at Psalm 78. Did you know that David did not write all the Psalms? Asaph wrote Ps. 50, and 73-83. In fact, here is a list of the men other than David and Asaph who wrote Psalms, or sections of the Psalms: Solomon (Ps. 72, 127), Moses (Ps. 90), Jeremiah (Ps. 137), Zechariah (Ps. 147), Heman (Ps. 88), Ethan (Ps. 89), Haggai (Ps. 112), and the sons of Korah (Ps. 42-49 and 84-87).
In Psalm 78 we have recounted for us in a song about God’s grace and mercy to Israel, even when she was rebellious to Him. Many of the things we have studied are here in this Psalm. The foundation to this Psalm and an understanding of the history we have covered is that God is both in control and working through History to bring glory to Himself and salvation to His people. His plan all along has been to send the Savior to seek and save that which was lost. These stories that we have covered are faith-based, for as these men and women believed God He used them to unfold this plan of salvation.
The most terrible thing is recorded in verse 32. It says, “In spite of this they still sinned and did not believe in His wondrous works.” You see, while we have been studying the faithful we must also be reminded of the unfaithful. The prophets, judges, and kings that ministered to the Lord were used by Him to judge, condemn, break, and redeem His people. Even as He spoke to them and called them back to Himself they remained rebellious and still sinned.
What a commentary. They still sinned. The faithful were used to preach the truth and live the truth about grace and salvation. God did wonders. He provided and protected His people. Yet in light of all this, in the face of His mercy and grace, they still sinned.
Where then do we find encouragement from this Psalm and the stories we have studied? First we must keep these faithful in mind as they are a testimony to us of God’s greatness and grace. They are the cloud of witnesses that surround us in this pilgrimage home. Secondly, they show us what to do and where to turn when we ourselves find that we, too, still sin.
There is a topic truly in which there is more to be said. The church today needs to know what God’s Word says when we still sin. After salvation. After experiencing grace. After forgiveness. After redemption. After all God accomplishes in saving us, we still sin. The church, His bride, who is called to holiness just as He is holy, is still sinning.
What patience and longsuffering God has toward His people. I am so glad that the Psalms also tell us that the mercy of God is forever! We need it to be forever, for we are so weak, and so fragile in our faith, and so prone to wander and stray and sin. We do still sin often. What then?
We must understand that sin is a lack of faith. That sounds simple but it is true. “Whatever is not of faith is sin.” When we fail to trust and obey God, we when reject His Word, when we go our own way it is because we lack faith. We have chosen to sin, to abandon the truth, or perhaps we are simply ignorant – which is no excuse because we have been indwelt with the Holt Spirit and He has given us a conscience to warn us about sin. How often do we ignore the Word, the Spirit, and our conscience in the pursuit of our own pleasure and self gratification.
We, like Israel, are so prone to still sin. We are in a war. It is a fight to the death. Jesus died to free us from sin, and we still sin. So what are we to do? If it really is a lack of faith then what can we do to strengthen our faith and renew out faith? How can we be revived?
There is one path to victory. There is one way to overcome. There is one way to win the war and gain victory on the battle field. That One Way is The Way. Paul, when writing about his struggles with sin declared “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Who? God. How? Through Jesus Christ.
Our salvation has already begun when we are converted. It continues as we are being sanctified. It will one day be complete when we are glorified. As that salvation continues we have one hope in the battle against the flesh and sin – Jesus! As we trust Him, as He sanctifies us, as we see our faith grow through the Word and as we see more and more of Who He is and what He has done for us, we truly come to know that He saved us and we cannot save ourselves.
This is the gospel. Every day we must be reminded about how we have been saved and what we have been saved from. Every day we need to remember that in context, Romans 8:28 has been given to us to speak directly about glorification. When Paul wrote, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” he was speaking in the specific context of the end result of our salvation.
While this verse is used often for the everyday bumps in the road we face, in reality, it was written to tell us that as we trust Christ, everything – I mean everything – will work out for the glory of God and for our good. How much better can it be than to know that when this short life if over we have been reconciled to God and given eternal life through His Son? How great is it to know that we will enjoy Him forever because of His saving work through the life and death and resurrection of Christ?
All things will work out for our good and His glory because we know that all things are in His control and all things are used to bring about His will for His own good pleasure and glory. Just as these stories we have studied. Trust God. He is in control. He will save us. He will come back for us. We are His. Walk by faith knowing that He is able to forgive us, even when we still sin.
