Reflection: Letter to the Hebrews 11:32-34 (The Message)
32-34 I could go on and on, but I’ve run out of time. There are so many more—Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, the prophets. . . . Through acts of Faith, they toppled kingdoms, made justice work, took the promises for themselves. They were protected from Lions, fires, and sword thrusts, turned disadvantage to advantage, won battles, routed alien armies.
I have always found this chapter of Hebrews somewhat difficult and these 3 verses when read outside the context of the whole chapter are, I think, somewhat confusing. These 3 verses are also often used to justify the idea of “G-d is on my side in this war because I am more faithful than you are.” But I do not believe that is what the author had in mind.
The writer of Hebrews is making a case for faith, a faith in what we cannot see. Now that I get, and, for me the writer could have stopped at verse 3 of chapter 11 and his argument would have been made.
Hebrews 11:1-3 - The Message (MSG) - Faith in What We Don’t See 1-2 The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. The act of faith is what distinguished our ancestors, set them above the crowd. 3 By faith, we see the world called into existence by God’s word, what we see created by what we don’t see.
But he didn’t and so now I am left with chapter and verse that could be problematic when read outside the context of the whole chapter 11 and in fact the complete Letter to the Hebrews. My difficulty isn’t with its premise it is with how it is interpreted and used in today’s world, the 21st century. Yes Gideon, Barak, Samson, and the rest had faith in G-d and they used that faith to give them the courage to defend themselves and fight for a place to live. Yes they are told by G-d and Moses they are G-d’s chosen people and that G-d would be right there beside them through thick and thin. At least that is what is told in the Pentateuch, which was written during the Babylonian Exile sometime between 600 BCE and 580 BCE and not by Moses.
Now don’t get me wrong I actually love the Letter to the Hebrews. The Letter’s central idea of Jesus as the High Priest, our representative who stands before G-d in our name as our advocate means we have a spokesperson on our side, something the disadvantaged throughout history rarely have. That is an important metaphor to keep in mind. It is also the root meaning of Chapter 11.
In the first three verses of Chapter 11 the author of Hebrews lays out the important points he wants to make: “By faith, we see the world called into existence by God’s word, what we see created by what we don’t see.” The remainder of this chapter is a litany of heroes from the Jewish Bible. They are examples of faith, combined with trust, obedience, and hope that supports the desire for a better place to live, a place to call their own where G-d is the planner and builder, a place where G-d is the central focus. The memory of the prophets, kings and soldiers the author invokes is not about “whose side G-d is on,” it’s about being true to G-d’s teaching and message. It is not the act of fighting or going to war that the author is writing about. The important point it is the faithfulness of those who were fighting to build a homeland and country. Would Gideon have lost if they hadn’t had faith? That is a possibility because they might not have had the courage to stand up for what they believed in. And, by invoking the heroes of his Jewish faith the author is placing Jesus among the great and small who throughout history have listened to G-d’s call to stand up and speak G‑d’s message of justice, mercy, and compassion (Micah 6:8). To walk with G-d does not mean the road will be easy rather it means G-d walks with us into the “lion’s den” offering support and not making smoothing out the potholes.
As I contemplate these verses at the dawning of Advent I am hearing G-d’s call to respond as Isaiah, Moses, Jesus, Paul, and the author of Hebrews to speak out in G-d’s name for justice, mercy, and compassion for those who cannot speak for themselves. In the next 4 weeks as I, we, wait for the celebration of the birth of love in human form we need to remember why Jesus came. He didn’t come so we could give gifts, or eat ourselves sick, or spend money with no thought of consequences. Jesus came to bring us a way of life. We are called by G-d to respond to those who are in need, to give out of our abundance. Because we have enough to live comfortably it is our responsibility to ensure that everyone has enough to live comfortably. To give joyfully and generously, whether it is material, monetary, or spiritually is to practice the teaching of Jesus when he walked among us.
So this week’s spiritual challenge is not an easy one but one worth doing. What would you life be like if you examined where you are on your spiritual journey and choose what you can give, how you might serve or where you can answer G-d’s call of service and walk in the path of Jesus? In what acts of faith will G-d recognize your footprints
Ruth Jewell, ©December 3, 2013