In reading through the Bible, we see how God used the lives of certain people as examples of faith. Most believers have at least one favorite Bible hero, but they usually think, That could never be me. I am not a king or a prophet or a great warrior. I could not be used of God like that, but I wish I could do something great for him.”
Hebrews 11 records the great “Hall of Fame” of the saints. Did you ever notice verses 35 and 36 that mention “others” and wonder who those others were? I’m sure they were “unsung heroes” of the faith. Scripture records many incidents where someone exercised great faith. I think that those “heroes,” though they did not receive human esteem in their times, were mentioned for God’s praise and glory and for our instruction.
The Men of Issachar
According to I Chronicles 12:32, the sons of Issachar were men who understood the times and knew what Israel ought to do. The tribe of Issachar was only a small segment of those who came to support David as he was about to become king in Hebron. It was just after Saul’s death, when civil war prevailed between the house of Saul to the north and the tribe of Judah to the south. Most of those who sided with the then outcast David came from Judah, Levi and Simeon and were connected to him geographically and by family ties. Also mentioned are some northern tribes who would not logically have been expected to support David in his struggle for leadership against the house of Saul. Listed in large numbers, they too should be singled out for their faith and insight into God’s will. More striking, however, is that small band from Issachar, a minority within a minority located to the north, close to the stronghold of Ish-bosheth, son of Saul. It took great courage for 200 leaders of that small tribe to “buck the system” and support David’s claim to kingship.
A map of ancient Israel shows that the battlefield on which Saul had fought was right there in Issachar. Issachar had experienced defeat in its own back yard. They were the ones who must tolerate the new Philistine rulership, yet they decided not to seek protection from Ish-bosheth. Instead, they looked to David, who was some distance away.
By human logic, their choice does not make much sense. They were in the midst of a civil war and also were being occupied by a foreign army; yet they chose to side with the kingdom farthest away. They sided with David rather than Ish-bosheth because they understood what others did not: that Israel must recognize David as God’s appointed leader. Rebelliously, Israel wanted to perpetuate Saul’s dynasty, but God had other plans. Only those who understood the times and trusted totally in God’s power could move with such faith to back what must have seemed the worst possible choice for them.
God is still looking for people like the tribe of Issachar—those who, because they understand the times, will buck the majority and follow him, even at great risk. I see this as a challenge to believers and especially to unbelievers who have yet to come to Yeshua, the true Son of David. It takes the courage and faith of Issachar to follow the Messiah, God’s rightful King!
The Men of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh
We find another group of unsung heroes in Joshua 1:12-18. They are the men of Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh during the conquest of Canaan. When Moses brought the Israelites to the eastern shore of the Jordan after defeating the kings of the Ammonites, the leaders of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh noticed that the land they had just taken was perfect for cattle raising. They asked if it could be apportioned to them. Moses expressed concern that if he granted their request, they would settle immediately and not help the other tribes take the rest of the land. The leaders swore that they would not settle down until all the land of Canaan had been taken. Upon Moses’ death, it would have been easy for them to tell Joshua, their new leader, “The one with whom we made the agreement is dead, and we are no longer bound by that oath. We already have our portion; go and get yours by yourselves.”
If the three tribes had broken their oath, Israel’s unity would have been destroyed. They would have cast doubt on Joshua’s divine appointment and his ability to lead, perhaps causing others to rebel. It might even have led to a civil war. It was crucial that they keep their oath to affirm that God was now with Joshua just as he had been with Moses. In that decisive moment, the leaders of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh showed their true colors. They not only obeyed Joshua, but asserted that any others who would not follow him as Israel’s rightful leader should be executed. Furthermore, when the time came for Israel to cross the Jordan, those three tribes went first (Joshua 4:12). The 22nd chapter of Joshua specifically mentions their faithfulness in helping the others gain the Promised Land before returning to the homes and families they had left behind. Certainly we can learn from their example to be true to our oaths, to support God’s leaders, and to be willing to leave family and home if necessary to help others obtain the promises of God.
Perhaps one of the least known Old Testament heroes is Gedaliah (II Kings 25 and Jeremiah 40 and 41). The background for this account is Judah’s fall and Babylonian captivity. God had sent prophet after prophet to warn Israel of impending captivity if they would not turn from their sins. Now the judgment had come. Although Jeremiah had prophesied that it was God’s will for the people to accept the punishment of captivity and not fight the Babylonians, wicked King Zedekiah had refused to accept the divine decree. Instead he sought an alliance with Egypt which brought disaster upon the city, the Temple and the king.
