“…the people that do know their God shall be strong, and do exploits” (Dan 11:32).
The Bible is a book of courageous people –we would call them heroes. Ordinary people who have faced impossible odds by faith in Jesus and who have overcome: …Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought 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, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect” (Heb 11:33-40).
We love to read about fictional heroes in ancient mythology or contemporary novels because they stir us and reach into our hearts. But the Bible abounds with stories of genuine heroes, real people with flaws and weakness such as David and Samson, women with undaunted courage such as Deborah and Esther, women of great faith such as Leah, Ruth and Hannah, wise women such as Abigail, wise men such as Solomon, and so on. The accounts of these true heroes are meant to encourage Christians to face the difficulties and opposition of our enemies and embolden us to live as God’s people on this earth and in this life. The passage goes on: “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:1-2).
Heroes with Feet of Clay
Hebrews chapter 11 has been called the “Roll Call of the Heroes of the Faith” by some Christians; but some of these Old Testament “heroes” look to be decidedly unheroic as we read the actual accounts of them.
Samson is a classic example of a hero as the secular world understands the concept, due to his superhuman strength and, sad to say, his escapades with various women; he is thus often compared to the mythological Greek hero Heracles (Hercules). He was a judge in Israel and single-handedly fought the Philistines on Israel’s behalf, killing thousands of them in his lifetime.
Gideon, another judge in Israel, fought against the vast hordes of Midian, Amalek, and “the people of the east” (Judges 6:3). The biblical account describes their overwhelming numbers: “And they encamped against them, and destroyed the increase of the earth, till thou come unto Gaza, and left no sustenance for Israel, neither sheep, nor ox, nor ass. For they came up with their cattle and their tents, and they came as grasshoppers for multitude; for both they and their camels were without number: and they entered into the land to destroy it” (Judges 6:4-5).
But God raised up Gideon, an insignificant young Hebrew, to lead his people Israel against the Midianites. When Gideon raised an army, God pruned it to just 300 men; and with these men, Israel routed the Midianite hordes through a God-inspired ruse. And as they fled in panic from these bold 300, Gideon sent messengers throughout Israel to come and help with the slaughter, and they slew 120,000 of the enemy; the rest, only 15,000, escaped (Jud 8:10).
Signs from God
But before the battle, when God told Gideon he wanted him to lead Israel against the Midianites, he gave this promise to Gideon: “Surely I will be with thee, and thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man” (Judges 6:16). When God is standing before you and makes such a binding statement, you’d think that would be enough for anyone to take on the world. God says it and that should be enough. But it wasn’t enough for Gideon. He immediately asked God for a sign. It beats me why Gideon would want a sign from God when he is actually talking to God! Isn’t that sign enough that God will be with him? Why would anyone want more than that?! But God is gracious and he indulged Gideon and gave Gideon the sign he had requested. This was the first of four signs that God gave to Gideon, each of which Gideon had requested (Judges 6:14-24; 36-40; 7:9-15). When Gideon received these signs as confirmation that God would be with him in the battle, he was assured.
I find it curious that when Moses, in similar circumstances to Gideon, in response to God calling him to confront Pharaoh, asked God for a sign that he would be with him, God promised: “Certainly I will be with thee; and this shall be a token unto thee, that I have sent thee: when thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve God upon this mountain” (Exod 3:12).
I say “curious” because, while Gideon received four signs before the battle, the sign, the assurance, that Moses requested would come only after he had confronted Pharaoh, which seems to me a tad late. Why did God do it that way? How would a sign that God would be with Moses in a dangerous situation be reassuring if it was to be fulfilled only after the event. What was the point or use of such a sign? Once Moses and the people of Israel were safely on the mountain, the sign would be superfluous because they were already there. It’s almost understandable that Moses still felt insecure when God told him this.
Christians today often use the example of Gideon’s fleece (Judges 6:36-40) as an encouragement to ask God for a sign of their own but, while God is gracious and still gives signs for his people today as he sees fit, we ought not to ask for them, because we have the Bible and we are to live by faith. If we depend on signs from God every time we’re confronted with a choice or a difficulty, then we’re walking by sight and not by faith. “An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign….” (Matt 16:4). “Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory: Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls” (1 Pet 1:8-9).
Again, when Israel was oppressed by their enemy, this time the Ammonites, Jephthah, the son of a concubine and outcast in the Israelite tribe of Ephraim, was chosen by God to be the deliverer of his people. He, too, routed Israel’s enemy in battle and saved God’s people. Before the battle he prayed that if God gave him victory, he would offer up as a sacrifice to him: “…whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall surely be the LORD’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering” (Jud 11:29-31).
