Sermon preached on Hebrews 11:30-40 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 12/9/2018 in Novato, CA.
“Kingdoms Subdued, Righteousness Worked, Promises Obtained”
Today, I will have us focus especially on verses 30-32, and we’ll look at the rest of the chapter next week. Looking at these verses, we see three more eras of redemptive history mentioned. We’ve been getting quite a Bible survey going through Hebrews 11. First, we started with the creation and then the pre-flood people. Then we went through the patriarchal period with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. Then we looked at the Mosaic era with the Egyptian bondage and the Exodus. Now we come in verses 30-32 to the next three eras. First is the period known as the Conquest, when God’s people under Joshua conquer and take control of the Promised Land. Second is the period of the Judges, a rather dark time for Israel’s history where God would use the occasional judges to help bring deliverance to God’s people from their enemies. Four of those judges are mentioned here. Third is the period of the Monarchy when God’s people are formed into a kingdom with a king, the most memorable one David being mentioned here. That period also coincided with the beginning of a formal prophetic ministry as seen with the reference to Samuel.
Next week, starting in verse 33, we’ll see a transition from people being named to various actions being named. Yet, the first three actions listed in verse 33 are certainly descriptive of the three eras that I just mentioned. During the conquest, during the period of judges, and during the monarchy, by faith, God’s people subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, and obtained promises. In terms of subduing kingdoms, that period is full of international conflict, at first trying to conquer the Promised Land under Joshua. Then, in trying to further consolidate their possession of the land during the time of the judges, where there is constant back and forth conflicts between Israel and the remaining pagan peoples in the land. Then, in the monarchy, that dynamic continues to a degree, with neighboring nations that continue to have conflicts with Israel as a nation. In terms, of working righteousness, this might especially be in the sense of the promotion and establishing of righteousness and justice as these offices of judge, and king, and prophet were able to do. And in terms of obtaining promises, we can see many promises God gave these saints that were fulfilled in their own lifetimes.
So then, as we look briefly today at each of these three eras of the history of God’s people, we’ll see them by faith accomplishing these things. Yet, as we recognize them accomplishing these things by faith, we’ll also be reminded that what made that all possible was God’s grace. It was through the instrument of faith that they appropriated the grace of God in their circumstances. Or let me say it another way. God graciously used weak and sinful people to do great things as they looked to him in faith. That’s to be our story as well.
So, let’s begin by looking at the era of the conquest mentioned in verses 30-31. This was the timeframe after the Exodus and the forty years of wilderness wandering when God used Joshua to lead the people in a general conquering of the Promised Land. The first recorded battle after Israel crossed the Jordan and began to the conquer the heartland of the Promised Land was the battle at Jericho. Both verses 30 and 31 reference that memorable victory. What happened at Jericho, and the conquest in general, was God’s simultaneous judgment against the sin of the pagan Canaanites and the gracious rewarding of God’s people. God used Israel to bring a judgment upon the wicked people of the land while at the same time giving the land as an inheritance to his chosen people.
And so, in verse 30, we remember the miraculous way God used Joshua and the Israelites in conquering the city of Jericho. Verse 30 says that by faith the walls of Jericho fell down after God’s people encircled it for seven days. This is a great demonstration of both faith and grace. If you recall from the biblical account, the reason Israel marched around the city like that was because that’s what God told them to do in order to find victory. I hope you see why this requires faith. Armies marching around cities don’t cause city walls to fall in on themselves. This is kind of like the later story of Naaman who was told to dip himself in the Jordan in order for his leprosy to be cured. Washing in the Jordan doesn’t cure leprosy just like marching around city walls don’t cause them to come crashing down. The point in both cases is that these things are miraculous. And so, with the walls falling down at Jericho, we are talking about the grace of God that miraculously gave Israel this amazing victory. Realize that God could have just caused the walls to fall down when Israel first arrived at Jericho. But then they wouldn’t have had opportunity to exercise their faith. So, in God’s wisdom, he allows Israel to participate in the victory in a way that exercises their faith and therefore grows their faith, but at the same time showing that their victory is a gift from the Lord. It wasn’t by their own military strength that God gave them the victory at Jericho. Surely, if they had to rely on their strength they would not have been able to take the Promised Land like they did. No, God’s grace came in their weakness and gave them the victory. And yet God called them to receive that grace through the instrument of faith. The Jericho example is a great example of that, where God used them to be subduing these Canaanite kingdoms and begin to receive the promises of inheriting the land.
An application here to us is to remember that this is not unique to Jericho. Throughout Scripture we see God call us to faith in what would otherwise seem like foolishness to the world. I can imagine that the people of Jericho from their seeming safety from behind the wall were probably laughing at Israel as they marched around. Likewise, we think of our Joshua, our champion and deliverer, Jesus Christ. God says we appropriate the grace of salvation by putting our faith in the cross of Jesus Christ. The Bible states the obvious about this in 1 Corinthians 1. To the world, to put our faith in Jesus’s cross to save us is foolishness. The world back then and still today laughs at us for such faith. But the Bible encourages us that the cross is God’s power unto salvation.
