56 – Hebrews 11:32: The Faith of Judges and Prophets

Hebrews 11:32

“What further examples do I need? For time does not allow me to tell the stories of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthae, David, Samuel, and the prophets”   (paraphrased)

The writer admits his list of heroes is by no means exhaustive. “What shall I more say?” is a rhetorical question.  To have enumerated every instance of faith would have extended his epistle indefinitely. “Time would fail me” is a hyperbolism found frequently in Greek literature.

It is inconsequential that the individuals named are not listed in strict chronological order. For example, when addressing the people after appointing Saul, Samuel also mentions a random list of deliverers (I Sam. 12:11). Whatever the reason for the order in which these names appear, there are two things each has in common. Every one faced overwhelming challenges which tried their faith. The other thread that runs throughout this group is the element of human weakness:

<> Gideon needed constant reassurance from God (Jud. 6:22-37 & 7:10-11).
<> Barak depended upon Deborah’s strength in order to fight (Jud. 4:8).
<> Samson was a womanizer (Jud.14:1-3).
<> Jephthah made a rash vow (Jud. 11:30-31).
<> David sinned with Bathsheba (II Sam. 11:2-4).
<> Samuel was guilty of nepotism (I Sam. 8:1-3).

Despite their personal challenges, each of these men was used by God in the period between the conquest of Canaan and the early days of the monarchy. The first four listed were Judges in Israel whom God raised up at various crisis points in their history. However, after each judge died, the nation relapsed into idolatry (Jud. 21:25). David and Samuel represent the period of the Kings and the prophets which followed the era of the Judges. The writer may have placed David before Samuel in order to bring him into closer association with the era of the prophets mentioned immediately afterward.

1. Gideon

Gideon was the fifth Judge in Israel. At the time of his appointment, the Israelites were at the mercy of the Midianites. The story of his faith centers on his defeat of this formidable enemy. An angel of God summoned Gideon when he was threshing grain (Jud. 6:11). He confessed his poverty and lack of tribal status (6:15). Gideon’s response shows how faith can lift one above their circumstances. He desired a sign from the Lord that he was indeed chosen to deliver Israel. This was granted him through the miraculous consumption of the food offered to an angel (6:17-22). After he had erected an altar to honor Jehovah, he was called to destroy an altar to Baal his own father had built (v.25). After doing so, his father actually rose to his defense, giving him the surname of Jerubbaal, meaning “one who strives with Baal” (v.32). Strengthened by the Holy Spirit, Gideon was enabled to do valiant exploits for God (v.34).

In order to affirm he was truly commissioned by God to lead Israel, Gideon asked for another sign. It concerned a fleece that would be wet with dew one morning, but dry the next (Jud. 6:36-40). What he asked seems to indicate his desire to be absolutely sure of the will of God before acting. As a man without military experience, he was suddenly invested with great responsibility. Gideon and his army of 32,000 went to meet the Midianites. Of that number, the Lord allowed all who were cowardly to desert (7:3). Gideon’s faith was further tried when the Lord ordered him to reduce their numbers still further and he was left with only three hundred. Gideon paid a nocturnal visit to the enemy camp and what he overheard convinced him to act at once (vv. 9-15). In preparation for the attack, each man was “armed” with an empty pitcher, a torch, and a trumpet. At the signal, all men broke their pitchers to expose the torches and blew their trumpets. In the ensuing confusion the enemy turned on each other, giving Israel the victory. Under Gideon’s leadership, the land had rest for forty years (8:28).

However, Gideon’s amazing career is marred by one flaw. Gathering gold from the spoils of war, he used part of it for golden thread to construct an ephod. This special garment was to be worn only by the High Priest when inquiring of God (Ex. 39:2-5; I Sam. 23:9-12). Because of the dismal condition of the priesthood in Gideon’s day, it is possible that he attempted to assume a priestly role. Gideon’s habitual desire to know God’s will may have motivated him to construct this mantle. This particular ephod became an idol and all Israel worshiped it (Jud. 8:27). The tendency of the Israelites in that era toward idolatry is the primary theme in the book of Judges. Ironically, the man
who had boldly destroyed his father’s idol inadvertently also led his nation astray. The disastrous results of this were seen after his death, for one of his seventy sons, Abimelech, killed his sixty-nine brothers in order to become king (8:30 & 9:5). Despite Gideon’s faults, the writer mentions him as one whose faith resounds throughout history. His epic statement of faith to his warriors was, “Arise, for the Lord has delivered the hosts of Midian into your hands” (Jud. 7:15).

