THE CRUEL TREATMENT OF “OTHERS” (Hebrews 11:36-38)
2. Here we come to a great catalogue of cruel treatment of the saints. We need not go into too great detail in explaining this cruelty; yet we ought to tarry a bit and reflect upon the enormous suffering which only faith in God could endure. Here is a faith which believes that God is and that he is a rewarder of those who seek Him.
We read that “others” endured cruel mockings and scourgings. This was pure trial, a horrible experience in soul and body, in marrow and in bones. The mockings were inflicted on their soul; they were sharp, direct strokes on soul and on body. We read in II Maccabees 7:1: “And it came to pass that seven brethren also with their mother were at the king’s command taken and shamefully handled with scourges and cords, to compel them to taste of the abominable swine’s flesh.” And, again, we read in the same chapter: “And when the first had died after this manner, they brought the second to the mocking; and they pulled off the skin of his head with the hair and asked him, wilt thou eat before thy body be punished in every limb?”
Then there was the more slow and lasting suffering of “bonds and imprisonment.” Was not Micaiah put in prison because he spoke the word of God to Ahab in the presence of king Jehoshaphat concerning the outcome of the battle with the king of Syria at Ramoth in Gilead? We read that Ahab says, “Put this fellow in the prison, and feed him with bread of affliction and with water of affliction, until I come in peace.” Or, to cite another instance, think of what the Jews did to Jeremiah because he prophesied that Jerusalem would be destroyed by the king of Babylon. We read, “Wherefore the princes were wroth with Jeremiah, and smote him and put him in prison in the house of Jonathan the scribe: for they had made that the prison,” Jer. 37:15. So sore was the affliction of Jeremiah that he, like Job, cursed the day of his birth. Says he, “Cursed be the day wherein I was born: let not the day wherein my mother bare me be blessed. Cursed be the man whom brought tidings to my father, saying, A man child is born unto thee; making him very glad. And let that man be as the cities which the Lord overthrew, and repented not: and let him hear the cry in the morning, and the shouting at noontide; because he slew me not from the womb; or that my mother might have been my grave, and the womb to be always great with me. Wherefore came I out of the womb to see labour and sorrow, that my days should be consumed with shame?” Such was the outcry of the prophet in his cruel treatment of mockings and scourgings and imprisonment.
Also the text speaks of sufferings to death and short of death. And the intent of this was to “tempt to sin.” We see this utterance of sinful outcries in the case of Jeremiah. That was the case when the saints are stoned. Who does not think of Zachariah the son of Jehoiada, the aged and godly high-priest, who was stoned by those who conspired against him? We read “an stoned him at the commandment of the king in the court of the house of the LORD,” (II Chronicles 24:21), Matt. 23:27. And we also think of Stephen, who testified to the Sanhedrin concerning the Christ, and the meaning of Old Testament History, that he was stoned to death for the sake of Christ, (Acts 7:57, 58). Yes, we think of the prophet Isaiah, who tradition has it, was “sawn asunder.” And also men and women were slain with the sword. Jezebel attempted to do this to Elijah. Saul tried to kill David with the sword. So great was the fury of the Jews that they went and fetched Urijah, a prophet who faithfully declared the word of the LORD out of Egypt, whither he had fled, “and brought him to Jehoiakim the king, who slew him with the sword, and cast his dead body into the graves of the common people,” (Jeremiah 26:23).
The final touch is given, which shows that the measure of the iniquity of the persecutors in this “world” is being filled up; in the text we read in doleful. tones: “they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins.” They had little to clothe them but the bare necessities of life. They had to forego all adornments of society. They were veritable outcasts of society, the offscouring of the world. They never rated in any of the high places of the world, and if they did they were persecuted and cast to the lions. These “skins” were the symbol of their being rejected of the world. Their life was that of the destitute; they always were pushed back. They were afflicted and evilly entreated. Theirs was a life of one long perpetual want, misery and discomfort. Heirs of the world were these meek ones; yet they had nothing. Always they took joyfully the spoiling of their goods in the hope of a better inheritance. Having their feet in the midst of the misery of this earth, they had their heads in faith above the storm and the clouds.
THE BACKWARD GLANCE CONCERNING “THESE ALL.” (Hebrews 11:39, 40)
The question might be raised: why this long road of suffering through the centuries? What is the meaning of this “history” of the church in her afflictions? Is there Divine wisdom and intent in this all?
