THE PATTERN OF TREATMENT SUGGESTED IN THE TEXT
The writer continues here in the stylish phrases and sentences “and what shall I yet say? For the time would fail me to declare in detail concerning Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephtha!” It is presupposed that the readers are familiar with their Old Testament Scriptures; yea, that a mere mention of these heroes of faith during the time of the Judges, when every one did what was right in his own eyes, would bring to mind the mighty and gallant deeds of faith and warfare of these deliverers of Israel. Each of these was lifted up by the Lord in His mercy to deliver Israel in His great compassion. All of these Judges lived at a time when there was very little or no faith in evidence in Israel; they were a people that turned from the Lord unto the idol-gods of the heathen about them, (Judges 2:19-23). And these men, mentioned here by the writer to the Hebrews, are judges, whom the LORD raised up for Israel to deliver them out of the hand of their enemies all the days of the Judge.
The writer to the Hebrew Christians of the New Testament refers to these Judges here as men who are great in the annals of Israel’s history. And now he will not write “concerning” these at any great length and in detail. The New Testament believers have their own Bibles, the O.T. canonical Scriptures, and they can look this up for themselves if their memory fails them, or if they must learn to understand these Scriptures better. This manner of treatment has in it a telling effectiveness. The readers must understand that there is no point in going into a detailed account in all these judges, kings and prophets, whereas each time the same reality of faith as the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen, would come to manifestation. The matter is very simple. The believers out of the Jews and we with them (all Israel) must know that we have need of faith and patience. The victory is of faith. He that cometh to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. Now all these Judges were men of like passions as we are. They were men with faith, and, yet, each one was a man with many sins, yea, even rather great sins. It was not of works that they triumphed, but of grace through faith. Such is the telling effectiveness of the manner here indicated. It is the pattern of the Lord’s dealings with these great men of God in Israel; it is the pattern of all God’s dealings with his saints in all ages.
We need not attempt to be too exhaustive in our treatment of these verses!
GIDEON, JUDGE IN ISRAEL. (Hebrews 11:32, Judges 6:11-8:35)
Every little boy and girl who has gone to Catechism and Sunday School and to the Christian School has heard about Gideon. When his name is mentioned we instantly think of Gideon routing the hordes of the Midianites, a Bedouin people, who came into the land of Israel to pillage the country, and to rob the Israelites of the very bread of their table. Was it not high time that something be done? For even a mighty man of valour, such as Gideon, had to thresh out the wheat in a wine-press in the seclusion of the hills of Ophrah! This had gone on for seven long years. And now these Midianitish hordes are thoroughly and permanently routed under Gideon, who is surnamed Jerubbaal. And we think of the small army of three hundred (300) men, which were the choice of the Lord out of 32,000 men. We think of the blowing of the trumpet and the breaking of the pitchers, 300 in all, and the cry “The sword of the LORD and of Gideon.”
What every little boy and girl does not fully or even partially understand is that what made Gideon be surnamed Jerubbaal was that Gideon had contended with Baal and that he had cut down the grove of the adulteress Ashtoreth, and that this name indicated that Gideon was a judge who brought Israel back again to the worship of the only true God in Israel. The tabernacle at Shiloh may have been still neglected; but in the poor family in Manasseh arose a mighty judge whom the LORD had raised up. And he will under God deliver Israel in such a way that it will be a herald of the Day of the Lord in His final coming with the clouds of heaven. The trumpets shall sound, the Lord will appear in the cry of victory. He will destroy the enemy and terrify them so that they are utterly confused and paralyzed. And great is the victory so that this victory becomes a watchword and song in Israel (Psalm 83:9;Isaiah 9:4; 10:26).
And it was all faith. Yes, it was faith that needed a sign that God would indeed accept Israel’s sacrifice once more. The angel of the LORD, who had come to Abraham of old (Gen. 17) now appears to Gideon. The initiative of this victory over the enemy and the deliverance of Israel is from the LORD Himself. The meal which Gideon prepared for this man (he entertained an Angel unawares) was not eaten but was entirely consumed as a thank offering upon the rock, the LORD disappeared only to return with the mandate to begin judgment at the house of God. The Baa1 idol must be destroyed and the altar unto the Lord must be re-erected. And to undergird Gideon’s faith so that he may truly be a Jerubbaal (a contender against Baal) he receives the twofold sign of the fleece. And, in faith in the living God, Gideon must go and gather an army. However, this army must be so small that Israel will not claim the victory. Weakest means fulfill his will. His strength is made great in human weakness.