2. Barak

Deborah was a prophetess renowned for spiritual wisdom (Jud. 4:4-5). Although Barak is mentioned in their story, Deborah was clearly the heroine. She instructed Barak to defeat the Canaanite army led by King Jabin. Under the command of Sisera with 900 chariots, the Canaanites were a formidable foe. With 10,000 volunteers from the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali, Barak agreed to fight only if Deborah would accompany him (v.8). During the battle, Sisera abandoned his chariot and fled. Barak pursued him, only to discover that a woman named Jael had already killed him in her tent (v.21). The “Song of Deborah” pictures a victory that is clearly attributed to the Lord, rather than human strategy (Jud. 5). Barak’s faith is evidenced by valuing the wisdom and counsel of Deborah.

3. Samson

The Israelites had been oppressed by the Philistines for forty years and were in desperate need of a deliverer (Jud.13:1). This champion was Samson, who was sanctified to God from his birth (vv.3-5). More detailed information is provided regarding him than any other person in Judges (Ch. 13-16). That he was an exceptionally strong and brave man is beyond question. For example, Samson:

~ ripped the jaws of a lion apart barehanded (Jud. 14:6)
~ killed thirty men (v.19)
~ captured 300 foxes (Jud. 15:4)
~ slaughtered numerous Philistines (v.8)
~ broke strong ropes which bound him (v.14)
~ decimated a thousand Philistines with a jawbone (v.15)
~ carried the heavy iron city gates of Gaza to Mount Hebron (16:3)
~ pulled down a temple to destroy 3,000 Philistines (v.27).

Never once does he ever give credit to God for his great strength. Unlike other Judges, Samson did not pray to learn God’s will. He led no troops into battle against his nation’s enemies.

Samson’s character flaws included being:

~ rebellious: he defied his parents and married a Philistine girl (14:3)
~ destructive: he set fire to the Philistines crops (Jud. 15:4)
~ self-aggrandizing: he boasted concerning his prowess (15:16)
~ immoral: he fornicated with a number of women (16:1-4)
~ dishonest: he deceiving Delilah on three occasions (vv.7-13)

Continual compromises eroded his life and his enemies soon learned his vulnerability. Although physically strong, he was morally weak. When he sold his sacred secrets to his enemies, they exploited them to the fullest. By fraternizing with the Philistines, he put himself in a position to be captured, humiliated, and blinded. He had drifted so far from God, “he did not know the Spirit of the Lord had departed from him” (v.20). He ended his career by grinding grain like an animal in the mills of his enemies (v.21). His final act was to pray for vengeance upon the Philistines, killing thousands as he died (vv.28-30).

Although he was a Judge in Israel for twenty years, there is no record Samson was concerned for anyone except himself. He apparently never produced a favorable impression on his own people. He found out too late that spiritual strength is far more essential than physical strength. One can only imagine what Samson might have accomplished had he not slept with his enemies. But despite his many failings, the writer mentions him as an example of faith.

4. Jephthah

This man is perhaps the most controversial of all Old Testament characters. Jephthah’s mother was a prostitute and he was ostracized by his own family (Jud.11:2). In Gilead, he lived the life of a marauding chieftain. He was surprised his peers would seek his help to conquer the Ammonites (v.7). He agreed to assist them only if they promised his appointment as leader was permanent. To this they consented and his campaign was victorious (vv. 9-10 & 32).

What Jephthah accomplished by defeating Israel’s enemies is eclipsed by his rash promise to God. It was a common practice for heathen generals of other nations to make vows to their deities before engaging the enemy. Apparently, Jephthah’s desire to defeat the Ammonites was so intense, he made a hasty oath (vv.30-31). In the New Testament, such impromptu vows are strongly condemned by Christ (Mt. 5:34). If Jephthah was victorious, he promised to sacrifice the first person that came out of his home upon his return from the battle. The Hebrew language indicates he intended his vow to apply to a human being – rather than an animal (Jud. 11:31). But perhaps his pledge is best explained by the era in which he lived. The priesthood was in shambles and spiritual concepts were misinterpreted. This is evidenced by the ephod Gideon made for himself (Jud. 8:27). There were no priests at that time to rebuke Jephthah for his impetuous decision to offer an unlawful human sacrifice.

