Suffering Through Faith

Hebrews 11:35b-40

Not everyone who experienced victory, were spared death or resurrected from the dead. Many would suffer being tortured to death instead of redeeming themselves out of the hands of the enemies by abandoning their faith. They would die trusting God to give them an even better resurrection than the one received by those mentioned above. All of those resurrected back to life would only live on earth for a few more years only to die again (except Jesus). Paul spoke of this hope. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18). The examples of those who lived by faith did not end with the closing of the Old Testament. During the period between the Testaments Jewish patriotism and faith in God in the face of persecution rose to Biblical levels. The mistreatment of the Jews and the religion by the Syrian Greeks under the leadership of Antiochus IV sparked the Maccabean revolt in the years 167-164 BC. A woman had seven sons who suffered death rather than renounce their faith is told in 2 Macc. 7:1-42.

“Others had trials of mockings, scourgings, chains and imprisonment” may be illustrated in the lives of the prophet Jeremiah (Jer. 20:2, 7-8; 37:15-20;38:1-13). He was whipped and imprisoned. “Therefore the princes were angry with Jeremiah, and they struck him and put him in prison in the house of Jonathan the scribe. For they had made that the prison” (Jer 37:15). The term “mockings” refers to “verbal abuse.” Young men mocked Elisha’s bald head (2 Kings 2:23-25). Nehemiah was subject to ridicule as he attempted to lead the Jews in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem (Neh. 2:19; 4:1). Festus said that Paul’s much learning had made him mad or out of his mind (Acts 26:24). Joseph was falsely accused of rape and was imprisoned in Egypt (Gen 40:15). Samson was imprisoned after the Philistines took his eyes (Judges 16:21). King Asa in anger imprisoned the seer Hanani (2 Chron. 16:10). The King of Israel had Micaiah, the prophet in prison for not prophesying as he wished (1 Kings 22:24-28). The New Testament abounds with examples. John the Baptist was imprisoned by Herod Antipas. The apostles more than once were imprisoned by the Sanhedrin. Peter was cast into prison to await execution. Paul was often put in chains. Zechariah, son of Jehoida and a priest was stoned to death in the very courtyard of the temple (2 Chr. 24:20-22). In the New Testament Stephen was stoned to death by the Pharisees for preaching the Gospel (Acts 7:58-60). The Apostle Paul was stoned at Lystra and drug out of the city and left for dead (2 Cor. 11:25). James the brother of Jesus was also said to have been stoned to death. According to Jerome Jeremiah was stoned to death by the Jews after the Jews had forced him to go with them to Egypt.

According to Jewish tradition the wicked King Manasseh had the prophet Isaiah “sawn in two.” It is recorded in “the Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah 5.1, ‘And they seized the son of Amoz and sawed him in half with a wood saw,’ and 5:14, ‘and while Isaiah was being sawed in half, he did not cry out or weep, but his mouth spoke with the Holy Sprit until he was sawed in two’” (Michaels 420).

Countless men and women of faith had to face difficult trials when they were “tempted.” Daniel as a young man from Judah was carried off to the Babylonian court of Nebuchadnezzar. He was encouraged to eat of the king’s food. “But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s delicacies, nor with the wine which he drank; therefore he requested of the chief of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself” (Dan 1:8).

Others like the prophet Uriah in the days of King Jehoiakim was “slain with the sword” (Jer 26:20-23). Literally, it means “mouths of the sword” in comparison to “mouths of lions.” Note, some because of their faith escaped the edge of the sword while others died by the sword because of their faith. The first apostle to suffer martyrdom was James the brother of John. Herod Aggrippa the first had him beheaded in Jerusalem (Acts 12:20).

There are many examples of faithful men who suffered economic hardships due to their faith. “They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented” ( Heb. 11:37b).  Perhaps the first to come to mind is John the Baptist (Mark 1:6). The mantel or “garment of hairskin” of Elijah would qualify as “sheepskins and goatskins” (2 Kings 1:8). He also suffered in other ways (Kings 17:2-6; 18:9-10). The apostle Paul was at times “destitute” during his faithful commitment to his mission (2 Cor. 11:9).

Others were forced to flee and hide. “They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth” (Heb. 11:38b) As when Israel was afflicted by the Midianites. “And the hand of Midian prevailed against Israel. Because of the Midianites, the children of Israel made for themselves the dens, the caves, and the strongholds which are in the mountains” (Judges 6:2). When Jezebel was seeking to kill all the prophets of God, Elijah fled to the desert (1 Kings 19:1f) then to the mountains and finally a cave. While King Saul was searching with is army to kill David, the “man after God’s own heart” was hiding in caves (1 Sam. 23:14). The term “tortured is from the Greek tumpanizo, from the same root as the English tympant, kettledrum. The particular torture referred to involved stretching the victim over a large drum-like instrument and beating him with clubs , often until dead” (MacArthur 368). An example of the use of this torture against the Jews is found in 2 Maccabees 6:21-31.

The Jews said of Paul, “Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he is not fit to live!” (Acts 22:22). He was often mistreated in this fashion. ”We have been made as the filth of the world, the offscouring of all things until now” (1 Cor. 4:13). The world often rejected these men of faith as unworthy of life, but instead the world was unworthy of having these men live in this wicked world.

Perfection Through Faith

Due to their faith in God they were able to earn from Him a good reputation. However, not a single one of them from Adam forward received all that God had promised. “God had something better in mind [for them], and it had to do with us” (Michaels 420). A key term in Hebrews is “better” (Heb. 7:22; 8:6). This does not imply in the least bit that Christians receive a better reward than those of old “Perfect” is another term found throughout the epistle of Hebrews (2:10; 5;9; 7:11,19, 28; 9:9,11; 10:11, 14; 11:40; 12:2, 23). The Old Law could make nothing perfect. Jesus Christ alone was made perfect. Through our faith in Him we too can be made perfect. “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2).

– Daniel R. Vess

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