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Bible Commentaries

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament
Hebrews 11

 

 

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Verse 1

CHAP. Hebrews 11:1. Having affirmed that our distinguishing quality as Christians is not apostasy, but faith, and that the issue in our case is not perdition, but the gaining of that life of the soul which apostasy threatens, he now proceeds to show that faith is the quality of the spiritual life. This faith means the belief of things still future; such belief as makes them realities to us: and the evidence of things unseen, such evidence as answers objections and produces conviction (compare Aristotle’s definition of ἴλεγϰος). It means, among other things, patient waiting, heroic suffering, and is illustrated by reference to the lives and history of men of all ages and of every economy. The words of this verse have sometimes been regarded as a definition of faith, or as a description of it; but properly they are no definition, for the terms of each proposition are not interchangeable; nor are they a description; they rather seize upon one quality of faith which is most appropriate for the writer’s purpose, and help us to understand what faith is by calling attention to properties not peculiar to it, but still deeply significant. Faith, then, has to do with what is future and is an object of hope, viz. blessing and reward. More widely, it has to do with what is unseen, whether in the future, the present, or the past. Similarly the things which it believes are either historical facts, as ‘things’ means in chap. Hebrews 6:18, or spiritual realities, as ‘things’ means in chap. Hebrews 10:1. If they are future and are objects of desire, they are hoped for; and if they are not objects of hope, but still believed, they are things unseen. All are unseen, whether hoped for or not. So the last clause of the verse describes the wider class. Faith gives weight and force to what would be otherwise unsubstantial; and faith is itself, in an important sense, a proof of the truth of what it believes. The feeling of the solid body which the hand sustains is itself a proof that the body is solid. The consciousness of the light is decisive evidence that the sun has risen—not to others, but to the man himself.


Verse 2

Hebrews 11:2. For in it. In just such and no other faith all the heroes of the older economy were testified of, and obtained a [good] report—became, through their stedfastness and amid inferior means of grace, examples to the younger generation, ourselves (see Hebrews 11:40). The forms of expression used to describe a life of faith are all instructive. Here it is ‘in it,’ as the region or state in which the good report and testimony was gained; later it is ‘by it’ (Hebrews 11:3-5, etc.); ‘through it,’ as the instrument—calling attention not to ‘it,’ but to some living force which is behind it (Hebrews 11:33); ‘in accordance with it,’ i.e in such a way as faith requires or prompts (Hebrews 11:7; Hebrews 11:13). All those phrases are common in Paul’s writings—‘out of faith’—i.e having its origin in faith, another of Paul’s expressions, is also found (chap. Hebrews 10:38).


Verse 3

Hebrews 11:3. Here begin the examples of the power and nature and effects of faith. By faith we know that the worlds (the universe) have been framed by the word of God. ‘The worlds’—all that exists in time and space, including time and space themselves (see note on chap. Hebrews 1:2). ‘Have been framed’—the reference is to the preparation and completing of the world according to the design of the Founder. The word is translated ‘established’ in Psalms 89:37—‘prepared’ in Psalms 74:16. ‘By the word of God;’ i.e His command. The explanation is found in Genesis 1, where nine times we read, ‘God said’ . . . ‘and it was so.’ It is by faith we understand that God made the universe. The word ‘understand’ describes the rational or spiritual act of thought whereby things come to be known: that things had an origin, that they did not originate themselves, that they had an originator whose ability, intelligence, and goodness correspond to the qualities which we see in them, are conclusions to which our rational and spiritual nature lead us (as we are told in Romans 1:20). The conclusions are of the nature of faith; for the process was unseen, and, the conclusions are rather to be believed than demonstrated. When the announcement is made, however, and we believe it, the mystery is comparatively solved; an adequate cause is assigned, and we form a conception of the origin of things which commends itself to our ‘noetic faculty,’ or perceptive understanding, as certainly as it commends itself to our religious instinct. Faith, therefore, the belief in the unseen, is as certainly a principle of natural religion, in its rudimentary form at least, as it is of revealed religion. It suggests the solution of many problems. Without it the world itself, in its origin and destiny, is a deep mystery, a maze without a plan.