III. A Faith of Consolation – vs. 35a
Women received their dead raised to life again. – Hebrews 11:35
This verse, included in a paragraph of text that tells us about a multitude of the faithful and their trust in Christ, teaches us that there is a price to be paid for faith. Up to this point we have seen the positive results of faith, promises made and fulfilled, victory, conquest, salvation, and abundant blessings, but here we read about the relationship of faith to torture and death.
The Bible tells us first here that women received their dead back to life again. Who were these faithful women and who died? This is a reference to two godly and faithful women mentioned in the First and Second Book of Kings.
The first is the widow of Zarephath and her only son who had died (1 Kings 17). This woman was out gathering sticks with which to build a fire in order to prepare a last meal for her and her son. She was out of food and out of hope, with nowhere to turn and no one to help her in this desperate hour of need. There was a severe drought in the land, proclaimed by the Lord through His prophet Elijah, and the effects were devastating to the people of Israel. This widow had no idea about what God had planned and at this point was simply ready for one last meal and then death.
The Lord sent Elijah to her. He came into town and asked her for a cup of water and a meal to eat. She replied that she had no bread and only a handful of flour and a little oil left. Elijah’s response was that she should not fear but should make him a small cake from the flour and oil and then she should make some for herself and her son.
Typical preacher, eh? How selfish! This prophet wanted her to fix him a meal when she did not even have enough for herself and her son. But this was indeed a test of faith, and she had faith. She obeyed his voice and heeded his words because when he told her this he said to her, “Thus says the LORD God of Israel: ‘The bin of flour shall not be used up, nor shall the jar of oil run dry, until the day the LORD sends rain on the earth.’”
So this was not selfishness at all. It was an opportunity for faith and the glory of God. She trusted God and did what Elijah asked and God made that little bin of flour and little jar of oil not run out until the drought was broken by plentiful rain some 3 years later. Did you hear that? She never ran out of what she needed. God provided daily, renewing that supply of flour and oil. She and her son never went hungry.
Later however there was an even more severe test of her faith. Her son became sick and died. She asked Elijah why he had come to her. When they met years before she was ready to die with her son but through faith she saw God spare them both and provide supernaturally for their most basic needs, but now her son had died anyway. She thought that perhaps this was the result of sin in her life, a judgment from God through Elijah, a steep price to pay for some unmentioned sin of long ago.
Elijah asked her for her son’s body, took him up into the upper room of her house where he was staying, and laid him out on the bed. He then cried out to the Lord asking why He had brought this tragedy on this woman. He then stretched himself out over the boy 3 times and prayed, “O LORD my God, I pray, let this child’s soul come back to him.”
The Bible tells us that the Lord heard Elijah’s prayer and the child came back to life! Elijah took him down and gave him to his mother, proclaiming, “See, your son lives!” This confirmed to her that Elijah was a prophet of God and spoke His Words.
We see here both the reality of the penalty for sin, which this widow understood – the wages of sin is death – and above that we see the deep reality of faith. Elijah asked God to raise this boy from the dead, and He did. This widow received her son back to herself alive from the dead because of the power of God in answering prayer.
We learn here that God not only promises to provide for what we have need of, but He also promises to give us life. He gives us new life in Christ by this same power that He raised this boy from the dead. You see, death cannot stop God. He is the giver and taker of life, and here we see an instance of this great power over sin and death in the life of this young boy and his mother who was a widow.
There was a second woman, a Shunammite, who also had a son who died. This time, from 2 Kings 4 we learn that the prophet Elisha had met a Shunammite woman and her husband and whenever he was traveling in the region he would stop by their home for a meal. In fact, the woman persuaded her husband to build an addition to the house to give him a place to stay when he was passing through. This truly is an example of Christian hospitality.
During one visit the prophet asked the woman what he could do for her to repay her kindness. It truly was a blessing to have a room to stay in when he was in the region. His servant reminded him that the woman did not have any children and so Elisha called for her and told her, “About this time next year you shall embrace a son.”
As we know, a barren woman is not to be trifled with in such matters, for the desire of a barren womb for children is never satisfied (Proverbs 30:16). She replied as if he were joking or taunting her, but I am sure in her heart she was excited to see if what he said as a Man of God would come true. As sure as the Word of God from Elisha, she did conceive and gave birth to a son just as Elisha had promised. The son grew and was a blessing to his mother and father.
