by Mark Overstreet
(Editor’s note: This is the 8th post in a series through Hebrews 11 called “In the Shadow of the Cloud.” We will be exploring what we can learn from those mentioned in this clouds of witnesses section.)
I recently stood atop a tall building after a menacing storm blew through town. Usually filled with the smog and grit of the big city, the storm cleared the skies overhead, and the winds delivered clean, crisp air and clear views as far as the horizon. That storm turned our miserable rainy afternoon into a stunning display of God’s glory. Some estimated you could see over 50 miles that day.
An hour earlier we were all running for cover and miserable, and that night we gazed at the beauty of the city and heavens as the sun gave way to night.
The Book of Judges is a series of one dark story after another. From sinister assassinations to the philandering nazirite, the writer records forever the miserable spiral of moral decay into the Word of God. Why would he tuck these stories between the nation’s glorious salvation in Joshua to the promised reign of the chosen one in Samuel’s first scroll?
Moreover, why would the author of Hebrews include within his chapter on faith (chapter 11) a short list of judges that often display more flaws than faith? Could he have been mistaken to point to their lives as examples?
When we look at the story of Jephthah, we see a dark storm brewing from the beginning: illegitimate son of adultery, appointed (not anointed) to the head of Israel, who takes the helm without a mention of seeking God’s favor—a first for the house of Jacob. Foolishness rules in his house—not faith. He takes a vow that results in human sacrifice(!) and the abrupt end of his bloodline, a great shame to any family in that day.
Where is the faith? How on earth can good come from this darkness? Among the darkest of clouds, God slips in a sliver of bright light. In Judges 11:29, the author explains that the Spirit of God was upon Jephthah when he believed that Yahweh could deliver the feeble nation from oppressive neighbors who had exercised military dominance for nearly two decades. He believed God.
An honest survey of Hebrews 11 leaves us with similar narratives from the garden through the prophets—broken people, broken promises, and faith is the only light that points to a real and future hope.
Like the books of Moses and the prophets, Hebrews 11 reminds us that we are not the hero, God is. Even faith, without an object, is vain. We must hope in a God who is real, who lives, who knows what life and breath and weakness feels likes.
Whether a patriarch or pauper, the greatest need of every created thing is a right relationship with God. Every blade of grass, every molecule of water, every bird of the air or fish in the deep knows He is here. Only humanity has turned away from him toward selfish ambition.
Through faith, He can conquer. Through faith, He can deliver. Through faith, He can forgive, justify, and glorify. He can do it.
Jephthah and all the others in Hebrews 11 stand as a great reminder that whatever your story, God can turn it to good. He has created a world, and we have turned it into a mess.
Wherever your life is today, look to Hebrews 11 and be reminded that all the mistakes in the world may make for a mess in human terms, but for God, He is here, and He can deliver.
When the storms roll in, and the skies seem dark and foreboding, remember that God can change everything with one word. Hear the voice of God, when he reminds us of the suffering, shame, and death He endured, so that He can serve as our Light: “Look 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” (Heb. 12:2).
Mark Overstreet (@moverstreet) is executive vice president of T4 Global and serves fourth world cultures in leadership development and community transformation. He consults with global organizations in areas including healthy partnerships, orality, mission, program architecture, strategy, and evaluation. Learn more: http://www.markoverstreet.com