What exactly happened next cannot be definitively ascertained. The first one to emerge from his home was his only daughter (Jud. 11:34). Her father was overwhelmed by grief and tore his clothes in agony (v.35). According to his daughter’s own words, she was the promised sacrifice which gained him the victory (v.36). The Hebrew text makes it unclear whether or not he actually murdered his daughter. To have done so would have been a direct violation of the Mosaic Law which condemned this heathen practice (Lev. 20:2-5). Regardless of his vow, Jephthah would have known God’s favor could not be gained by such an abominable act. Although Abraham was willing to offer up Isaac, God never sanctioned human sacrifice. Jephthah’s Syrian roots and illegitimate birth may have influenced his infamous decision, for such sacrifices were not uncommon in ancient Syria. 

There is sufficient reason to believe her death did not occur. To imagine God allowed this sacrifice to take place is absolutely irreconcilable with the worship of Jehovah. He could not bless an oblation directly opposed to His laws. Although Jephthah did “perform his vow”, Scripture is silent concerning what this entailed (Jud. 11:39). His oath specified a “burnt offering,” but there is no mention of it in the closing verses of chapter eleven. It is unthinkable that Jephthah committed filicide and then burned her body upon an altar. It is more reasonable to assume he dedicated her to serve the tabernacle for the rest of her life, for many women sacrificed their lives this way (Ex. 38:8). This would also explain why the women “bewailed her virginity,” for such service demanded celibacy (vv.38-40). She dedicated herself to the Lord as a spiritual offering of lifelong chastity. The fact that “she knew no man” is in harmony with this concept (v.39). It was her cheerful sacrifice of future marital life which the daughters of Israel commemorated annually (Jud. 11:40). 

Jephthah was revered in Israel for many years. Samuel reminded the people that the Lord sent Jephthah to deliver them out of the hands of their enemies so they could dwell in safety (I Sam. 12:11). Aware of the weaknesses of the men he lists, the writer’s emphasis always centers on their faith rather than their failures. 

5. David

All other Old Testament personages seem to pale in comparison to David, whose name means “God is gracious.” His career is far too extensive for the writer to sum up easily. The term “the Son of David” is applied to Christ in all four Gospels, for it was through the Davidic line the Messiah came. The New Testament opens by establishing Jesus as the direct descendant of David – and closes by referring to Christ as the “root and offspring of David” (Mt. 1:1 & Rev. 22:16). He continues to personify the nation of Israel, for her flag proudly features the Star of David.

<> As a shepherd, he exemplifies Israel’s working-class.
<> As a poet, he characterizes the heartbeat of his people.
<> As a musician, he represents her harmonious way of life.
<> As a warrior, he stands for Jewish fortitude and perseverance.
<> As a king, he epitomizes God’s royal nation.

Because of the numerous Psalms David wrote, we know more about his inner thoughts than anyone else in the Bible. Samuel said David “behaved himself wisely in all his ways” (I Sam. 18:14). He was energetic, prudent, humble, devoted, and brave. David did whatever he set out to do and never did anything halfway. When he was distressed, he “encouraged himself in God” (I Sam. 30:6). “David grew greater and greater, because the Lord was with him” (II Sam. 5:10). He was a skillful organizer and a great military strategist. His openness and transparency endeared others to him. His rapid advancement in the Kingdom of Israel did not make him narcissistic. During his reign, he extended Israel’s borders in every direction and brought national prosperity.

We are enamored with David’s heroism. He fought Goliath, spared Saul’s life, blessed Mephibosheth, and even allowed Shimei to curse him. But when we picture him sleeping with Bathsheba, we see something we do not like. One is simultaneously ashamed and amazed a man of such diverse talents could stoop to commit adultery and homicide. After this travesty, we find a definitive digression in both his leadership and politics. David’s personal transgressions were followed by national calamities.

A brief chronological sketch of his life and exploits will prove helpful:

<> David was born in Bethlehem about 1040 B.C.
<> As a young man, he killed a lion and a bear.
<> Samuel secretly anointed David as king.
<> He killed the giant.
<> David killed 200 Philistines.
<> Saul twice attempted to kill David with a javelin.
<> David married Saul’s younger daughter, Michal.
<> David spared Saul’s life twice.
<> He waged war against Israel’s enemies for sixteen months.
<> He pursued the Amalekites.
<> David was made king over Judah and finally over all Israel.
<> He reigned for seven years at Hebron and six sons were born to him.
<> He captured Jerusalem.
<> David sinned with Bathsheba and sent Uriah to his death.
<> The prophet Nathan confronted David and he repented.
<> Bathsheba’s son Solomon was born.
<> David’s forces killed 20,000 rebels in the forest of Ephraim.
<> David collapsed while fighting the Philistines, but is saved by Abishai.
<> Bathsheba reminded David of his promise to anoint Solomon as the next king.
<> David died at an advanced age, full of wealth and honor.

