Hebrews 11
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. 11. The Heroes of Faith

The main task of the writer has now been performed, but the remainder of the Epistle had also a very important purpose. It would have been fatal to the peace of mind of a Jewish convert to feel that there was a chasm between his Christian faith and the faith of his past life. The writer wishes to shew that there is no painful discontinuity in the religious convictions of Hebrew converts. They could still enjoy the viaticum of good examples set forth in their O.T. Scriptures. Their faith was identical with, though transcendently more blessed than, that which had sustained the Patriarchs, Prophets, and Martyrs of their nation in all previous ages. The past history of the Chosen People was not discarded or discredited by the Gospel; it was, on the contrary, completed and glorified.

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
1. Now faith] Since he has said “we are of faith to gaining of the soul,” the question might naturally arise, What then is faith? It is nowhere defined in Scripture, nor is it defined here, for the writer rather describes it in its effects than in its essence; but it is described by what it does. The chapter which illustrates “faith” is full of works; and this alone should shew how idle is any contrast or antithesis between the two. Here however the word “faith” means only “the belief which leads to faithfulness”—the hope which, apart from sight, holds the ideal to be the most real, and acts accordingly.

the substance of things hoped for] The word “hypostasis,” here rendered “substance,” as in Hebrews 1:3, may mean (1) that underlying essence which gives reality to a thing. Faith gives a subjective reality to the aspirations of hope. But it may be used (2) in an ordinary and not a metaphysical sense for “basis,” foundation; or (3) for “confidence,” as in Hebrews 3:14 (comp. 2 Corinthians 9:4; 2 Corinthians 11:17): and this seems to be the most probable meaning of the word here. St Jerome speaks of the passage as breathing somewhat of Philo (“Philoneum aliquid spirans”), who speaks of faith in a very similar way.

the evidence of things not seen] The word rendered “evidence” means “demonstration,” or “test.”

not seen] i.e. which are as yet invisible, because they are eternal and not temporal (2 Corinthians 4:18; 2 Corinthians 5:7). God Himself belongs to the things as yet unseen; but Faith—in this sense of the word, which is not the distinctively Pauline sense (Galatians 2:16; Galatians 3:26; Romans 3:25)—demonstrates the existence of the immaterial as though it were actual. The object of faith from the dawn of man’s life had been Christ, who, even at the Fall, had been foretold as “the seed of the woman who should break the serpent’s head.” The difference between the Two Covenants was that in the New He was fully set forth as the effulgence of the Father’s glory, whereas in the Old He had been but dimly indicated by shadows and symbols. Bishop Wordsworth quotes the sonnet of the poet Wordsworth on these lines:

“For what contend the wise? for nothing less

Than that the Soul, freed from the bonds of sense,

And to her God restored by evidence

Of things not seen, drawn forth from their recess,

Root there—and not in forms—her holiness.”

For by it the elders obtained a good report.
2. For by it the elders obtained a good report] Lit., “For therein the elders had witness borne to them.” Their “good report” was won in the sphere of faith. The elders—a technical Jewish term (Zekenîm)—means the ancient fathers of the Church of Israel (Hebrews 1:1).

Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.
3. Through faith] In this chapter we find fifteen special instances of the work of faith, besides the summary enumeration in the 32nd and following verses.

we understand] ‘we apprehend with the reason’. See Romans 1:20.

that the worlds were framed] The word for “worlds” means literally ages (Hebrews 1:2), i.e. the world regarded from the standpoint of human history. The “time-world” necessarily presumes the existence of the space-world also. See Hebrews 1:2.

were framed] “have been established” (Hebrews 13:21; Psalm 74:16; LXX.).

by the word of God] Rather, “by the utterance (rhemati) of God,” namely by His fiat, as in Genesis 1; Psalm 33:6; Psalm 33:9; 2 Peter 3:5. There is no question here as to the creation of the world by the Logos, for he purposely alters the word λόγῳ used by the LXX. in Psalms 33 into rhemati.

