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Hebrews Chapter 11:35-40

35. Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection:

35. Receperunt mulieres resurrectione mortuos suos; alii vero distenti fuerunt, non amplexi redemptionem, ut meliorem resurrectionem obtinerant;

36. And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment:

36. Alii autem lubidbria et flagella experti sunt, praeterea vincula et carceres;

37. They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented;

37. Lapidata sunt, dissecti sunt, tentati sunt, occisione gladii mortui sunt, oberrarunt in pellibus ovillis, in tergoribus caprinis, destituti, afflicti, malis affecti;

38. (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

38. Quibus mundus non erat dignus; in desertis errantes, in montibus et speluncis et cavernis terrae.

39. And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise:

39. Et hi omnes testimonium consequuti per fidem, non consequuti sunt promissionem:

40. God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.

40. Deo quiddam pro nobis providente, ne sine nobis perficerentur.

 

35. Women received, etc. He had already mentioned instances in which God had remunerated the faith of his servants, he now refers to examples of a different kind, — that saints, reduced to extreme miseries, struggled by faith so as to persevere invincible even to death. These instances at the first view widely differ: some triumphed gloriously over vanquished enemies, were preserved by the Lord through various miracles, and were rescued by means new and unusual from the midst of death; while others were shamefully treated, were despised by almost the whole world, were consumed by want, were so hated by all as to be compelled to hide themselves in the coverts of wild beasts, and lastly, were drawn forth to endure savage and cruel tortures: and these last seemed wholly destitute of God’s aid, when he thus exposed them to the pride and the cruelty of the ungodly. They seem then to have been very differently treated from the former ones; and yet faith ruled in both, and was alike powerful in both; nay, in the latter its power shone forth in a much clearer light. For the victory of faith appears more splendid in the contempt of death than if life were extended to the fifth generation. It is a more glorious evidence of faith, and worthy of higher praise, when reproaches, want, and extreme troubles are borne with resignation and firmness, than when recovery from sickness is miraculously obtained, or any other benefit from God.

The sum of the whole is, that the fortitude of the saints, which has shone forth in all ages, was the work of faith; for our weakness is such that we are not capable of overcoming evils, except faith sustains us. But we hence learn, that all who really trust in God are endued with power sufficient to resist Satan in whatever way he may assail them, and especially that patience in enduring evils shall never be wanting to us, if faith be possessed; and that, therefore, we are proved guilty of unbelief when we faint under persecutions and the cross. For the nature of faith is the same now as in the days of the holy fathers whom the Apostle mentions. If, then, we imitate their faith, we shall never basely break down through sloth or listlessness.

Others were tortured, etc. As to this verb, ἐτυμπανίσθησαν, I have followed Erasmus, though others render it “imprisoned.” But the simple meaning is, as I think, that they were stretched on a rack, as the skin of a drum, which is distended. 237237     The τύμπανον was, according to Schleusner, a machine on which the body was stretched; and then cudgels or rods, and whips were used. This appears from the account given in 2 Macc. 6: 19, 30. It is said that Eleasar, rather than transgress the Law, went of his own accord “to the torment” — ἐπὶ τὸ τύμπανον, and in the 30th verse mention is made of stripes or strokes — πληγαῖς, and of being lashed or whipped — μαστιγούμενος. This was to be tympanized or tortured. — Ed By saying that they were tempted, he seems to have spoken what was superfluous; and I doubt not but that the likeness of the words, ἐπρίσθησαν and ἐπειρὰσθησαν, was the reason that the word was added by some unskillful transcriber, and thus crept into the text, as also Erasmus has conjectured. 238238     This conjecture not countenanced by any MSS. that are considered to have much weight. What has led to this conjecture has evidently been a misunderstanding as to the import of the word in this connection. Being a word of general import, it has been viewed as inappropriate here among words of specified meaning: it refers to the temptation or trial to which those who were condemned for their religion were commonly exposed — the offer of life and of favors and recantation: that seems to have been the special temptation here intended. — Ed. By sheepskins and goatskins I do not think that tents made of skins are meant, but the mean and rough clothing of the saints which they put on when wandering in deserts.

