57 – Hebrews 11:33-40: The Faith of the Perseverant

Hebrews 11:33-40

“Through faith, Believers conquered kingdoms, established justice, received promises, were preserved from lions’ jaws, quenched raging fires, and escaped execution. Although weakened, they found strength to become mighty warriors and routed foreign armies. Women received their dead raised back to life, while others were tortured to death, refusing their freedom in anticipation of the resurrected life. Others stood the test of public taunts and torture. Many experienced chains and imprisonment. They were stoned to death, cut in pieces, slain by the sword, and pressured to denounce their faith. They roamed, clad in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, persecuted, and mistreated. The world was not worthy of them. They wandered in lonely places, dwelling in underground caverns and caves.

All these, though commemorated for their faith, did not fully receive what the Lord had promised. God had something better planned for them – that they as well as us would attain a state of maturation and completion.”   (paraphrased)                                    
The writer now brings his essay concerning faith to a powerful conclusion. He has listed numerous examples of how faith sustained Believers during persecution and suffering. He proves how far God’s enemies will go to invent cruelties to heap upon those who least deserve it. In these final verses, we discover how grace works in tandem with faith during times of adversity. Paul reminds us that only through tribulation can Believers enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:21-22).

v. 33
They subdued kingdoms.
“Subdued” is katagonizomai, meaning “to struggle against and overcome, as in a desperate contest.” Joshua conquered the kingdom city of Jericho. David smote the Philistines at Baal-perazim (I Chron. 14:10-11). Asa dealt the Ethiopians a humiliating blow (II Chron.14:11-12). It is noteworthy that Samson killed many royal officials when he demolished the temple of Dagon (Jud. 16:27-30).

They wrought righteousness.
“Righteousness” here refers to one’s personal attributes – as well as their public influence as a leader. Daniel and his companions boldly refused to compromise and eat the king’s meat (Dan. 1:7-8). “David reigned over all Israel and executed judgment and justice” (I Chron. 18:14). Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, admonished the judges he appointed to be fair and impartial (II Chron. 19:6-7). The people of Israel testified that Samuel had never oppressed, defrauded, or exploited them (I Sam. 12:4). God gave Solomon the wisdom to administer justice (I Kgs. 3:28). The Queen of Sheba visited Solomon and told him he was a righteous king (I Kgs. 10:9).

They obtained promises.
Abraham and Sarah received their promised son Isaac (Gen. 21:1-3). Abraham claimed the Promised Land (Acts 7:5). Caleb inherited the real estate pledged to him (Josh. 14:12-13). Joshua reminded the elders not one of God’s promises had failed (Josh. 23:14). God assured Gideon he would be victorious over the Midianites (Jud. 7:7). The Lord has given all Believers exceedingly great and precious promises (II Pet. 1:4).

They stopped the mouths of lions.
The lion is crowned “the king of beasts.” To kill one is universally viewed as an act of great heroism. Samson slew a lion barehanded (Jud. 14:5-6). David also killed a lion, as did Benaiah (I Sam. 17:34-35 & I Chron. 11:22).  Paul wrote to Timothy that he was “delivered out of the mouth of the lion” (II Tim. 4:17). He probably used this phrase metaphorically, for Roman citizens were not thrown to the lions in the arena. “The mouth of the lion” was a Greek metaphor concerning imminent and extreme danger. David also makes use of this phrase when he tells how the Lord “delivered him from the lion’s mouth” (Ps. 22:20-21 & 35:17). Daniel was literally delivered from a den of lions – for God “closed their mouths” (Dan. 6:22).

v. 34
They quenched the violence of fire.
Moses halted the consuming fire of God at Taberah when he prayed for mercy (Num. 11:1-3). The preservation of the three Hebrew children in the fiery furnace perfectly illustrates this concept. With defiant faith they withstood the threats of king Nebuchadnezzar, vowing to resist idolatry even if God did not deliver them (Dan. 3:16-18). Their victory was so complete, the odor of smoke was not upon them (Dan. 3:27).

They escaped the edge of the sword.
David foiled the schemes of Saul more than once (I Sam. 18:11). Jonathan warned David and protected him from his father’s wrath (19:1-2). Baruch the scribe hid Jeremiah from king Jehoiakim (Jer. 36:19, 26). While he was in prison, the Lord assured Jeremiah he would “not fall by the sword” (39:15-18). Elijah eluded Jezebel (I Kgs. 19:1-3 & 10). Elisha escaped when threatened with assassination (II Kgs. 6:31). Mordecai and the Jews evaded the swords of Haman’s army – and turned to destroy them instead (Esther 9:5). Peter escaped the sword of Herod (Acts 12:1-11).

They grew strong, although they had been in a state of weakness.
Hezekiah was sick and near death. Isaiah was sent to tell him he would be healed and God added fifteen years to his life (II Kgs. 20:1-6). Moses, as well as Jeremiah, complained they were deficient in oratory abilities. However, the Lord blessed them both with the gift of eloquent speech to deliver His Word (Ex. 4:10-12 & Jer. 1:6-8). The Philistines weakened and blinded Samson….but God gave him supernatural strength to pull their temple down upon them (Jud. 16:28-30).

