Old Testament Believers (1): Triumphant in Victory

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Hebrews 11:32-35

INTRODUCTION: We are nearing the end of our study on this great chapter on faith, and if I were to summarize what we have learned so far, I would do so in the form of three questions: 1) What is faith? 2) On what is faith based? 3) How do you demonstrate your faith?

We found the answer to the first question in verse one which says that faith is being sure of what you hope for and certain of what you do not see. What is faith? Faith is a deep conviction or certainty about things which you cannot see and yet nevertheless are real.

We found the answer to the second question in verse three which speaks of God creating the world out of nothing by the power of his word. On what is faith based? True biblical faith is always a response based on the sure and certain word of God.

And we have been examining the answer to the third question throughout the rest of the series. How do you demonstrate your faith? True faith always demonstrates itself in action, and verses 4-31 give us many examples of faith in action, each keyed to an Old Testament person or event. We have learned that some of the specific ways that you demonstrate your faith are by: giving God the first portion, heeding God’s warnings, following God’s leading, believing God’s promise, longing for heaven, unquestioning obedience to God’s command, trusting God with the future, fearing God rather than man, identifying with Christ and his people, and trusting in God’s deliverance. These are not the only ways you can demonstrate your faith in God, but they are the specific examples given us here in Hebrews 11.

So, thus far Hebrews 11 has answered these three questions for us. 1) What is faith? Faith is a deep conviction or certainty about things which you cannot see and yet nevertheless are real. 2) On what is faith based? True biblical faith is always a response based on the sure and certain word of God. 3) How do you demonstrate your faith? True faith always demonstrates itself in action.

Today’s passage answers a new question for us. What does faith do or accomplish? This is different from the third question. The third question focuses on what you do when you exercise faith. How do you demonstrate faith in your life? This fourth question focuses on what faith does – what does faith do or accomplish when you exercise true biblical faith in your life? This week and next we will look at verses 32-38 together to find the answer to this question. (Read Hebrews 11:32-35a and pray)

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So, what does faith do or accomplish? The answer in verses 32-38 is clear. Faith conquers; faith overcomes; faith prevails; faith triumphs. Faith is the key to victory in life. With faith you can never lose. Without faith you can never win. 1 John 5:4 says: “This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.” (1 John 5:4) It is your faith that overcomes the world.

Don’t ever think that your circumstances determine your destiny. It is your faith or lack of faith that will ultimately make or break you in this world. When you exercise faith in God, you are always triumphant. Sometimes you are triumphant in victory. Other times you are triumphant in suffering. Either way faith is the key. Faith is the victory that overcomes the world.

Verse 32 begins: “And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell ….” I love that. Hebrews chapter 11, this great chapter of faith, is now drawing to a close, not because the author has run out of examples of faith, but because he has too many examples to share!

You will notice that the author picks up the pace here. He does not have the luxury of time to explore these final examples with the same level of detail he used earlier in the chapter, but he does not want to leave out any of these examples either. So, he moves quickly here, mentioning select names from the Old Testament, and then various accomplishments of faith achieved by these and others like them.

He begins with examples that focus on victory, and then moves on to examples that focus on suffering. This week we will look at the first set of examples, those that focus on victory, and then next week we will look at the examples that focus on suffering.

I. Faith makes you triumphant in victory (32-35a)

So, let’s look at the victory examples first. Faith makes you triumphant in victory. Look at verse 32 with me now as we begin: “And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets.” (Hebrews 11:32)

We have observed how Hebrews 11 has been working chronologically forward through the Old Testament, starting with creation, working up through Noah and the flood, then through Abraham and the patriarchs, Moses and the people of Israel, and finally through Joshua and the Promised Land. Verse 32 continues this forward chronology. The author lists six names here which together cover the next two stages in Israel’s history: the period of the judges and the time of the kings and the prophets.

The first four names in the list, Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, represent the time of the judges. This was a time period of about 250 years when Israel was in the Promised Land but before they had a king. There is a cycle that takes place during the time of the judges. The Israelites turn away from God to worship false gods and idols. As a result, God gives them into the hands of their enemies. Eventually the people cry out to God for deliverance. And then God raises up a judge, a military leader who delivers them from their enemies. But when the judge dies, the people return to their idol worship and the whole cycle starts all over again. Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah were all judges whom God used to deliver Israel from their enemies during this time.
And then, the next two names, David and Samuel, represent the time of the kings and the prophets. Although there were scattered prophets before Samuel, Samuel represented the first in a long line of prophets who were sent primarily to speak God’s word to the kings of Israel.