Now though they say that Jeremiah was stoned, that Isaiah was sawn asunder, and though sacred history relates that Elijah, Elisha, and other Prophets, wandered on mountains and in caves; yet I doubt not but he here points out those persecutions which Antiochus carried on against God’s people, and those which afterwards followed.

Not accepting deliverance, etc. Most fitly does he speak here; for they must have purchased a short lease of life by denying God; but this would have been a price extremely shameful. That they might then live forever in heaven, they rejected a life on earth, which would have cost them, as we have said, so much as the denial of God, and also the repudiation of their own calling. But we hear what Christ says, that if we seek to save our lives in this world, we shall lose them for ever. If, therefore, the real love of a future resurrection dwells in our hearts, it will easily lead us to the contempt of death. And doubtless we ought to live only so as to live to God: as soon as we are not permitted to live to God, we ought willingly and not reluctantly to meet death. Moreover, by this verse the Apostle confirms what he had said, that the saints overcome all sufferings by faith; for except their minds had been sustained by the hope of a blessed resurrection, they must have immediately failed. 239239     The verse concludes with these words “that they might obtain a better resurrection,” — better than what? Better than the resurrection referred to at the beginning of the verse, when it is said that “women received their dead raised to life again;” or better than the life promised by persecutors to those doomed to die, in case they renounced their religion. The former is the view taken by Scott and Stuart, and the latter by Doddridge: but as deliverance and no deliverance are facts in contrast, the first is the most obvious meaning.—Ed.

We may hence also derive a needful encouragement, by which we may fortify ourselves in adversities. For we ought not to refuse the Lord’s favor of being connected with so many holy men, whom we know to have been exercised and tried by many sufferings. Here indeed are recorded, not the sufferings of a few individuals, but the common persecutions of the Church, and those not for one or two years, but such as continued sometimes from grandfathers even to their grandchildren. No wonder, then, if it should please God to prove our faith at this day by similar trials; nor ought we to think that we are forsaken by him, who, we know, cared for the holy fathers who suffered the same before us. 240240     The conclusion of the 37th verse is, “being destitute, afflicted, tormented:” this is said of those who “wandered about in sheep skins and goat skins.” They were destitute, they had been oppressed or persecuted and unjustly dealt with. Wrong treatment and oppression or persecution drove them from there homes and destitution followed. This is the way in which things are often stated in Scripture; the effect or the present state first, and then the cause or what led to it. The words are rendered “destitute, afflicted, maltreated,” by Macknight, — and “suffering want, afflicted, injuriously treated,” by Stuart. The second word often means oppression or persecution. The third word is found only here and chapter 13:2 where it is rendered “suffer adversity.” It is found in the Sept., in 1 Kings 2:26, twice and 11:39. It is used by Aqula in Exodus 22:22, and in Job 37:23. Its meaning properly is, to be ill or wrongfully treated. — Ed.

38. Of whom the world was not worthy, etc. As the holy Prophets wandered as fugitives among wild beasts, they might have seemed unworthy of being sustained on the earth; for how was it that they could find no place among men? But the Apostle inverts this sentiment, and says that the world was not worthy of them; for wherever God’s servants come, they bring with them his blessing like the fragrance of a sweet odor. Thus the house of Potiphar was blessed for Joseph’s sake, (Genesis 39:5;) and Sodom would have been spared had ten righteous men been found in it. (Genesis 18:32.) Though then the world may cast out God’s servants as offscourings, it is yet to be regarded as one of its judgments that it cannot bear them; for there is ever accompanying them some blessing from God. Whenever the righteous are taken away from us, let us know that such events are presages of evil to us; for we are unworthy of having them with us, lest they should perish together with us.

At the same time the godly have abundant reasons for consolation, though the world may cast them out as offscourings; for they see that the same thing happened to the prophets, who found more clemency in wild animals than in men. It was with this thought that Hilary comforted himself when he saw the church taken possession of by sanguinary tyrants, who then employed the Roman emperor as their executioner; yea, that holy man then called to mind what the Apostle here says of the Prophets; — “Mountains and forests,” he said, “and dungeons and prisons, are safer for me than splendid temples; for the Prophets, while abiding or buried in these, still prophesied by the Spirit of God.” So also ought we to be animated so as boldly to despise the world; and were it to cast us out, let us know that we go forth from a fatal gulf, and that God thus provides for our safety, so that we may not sink in the same destruction.

