Exodus 2:11-15 (NLT)11 Many years later, when Moses had grown up, he went out to visit his own people, the Hebrews, and he saw how hard they were forced to work. During his visit, he saw an Egyptian beating one of his fellow Hebrews.12 After looking in all directions to make sure no one was watching, Moses killed the Egyptian and hid the body in the sand.13 The next day, when Moses went out to visit his people again, he saw two Hebrew men fighting. “Why are you beating up your friend?” Moses said to the one who had started the fight.14 The man replied, “Who appointed you to be our prince and judge? Are you going to kill me as you killed that Egyptian yesterday?” Then Moses was afraid, thinking, “Everyone knows what I did.”15 And sure enough, Pharaoh heard what had happened, and he tried to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh and went to live in the land of Midian. When Moses arrived in Midian, he sat down beside a well.
Moses thought he was helping his people but he failed in this attempt when he murdered someone and had to leave Egypt. Yet God called him to lead a group of slaves and develop them into a nation ready to conquer the land promised to their ancestor Abraham.
Exodus 3:9-10 (NLT)9 Look! The cry of the people of Israel has reached me, and I have seen how harshly the Egyptians abuse them.10 Now go, for I am sending you to Pharaoh. You must lead my people Israel out of Egypt.”
Moses failed again. This time he failed to trust God plus he was taking the credit for the water by saying “Must we (meaning him and Aaron) bring you water from the rock” (parenthesis mine).
Numbers 20:8-12 (NLT)8 “You and Aaron must take the staff and assemble the entire community. As the people watch, speak to the rock over there, and it will pour out its water. You will provide enough water from the rock to satisfy the whole community and their livestock.”9 So Moses did as he was told. He took the staff from the place where it was kept before the LORD.10 Then he and Aaron summoned the people to come and gather at the rock. “Listen, you rebels!” he shouted. “Must we bring you water from this rock?”11 Then Moses raised his hand and struck the rock twice with the staff, and water gushed out. So the entire community and their livestock drank their fill.12 But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust me enough to demonstrate my holiness to the people of Israel, you will not lead them into the land I am giving them!”
Because of this failure Moses was not permitted to enter the Canaan but lest you think he was rejected just look at who was there when Jesus was transfigured.
Matthew 17:1-3 (NLT)1 Six days later Jesus took Peter and the two brothers, James and John, and led them up a high mountain to be alone.2 As the men watched, Jesus’ appearance was transformed so that his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as light.3 Suddenly, Moses and Elijah appeared and began talking with Jesus.
That’s quite an honor for a man who failure. Peter was there also but his story of failure is later.
The Bible regards David as the model king of Israel, and he was called a man after God’s own heart.
Acts 13:22 (NLT)22 But God removed Saul and replaced him with David, a man about whom God said, ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart. He will do everything I want him to do.’
Yet David failed several times.
2 Samuel 11:2-4 (NLT)2 Late one afternoon, after his midday rest, David got out of bed and was walking on the roof of the palace. As he looked out over the city, he noticed a woman of unusual beauty taking a bath.3 He sent someone to find out who she was, and he was told, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.”4 Then David sent messengers to get her; and when she came to the palace, he slept with her. She had just completed the purification rites after having her menstrual period. Then she returned home.
Not only did he sexually exploit Bathsheba he ordered the assassination of her husband, Uriah.
2 Samuel 11:14-15 (NLT)14 So the next morning David wrote a letter to Joab and gave it to Uriah to deliver.15 The letter instructed Joab, “Station Uriah on the front lines where the battle is fiercest. Then pull back so that he will be killed.”
He failed when he thought his strength was in his military and not God.
2 Samuel 24:1-4 (NLT)1 Once again the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and he caused David to harm them by taking a census. “Go and count the people of Israel and Judah,” the LORD told him.2 So the king said to Joab and the commanders of the army, “Take a census of all the tribes of Israel—from Dan in the north to Beersheba in the south—so I may know how many people there are.”3 But Joab replied to the king, “May the LORD your God let you live to see a hundred times as many people as there are now! But why, my lord the king, do you want to do this?”4 But the king insisted that they take the census, so Joab and the commanders of the army went out to count the people of Israel.
The result of this failure was the death of thousands.
