Gideon, Barak, Samson, and Jephthah: A Faith through Weakness
Good morning! If you have a Bible, I invite you to turn to Hebrews 11. And if you don’t have a Bible, there should be a Bible under the row of chairs in front of you, if you can grab a Bible, we are going to be in Hebrews 11, this morning.
We are continuing our sermon series on the Heroes of the Faith, looking at the Old Testament individuals, mentioned in Hebrews 11, and the faith they had that made them the heroes they were.
And I just want to take a moment to correct something I said in my sermon, last week. Last Sunday, we looked at the unconventional faith of Rahab, which teaches us about the amazing grace of God that can save even the worst of sinners and bring them into abundant life in Christ.
But near the end of my sermon, I mentioned that, in Luke 19, Jesus brought salvation to another house in Jericho, like God did with Rahab. But I said that Jesus brought salvation to the house of Nicodemus.
And I just want to correct that. In Luke 19, Jesus did not encounter Nicodemus, but rather, He encountered Zacchaeus. This was brought to my attention after the service, last Sunday, so I listened to the recording of the sermon, and it was confirmed that I had said the wrong name.
And this just proves that I am not perfect, and that I am capable of error. One of the reasons why I ask us to grab a Bible, every Sunday morning, is because I want us to see the truth that is in Scripture. I don’t want you to simply take my word for it; I want you to look at what God says.
I would love for us to be like the Bereans, in the apostle Paul’s day, who, Acts 17:11 says, “received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” We need to be people of the Book, who examine the Word of God to make sure that anything anyone says up here is true to what God has said.
So, in light of my mistake, we turn our attention to four individuals, who remind us that we are anything but perfect. This morning, we are going to look at Gideon, Barak, Samson, and Jephthah, who teach us about faith through weakness.
And what I want us to see, this morning, is that faith enables flawed people to accomplish great things for God. We are going to see that God uses what is ordinary in the eyes of the world to accomplish His extraordinary purposes.
So, with that, let’s look at Hebrews 11:32: “And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets.”
1. The writer of Hebrews could go on with all of these examples of faith, but he names a few individuals who have notable weaknesses. And we’re going to run through these individuals rather quickly with the time that we have, this morning. The first example we see of faith through weakness is Gideon.
Turn to Judges 6. Verse 1 says that “the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord gave them into the hand of Midian seven years.” And during this time, the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the East would plunder Israel’s flocks, herds, and crops, which eventually caused Israel to cry out for help to the Lord.
And it’s at this point that we are introduced to Gideon. Look at verse 11 of Judges 6: “Now the angel of the Lord came and sat under the terebinth at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, while his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the winepress to hide it from the Midianites. 12 And the angel of the Lord appeared to him and said to him, ‘The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor.’ 13 And Gideon said to him, ‘Please, my lord, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, “Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?” But now the Lord has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian.’ 14 And the Lord turned to him and said, ‘Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?’ 15 And he said to him, ‘Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father's house.’ 16 And the Lord said to him, ‘But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.’”
When we are first introduced to Gideon, he presents a very pathetic picture. The guy is beating out wheat in the winepress. He’s so afraid of the Midianites, because of what they are doing to the people of Israel, that he’s hiding himself and what he’s doing from public view.
You can understand, then, his hesitation to being called a “mighty man of valor.” He even admits that his clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and that he is the weakest in his father’s house. He doesn’t believe that he can save Israel in his own might. And that’s precisely God’s point.
It’s why God says to Gideon, “I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.” God is sending Gideon out, not simply in his own power and might, but in the power and might of God.
But look down at verse 25. In order for Gideon to do what God was calling him to do, God told Gideon to “pull down the altar of Baal that your father has, and cut down the Asherah that is beside it and build an altar to the Lord your God on the top of the stronghold here.”
And what this is saying is that, if we want to obey the call of God on our lives, then we must first abandon our former gods. All of these other things in our lives, which have previously had dominion and rule over us, we must forsake, if we want to follow God.
This isn’t saying that we need to get our life in order before we can believe in God. This isn’t saying that our lives need to be perfect before God will accept us. But it is saying that, in order for us to take that step of faith in God, we need to surrender our lives over to Him. We need to acknowledge that we are weak and that we need Someone greater than us to be our strength.
And Gideon does what God commanded him to do. He tore down the altar of Baal and cut down the Asherah. He destroyed those things that were dedicated to Israel’s former gods and builds an altar to the One True God.
And in Judges 7, we read that, by faith, Gideon defeated the Midianite army of 135,000 with a small band of 300 men. God did the extraordinary through ordinary Gideon.