so that things which are seen …] The true reading and literal translation are “so that not from things which appear hath that which is seen come into being,” a somewhat harsh way of expressing that “the visible world did not derive its existence from anything phenomenal.” In other words, the clause denies the pre-existence of matter. It says that the world was made out of nothing, not out of the primeval chaos. So in 2Ma 7:28 the mother begs her son “to look upon the heaven and earth and all that is therein, and consider that God made them out of things that are not” (ἐξ οὐκ ὄντων). If this view be correct, the writer would seem purposely to avoid Philo’s way of saying that the world was made out of τὰ μὴ ὄντα, “things conceived as non-existent,” by which he meant the “formless matter” (as in Wis 11:17). He says that the world did not originate from anything phenomenal. This verse, so far from being superfluous, or incongruous with what follows, strikes the keynote of faith by shewing that its first object must be a Divine and Infinite Creator. Thus like Moses in Genesis 1 the verse excludes from the region of faith all Atheism, Pantheism, Polytheism, and Dualism.

By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh.
4. By faith Abel] Intending, so to speak, “to pluck only the flowers which happen to come within his reach, while he leaves the whole meadow full to his readers,” he begins to cull his instances from the world before the flood. His examples of faith fall into five groups. 1. Antediluvian (4–6). 2. From Noah to Abraham (7–19, including some general reflexions in 13–16). 3. The Patriarchs (20–22). 4. From Moses to Rahab (23–31). 5. Summary reference to later heroes and martyrs down to the time of the Maccabees (32–40).

more excellent] Lit., “more “or “greater.”

a more excellent sacrifice than Cain] This we learn from Genesis 4:5, but we are not told the exact points in virtue of which the sacrifice was superior. We may naturally infer that Abel’s was a more carefully-chosen and valuable offering, but especially that it was offered in a more sincere and humble spirit of faith and love.

he obtained witness] By God’s sign of approval (Genesis 4:4; LXX.). Hence he is called “righteous” in Matthew 23:35; 1 John 3:12. The Jewish Hagadah was that God had shewn His approval by fire from heaven which consumed Abel’s sacrifice.

testifying of his gifts] Rather, “bearing witness to his gifts.”

and by it] i.e. by his faith.

he being dead yet speaketh] Another reading (D, E, I, K) is “though dead, he is still being spoken of.” But the allusion seems to be to “the voice of his blood” (Genesis 4:10), as seems clear from the reference in Hebrews 12:24. No doubt it is also meant that he speaks by his example, but there seems to have been some Jewish Hagadah on the subject, for Philo says “Abel—which is most strange—has both been slain and lives” (Opp. i. 200). He deduces from Genesis 4:10 that Abel is still unforgotten, and hence that the righteous are immortal.

By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.
5. Enoch was translated] Lit., “was transferred (hence)” (Genesis 5:24; Sir 44:16; Sir 49:14; Jos. Antt. i. 3. § 4.

was not found, because God had translated him. Genesis 5:24 (LXX. Cod. Alex).

he had this testimony] “he hath had witness born to him;” “Enoch walked with God,” Genesis 5:24 (LXX. “pleased God”).

But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.
6. that he is …] The object of Faith is both the existence and the Divine government of God. “We trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe” (1 Timothy 4:10).

and that he is a rewarder] Rather, “and that he becomes (i.e. shews or proves Himself to be) a rewarder.”

By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.
7. warned of God] The same word is used as in Hebrews 8:5, Hebrews 12:25.

moved with fear] Influenced by godly caution and reverence; the same kind of fear as that implied in Hebrews 5:7.

condemned the world] His example was in condemning contrast with the unbelief of the world (Matthew 12:41; Luke 11:31).

of the righteousness which is by faith] Rather, “which is according to faith” (comp. Ezekiel 14:14). Noah is called “righteous” in Genesis 6:9, and Philo observes that he is the first to receive this title, and erroneously says that the name Noah means “righteous” as well as “rest.” St Paul does not use the phrase “the righteousness according to faith,” though he has “the righteousness of faith” (Romans 4:13). “Faith” however in this writer never becomes the same as mystic oneness with Christ, but means general belief in the unseen; and “righteousness” is not “justification,” but faith manifested by obedience. Throughout this chapter righteousness is the human condition which faith produces (Hebrews 11:33), not the divine gift which faith receives. Hence he says that Noah “became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith,” i.e. he entered on the inheritance of righteousness which faith had brought him. In 2 Peter 2:5 Noah is called “a preacher of righteousness;” and in Wis 10:4 “the righteous man.”