One day while out in the field, the boy ran to his father crying out about his head. While we do not know the actual ailment that befell him we do know that it caused pain in his head and within hours killed him. He died in his mothers arms just after noon that day.
Here we have traveled from the heights of joy and fulfillment in birth and life to the desperation of sickness and sudden death. This promised son, this blessing that had not been expected, this answer to prayers was suddenly gone from their home. The woman took the boy’s body, laid it on Elisha’s bed, and she went with great haste and determination to find the prophet.
As Elisha saw her coming from far off, he sent his servant to enquire whether everyone was well. She replied that all was well but as she neared the prophet she fell on the ground and grabbed him by the feet. The servant tried to push her away but Elisha replied, “Let her alone; for her soul is in deep distress, and the LORD has hidden it from me, and has not told me.” He saw her distress and she said to him that he should not have given her hope or deceived her about having a child, for now she was once again childless.
There can be no greater pain in this life than the loss of a child, and here the loss was compounded by her prior barrenness. The long wished for fulfillment had been given and then taken away again.
Elisha went to where the boy’s body was, stretched out over him and prayed. The child at first grew warm, and then he sneezed seven times and opened his eyes – he was alive. The woman came in then and after bowing before Elisha she picked up her son who had now been given back to her.
As an aside it is funny to me that the tradition when someone sneezes today is to say “God bless you” or just “Bless you.” This tradition originated from the pagan idea that your spirit was blown out of you when you sneezed and if you were not blessed by God or gods with the return of your spirit to its rightful place then you were subject to curses, demon possession, and even death. I laugh at the fact that here the boy sneezed when his spirit came back, not when it supposedly left.
But here a great loss was wiped out and an incredible gift was given. This boy had been given once as a blessing for hospitality and now he had been given anew in response to persistent faith. This mother pursued the man of God and would not let go when it came to pleading for the life of this child. In a show of divine power the prophet was used to plead with God to grant the return of the life of this boy. She indeed received him again from the dead because of her faith.
Often we see God give gifts. Often we wonder why things are “taken away.” Sometimes they are given back, other times not. Job lost everything and then had more at the end than he had lost at the first. Others died for Christ alone and seemingly forsaken by men (Paul and others). But through it all we know this, God gives perfect gifts, and everything we have in this life comes through His hands.
What do you treasure today? What would you miss if you lost it? Do you have the faith to believe that God has given you what He wants you to have and has withheld from you the things He does not want you to have? In this day and hour of greed and covetousness, let us both learn to be content, but also to believe with all our hearts that God can and will bless us when we ask.
Others Who Were Raised
In 2 Kings 13 we read that Elisha the prophet became sick and after one last prophecy to the king of Israel, he died and was buried. As the seasons changed and spring was springing, it came time for war. The winter rains and the barren cold were being replaced by warmer and longer days, and armies were on the march. Groups of men from Moab began to attack without warning.
One day, as a man was being buried, the friends and family who were burying him spied a band of these raiders and so they rushed to finish the burial. When they did this they lowered the body down into the grave of Elisha, which was likely a cave that had been covered with a stone and had many caverns or rooms for burying dead bodies. As this particular body was hurriedly put into Elisha’s grave it touched Elisha’s remains, and the Bible says that when his body touched Elisha’s bones this dead man came back to life.
Yes indeed, what an awakening. This man was dead and when his body touched Elish’s bones, he was resurrected and stood up. I imagine he wanted out of the grave rather urgently. We are not told anything more about it here but can you imagine the scene? Grieving family and friends attempting to save their lives from this band of marauding raiders hurriedly buries their deceased loved on only to have him stand up and climb out of the grave.
What a testimony to the power of God. Even though dead, Elisha’s bones still conveyed the power of God. We have to remember that it is not the person, the minister, the counselor, the preacher, or the Christian who has power in and of him or herself. That power comes from God. Here Elisha’s bones prove that not even death can stop the power of God.
One illustration that we can use from this text is to remember that it is not by power, or by might, but “by My Spirit says the Lord.” Often we rely on the tactics and programs of man to do the work of God. We think we have to add to the Bible, or make it interesting, or liven it up and make it attractive, but the truth is that the power of God is at His disposal as He desires, and He is able even to use a boring preacher or a pitiful presentation to save souls! Why? The power is not in the preacher or the person – it is in the Word by the Spirit.
