“…the people who are loyal to their God shall stand firm and take action” (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 conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented—of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect” (Heb 11:33-40).
Why read about fictional heroes in ancient mythology or contemporary novels when the Bible abounds with stories of genuine heroes? 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: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat 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, and deservedly so, I think. 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: “They would encamp against them [Israel] and destroy the produce of the land, as far as the neighborhood of Gaza, and leave no sustenance for Israel, and no sheep or ox or donkey. For they and their livestock would come up, and they would even bring their tents, as thick as locusts; neither they nor their camels could be counted” (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: “I will be with you, and you shall strike down the Midianites, every one of them” (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: “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on 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. No wonder 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). “Although you have not seen him [Jesus], you love him: and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, 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, this time the Ammonites, in battle and saved God’s people. Before the battle he prayed that if God gave him victory, he would offer up as a burnt offering “whoever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return victorious from the Ammonites” (Jud 11:29-31).
How dumb is this?!!! 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! “…the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks 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 warrior from his youth”; whereas, King Saul said to David, “you are just a boy” (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 like one of them, since he has defied the armies of the living God….The LORD, who saved me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear, will save me from 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. He 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 assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval” (Heb 11:1-2). It then goes on to list those unlikely heroes – heroes in our eyes; but who God regards as faithful and obedient servants: “…So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done’” (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)….All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they strangers 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 endure 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 and are 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).
More than a Hero
Speaking of heroes, Jesus is the greatest of hero them all. Indeed, one translation of Isaiah 9:6 says of Jesus who was to come: “For a child is born to us, a son is given to us; he will bear the symbol of dominion on his shoulder, and his title will be: Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty Hero, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace” (REB). The NABRE (Catholic) has the reading as verse 5 instead of verse 6, and calls him “God-Hero” (Isa 9:5).
The reading in the REB is a weak translation for it should read “The mighty God” instead of “Mighty Hero”. It thus allows the idea of Jesus being a demigod, a being similar to Heracles, a human son of the Greek god Zeus. While Jesus is sometimes known as the God-man, he is not half god and half man as Heracles was; he is fully God and fully man, his two natures being brought together in a single body of flesh and blood.
And, unfortunately, while the Catholic Church is strong on the deity of Christ, their translation in the NABRE (God-Hero) could invite identification with the Gnostic demiurge, creator of the universe. The early Church had huge problems with Gnostic theology so any hint of association of Church and Gnosticism should be avoided.
The risen Jesus identified himself from heaven when he said, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the ending, says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (Rev 1:8). Here we’re shown conclusively that the translation “Mighty Hero”, and even “God-Hero”, while true as far as they go, are incorrect translations, and feeble in comparison to Jesus being “The Mighty God”, as Isaiah wrote. For example, did Heracles ever create anything? His superhuman feats are all feats of strength and physical power; and he was distinctly human with all the character weaknesses of a fallen human being. Not only that, he had the character flaws and lusts of his divine father, Zeus.
The demiurge, on the other hand, did have creative power, having created the universe. But he is subordinate to the Supreme Being and is thus not the supreme deity himself; nevertheless he is considered to be the controller of the material world and antagonistic to all that is purely spiritual. Worse than this, though, and reason enough not to identify him with Jesus, is that he is a malicious evil deity. His name is Yaldabaoth, a name believed to be derived from Aramaic, which means “Son of Chaos”.
Jesus isn’t the same kind of hero as Samson or any other of the Israelite heroes and heroines found in Scripture, some of whom are even honoured by God for their outstanding faith by being named in Hebrews ch 11.
He came down from heaven where, as second Person of the Trinity, he was worshipped and adored by myriads of angels, sitting with his Father on the throne of Divine Power, first Person of the Trinity, and became a true human being. He was sinless, flawless, without blemish; and in this true human body with a true human nature, he did marvellous things. And, like Samson, who was a type of Christ, Jesus fought against the enemies of God and God’s people and, in death, defeated them. This is just what a Champion is and does. King David prayed, “Rise up, O LORD! Deliver me, O my God! For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; you break the teeth of the wicked” (Ps3:7). David’s enemies here mentioned were physical, but the real enemies are spiritual beings – devils; and Satan, the Prince of devils; and Jesus fought them in the spiritual realm. Indeed, he came specifically to destroy Satan and the wicked hosts of darkness.
Jesus is, nonetheless, our hero and our champion, and we see that in passages such as Matthew 12:22-29 where, as the one who overcomes and binds Satan and plunders his house, and in Hebrews 2:14-18 where it says he came to destroy “the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death”, we also see that he is more than a man, more than a super-being, more than a demigod or even a demiurge – he is God himself.
But he didn’t come to mindlessly break bones and smash skulls, or to fight with sword and spear, like the comic book character Conan the Barbarian. His enemies – our enemies – are spiritual beings (Eph 6:12); he saves his people by his death for them and in their place, satisfying the wrath of God against them because of their (and our) sins (Heb 2:14-15); and he defends them from all dangers (Matt 28:20). He is the “stronger man” who has bound the strong man (Satan) and ransacked his domain (Matt 12-25-29); he is the One who overcame death by dying (1 Pet 3:18), and then entered hell and proclaimed his victory over his incarcerated enemies (1 Pet 3:19), and who led captivity itself captive (Eph 4:8). He is “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, [who] has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals” (Rev 5:5). It is he who possesses the keys of Death and of Hades (Rev 1:18).
“The Scripture quotations contained herein are made from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition copyright 1993 and 1989, by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission. All rights reserved.” “Published by Catholic Bible Press, a division of Thomas Nelson, Inc., Nashville, Tennessee 37214.