By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.
8. Abraham] As was natural, the faith of “the father of the faithful was one of the commonest topics of discussion in the Jewish Schools. Wordsworth (Eccles. Sonnets, xxvi.) speaks of

Faith, which to the Patriarchs did dispense

Sure guidance ere a ceremonial fence

Was needful to men thirsting to transgress.”

when he was called] The Greek (if ὁ καλούμενος be the right reading) can only mean literally either “he who is called Abraham,” which would be somewhat meaningless; or “Abraham, who was called to go out.”

to go out] from Ur of the Chaldees (Acts 7:4).

a place which he should after receive] Genesis 12:7.

By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise:
9. as in a strange country] “I am a stranger and a sojourner with you” (Genesis 23:3). The patriarchs are constantly called paroikoi, “dwellers beside,” “sojourners” (Genesis 17:8; Genesis 20:1, &c).

dwelling in tabernacles] i.e. in tents (Genesis 12:8; Genesis 13:3, &c).

For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
10. a city which hath foundations] Rather, “the city which hath the foundations,” namely, “the Jerusalem above” (Galatians 4:26; Hebrews 12:22; Hebrews 13:14; Revelation 21:2; Revelation 21:14). The same thought is frequently found in Philo. The tents of the Patriarchs had no foundations; the foundations of the City of God are of pearl and precious stone (Revelation 21:14; Revelation 21:19.)

builder and maker] Rather, “architect and builder.” This is the only place in the N.T. where the word demiourgos occurs. It is found also in 2Ma 4:1, and plays a large part in the vocabulary of Gnostic heretics. But God is called the “Architect” of the Universe in Philo and in Wis 13:1, “neither by considering the works did they acknowledge the workmaster.”

Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised.
11. also Sara herself] Rather “even.” Perhaps the “even” refers to her original weakness of faith when she laughed (Genesis 18:12; Genesis 21:2; comp. Romans 4:19). Dr Field thinks that these words may be a gloss, and that the verse refers to Abraham, since ἔτεκεν, “was delivered,” is not found in א, A, D.

to conceive seed] For technical reasons the probable meaning here is “for the founding of a family” (comp. the use of the word katabolç in Hebrews 4:3, Hebrews 9:26 and “seed” in Hebrews 2:16, Hebrews 11:18).

who had promised] Comp. Hebrews 10:23.

Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead, so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable.
12. as the stars … as the sand] Genesis 22:17; Deuteronomy 1:10.

These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.
13. in faith] Lit. “according to faith.”

not having received the promises] They received the promises in one sense, as promises (Hebrews 11:17), but had not yet entered upon their fruition (comp. Hebrews 11:39 and Hebrews 9:15).

and were persuaded of them] These words are not found in all the best mss.

and embraced them] Rather, “saluting them” (Genesis 49:18). “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day; and he saw it, and was glad” (John 8:56).

confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims] Genesis 23:4; Genesis 47:9; 1 Chronicles 29:15; Psalm 39:12, &c.

For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country.
14. that they seek a country] Rather, “that they are seeking further after a native land.” Hence comes the argument of the next verse that it was not their old home in Chaldea for which they were yearning, but a heavenly native-land.

And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned.
15. to have returned] But they never attempted to return to Mesopotamia, because they were home-sick not for that land but for heaven.

But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.
16. But now] “But, as the case now is.”

they desire] The word means, “they are yearning for,” “they stretch forth their hands towards.”

is not ashamed to be called their God] Rather, “is not ashamed of them, to be called their God” (Genesis 28:13; Exodus 3:6-15.)

he hath prepared for them a city] The “inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for us” (1 Peter 1:4). This digression is meant to shew that the faith and hopes of the Patriarchs reached beyond mere temporal blessings.

