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"Of whom the world was not worthy"

"And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets: Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: 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; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect" (Heb 11:32-40).
In these few short verses we are introduced to that "great cloud of witnesses" (Heb 12:1), those who in ages past witnessed to the eternal truths which they believed, and were martyrs of the God they served.

As this chapter is written in a basically chronological sequence (beginning with Abel -- v 4), we should expect most of the particulars in these last few verses to belong to the later history of the faithful. And indeed they do; most of the characters here belong to the time of Israel's judges and kings.

Paul's remembrances of these men and women remind us of that grand introduction to his letter as a whole. (This article presupposes that Paul wrote the letter to the Hebrews -- which is by no means proven. There are in fact good reasons to see another author: see Lesson, Heb, authorship.):

"God who at sundry times and in diverse manners spoke in times past... hath in these last days spoken to us by a Son..."
God had revealed Himself and His will in Old Testament times through such men of faith. Their deliverances and victories were certainly real and authentic, but behind that reality was in each case the typical lesson. God was speaking of His salvation in every age; and the minor, temporary victories of the past were only the tokens of His great victory in Christ, the One who literally overcame the world.

These typical themes are evident in the lives of every man and woman of this chapter. These men were men of action because they were men of faith. Faith is not, as some teach, a lazy, credulous "belief" (which would by Biblical standards be no "belief" at all). Faith is a powerful, living conviction based on fact... truth... knowledge. It dominates the life of the possessor, a quality of character controlling all facets of existence. Paul himself said, "I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me!" (Phi 4:13).

This is the power of God -- "the exceeding greatness of His power to usward who believe" -- available to each of us through prayer and study. This is the power (The Greek word is the root of our English "dynamite"!) that carried Christ through the last dreadful, pain-racked hours as he faced death -- the same power of faith that he still possessed even after the Holy Spirit was withdrawn.

In these verses we have two types of faith, related to one another, but showing different aspects:

In vv 32-35a we see the victories of faith in action -- against the world; men of God triumph over outside forces, and the armies of the alien.

But in vv 35b-38 we see the victories of faith in action -- against sufferings, against oneself, against temptation from within.


Verse 32: "And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gideon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthah: of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets."

The first four men named were judges who saved Israel from foreign enemies, in circumstances requiring faith in God's promises to them. All four saved Israel in extraordinary ways: Remember Gideon's "army" of only 300, and Samson's "jawbone of an ass", as well as the tent-peg of Jael in the days of Barak. Such incidents illustrate that God can save by few or many, and by very insignificant means if He so chooses. This He does so that man may not glory in himself but rather in the Father.

And the lesson to us is that we may similarly find the weapons of faith, and fight the battles of the Lord, in some minor way which the proud mind of the flesh would never suggest. Let us "humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God."

Verse 33: "Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness..."

The first phrase refers primarily to David, whose early military exploits are typical of the campaigns of Christ and the saints which will usher in the millennial reign of the greater-than-David. And the second phrase, which seems to be a rather feeble and general sort of statement, takes on fresh new meaning when we see other translations: "...who performed acts of righteousness". Paul is referring to the faithful judges and kings (Samuel being the best representative -- 1Sa 12:3,4) who without regard for present advantage or crowd-pleasing consistently made the right decisions in the cases brought to their attention. Let us remember that our elected or appointed ecclesial servants stand in much the same position as did the judges of Israel; their decisions affect all the brethren in their spiritual lives, and they must bear a special responsibility to perform acts of righteousness.


"Obtained promises..."

These men of faith all obtained the fulfillment of certain promises during their lifetimes. But these small promises, which they could enjoy as realities then, only pointed forward to the promise which has not even yet been fulfilled. In the same manner, Paul refers in Heb 4 to Caleb and Joshua who entered the land of promise -- while yet there still remains the great "eternal rest" of the Kingdom. (More on this in v 39.)


"Stopped the mouths of lions..."

Three well-known instances come quickly to mind: Samson and David (who slew lions) and Daniel (whom the lions could not harm). A fourth man of faith was the mighty man Benaiah, "who went down and slew a lion in the midst of a pit in time of snow" (2Sa 23:20).

The Scriptures tell only of these four instances of lions being slain or subdued. Why four? If we remember that lions symbolize the Gentile nations, bestial in their lusts, then we have here a picture of the four world empires together, to be tamed and subjected by Christ and the saints, so that in symbolic language they "shall eat straw like the ox" (Isa 11:6,7).


Verse 34: "Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword..."

These first two phrases also refer to Daniel's time (Dan 2:13; Dan 3), as well as to countless men of other times (some written in Scripture, and others written only in the Lamb's Book of Life).