So that what is seen (the true reading, the visible universe as a whole, not many separate things) was not made (hath not come to be) out of the things which appear. Creation abounds in change and in development—the plant comes from the seed, and each man from the race that precedes him; but the understanding of faith leads us to the conclusion that at the beginning it was not so. The series is not eternal or self-created; God Himself is the Creator, and to Him and to His word the visible creation is to be ascribed. The clause ‘so that,’ etc., may mean the tendency of the arrangement; the arrangement itself leads to the conclusion; or it may describe the purpose of the Creator, ‘in order that’ what is seen might be understood to have come from what does not appear—viz., from the Divine mind and plan; but the interpretation given above is the more simple and natural.


Verse 4

Hebrews 11:4. A more excellent sacrifice—partaking more of the quality of a true sacrifice with reference to what constitutes its excellence. Cain offered of his fruits what came first to hand; Abel offered of the firstlings of his flock, the choicest and best. Cain expressed at most his thankfulness, and that not hearty or profound; Abel’s faith showed itself in acknowledging his sin and in laying hold of the Divine mercy in the midst of what he felt to be deserved wrath; and thus his offering was a true sacrifice.

By which (faith) it was witnessed of him (the same word is in Hebrews 11:2) that he was righteous. Witnessed by our Lord (Matthew 23:35), and later by John (1 John 3:12), but chiefly by God Himself, as the following clause shows:

God himself testifying of his gifts (the very expression in Genesis 4:4)—probably as God testified in other cases (Exodus 14:24; 1 Kings 18:24; 1 Kings 18:38), by consuming and accepting the sacrifice.

And by it (still his faith) he being dead (having died, yet speaketh (the active voice is the true reading). But how? Partly perhaps to us by way of encouragement and example; but as a similar phrase is used in chap. Hebrews 12:24 of the blood of Abel as speaking unto God, it seems at least to be part of the meaning here that through the faith and the offerings of Abel, Abel, the first martyr, lives on after death: through his faith he still speaks to God; even as Enoch still lives, who never died at all.


Verse 5-6

Hebrews 11:5-6. By faith Enoch was translated. The language of this verse is taken from the Septuagint (Genesis 5:22-24). ‘He was not’ is there rendered ‘he was not found.’ The phrase ‘God took him’ is translated ‘God translated him;’ changed corruption into incorruption, the natural body into the spiritual. The Hebrew phrase, ‘he walked with God,’ which probably had no clear meaning to a Greek, the Septuagint renders ‘he pleased God,’ or strove to please Him; he lived a life well - pleasing to Him. Nothing is said in the Old Testament of his faith; but before his translation is recorded, it is recorded that ‘he pleased God;’ and now the writer proceeds to show that faith was the foundation of his God-accepted life.

Hebrews 11:6. But faith is essential to our well-pleasing, and therefore Enoch had faith. Without faith there is a double difficulty; there is no complacency on the side of God, who regards the impenitent and unbelieving man as a sinner, and on the side of man there is no trust. The logical proof of the need of this faith is that whoever draws nigh to God to serve Him, or hold communion with Him (see chap. Hebrews 7:19-25, Hebrews 9:14), must believe (1) that He is a reality towards whom he stands in closest relation of love and duty, and (2) that to those who seek Him He becomes (not will become) the bestower of a full reward. God’s being is a thing not seen, His reward a thing hoped for; faith an assured conviction of the first, and a solid expectation of the second.


Verse 7

Hebrews 11:7. Three antediluvians are named—Abel, the penitent and martyr; Enoch, the prophet (Jude 1:14-15) and saint; and now is introduced Noah, the righteous and perfect man—the first man to whom this title is applied (Genesis 6:9, compare Ezekiel 14:14-20). Being warned of God (having received a Divine admonition) . . . moved with godly fear. The word thus rendered is a form of the expression found in chap. Hebrews 5:7. Its meaning depends in part upon the context, and varies from (mere prudence) the fear that excites careful forethought (Acts 23:10) to the filial reverence of our Lord Himself. Here reverence for God, or what is practically the same thing, for the message that was given to him, best suits the passage. The rendering, taking forethought (Delitzsch, Alford), separates the quality from the faith, and describes worldly caution rather than Christian grace. When things unseen and fearful are revealed, faith believes them, and fears accordingly. Faith works by fear in such cases, as it works by love.

