Tag Archives: faithfulness

Standing on the Promises of God

 

Hebrews chapter 11 has long been considered the Hall of Faith for saints, particularly those who were in the Old Testament, but there is much more going on.  Yes, attention is drawn to the lives of saints as examples in our day (see also Heb. 13:7), and yes this chapter is collectively a model of encouragement for the perseverance of the saints, but perhaps more than all of this is that the central figure in this Hall of Faith is not Abraham or Moses, but God Himself, most notably through His faithfulness to His promises in the lives of His children.

The concept of promise is not new to Hebrews as we reach this 11th chapter, rather it has been an underlying theme throughout the book, particularly since the 6th chapter where the promise and oath of God was rooted and grounded in His inability to lie and His own justice (see also Heb. 4:1).  Promises emerge in Hebrews 11 out of two statements made in chapter 10, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful” and “For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised” from 10:23 and 10:36 respectively, each of which serve as an introduction to our chapter under discussion.

Building on this, chapter 11 picks up the promise motif in 11:9 with the mention of Abraham – and the land of promise, Isaac and Jacob – the heirs of the promises, and the promise of God to Abraham and Sarah for the blessed seed.  With is in mind, four additional mentions of promises in this chapter serve to highlight the foundation of God’s faithfulness.

The first occurs in Heb. 11:13, “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.”

The second occurs in Heb. 11:17, “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…”

The third occurs in Heb. 11:33, “who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises”

The fourth occurs in Heb. 11:39-40 And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.”

In over-viewing the promises above, we find a bit of a conflict, a dichotomy of sorts.  On the one hand, in verse 13 we read a summary statement of the saints listed up to this point who died having NOT received the things promised.  Instead, they saw them and greeted them from afar.  Next we read that Abraham DID receive the promises, followed by another summary statement in verse 33 that these obtained promises.  Finally, we read the section summary which states that all of these did NOT receive what was promised.  So which is it?  Did they receive the promises or not?  And what are the promises?

In order to solve this mystery we need to remember that the major theme of Hebrews is to highlight the lesser, of the Old Covenant, over against the greater, of the New Covenant.  Simply put, those described in this chapter did receive the promises of God by faith, each in their individual contexts, as we read.  But these promises were only shadows, not the substance.  While they were very real promises and very real exercises of faith that received these promises, nevertheless there was a greater promise to come through the person and work of Jesus Christ.  By means of His incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and now intercession at the right hand of the Father as the King-Priest after the order of Melchizedek, our Lord has instituted His New Covenant, not creating division between the saints of old and saints of new, but unifying them as one people, one flock, with One Shepherd.  Therefore, while the saints of old, those highlighted in chapter 11 of Hebrews, did indeed receive the promises of God, there was a greater fulfillment of these promises to come, in Christ, that they did not receive in their lifetime.

In Hebrews 11 not only do we see the faith of the saints on display, with no mention of their failures we might add, and not only do we see their perseverance unto death, but we find a magnificent display of the faithfulness of God in the lives of His children.  With the evidence of His faithfulness held up in fulfilling the lesser promises, we can be sure that He will continue to be faithful with the greater promises that have now come through His Son Jesus Christ.  Let us then, as our brothers and sisters before us, by faith, stand firm on the promises of God.

 

Standing on the promises of Christ my King
Through eternal ages let his praises ring
Glory in the highest, I will shout and sing
Standing on the promises of God
Standing, standing
Standing on the promises of God my Savior
Standing, standing
I’m standing on the promises of God
Standing on the promises, I cannot fall
Listening every moment to the Spirit’s call
Resting in my Savior as my all in all
Standing on the promises of God
Standing, standing
Standing on the promises of Christ my Savior
Standing, standing
I’m standing on the promises of God
– Russell Kelso Carter 1886

Finishing Well

 

Judges 6:11-8:35 introduces us to a man with whom most followers of Christ are or at least should be familiar.  Gideon is perhaps best known for his call from God to lead Israel against the Midianites, a call which he requested God to validate by means of a sign, a wet fleece surrounded by dry ground and then subsequently a second sign, a dry fleece surrounded by wet ground.  This sign was to be evidence that God would be with him in the battle against the Midianites.

Prior to this, and the ensuing battle, God tested Gideon by requiring him to destroy the idols and altars of his family.  His obedience, resulting in a name change to Jerubbaal, meaning “let Baal contend against him” nearly cost him his life.  However, it is out of this test, that of destroying the idols closest to him, that God called him to lead Israel out of the bondage of the Midianites.

This episode, following the sign of the fleece, is accompanied by the well-known test of Gideon’s army, those who lap water versus those who kneel to drink, a test that narrowed down his army from 10,000 to 300 soldiers (The original size was 22,000 soldiers, which itself was narrowed down to those who were not fearful).  In God’s narrowing of the army from 22,000 to 10,000, we are given an explanation why this was necessary, “lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.”  This statement provides us with a universal principle which warns us against relying on our own strength, rather than upon God.