This is why Jonathan Edwards could preach a sermon in a monotone with no emotion or intonation and those who heard were grabbing the pillars and pews for fear that the floor was opening up and they were about to fall into the flames of hell. That is exactly what happened when he preached “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”
It is not new or exciting methodology that we need in the church today. It is power – the power of God flowing through usable vessels. Think about it, if God is able to raise a man from the dead through a dead man’s bones, what can He do through a living Church?
Sons and Daughters
Now we will turn to Luke chapters 7 and 8 for two accounts of children who were raised from the dead and given back to their parents. The first, which we read about in Luke 7:11-16, tells us about a widow’s only son who had died. Here is Luke’s account:
Now it happened, the day after, that He went into a city called Nain; and many of His disciples went with Him, and a large crowd. And when He came near the gate of the city, behold, a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his mother; and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the city was with her. When the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then He came and touched the open coffin, and those who carried him stood still. And He said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” So he who was dead sat up and began to speak. And He presented him to his mother. Then fear came upon all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen up among us”; and, “God has visited His people.”
In the midst of ministering to a large crowd notice where Jesus was focused. As this group neared the city the only son of a widow was being carried out to be buried. This funeral procession would not have been the focus of the crowd as they were following Jesus, probably watching for more miracles and wonders. I am sure that they gave little thought to the procession passing by on its way to the cemetery.
Yet this is where we see Jesus focused. Jesus saw her and had compassion on her in this time of grief and loss. He said to her, “Do not weep.” And he called the dead man to rise up – and he did! Jesus presented him to his mother alive. The result was immediate fear and the glorifying of God for what they had just witnessed. They confessed that this was indeed a visit from God.
I want to look briefly at Jesus’ focus. He saw the widow and had compassion on her. The word means to be moved with sympathy. Jesus felt this woman’s loss. He sympathized with her. He cared about how she felt and what she was going through. Jesus loved this widow and gave her this son back from the dead.
Interestingly, Jesus’ first resurrection was raising the son of a widow – just like Elijah. He cared about this woman who had lost so much. I am struck over and over again by the fact that the true measure of one’s “religion” is seen in how they treat widows and orphans (James 1:27).
Notice in this amazing miracle of the giving of life back to one who was dead and about to be buried the love and compassion of Jesus for those who have no one else to love and care for them. They have a priority in His Kingdom and should have a priority in our lives.
The second account found in Luke 8:49-56 finds Jesus raising a young girl from the dead. Let’s read it together:
While He was still speaking, someone came from the ruler of the synagogue’s house, saying to him, “Your daughter is dead. Do not trouble the Teacher.” But when Jesus heard it, He answered him, saying, “Do not be afraid; only believe, and she will be made well.” When He came into the house, He permitted no one to go in except Peter, James, and John, and the father and mother of the girl. Now all wept and mourned for her; but He said, “Do not weep; she is not dead, but sleeping.” And they ridiculed Him, knowing that she was dead. But He put them all outside, took her by the hand and called, saying, “Little girl, arise.” Then her spirit returned, and she arose immediately. And He commanded that she be given something to eat. And her parents were astonished, but He charged them to tell no one what had happened.
A man had come to hope that Jesus would heal his sick daughter. She was only 12 years old and very near death. This was Jairus’ last hope. Jesus was thronged by people. The crowd was there and as he tried to get near to Jesus people were pressing around into Jesus and before he could get Him to come see his little girl word came that his daughter had died.
Jesus immediately told this man not to fear but only believe. Only believe. How simple it sounds but how difficult it can be. This man had just been told his daughter was dead and that there was now no hope, and yet Jesus told him to only believe and his daughter would be well.
Well? She had died! Well? How could this be? She is already gone, it is already too late, what can we do now? “Only believe.”
He did believe, and Jesus went in to where the girl’s body was, He took her hand and said to her, “Little girl, arise.” That was all. Beyond the disbelief of the crowd, the grief and faith of the parents, the wonder of the disciples, the press of the crowd, and the beyond all logical expectations Jesus called this little girl to life and she lived again.
Here in these two situations we see Jesus’ love for people. We see His care for a widow and for a grieving father and mother. We see His loving kindness in calling these two back to life. And we see the glory of God – for only God can give life. Jesus here reveals to us Who He really is and what He has come to do. He has come to call the dead to new life!