But what or who did he expect to come through the door – his pet cat? His favourite war hound? He wouldn’t have had either of these and possibly didn’t have servants or slaves, being the son of a slave woman himself; so why was he surprised when his daughter came out to greet him after his victory? Of the few people who might have been in his house, they would be relatives (including his wife/wives) and friends. And Jephthah is surprised when his daughter comes through the door? Jephthah, knowing the small circle of people who supported him, was prepared to sacrifice one of them anyway. What kind of a man – what kind of fool – was Jephthah? And he gets praised by God and his name memorialised and commended forever in Hebrews chapter 11? If ever there was an example of how differently man sees compared to how God sees, this is the crown! “…for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). Jephthah is the epitome of a hero with feet of clay.
God called David “a man after his own heart” (1 Sam 13:14). His most well-known act, which is proverbial even in our day amongst believers and non-believers alike, is his slaying the Philistine giant, Goliath. Goliath, we’re told, was “a man of war from his youth”; whereas, King Saul said to David, “thou art but a youth” (1 Sam 17:33). Every Israelite soldier in the camp was afraid of Goliath due to his huge size, his height being nearly ten feet. His armour was heavy and his weapons far larger than the same weapons of the ordinary soldier. But David was outraged at Goliath’s blasphemy and contemptuous of him, saying, “…who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Sam 17:26). Brave words indeed, and brimming with righteous religious fervour. And because there was no man in all the Israelite camp who was game to accept Goliath’s challenge to mortal combat, David accepted the challenge himself. Saying to Saul that he had killed a lion and a bear in defence of his sheep, he said, “…this uncircumcised Philistine shall be as one of them, seeing he hath defied the armies of the living God….The LORD that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine” (1 Sam 17:34-37). And meeting Goliath face-to-face on the battlefield, he slung a stone which lodged between Goliath’s eyes, and he toppled over, as lifeless as the stone sticking out of his face. This deed of heroism is proverbial, as well-known as any other historical event, and continues to motivate and inspire people today.
But….when David had become king, he committed a sin which was as heinous as slaying Goliath was heroic; and it is just as well-known – his adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, Uriah, to cover up his adultery with Uriah’s wife (2 Sam 11:1-17).
These unlikely heroes were victorious over the enemies of Israel and did amazing exploits; under normal circumstances their achievements would have been impossible – but when people trust in God, and God intervenes, all things are possible. We look at such achievements and marvel. But as we’ve seen, God sees the heart and he commended them for their faith rather than their physical achievements. That Samson killed a lion with his bare hands, or slew a thousand Philistines with the jawbone of an ass, means nothing to God. That Gideon defeated the vast armies of the Midianites and their allies with just 300 men; or that Jephthah defeated the superior forces of the Ammonites and saved Israel – these are only impressive in the eyes of humans. God overlooks the bad, the weak, the shameful, and only sees the faith of the individual as they trust in him and obey in whatever it is he has commanded them to do.
This famous chapter – Hebrews 11 – begins: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders received a good report” (Heb 11:1-2). It then goes on to list those unlikely heroes – heroes in our eyes, but whom God regards as faithful and obedient servants: “…So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which were commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do” (Lk 17:9-10).
It continues: “By faith Abel… (verse 4); By faith Enoch… (verse 5); By faith Noah… (verse 7); By faith Abraham… (verse 8)….These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen from afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they werestrangers and foreigners on the earth (verse 13); By faith Jacob… (verse 21); By faith Joseph… (verse 22); By faith Moses… (verse 23); By faith Rahab the prostitute … (verse 31)….And what should I say? For the time would fail me to tell of…..” (verse 32).
The passage then goes on to describe many other acts of incredible courage and perseverance under the severest persecutions and physical torturesas these worthies endured, all for the sake of God. Truly, the world has not seen the like of Christians, either before or since, who endured appalling suffering for the sake of their faith; and their example has inspired countless numbers of people to likewise endure the worst with which devils and men have tormented them; and many of them have praised God, thanking him that he has counted them worthy to suffer for him (Acts 5:41).
It is these worthies, ordinary people who achieved greatness in the eyes of humanity and commendation from God for their faith, by whom we should be motivated and inspired, rather than fictional characters, some of whom are indeed heroic, but many more of them being more bestial and devilish than human. These are the characters that fill the novels and the games and the TV shows and movies which gain the attention and admiration of the world. But when Jesus returns – and he will return – to judge the earth, all the fiction, all the myth and the legend, will be shown to be just that, and unbelievers will see, too late, that they literally chased a fantasy instead of Jesus and are therefore now condemned forever. They will regret and mourn and weep that they didn’t use the time they wasted on games and fantasies instead of using it in seeking to know Jesus as their Saviour, and securing the safety of their eternity (Rev 6:12-17).