After Jerusalem’s capture, the Babylonians appointed Gedaliah governor of the few who remained in Judah. Jeremiah instructed the small remnant to rally around Gedaliah, who gathered the leaders to himself in Mizpah. All seemed to be going well until Ishmael, one of the princes, decided that he would continue fighting the Babylonians. It might seem that Ishmael was a patriot who wanted to keep Israel free, which in turn would place Gedaliah in the role of a villainous enemy agent. Actually, however, Ishmael was the “enemy agent,” acting in the interests of the Ammonites, who wanted Israel’s total destruction.
Gedaliah, on the other hand, was God’s agent. Warned of a plot to assassinate him, he refused to believe that a prince of Israel would try to destroy what was left of the government. Gedaliah died for his faith in his people. We remember him as one who was willing to step in and risk his life to keep his people in the land as God had instructed them through Jeremiah. Gedaliah was willing to be looked upon as a traitor to the national cause because he knew that the real cause was to follow Jeremiah and accept God’s punishment until his divine anger would pass.
As believers, we too may at times be called upon to take an unpopular position that puts us at odds with our countrymen. Nevertheless, if we know that the Lord has directed us to take that stand, we must exercise the faith of a Gedaliah and obey.
Two Brave Women
Two other unsung Bible heroes are Jehosheba and an unnamed nurse. II Kings 11 tells about those two brave women of Judah who saved the Davidic dynasty from annihilation by Queen Athaliah.
The times were perilous. In the northern kingdom of Israel, Jehu had just killed the last of Omri’s descendants, but not before Ahab and Jezebel’s apostate worship of Baal had polluted the kingdom of Judah. Now, in the midst of a national return to Jehovah in the north, Athaliah, sole survivor of the house of Ahab, was determined not to relinquish her power nor to allow Judah to return to the correct worship of Jehovah. In every way a true daughter of Jezebel, she began a systematic search to kill all the royal seed.
With bravery and speed, Jehosheba hustled Athaliah’s young grandson Joash to a secret place in the Temple. There the young prince stayed with his faithful nurse until it was time for him to regain his throne. In the Temple he was raised by Jehosheba and her husband Jehoiada, the High Priest. When the time came, Jehosheba and Jehoiada planned and executed the coup that restored the Davidic line to the throne. In preserving the Davidic dynasty, Jehosheba and her allies were used of God to preserve the ancestral line of the Messiah, who by his atoning death would defeat Satan and provide the way of divine forgiveness and eternal life.
We often find heroes in most unusual circumstances. In II Kings 7, four lepers turned out to be unsung heroes. The scene is outside of Samaria, which had been besieged by the Syrians. The siege had lasted so long that those inside the city were starving. Some had even resorted to cannibalism. The Prophet Elisha had promised that the next day the Syrians would be gone and there would be more than enough food for all. Our “heroes,” outcasts because of their leprosy, were sitting as required outside the city gates. They were debating about what to do. Should they enter the city where there was no food, or should they just sit outside where there was also no food? In either case it meant death. They decided on a third course of action: they would go to the camp of the Syrians and take their chances there.
Meanwhile, unknown to the lepers, God had caused the Syrian army to hear the sound of chariots. Thinking that the Israelites had hired mercenaries to come to their aid, they had fled in the middle of the night, leaving behind all their food and supplies. Imagine the lepers’ delight in finding the entire Syrian camp deserted and open for plunder. It was like vagrants being given a key to the best hotel in town where they could feast on anything they desired and take anything that caught their eyes.
At first the lepers did just that. They went from tent to tent, taking whatever they found and hiding it in the ground. After a time one came to the others and said, “We are not doing right. This is a day of good news, but we are keeping it to ourselves. We should go and tell the King’s household.” Undoubtedly their motives were not entirely pure. They must have known that if they kept the news to themselves and were caught, they would certainly be punished. More nobly, however, they also realized their responsibility to bring the good news of God’s provision to their people.
The lepers then went inside the city gates and told the gatekeeper, who told the King’s household. Being social outcasts, they risked rejection and shame to tell the good news. The text records that at first they were not believed. Only after a scouting party had checked out their story did the people avail themselves of the salvation God had provided. And those who did so lived.
This last account in many ways parallels the believer’s experience. First comes salvation, then the subsequent realization of responsibility. Before we know the Messiah, we recognize that we are in spiritual trouble, and that if we do nothing, we will die. Then we take a chance—a leap of faith—and find that God has saved us. Do we just “sit on the treasure” while those around us perish? God forbid! We need to run the risk of rejection and tell those who are perishing that God has provided salvation and it is theirs for the taking.
In contrast to holy prophets, mighty kings and great warriors, we see ordinary people who were used by God to carry out his purposes. He still uses people like that today, and certainly he can use us.