And so, in one verse using six names, the author sums up the entire remaining Old Testament history of Israel. He does not go into specific details about each of these men, but those familiar with the Old Testament would immediately recognize the various ways that these men demonstrated their faith in God.

None of these men were perfect. Each had their faults. God found Gideon hiding in a winepress. Barak refused to go into battle unless Deborah went with him. Samson had a weakness for women. Jephthah made a foolish vow. David committed murder and adultery. Samuel failed to restrain his sons. The point is that each of these men were commended for their faith. Each of them trusted God against the odds. Each of them faced certain failure apart from God, but because of their faith they were triumphant.

   A. Faith obtains the victory (32-33)
      – Joshua 23:14; 2 Samuel 8:15; Hebrews 11:13, 39

And then, verses 33-35 go on to give specific examples of how faith makes us triumphant in victory. Let’s look at verse 33 first. Verse 33 describes these men as those: “who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised.” (Hebrews 11:33)

The key phrase here is “through faith.” Up to now the key phrase in the chapter has been “by faith,” but now we suddenly change to “through faith.” Now, there is not a whole lot of difference between the two. In fact, maybe no difference is meant at all.

But if I was going to make a distinction between the two, I would go back to the questions with which we started today’s message, particularly questions three and four. “By faith” focuses more on the third question, what you do when you exercise faith in your life. “Through faith” focuses more on the fourth question, what faith does or accomplishes when you exercise faith in your life. Faith makes you triumphant in both victory and in suffering.

So, how did these men conquer kingdoms, administer justice, and gain what was promised? They did it “through faith.” That’s the first lesson we learn from these verses. Faith obtains the victory. It is through faith that you overcome and obtain the victory.

Joshua and David are good examples of men who conquered kingdoms through faith. The next phrase, “administered justice,” brings to mind both the judges and the kings. The book of 2 Samuel specifically says that “David administered justice and righteousness for all his people.” (2 Samuel 8:15) King Solomon also administered justice with great wisdom.

And then, we need to take a closer look at the phrase, “gained what was promised.” Verse 33 says, “Through faith, they gained what was promised.” We need to take a closer look at this because this seems to be the exact opposite of what we saw back in Hebrews 11:13. Hebrews 11:13 says: “They did not receive the things promised.” (Hebrews 11:13) And yet, here verse 33 says they “gained what was promised.” (Hebrews 11:33) One verse says they did not receive the things promised; the other verse says they did receive what was promised. So, which one is it? Why the difference here?

Well, when we studied Hebrews 11:13 a number of weeks ago we saw that verse 13 was speaking specifically about the patriarchs who did not receive the Promised Land but lived in it as strangers. They believed the promise for the future. The land was eventually given to their descendants, but not in their own time.

So, what is verse 33 saying here? In contrast to the patriarchs who did not personally receive the things promised, these heroes of the Old Testament in verse 33 did obtain what was promised as they were triumphant in victory through faith.

The word “promised” here in verse 33 is plural in the original language. And so, you could translate verse 33 this way: “who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained promises.” (Hebrews 11:33) This is important because later on in this chapter, we are going to look at another verse (verse 39) which says that although they “gained promises” (plural), they did not receive “the promise” (singular ). We’ll talk about that when we get to verse 39 in a couple weeks.

So, what does the plural “promises” refer to here in verse 33? The word “promises” here in verse 33 refers to the many instances where God made promises to his people and fulfilled those promises for them in their time. Noah’s family was saved in the ark. Abraham received Isaac. Joshua received the Promised Land. In fact, near the end of his life and after the people of Israel had entered and taken possession of the land, Joshua could say to the people: “You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the LORD your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed.” (Joshua 23:14) That’s our first lesson from these verses. Faith obtains the victory.

   B. Faith rescues from danger (33-34)
      – Daniel 3:28, 6:21-22; 2 Peter 2:9

And then secondly, faith also rescues from danger. Look at the end of verse 33 now into verse 34: “who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword.” (Hebrews 11:33-34)

First, let’s look at that phrase “who shut the mouths of lions.” There are a number of examples in the Bible where God rescues people from lions. Samson killed a lion with his bare hands when the Spirit of God came upon him (Judges 14:5-6). David killed a lion with God’s help (1 Samuel 17:34-37). Benaiah, one of David’s mighty men, went down into a pit on a snowy day and killed a lion (1 Chronicles 11:22). In the New Testament the apostle Paul tells Timothy: “The Lord stood at my side … and I was delivered from the lion’s mouth.” (2 Timothy 4:17)

But probably the most famous example, and the one specifically in mind here, would be Daniel and the lions’ den. Daniel was thrown into the lions’ den because of his faith in God. And when the king called out to Daniel the next morning to see if he had survived, Daniel answered him: “O king, live forever! My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions.” (Daniel 6:21-22) It was Daniel’s faith that rescued him from danger.