By which faith he condemned the world—not by the ark (Chrysostom, Calvin, etc.); though this is true: only it is feeble, and it is of faith the whole chapter treats—by which faith, as shown in this way, is, however, the full thought. He condemned the world, showing how the world ought to have regarded the warnings God gave, and how guilty they were in disregarding them. The penitence, faith, and holiness of godly men all condemn their opposites, and excite the hatred of bad men on that ground.

And became heir (possessor) of the righteousness which is according to faith—the righteousness which owes its quality, as it owes its origin, to faith. All these expressions are intensely Pauline; and it if instructive also to note that the great doctrine of righteousness by faith, which is not the main subject of the Epistle, must have been familiar to all its readers.


Verse 8

Hebrews 11:8. By faith Abraham, when being called—the reading, he who is called, has less authority than the common text, though it makes a good sense—‘he who is called the father of nations’—obeyed and went; his confidence showing itself in this way.

And he went out, not knowing whither (where) he was going. When Abraham left Chaldea he had no promise; that was given afterwards in Canaan (Genesis 12:7). In Noah faith showed its power by the feeling it produced; in Abraham by obedience. It works, if it be true, now through feeling,—fear, love; and now in an obedient life.


Verses 8-22

Hebrews 11:8-22. From the elders of the antediluvian world the writer now appeals to the elders of Israel, the great men who, under God, founded the Jewish state. Theirs also was a condition of patient trust, and ultimately of blessed reward.


Verse 9

Hebrews 11:9. By faith he received the promise, and still waited for the fulfilment of it. By faith he sojourned (a temporary resident only) in the land of promise (which God had given him) as (if it were) another’s (and not his own), having his home in tents—tents without foundation—pitched today, struck tomorrow. His whole life, therefore, was a life of promise unfulfilled, and so of patient waiting for God’s time and at God’s disposal.


Verse 10

Hebrews 11:10. For (the reason of his being a sojourner only) he looked, or waited, for a city which hath foundations, whose Builder (the word implies the skill employed in building—the skill of the architect who forms the plan, as the following word implies rather the labour of erecting it) and Maker is God. The contrast here is first between tents, which are easily removed, and a permanent home, and then between an earthly tent and the city of the living God, of which we read in chap, Hebrews 12:22 and chap. Hebrews 13:14. Abraham’s faith looked forward to a home for himself and his descendants in Canaan, in the earthly Jerusalem, with its foundations in the holy mountains (Psalms 87); and then, beyond Canaan and his mortal life, to the heavenly reality, of which Jerusalem was the type—a double Jerusalem, the one below and the other above; of which Jews had some knowledge, and devout Jews had strong hope, long before the Gospel had thrown fuller light upon these themes.


Verse 11

Hebrews 11:11. And what is true of Abraham, the father of the faithful, is true also of Sarah, who was equally the ancestor of the chosen race. Sarah herself, not ‘who had so long doubted’ (Bleek, etc.), for the writer is not dealing with the difficulty of faith, but with the necessity for it. The expression is nothing but an extension of the lesson of the previous verse to a new and connected instance:—Sarah likewise. The expression is very common in Luke.

And when she was past age (literally, ‘and that contrary to the time of life’)—an additional difficulty; and yet, in spite of her barrenness, her age, her former incredulity (for she had laughed at the promise in the first instance), she believed, and therein found a large reward.

Deeming (as in chap. Hebrews 10:29 and Hebrews 11:26, and to be distinguished from the ‘accounting’ of Hebrews 11:19) him faithful.


Verse 12

Hebrews 11:12. Wherefore also (a common Pauline expression, Romans 4:22; Romans 15:22, etc.) from one (the emphatic part) sprang there, etc.—from a single, nay a lifeless, source sprang there a race like the dust of the earth (Genesis 13:16), the stars of the heaven, the sand on the lip (the margin) of the sea, innumerable; and through faith Abraham became the father and Sarah the mother of them all.


Verses 13-16

Hebrews 11:13-16. The one attribute of the faith of all these men is that it continued till death. In faith (rather, consistently with it, still looking forward to a glorious future as yet unrealized).