Verse 31 then reminds us of another aspect of God’s grace going on at Jericho. There it mentions Rahab. Remember, that Rahab was a citizen of Jericho. In other words, she was one of those pagan Canaanites who were under the judgment of God. Just to make it really clear that she was a sinner deserving God’s wrath, we are told here and repeatedly in Scripture that she was a harlot. Realize, at this point there had not been a Great Commission where God’s people were told to evangelize the nations. There had been no vision like the Apostle Peter later had that told him God was providing cleansing and grace to Gentiles. Rather, Israel was told at this point to go in and wipe everyone out in Jericho. Remember how failure to carefully follow God’s instructions in this regard resulted in Achan finding God’s punishment when he saved some of the spoil from Jericho instead of destroying it. Nonetheless, Scripture not only records this grace shown to Rahab the prostitute. It commends the grace that she received through faith.
The Old Testament record is clear. Rahab saw what God has been doing through Israel. She clearly believed God’s judgment was imminently coming upon her and her city, just as certain as it came upon Sodom and Gomorrah in the past. And so, without any specific offer of salvation given to her, she proactively appeals to God for salvation through his people. She begins this first by forsaking her identity with her own people by disobeying her king’s orders and instead hiding and helping the Israelite spies that had come to spy out Jericho in advance of the battle. She then appeals to them that they would spare her and her family when they come to attack the city. In short, in faith, she looks to reidentify with God’s people and be saved. And that is indeed what she found, so that she is even mentioned her and commended for such faith. And not only that, but we find recorded in Matthew 1 that she even marries into the people of God, specifically into the tribe of Judah and ultimately in the line that would bring forth both King David and later King Jesus! See again then how grace is highlighted here behind her faith. Just because she believed God was so powerful and that he would defeat Jericho didn’t mean she should be saved. Even her act of faith that helped the spies didn’t warrant forgiveness and salvation from all her many sins. But God’s grace was greater than all her sin. She looked in faith to the mercy of God and graciously found it. That is our story as well.
Let’s turn now to consider the period of the judges. We see a list of four of them in verse 32. The period of judges began after the era of the conquest lead by Joshua. The people found themselves somewhat in possession of the Promised Land. They had conquered large portions of the heart of the land, but there were various pockets of pagan Gentiles scattered about. They needed to finish the work in conquering the land. However, in the generations that followed Joshua, they had a repeated problem of leadership. Israel was only loosely organized and lacked strong leadership especially in terms of establishing and promoting righteousness. So then, during that time, God’s people kept falling into idolatry. It basically became the reverse of what we saw with Rahab. Instead of living by faith in God so that they lived in holiness as distinct from the world, they instead kept going after the false gods of the pagan Gentiles that were still in the land. So, they do the reverse of Rahab and identify with those pagan peoples and their pagan idols. This resulted in God’s chastening whereby he allowed those same peoples to afflict Israel. Again, this was the reverse of the Rahab situation. This would inevitably result in Israel eventually coming to their senses and crying to out to God for help when they found themselves afflicted and subjugated by these pagan peoples. In response, God would raise up judges who for a time would subdue these pagan kingdoms and work and promote righteousness and justice among the people. Sometimes this would even involve God revealing himself to these judges promising deliverance – promises they would obtain in their own lives. And so, this cycle kept happing during that era – an ongoing ironic, and sad, dynamic. Yet, when all is said and done, we see that as these judges by faith looked to God to bring both forgiveness and deliverance, he graciously delivered. More so, what stands out in the judges is they were flawed, sinful people. Yet, this only heralds that as much as we say it is “by faith”, that it was God’s grace that was beneath this: grace that would use such people nonetheless for these good accomplishments.
Look at each of these four judges mentioned and we see this. Gideon is seen in Judges 6-8 as delivering the people from the Midianites. That’s when God had Gideon reduce the Israelite army from 32,000 to just 300 men. That was so that when God gave Israel the victory with that tiniest of armies who only had torches and trumpets, that everyone knew it was God who gave the victory. That required faith by Gideon and the people. Yet, Gideon’s record is also tainted by the ephod he set up at the end of his life which Israel start worshipping as an idol. Likewise, Gideon’s memorable fleeces that he demanded as a sign to prove God’s Word was not commendable either, despite popular opinion. Then you have Barak from Judges 4-5. He was a military leader at the same time as the prophetess Deborah who had victory over the evil Canaanite leader Sisera who was renown for all his iron chariots. The Song of Deborah and Barak record God’s work in saving them. Barak’s faith can be seen in all that. But, his record in Judges is also marked with rebuke when he would only heed God’s call to battle if Deborah promised to come along with him. Then you have Samson. Much is recorded of him in Judges 12-16. He was a powerful champion for Israel over the Philistines with his God-given super strength. Yet, he surely was the most ignoble of the judges, one who struggled with rash anger and also faithfulness to live a holy, Nazirite life as he had been called to. Ultimately, his love for pagan wives became his downfall. Yet, even in his failings, he clearly had a faith that recognized that his power and victory came from the LORD. Lastly, we see the record here of Jephthah from Judges 11-12. He led the people in victory against the Ammonites, where he warns them by giving a long history to the Ammonites of how the LORD has been with Israel. That history lesson showed his faith, yet his record is also marred. It is marred by his rash vow concerning the sacrifice of his daughter. It is also marred by the fact that after the victory with the Ammonites he helps fuel a civil war with the Ephraimites. So then, I hope this quick review of these four judges show the accomplishments God did through them in their faith and trust in God. But I hope you also see how God graciously did these things through these men who themselves had sins and blights. But that’s the beauty of God’s grace down through the generations!