By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son,
17. By faith Abraham … offered up Isaac] Reverting to Abraham, whose faith (1) in leaving his country, (2) in living as a stranger in Canaan, he has already mentioned, he now adduces the third and greatest instance of his faithful obedience in being ready to offer up Isaac. Both tenses, “hath offered up” (perf.) and “was offering up” (imperf.) are characteristic of the author’s views of Scripture as a permanent record of events which may be still regarded as present to us. St James (James 2:21) uses the aorist.

he that had received the promises] Four verbs are used with reference to “receiving” the promises, ἀναδέχεσθαι (here), λαβεῖν (Hebrews 9:15), ἐπιτυχεῖν (Hebrews 11:33), κομίσασθαι (Hebrews 11:39). The word here used implies a joyous welcome of special promises. The context generally shews with sufficient clearness the sense in which the Patriarchs may be said both to have “received” and “not to have received” the promises. They received and welcomed special promises, and those were fulfilled; and in those they saw the germ of richer blessings which they enjoyed by faith but not in actual fruition.

Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called:
18. of whom] Lit. “with reference to whom” (Isaac); or perhaps “to whom,” i.e. to Abraham.

in Isaac shall thy seed be called] Genesis 17:8; Genesis 17:19; Genesis 21:12, &c.

Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure.
19. from whence] The only place in this Epistle where ὅθεν has its local sense.

in a figure] Lit. “in a parable.” For the use of the word see Hebrews 9:9. The exact meaning is much disputed. It has been rendered “as a type” (comp. Vulg. in parabolam), or “in a bold venture.” or “unexpectedly.” These views are hardly tenable. But how could Abraham have received Isaac back “in a figure” when he received him back “in reality”? The answer is that he received him back, figuratively, from the dead, because Isaac was typically, or figuratively, dead—potentially sacrificed—when he received him back. Josephus in narrating the event uses the same word (Antt. i. 13. § 4). But in this instance again it is possible that the key to the expression might be found in some Jewish legend. In one Jewish writer it is said (of course untruly) that Isaac really was killed, and raised again. The restoration of Isaac was undoubtedly a type of the resurrection of Christ, but it is hardly probable that the writer would have expressed so deep a truth in a passing and ambiguous expression.

By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come.
20. By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau] It is true that the blessing of Esau when rightly translated, “Behold thy dwelling shall be away from the fatness of the earth and away from the dew of blessing” (Genesis 27:39) reads more like a curse; but the next verse (40) involves a promise of ultimate freedom, and Esau obtained the blessings of that lower and less spiritual life for which he was alone fitted by his character and tastes.

concerning things to come] The true reading seems to be “even concerning,” though it is not easy to grasp the exact force of the “even.”

By faith Jacob, when he was a dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph; and worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff.
21. both the sons] Rather, “each of the sons.” He made a marked difference between them (Genesis 48:17-19).

worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff] In this verse there is an allusion to two separate events. The first is the blessing of Ephraim and Manasseh (Genesis 48:1-20); the other an earlier occasion (Genesis 47:29-31). In our version it is rendered “And Israel bowed himself upon the bed’s head,” but in the LXX. and Peshito as here, it is “upon the top of his staff.” The reason for the variation is that having no vowel points the LXX. understood the word to be matteh, “staff,” not mittah, “bed,” as in Genesis 48:2. If they were right in this view, the passage means that Jacob, rising from his bed to take the oath from Joseph, supported his aged limbs on the staff, which was a type of his pilgrimage (Genesis 32:10), and at the end of the oath bowed his head over the staff in sign of thanks and reverence to God. The Vulgate. (here following the Itala) erroneously renders it adoravit fastigium virgae ejus, Jacob “adored the top of his (Joseph’s) staff,” and the verse has been quoted (e.g. by Cornelius a Lapide) in defence of image-worship. Yet in Genesis 47:31 the Vulgate has “adoravit Deum, conversus ad lectuli caput.” Probably all that is meant is that, being too feeble to rise and kneel or stand, Jacob “bowed himself upon the head of his couch” in an attitude of prayer, just as the aged David did on his deathbed (1 Kings 1:47).

By faith Joseph, when he died, made mention of the departing of the children of Israel; and gave commandment concerning his bones.
22. when he died] The less common word for “dying” is here taken from the LXX. of Genesis 1:26.

gave commandment concerning his bones] A sign of his perfect conviction that God’s promise would be fulfilled (Genesis 50:24-25; Exodus 13:19; comp. Acts 7:16).

