What does Hebrews 11:37 mean?
ESV: They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—
NIV: They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated--
NASB: They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented
CSB: They were stoned, they were sawed in two, they died by the sword, they wandered about in sheepskins, in goatskins, destitute, afflicted, and mistreated.
NLT: Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated.
KJV: 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;
Verses 35 through 38 list some of the many hardships inflicted on those who remained faithful to God. These difficulties were experienced by the same people who obtained the amazing successes recently described (Hebrews 11:32–35). The point being made in this particular part of the book of Hebrews is that true faith—meaning trust—involves the intent to "hold fast" when we are under pressure to despair, or to abandon our faith (Hebrews 3:6; 10:23; Philippians 4:12–13).
Listing the atrocities suffered by faithful believers is meant to accomplish two major purposes. First, this serves to remind the reader that God can and will "work together for good" everything that happens in the life of those who trust in Him (Romans 8:28). Those who maintained faith in God, despite these terrible situations, were the same who saw God respond with the victories listed in this same passage. All the while, though, we are encouraged to remember that the trusting faith which pleases God is set on His ultimate plan, not our immediate circumstances (Hebrews 11:10–16).
As the end of this chapter will show, these hardships are also listed to convict the reader. This letter was originally written to persecuted Christians. By describing the truly awful experiences of some who held faith in God, those who are in less-dire circumstances should feel conviction. Other believers have endured outright torture, imprisonment, and beatings for the sake of their faith; is our "hard time" really too much for us to bear? Instead of despairing or withering under our struggles, we should be motivated to "hold fast," in no small part due to the examples of these earlier believers.
Even more convicting, these believers are still awaiting the ultimate fulfillment of God's promises, for a very humbling reason. God is extending the opportunity for salvation to us—here, now, today—delaying the rewards of those earlier believers for our sake (Hebrews 11:40)!
Hebrews 11:32—12:2 is one of Scripture's most stirring and inspirational passages. The theme of earlier verses was Old Testament heroes who exemplified faith, defined as a forward-looking trust in God. The emphasis of these examples moved from general faith, to faith in the face of hard choices, to faith resulting in victory. Here, the writer includes all of these, in a rapid-fire list of people who demonstrated the power of true, godly faith. As a letter delivered to persecuted Jewish Christians, these examples are meant to be encouraging and inspiring, as well as convicting. God waited to deliver the ultimate fulfillment of His promises so that we—those who are alive now—would have an opportunity to be saved. Given that privilege, Christians ought to strive to endure, and to hold fast, living out that same godly faith.
True, godly faith is defined as trust, relying on God when looking to the future, and obeying even when we don't fully understand all details. The great figures of the Old Testament, such as Abraham, Moses, and David, all lived according to this type of faith. Ultimately, that means trusting God's intent to make good on His promises from an eternal perspective. The model of faith presented by those people, in light of the struggles they faced, ought to inspire Christians towards a more confident, purposeful faith.
Up to this point, the book of Hebrews has given extensive evidence proving that Jesus Christ, and the new covenant He brought about, is God's ultimate plan for mankind's salvation. Chapter 10 provided an additional warning about the danger of falling away from this truth. Chapter 11 begins by clarifying the meaning of the word ''faith,'' primarily by listing examples of Old Testament figures who exemplify it. The ultimate application of this knowledge should be a motivation to ''hold fast'' to the gospel, despite hardships. That encouragement is a major theme of chapter 12.
The book of Hebrews is meant to challenge, encourage, and empower Christian believers. According to this letter, Jesus Christ is superior to all other prophets and all other claims to truth. Since God has given us Christ, we ought to listen to what He says and not move backwards. The consequences of ignoring God are dire. Hebrews is important for drawing on many portions of the Old Testament in making a case that Christ is the ultimate and perfect expression of God's plan for mankind. This book presents some tough ideas about the Christian faith, a fact the author makes specific note of.
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