So then, turning to the last era in redemptive history to consider today, we see the kingdom and monarchy established by the reference to King David. Of course, David was not the first king. But the transition from having a relatively lesser amount of government headed by occasional judges to a monarchy with a sitting king happened as an attempt by the people to try to solve some of the problems inherent with the period of the judges. Scripture described that desire for a king with contrasting statements. On the one hand, God said that the people were rejecting him as their king, and that they wanted the wrong kind of king. That’s when God let them have their first king, Saul, who was not the best king, and we note is not listed here. On the other hand, the Mosaic law allowed for a king. The book of Judges also expresses the need for a king who could work and promote righteousness among the people. And God is the one who ultimately selects David as a king, seeing his heart as one that generally had his heart of the things of the LORD. In fact, David was a very capable king, and did in fact subdue many enemy kingdoms, especially those troublesome Philistines. And also, in 2 Samuel 8:15 we are told that the establishment of his kingdom included that he administered justice and righteousness to all the people. Again, certainly many divine promises came to pass in David’s life. For David, a big promise was that he would even be king; for God had him anointed as king long before he actually was able to become king. But ultimately God fulfilled that promise to him. But along the way, David had to exercise faith upon faith. He had faith early in his career by which he conquered Goliath. He had faith that God would in fact establish him as king in God’s timing. He had faith that brought the Ark to his capital city of Jerusalem. And he had faith in wanting to build a house for the Lord. He had much faith in all the psalms that he wrote to God. So much could be said of David’s faith. Yet, nonetheless, all we have to do is mention the word Bathsheba and we can remember that David too was a sinner who needed God’s grace and mercy. We could also mention things like his failure to discipline Absalom or the unlawful census. Much is recorded about David, both of his successes and his failures. But by faith he accomplished what he did, but that faith was grounded in God’s grace that had mercy on him in his sins and shortcomings. And so, we again see with David and the monarchy the thing we’ve seen throughout today’s study. God can commend these people for their actions “by faith” but they were still people that needed to live “by grace.”
This fact is, of course, why God established the formal prophetic ministry beginning with Samuel. You see, what’s true for David is what was true at best for the rest of the kings in Israel’s history. Despite the desire to solve all Israel’s problems with the judges by establishing a monarchy, the kings like the judges were sinners too. Some lived by faith. Many did not. As an additional way of helping to promote righteousness during the monarchy, the various prophets that God raised up not only preached to the people but especially served to try to keep the various kings accountable to the LORD and the law of God. Samuel becomes the first in this line of prophets, but we can certainly think of people like Nathan, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and many more, all the way up to John the Baptist. These prophets also had to do their work by faith. And the need for their ongoing existence and ministry among Israel only showed that it wasn’t just Saul and David who needed their counsel and admonition. They were a voice for God’s grace, and for the call to live by faith, to the kings and to all the people of God.
In conclusion, brothers and sisters, I hope the application I’ve been making throughout has been clear and well repeated. What I’ve brought out today could be said of any of the people in Hebrews 11, but certainly is brought to mind with the explicit reference to Rahab’s sin and what should be the hard to forget failings of these judges and David. These saints of old lived and acted in faith. Their faith is rightly commended here. But as we say with the solas “faith alone” is founded in “grace alone”. I’ve kept directing us today to see the grace behind the faith. And so, in closing I’d like to point you what stands behind the “grace alone”. It’s Christ alone. How could God show such grace through faith to all these saints? How can he show it to us? The answer is again today Jesus Christ. Let us have our eyes of faith again today directed to Jesus Christ, the true Joshua. He is the one who identified with us sinful, fallen humans, to come from the righteousness of heaven and become one us. And not just any human, but even to be grafted into a line of human sinners that included people like Rahab the Harlot and David in his failings. This King Jesus has then come to us humans, to be our champion, our deliverer, our savior. He is the one who perfectly judges us his people in righteousness. He is the one who has and is establishing a glorious kingdom. He does this even while reigning in the midst of his enemies, even while he is subduing the kingdoms of this world. He will be about this until that final trumpet sounds and it is declared, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever” (Rev 11:15). And it is in this Jesus Christ, our Lord, that all the promises of God are obtained, for they are yes and amen (2 Cor 1:20) in him.
Having such a Lord and Savior, we walk by faith in these promises. We walk by faith that is grounded upon such grace; grace secured by and in Christ. What comforting words that also spur us on. For we know our own sins and failings. But we are encouraged today at how God nonetheless uses us fallen sinners to do great things for his kingdom. Amen.
Copyright © 2018 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.