By Name Only

There are jokes we know so well, only the punchline is needed to get us laughing. They’re not that funny, honestly, it’s the memory of the laughter and fun they brought. And then there are those who had never heard the joke, but, often from peer pressure, laughed anyway. Over time, the joke was lost, but the punchline is remembered, and funny, but nobody can remember why. “Rectum? Dang near killed ’em!”, will usually bring a smile, but no one remembers the joke (although you can look it up).

In the same way, we can remember stories of characters simply by naming them. And yet, often, we can’t remember the story, only that the name is important for some reason. It’s like history: it happened, and we remember the names, but the details of what they did are fuzzy, and we can never remember the dates. Again, we can look it up if we like.

The writer of Hebrews, toward the end of the “Role Call of Faith” stops telling stories, and begins listing names. And it is supremely ironic to me that most of the names are from a book which most disciples of Jesus consider a collection of faithless mistakes of Israel.

And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. (Hebrews 11:32-34 NASB)

Four of the six names are from the book of Judges. And of the Judges listed, the writer seems to have chosen the ones we consider the worst examples of faith. Gideon needed to test God three times, Barak wouldn’t go into battle without a woman present, Samson is simply famous for his mistakes, and few people remember Jephthah because he’s so embarrassing pastor’s don’t teach on him. And yet, there they are, considered paragons of faith to God, held up as examples to follow.

Is it possible that we’ve become so jaded by what we have been told about these men that we have missed the perspective of their Savior? Oh wait, you don’t think they were saved, you say? Samson and Jephthah clearly didn’t get it, and can’t possibly be saved?

Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground. And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect. Hebrews 11:35-40 NASB

These were looking for a better resurrection. Why look forward to disaster? They were looking forward to the Savior, as we do. Yet, their names made the list. Maybe just their names, maybe not their stories, but I wish their stories were told. I want to know how the writer of Hebrews understands their stories. We are ashamed of them, and our Savior isn’t. That should tell us something. That should shout loudly to us. A man who sacrificed his only daughter to Yahweh made the list. How is that? Perhaps we miss something in their stories.

Are we missing something in other stories? What about the stories in the lives around us? Is it possible that we have become so judgmental that we consider common what our Savior has sanctified (Acts 10:15)? The context of Acts 10 should scream at us that we, as Gentiles, would have no part in the Kingdom unless those in the Kingdom followed whatever God deemed holy.

These listed here in this collection of failures were considered holy by our Savior. Maybe we should revisit their stories to discover what we missed. It seems the punchline isn’t enough, we need the whole joke to truly get it. And once we have a better grasp of our Creator’s perspective, perhaps we will understand those around us better as well.

Just a thought.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation