How can we hold up men, such as Abraham, Jacob and David, as ‘heroes of the faith’ when each of them also did terrible things?

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

In the Bible we can read accounts of people with an especially close relationship with God. These people, such as Abraham, Jacob and David, were given promises and blessings that are spoken of through the whole Bible and are revealed to have their fulfilment in Jesus Christ. But, we may also ask ourselves, didn’t these men do terrible things? Didn’t they go against God’s design for marriage? How can we then hold them up as examples of faith?

The sins of these men

It is true that all three of the men mentioned above, and many others in the Bible, committed serious sins. Abraham had a child with his wife’s slave, Hagar[1]. In this he committed polygamy, was disobedient and displayed a lack of faith which lead to discord and jealousy. Jacob, tricked into marrying Leah, then married her sister Rachel and he fathered children with both women, as well as their two slaves. There was a constant rivalry and bitterness between the sisters which then fed into the relationships between Jacob and his children. King David, already having at the very least three wives, commits adultery with Bathsheba. Once he discovered she was pregnant, David arranged the death of her husband Uriah, and married her himself. This led to a promise from God that the sword would not leave his family[2]. There followed, amongst other things, incestuous rape, murder, power grabs, betrayal and instability for the whole kingdom. The Bible shows the truth about these ‘heroes of faith’; it does not cover up their sin.


But these men weren’t just sinners; by God’s grace they were also men of faith. They trusted in the promises of God and not in their own righteousness. For example, David, described as a man after God’s own heart[3], famously showed an awareness of his own sin and his need for God’s mercy in Psalm 51, and all three men are mentioned as those who lived by faith in Hebrews 11. Although there were certainly grave consequences to their sins, nevertheless, God showed them immense grace. They didn’t deserve God’s mercy, and nor do we. They weren’t necessarily always righteous in their behaviour, but they trusted in God. Wonderfully, the punishment those sins rightly deserved, was taken by Christ as they looked to Him for their salvation[4]. Like them, we must also turn from sin to God and trust in Christ for the forgiveness of our sins.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

1 John 1:9

Examples, not excuses

We can’t use other people’s sins as an excuse to sin ourselves. We need to walk very carefully, constantly on guard in case we fall to the same temptations that they did, using their example as a warning. It took David some time to repent of his sin with Bathsheba, but when he finally did, God forgave him, although he still had to bear some severe consequences both in his life and in his wider family[5].

We all have to give an account to God for what we do and recognise that our decisions will have consequences, sometimes for generations to come. Nevertheless, God will use our sin and its consequences to help us grow in grace step by step. We need to look to God for help to escape from temptation and to walk with integrity before Him.

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

1 Corinthians 10:13

  1. Genesis 16:1-5
  2. 2 Samuel 12:10 “Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.”
  3. Acts 13:22 “And when he had removed him, he raised up David to be their king, of whom he testified and said, ‘I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart, who will do all my will.”
  4. Hebrews 11
  5. For example, the promise of the sword not departing from his family, the rape of Tamar and Absalom’s betrayal.