Back to Hebrews 11, our next example is those who “quenched the fury of the flames.” This is an obvious reference to Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. These three were cast into the fiery furnace because of their faith in God. We read in Daniel 3 that one “like a son of the gods” walked around in the fire protecting them.

King Nebuchadnezzar himself recognized that they were saved through their faith in God. When he saw how God protected them, he freely confessed: “Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him … and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God.” (Daniel 3:28)

And then, the next phrase, “escaped the edge of the sword,” speaks of God protecting his servants from execution and death. There are all sorts of examples of this in the Bible For example, God protected David when Saul tried to kill him. Or we read in the book of 1 Kings how God protected the prophet Elijah from the sword when Jezebel tried to execute all the prophets of the Lord (1 Kings 19:2ff).

God has not changed. The same God who shut the mouths of the lions, quenched the fury of the flames and delivered his servants from certain death still rescues us from danger today. 2 Peter in the New Testament says: “The Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials.” (2 Peter 2:9) God protects you every day from dangers you never even know about. This is another one of the things that faith does. Faith rescues from danger.

   C. Faith turns weakness into strength (34-35)
      – Judges 7:2; 1 Kings 17:17-24; 2 Kings 4:18-37; 2 Corinthians 12:9

How does faith make us triumphant in victory? 1) Faith obtains the victory. 2) Faith rescues from danger. And then 3) Faith turns weakness into strength. Look at the end of verse 34 into verse 35 now: “whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. 35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again.” (Hebrews 11:34-35)

There are many examples in the Old Testament where Israel defeated a vastly superior military force by God’s power and strength. One particularly striking example is Gideon and his 300 men. God told Gideon in the book of Judges: “You have too many men for me to deliver Midian into their hands.” (Judges 7:2a) And so God deliberately whittled Gideon’s army down to three hundred men. Why? God tells us the answer in Judges 7:2: “In order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her.” (Judges 7:2b) Israel’s weakness was turned to strength as she put her faith in God.

Samson and David are two other examples of faith turning weakness into strength. Samson lost his God-given strength through his own foolishness, but when he humbly prayed to God in faith, God turned his weakness to strength, and Samson gained the victory over the Philistines. David was just a shepherd boy going up against a giant, but God turned his weakness to strength, and David defeated Goliath.

We find this principle repeated in the New Testament also. God told Paul in the book of 2 Corinthians: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) Here is a very important truth. Your weakness in any situation is never a problem for God, although your strength may be. Your weakness is never a problem, although your strength may be. That’s because when you trust in your own strength instead of in God, then you are not exercising faith. And it is faith that turns weakness into strength.

We find this principle illustrated again in verse 35 with the women who “received back their dead, raised to life again.” (Hebrews 11:35) The Old Testament examples here are the widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:17-24), whose son died and was raised to life again by the prophet Elijah, and the Shunammite woman (2 Kings 4:18-37), whose son was raised to life by Elijah’s successor, Elisha. In the New Testament the widow of Nain received her son back from the dead, Mary and Martha received Lazarus, and the widows of Joppa received back Dorcas.

Notice how verse 35 emphasizes the “women” who received back their dead. Women did not have the same resources in those days as today and so this was indeed a time of great weakness for each of them. They were helpless in the face of death, and they were dependent on the ones they lost to help provide for their daily needs. Through faith God turned their weakness to strength and gave them back their loved ones who had died.

CONCLUSION: These examples in verses 32-35 are all examples of faith making believers triumphant in victory. And that is such an important point for us to grasp. God is behind every victory in your life, and so you need to make sure that you give God all the credit and glory for all the victories in your life. It is through faith that you are triumphant in victory, not through your own wisdom or resources or strength.

How does faith make us triumphant in victory? 1) Faith obtains the victory. 2) Faith rescues from danger. 3) Faith turns weakness into strength.

Of course, that raises another question. What about those times in life when we do not experience what we would usually call victory? What about those times when we experience suffering instead? If we experience suffering instead of victory, does that mean that we lack faith?

Not at all! Because Hebrews 11 goes on to teach us that, as believers, faith makes us triumphant both in victory and in suffering. We’ve only looked at the first part of the equation today. Next week we will look at the rest of the passage which teaches us that faith makes us triumphant in suffering as well.

No wonder we want to be growing in our faith! Faith does it all! Whether in victory or in suffering, “This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.” (1 John 5:4) Faith is the victory that overcomes the world.

© Ray Fowler

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