Heroes of Faith in the Book of Hebrews

Hebrews Chapter 11 is often called the "Hall of Faith" or the "Faith Hall of Fame." In this noted chapter, the writer of the book of Hebrews introduces an impressive list of heroic figures from the Old Testament --remarkable men and women whose stories stand out to encourage and challenge the faith. Some of these heroes of the Bible are well-known personalities, while others remain anonymous.

Abel - First Martyr in the Bible

Cain and Abel
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The first person listed in the Hall of Faith is Abel.

Hebrews 11:4

It was by faith that Abel brought a more acceptable offering to God than Cain did. Abel's offering gave evidence that he was a righteous man, and God showed his approval of his gifts. Although Abel is long dead, he still speaks to us by his example of faith. (NLT)

Abel was the second son of Adam and Eve. He was the first martyr in the Bible and also the first shepherd. Very little else is known about Abel, except that he found favor in God's eyes by offering him a pleasing sacrifice. As a result, Abel was murdered by his older brother Cain, whose sacrifice did not please God.

Enoch - The Man Who Walked With God

Hebrews Chapter 11
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The next member of the Hall of Faith is Enoch, the man who walked with God. Enoch so pleased the Lord God that he was spared the experience of death.

Hebrews 11:5-6

It was by faith that Enoch was taken up to heaven without dying -- "he disappeared ​because God took him." For before he was taken up, he was known as a person who pleased God. And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him. (NLT)

Noah - A Righteous Man

The Animals Board Noah's Ark. Artist: Bassano, Jacopo, il vecchio (ca. 1510-1592)
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Noah is the third hero named in the Hall of Faith.

Hebrews 11:7

It was by faith that Noah built a large boat to save his family from the flood. He obeyed God, who warned him about things that had never happened before. By his faith Noah condemned the rest of the world, and he received the righteousness that comes by faith. (NLT)

Noah was known to be a righteous man. He was blameless among the people of his time. This does not mean Noah was perfect or sinless, but that he loved God with his whole heart and was fully committed to obedience. Noah's life -- his singular, unshakable faith in the midst of a faithless society -- has much to teach us today.

Abraham - Father of the Jewish Nation

The Offering of Abraham by James Tissot
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Abraham receives much more than a brief mention among the heroes of faith. A good deal of emphasis (from Hebrews 11:8-19) is given to this biblical giant and father of the Jewish nation.

One of Abraham's most notable feats of faith occurred when he willingly obeyed God's command in Genesis 22:2: "Take your son, your only son -- yes, Isaac, whom you love so much -- and go to the land of Moriah. Go and sacrifice him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I will show you." (NLT)

Abraham was fully prepared to slay his son, while fully trusting God to either resurrect Isaac from the dead or provide a substitutionary sacrifice. At the last minute, God intervened and supplied the necessary ram. The death of Isaac would have contradicted every promise God had made to Abraham, so his willingness to perform the ultimate sacrifice of killing his son is probably the most dramatic example of faith and trust in God found in the entire Bible.

Sarah - Mother of the Jewish Nation

Influential Women of the Bible
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Sarah, the wife of Abraham, is one of only two women named among the heroes of faith (Some translations, however, render the verse so that only Abraham receives credit.)

Hebrews 11:11

It was by faith that even Sarah was able to have a child, though she was barren and was too old. She believed that God would keep his promise. (NLT)

Sarah waited long past child-bearing age to have a baby. At times she doubted, struggling to believe God would fulfill his promise. Losing hope, she took matters into her own hands. Like most of us, Sarah was looking at God's promise from her limited, human perspective. But the Lord used her life to unfold an extraordinary plan, proving that God is never restricted by what usually happens. Sarah's faith is an inspiration to every person who has ever waited on God to act.

Isaac - Father of Esau and Jacob

The Sacrifice of Isaac, c. 1615. Artist: Orrente, Pedro (1588-1645)
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Isaac, the miracle child of Abraham and Sarah, is the next hero distinguished in the Hall of Faith.

Hebrews 11:20

It was by faith that Isaac promised blessings for the future to his sons, Jacob and Esau. (NLT)

The Jewish patriarch, Isaac, fathered twin boys, Jacob and Esau. His own father, Abraham, was one of the greatest examples of faithfulness the Bible has to offer. It's doubtless Isaac would ever forget how God had delivered him from death by supplying the necessary lamb to be sacrificed in his place. This legacy of faithful living carried into his marriage with Rebekah, Jacob's one and only wife and lifelong love.