These all (from Abraham downwards, as is clear from Hebrews 11:15) died as not having received the promises (often repeated, and containing blessings of many kinds—hence the plural; the promises which they did not receive are the ‘things promised,’ as in chap. Hebrews 9:15 and Acts 1:4), but as having seen them from afar, and greeted (or saluted) them, and having confessed, as Abraham did, and Jacob (see references). They saw their home all through their lives; and even when they were dying they saw their homes from afar, and greeted them ‘though distant still.’


Verse 14

Hebrews 11:14. For (they proved that they lived and died in faith) they who say of themselves that they are sojourners (Genesis 23:4)—of their life that it is a pilgrimage (Genesis 47:9), a wandering in a foreign land, make it plain that it is a fatherland, a true home, they are seeking, and not the home they have left in the country of Terah, or elsewhere.


Verse 15

Hebrews 11:15. And if indeed they were thinking of (or mentioning, as in Hebrews 11:22) that home whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to return.


Verse 16

Hebrews 11:16. But now (the case is that, see chap. Hebrews 8:6) they desire a better, that is, a heavenly (home); wherefore God is not ashamed of them, to be called their God. Of old He honoured them as His friends; Himself added to names which describe His essential nature, His being, and His almightiness, the surname ‘the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob;’ acknowledged it when given to Him by the patriarchs (Genesis 32:9); and now he acknowledges the same name, and acknowledges the continuance of the same relation (the force of the present tense), showing their continued life and His own continued favour; and the proof of all (partly perhaps the reason but rather the proof) is that He prepared for them a permanent home above—not a lent but a city of His—and welcomed them there. Whether all this was foreseen by the patriarchs has been much questioned. There may be a fulness of meaning here which the patriarchs did not reach; but in substance they believed that the promise given them was the promise of a future home, a promise connected in part with an earthly heritage; but their desire was for the presence and blessing of Him who was their trust, and with whom they hoped to be when their earthly pilgrimage was ended. Less than that fails to explain the language of the Old Testament, as it fails to recognise the clear teaching of the New.


Verse 17

Hebrews 11:17. Thus they lived and died. The writer now returns to particular instances, in order to illustrate not the final results, but the power and heroic deeds of the faith which was thus honoured. By faith Abraham being tried (his trials were long continued), hath offered up (the purpose of his heart was complete, and has abiding results) Isaac; and (intensive—nor only Abraham, Isaac, but—yea) he that had gladly received (literally, accepted, welcomed as with open arms) the promises was offering up his only-begotten son. The tense now recalls attention to the literal fact; the work was begun—a marvellous act of faith; it was against nature—nay, even against what seemed the Divine purpose; for it was through this son the nations were to be blessed.


Verse 18

Hebrews 11:18. Even he to whom (‘whom’ refers in the Greek to Abraham, not to Isaac, and therefore it is ‘to whom,’ not with respect to (of) whom) it was said, In Isaac (through and in descent from him) shall there be named to thee a seed—only his descendants shall be (and shall be known as) Abraham’s seed. To be called, is generally used in Scripture with one of two senses,—‘to have the name,’ or really to be. Sometimes, as here, the two senses are combined.


Verse 19

Hebrews 11:19. And the reason was that he reckoned the faithfulness of God to be safe in the keeping of His almightiness; he believed that God would keep His word, even if it was necessary for Him to effect a resurrection from the dead. The statement is quite general; and, though applied to Isaac by implication, it is a universal truth.

Whence—and from the dead he did receive him back (used of captives delivered—of hostages sent home), not in a literal resurrection indeed, but in what was an equivalent; the father’s heart was as resigned, and the bitterness of the separation was as complete. Whether this is all has been much disputed. Perhaps ‘in a figure’ has a further reference to ‘the ram’ which was offered in his stead—the victim of God’s providing, while the son was set free; or possibly the whole transaction may be a figure of the death and resurrection of our Lord.


Verse 20

Hebrews 11:20. Nor is faith restricted to trial; it realizes blessing also. By faith Isaac blessed Jacob (the heir of the greater promise) and Esau too (the two articles of the original call attention to distinct acts) even concerning things to come—the act of faith and of prophetic faith. The blessing and the prayer of faith, proceeding as they do from a mind instructed by the Divine mind, and from a will in harmony with the Divine will, bind even God, and control the future destinies of him on whose behalf they are offered.