They fought bravely in battles.
Barak, under the inspiration of Deborah, assembled 10,000 men to face the Canaanite’s 900 chariots (Jud. 4:15-16). Jephthah defeated the Amorites (Jud. 11:21). David smote Goliath and ultimately killed thousands of God’s enemies (I Sam. 17:50 & 18:7). God enabled David to run through enemy troops and leap over walls (Ps. 18:29). In order to give Hezekiah the victory, the Lord struck down 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in one night. Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, was then forced to withdraw his army and return to Nineveh (II Kgs. 19:35-36). We are “more than conquerors through Christ who loves us” (Rom. 8:37).

They made enemy armies flee.
Abraham vanquished the confederation of kings that ravaged Sodom and Gomorrah and had taken Lot captive (Gen. 14:15). Joshua was victorious over the Amalekites (Ex. 17:13). David smote the Philistines (II Sam. 8:1). God can enable one person to put thousands to flight (Deut. 32:30).

v. 35
Women received their dead raised back to life again
The widow of Zarepath’s son was raised from the dead through the faith of Elijah (I Kgs. 17:23). The son of a Shunamite was resurrected through the faith of Elisha (II Kgs. 4:35-37). Christ brought the son of the widow of Nain back to life (Lk. 7:11-14). Mary and Martha saw their brother Lazarus freed from his tomb (Jn. 11:1-40). Jairus’ daughter was restored through the power of Christ (Mk. 5:42). The women of Joppa welcomed Dorcas as she arose from her deathbed (Acts 9:36-41).

Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection.
“Tortured” is tumpanizo, referring to the wheel-shaped instrument over which criminals were stretched and beaten. During such agonizing maltreatment, Believers were often offered freedom if they would denounce their faith. But they refused to be released, for they anticipated a more honorable and eternal resurrection. The Holy Spirit can empower us to endure the severest trials.

v. 36
Others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings.
The word “others” (heteros) means “of another kind.” The writer here introduces a new category of victories achieved by faith. He now begins a list of fiendish ridicule and afflictions Believers endured. Verbal abuse was the least of their problems, for jeers and insults were common. King David was mocked by Shimei, but for this affront David would not allow Abishai to kill him (II Sam. 16:7-10). Nehemiah tolerated the harassment of Sanballat and Tobiah (Neh. 4:1-3). God’s messengers and prophets were often despised and misused (II Chron. 36:16). Elijah was even taunted by children (II Kg. 2:23). Because of his prophecies, Jeremiah was beaten, put into the stocks and derided by Pashur (Jer. 20:1-7). Christ was scourged (Mt. 27:26) and lampooned as He hung on the cross: “If you are really the King of the Jews, save yourself” (Lk. 23:37). Paul was frequently flogged and jailed. On five different occasions, he received 39 lashes. Three times he was beaten with rods (II Cor. 11:24-25). He faced bitter opposition in Cyprus, Antioch, Iconium, Thessalonica, Berea, Corinth, and Ephesus (Acts 13-19).

They were bound and imprisoned.
Joseph was falsely accused and imprisoned (Gen. 39:20). Micaiah was struck by Zedekiah and incarcerated (I Kgs.  22:24-27). Jeremiah asked Zedekiah, “What have I done that you have put me in prison?” (Jer. 37:18). He was later lowered into a miry pit, without water, and faced starvation (Jer. 38:6-9). Hanani the prophet was confined by Asa (II Chron. 16:7-10). The apostles were beaten and thrown in jail (Acts 5:18, 40). Paul and Silas were whipped and thrown in a dungeon (Acts 16:23).

v. 37
They were stoned.
To be pelted with rocks until death occurred was a punishment usually reserved for criminals. Because of Jezebel’s scheming, Naboth was falsely accused and stoned to death (I Kgs. 21:13). Zechariah the son of Jehoiada suffered a similar fate (II Chron. 24:21-22). The scribes and Pharisees sought to stone the woman taken in adultery (Jn. 8:5). Jesus refers to Jerusalem’s reputation for killing the prophets in this manner (Mt. 23:37). Men such as Steven were violently stoned for preaching the Gospel (Acts 7:58). Due to the hatred of the mob, Paul almost died this way at Lystra (Acts 14:19).

They were sawn asunder.
There is a Jewish tradition that Isaiah was sawn in half by King Manasseh. In view of his reputation for cruelty, this is not hard to believe (II Kgs. 21:16-17). 

They were tempted.
Since the readers had considered returning to Judaism, this phrase is especially relevant. Many Christians have been threatened, during torture, to deny their faith. The book of Job proves Believers can be severely tried, yet emerge victorious (Job 1:20-22 & 42:10). 