The fact that is outstanding is that from Abel till the last saint which has suffered, there is not one who received “the promise.” This promise here evidently refers to the final consummation of the work of God in the day of Christ at the end of the ages. That will be the time when we receive our resurrection bodies, and shall have immortality and life.
Why does the writer emphasize this here? Was it not self-evident that none of “these all” had received the promise, and that they all had gone to the grave, to Sheol? It seems to us that this element is pointed out for the very purpose that it shows up, on the one hand, the great patience of the saints throughout the ages, and, on the other hand, the great need of the patience which the Hebrew Christians needed to remain steadfast and not to fall back by unbelief into perdition. They must walk the same difficult road as all the saints did and look beyond the horizons of the present to the time when God shall fully give us to receive the promise of complete victory over all the hosts of hell, whether these be in the church as Sodom and Egypt, or whether these be the world outside of the church, the nations who have been left to walk in their own ways.
Yes, these all received testimony by faith. It is only “faith” which is the secret of their life of suffering, hope, obedience, action in the midst of the conflict. And each generation and each individual “received testimony” that they were righteous and of the party of the living God in the world, and that the world was not worthy of them. They received this testimony before God and men, angels and devils. Of this there is no doubt. Faith was the victory that overcame the world!
But we must not lose faith and confidence. In the days of Peter mockers said, “where is the promise of his coming?” (II Peter 3:4). And these spoke of the Lord being slack (tardy) concerning his promise. They willfully distorted the voice of history concerning the great judgment of God in the flood in the days of Noah. They contended that there never had been any indication on the part of the Lord that He would come to judge the world in righteousness, and to make all things new, and to realize the promise, and to establish His eternal tabernacle with man. And they did their utmost to make the hearts of the believers weary and impatient with the Lord’s seemingly tardy foot-steps in history.
However, the key to the entire problem is that the Lord would save the entire church. Not one of the elect, both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament, may be lost, but they must all be brought to repentance and to the knowledge of the truth. That is the teaching of II Peter. In Hebrews 11:40 the reason is as follows, “God having provided some better things for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.”
The term “better” (kreitton) is very common and also very significant in the epistle to the Hebrews. It refers first of all to Christ Himself in His exaltation above the angels at the right hand of God: Christ is in the “better” estate, the higher and more powerful position than the angels, who are but ministering spirits sent out for the benefit of those who will inherit eternal life. Melchizedek is great and better than Abraham when he goes to meet him when the former returns from the slaughter of, the kings, (Hebrews 1:4; Hebrews 7:38). Christ brings in a better hope than did the law (Hebrews 7:19), and Jesus is made the surety of a better covenant, (Hebrews 7:22). And the Hebrews are encouraged with the assurance that they have “in heaven a better and an enduring substance,” (Hebrews 10:34), and the saints who refused a proffered deliverance did so in the hope of obtaining a better resurrection, (Hebrews 11:34). In all of these passages the adjective, is in the comparative degree. However, there is something grand and superlative about the term. It refers not merely to something which is relatively better, but which is better because of its very nature; it is on a far higher and grander scale. It is incomparably better, because it is the expression of the love, grace and the wisdom of God. It reflects the unsearchable riches of the love and wisdom of God’s elective purpose in Christ Jesus!
That “better thing” is better for us, or really “concerning” us. We are the great subject of the Divine concern in this matter. God will save the believers as a body; as a church! And every member must be saved and that together in the day of Christ. The saints of the Old Testament may not prevent the saints of the New Testament, and the saints in the New Testament which have fallen asleep in Jesus will not inherit the final promise before those who are still living on earth when Christ appears upon the clouds with the sound of the Archangel and with the trump of God, (I Thes. 4:14-18). History must be completed; that which remains of the suffering of Christ must be filled up by the saints, (Col. 1:24).
God “foresaw” this concerning the church. He made a “provision.” Such was his wisdom in His eternal decree in the counsel of peace. And now He executes this decree in his Fatherly providence over His people. And His decree concerning “all these” of whom the writer spoke in Hebrews 11 is that these shall not be saved “without us.”
God will “perfect” the saints. That will be the highest and most glorious manifestation of Christ, the Son, who is the expressed image of His being, the effulgence of His glory. When that is manifested, then the Son is perfected. This is the perfection which is His through suffering. He will bring many sons to glory, (Hebrews 2:10). As the Captain of our salvation He shall be perfected, that is, He shall be manifested as the Son of God in our human nature, crowned with glory and honor. And this glory can only be perfected in the saints after their long history of suffering; God has united cross and crown for His Son Jesus, but He has also united this cross and crown for us, the saints, who will be “perfected” with Him.