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.
“By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days” (Hebrews 11:30). Put yourself in Joshua’s shoes and imagine meeting with your military strategists to lay out the plan God gave to you for taking the city of Jericho: Okay guys, we’re going to basically march around the city blowing trumpets for six days, and on the seventh day march around it seven times doing the same thing, and then give a great big yell. Then Jericho’s walls will fall down. I guarantee it” (Joshua 6:1-5). I don’t think General Eisenhower would have approved of this military strategy for D-Day. No, only deep trust in God’s promises would motivate any soldier to go along with this plan.
“By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies” (11:31). Even though all of Jericho had heard of God’s wondrous exploits with Israel, only Rahab was humble and faithful enough to submit to God and help his people (Joshua 2:1-24; 6:25). Even though she had the power to turn them over to her people and likely receive Jericho’s praise and perhaps even a reward, her faith in what she had heard about God prompted her to save them instead.
By his own admission, the Hebrew author didn’t have the time to speak of the great faith of other Old Testament heroes like Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets (11:32). Gideon, whose faith in God prompted him to take on an army of thousands with only 300 men (Judges 7). Barak, who joined Deborah in receiving victory over the Midianites from God (Judges 4-5). Samson, whose faith and discovered humility prompted him to penitently ask God for victory over the Philistines who had finally beaten him due to his sin, and God graciously granted his request (Judges 16). Jephthah, whose faith in God motivated him to keep his rash promise to God even at the cost of his daughter’s future (Judges 11). David, whose faith in God gave him victory over a giant (1 Samuel 17). Samuel, a man whose faith gave him the courage to tell a king that he had sinned (1 Samuel 15).
It was “through faith” that all of them “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,” and “received back their dead by resurrection” (vs. 33-35a). Their faith in God’s promises motivated them to achieve with his help all of these great things, and God kept his word to them (cf. Joshua 21:45; 1 Kings 8:56).
Yet they also went through trials because of their faith. “Some were tortured, refusing to accept release” (v. 35). “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…wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth” (vs. 36-38). Jeremiah was beaten, put in stocks, mocked, jailed, and lowered into a dungeon with no water to sink in filthy waste (Jeremiah 20, 37-38). Zechariah was stoned for telling the people they had sinned against God (2 Chronicles 24:20-21). Prophets in Elijah’s time were killed by the sword (1 Kings 19:10, 14). It has been said that Isaiah met his death by being sawn in two.
Why were they willing to suffer so to follow God? It was because they believed that “they might rise again to a better life” (v. 35). Their deep faith in God helped them realize that everything in this life, both good and bad, is temporary. Their faith never took the hope of God’s wondrous, unimaginable, eternal reward of glory out of their sight.
And as verses 39 and 40 alludes above, they all lived and died in faith, hoping to see the fulfillment of the promise of the Messiah and his kingdom which is his church. They did not live to see that promise fulfilled…but we have. In that way “they (were) not…made perfect” or complete, but we have received something “better:” the opportunity to obey the gospel and have our sins washed away. Do we have the same kind of faith as they?