32And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—33who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. (Hebrews 11:32–34, ESV)
Perhaps the best advice I’ve heard regarding Bible study is to pay special attention to the things in the text that surprise you.
Arguably, “By faith… they enforced justice…” is one of the surprising parts of this chapter. Rarely do acts of faith include a judge issuing a verdict, for example. And yet enforcing justice is, itself, an act of faith.
We’ve considered Moses’ parents earlier in this devotional. By faith they carried out their God-given calling to care for their son. It’s not as dramatic an act as most of those mentioned in this chapter, but it is an act of faith none the less. The same is true of earthly rulers.
A good example of this, in fact, is the time of the judges. In theory, the Children of Israel were ruled directly by God. They had His commandments. They had prophets for times when God needed to be consulted. No other government should have been necessary. Instead, there is the tragic refrain throughout the book of Judges: “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”
God hasn’t commanded a particular form of government. Nor is it Biblical to say that God has chosen a particular man or woman for a particular office. But our earthly rulers are, in fact, exercising authority that God, Himself, has given. To resist them is to resist what God has appointed “and those who resist will incur judgment” (Rom. 13:2).
It would also be incorrect to understand this to mean that our rulers are required to be believers. To the contrary, when Paul writes, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities,” he is referring to the Roman rulers. As believers, however, our vocations take on added significance. For believers who are called to serve in earthly government, that service takes on a slightly different significance.
As Jesus put it, “25…You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant…” (Matthew 20:25–26, ESV). Lutheran theologian Gene Veith explains, “In the vocations of the state, those with vocations of lawful authority (Rom. 13:1–7) are to love and serve their subjects. They do so by protecting them from evildoers, enforcing justice, and respecting their liberties so that they can lead ‘a peaceful and quiet life’ (1 Tim. 2:2).”
Like any of us in the many vocations we are called to, they/you serve their/your neighbors just as Christ has served them/you. It may be a surprising statement, but it’s very true. By faith they conquered kingdoms and performed other miraculous acts. And, by faith they served one another by enforcing justice.
Veith, Gene Edward. “Martin Luther On Vocation and Serving Our Neighbors.” www.Action.org, March 30, 2016.