I have been reading Hebrews recently and have finally made it to the end of Hebrews 11. The list of names of those whom the writer does not have time to tell of towards the end of the chapter is fascinating: “Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets”. Each of these is regarded as “worthy” of being in this hall of fame. David, Samuel and the prophets we might expect, but what about the 4 judges mentioned?
Gideon will only destroy the Baal idol at night and requires a lot of convincing to go into battle. Even though he refuses to be crowned bizarrely has a son whose name means “My father is king”, and like Aaron melts the people’s gold into a snare to be worshipped. One glorious night seems to be enough to get him into the hall of fame. And he seems to be the best of the bunch. Barak wouldn’t go out to fight without Deborah. Samson’s life is like a James Bond movie out of control and Jephthah sacrifices his own daughter. How do these people make it into God’s hall of fame?
Part of the answer, I believe, is that their failings do not negate the faith they did have, even if it was small, weak and sometimes misguided. Their faith was in God, and it was enough to do what God wanted at a particular point, to fight against God’s enemies, and to seek to do God’s will.
I’ve also been reading Steve Turner’s biography of Johnny Cash, and have been struck by the same themes coming through there. Cash is someone who found spectacular ways to go wrong, and yet each time responded to fresh grace.
His story reminded me of Samson, a man brought down by inner demons too great for him to control, and yet still somehow retaining faith in God. It reminded me of people I know whose life has gone through periods that just seem a mess – yet somehow too they cannot quite let go of God.
Perhaps this list in Hebrews is there to remind us that (as John Goldingay puts it in “After Eating the Apricot”) that “if there is room for Samson, then there is room for you”. After all the list does not finish with Samson. It does not finish with the prophets or with the martyrs. It finishes with Jesus – the one who begins and ends our faith. “He alone has power to keep. Fix your eyes on him.”