Verse 21

Hebrews 11:21. By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph. The dying acts of the two patriarchs are connected together as worshippers (Genesis 47:31).

He worshipped on the top of his staff. The history explains this allusion. Jacob had arranged with his son for his own burial in the distant land of Canaan (itself an act of faith), recognising in Canaan the future home of his posterity. When Joseph had given the promise, Jacob showed the energy of his faith by the energy of his thankfulness. Though dying, he rose in his bed, leaned on his staff (the staff, perhaps, of which he spoke long before, Genesis 32:10), and bowed in worship (this is the meaning of the Hebrew, Genesis 48:2) to the God who had now fulfilled all his desires. The same word (written ‘staff’) means, with other vowel pointing, ‘bed;’ and, as the older Hebrew text had no vowel points, the Septuagint has one rendering and the English version of the Old Testament another. The writer adopts the version of the Septuagint. If the English version be retained, it means that he worshipped, leaning on (with his face towards) the bed. (See Isaiah 38:2.)


Verse 22

Hebrews 11:22. This dying act of Jacob’s recalls the like faith of Joseph. By faith Joseph, when drawing to his end, made mention of the exodus of the sons of Israel, and made his brethren swear that his bones should rest in the land of promise; an expression at once of his faith and of his love for those who were the heirs of that promise. Centuries later Moses carried his bones out of Egypt (Exodus 13:19), and the burial of them in Shechem is recorded in the closing verses of the Book of Joshua. All this had deeper meaning. He would be buried where they were buried, because is God was their God.


Verse 23

Hebrews 11:23. Thus far the writer has been dealing with examples of faith in Genesis alone. The examples are few compared with all recorded in that book, but they are very striking and noble. The history and character of Moses naturally occupy a chief place in the following verses. From the first he was a child of faith. His parents hid him three months, noting his comeliness (Acts 7:20), and hoping apparently that God might use him as He had used Joseph, to be the deliverer of their people. They therefore disregarded the king’s ordinance, and did their duty, looking for Divine succour.


Verses 24-28

Hebrews 11:24-28. Mark the successive expressions of his faith. When he was grown up he refused the name and dignity of a member of the royal family, preferring to suffer with the people of God rather than enjoy, with godless, idolatrous Egyptians, such fleeting pleasures as sin provides. Deeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasure of Egypt. The reproach which typical Israel suffered is called the reproach of Christ; as Paul calls the sufferings of Christians the sufferings of Christ (Colossians 1:24; 2 Corinthians 1:5), i.e of Christ dwelling and suffering in His Church as in His body. In the true Church of every age the eternal Christ ever lives and reigns, though when Moses suffered He was still to come, appearing chiefly in the types and prophecies, while really dwelling among them. And the reason is that he looked away from the suffering to the Divine reward, his life and acts being moulded and guided by his hopes.

By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king. The reference here has been supposed to be to his flight into Midian after the slaughter of an Egyptian; but then it is said that he did fear (Exodus 2:14). The natural explanation is that the words describe his abandonment of all his Egyptian hopes (not that he fled from Egypt, but gave it up), not fearing the wrath which the desertion of his post, and the bitter feeling of Pharaoh against the people whom he was joining would certainly excite.

For he endured (he was stedfast) as seeing him who is invisible, or, the king who is invisible (1 Timothy 1:17). The wrath of an earthly sovereign was nothing to him, when assured of the grace and protection of the King of kings.

‘By faith he hath kept the Passover,’ i.e he celebrated it, as the verb always means, and instituted it, as the sense rather implies. Both thoughts seem to be here. ‘By faith, because he believed that the destroyer would pass over and not hurt the chosen people, and that a complete exodus from the land of their captivity was at hand; as by faith in a coming Deliverer it was intended that it should continue to be observed.

And the effusion of blood, viz. on the lintel and door-posts. The effusion was made by means of a branch of hyssop, and so sprinkling has come to be a rendering of a word which properly means effusion. In this sprinkling or application of the blood lies the atoning power of the Passover, as in the case of the great Antitype; it is not the blood shed, but the blood as applied through faith, that speaks peace an secures forgiveness.


