We now must consider the Dower of faith as this comes to manifestation in the great suffering of the people of God in this world. It is difficult to give adequate interpretation of such suffering of the saints. Here we see the “patience of the saints.” There will be such a display in the final and great tribulation; however, such is also the daily and constant experience of the saints. For the sake of God and Christ they are killed all the day long. Principally they, suffer and are hated without a cause. Only because the saints loved the Lord their God above all else were they destitute, afflicted, tormented!
We do well to take a closer look and take the shoes from off our feet. For the Lord’s way leads through the holy place both in grace and in judgment of the wicked.
It is said of the suffering saints “of whom the world was not worthy.” What is this world which is not worthy of these suffering saints in the Old Testament Dispensation as well as in the New Testament Dispensation? Our Lord Jesus characterizes this “world” as something very hostile to the saints. Says he “in the world ye shall have tribulation.” In this world the place of God’s people is made very narrow and small. They have very little room to live. They are pilgrims and strangers and would only like to pass through; however, they receive hardly enough room to live and to have their being, because of their relationship to Christ, who died for them and rose again.
This “world” of which Hebrews 11:38 speaks is the entire creation of God from the viewpoint of its being under the dominion of the prince of this world, the Devil. He is the murderer of man from the beginning, and he is the great instigator against the people of God. And he rules in the hearts of both demons and wicked men. His world was destroyed by God in the days of Noah in the flood. God did not spare the ungodly but caused them all to perish. (II Peter 2:5) This is the world which passes away (I John 2:17) and we are not to love this world neither the things which are in the same. The friendship of this world is accounted to be enmity with God (James 4:4). This is the world, whether this be within the church or outside of the church, which is not worthy of the very saints which they cause to suffer unto death.
This is also the world which Christ has conquered. Satan and his angels are cast out. At the cross Christ made an open shame of them. They can never more be the accusers of the brethren. (Rev. 12:10) The legal ground for such accusation is taken away from them. Who shall bring any charge against the elect of God? God it is who justifies. Who shall condemn? Christ it is that is risen, Who is even at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter” (Rom. 8:33-39).
Christ has so completely conquered the world, both for the saints of the Old and the New Testament, that they are more than conquerors through him. Writes Paul, “For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 8:37-39)
This truth we see exemplified in the lives of the suffering saints of which Hebrews 11:35-38 speaks.
We are given to see the great power of faith in the suffering saints, but we also see that it is not unusual and strange that God’s people suffer in the world. According to Hebrews 11:35-38 such suffering is not the exception, but it is the general rule for the life of the church in the world. The seed of the woman constantly is persecuted and killed by the seed of the serpent. Such is the rule from Abel, who was killed by Cain because his works were righteous, till Zacharias the son of Berachias who was slain between the altar and the temple. (Matt. 23:34, 35) And it is for that very reason that the Hebrew saints in Christ Jesus must stand unmovable, walk in faith and not fall back through unbelief into perdition. For thus walking in faith we are of the people of God of whom the world is not worthy, the very apple of God’s eye; nothing can pluck us out of the hand of the God when we walk in faith. Yea, in this faith we conquer the world!
The first woman which comes to mind as fitting this description is the woman in Zarephath in the land of Zidon. Elijah, the Tishbite, had been sent to her as a prophet who was rejected in his own country. She had a son who became ill unto death while Elijah was staying there in flight from Ahab and Jezebel. And this son died. And this believing woman received her son again from death by faith. She had great faith in giving Elijah to eat when there was not enough left for herself and for her son. She had faith that Elijah’s God would constantly replenish her store. And she had faith when Elijah raised her son, and exclaimed “Now I know thou art a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in thy mouth is truth.” (I Kings 17:1-14) This woman is remembered by the Lord Jesus in his sermon in the synagogue in Nazareth. The people did not believe in Him. He rebukes their unbelief by calling attention to this woman as being received of the Lord, although she was a heathen woman, a Zidonian.
