Top 10 Acts of Faith Recorded in the Bible
It is now time to list the top five acts of extreme faith recorded in the Bible. These acts of faith have to satisfy at least three out of four criteria for extremeness. First is that we do not expect faith from this person. Second is that there is opposition to faith. Third is that the person has something to lose by stepping out in faith. Fourth is that there is something unprecedented or unique, in an extreme sort of way, about the person’s act of faith. Only the top 2 acts satisfy all four criteria, leaving room for controversy about who should get third place. Since this article is being posted while the 2012 Summer Olympics are in progress, the top three will be rewarded with medals, though I am not sure how to present them to them, since they are all in heaven now. But perhaps we can play the Israeli national anthem in their honor at the end of the article. On to the top five faith leapers in biblical history.
5. David vs. Goliath. Here is a Sunday school story that many people might think belongs higher on our top 10 list, but I will explain why it comes in at #5. First, why this event, recorded in 1 Sam 17, qualifies. No one expected David to step out in faith. We should not look at him at this time as king of Israel, the sweet psalmist, and the man after God’s own heart. When this confrontation happens, David is nothing more than a forgotten shepherd boy who was not even invited to meet the national prophet when he came to his house demanding to see all of Jesse’s children. When David tells Saul he can kill the giant, the most surprising thing is that Saul did not laugh him out of his tent. But these were desperate times, and by now even Saul is willing to try anything. Faith came out of nowhere in the form of David the shepherd boy.
Opposition abounded. The entire Israelite army was frightened to death of this giant and were in hiding. When David arrives on the scene he is berated by his brothers and told to go home. Nothing in his environment suggested that he had any chance against Goliath, but David was not influenced by his environment, he was influenced by his knowledge of God. David knew this fight was not between himself and Goliath, but between Yahweh and the god of the Philistines. Goliath was hurling insults against the God of Israel, and David sank his faith into God’s readiness to respond with power and deliver a mighty victory for his people.
Of course David had a lot to lose by stepping out in faith. Do not limit this to the threat of immediate death, which everyone expected. The loss would extend to the entire nation, who would become slaves to the Philistines, not to mention the loss to the reputation of Yahweh, in whose name David was fighting. The uniqueness of this event depends on how you look at it. In general it is not unique. God has delivered his people from stronger enemies throughout the history of Israel. But the nature of this threat makes it unique. The method, by sending one champion from your army to fight the enemy’s champion, with the result determining the entire battle, was not unique in ancient times, but this is the only example of it in Scripture, unless 2 Sam 5:14-16 counts. But here a single warrior, over nine feet tall, who is so strong, the point of his spear weighed 15 pounds, not to mention the shaft. That is like putting a bowling ball at the end of a large pole, holding it up in the air. and then throwing it accurately. Schwartzeneggar could not do that. Goliath’s coat of armor weighed 125 pounds. David couldn’t have weighed much more. This truly looked like a lopsided battle, and it qualifies as a unique act of faith for David to enter in.
David was willing to do it because he was a man of faith. He knew that God was the determiner of victory, not one’s army or weapons. This is something we all agree with, but how many of us are willing to put it to the test when humiliating death follows if you end up being wrong? David’s faith to enter this battle was a testament to what we all should be like when we face insurmountable odds, at least in the natural. But were David’s odds really insurmountable?
The reason this comes in at #5 is because David had something going for him that lessens the extremeness of the faith he needed to battle Goliath. He had a secret weapon. His proficiency with a sling made him a formidable opponent. He knew that he was adept enough with his sling to be able to deliver a death blow to Goliath before the latter could even begin his attack.
In ancient Rome, sling targets were placed 200 yards away, and in David’s time a rock thrown from a sling might travel as far as 1/4 of a mile. It could be launched with accuracy from a distance of 360 yards, far further than Goliath could reach with his spear. Since projectiles from a sling could travel at 60 mph, Goliath might never have known what hit him. Slings were used in warfare by most ancient armies, and Judges 20:15-16 and 2 Ki 3:25 tell us that the Israelites used slings in battle before and after David’s time. In the final analysis, it was not a miracle that David defeated Goliath. It was the result of David’s training in the use of a sling, and his accurate placement of his sling bullet (the stone) in the forehead of his enemy. Nevertheless, David’s extreme act of faith in facing a giant no one else in Israel was willing to fight puts him in our top 10 list.
4. Faith that condemns the world. “By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark” (Heb 11:7). The author of Hebrews takes note that Noah was acting on things he could not see. Paul teaches that faith operates in contrast to sight (2 Cor 5:7). Thus Noah’s faith is firmly established in that he devoted 120 years to building an ark in preparation for something he had no evidence was going to happen. it was purely in response to God’s word, which he believed against everything his eyes could see.
While we do not have explicit testimony of opposition to Noah’s faith, we can be fairly certain there was much of it in the form of ridicule and mocking. We know that Noah’s building of the ark was itself an act of preaching (Heb 11:7), and it is highly probable that Noah also preached to the people, for Peter calls Noah a preacher of righteousness (2 Pet 2:5). We also know that no one responded favorably to his preaching because only Noah and his family boarded the ark. It would be remarkable if Noah did not receive a large amount of mockery over a period of 120 years, especially as he had to build the ark on land, and there would be no possible way to move such a massive structure into the water.
