Hebrews 11:30–12:2 (NKJV)
After the prior discussion of the faith of Moses, the writer moves into a summary of the faith stories of many of the Israelite leaders over the next several years of their existence. He speaks of Joshua and several of the judges of Israel, chronicling their faith in God against all odds. He also alludes to New Testament figures, although not by name, and the trials they endured as well. He then encourages the reader to press on in faith as a result of these great testimonies of faith from the history of God’s salvation of His people.
30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they were encircled for seven days. 31 By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe, when she had received the spies with peace.Hebrews 11:30-40
32 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: 33 who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 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. 35 Women received their dead raised to life again.
Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. 36 Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented—38 of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.
39 And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, 40 God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.
In this concise survey of some of the most inspiring stories of faith, the Hebrews author speaks of Joshua leading the armies of Israel to conquer Jericho by obeying God in faith and marching around the walls seven days in a row, seven times on the seventh day. He speaks of Rahab’s faith in hiding the spies in her house and believing for the safety of her family, which God provided. He lists four of the judges of Israel (Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah), the prophet of Israel Samuel, and the great king of Israel, David. Their stories are full of miraculous works of God as a result of these leaders’ faith. Gideon defeated the innumerable Midianite army with just three hundred men. Barak, along with Deborah the prophetess, waged war against the Canaanites by faith, and Sisera–the Canaanite army leader–was killed by Jael with a tent peg to the temple, and their army was defeated. By faith, Samson won many battles against the Philistines, and eventually, in death, destroyed all the upper leadership of Philistia in one act of faith. Jephthah, by faith, waged war against the Ammonites and won a key victory.
Samuel led Israel as the final judge, and established the monarchy at the nation’s request. He anointed the first two kings of Israel, Saul and David. David became the great king, reunifying the kingdom and establishing peace on all borders, leaving a strong kingdom for his son Solomon to reign and take into powerful prosperity. These named leaders all performed in faith the tasks to which they were called. The writer spoke of prophets who overcame idolatry and raised the dead (Elijah and Elisha), stopped the mouths of lions (Daniel), quenched the violence of fire (Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego), and had many other exploits. Others, including New Testament Christians, were beaten, stoned, executed, mocked, scourged, sawn in two for the sake of the gospel, and yet were not deterred, standing in faith against the greatest of odds. These, the author writes, are those “of whom the world was not worthy.” Although these great examples of faith are lifted up for the readers’ consideration, they did not receive the promise, but all await that final heavenly reward along with us.
1 Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 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 has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.Hebrews 12:1-2
At the beginning of chapter twelve, Hebrews moves from rehearsing the stories of faith in the Bible to offering an encouragement and warning. This well-known passage is a call to faith. Being flooded with stories of faith (surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses), we should drop anything that could hold us back (weight and sin) and run with endurance. The life of faith is not often a sprint, but a marathon. Keep running, keep believing. What is our motivation, our goal? We must look to Jesus! He is described as the author and the finisher of our faith. He is the originator–the starter–of our faith, and He will help us finish our race of faith. He is the conclusion, the realization of our faith. He saw the goal ahead, the joy of our salvation, and endured as an example. His example of enduring the cross, in spite of the shame, and sitting down at the right hand of God should inspire each of us to move forward in our own race, our journey of faith, and achieve the goal of eternal life in heaven with God. All we do here on earth should be done with an eye toward the prize, the eternal heavenly reward. If we follow the fathers and mothers of faith, and especially follow Jesus Christ, we will see the prize before us and achieve the victory. Walk in faith in the company of witnesses who have the same goal as you and me: Heaven!