Hebrews 11 is often called the “Hall of Faith.” It’s a shabby title, but we all know it. The chapter moves through Israel’s history, lifting up certain individuals as heroes of the faith. They are all commended by the author.
But as you read through the chapter, some of the names stick out—if you recall the stories of their lives, they don’t really seem to be men of upstanding character. You have men like Abraham who has a problem with lying and trying to take God’s plan into his own hands. But Abraham showed great faith with the whole Isaac ordeal and even let Lot have the better land when they split ways. So we can understand him. But then you come to individuals like Jacob and like Samson.
Jacob and Samson are honored in the Hall of Faith despite being almost totally rotten people. Jacob, for one is constantly deceiving and stealing throughout his portion of the biblical narrative. He marries multiple women and plays favorites with children (which we all know causes some big problems for the family). He is even given the name “Struggles with God,” which while poetic is not particularly flattering.
Samson is not much better. He lies, sleeps around, marries a foreigner (while this isn’t too much of a problem for us, he knows that he wasn’t suppose to do it), and murders people out of rage. Moreover, the one good thing about Samson is his Nazarite vow, which acts as his dedication to the Lord. But almost the entire portion of Scripture dedicated to telling the story of Samson deals in some way with how he broke his vow. As a Nazarite, the three things he is must do are abstain from wine and grapes, not touch dead things and become ritually unclean, and not cut his hair. All of which he does.
So again, these characters seem to be unmistakably wicked. They don’t practice the love and patience and holiness that God’s people are called to embody. Why then are they praised?
I think the biblical authors (both of the Old Testament and Hebrews) included these men for a very specific reason. The foremost of which is to show that God’s purposes are never limited by us. Though humanity is often wicked and there are no suitable ambassadors to be found, the Lord still makes do. He accommodates to us so that his goodness is known.
I think another reason is faith. If there is one thing these men did right (and there really isn’t much) it is faith. Faith really means “belief,” but I think the virtue that is being commended here is most accurately described as trust. Samson in particular demonstrates amazing trust in the Lord in his final moments—and God uses that trust to forward his purposes.