What Makes a Hero

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Before Iron Man, there was Spider Man. And before Spiderman, there was the Fantastic Four. And before the Fantastic Four, there were Captain America and Wonder Woman. And before them was the Flash . . . and Batman. And before them all was Superman.

Those are just a few of the superheroes that have become a part of our cultural fabric over the last hundred years. Superman debuted in 1938 in the first issue of Action Comics, and Batman and the Flash appeared the next year.

They are all fictional, of course, unlike the real-life heroes who emerged in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and the first responders, nurses, doctors, and frontline workers during the COVID-19 global pandemic. Such heroes have always emerged in challenging times, inspiring and setting an example for us.

But what makes a hero? How does an ordinary person become a hero, not only in the eyes of others but, more importantly, in the eyes of God?

Where heroism begins

Long ago, after the days of Moses and Joshua, the people of Israel wandered from God. And then, as now, every time God’s people wandered, they suffered as a result. Each time, they would cry out to God, and He would send a deliverer. He sent Othniel, then Ehud, then Shamgar. Each was used by God in heroic ways. After them, God raised up another hero:

 Now Deborah, a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time. She held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites went up to her to have their disputes decided (Judges 4:4, 5).

Though Deborah lived in a day and age when women in general, and wives in particular, held low status — and no rights — Deborah “was leading Israel at that time.” There is no reference to this being an exception or concession. The Bible doesn’t say Deborah was leading Israel because no capable men were available. The text doesn’t say Deborah was leading Israel under exceptional circumstances or that she was leading Israel because of her gender or in spite of her gender. It simply says, matter-of-factly, that she was leading Israel at that time.

Though Deborah was one of four female prophets mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures (Miriam, Huldah, and Isaiah’s wife being the others), as a leader of the nation of Israel she stands alone in an all-male inventory extending from Moses through Samuel.

Yet she also stands with them, without apology or explanation, suggesting that whatever the world says a hero should look like, God is willing to do what He will with whom He chooses. It might also suggest to each of us that whoever we are, God is able and willing to do extraordinary things with us, for us, and through us.

That is where heroism begins: with God’s ability and our availability.

Where heroism is found

As a prophet, Deborah heard from God in extraordinary ways.

The Bible says:

She sent for Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali and said to him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you: ‘Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead them up to Mount Tabor.  I will lead Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands.’”’

Barak said to her, “If you go with me, I will go; but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go” (vv. 6-8).

Barak’s reply to Deborah reveals who the true hero of this story is going to be — and it’s not Barak. It also shows the high degree of confidence Barak had in Deborah’s leadership. He recognized that the hand of God was upon her.

It probably also shows a lack of faith on Barak’s part, or misplaced faith, as he found it easier to trust Deborah than to trust the God she served.

So Deborah replied, saying that she would go with Barak, but that he would receive no honor for the day’s victory. They went together to Kedesh, where Barak assembled an army to fight against Sisera, the man who commanded the armies of Israel’s oppressors.

Then Deborah said to Barak, “Go! This is the day the Lord has given Sisera into your hands. Has not the Lord gone ahead of you?” So Barak went down Mount Tabor, with ten thousand men following him. At Barak’s advance, the Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots and army by the sword, and Sisera got down from his chariot and fled on foot.

Barak pursued the chariots and army as far as Harosheth Haggoyim, and all Sisera’s troops fell by the sword; not a man was left (vv. 14-16).

Soon after, Sisera was also dead and Israel was soon freed from oppression, led by Deborah — a woman, wife, mother, and hero.

But remember where the hero was found. Notice where God looked to accomplish Israel’s deliverance: He went to a palm tree on a hill somewhere between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim — because that’s where Deborah was. She’d been there for who knows how long, leading Israel, hearing people’s disputes, offering counsel and guidance, making decisions, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year.

The Bible doesn’t say how long this had been going on. It doesn’t say if it had been years or decades. But even Barak, a man who could command thousands, had seen enough from that woman that he didn’t want to proceed without her.

Deborah had apparently held court under that palm tree for some time. She’d been faithful. Maybe it had taken some time for the people of that day and that culture to accept a woman in that role. But she just kept on being faithful.

Maybe some never got used to the idea. But she just kept on being faithful.

Chances are, over the years, many people were on the wrong side of her decisions. She just kept on being faithful.

So, when God heard the distress call from his people, he turned to Deborah, because she had always been faithful.

What heroism requires

When conditions call for a hero, we tend to think it makes sense to look around for someone powerful, someone with great ability, someone who’s clearly qualified. But God doesn’t operate that way. He doesn’t need the powerful because He can supply all the power called for in any situation.

When God goes looking for a hero, He doesn’t employ the powerful; He empowers the faithful. We may think, I can’t step forward. That’s for someone a lot younger or talented. We may say, “I’m not smart enough” or “I don’t know enough.”

We may object, “There are others who would do it so much better than I.” But God doesn’t employ the powerful; He empowers the faithful.

As Jesus taught in the parable of the talents, God gives more to those who are faithful in what they already have. God empowers the faithful, whether they’ve been given little or much.

Our supreme example of this is Jesus himself. The biblical writer said,

 So, my dear Christian friends, companions in following this call to the heights, take a good hard look at Jesus. He’s the centerpiece of everything we believe, faithful in everything God gave him to do (Hebrews 3:1, 2a, The Message).

And again,

While he lived on earth, anticipating death, Jesus cried out in pain and wept in sorrow as he offered up priestly prayers to God. Because he honored God, God answered him. Though he was God’s Son, he learned trusting-obedience by what he suffered, just as we do. Then, having arrived at the full stature of his maturity and having been announced by God as high priest in the order of Melchizedek, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who believingly obey him (Hebrews 5:7-10, The Message).

Jesus himself, though He was the unique only begotten Son of God, became our Savior, Lord, and High Priest, not because He held all the power of omnipotence — the power to heal the sick,  calm the storm, and raise the dead. Rather, it was because He was faithful, because He honored God, because He learned obedience by what He suffered and did not give up.

Like Deborah, whose very name is significant because it means “honeybee.” Not “butterfly.” Not “hornet” or “Spiderwoman,” but “honeybee.” That signifies not glitz or glamor or glory — but faithfulness.

As Mother Teresa liked to say, God does not demand that we be successful; He requires that we be faithful — like the servants in the parable of the talents who were rewarded with the words “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:21).

Not “good and flashy.” Not “good and famous.” Just “good and faithful.”

Because when God goes looking for a hero, He doesn’t employ the powerful; He empowers the faithful.

Bob Hostetler
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Bob Hostetler is an award-winning author, literary agent, and speaker from southwestern Ohio. His fifty books, which include the award-winning Don’t Check Your Brains at the Door (co-authored with Josh McDowell) and The Bard and the Bible: A Shakespeare Devotional, have sold millions of copies. Bob is also the director of the Christian Writers Institute (christianwritersinstitute.com). He and his wife, Robin, have two children and five grandchildren. He lives in Las Vegas, NV.