The second woman who was evidently in the mind of the writer to the Hebrews is the Shunamite woman, who is called a “great woman.” (II Kings 4:8) This woman prepared a room and table and bed for the prophet Elisha so that he might have a place to rest while he passed through in his labors. She was a friend, too, of the prophet of the Lord as was the woman of Zarephath. Only she was not a heathen woman, but one who was content “to dwell amongst” her people. She had no child, but upon the prophets announcement she received a child in faith. Howbeit the Lord caused the child to die due to exposure to the sun. However, this woman walked in faith and pressed on to see Elisha at Carmel and upon the return of the prophet she received her child from the dead in faith! This was a faith which believed in the power of Christ t6 raise the dead to life. And in this type of Christ’s work the believers of the Hebrews must press on.
Faith stands up not only in the mighty deeds of the saints by which they slay kingdoms and nations, but also in the patient suffering in hope of the glory of God. (Rom. 5:1-4) That is what we see here in this catalogue of suffering saints taken from the pages of Israel’s history.
1. They were “tortured.” The Greek term for tortured is one which means: a breaking on the wheel. To give much hurt and pain with studied cruelty. Death and suffering were made as long and hard and as difficult as possible. “It describes a punishment like breaking on the wheel. The extremities of the sufferer were fastened to a frame, and his limbs then broken by heavy clubs, beaten to death.” (Wescott) But their faith shown brightly in such sufferings. They refused to accept the proffered deliverance from such sufferings by denouncing their faith or by connivance. An instance of this we have in II Maccabees 6:18-31 where we read of the venerable Eleazar, who was compelled by Antiochus Epiphanes to eat swine’s flesh. He refused to open his mouth and eat. When the man who had charge of this forbidden sacrificial feast took him aside and told him to eat meat “such as was befitting to him” he refused to pretend that he was eating swine’s flesh. Rather he chose to die “by manfully parting from my life” to “leave behind an noble ensample to the young to die willingly and nobly to the glorious death for the reverend and holy laws.” This was at the time of the abomination of iniquity in the holy place” of which Daniel spoke. Eleazar lived and died under the types and shadows in the Old Testament. He clung in .faith to the Christ in these shadows. Even though he might not fully understand, he yet died in faith and looked for a better resurrection. And the Hebrew Christians, who read the Septuagint and also these books of the Maccabees, understood this reference. If there is a glorification here of a “hero” the fact is that he died as one who lived by faith. That is the tacit assumption in Hebrews 11.
Another instance we have in the mother who had seven sons who died at the time of Antiochus Epiphanes and his desecration of the temple. This mother saw her sons slain and tortured before her very eyes. These sons, too, were offered the opportunity not to die of only they would eat the flesh. They had their tongues cut out, they were shorn of the hair on their head, yet they died rather than deny the faith; and they looked for a better resurrection. This mother is reported to have spoken to her son saying, “My son have pity on me that carried thee nine months in my womb, and gave thee such three years, and nourished and brought thee up unto this age, and sustained thee…. Fear not this butcher but, proving thyself worthy of thy brethren, accept thy death, that in the mercy of God I may receive thee again with thy brethren.” II Maccabees 7:1-29
In a later period in the history of the church we think of a Blaridina who in the great spectacle in the arena under the persecution of Marcus Aurelius (161-180 A.D.) was the last to die. By the most horrible tortures they tried to make the Christians deny their faith. In Lyons and Vienne of Gaul (France) the spectacle took place. From far and near the unbelievers flocked to see this spectacle of the killing of the Christians. History tells us that these till met their death with great joy. Blandina, we are told, was the last to die. “She had been a spectator of the death of many others, and she had constantly encouraged and exhorted them to remain steadfast to the end. With joy and thanksgiving she entered the arena. A net was thrown over her. Then she was exposed to the fury of the bull. Several times the bull took her upon his horns and threw her into the air. At last she was dead.” (The Church in History, Kuiper)
Such is the power of faith to endure suffering in the hope of a better resurrection!
This truth must sink deep into the hearts of the Hebrew Christians. Nothing happens to them as saints in the New Testament which had not already befallen the saints as they lived under the shadows and types of the Old Testament dispensation.