But this doesn’t happen, if Gideon doesn’t abandon his false gods. This doesn’t happen, if Gideon doesn’t acknowledge his need for God to be his strength. This doesn’t happen, if Gideon doesn’t step out in such faith in God.
And it’s not like Gideon is the perfect example of faith. We see him tremble at the thought of leadership, all throughout his story.
Yes, he destroys the altar of Baal and cuts down the Asherah, but he does this at night, because he was afraid of the men of the city. He asks for two signs from God to prove that God would save Israel through him. And then, in Judges 8, Gideon makes an ephod out of gold that became an object of worship and a snare for him, his family, and all of Israel.
We are made keenly aware of Gideon’s trembling heart. But we are also made keenly aware of how God met Gideon’s trembling heart, by being Gideon’s strength through Gideon’s weakness.
And this simply reminds us that God uses us, despite our weaknesses. Gideon reminds us that any measure of faith in God that we have, God will use to accomplish His good purposes. This is a faith through weakness.
2. And this brings us to our second example of faith through weakness, and that is Barak.
Turn back to Judges 4. The recurring theme of the book of Judges, in case you’ve never read the book of Judges, is that the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, the Lord gives them over to their enemies, the people cry out to the Lord for help, and the Lord sends a judge to rescue them.
We saw that with Gideon. And here in Judges 4, we see the same pattern: The people did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, the Lord handed them over to Jabin, king of Canaan, whose commander was Sisera, the people of Israel cried out to the Lord for help, and the Lord sent a judge to rescue Israel.
Look at verse 4. “Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. 5 She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the people of Israel came up to her for judgment. 6 She sent and summoned Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh-naphtali and said to him, ‘Has not the Lord, the God of Israel, commanded you, “Go, gather your men at Mount Tabor, taking 10,000 from the people of Naphtali and the people of Zebulun. 7 And I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin's army, to meet you by the river Kishon with his chariots and his troops, and I will give him into your hand”?’ 8 Barak said to her, ‘If you will go with me, I will go, but if you will not go with me, I will not go.’ 9 And she said, ‘I will surely go with you. Nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.’ Then Deborah arose and went with Barak to Kedesh. 10 And Barak called out Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh. And 10,000 men went up at his heels, and Deborah went up with him.”
What Barak reminds us, and what I think he seems to forget, is that God’s divine call is always accompanied by His divine provision.
In other words, God is not going to call us to something that He will not also give us the means to accomplish it. God will always give us the means to do what He has called us to do. And it seems like Barak misses that.
God clearly calls Barak to take 10,000 men to go and attack Jabin’s army, but Barak clearly doesn’t do that. And in fact, his response to Deborah is, “If you will go with me, I will go, but if you will not go with me, I will not go.”
Barak’s weakness is that he depended more on his strength and his own ability than he depended on God. His faith was weak, in that moment, because he knew what God was calling him to do, but he wasn’t looking at things through the eyes of faith.
Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Remember, faith allows us to see things more clearly, because we’re looking through God’s eyes and not our own.
Once Deborah agrees to go with him, Barak is good. In verse 14, Deborah says to Barak, “Up! For this is the day in which the Lord has given Sisera into your hand. Does not the Lord go out before you?” And Barak leads the charge, and he wins the battle. It’s a huge victory for Israel.
But Sisera gets away. Verse 17 says that he “fled away on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, for there was peace between Jabin the king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite.”
And Sisera falls asleep from the weariness of the battle, and it says, in verse 21, that “Jael the wife of Heber took a tent peg, and took a hammer in her hand. Then she went softly to him and drove the peg into his temple until it went down into the ground.”
And who’s the first person to come to Jael’s tent? Barak. Barak sees firsthand that the victory did indeed come at the hand of a woman, and we see the missed opportunity of faith, and how God will raise up individuals to accomplish His good purposes, despite human failure. And yet, neither this woman, nor Deborah, is mentioned in Hebrews 11. But Barak is. Why? To show that God uses crooked sticks to draw straight lines—that God could work through Barak’s lack of faith.
Dwight L. Moody once said, “If this world is going to be reached, I am convinced that it must be done by men and women of average talent." Isn’t that comforting?
If you’ve ever heard Moody’s story, it’s really quite fascinating. D. L. Moody was born in Northfield, Massachusetts. His father died when he was 4 years old, leaving nine children for his mother to raise. His mother never encouraged him to read the Bible. He didn't attend school beyond the fifth grade. He couldn't spell, and his grammar was awful.
An uncle took him on as a shoe salesman, on condition that he attend Mt. Vernon Congregational Church. But Moody decided that he wanted to enjoy the pleasures of the world and wait to get saved until just before he died.
