Thursday, October 20

By Faith the Rest, Part 2

This is the seventeenth post in a series from Hebrews 11. You'll find all the posts done so far in this series listed here.

In the previous post, we looked at the happy half of the summary list of things that happened to people of faith given at the end of Hebrews 11. Those people received some good things in this life because of their faith; now our list moves on to examine hardships endured because of faith.
But others were tortured, not accepting release, to obtain resurrection to a better life. And others experienced mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, sawed apart, murdered with the sword; they went about in sheepskins and goatskins; they were destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (the world was not worthy of them); they wandered in deserts and mountains and caves and openings in the earth. (Hebrews 11:35b-38 NET)

I suppose the writer, knowing that those to whom Hebrews was written would face persecution and hardship, wanted to remind them that their faith did not assure them that they would escape all trouble. If he didn't remind them that God sometimes calls on those who have faith to show that faith in the way they endure difficulties, they might grow discouraged when they weren't delivered from difficulty like those in the previous verses.

There were those of faith, he says, who were tortured and refused to turn away from their God in order to be released. They kept their resurrection to a better life in view, and they could stay true to their faith during torture and execution. Are you wondering exactly which people of faith are referred to here? These were probably historical Hebrew people who were tortured and killed during the Maccabean revolt. These events can be found recorded in 2 Maccabees 6 and 7. Others were mocked and flogged and imprisoned. Once again, the Maccabean troubles are probably in view.

Some of the faithful were stoned. Since stoning is a distinctively Jewish form of execution, this may be referring to Christians, like Stephen, for instance, who were executed in that way. Some faithful ones, the writer reminds us, were sawed apart; and according to tradition, the prophet Isaiah died in this way. Some were murdered with the sword. This is an interesting inclusion in light of verse 34, where it says that some, through faith, escaped the edge of the sword. The writer is careful to remind his readers that having faith is not a guarantee of deliverance from death.

There were also those of faith who were destitute, wandering in the open dressed in sheepskins and goatskins, continually ill-treated and afflicted. They would have been sorry sights in the eyes of those around them, and yet the writer tells us "the world was not worthy of them." The world around would not have seen them as people of value, yet they were God's own people. They were people without earthly homes, yet they were people for whom God had prepared a city (verse 16).

And of course, for all of those of faith who endured hardships like the ones listed in these verses, remaining faithful was a result valuing the heavenly rewards God had promised. They knew that God was a rewarder of those who seek him, and because they understood this, they could remain faithful in dire circumstances.

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