Verse 29

Hebrews 11:29. That awful night is followed by a glorious deliverance. By faith they passed through (the verb is used of crossing in any way) the Red Sea. God by a strong east wind made a passage through the water, and in faith the Israelites entered as by dry land, assured of their safety. The Egyptians tried (either the sea or the seemingly dry land) as an uncertain experiment, and were swallowed up.


Verse 30

Hebrews 11:30. The writer now leaves the Book of the Law for the Book of Joshua, the record of the conquest of the land and of the complete fulfilment of the ancient promise. By faith (of Joshua and the whole people, the correlative of that Divine power which really did the deed) the walls, etc. As the great deliverance from Egypt was effected by faith and the boldness it produced, so the first victory in Canaan was achieved by persevering faith, the wall having been compassed about for seven whole days (see Joshua 6).


Verse 31

Hebrews 11:31. Nor does previous personal character hinder its power, or previous separation from the covenant people. By faith, as shown in her confession, ‘Jehovah is God in heaven above and in the earth beneath,’ ‘and He hath given you the land’ (Joshua 11:9).

Rahab the harlot, and a Canaanite, perished not with those who, having heard of God’s miraculous dealings on behalf of Israel (Joshua 2:10), persisted in their defiance, and refused submission. Her faith showed its reality (see James 2:25) in her receiving and protecting the spies, and found its reward in her preservation, and finally in her becoming an ancestress of our Lord. ‘When she had received’ in the Authorised Version represents the expression of her faith (properly ‘receiving as she did’), as if it were prior to the faith; it was really its result, or more properly the working of the faith itself. A careful attention to the tenses, and to the absence of the article whereby this clause is closely connected with the preceding, would be sufficient of itself to reconcile the teaching of Paul and James.


Verse 32

Hebrews 11:32. What shall I say more? for time will fail, etc. The groups named in this verse are really two; and though there are various readings as to the connecting particles, they necessitate no change. The chronological order of the names would be, Barak, Gideon, Jephthah, Samson; Samuel, David. Samuel is probably put last to connect his name with the prophets, to which class he belongs (see Acts 3:23); and Gideon and Samson are probably put before Barak and Jephthah respectively, because they are of greater celebrity as men of faith. The characteristic exploits of each will be found in the passages named in the margin.


Verse 33

Hebrews 11:33. Who through faith. The ‘who’ refers both to those named and to others like them; the introduction of the previous enumeration (‘time will fail,’ etc.) being practically a rhetorical equivalent for ‘etc.’ in English; and the ‘through faith’ applying to all that is said to the end of Hebrews 11:34.

Through faith (not ‘in’ or ‘according to’), the expression for the last time in this chapter, and specially appropriate as describing the instrument by which those great works were accomplished. How it sustained also in suffering is recorded in the later verses, Hebrews 11:35-38.

Subdued kingdoms—true of all the judges named, as it is of Samuel and David.

Wrought righteousness is specially true of David, the righteous king (2 Samuel 8:15, etc.), and of Samuel, the righteous judge (1 Samuel 12:4).

Obtained promises, i.e obtained the fulfilment of them, not indeed of the great promise of all (see Hebrews 11:40), but of the lesser promises which God fulfilled to the prophets themselves. Joel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, all saw the partial fulfilment of things they foretold.

Stopped the mouths of lions—true in part of Samuel and David, and specially of Daniel, of whom it is said that an angel shut the mouths of the lions, because he believed in his God (Daniel 6:22-23).


Verse 34

Hebrews 11:34. Quenched the power of fire (not the fire, which still burnt, but the power of it); true of Shadrach and his companions.

Escaped the edge of the sword, as in the case of Elijah (1 Kings 19:1, etc.), Elisha (2 Kings 6:14, etc.), Jeremiah (Jeremiah 36:26, etc.).

Out of weakness were made strong, as in the case of Samson ( 16:28, etc.), and David, whose most plaintive Psalms end often in thanksgiving.

Waxed (became) mighty in war—true of many heroic men under the judges and during the monarchy.