Thus Gideon walks in faith and not by sight. And thus the Spirit sings of the LORD’s victory in Psalm 83:8,11-12, “Assur also is joined unto them: they have holpen the children of Lot. Do unto them as unto the Midianites . . . Make their nobles like Oreb and like Zeeb; yea, all their princes as Zebah, and as Zalmunna, who said, Let us take to ourselves the houses of God in possession.”
Great was the faith of Gideon fighting the Lord’s battles, although his flesh caused him to fail later miserably in the matter of the golden Ephod, even Ophrah of Mannaseh! It was here, too, of the Lord’s mercies that Israel was not consumed!
BARAK OF KEDESH-NAPHTALI (Hebrews 11:32; Judges 4:1-24;5:19-22)
There are two things that strike this writer here in the citation of Barak as one of the great men of faith. The first is that he is mentioned second, after Gideon. The writer to the Hebrews evidently is not interested in chronology and historical order, primarily. He is interested in citing these men as representatives of all the Judges whom God raised up and who all walked in faith. The second matter that strikes me is that not Deborah is mentioned, who played such a prominent part in this episode in Israel’s history, but that Barak is singled out. And well may he be singled out.
Times were indeed bad in Israel. The LORD had “sold them” into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. Hazor was a city in the tribe of Naphtali in the northern part of the promised land. And he reigned over Israel, at least over the northern part, for a long period! The odds were certainly against Israel, for Jabin had a man over his hosts by the name of Sisera, who dwelt in Horesheth, near mount Carmel and the Kishon valley. He had many chariots and horses.
At such a time as that, Deborah, a mother in Israel, spoke the word of the LORD to Barak, telling him that he must draw near to mount Tabor in Issachar with ten thousand men of Naphtali and Issachar and of the children of Zebulon. The promise is: I (the LORD) will deliver him into thy hand! That is yea and Amen!
This calls for faith on the part of Barak as he leaves his home in Kedesh-Naphtali to muster the LORD’s army in Israel. It is the faith which is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen, the Lord’s word concerning a complete victory.
Yet, this faith is not perfect. He desires the presence of Deborah, and now he is assured that the honor of the victory, the trophy will not go to him but to a woman. Of her they will sing. Barak’s glory is not undimmed! It is a glory which is taken from him in that Sisera, who flees in the heat and defeat of the battle, falls a victim to Jael’s nail and hammer in her tent. Barak receives glory according to the measure of his faith! He musters the army and he meets the foe at the river Kishon. And the LORD gives him the victory by faith. He discomfits the armies of Sisera before Barak and his ten thousand even unto the home city of Sisera at Horesheth. And great was the victory! This is beautifully portrayed in the Poem of Deborah and Barak.
“The kings came and fought, they fought the kings of Canaan in Taanach by the waters of Megiddo; they took no gain of money. They fought from heaven; the stars in their courses fought against Sisera. The river of Kishon swept them away, that ancient river, the river Kishon O my soul thou hast trodden down strength. Then were the horsehoofs broken by means of the pransings, the pransings of the mighty ones. . . .”
However, in this song the individual glory does not go to Barak but to Jael, a steel-hearted Kenitish woman who deceived Sisera and drove a nail through his head and killed him. This is not recorded as a deed of faith. She slew a helpless, tired, sleeping general. Barak led the armies of Israel into the fray. And this is the battle which is the great type of the battle of God almighty, the final battle of Armageddon.
Most school boys think more of Jael’s steel-hearted act than of the timid faith of Barak which budded out into the faith which conquers the world. .
SAMSON THE NAZARITE JUDGE (Hebrews 11:32;Judges 13:25;14:6,19,15:14)
Most people simply think of Samson as the man of prodigious strength, one performing unbelievable feats of physical performance in killing single-handed many Philistines. He was a one-man army! Too few people really think of Samson as a man, very weak, except that he was endowed with strength by the Lord, “When the Spirit of the Lord came upon him.”
Samson is the only Judge whose birth is foretold by the angel of the Lord. And he was to be a Nazarite all his life. No razor must come upon his head, no wine must he drink, neither must he be defiled with dead things. He was to live in faith, a faith by which he was “separated” unto the LORD. His entire life must be one of consecration. And he was to be the LORD’S servant from his mother’s womb. Strange-looking man he was with his long hair. He was no “hippy” in any sense of the word. He was to adhere to all the rules and prohibitions given in Numbers 6. The cutting of the hair meant the end of being a Nazarite, of having completed the vow.
The writer to the Hebrews places Samson in the great “cloud of witnesses” which surrounds the New Testament Church. His was a life of faith with much weakness and failure. Yet, God is not ashamed of him; neither should we be. Dying he delivers Israel, he makes a dent in the power of Philistia wherewith they held Israel in bondage for forty years! By faith he was mighty, and was made strong out of weakness!