By faith Moses, when he was born, was hid three months of his parents, because they saw he was a proper child; and they were not afraid of the king's commandment.
23. Moses … was hid] The “faith” is of course that of his parents, Amram and Jochebed.

of his parents] This is implied in the LXX. of Exodus 2:2, but the Hebrew only says that his mother concealed him.

a proper child] In Acts 7:20 he is called “fair to God.” In his marvellous beauty (see Philo, Vit. Mos.) they saw a promise of some future blessing, and braved the peril involved in breaking the king’s decree.

the king’s commandment] To drown all male children (Exodus 1:22; Exodus 2:2).

By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter;
24. refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter] He refused the rank of an Egyptian prince. The reference is to the Jewish legends which were rich in details about the infancy and youth of Moses. See Jos. Antt. ii. ix–xi.; Philo, Opp. ii. 82; Stanley, Lect. on Jewish Church. The only reference to the matter in Scripture is in Exodus 2:10; Acts 7:22-25.

Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season;
25. with the people of Cod] Hebrews 4:9.

the pleasures of sin for a season] The brevity of sinful enjoyment is alluded to in Job 20:5, “The triumphing of the wicked is short, and the joy of the hypocrite but for a moment.” The special sin would have been the very one to which the readers were tempted—apostasy.

Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward.
26. the reproach of Christ] Rather, “of the Christ” (comp. Hebrews 13:13; 2 Corinthians 1:5; Romans 15:3; Php 3:7-11; Colossians 1:24). There may be in the words a reminiscence of Psalm 89:50-51, “Remember Lord the reproach of thy servants … wherewith thine enemies have reproached the footsteps of thine anointed.” By “the reproach of the Christ” is meant “the reproach which He had to bear in His own person, and has to bear in that of His members” (2 Corinthians 1:5). It is true that in no other passage of the Epistle does the writer allude to the mystical oneness of Christ and his Church, but he must have been aware of that truth from intercourses with St Paul and knowledge of his writings. Other wise we must suppose him to imply that Moses by faith realised, at least dimly, that he was suffering as Christ would hereafter suffer.

he had respect unto] Lit. “for he was looking away from it to.” What Moses had in view was something wholly different from sinful pleasure. The verb is found here only in the N. T.

By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible.
27. By faith he forsook Egypt] This must allude to the Exodus, not to the flight of Moses into Midian. On the latter occasion, he distinctly did “fear the wrath of the king” (Exodus 2:14-15). It is true that for the moment Pharaoh and the Egyptians pressed the Israelites to depart, but it was only in fear and anger, and Moses foresaw the immediate pursuit.

he endured, as seeing] The words have also been rendered, but less correctly, “He was stedfast towards Him who is invisible, as if seeing Him.”

him who is invisible] “The blessed and only Potentate … whom no man hath seen, nor can see” (1 Timothy 6:15-16). Perhaps we should render it “the King Invisible,” understanding the word βασιλέα, and so emphasizing the contrast between the fear of God and the consequent fearless attitude towards Pharaoh.

Through faith he kept the passover, and the sprinkling of blood, lest he that destroyed the firstborn should touch them.
28. Through faith] Rather, “by faith,” as before.

he kept the passover] Lit. “he hath made,” or “instituted.” Another of the author’s characteristic tenses (see Hebrews 11:17).

and the sprinkling of blood] Exodus 12:21-23. The “faith” consisted primarily in believing the promises and obeying the command of God, and secondarily, we may believe, in regarding the sprinkled blood as in some way typical of a better propitiation (Romans 3:25). The word for sprinkling is not rantismos, as in Hebrews 12:24, but πρόσχυσις, which is found here only (“effusion”), but is derived from the verb used in Leviticus 1:5 (LXX.).

he that destroyed] The term is derived from the LXX. The Hebrew (Exodus 12:23) has mashchîth “destruction.” Comp. 1 Chronicles 21:15; 2 Chronicles 32:21; 1 Corinthians 10:10; Sir 48:21.