Jacob - Father of the 12 Tribes of Israel

Jacob's Last Moments
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Jacob, another of Israel's great patriarchs, fathered 12 sons who became heads of the 12 tribes. One of his sons was Joseph, a key figure in the Old Testament. But Jacob started out as a liar, cheater, and manipulator. He struggled with God his entire life.

The turning point for Jacob came after a dramatic, all-night wrestling match with God. In the end, the Lord touched Jacob's hip, and he was a broken man, but also a new man. God renamed him Israel, which means "he struggles with God."

Hebrews 11:21

It was by faith that Jacob, when he was old and dying, blessed each of Joseph's sons and bowed in worship as he leaned on his staff. (NLT)

The words "as he leaned on his staff" are of no small significance. After Jacob wrestled with God, for the rest of his days, he walked with a limp, and he gave over control of his life to God. As an old man and now a great hero of faith, Jacob "leaned on his staff," demonstrating his hard-learned trust and dependence on the Lord.

Joseph - Interpreter of Dreams

Joseph interprets Pharaoh's dreams (Genesis 41), steel engraving, published 1841
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Joseph is one of the greatest heroes of the Old Testament and an extraordinary example of what can happen when a person surrenders his life in complete obedience to God.

Hebrews 11:22

It was by faith that Joseph, when he was about to die, said confidently that the people of Israel would leave Egypt. He even commanded them to take his bones with them when they left. (NLT)

After the terrible wrongs done to him by his brothers, Joseph offered forgiveness and made this incredible statement in Genesis 50:20, "You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people." (NLT)

Moses - Giver of the Law

Moses on Mount Sinai receiving Ten Commandments, illustration from Old Testament, end of 19th century, engraving by Bequet, Delagrave edition, Paris
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Like Abraham, Moses takes a place of prominence in the Hall of Faith. A towering figure in the Old Testament, Moses is honored in Hebrews 11:23-29. (It should be noted that Moses' parents, Amram and Jochebed, are also commended for their faith in these verses, as well as the people of Israel for launching across the Red Sea during their escape from Egypt.)

Although Moses is one of the most striking examples of heroic faith in the Bible, he was human like you and me, plagued by mistakes and frailties. It was his willingness to obey God despite his many flaws that made Moses someone God could use -- and use mightily indeed!

Joshua - Successful Leader, Faithful Follower

Joshua sends spies into Jericho.

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Against overwhelming odds, Joshua led the people of Israel in their conquest of the Promised Land, beginning with the strange and miraculous battle of Jericho. His strong faith caused him to obey, no matter how illogical God's commands might seem. Obedience, faith, and dependence on the Lord made him one of Israel's finest leaders. He set a brave example for us to follow.

While Joshua's name is not specified in this verse, as the leader of Israel's march on Jericho, his faith hero status is certainly implied:

Hebrews 11:30

It was by faith that the people of Israel marched around Jericho for seven days, and the walls came crashing down. (NLT)

Rahab - Spy for the Israelites

Rahab Helping the Two Israelite Spies by Frederick Richard Pickersgill (1897).
Public Domain

Besides Sarah, Rahab is the only other woman directly named among the heroes of faith. Considering her background, Rahab's inclusion here is quite remarkable. Before she recognized the God of Israel as the One true God, she made her living as a prostitute in the city of Jericho.

On a secret mission, Rahab played an important role in Israel's defeat of Jericho. This scandalous woman turned spy for God was actually honored twice in the New Testament. She is one of only five women spotlighted in the lineage of Jesus Christ in Matthew 1:5.

Hebrews 11:31

It was by faith that Rahab the prostitute was not destroyed with the people in her city who refused to obey God. For she had given a friendly welcome to the spies. (NLT)

Gideon - The Reluctant Warrior

Gideon surprising the army of the Midianites
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Gideon was one of Israel's 12 judges. Although he's referenced only briefly in the Hall of Faith, Gideon's story is featured prominently in the book of Judges. He is a fascinating Bible character almost anyone can relate to. Like many of us, he was plagued with doubts and acutely aware of his own weaknesses.