Turned to flight the armies of the aliens—a word used in the Septuagint of the Gentiles—true of Gideon and the Midianites, and of Jonathan and the Philistines. It is probable, however, that these last clauses, without excluding those older deeds of faith, refer mainly to the later history of Israel after the close of the Old Testament canon. They find a striking fulfilment in the Maccabaean age. It is certain that some of the sufferings spoken of in the next group of verses are found only in that age; and the expressions of Hebrews 11:34 seem taken from the First Book of the Maccabees (compare 1Ma_3:3; 1Ma_1:38; 1Ma_2:7, etc.). No doubt the faith of these later heroes was sometimes of a lower type, rather patriotic than theocratic, the result of a noble enthusiasm as much as of trust in the living God; but in other cases it was true and Divine; while the struggles between the holy and atheistic nations, which the book describes, seem referred to in the Book of Daniel as of the deepest interest.


Verses 35-38

Hebrews 11:35-38. What faith has done we have seen; what it helps men to suffer is now told us. Women received (back) their dead raised to life again (literally, by a resurrection, which is regarded as the cause or origin of their so receiving them), true of the widow of Sarepta and of the Shunamite.

And others were tortured (broken upon the wheel). The word here used (a wheel or drum-head on which the victim was stretched and beaten to death) shows that the reference is to Eleazar (2Ma_6:18-31), and the heroic mother and her seven sons mentioned in chap. 7. Fuller details of the same martyrdom are given in the so-called Fourth Book of Maccabees, sometimes, though erroneously, ascribed to Josephus.

Not accepting (rejecting would be more exact) the deliverance which was offered them at the price of their principles (so the original means), in order that they might obtain a better resurrection than the mere return to the present life. ‘The king of the world shall raise us up,’ they said, ‘unto everlasting life’ (2Ma_7:9, etc.).


Verse 36

Hebrews 11:36. Others had trial (experience) of cruel mockings and scourgings. The allusion again is to the Maccabees (2Ma_7:7-10).

Yea, moreover (a harder thing, because of the continuance and depressing influence of it), of bends of imprisonment—perhaps with reference to Jonathan (1Ma_13:12), or to Hanani, Micaiah, and especially to Jeremiah (see references).


Verse 37

Hebrews 11:37. They were stoned, as was Zechariah, the son of Jehoiada, the last martyr mentioned in the Old Testament (2 Chronicles 24:20-22), as Abel was the first Jeremiah is also said to have been stoned to death at Tahpanhes (Daphne) in Egypt.

They were sawn asunder, as was Isaiah by Manasseh.

They were tempted. This word reads feeble, standing as it does in the midst of three descriptions of violent death. A similar word means, ‘they were burnt;’ another, ‘they were mutilated;’ and there is evidence, though not preponderating, for the omission of it altogether. If it is genuine, ‘they were experimented upon’ is a possible rendering, and makes a fairly consistent sense. As it is now rendered, it means that in addition to a cruel death they were, all through, offered relief if they would only abandon their faith.

They were slain with the sword (literally, they died by the murder of the sword)—true of Urijah in Judah (Jeremiah 26:23), and quite common in Israel (1 Kings 19:10, etc.).

They went about. The writer now returns from the various kinds of death they suffered to their lifelong conflicts—they were wanderers, destitute, oppressed, evil entreated.


Verse 38

Hebrews 11:38. . . . In caves (clefts of the mountain, ending in chambers); in holes, openings of any kind—true of Elijah at Horeb, of Elisha at Carmel, and of the prophets hidden by Obadiah.


Verse 39

Hebrews 11:39. The Bible is largely a history of faith, its deeds and sufferings and rewards; pre-eminently of the patience and perseverance which belong to it, and which seem essential in a world where virtue is militant. These all having had witness borne to them through their faith, i.e though they had all this noble attestation, had still to wait for the fulfilment of the promise—the promise of final and complete salvation (chap. Hebrews 9:15).

God having provided, or rather, having looked forward to, some better thing—that salvation which the Lord has accomplished and made known, which God reserved for our economy, and which Old Testament saints receive only when we receive it too. Our economy completes the former. To give up the Gospel and go back to the Law is to return from what is perfect to what is preparatory; and to sever ourselves from the blessedness for which the patriarchs died.

 


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Bibliography Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Hebrews 11:4". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/scn/hebrews-11.html. 1879-90.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, December 11th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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