In John chapter 11 we read the most extensive account of a resurrection in the Scriptures (except for the resurrection of Christ). Here we see the account given of the resurrection of Jesus’ friend, the brother of Mary and Martha, Lazarus.
He and his family lived in Bethany. Lazarus was sick and his sisters sent word to Jesus that “he whom You love is sick.” Jesus, upon hearing the message, replied that the sickness was not a situation that would result ultimately in his death, but instead it was a situation that was specifically ordained by God for His own glory and the glory of His Son. After this response Jesus then waited two days before going in answer to their call.
Jesus knew then that Lazarus had died and He told the disciples that he was sleeping. This is a common phrase used to describe death, not that we sleep when we die, but the truth is that we are still alive while our bodies are lifeless. A dead body appears to be sleeping, but the life is gone. The person has gone immediately either to judgment in hell or to the blessings of heaven. The disciples missed His point, not an uncommon occurrence, and they stated that perhaps rest will help Lazarus get better. Jesus then had to say “to them plainly” that Lazarus was dead.
When they arrived, Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days. They had missed the funeral but not the mourners. There were people all around the family and the grave mourning, weeping, and wailing. While it is not ever wrong to grieve at the death of a loved one we must keep in mind that death is not the end of life altogether. Especially when we know that the person who has died knows Jesus, why would we even consider wanting them to come back and live in this fallen and dying realm?
When He arrived, Martha came to Him and declared plainly, “If You had been here my brother would not have died.” She had that much faith. She knew that Jesus could heal. But Jesus is making a number of points here. First, God is no respecter of persons. There is no partiality with God. Secondly, this was for God’s glory or it would not have happened. Do you believe that when “bad” things happen to you that it is for God’s glory? It always is, you know.
In response to this grief and this declaration of faith, Jesus stated plainly, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha thought He was speaking of the Day of the Lord when we all will be raised, but Jesus points away from the eschatological scheme and declares that He is the resurrection. He is the life, and whoever believes in Jesus, even if he does die, he will still live.
It is amazing to me the reply that Jesus made here. He is the resurrection. We often look to what the resurrection means for us, personally and individually, but the resurrection is all about Jesus and His power over death and the grave. Everything in the Christian life should point to Christ, even our hope for resurrection from the dead if we die before Christ returns. Our faith is all about Him from start to finish, that is why He is the “author and finisher” of our faith, and why He is “the Alpha and the Omega” (the beginning and the end). Jesus is our all in all.
Later now in the account given to us we see that Mary went out to meet Jesus and said the same thing. “If You had been here my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her grief and all the mourners with her still weeping four days after the burial, He groaned in His Spirit. He was moved. Jesus is fully God and also at the same time fully man, and He experienced emotions and grief. He was moved to grief at their loss but at the same time this word used for “groaned” speaks of also being motivated by anger or irritation. Mixed with His sorrow, He also knew the truth that Lazarus would live again. He kept telling people this but no one seemed to listen. Because of what He knew to be true He was irritated and bothered by the lack of faith these people were showing. They all thought His power could have saved Lazarus from death, but could not see through the emotions of the moment to the fact that death was no obstacle for the Son of God. They believed He could have helped but that now it was too late.
When Jesus saw the grave, and the mourners, and the lack of faith, He wept. He wept quiet tears, not of grief over the death of Lazarus, but of grief over the truth that the wages of sin is death. This whole episode points out the reality that sinners die. Seeing the grief that death caused, the sting of sin, He was moved to tears. Jesus cried not because He had lost a friend, but because His friends lived in the confines of this lost world. These were those He loved and had come to seek and save.
He then commanded the stone to be removed from the opening of the cave in which Lazarus was buried. Those around had already confessed again, for the third time, that if He had been there days ago then Lazarus would not have died. Now Jesus wanted to have the grave opened. What a trauma this would be, for by now Lazarus’ body would have started to decay and there would be a stench. It would stink.
Jesus insisted that He was about to demonstrate the glory of God to them and so they moved the stone. Jesus then prayed, and notice what He said:
Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.
He prayed with faith and confidence that God had heard Him and He prayed specifically for the benefit of those listening. He then said with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!” He called a specific man, a man dead for four days, bound in grave clothes and mourned for these days. He called with a loud voice, a voice of authority. He called out a command, “Come forth!” And what happened?