The ark Noah built was larger than any built in human history until the late 19th century A.D. That qualifies as unprecedented. The judgment God brought is also unprecedented and will not be matched until the 2nd Coming. Also unique is what the author of Hebrews says about Noah’s faith: “by his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith” (11:7). His faithful building of a ship was itself a message of coming judgment that condemned the world because they did not receive the message.
What does Noah have to lose by stepping out in faith? He will lose his reputation as the community he is a part of will consider him certifiably crazy. He will lose his relationship with God, who singled him out as the man who will save humanity. Humanity will lose by being destroyed, and Noah will also drown. Since Noah was the only righteous man on earth, and he “walked with God” (Gen 6:9), we can surmise that we expect faith from him. But his extreme faith in building an ark before the rains came lands him in 4th place in the category of extreme faith.
3. Thief believes the cross is just an intersection. We now have made it to the medalists in extreme faith. The winner of the bronze medal for extremeness, goes to someone whose name we do not even know. It is the thief on the cross who became a believer just hours before his death. He shows up just for a few verses, in Luke 23:39-43, but the statement he makes lands him at #3 in extreme faith due to the circumstances of his expression of faith.
When Jesus was hanging on the cross, Israel did not believe in him. Even his disciples did not believe. They all were taught that messiah lives forever. It could be argued that this thief was the only person on earth who believed Jesus was the messiah at this time. The words, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (v. 42), could only be uttered by a person with a faith that utterly ignores the visible and trusts completely in the impossible. The Bible suggests it was impossible for a man hanging on a cross to be the messiah. Deuteronomy 21:23 says anyone hanging on a tree is under God’s curse. This was the point the enemies of Jesus were trying to make. By having him crucified, they eliminated any claim that he could be blessed by God. The thief on the cross could not possibly understand that Jesus had to become a curse for us. Neither could he have reason to believe in Jesus’ resurrection. It is doubtful that he even knew Jesus said he would rise from the dead. Those Jesus did say that to did not believe him anyway. So how is it possible for a man hanging on a cross to ever “come into his kingdom”? Somehow, this thief came to a belief that Jesus would indeed rise again, or else he was just insane in the best sort of way.
This is the last man you would expect to have faith. Perhaps he was a Jew. But he was not a good one. he confessed his own guilt, declaring to the other thief that he deserved his punishment. Even if he should believe, why should he believe in a dying man? Opposition came in the form of the other thief, who was insulting Jesus, and in the form of Jesus, who at the time looked like anything but the messiah Israel was looking for. The only thing preventing him from being even higher on this list is that he has nothing to lose. He was about to die. Why not take a shot that maybe Jesus is the messiah. Even if he is wrong, he will not go to a worse place than he is already headed. so the thief on the cross finishes 3rd in the race for extreme faith.
2. Gideon’s 300 crack pots. The silver medal (or should we say silver trumpet) goes to Gideon, who used clay pots and ram’s horns to defeat an army that outnumbered his men 450-1. To make the list, Gideon had to beat out two other similar feats of faith. One is Joshua, who marched around Jericho and blew horns until the walls fell, and the other is Jonathan, who stood with his armor bearer and defeated an army, confessing that God can deliver by a few just as easily as by many. Jonathan’s few was fewer than Gideon’s, but the many that Gideon defeated far outweighed the many Jonathan killed. Plus, Jonathan at least had a weapon. All Gideon had was a ram’s horn and a clay pot, inside of which he was going to let his little light shine. This is not the way the textbook says to go into battle. Gideon’s battle stands taller than Joshua’s because the imminent danger was greater here. If Jericho’s walls do not fall, the Israelite army is not instantly annihilated. Joshua also had full use of his entire army, compared to Gideon’s 300.
If you want an adrenaline rush, take 300 unarmed men and attack an army of 135,000 men armed with swords. That is what Gideon did, according to Judges 6-7. It took a lot of faith to obey such an order from God. If you are prone to criticize Gideon for putting out a fleece, I would ask, what would you do if an angel told you what he told Gideon? God never rebukes Gideon for putting out the fleece. Rather, Gideon is praised in the Hebrews hall of faith for conquering kingdoms through faith (Heb 11:32-33). The bottom line is, Gideon’s act of bravery was one of the most extreme acts of faith ever performed. It was unprecedented to use only clay pots, torches, and trumpets in battle and trust God to bring the victory. Gideon had a lot to lose, including his life, the life of his entire family, and forced subjugation of the entire nation at the hands of the Midianites into the indefinite future.
We do not expect faith from Gideon. Although he is an Israelite, he knows he is from an insignificant clan and an idolatrous family with little influence (Jdg 6:15). He was a fearful farmer, hiding from the Midianites when God called him out. God chose the least in Israel to confound the wisest and strongest, demonstrating that he, not man, is the source of victory.