2 Samuel 24:10, 15-16 (NLT)10 But after he had taken the census, David’s conscience began to bother him. And he said to the LORD, “I have sinned greatly by taking this census. Please forgive my guilt, LORD, for doing this foolish thing.” 15 So the LORD sent a plague upon Israel that morning, and it lasted for three days. A total of 70,000 people died throughout the nation, from Dan in the north to Beersheba in the south.16 But as the angel was preparing to destroy Jerusalem, the LORD relented and said to the death angel, “Stop! That is enough!” At that moment the angel of the LORD was by the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.
There are other failures in David’s life in the handling of conflicts in his family. The rape of his daughter Tamar by one of her brothers and that brother’s murder by another brother. The failure to deal with this family dysfunction lead eventually to a revot against David led by his son Absalom, and his son’ death. (2 Samuel 13, 2 Samuel 15)
Yet despite David’s failings, God fulfills his covenant with David and treats him with mercy.
2 Samuel 7:12-16 (NLT)12 For when you die and are buried with your ancestors, I will raise up one of your descendants, your own offspring, and I will make his kingdom strong.13 He is the one who will build a house—a temple—for my name. And I will secure his royal throne forever.14 I will be his father, and he will be my son. If he sins, I will correct and discipline him with the rod, like any father would do.15 But my favor will not be taken from him as I took it from Saul, whom I removed from your sight.16 Your house and your kingdom will continue before me for all time, and your throne will be secure forever.’” (Matthew 1:1-16)
Peter was very impetuous and full of pride. He’s the one who in response to Jesus question “who do you say that I am?” responded by saying that he was the Messiah.
Matthew 16:15-16 (NLT)15 Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?”16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
He thought his faith and his loyalty was the strongest of Jesus disciples.
Mark 14:29 (NLT)29 Peter said to him, “Even if everyone else deserts you, I never will”
Yet he failed miserably when he denied that he even knew Jesus, and he did it three times.
Matthew 26:69-73 (NLT)69 Meanwhile, Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. A servant girl came over and said to him, “You were one of those with Jesus the Galilean.”70 But Peter denied it in front of everyone. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said.71 Later, out by the gate, another servant girl noticed him and said to those standing around, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.”72 Again Peter denied it, this time with an oath. “I don’t even know the man,” he said.73 A little later some of the other bystanders came over to Peter and said, “You must be one of them; we can tell by your Galilean accent.”
Yes Peter failed yet Jesus forgave him, restored him and gave him a very important assignment.
John 21:15-17 (NLT)15 After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “you know I love you.” “Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him.16 Jesus repeated the question: “Simon son of John, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord,” Peter said, “you know I love you.” “Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus said.17 A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.
Peter was also the one that God used to open the church to Gentiles.
Acts 10:44-48 (NLT)44 Even as Peter was saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to the message.45 The Jewish believers who came with Peter were amazed that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles, too.46 For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter asked,
47 “Can anyone object to their being baptized, now that they have received the Holy Spirit just as we did?”48 So he gave orders for them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Afterward Cornelius asked him to stay with them for several days.
Paul often considered himself a failure.
1 Timothy 1:15-16 (NLT)15 This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all.
16 But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life.
Romans 7:21-25 (NLT)21 I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong.22 I love God’s law with all my heart.
23 But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me.24 Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?25 Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.
Paul had other problems that probably would have caused us to give up and quit.
2 Corinthians 11:24-30 (NLT)24 Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes.25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea.26 I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not.27 I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm.28 Then, besides all this, I have the daily burden of my concern for all the churches.29 Who is weak without my feeling that weakness? Who is led astray, and I do not burn with anger?30 If I must boast, I would rather boast about the things that show how weak I am.
He even had a physical infirmity of some kind.
2 Corinthians 12:6-9 (NLT)6 If I wanted to boast, I would be no fool in doing so, because I would be telling the truth. But I won’t do it, because I don’t want anyone to give me credit beyond what they can see in my life or hear in my message,
7 even though I have received such wonderful revelations from God. So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.8 Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away.9 Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.
Yet Paul considered all these failures and struggles nothing compared to his performing the assignment that Jesus had for him.
Philippians 3:7-11 (NLT)7 I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done.8 Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ9 and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith.10 I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death,11 so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!
I don't want you to get the wrong idea that the only failures that God uses are men. There are some very important instances in the Bible of women that many today would consider failures, or who had made big mistakes in their lives. In Matthew's genealogy he lists three women, of relatively low moral standing who were used by God.