It might not be a large army, it might not even be physical strength, but we are prone to self-reliance which in turn robs glory from God and causes us to boast in our own accomplishments rather than in how God has worked.   In the case of Gideon, God was not satisfied with merely cutting the army numerically in half, but taking it to such drastically low numbers that it would be humanly impossible to explain the victory.

Finally, Gideon and his small band of 300 soldiers embarked on their famous military campaign against the Midianites where the army gathered with trumpets and torches

16 And he divided the 300 men into three companies and put trumpets into the hands of all of them and empty jars, with torches inside the jars. 17 And he said to them, “Look at me, and do likewise. When I come to the outskirts of the camp, do as I do. 18 When I blow the trumpet, I and all who are with me, then blow the trumpets also on every side of all the camp and shout, ‘For the Lord and for Gideon.’” Judges 7:16-18

Now, perhaps in the statement that Gideon instructed the army to yell out, “…and for Gideon” we’ve got a small indication of a problem.  Nevertheless, when Gideon and his army blew the trumpets and smashed the torch jars, God confused the Midianite army such that they began fighting against each other in the chaos.  After this battle, Gideon and his men pursued the kings of Midian, though exhausted, captured them when again their army (15,000) was thrown into a panic.  Judges 8:10 records for us that in all 120,000 soldiers were killed due to Gideon and his 300 men.  Surely such a victory is due solely to the sovereignty of God.

With all of this in mind, the legend of Gideon is a well-known and rehearsed story and there are many more details left out of this brief overview that we could’ve discussed.  However, the last chapter in Gideon’s life is lesser known.  In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever heard it included in any discussion of Gideon nor have I really paid much attention to it until reading it for myself.  The passage is below

22Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, “Rule over us, you and your son and your grandson also, for you have saved us from the hand of Midian.” 23 Gideon said to them, “I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the Lord will rule over you.” 24 And Gideon said to them, “Let me make a request of you: every one of you give me the earrings from his spoil.” (For they had golden earrings, because they were Ishmaelites.) 25 And they answered, “We will willingly give them.” And they spread a cloak, and every man threw in it the earrings of his spoil. 26 And the weight of the golden earrings that he requested was 1,700 shekels of gold, besides the crescent ornaments and the pendants and the purple garments worn by the kings of Midian, and besides the collars that were around the necks of their camels. 27 And Gideon made an ephod of it and put it in his city, in Ophrah. And all Israel whored after it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and to his family. 28 So Midian was subdued before the people of Israel, and they raised their heads no more. And the land had rest forty years in the days of Gideon.”

Despite the calling from God, the signs from God, the victories from God, and the favor of God on Gideon among the people of Israel, Gideon did not finish well.  One would be hard pressed to determine what exactly the failure of Gideon was, perhaps it was pride as in the instructions to shout his name.  Maybe it was the taste of success or simply suppressed but not fully eradicated idolatry that found opportunity to surface.  Nevertheless Gideon desired more than what God had given him.  He was not content to have rule over the people, but wanted to preside as priest.  To lead a body politically is one thing, to lead a body spiritually is an entirely different matter altogether, one that had not been granted to Gideon, particularly as it was exclusively given to the tribe of Levi.  As a result, he caused not only himself to fall into idolatry and false worship, but he led all of Israel to whore into idolatry as well.  The simple test of faith that he had initially passed in tearing down the personal idols of his family became a snare and a downfall for himself and Israel.  it was a failure to destroy the idols closest to him.

This final chapter of Gideon’s life should cause us to reflect on our lives, particularly as we see God’s sovereign grace working in and through us, calling, gifting, perhaps even granting various victories.  In this life we are called to persevere and to keep ourselves from idols (1 John 5:21).

If this were all we had to remember of Gideon, perhaps it would be another in a long line of men and women who did not finish well.  Yet for Gideon, there was an additional word to be said, that from Hebrews 11 and the so-called “Hall of faith”.

32 And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets” Hebrews 11:32

Though his mention is brief, nevertheless, the fact that he is hailed by God alongside other men and women who were wrought with failures, yet extolled for their faithfulness should give us encouragement and hope.  This chapter of epitaphs does not mention the failures of God’s people, but rather their faithfulness as a mark of perseverance.

Narratives like Gideon’s serve as patterns and examples, both for the positives and negatives.  Our lives, though certainly possessive of failures, should be marked with the constancy of faithfulness and lifelong perseverance to avoid tapering away from God in our final days.  Surely, we should long for the day when God says well done good and faithful servant, enter the joy of your master.  Until then, let us persevere and strive to finish well.