Just exactly what He said several times would happen. Lazarus came walking out of the grave, alive, resurrected, living and breathing, and needing to be helped out of the grave clothes. Jesus commanded that a dead man come back to life, and he did.
This was done to glorify God, confirm the Messianic office of Christ, and to show us that Jesus has power over death and the grave. If the worst that can happen to us in this life is that we end up dying, Jesus does not see this as an obstacle, or even as a bother. It is nothing for Him to call us to life from death. In fact, this is exactly what He has done through the Word by the power of the Spirit – when we are saved, we just as was Lazarus, are dead in our sin, and He calls us to life. And we come to life. Praise the Lord that He is the Alpha and Omega and that there is nothing to hard for Him.
Dorcas and Eutychus
The last two people raised from the dead that we will study before moving on in our study of Hebrews 11 are Dorcas, who was raised by Peter, and Eutychus, who was raised by Paul. The accounts are found in the Book of Acts and it seems that the pattern here Biblically is that those with some importance in the Kingdom of God are the ones used to resurrect the dead. The fact is that the only people connected with resurrections of the dead throughout Scripture are Elijah, Elisha, Jesus, Peter, and Paul. Jesus of course as the Son of God raised people from the dead to glorify God and give evidence of His claims to be God in human flesh.
Elijah is introduced to us in 1 Kings 17. His name means “The Lord is God” and he was the preeminent Old Testament prophet. Among all the major and minor prophets it was Elijah who did not even see death. He was taken to heaven alive in a chariot of fire at the end of his ministry. When John the Baptist came on the scene he was proclaimed to be a prophet like Elijah and even believed by some to be Elijah returned from heaven.
Elisha, whose name means “My God is salvation”, first appears in 1 Kings 19 and was anointed by God to follow after Elijah and take up his ministry when Elijah was taken to heaven.
Peter was the preeminent disciple, Apostle to the Jews, always listed first in the list of disciples, a member of the inner circle of three disciples that were the closest to Jesus (Peter, James, and John). It was Peter who preached on the Day of Pentecost when the Spirit was given and the New Testament church birthed.
Paul was the last (and self-proclaimed least) of the apostles, chosen and appointed by Christ as the Apostle to the Gentiles. He wrote most of the New Testament and helped take the gospel and the church around the world. Now let us move on to these last two in our study who were raised from the dead.
Dorcas – Acts 9:40
Tabitha, also known as Dorcas, was a godly woman known for her good works and acts of charity. She is named as a follower of Jesus who believed in Him. In time, she became sick and died. The widows in the church, as part of their ministry to the Body of Christ, prepared her body for burial, washed it, and laid her in an upstairs room. These widows heard that Peter was in the region and so they sent for him. He came right away and when ushered into the room where her body was, and having been shown many of the cloths that she had made for other believers as a testimony to her love for the saints, Peter cleared the room.
He then knelt down to pray and then said to the body, “Tabitha, arise.” She opened her eyes, saw it was Peter, sat up and was then presented alive to the saints. News spread and many believed on Jesus because of this miracle.
Eutychus – Acts 20:7-12
In another report of a resurrection, Paul was in Troas and on Sunday he was preaching as the disciples came together to break bread. He was leaving the next day and as any preacher he had lots still to say. I do not think that there has been a preacher ever who preached every sermon burning in his heart before God took him home. It is a task that will never be finished. But as he preached through the night the hour passed midnight. A young man named Eutychus was sitting in the window of this upper room and as Paul went on Eutychus fell asleep.(It is nice to see that even the Apostle Paul had people fall asleep while he preached).
However, when he fell asleep, he fell out of the window! He was three stories up, and when they ran to his body he was dead from the fall. Paul went down and fell on him, embracing him. He said that he was alive and as surely as he said it Eutychus was resurrected. He was alive, and so Paul went back up into the room, ate, broke bread, preached some more, and in the morning left on his journey. This resurrection gave great comfort to the disciples.
Both of these resurrections give evidence of the ministry of the Spirit through Peter and Paul. It also shows us that God is indeed the giver and taker of life. Here these two faithful servants of God were restored to life and service within the church for God’s purposes and glory.
