Unlikely Heroes - Israel

When we are thinking of unlikely heroes, we have restricted ourselves to individuals but there are unlikely heroes in the Bible that are bigger than just individuals.

The biggest is the nation of Israel.

Israel’s story starts at the time that Abram was called to leave his home and head off to start a new life.  Abram and his family and his flocks and herds left their life east of the Euphrates River (in what is now Iran) and headed west to lands already populated by established groups of “ites”, particularly Canaanites in the area we now know as Palestine.  The story continues as Abram/Abraham and his descendants wander hither and yon and go back and forth between Egypt and Palestine many times.  They were nomadic and although they put down pillars of stones to mark important events and encounters with God, they did not settle.

Until eventually, they moved to Egypt and through a period of almost 500 years became slaves to the Egyptian rulers.

And it was not until Moses came on the scene and led his people out of slavery toward the Promised Land that they could be called some semblance of a nation.  But even then, the 3 week journey through the desert took 40 years. They remained a nomadic people, with no lasting edifices to show they settled anywhere en route.


Oswald Chambers points out that in secular history, Israel is disregarded as being a miserable horde of slaves, and justly so from the standpoint of the historian. The nations to which the Bible pays little attention are much finer to read about but they have no importance in the redemptive purpose of God. [1]

More about the last half of that sentence later.

Numbers 11:4 describes the wandering Jews as a rabble.

The nomadic Israelites went through and dispossessed whole groups of people from the land where these people had lived for generations, even committing genocide to wrest the land from its owners.

Again, Oswald Chambers: The idea that Israel was a magnificently developed type of nation is a mistaken one. Israel was despised, and a despicable nation, continually turning from God into idolatry; but nothing ever altered the purpose of God for the nation. [2]

Considering that the Bible is the story of God’s chosen people through which the whole world would be redeemed to himself, they fell left and right into the arms of disbelief and following other gods 

Immediately after their deliverance from Egypt, the Israelites made their first idol—the Golden Calf (Exodus 32).

In the land of Canaan, Israel began worshiping idols after Joshua’s death (Judges 2:11–13).

In the tribal period, Israel would alternately be obedient (while led by a judge) and idolatrous the rest the time.


During the united monarchy, Solomon married foreign women and worshiped the idols of their deities (1 Kgs 11:1–8).


During the divided monarchy, both Israel and Judah worshiped idols. After splitting from Judah, Jeroboam made golden calves for the northern kingdom to worship instead of Yahweh (1 Kgs 12:25–33). In Judah, Rehoboam worshiped Asherahs (1 Kgs 14:23). [3]


Idolatry continued during the Babylonian exile and the post exile period. Prophets continually condemned this action, but it continued without abating.


62 times in the Old Testament the words ‘Did what was evil in the sight of the Lord” are recorded.


Israel seems the least likely of all nations to be God’s hero, yet Israel became that hero nation for the world.


The essential pride of Israel and Judah (and the Pharisees in Jesus ‘day) was that God was obligated to select them because of their superiority to other nations. God did not select them; God created them. [4]


The more we look at the story of Israel we more we see a less than likely candidate for God’s blessing.


It amazes me that God did not wash his hands of them, yet he drew them back to himself time after time.

God through his prophet Hosea:

8     How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel?  How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. 9I will not execute my fierce anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.


Hear Jesus:

Matthew 23:37 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!


As we move from the adulterous Israel to Jesus, listen again to Oswald Chambers:

When the saviour of the world came, he came of that despised nation; he himself was ‘despised and rejected of men” (Isa 53:3) and in all Christian enterprise there is this same despised element, “things that are despised hath God chosen” (1 Cor 1:28)[5]

Isaiah 53:2           For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. 3He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account.


And if we turn from Israel, past the Messiah to us, we find the same situation of being despised as well.


1 Corinthians 1:26 Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, 29 so that no one might boast in the presence of God.

I wonder it we too could fall into the category that Chambers identified? That God has to select us because we are worthy to be selected.

Let me pop your bubble. None of us is worthy yet God chose us

Ephesians 1:4In love 5 he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.

He chose us, he created us for his purposes.

Ephesians 1:11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

And in Romans:

Romans 8:29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.

So, in this identification of Israel as an unlikely hero for God, we also have found also that we are unlikely heroes as well.

We are human with all the failings of the people of Israel, with all the failings of the Gideons and Baraks and Abrahams and Isaacs and Samsons and Sauls and Davids of the Old Testament, and all the failings of Paul and Peter and Thomas in the New Testament.

Yet despite these failings which the world chooses to use to write off our ministry and witness, God has a plan for us which will not be thwarted through those failings.

We are unlikely heroes.

At Dennis’ funeral last Monday, we sang Amazing Grace:  I once was lost and now I am found.

And if you know the story behind that hymn, you know the author was a slave trader called John Newton, captain of ships carrying slaves from Africa to England. After his conversion, he became an Anglican minister. A least likely candidate for proclaiming the glory of God, yet here he was, remembered in posterity.

The film Amazing Grace about the abolition of slavery portrays Newton as a penitent haunted by the ghosts of 20,000 slaves. It is in our DVD library to borrow.

We all have pasts we would rather had not happened; we all have regrets that we did not follow God more closely in your youth, but just like Newton, we remember that the words from Ephesians and from Romans relate to us. We were chosen by God for his purposes.

Israel may have repeatedly fallen but it is still the vehicle by which the Messiah for the world came to the world for Jew and Gentile alike.

Christ was despised by those of his time, yet he was the messiah.

We are called to live our lives as unlikely heroes for God.

God will not forsake us or leave us, just as he never forsook or left the Israelites.


[1]Adair & Verploegh 101 days in the epistles with Oswald Chambers 64


[3] Marsh, N. M.  Idolatry. In The Lexham Bible Dictionary.

[4]Adair & Verploegh 101 days in the epistles with Oswald Chambers 64

[5]Adair & Verploegh 101 days in the epistles with Oswald Chambers 64