They were slain with the sword.
Sharp-edged blades were a common instrument of death in the ancient world. King Saul ordered Doeg the Edomite to kill eighty-five priests (I Sam. 22:18). Elijah made reference to the many prophets who had been slain in this manner (I Kgs. 19:10). Urijah was extradited from Egypt, killed with a sword, and thrown into a mass grave (Jer. 26:23). John the Baptist was beheaded while in prison (Mk. 6:27). Herod had James, who was the brother of John the Beloved, killed with the sword (Acts 12:2).

They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins.
Poverty often forced the prophets to use animal skins as clothing (Zech. 13:4). Elijah was depicted as a “man with a garment of hair with a leather belt around his waist” (II Kgs. 1:8). John the Baptist wore similar attire (Mt. 3:4). 

They were destitute, afflicted, and tormented.
“Tormented” (kakoukeo) means to be oppressed or maltreated. “Afflicted” is thlibo and means “to press hard upon.” Believers often feel the hateful pressure of God’s enemies. Thlibo can also refer to their psychological condition. Constant mental and physical afflictions adversely affect the central nervous system. Many were deprived of the simple comforts of life, with no means of subsistence. At one point, Elijah depended upon ravens to bring him food, with only water from the stream to drink (I Kgs. 17:2-6). Paul lists the numerous dangers he constantly faced (II Cor. 11:26-27). The recipients of the epistle to the Hebrews had suffered severe afflictions (10:32-33). 

v. 38
The world was unworthy of them.
The writer interrupts himself in order to state a simple truth. Instead of indicating these saints were deemed unworthy by the world, he states that the world was not worthy of them. Worthy” (axios) pictures a pair of balancing scales. The future they anticipated outweighed their sufferings. Paul calculated the suffering of the present were not worthy to be compared to the glorious future that awaited him (Rom. 8:18). 

God often allowed people of faith to endure horrific things in order to validate and demonstrate their faith. How a person reacts to injustices helps differentiate between true faith and nominal faith. Believers are thereby allowed to experience a small portion of Christ’s sufferings. To patiently endure maltreatment and trials also serves to strengthen the faith of those who witness such unjust treatment.

They wandered in deserts and mountains, dwelling in dens and caves of the earth.
The writer’s term for “wandering” (planomenoi) refers to sojourning in unknown territory. These saints often had no permanent habitation and lived as outcasts. Elijah fled into the desert (I Kgs. 19:4). After David escaped from Saul, he took refuge in the cave of Adullam (I Sam. 22:1). God sheltered Moses in the cleft of a rock (Ex. 33:22). Obadiah hid a hundred prophets in caves – but could only provide them bread and water (I Kgs. 18:4).

v. 39
These all received a good report through faith – yet did not receive the promise.
Christ is the ultimate “pledge” God has made to the human race, for all His promises are ultimately fulfilled through Him (II Cor. 1:20). When brought before Agrippa, Paul said he was “judged for the hope of the promise made by God to the forefathers” (Acts 26:6).

God has provided something better for us.
The “better thing” God has given us is salvation through Christ. The writer here refers to the retrospective efficacy of the cross, resulting in perpetual access to God through the Lord Jesus. 

They, without us, could not be brought to completion.
The Old Testament saints did not receive the spiritual level of blessing the Lord designed for New Testament Believers. Jesus told His disciples “many prophets and righteous men desired to see the things they have seen and heard – but died without having seen or heard them” (Mt. 13:17). For Old Testament Believers, the promise of the Messiah was obscure. They could only anticipate His redemptive work. Generations of patriarchs, judges, and martyrs lived and died before Christ was born. But patriarchs and prophets witnessed from heaven the incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. No one had a entirely “complete” salvation until Christ’s atonement was finalized (Heb. 10:1-4). The Church will not actually be consummated until all Believers are together in heaven (I Thess. 4:16-17).

The writer has contrasted the cruelty of persecution with the sustaining power of faith. He reminds his readers of this senseless violence in order to encourage them to patiently bear their current trials. This dynamic chapter has encouraged millions of Believers to endure suffering and temptations for the cause of Christ. Although our current trials are comparatively small, through faith we too will vanquish the enemy. Heroes and heroines of the faith assure us of ultimate victory in every spiritual conflict.


Hebrews 11:33-40

1. What was true of all the persecutions and afflictions Paul endured? ( II Timothy 3:11)

2. Whom did David pray to be delivered from? (Psalm 142:6)

3. According to John 5:16, what did the Jews do to Jesus?
4. According to Romans 12:14, what must we do to our persecutors?
5. According to Mathew 5:12, whom did Jesus say was persecuted?
6. Prior to his conversion, whom did Paul persecute? (II Corinthians 4:9)

7. According to Acts 9:4, whom did Jesus say Saul was actually persecuting?

8. According to I Thessalonians 2:14-15, whom did the Jews kill?

9. According to I Peter 1:7, the trial of our faith is more valuable than what?

10. Write a brief essay concerning your most severe trial as a Believer.

11.List a few times you were mocked, cursed, slandered, or derided for your faith in Christ. 

Maxim of the Moment

Success is getting up one more time than the number of times you fall down. - Julie Bowden