Take hope. The same Jesus who raised these from the dead will also raise us up with Himself on the last day. We who have died with Him will live with Him, and nothing can take our life from us until He has appointed that we die and go to be with Him. Do not fear death. It is but one more thing that has been subjected to the rule of Christ through His own death and resurrection.
IV. A Faith of Constancy – vs. 35b
Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. – Hebrews 11:35
After seeing these who were resurrected from the dead by prophets, apostles, and by Jesus Himself, we are reminded that others were not raised from the dead. In fact, they did not just die, they were put to death. They were tortured for their faith. They were beaten and killed for refusing to reject Christ. The word used for torture refers to being tied to a post and beaten relentlessly. There are those who we may not ever know about until we meet them in heaven who are right now under the Throne of God pleading for His vengeance because they were murdered for their faith in Jesus (Revelation 6:9-11).
These that we read about in the Scriptures and know about from history refused to accept deliverance. This does not mean that they wanted to die or were unwilling to cling to life. It means that they were offered ways to prevent persecution, ways to alleviate the torture and lessen the pain, and those things would have been a compromise and so they refused. Often this was done by Roman persecutors as they demanded that followers of Christ declare “Caesar is Lord.” Of course no true Christian could do so for only Jesus is Lord. They refused to worship Caesar as if he were a god. They would be enticed, offered rewards for this proclamation from their lips. Others saw their wife and children killed before their eyes being told that if they professed that Caesar was Lord then their lives would be spared. And they refused. They would only declare that Jesus is Lord. They and their families would be tortured and killed for treason.
Accounts in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs show us over and over again the price paid for loyal loving obedience to Christ. These in the Hall of Faith whose names we do not know, and others that we are familiar with, declared with their lives and their blood that they belonged to Jesus Christ. One of the most moving accounts is that of a 10 year old girl who was tortured and killed, having watched her family dismembered before her very eyes all the while she was told to deny Christ. She stood firm to the end. She at the age of 10 saw all of this and declared that Jesus is Lord and that she would see Him and her family in heaven! Her torturers killed her brutally. She is even now with Jesus.
Every Christian should read through Foxe’s Book at least once. It will make us uncomfortable, and it will help remind us that this is still going on in the world today. We in the West are at peace, we are apathetic. We are perhaps too free. We have little knowledge of the price that our brothers and sisters in Christ are paying for their faith in other parts of the world. We do not know what persecution is. It is not for us a danger to profess publicly faith in Christ – we are not threatened with the loss of our jobs or even our lives if we openly express our love for Christ.
Every Christian in the church in the West should also subscribe to The Voice of the Martyrs, and get information regularly from other such groups in order to keep in front of our eyes the truth about the cost of following Jesus being paid by members of our body, Christ being the Head.
These who were tortured and who refused deliverance did so desiring to obtain a better resurrection. You see, those who were raised by Elijah, Elisha, Jesus, Peter, and Paul all eventually died again. Those who died for their faith here in the latter part of the verse did so looking toward a “better” resurrection, that is the final resurrection, after which there will be no more death.
Rather than be spared persecution, rather than be raised from the dead after dying under persecution, instead they desired to go be with Jesus and await the resurrection when Jesus returns for His Church and the End of the Age. They knew, as do we, that when we are finally raised and glorified there will be no more death, no sorrow, no sickness, no sin, no temptation – only life with Jesus.
On this topic I often have commented that some zealots who lack knowledge are quick to declare for all to hear that they are more than willing to die for Jesus. However, they often resemble Peter before the death and resurrection of Christ. You know, the Peter who declared, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!” The Peter who drew his sword in the garden after proclaiming, “Lord, I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death.” This same Peter later denied even knowing Jesus because of the questions of a little girl (Matthew 26:57-75). People like this are often willing to die for Jesus when they talk the talk, but then they fail to walk the walk. Like I have said, if you are not willing to live for Jesus then please do not tell me about being willing to die for Him.
The truth we must take from this verse is that we are responsible to pray for the Body of Christ, to love the saints, even those we do not know and will never meet until we get to heaven. For the Church, His bride, is suffering, and we who are free must take the time to pray for those in danger. Pray that their faith will be proved and strengthened. Pray that He will purge those in His body who are lazy and turn a blind eye and deaf ear to the truth. Can our brothers and sisters who are facing torture and death be assured that we stand with them? Can those who refuse deliverance and look for the better resurrection trust us to stand in the gap and pray for them? Do we pray for the persecuted church?