Tuesday, July 04, 2006

How are these people heroes? (July 13, 2006)

Christians often regard Hebrews 11 as a Hall of Fame of Faith. As they wander through its corridors, viewing the displays (otherwise known as "reading the chapter"), they gasp at the achievements of Abraham, Noah, Jacob, and Joseph. But as I did when I visited the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., and had only a brief time to visit, they sprint past "less important" exhibits and only scan the more important ones. Even the curator (writer) lamented that he did not have more time to talk about heroes like Barak, Jephthah, Gideon, and Samson. So, if I had more time in the Hebrews 11 museum, how could I learn more? All four names of the overlooked come from the book of Judges, arguably one of the most depressing books in the Old Testament. It is a catalogue of failures by the people of God. Even our four heroes had notable spiritual lapses. With Barak and Jephthah, we may even scratch our heads, and say, "How is this man a hero of faith?" Barak was a military leader of Israel during a time when the tribes of Israel were overrun by a Canaanite king named Jabin, who had his own military leader, Sisera. Barak's (and Israel's) spiritual/political leader was a woman named Deborah. Of course, Deborah's leadership status would seem to conflict with patriarchal stereotypes sometimes ascribed to ancient Israel. Deborah informs Barak that God will give him the victory if he leads Israel against Jabin and the Canaanites. The great hero of faith responds that he will indeed lead his people into battle, but only if Deborah goes with him. Remember, despite Deborah's status, this is still a traditional patriarchal society. Deborah herself almost seems sarcastic as she assents to Barak's request. Our question is simply, "How is Barak a hero of faith?" Simply, despite his fears, Barak still believed God's promise. He led Israel into battle. They won the victory. People sometimes rely on the vision and faith of leaders. That does not negate the reality of their own faith. It may not be so bold or expansive, but faith still exists and provides the resources for victory. They may not be the headliners, but they often are the heroes of those who get the glory.
(More to come about Gideon, Jephthah, Samson, and other unsung heroes of Hebrews 11)

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