Day 354: Hebrews 11-13; By Faith (Israel's Hall of Fame)

Keeping in mind that the whole of this book was written as an encouragement to those believers who were facing persecution, especially from the Jews, and to those who were believers but may have been backsliding into Judaism.  With that in mind, there isn’t much else to say that isn’t eloquently spoken about in chapters 11 and 12.  So, I encourage you to read them again and remember all that we have covered over the last year.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  For by it the people of old received their commendation.  By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.

By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.  By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God.  And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.  By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.  By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise.  For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.  By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised.  Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.  For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.  If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return.  But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.”  He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.  By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau.  By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff.  By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones.

By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.  By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.  He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.  By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible.  By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them.

By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned.  By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days.  By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.

And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of GideonBarakSamsonJephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions,  quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.  Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life.  Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment.  They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.  In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.  And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him.  For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”



Day 71: Judges 6-8; Gideon

Apart from the story of Sampson, Gideon would probably be considered one of the greatest, or at least most well known of the judges.  His story and all that goes with it are the subject of many Sunday School lessons about testing and trusting in God.  There are many facets to the story when we look at it from those angels, but again in this story I think we need to take a step back and look first at where God is in all of this, and how He acts for the people of Israel.

We read first that the Lord visits Gideon by way of an angel and the Gideon doesn’t recognize it until after a rather obvious sign is given to him.  After this sign, the meal he has prepared bursting into flames, Gideon still questions and tests God, just to make sure.  He kind of reminds me of another great leader of Israel that we had been talking about, Moses.  Even after being given signs and the promises of God Himself, still neither one of these men are willing to outright trust God.  Moses resisted so much that God became angry with him, Gideon tests God up to the hours and minutes prior to their attack.  Though I have to give Gideon some credit, he was still willing to go to the camp of his enemy with only 300 people, down from an army of 32,000.  However, it wasn’t until the he heard from the mouth of his enemy that the Lord was going to give the Midianites into the hands of Israel did he have the courage to face them.  I wonder what would have happened if he had heard this and then had to wait a day or two before he attacked.  Would his confidence have waned again?  Who knows…

In all this though, we really haven’t talked about God’s place in this story.  God shows up very clearly at the beginning, being present and hearing the cries of the people of Israel in their oppression.  God reminds them through a prophet of the covenant that they made and how they had broken it.  Yet once again He doesn’t leave them in their misery but raises up a great Judge, albeit a reluctant one.  God goes ever before them, preparing the enemy for defeat before Gideon even arrives, much less when he attacks.  God answers very clearly the challenge of Gideon’s father when he suggests that the people, angered by the breaking of baal’s alter (which they had no right or reason to have in the first place), that baal should contend for himself, if indeed he is a god.  And finally, the Lord is with Gideon and the people of Israel after their defeat giving rest to the Land even when the people “whore” after the ephod that Gideon creates.

Once again we see the true nature of God revealed in this story.  Though He punishes the people of Israel for their sins, God is not unmerciful or unforgiving.  He once again upholds His side of the covenant, a relationship that is kept from God’s side despite the continual unfaithfulness of Israel.  This is the true nature of God’s faithfulness and unconditional love, that even when Israel walks away God remains steadfast and unchanging in His commitment to His people.  He truly is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love!