However, the kindness of his Sunday School teacher, Edward Kimball, encouraged him to persist in his church attendance and regular Bible reading. And on April 21, 1855, Kimball asked Moody to commit his life to Christ, which he did on that very day.
Immediately, he began sharing his faith with others. When he later moved to Chicago, Moody wandered the streets to find boys to bring to his Sunday School class. He had a passion for telling people about the gospel of Jesus. And God used the converted shoe salesman to become the leading evangelist of his day, leading more than a million people to confess faith in Christ.
So, if God can use someone ordinary like that, despite his weaknesses, what do you think God can do through you and me? What is God calling us to do that we haven’t seen through the eyes of faith? Are we missing opportunities of faith?
3. This brings us to our third example of faith through weakness, and that is Samson.
Turn over to Judges 13. Samson is one of those Bible characters that is well-known in Sunday school for his strength. Samson is considered one of the strongest men in all of human history. And yet, he was a man of great weakness.
In Judges 13, we are introduced to a man and his wife who are unable to have children. But the angel of the Lord comes to them and says to them that they will conceive and bear a son. However, there was going to be something different about this child: he was to be a Nazirite.
And the Nazirite vow is taken from Numbers 6, and it boils down to three main points: He was to abstain from strong drink, no razor was to ever touch his head, and he was to not go near a dead body.
The whole idea of the Nazirite vow was that Samson would be set apart for God, and that he would be used by God to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines, who were the ones oppressing the people of Israel, at this time. But we see throughout Samson’s story that he fails at every turn.
Turn the page to Judges 14, and what's the first thing we read: “Samson went down to Timnah, and at Timnah he saw one of the daughters of the Philistines. Then he came up and told his father and mother, ‘I saw one of the daughters of the Philistines at Timnah. Now get her for me as my wife.’”
He is not only flirting with the enemy of the Israelites; He wants to marry one of them. And so, Samson holds this wedding feast, in verse 10, which would have consisted of a lot of strong drink—something he was to stay away from.
Just before this, in verse 5, a young lion came after him, but the Spirit of the Lord came upon Samson, and he tore the lion to pieces. A few days later, he comes back and bees have made a hive in the lion, so Samson takes some honey out of the dead carcass, that he was supposed to stay away from, and he eats it.
Eventually, in Judges 16, Samson falls in love with a woman named Delilah, and she seduces Samson into telling her the secret to his strength, in verse 17, and that is, if his head is shaved, then his strength will leave him, and he shall become weak and be like any other man. And no razor was to touch his head.
And this brings about Samson’s downfall, as his head is shaved, his eyes are cut out, and he becomes a laughingstock of the Philistines. They mocked him by standing him up between the pillars of this house, where there were about 3,000 Philistine men and women gathered to pay tribute to the god of the Philistines.
But Samson, in one final act of faith in God, prays that God would strengthen him one last time. And God does. And Samson brings down that house upon all the men and women who were in it, and it says that “the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he had killed during his life.”
Samson could do whatever he wanted with the strength that he had. And he did. But when he drifted into sin one inch at a time, there was a point when God withdrew His favor and denied him access to the gift of strength.
And it’s when Samson finally acknowledges his spiritual need, that we see God do the greatest work in his life. When Samson is at his weakest, God is strong.
This is not an excuse to sin. This is not saying that God will still use us if we are living in unrepentant sin. If anything, this is a reminder for us of the devastating nature of sin—that sin can be so subtle that we don’t realize it’s sin until we’re neck deep in it.
No, this is not an excuse to sin. This is an acknowledgement of our spiritual need for God to do a heart-transforming work in us.
1 Corinthians 10:13 says, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”
It’s when we are weak, when we are in situations that we cannot bear, that God proves strong. God was working in Samson, despite his weakness. And God continues to work in our lives, despite our weakness. And it’s when we acknowledge our spiritual need that we see God do the greatest work in our life.
4. And this brings us to our final example of faith through weakness, and that is Jephthah.
Turn back to Judges 11. Here is what we read about Jephthah, beginning in verse 1: “Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty warrior, but he was the son of a prostitute. Gilead was the father of Jephthah. 2 And Gilead's wife also bore him sons. And when his wife's sons grew up, they drove Jephthah out and said to him, ‘You shall not have an inheritance in our father's house, for you are the son of another woman.’ 3 Then Jephthah fled from his brothers and lived in the land of Tob, and worthless fellows collected around Jephthah and went out with him.”
The text goes on to say that when the Ammonites made war on Israel, the elders of his hometown pleaded with Jephthah to return and lead them in battle against the Ammonites. And Jephthah becomes a remarkable leader for Israel.
We read, in verse 29, that the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah, and that he was used by God to secure victory over the Ammonites, where verse 32 says that “the Lord gave them into his hands.”