In spite of Gideon's inconsistencies of faith, the central lesson of his life is clear: the Lord can achieve tremendous things through anyone who depends not on self, but on God alone.

Barak - The Obedient Warrior

Barak and Jael
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Barak was a courageous warrior who answered God's call, but in the end, a woman, Jael, received credit for his defeat of the Canaanite army. Like many of us, Barak's faith wavered, and he struggled with doubt, yet God saw fit to list this otherwise unrecognized hero in the Bible's Hall of Faith.

Samson - Judge and Nazirite

Samson and Delilah

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Samson, the most prominently featured Israelite judge, had a call on his life: to begin the deliverance of Israel from the Philistines.

On the surface, what stands out most is Samson's heroic exploits of superhuman might. The biblical account equally highlights his epic failures. He gave into many weaknesses of the flesh and made numerous mistakes in life. But in the end, he returned to the Lord. Samson, blind and humbled, finally realized the true source of his great strength -- his dependence on God.

Jephthah - Warrior and Judge

Jephthah met by his daughter
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Jephthah was a not-so-well-known Old Testament judge who proved that it's possible to overcome rejection. His story in Judges 11-12 contains both triumph and tragedy.

Jephthah was a mighty warrior, a brilliant strategist, and a natural leader of men. Although he accomplished great things when he trusted in God, he made a fatal mistake that ended in disastrous consequences for his family.

David - A Man After God's Own Heart

David and Goliath, 1650-1660. Artist: Courtois, Guillaume (1628-1679)
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David, the shepherd-boy king, looms large in the pages of Scripture. This courageous military leader, great king, and slayer of Goliath was by no means a perfect role model. Although he's ranked among the most notable heroes of faith, he was a liar, adulterer, and murderer. The Bible does not attempt to paint a rosy picture of David. Rather, his failures are vividly displayed for all to see.

So what was it about David's character that made him such a favorite of God? Was it his zest for life and passionate love for God? Or was it his unshakable faith and trust in the endless mercy and steadfast goodness of the Lord?

Samuel - Prophet and Last of the Judges

Eli and Samuel
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Throughout his life, Samuel served the Lord with integrity and unwavering faith. In all of the Old Testament, few people were as loyal to God as Samuel. He demonstrated that obedience and respect are the best ways to show God we love him.

While the people of his day were destroyed by their own selfishness, Samuel stood out as a man of honor. Like Samuel, we can avoid the corruption of this world if we put God first in everything.

Anonymous Heroes of the Bible

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The remaining heroes of faith are listed anonymously in Hebrews 11, but we can guess with a fair degree of accuracy the identity of many of these men and women based on what the writer of Hebrews tells us:

  • Verse 33: "They shut the mouth of lions ..." - Most likely a reference to Daniel in the den of lions.
  • Verse 34: "... quenched the flames of fire ..." - Probably refers to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego surviving the blazing furnace (Daniel 3).
  • Verse 34: "... weakness was turned to strength ..." - Hezekiah recovered from his sickness (Isaiah 37:1-38:22).
  • Verse 35: "Women received their loved ones back again from death ..." - The widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17) and the Shunammite woman (2 Kings 4) both received their sons raised back to life by the prophets Elijah and Elisha.
  • Verse 35-36: " ... others were tortured ... their backs were cut open with whips." - Jeremiah was tortured and whipped (Jeremiah 20).
  • Verse 37: "Some died by stoning ..." - Zechariah was stoned to death (2 Chronicles 24:21).
  • Verse 37: "... some were sawed in half ..." - Strong tradition suggests that Isaiah died a martyr under the reign of King Manasseh by being placed in the hollow of a tree trunk and sawed in two.
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Fairchild, Mary. "Heroes of Faith in the Book of Hebrews." Learn Religions, Apr. 5, 2023, learnreligions.com/hebrews-chapter-11-heroes-of-faith-700176. Fairchild, Mary. (2023, April 5). Heroes of Faith in the Book of Hebrews. Retrieved from https://www.learnreligions.com/hebrews-chapter-11-heroes-of-faith-700176 Fairchild, Mary. "Heroes of Faith in the Book of Hebrews." Learn Religions. https://www.learnreligions.com/hebrews-chapter-11-heroes-of-faith-700176 (accessed June 8, 2023).