Gideon also faced opposition. He had to tear down an altar devoted to Baal and an asherah pole, a deed that was done at night to avoid the fury of the townspeople. After finding out what he did, they threatened to kill him. Then, after gathering his army, further opposition to faith came when God dwindled the forces from 23,000 to a mere 300. It must have made his heart sink to see all those thousands of able-bodied men walking home just before the battle. But perhaps it is when all confidence in man is lost that faith has its best opportunity to rise. So Gideon believed and God wrought a great victory, one that puts Gideon in 2nd place for extreme faith.
1. Abraham is not laughing now, or maybe he is. Coming in first and winning the gold medal is Abraham, the father of the nation of Israel and inheritor of the promises of God. Several acts of faith could have landed Abraham on our list. In fact, Hebrews 11 lists four. But the one that wins him the title in extreme faith is for offering his son Isaac as a sacrifice in obedience to God (Gen 22). To understand how extreme this act of faith was, we need to look more closely at this event and at Abraham as we examine how he satisfies all four criteria for extreme faith.
At first, someone might object that we expect faith from Abraham, but is that really true? Abraham was part of an idolatrous family (Josh 24:2), and lived near the ancient city of Babylon. He could have visited the site where the Tower of Babel was built. From this idolatrous background God spoke to him and sent him to Canaan. God gave Abraham a son through his barren wife, Sarah, to fulfill his 7-fold promise of blessing (Gen 12:1-3). Abraham laughed when told Sarah would bear a child. But now that he was born, Abraham could rest in assurance that the promises would be fulfilled.
Then God tells him to kill Isaac. Much opposition is in place to make it difficult for Abraham to believe and obey. Abraham loved Isaac, which God makes a point of mentioning when he tells him to offer Isaac as a sacrifice (Gen 22:1). It would be difficult enough to kill a stranger in sacrifice, let alone a son. How much more difficult was it to offer his only son born from his otherwise barren wife, knowing he could not replace him. But that is not the reason this was such a difficult thing to believe. Isaac was the son of Promise. God took him through a process of coming to believe that Isaac would ever be born in the first place. He laughed when God told him it would happen. But once he was born it was confirmed that Isaac would fulfill the promises of God, among which was that nations would be born through him. How can that happen if Isaac is dead? This makes no sense whatsoever in the natural.
So Abraham did the only thing he could do. he reasoned that God must be planning to raise him from the dead (Heb 11:19). All this made the opposition to Abraham’s faith intense, and I have not even mentioned the questionable ethics of human sacrifice, the difficulty Abraham must have had looking his wife in the face the morning of the sacrifice, or the awkward conversation he had with Isaac, which included having to answer his question about where the sacrifice is. What must the dialogue have been like when Abraham told his son to get on the altar while he raises his knife to kill him? What were his last words to Isaac before he raised the knife? Did he say, “I love you to death?” Or “Believe me, this hurts me more than it’s gonna hurt you?” What did Isaac say? The Bible never mentions his faith or obedience. Did he agree to this? He stands as a type of Christ in having his life offered, and raised from the dead, “figuratively speaking” (Heb 11:19). But even Jesus struggled with God and asked if he could get out of it before submitting. The opposition going on in Abraham’s head must have been pretty intense that day. No, Abraham was not laughing any more.
Abraham had plenty to lose by stepping out in faith. First of all, he loses the son he loves. This includes having to do the dirty work of performing the killing himself. That is a memory he would have to live with for the rest of his life: the blood of his own son on his hands – literally! Second, he loses the promises God made him, because they were to be fulfilled through Isaac. With no Isaac, there is no Israel, no salvation, and no church. In fact, Jesus would never have come and died for us because there would be no “us” to die for. Yeah, he had a lot to lose, and so did we all. Of course, we know God would not let all that happen. We know God had a plan and Isaac was going to fulfill the promises. But the point is Abraham did not know all that. He had to work it all out in his mind, something that cannot be done, except through faith, and extreme faith at that.
This leads us to the 4th criterion, something unique or unprecedented about the act. That speaks for itself. Never before or since has anyone been asked to do what Abraham did. It is extreme enough to be willing to die for the will of God. But to kill you own son? I guess now Abraham understands what God did, only God never told himself “do not lay a hand on the boy.” He did not spare his own son, but offered him up for us all. He has the rest of eternity to remember this act, and the blood of his own son that was spilled at his own command. The resurrection does not erase the memory; nor does it eliminate the pain Jesus went through in dying. It was worth it, but it was still difficult. As the death of Jesus was an extreme act, so was Abraham’s offering of his son a great and extreme act of faith – so extreme that it wins first place in extreme acts of faith recorded in Scripture. Step up to the podium, Abraham. You just won the gold medal for extreme faith. Listen to Hatikva, the Israeli national anthem.
 The number of years is based on Gen 6:3, which sets 120 years as the number of days remaining for mankind’s survival. It is unclear in the biblical text, but likely, that this is when God told Noah to build an ark.