"Out of weakness were made strong."

This brings two incidents to mind: (1) Samson's strength was miraculously restored to him while he languished in Philistine chains. Pulling down the great temple of Dagon, he "destroyed more by his death than by his life" (Jdg 16:28-30), a remarkable picture of Christ's sacrifice by which man's greatest enemy was destroyed. (2) The righteous king Hezekiah was "sick unto death", yet was revived through prayer and faith, and went up to the Lord's house on the third day (2Ki 20:8), another brilliant foreshadowing of Christ's death and resurrection.

Let us remember that in times of human weakness we may nevertheless be strong in faith to perform God's will; God has said to one of our brethren:

"My strength is sufficient for thee, for My strength is made perfect in weakness."


Verse 35: "Women received their dead raised to life again."

Literally: "Women received their dead by a resurrection." This translation is preferable, for it helps to underline the intended contrast to "the better resurrection" also mentioned in this verse. Paul is referring to the miracles performed by Elijah (1Ki 17:22) and Elisha (2Ki 4:36).


"And others were tortured."

Rather, "But others were tortured", as we have here a contrast. Here begins the victories of faith in suffering. ("Tortured" is "tympanizo", from "tympanum", a drum. The sufferer was stretched out upon an instrument like a drumhead, and beaten to death with sticks and rods.) The remainder of Paul's references here are to incidents in which the natural mind would be hard-pressed to find a victory of any sort:
"For Thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter" (Rom 8:36).

The outworkings of faith may bring present good, but faith will also bring trials and tribulations, as God acts to chasten His children. This preparation has its necessary part in God's overall scheme; Paul elaborates on this theme in the next chapter:

"Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin. And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, 'My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of Him: for whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth.' If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the Father chasteneth not?... Now no chastening seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby" (vv 4-11).
The Jewish Christians faced trials at the hands of their natural brethren because they chose to remain separate from the institutions and traditions of the Mosaic Law, seeing it as a system ready to vanish away (8:13). This is the same situation which we must now face -- alienation and disfavor from the world. A mad society is entering its death throes, and those who will not fall in with its excesses are hated.

"That they might obtain a better resurrection."

Women of faith received their children raised to life, but this was only a resurrection to a continuation of mortal life. That for which these "others" hoped was an awakening to life eternal -- truly a "better resurrection".

Possibly there is also this thought: those who were cruelly tortured had only to forsake their faith in order to escape death. This would have been a "resurrection" of sorts, for they would have received back their lives which had been almost forfeited. But such a renunciation would have meant loss of that "better resurrection" to immortality.


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

Joseph in Egypt (Gen 39:20), and Jeremiah -- the hated prophet -- put in stocks and lowered into the miry pit (Jer 38:6). In such trials these men rejoiced, even as Paul sang hymns of praise from his dungeon cell.


Verse 37: "They were stoned..."

In Old Testament times we have Naboth, ordered to be stoned by the wicked Jezebel so that his rightful property might be stolen (1Ki 21:7-10). And (by tradition) we have Jeremiah, stoned to death in Egypt where he was carried against his will. Not to mention Paul himself -- who was stoned and left for dead.


"They were sawn asunder."

All ancient sources attribute this to Isaiah -- in such a manner slain during the reign of Manasseh, "who slew much innocent blood".


"They were tempted."

How does this fit in with the sufferings listed here, since temptation is the common lot of all -- and therefore not necessarily a special affliction? Paul must be speaking here of the temptations of the faithful to give up their beliefs in the face of great trials. Again, to put this letter to the Hebrews in its proper perspective, we must realize that Paul was writing to Jews who were being persecuted by their nation (in some cases, even by their families) because of their strange new ideas. How easy it would have been in such circumstances to just give in, and to forsake the assembly of the saints (Heb 10:25)!


"They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins."

The rough, coarse garments of the prophets -- especially Elijah (1Ki 19:10,13; 2Ki 1:8) and his first-century counterpart, John the Baptist (Mat 3:4).

Can we not imagine such men as these? Hardened by long years of wandering and privation, roughly clothed in the skins of the poor, standing steadfast against the wind and the rain (just as they stand before their enemies' taunts). Men made perfect by their experiences, by the trials of their faith;

"What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind? But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, they that wear soft clothing are in kings' houses. But what went ye out to see? A prophet? Yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet" (Mat 11:7-9).
Were such men as these too stern? Too narrow-minded? Too devoted to an ideal? Were these men not quite "liberal" enough, or easy-going enough, to suit our fancy? Let us look at such men, look deeply into their eyes -- let us try to get a glimpse of that animating, invigorating, driving force... that tremendous, word-begotten faith that lifted them out of their present situations and into that glorious future of promise.