39. And these all, etc. This is an argument from the less to the greater; for if they on whom the light of grace had not as yet so brightly shone displayed so great a constancy in enduring evils, what ought the full brightness of the Gospel to produce in us? A small spark of light led them to heaven; when the sun of righteousness shines over us, with what pretense can we excuse ourselves if we still cleave to the earth? This is the real meaning of the Apostle. 241241     This is materially the view taken by Beza, Doddridge, Scott and Stuart. The “promise” is deemed to be especially that of Christ. The ancients heard of him, believed in his coming, but did not witness it. The “some better thing” is considered to be the same with the promise, or to be the Gospel as revealed, or in the words of Stuart, “the actual fulfillment of the promise respecting the Messiah.”
   Still there is something unsatisfactory in this view as to “the promise,” as Stuart seems to intimate. There are two verses, chapter 10:36, and 9:15, which seem to throw light on this subject: by the first we find that “the promise” is future to us as well as to the ancient saints; and by the second, that “the better thing” is the atoning death of Christ, which was to the ancient saints an unfulfilled event, but to us fulfilled and clearly revealed, and yet its benefits extended to them as well as to us.

   The “promise” throughout this Epistle is that of “the eternal inheritance” and “the promises” in verse 13 include this and others, and especially “the better things,” that is the Gospel, or fulfillment of what was necessary to attain the inheritance, even the death and resurrection of Christ; or we may say that it is “the better hope,” (chapter 7:19) or the “better covenant, which was established on better promises,” (chapter 8:6.) The verses may be thus rendered —

   “And all these, having obtained a good report through faith, have not received the promise: 40. God having foreordained as to us something more excellent, so that they without us might not be perfected;” that is, in body as well as in soul.

   The sentiment seems to be this, — “the ancient saints believed God’s promise, respecting an eternal inheritance after the resurrection: they died in hope of this, they have not yet obtained it, and for this reason, because God had designed to fulfill to us what he had also promised to them, even the coming of a Redeemer; it is necessary that this more excellent thing than what had in this world been vouchsafed to them, should take place, as on it depended everything connected with the promise of the ‘heavenly city:’ so that without the more excellent thing fulfilled to us, their perfect state, in body as well as in soul, was not to be attained.”

   Their souls are perfect, for we as Christians are said to have come “to the spirits of just men made perfect,” (chapter 12:23;) they who die in the Lord are said to “rest from their labors,” and are pronounced blessed or happy. (Rev. 14:13.) But they are not in possession of the inheritance promised them, neither the ancients nor those who now die in the Lord.The promise as to both will not be fulfilled until the glorious day of the resurrection. Then all the saints, whether before or after the coming of Christ, will at the same time, with pure and immortal bodies, united to pure spirits, be together introduced into their eternal inheritance which he promised to Abraham and his seed, when he said that he would be their God. Christ referred to that declaration as an evidence of the resurrection. (Luke 20:37.) Then the Patriarchs believed that there would be a resurrection. — Ed.

I know that Chrysostom and others have given a different explanation, but the context clearly shows, that what is intended here is the difference in the grace which God bestowed on the faithful under the Law, and that which he bestows on us now. For since a more abundant grace is poured on us, it would be very strange that we should have less faith in us. He then says that those fathers who were endued with so remarkable a faith, had not yet so strong reasons for believing as we have. Immediately after he states the reason, because God intended to unite us all into one body, and that he distributed a small portion of grace to them, that he might defer its full perfection to our time, even to the coming of Christ.

And it is a singular evidence of God’s benevolence towards us, that though he has shown himself bountifully to his children from the beginning of the world, he yet has so distributed his grace as to provide for the well­being of the whole body. What more could any of us desire, than that in all the blessings which God bestowed on Abraham, Moses, David, and all the Patriarchs, on the Prophets and godly kings, he should have a regard for us, so that we might be united together with them in the body of Christ? Let us then know that we are doubly and treble ungrateful to God, if less faith appears in us under the kingdom of Christ than the fathers had under the Law, as proved by so many remarkable examples of patience. By the words, that they received not the promise, is to be understood its ultimate fulfillment, which took place in Christ, on which subject something has been said already.


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