By faith they passed through the Red sea as by dry land: which the Egyptians assaying to do were drowned.
29. they] Moses and the Israelites.

were drowned] Lit., “were swallowed up” (Exodus 14:15-28; Psalm 106:9-12).

which the Egyptians assaying to do] The Greek words must mean “of which sea” (or “of which dry land”) the Egyptians making trial.

By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, after they were compassed about seven days.
30. the walls of Jericho fell down] Joshua 4:12-20.

By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace.
31. By faith] Joshua 2:9-11, “The Lord your God, He is God.”

the harlot Rahab] So she is called in Joshua 2:1; James 2:25, and it shews the faithfulness of the sacred narrative that her name is even introduced as well as that of Ruth, a Moabitess, in the genealogy of our Lord (Matthew 1:5). The Targum softens it down into “innkeeper” and others render it “idolatress.” Her name was highly honoured by the Jews, who said that eight prophets—among them Baruch, Jeremiah, and Shallum—were descended from her, and the prophetess Huldah. Megillah f. 14. 2.

that believed not] Rather, “that were disobedient.”

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:
32. the time would fail me] The phrase is also found in Philo, De Somniis. The names of “the heroes of faith” here mentioned are drawn from the Books of Judges and Samuel, with a reference to the Books of Kings and Chronicles, and what is known of the history of the Prophets. There does not seem to be any special design in the arrangement of the pairs of names, though it is a curious circumstance that, in each pair, the hero who came earlier in time is placed after the other. In 32–34 we have instances of active, and in 35–38 of passive faith.

Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions,
33. subdued kingdoms] The allusion is specially to the conquest of Canaan by Joshua, and to the victories of David (2 Samuel 5:17-25; 2 Samuel 21:15, &c.).

wrought righteousness] The allusion is somewhat vague, but seems to refer to the justice of Judges and Kings (1 Samuel 12:3-4; 2 Samuel 8:15; 1 Chronicles 18:14, &c.), and perhaps especially to the Judgment of Solomon. “To execute judgment and justice” belonged especially to the Princes of Israel (Ezekiel 45:9).

obtained promises] If we compare the expression with Hebrews 11:13; Hebrews 11:39, we see that the primary reference must be to temporal promises (see Joshua 21:43-45, &c.); but they also obtained at least a partial fruition of spiritual promises also.

stopped the mouths of lions] Samson (Jdg 14:5-6), David (1 Samuel 17:34-35), Daniel (Daniel 6:22), Benaiah (2 Samuel 23:20).

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.
34. quenched the violence of fire] Daniel 3:25; 1Ma 2:59.

escaped the edge of the sword] David (1 Samuel 18:11; 1 Samuel 19:10, &c.), Elijah (1 Kings 19:2), Elisha (2 Kings 6:12-17; Jeremiah 26:24, &c.).

out of weakness were made strong] Hezekiah (2 Kings 20:5), Samson (Jdg 15:15; Jdg 16:28-30), David (1 Samuel 17:42; 1 Samuel 17:51, &c.).

turned to flight the armies of the aliens] This and the previous clause may refer specially to the Maccabees, though they also suit Joshua, the Judges, David, &c. The word used for “armies” (parembolas) is the word used for “camp” in Hebrews 13:11; Hebrews 13:13; Revelation 20:9. It has both senses in the LXX. (Jdg 4:16). The classic verb for “drove back” is found here only in the N.T. (klino).

Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection:
35. Women received their dead] The woman of Sarepta (1 Kings 17:22), the Shunamite (2 Kings 4:32-36).

raised to life again] Lit., “by resurrection.”

were tortured] The word means, technically, “were broken on the wheel,” and the special reference may be to 2Ma 6:18-30; 2Ma 6:7. (the tortures of Eleazer the Scribe, and of the Seven Brothers).

deliverance] “The deliverance offered them” (2Ma 6:20-21; 2Ma 7:24).

a better resurrection] Not a mere resurrection to earthly life, like the children of the women just mentioned, but “an everlasting reawakening of life” (2Ma 7:9 and passim).