To say that David was “a man after God’s own heart” meant that David pursued the heart of God and desired to know him intimately (Acts 13:22). As an example of strong faith, few can compare to the great king who began life as a shepherd boy from Bethlehem (I Sam. 17:15).

6. Samuel

Samuel was consecrated by his mother for God’s service when he was born. Reared by priests at Shiloh (I Sam. 1:20-22), the Lord spoke to him when he was a child (3:4). He grew to become a man of fervent prayer (15:11). All Israel realized he was ordained to be a prophet. The Lord ranked Moses alongside Samuel, for in similar ways he awoke the nation to repentance and rekindled the Messianic hope (Jer. 15:1 & Ps. 99:6).

Samuel is considered the last of the Judges (I Sam. 7:15). He was born in the era of transition connecting the era of Judges with the monarchy. The tabernacle worship at Shiloh had become ritualistic and shallow (I Sam. 2:22-25). When Samuel was old, he appointed his two sons as local judges in Beersheba. They were corrupt, took bribes, and perverted justice. Their dishonesty set the stage for the people to demand a king (8:5). Although Samuel warned them against it, they insisted Saul be appointed. The tragic story of Saul, interwoven into the story of Samuel, serves to show the low morale of the nation. The travesty of Saul’s reign proved the nation of Israel was designed as a theocracy, rather than a monarchy. When Saul presumed to take on the office of a priest and offer a sacrifice, he is rebuked by Samuel (I Sam. 13:8-11). Soon after this, the Lord instructed Samuel to anoint David as the future king (16:12). When Samuel died, the entire nation mourned his passing (25:1). But even after Samuel’s death, Saul consulted a witch at Endor to summon his spirit. Samuel appeared…..but only to rebuke Saul once again (I Sam. 28: 7-19). Samuel’s uncompromising attitude stands in stark contrast to that of Saul, whose reign was weakened by vacillation and compromise. 

7. The Prophets

As the writer moves from specific names to generalities, he refers to a select group he simply calls “the prophets.” Unlike kings or priests, the prophetic office was not heredity. A prophet’s duty was to receive God’s communication and announce it to a specific individual, group, or nation. These special agents were sent by God to provide spiritual instruction. Prophets are individually called to proclaim messages regarding His will. Prophecy does not involve guesswork, generic predictions, or fortunetelling. The prophetic word does not originate within an individual but is entrusted to him by the Holy Spirit. Females who hold this office are called “prophetesses.” Four of these holy women are specifically named in Scripture: Miriam, Deborah, Huldah, and Anna (Ex. 15:20; Jud. 4:4; II Kgs. 22:14 & Lk. 2:36).

God’s Word records two tests which validate a true prophet. The fundamental requirement is that the people be directed to Jehovah and not to false gods (Deut. 13:1-3). The second test requires the words of the prophet be fulfilled (Deut. 18:22). “Prophecy came……as holy men of God were moved by the Holy Spirit” (II Pet. 1:20-21).

The simple phrase, “and the prophets,” introduces the next passage which summarizes their achievements (33-40).


Hebrews 11:32

1. Name the king who had a boy named Absalom (II Samuel 13:1)

2. Name the judge who tore down the altar of Baal (Judges 6:25)

3. Name the judge who burned up the fields of his enemy using foxes. (Judges 15:4)

4. Name the man who anointed David as king.  (I Samuel 16:12)

5. Name the judge who was victorious over the Amorites. (Judges 11:8)

6. Name the judge who, with the help of Deborah, defeated the enemy.  (Judges 4:8)

7. Name the prophet Jesus quoted in Mark 13:14.

8. Name the prophet Jesus quoted in Matthew 2:17.

9. Name the prophet who predicted Christ would ride on a donkey. (Matthew 21:4-5)

10. Name the prophet Peter quotes in Acts 2:16 regarding the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

11. List your three favorite Biblical heroes and/or heroines. You may have favorites which are not listed in the Hall of Faith. Name their specific characteristics and attributes you seek to exemplify.


Maxim of the Moment

Raise the bar a little higher each time you succeed. - Mia Hamm