And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated – the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. (verses 32-38)
I so often think of faith as powerful and glorious. After all, it is faith that moves mountains, that causes a fig tree to wither, that allows us to do the very things Jesus himself did, indeed greater. How good, therefore, to be a person of faith!
Certainly this paragraph celebrates the victories of faith – conquering kingdoms, receiving what was promised, shutting lions’ mouths, quenching flames, routing armies, seeing the dead raised. Oh, for faith like that!
But the paragraph suddenly veers into a very sharp change of direction, beginning halfway through with the word “Others.” Up to that point it’s all been glorious. But from that point on, the tone shifts. These “others” experienced torture, jeering, flogging, imprisonment, being stoned, being sawn in two, being run through with the sword. Is this the fruit of faith? The litany goes on to include destitution, persecution, mistreatment, homelessness. Faith?
Yes, it’s all faith. The joys and the sorrows, the triumphs and the tragedies. For faith isn’t judged by the outcomes, as if glory is the only indicator – rather, faith is determined by where you place your trust, regardless of the outcome.
It reminds us that the whole chapter started by stating firmly that faith is being “certain of what we do not see” (verse 1). Then, after listing the first Heroes of Faith (including Abraham), the author tells us, “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance” (verse 13).
Faith is gauged by how strongly we are leaning into the Lord. Indeed, those “others” who experienced trauma and hardship needed to hold firmly to hope all the way through, embracing a faith that endured to the end, trusting in the Lord.
Thank God that miracles happen. Praise him that victories flow from faith and prayer and hope-filled endurance. He was glorified when Daniel emerged in one piece from the lions’ den, and when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stepped unscathed from the fiery furnace. The Lord’s power was seen. Faith held them.
But faith is necessary, too, when we don’t receive the miracle – indeed when hardship descends. And the Lord’s glory is revealed in the lives of his people as we hang on to hope regardless, remaining “certain of what we do not see,” trusting that he is working out his purposes even still. The answer will come. But we ourselves may not have the earthly joy of holding it in our hand.
O Lord, I want to be a person of faith, holding to your promises whether I see the fruit or not. Work faith in me. Like those of old who saw you work in power. Like those, also, who endured hardship, trusting still. Regardless.
In my life, Lord, be glorified.
Pray: It takes faith to pray “your kingdom come, your will be done.” Look around you (family, workplace, church, neighbourhood, world). Embrace faith. Pray for him to work. Trust.