And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment:
36. mockings and scourgings] “Seven brethren and their mother … being tormented with scourges and whips … and they brought the second for a mocking-stock … And after him was the third made a mocking-stock … And … they tortured and tormented the fourth in like manner” (2Ma 7:1; 2Ma 7:7; 2Ma 7:10; 2Ma 7:13, &c.). “And they sought out … Judas’ friends … and he took vengeance on them and mocked them” (1Ma 9:26).

of bonds and imprisonment] Joseph (Genesis 39:20), Micaiah (1 Kings 22:26-27), Jeremiah (Jeremiah 20:2; Jeremiah 37:15), Hanani (2 Chronicles 16:10).

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. they were stoned] Zechariah (2 Chronicles 24:20-21). Jewish tradition said that Jeremiah was stoned. See Matthew 23:35-37; Luke 11:51.

were sawn asunder] This was the traditional mode of Isaiah’s martyrdom. Hamburger Talm. Wörterb. s. v. Jesaia. Comp. Matthew 24:51. The punishment was well-known in ancient days (2 Samuel 12:31).

were tempted] This would not seem an anticlimax to a pious reader, for the intense violence of temptation, and the horrible dread lest the weakness of human nature should succumb to it, was one of the most awful forms of trial which persecutors could inflict (see Acts 26:11), especially if the tempted person yielded to the temptation, as in 1 Kings 13:7; 1 Kings 13:19-26. There is no variation in the mss. but some have conjectured eprçsthçsan “they were burned” for epeirasthçsan. In a recent outbreak at Alexandria some Jews had been burnt alive (Philo in Flacc. 20) and burnings are mentioned in 2Ma 6:11. The reason for the position of the word, as a sort of climax, perhaps lies in the strong effort to tempt the last and youngest of the seven brother-martyrs to apostatise in 2 Maccabees 7.

were slain with the sword] “They have slain thy prophets with the sword” (1 Kings 19:10). Jehoiakim “slew Urijah with the sword” (Jeremiah 26:23). The Jews suffered themselves to be massacred on the Sabbath in the war against Antiochus (1Ma 2:38; 2Ma 5:26).

(Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
38. was not worthy] The world was unworthy of them though it treated them as worthless. The Greek would also admit the meaning that they outweighed in value the whole world (see Proverbs 8:11, LXX.).

in dens and caves] The Israelites in general (Jdg 6:1). The prophets of the Lord (1 Kings 18:4; 1 Kings 18:13). Elijah (1 Kings 19:9). Mattathias and his sons “fled into the mountains” (1Ma 2:28), and many others “into the wilderness” (id. 29). Judas the Maccabe (2Ma 5:27). Refugees in caves (2Ma 6:11). “Like beasts” (id. Hebrews 10:6).

of the earth] Rather, “of the land.” The writer’s view rarely extends beyond the horizon of Jewish history.

And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise:
39. having obtained a good report through faith] “Having been borne witness to through their faith,” i.e. though they had this testimony borne to them, they did not see the fulfilment of the promises.

received not the promise] See Hebrews 11:17; Hebrews 11:33, Hebrews 6:15, Hebrews 9:15. They did not enjoy the fruition of the one great promise.

God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.
40. God having provided some better thing for us] Lit., “Since God provided” (or “foresaw”) “some better thing concerning us.” In one sense Abraham, and therefore other patriarchs “rejoiced to see Christ’s day,” and yet they did but see it in such dim shadow that “many prophets and kings desired to see what ye see, and saw not, and hear the things which ye hear, and did not hear them” (Matthew 13:17), though all their earnest seekings and searchings tended in this direction (1 Peter 1:10-11).

that they without us should not be made perfect] “Not unto themselves but unto us they did minister” (1 Peter 1:12). Since in their days “the fulness of the times” had not yet come (Ephesians 1:10) the saints could not be brought to their completion—the end and consummation of their privileges—apart from us. The “just” had not been, and could not be, “perfected” (Hebrews 12:23) until Christ had died (Hebrews 7:19, Hebrews 8:6). The implied thought is that if Christ had come in their days—if the “close of the ages” had fallen in the times of the Patriarchs or Prophets—the world would long ago have ended, and we should never have been born. Our present privileges are, as he has been proving all through the Epistle, incomparably better than those of the fathers. It was necessary in the economy of God that their “perfectionment” should be delayed until ours could be accomplished; in the future world we and they shall equally enjoy the benefits of Christ’s redemption.

The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

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