Verse 38: "Of whom the world was not worthy."

The proud and vain and foolish world scorned these men as of no consequence -- "despised and rejected, men of sorrow, and acquainted with grief". But the world's opinion was the exact opposite of God's. Those whom they considered unworthy of their notice except as the object of ridicule and cursing were, in reality, too good for them.

Let us notice this: the separations forced upon the faithful, even their trials, were from God. God separated them. This separation (that we, in our shortsightedness, sometimes resent) is a privilege. It is a supreme privilege that we are not counted in the company of the world that is destined to pass away.


"They wandered in deserts, and in mountains."

How Jesus must have loved the mountains! Often did he spend the entire night in prayer upon the hills of the Promised Land. We remember how Abraham chose the hills and waste places of Palestine, rather than the fruitful plain of Sodom.

"I will go about the city in the streets, and in the broad ways I will seek him whom my soul loveth: I sought him, but I found him not" (Song 3:2).
Christ cannot be found in the cities of sin, nor in the "broad ways" of the earth. He is found instead on the lonely paths, in the wilderness, in the mountains, the paths frequented by such men as Abraham and Moses and David. Christ is found in such places, where the noise of man is quieted, and the still small voice of God may be heard.

Whenever our Saviour had something special to reveal to his disciples, he carried them out into the mountains. Let us follow Christ into these same localities -- the "mountains of separation". Let us leave the "city" behind us. Let us "go forth unto him without the camp". Let us give ourselves a fair chance to listen, and Christ will speak to us also.


"In dens and caves of the earth."

Palestine, from its hilly character, abounds in caves -- to which the persecuted saints were to flee when the "abomination of desolation" stood before the city (Mat 24:15,16). "O my dove," says the Saviour, "Thou art in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places" (Song 2:14). But here, even in immediate danger, the men of faith may feel secure -- their lives are "hid with Christ".

What shall we add, then, to Paul's words? "What shall we say more?" It is an evident fact: faith demands unyielding dedication to the Truth -- as well as a careful study of these very Scriptures. Are we the models of steadfast faith that these men were? If not, the reason is surely this: we never fully intended to be. If the task were pleasurable, we should find the time. Our trouble is that the world is too much with us. We allow our minds to be saturated by the flood of entertaining matters that daily surge around us, and this blunts the appeal of spiritual things; they become hazy, distant, and difficult to make real in our minds.


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

Abraham, to whom the promise was made, did not receive in this life the fulfillment of that promise (Acts 7:5). Abraham was one of the men of faith who wandered upon the mountains, who "looked for a city" (Heb 11:10). He believed in the resurrection, as he showed in offering his son Isaac (Heb 11:19; Gen 22:8-14). And he told his son, "God will provide the sacrifice." Abraham saw the day of Christ (John 8:56), the "Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). But he knew that he would not benefit from this until after his death. He received not the promise in this life, but he fully expected to do so in the future (just as we do).


Verse 40: "God having provided some better thing for us."

This phrase may be translated, "God having foreseen..." These two phrases, "God provides" and "God sees", are again companion thoughts in Gen 22. This account of the offering of Isaac should be carefully studied in its context and its typical lessons. It is a beautiful portrayal in shadow of God's offering of His only-begotten Son. Abraham tells his son, "Yahweh will provide Himself a lamb", as he contemplates the sacrifice of Isaac's antitype, the true seed Christ. As a memorial the place of the altar is named "Yahweh-Jireh" ("It -- Christ -- shall be seen"). The Septuagint of Gen 22:16 is quoted by Paul in Rom 8:32:
"He that spared not His Own Son, but delivered him up for us all..."

The perfect sacrifice of the Father's only Son is the "better thing" which God has provided for our salvation. It is better than the sacrifices of the Law (Heb 10:4,14). The justification which Christ brought by his death and resurrection leads to the "better resurrection" and the inheritance of the promise in its glorified millennial state, better than its imperfect past condition -- when at any rate it could be inherited only for a brief span of mortal life.


"That they without (or apart from) us should not be made perfect."

All are justified by the blood of the Lamb. Christ's sacrifice atoned for "past sins", as well as those which followed after (Rom 3:25-26; Heb 9:15; Acts 13:39). All the faithful will be made perfect together, by the same means.

But notwithstanding the promise to the saints of being perfected, we have while in the flesh continual experience of imperfection. We must strive to be perfect in conscience before God, even though we are imperfect in nature. That which is perfect is not yet come, but we wait for it. When Christ returns and this transformation is completed, then his prayer will have been answered:

"I in them, and Thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one" (John 17:23).
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