But right in the middle of this military operation, when everything seems to be going well for Jephthah, something happens that is almost unbearable to read.
Look at verse 30. “And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord and said, ‘If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the Lord's, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.’”
Jephthah makes a vow to God that if God gives him victory over the Ammonites, he will sacrifice whatever comes out of the door of his house to meet him upon his return.
Now, I don’t know what Jephthah was expecting to come out of his house to meet him upon his return, but look at verse 34: “Then Jephthah came to his home at Mizpah. And behold, his daughter came out to meet him with tambourines and with dances. She was his only child; besides her he had neither son nor daughter.”
Jephthah won the victory, but his rash vow meant that he was to sacrifice his daughter, his only child, which verse 39 says he “did with her according to his vow that he had made.”
Jephthah had the faith that God would do something extraordinary for the people of Israel, but his weakness was that He never actually sought out God’s will in the situation.
Notice that God never asked him to make this vow, nor did God ask him to carry out the sacrifice. It seems to be his own pride that drives him to put his reputation above the life of his daughter. How prone are we to doing this?
How much of our weakness is self-inflicted—a result of our pride? How often do we do something that we never wanted to do in the first place, and that God never even called us to do, because our reputation is on the line? How many of us play the martyr card, where we take on all of these things, but then complain about how we’re doing all of these things?
Jephthah shows us that faith means trusting in God with the task He has given us, even though we don’t know what the road ahead looks like. But that’s hard to do, isn’t it? Because it means coming down off the throne of our lives, and God ascending the throne as the rightful King of all.
What these four individuals show us is the fallibility of even great people of faith. It shows us that even classified Heroes of the Faith are not perfect.
The beauty in looking at each one of these individuals whose weaknesses are put on full display, and yet, whom God uses to reveal His strength, is that there is One who had no weakness, One who was tempted as we are yet without sin, One through whom we can draw near to the throne of grace in our time of need.
His name is Jesus. And he’s the only One who passed every test and temptation that was thrown at Him. He’s the only perfect One. He’s the One in whom we hope and trust.
If you feel like you are weak, that’s good, because we were never intended to be strong on your own. We were never intended to be without an Advocate who could stand in our place.
The good news of the gospel, according to 2 Corinthians 12:10, is that I can face weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities, in confidence, “for when I am weak, then I am strong.” The grace of God is sufficient for me. It’s the power of God in my weakness.
So, here it is: We need Jesus to be our strength through weakness. We do. It’s the only way we will make it through whatever we are going through. And it’s what makes God look glorious, as He takes ordinary men and women and does extraordinary things in their lives. Do we have that confidence to face whatever is in front of us through the power of Christ in us? Do we have that in our lives?
John Stott shares the following story from 1958 when he was leading a university outreach in Sydney, Australia. The day before the final meeting, Stott received word that his father had passed away. In addition to his grief, Stott was also starting to lose his voice. Here's how Stott describes the final day of the outreach:
“It was already late afternoon within a few hours of the final meeting of the mission, so I didn't feel I could back away at that time. I went to the great hall and asked a few students to gather around me. I asked one of them to read, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.’ A student read these verses and then I asked them to lay hands on me and pray that those verses might be true in my own experience.”
“When time came for me to give my address, I preached on the broad and narrow ways from Matthew 7. I had to get within half an inch of the microphone, and I croaked the gospel like a raven. I couldn't exert my personality. I couldn't use any inflections in my voice. I croaked the gospel in monotone.”
“Then when the time came to give the invitation, there was an immediate response, larger than any other meeting during the mission, as students came flocking forward.”
“I've been back to Australia about ten times since 1958, and on every occasion somebody has come up to me and said, ‘Do you remember that final meeting in the university in the great hall?’ ‘I jolly well do,’ I reply. ‘Well,’ they say, ‘I was converted that night.’”
Stott concludes, "The Holy Spirit takes our human words, spoken in great weakness and frailty, and he carries them home with power to the mind, the heart, the conscience, and the will of the hearers in such a way that they see and believe."
Hebrews 11:34 says that these “were made strong out of weakness.” We look at our lives and we wonder, “Can God use us in our weakness?” And the answer, according to the entirety of Scripture, is, “Yes, He can! And yes, He does!”
God uses the humble, the fearful, the timid, the cowardly, empowering them through faith. And he humbles the mighty, the proud, the bold for His own good purposes.
What weaknesses are we holding back from God, today? What areas of our life are we still “king” of? Imagine what could happen, if we gave them completely over to Him. May God continue to increase our faith in Him, as He continues to show His power and strength through our weakness. Let’s pray…