Besides Sarah, Rahab is the only other woman directly named among the heroes of faith. Considering her background, Rahab's inclusion here is quite remarkable. Before she recognized the God of Israel as the One true God, she made her living as a prostitute in the city of Jericho.
On a secret mission, Rahab played an important role in Israel's defeat of Jericho. This scandalous woman turned spy for God was actually honored twice in the New Testament. She is one of only five women spotlighted in the lineage of Jesus Christ in Matthew 1:5.
Added to this distinction is Rahab's mention in the Hall of Faith:
It was by faith that Rahab the prostitute was not destroyed with the people in her city who refused to obey God. For she had given a friendly welcome to the spies. (NLT)
Gideon was one of Israel's 12 judges. Although he's referenced only briefly in the Hall of Faith, Gideon's story is featured prominently in the book of Judges. He is a fascinating Bible character almost anyone can relate to. Like many of us, he was plagued with doubts and acutely aware of his own weaknesses.
In spite of Gideon's inconsistencies of faith, the central lesson from his life is clear: the Lord can achieve tremendous things through anyone who depends not on self, but on God alone.
Barak was a courageous warrior who answered God's call, but in the end a woman, Jael, received credit for his defeat of the Canaanite army. Like many of us, Barak's faith wavered and he struggled with doubt, yet God saw fit to list this otherwise unrecognized hero in the Bible's Hall of Faith.
Samson, the most prominently featured Israelite judge, had a call on his life: to begin the deliverance of Israel from the Philistines.
On the surface, what stands out most are Samson's heroic exploits of superhuman might. Yet, the biblical account equally highlights his epic failures. He gave into many weaknesses of the flesh and made numerous mistakes in life. But in the end, he returned to the Lord. Samson, blind and humbled, finally realized the true source of his great strength--his dependence on God.
Jephthah was a not-so-well-known Old Testament judge who proved that it's possible to overcome rejection. His story in Judges 11-12 contains both triumph and tragedy.
Jephthah was a mighty warrior, brilliant strategist, and natural leader of men. Although he accomplished great things when he trusted in God, he made a fatal mistake that ended in disastrous consequences for his family.
David, the shepherd-boy king, looms large in the pages of Scripture. This courageous military leader, great king, and slayer of Goliath was by no means a perfect role model. Although he's ranked among the most notable heroes of faith, he was a liar, adulterer, and murderer. The Bible makes no attempt to paint a rosy picture of David. Rather, his failures are vividly displayed for all to see.
So what was it about David's character that made him such a favorite of God? Was it his zest for life and passionate love for God? Or was it his unshakable faith and trust in the endless mercy and steadfast goodness of the Lord?
Throughout his life, Samuel served the Lord with integrity and unwavering faith. In all of the Old Testament, few people were as loyal to God as Samuel. He demonstrated that obedience and respect are the best ways to show God we love him.
While the people of his day were destroyed by their own selfishness, Samuel stood out as a man of honor. Like Samuel, we can avoid the corruption of this world if we put God first in everything.
Anonymous Heroes of Faith
The remaining heroes of faith are listed anonymously in Hebrews 11, but we can guess with a fair degree of accuracy the identity of many of these men and women based on what the writer of Hebrews tells us:
- Verse 33: "They shut the mouth of lions ..." - Most likely a reference to Daniel in the den of lions.
- Verse 34: "... quenched the flames of fire ..." - Probably refers to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego surviving the blazing furnace (Daniel 3).
- Verse 34: "... weakness was turned to strength ..." - Hezekiah recovered from his sickness (Isaiah 37:1-38:22).
- Verse 35: "Women received their loved ones back again from death ..." - The widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17) and the Shunammite woman (2 Kings 4) both received their sons raised back to life by the prophets Elijah and Elisha.
- Verse 35-36: " ... others were tortured ... their backs were cut open with whips." - Jeremiah was tortured and whipped (Jeremiah 20).
- Verse 37: "Some died by stoning ..." - Zechariah was stoned to death (2 Chronicles 24:21).
- Verse 37: "... some were sawed in half ..." - Strong tradition suggests that Isaiah died a martyr under the reign of King Manasseh by being placed within the hallow of a tree trunk and sawed in two.