Wednesday, 3 April 2019
They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented. Hebrews 11:37
The author continues with the sad list of the ill-treatment of the people of faith recorded in Scripture and in the traditions of the Jewish people. He begins this verse with, “They were stoned.”
Stoning was a type of capital punishment specifically designated within the law of Moses. It would be a painful, crunchy way to die, but it was also a sign of the complete rejection of an individual. This is because there was no direct contact between the executioners and the condemned. Instead, the symbolism was that the person was unclean and cast off from a distance, just as a stone is cast away. Unfortunately, it happened to righteous people of faith by those who were unrighteous. In an interesting, but contrasting parallel between the Old and New Testaments, the last martyr of the Old Testament was Zechariah, the son of Jehoiada. He was stoned in 2 Chronicles 24. Upon his death, it said –
“Thus Joash the king did not remember the kindness which Jehoiada his father had done to him, but killed his son; and as he died, he said, ‘The Lord look on it, and repay!’” 2 Chronicles 24:22
In the New Testament, the first martyr also died by stoning, and upon his death it says –
“Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not charge them with this sin.’ And when he had said this, he fell asleep.” Acts 7:60
The author next says that “they were sawn in two.” This is referring to the Jewish tradition that the prophet Isaiah was sawn in two by the wicked king Manasseh.
The verse next says that they “were tempted.” This doesn’t seem like a great horror, and therefore scholars wonder why it is listed among the other cruelties, but what it probably is referring to is the practice of giving a person who is condemned to die a chance to recant of the reason for the punishment, tempting him to side with his persecutors and to give up on his faith. When facing a terrible type of death, one would face a real challenge in such a temptation.
Next is listed that they “were slain with the sword.” One prominent example is that of the priests of the Lord who were slain for having assisted David when he was escaping from Saul. There it says –
“And the king said to Doeg, ‘You turn and kill the priests!’ So Doeg the Edomite turned and struck the priests, and killed on that day eighty-five men who wore a linen ephod.” 2 Samuel 22:18
The author then finishes the verse with a general statement about the condition of many others and the types of lives they lived, as well as the treatment they received, by saying, “They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented.”
The idea of “sheepskins and goatskins” is that of a rough garment, something a prophet would be noted for, such as in Zechariah 13:4. Being destitute signifies no real earthly possessions, no home, and no regular income. They were wholly dependent on the Lord, such as when Elijah was fed by the Lord by sending ravens to bring him his food in 1 Kings 17. Being afflicted would include the challenges which externally came against them – heat, cold, lack of shelter, attacks, and so on. Being tormented would be the external harm they received from others who directly persecuted them.
Life application: Again we see the world’s treatment of God’s people. This is what those of faith suffered in olden times, and this is what true people of faith continue to suffer in history today. Not all of them, of course, but such things happen to God’s people in countries around the world, and such persecutions are coming upon His people even in supposedly “Christian” nations today. There is a great movement away from the solid foundation which is found in Jesus Christ. Like the people of faith from times past, those who speak out God’s word today are also likely to be persecuted, but despite the costs, the rewards are worth it.
Heavenly Father, despite the troubles and persecutions we can expect because of our unwavering faith, let us stand firm in our convictions. Our faith will surely outlast these temporary and weak bodies. Thank You for the promise of new ones. While the world of corruption and death will consume our tormentors, the faithful in Christ will rise to walk in glory. Hallelujah and Amen!