The book of Hebrews points all of us to a great cloud of witnesses that have come before us. The author tells us that these great patriarchs and prophets were commended for having faith, “the confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” They are the cloud of witnesses that have gone before, and they show us the way of faith. The Bible preserves their stories to guide us in our life of faith, too.
What’s it take to be a hero of the faith? We all know the great people in the Bible. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Gideon and the rest. There are too many for us to list in the article. They’re the ones who forged a path, who followed God’s call, and became examples for the rest of us. So, what’s it take to be a hero of the faith? Let’s look at a few of their stories to help us answer that question.
Abraham’s story starts in Genesis 12, back when he was named Abram. God appears to him out of nowhere, and he says, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
So, Abraham leaves. He leaves everything he knew, his family, his people, his life. He goes to the promised land. What faith. What trust. If only Abram trusted as much as it seems. He followed God’s instructions, but he didn’t believe that God would protect him. The very next section, Abram goes with his wife, Sarai, to Egypt. He tells her to pretend that she’s his sister, and Pharaoh marries Sarai. Abram was so scared that he let his wife get married to another man to save his skin. Maybe Abram wasn’t a hero. Maybe he was a regular guy.
What about Jacob? He was the father of the 12 tribes of Israel, the son of Isaac and brother to Esau. He carried Abraham’s promise to the next generation. Jacob is most famous for the vision he had in the place that would become Bethel. In his vision, he saw a ladder that reached up to heaven, and he saw angels descending and ascending from it. At the top, the Lord said,
“I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
What an amazing promise! And Jacob believed. But he wasn’t all faith. Jacob was tricky. When Isaac, his father, was about to die, he wanted to give Esau a blessing. He sent Esau out hunting to find his favorite food. While Esau was out, Jacob pretended to be Esau to trick his blind father. He took Isaac’s blessing and ran away from Esau. Maybe Jacob wasn’t a great man of faith. Maybe he was just like the rest of us.
What about Moses? Surely Moses was a great man of faith. He went up to the Pharaoh, king of Egypt, with just a staff and demanded that Pharaoh let God’s people go. He performed miracles with that staff. He turned the Nile to blood. He sent terrible plagues, one after other, to scare Pharaoh into freeing God’s people. And Moses kept everyone strong until the night of the Passover, when Pharaoh finally let them go free. But Moses wasn’t done. He led a rebellious people through 40 years in the wilderness until they came to the promised land.
Surely Moses was better than all the rest, right? No. Moses didn’t want to have anything to do with God’s call. When God spoke to him in the burning bush, Moses tried every excuse he had to get out of going to Egypt. His first excuse was that he wasn’t important enough. But God said that he would be with Moses. His second excuse was that the people wouldn’t believe him. God showed Moses the miracles he would perform. Then, Moses said, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.” I’m just not charismatic enough. Excuse after excuse. Maybe Moses wasn’t a great man of faith. Maybe he was just like us.
Surely David did better than all those guys. After all, the Bible says that David was a man after God’s own heart. David even went up against the biggest, baddest warrior, someone every soldier in Israel was afraid to attack. You probably know the story. David was a young man, and he went to visit his brothers before a battle. The enemy’s champion went out to challenge God’s army every day, but no one would accept. David hears Goliath’s challenge, and he takes it. The king tries to dress David in the king’s own armor, but David refuses. Instead, he takes a few rocks and a sling.
When David finally meets Goliath, the enemy laughs at him. No spear. No sword. No armor. How could David beat Goliath? But David had God on his side. David said, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.” David slung his stone at Goliath’s head, and he knocked him down. Then David took Goliath’s sword and cut off his head. Surely, David was a great man of faith!
But, of course, David wasn’t perfect. You probably know the famous story about David and Bathsheba. David slept with one of his warrior’s wives while the man was fighting a battle for David. Yikes. What you may not know is how bad a father David was. He let his kids get away with everything. David’s son, Amnon raped his sister Tamar, but David did nothing. Tamar’s brother, Absalom, plotted his revenge, and he killed Amnon. Even after that, David did nothing. Finally, Absalom rebelled against David, and he drove the king into hiding. Surely, a man of faith would have been a good father! Maybe David was just a regular guy. Maybe he was just like us.
There’s really only one hero in the whole Bible, Jesus. Even the best, the bravest, the most faithful men from the Old and New Testaments couldn’t come close to being really good men. They all failed. They all were unfaithful. They all fell to temptation.
But Jesus did not. He trusted his Father in everything. He followed his Father’s will in everything. He even obeyd to the point of death on a cross. What a great man of faith! And after that, Jesus was raised from the dead and ascended into heaven. All who believe in him will see him return on the last day when he gives us eternal life.
What, then, made the men above heroes? What made them the great cloud of witnesses that Hebrews describes? They were saved by grace, through faith, on account of Christ. Ephesians 1:7 says it this way, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.”
The power behind every hero of the faith was God. He was with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, even though they were just regular guys. He was faithful, even when they were not. And God built a great nation from those men.
God was with Moses, a man so timid that he tried everything to get out of going to Egypt. But God’s power accomplished the mighty works that freed Israel from slavery to Pharoah. The same goes for everyone else. David. Gideon. Paul. Peter. Everyone. God saves sinful, broken people. God uses sinful, broken people to do his will. Everything, then, is accomplished by his power, not by our faith.
That’s the message of Hebrews’ great cloud of witnesses. Not that these men were virtuous, great men. No. God was faithful to them, and they waited for God to do what he had promised. It’s the same for us. We do not have to be great for God to work on us and through us. We just wait for his power.
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