Matthew 1:3 (NLT) 3 Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah (whose mother was Tamar). Perez was the father of Hezron. Hezron was the father of Ram. (Bold mine)
Genesis 38:14-16. 24, 27-29 (NLT) 14 Tamar was aware that Shelah had grown up, but no arrangements had been made for her to come and marry him. So she changed out of her widow’s clothing and covered herself with a veil to disguise herself. Then she sat beside the road at the entrance to the village of Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah.15 Judah noticed her and thought she was a prostitute, since she had covered her face.16 So he stopped and propositioned her. “Let me have sex with you,” he said, not realizing that she was his own daughter-in-law. “How much will you pay to have sex with me?” Tamar asked. 24 About three months later, Judah was told, “Tamar, your daughter-in-law, has acted like a prostitute. And now, because of this, she’s pregnant.” “Bring her out, and let her be burned!” Judah demanded. 27 When the time came for Tamar to give birth, it was discovered that she was carrying twins.28 While she was in labor, one of the babies reached out his hand. The midwife grabbed it and tied a scarlet string around the child’s wrist, announcing, “This one came out first.”29 But then he pulled back his hand, and out came his brother! “What!” the midwife exclaimed. “How did you break out first?” So he was named Perez. (Bold mine)
Matthew 1:5 (NLT) 5 Salmon was the father of Boaz (whose mother was Rahab). Boaz was the father of Obed (whose mother was Ruth). Obed was the father of Jesse.
Joshua 2:1 (NLT) 1 Then Joshua secretly sent out two spies from the Israelite camp at Acacia Grove. He instructed them, “Scout out the land on the other side of the Jordan River, especially around Jericho.” So the two men set out and came to the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there that night.
Joshua 6:22-23 (NLT) 22 Meanwhile, Joshua said to the two spies, “Keep your promise. Go to the prostitute’s house and bring her out, along with all her family.”23 The men who had been spies went in and brought out Rahab, her father, mother, brothers, and all the other relatives who were with her. They moved her whole family to a safe place near the camp of Israel.
Uriah's Wife Bathsheba
Matthew 1:6 (NLT) 6 Jesse was the father of King David. David was the father of Solomon (whose mother was Bathsheba, the widow of Uriah).
2 Samuel 11:2-4 (NLT) 2 Late one afternoon, after his midday rest, David got out of bed and was walking on the roof of the palace. As he looked out over the city, he noticed a woman of unusual beauty taking a bath.3 He sent someone to find out who she was, and he was told, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.”
4 Then David sent messengers to get her; and when she came to the palace, he slept with her. She had just completed the purification rites after having her menstrual period. Then she returned home.
2 Samuel 12:24 (NLT) 24 Then David comforted Bathsheba, his wife, and slept with her. She became pregnant and gave birth to a son, and they named him Solomon. The LORD loved the child
The inclusion of Tamar, Rahab and Bathsheba shows that God is able to use anyone to accomplish his plan. God could have handpicked anyone to be in the genealogy of Jesus, but He included these and many other imperfect people to comprise the line that would eventually bring his Son into the world. These women are an incredible image of God’s sovereign desire to take what is broken and make it new.
Failure can be a chance for a new beginning of living in Christ's strength. Like Paul you can boast in your weaknesses and failures so that Christ's power can work through you. Don’t let your failures be a tool used by Satan to mess with your mind and cause you to feel shame, condemnation, despair, and depression (See my series on spiritual warfare which talks about the battleground of the mind). Failure can be the catalyst for even stronger faith like it drove Peter and Paul to even greater acts of faith.
Forget your past failures and move forward.
Philippians 3:13 (NLT)13 No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead,
I’ve failed many times and I may fail again, in fact it’s likely that I’ll fail again, but because God is with me even in those failures, I know that I can bounce back and that He can use me in His kingdom. Afterall He gave me spiritual gifts.
If you've failed at something, in the past, don't despair God can use you just like he used Moses, David, Peter, Paul and even me. If you’ve failed, confess and ask forgiveness, then be willing to follow the direction that God gives you through His word, through other godly people, through circumstances or an inner prompting from the Holy Spirit.
God can use your failures to accomplish his purpose for you which is to conform you to the image of His Son.
Romans 8:28-29 (NLT)28 And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.29 For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in August 2016 and has been updated for completeness.