They were stoned - As Zechariah, the son of Barachiah or Jehoida, was, between the altar and the temple; see the account, 2 Chronicles 24:21; and See the notes on Matthew 23:35. And as Naboth the Jezreelite, who, on refusing to give up his father's inheritance to a covetous king, because it had respect to the promise of God, was falsely accused and stoned to death; 1 Kings 21:1-14.
They were sawn asunder - There is a tradition that the Prophet Isaiah was thus martyred. In Yevamoth, fol. 49, 2, it is thus written: "Manasseh slew Isaiah; for he commanded that he should be slain with a wooden saw. They then brought the saw, and cut him in two; and when the saw reached his mouth, his soul fled forth." St. Jerome and others mention the same thing; and among the Jews the tradition is indubitable.
Were tempted - Επειρασθησαν . I believe this word has vexed the critics more than any other in the New Testament. How being tempted can be ranked among the heavy sufferings of the primitive martyrs and confessors is not easy to discern, because to be tempted is the common lot of every godly man. This difficulty has induced learned men to mend the text by conjecture: Beza proposes επυρωθησαν, they were branded. Junius, Piscator, and others, propose επυρασθησαν, they were burnt alive. Gataker thinks επρησθησαν, a word of the same import, should be preferred. Tanaquil Faber gives the preference to επηρωθησαν, they were mutilated - had different parts of their bodies lopped off. Sir Norton Knatchbull contends for επαρθησαν, they were transfixed, or pierced through. Alberti thinks the original reading was εσπειρασθησαν, they were strangled. About as many more differences have been proposed by learned men, all bearing a very clear resemblance to the words now found in the Greek text. By three MSS. the word is entirely omitted; as also by the Syriac, Arabic of Erpen, the Ethiopic, and by Eusebius and Theophylact. Of all the conjectures, that of Knatchbull appears to me to be the most probable: they were transfixed or impaled; and even the present reading might be construed in this sense.
Were slain with the sword - As in the case of the eighty-five priests slain by Doeg, see 1 Samuel 22:18; and the prophets, of whose slaughter by the sword Elijah complains, 1 Kings 19:10. Probably the word means being beheaded, which was formerly done with a sword, and not with an axe; and in the east is done by the sword to the present day.
They wandered about in sheepskins - Μηλωταις Sheepskins dressed with the wool on. This was probably the sort of mantle that Elijah wore, and which was afterwards used by Elisha; for the Septuagint, in 2 Kings 2:8-13, expressly say: Και ελαβεν Ἡλιας την μηλωτην αὑτου· and Elijah took his Sheepskin (mantle.) Και ὑψωσε την μηλωτην Ἡλιου, ἡ επεσεν επανωθεν αὑτου· And he (Elisha) took the Sheepskin of Elijah which had fallen from off him. It was most probably on this account, as Dr. Macknight conjectures, that Elijah was called a hairy man, 2 Kings 1:8; and not on account of having a preposterously long beard, as those marrers of all the unities of time, place, circumstances, and common sense, the painters, represent him. And it is likely that the prophets themselves wore such garments, and that the false prophets imitated them in this, in order that they might gain the greater credit. And it shall come to pass in that day, that the prophets shall be ashamed every one of his vision - neither shall they wear a rough garment to deceive, Zechariah 13:4; δερῥιν τριχινην, a hairy skin, Sept., probably the goatskins mentioned above. In general, this was an upper garment; but, in the cases to which the apostle alludes, the sheepskin and goatskin seem to have been the only covering.
Being destitute - Ὑστερουμενοι· In want of all the comforts and conveniences of life, and often of its necessaries.
Afflicted - In consequence of enduring such privations.
Tormented - Κακουχουμενοι· Maltreated, harassed, variously persecuted by those to whom they brought the message of salvation.
They were stoned - A common method of punishment among the Jews; see the notes on Matthew 21:35, Matthew 21:44. Thus, Zechariah, the son of Jehoiada the priest, was stoned; see 2 Chronicles 24:21; compare 1 Kings 21:1-14. It is not improbable that this was often resorted to in times of popular tumult, as in the case of Stephen; Acts 7:59; compare John 10:31; Acts 14:5. In the time of the terrible persecutions under Antiochus Epiphanes, and under Manasseh, such instances also probably occurred.
They were sawn asunder - It is commonly supposed that Isaiah was put to death in this manner. For the evidence of this, see introduction to Isaiah, 2. It is known that this mode of punishment, though not common, did exist in ancient times. Among the Romans, the laws of the twelve tables affixed this as the punishment of certain crimes, but this mode of execution was very rare, since Aulius Gellius says that in his time no one remembered to have seen it practiced. It appears, however, from Suetonius that the emperor Caligula often condemned persons of rank to be sawn through the middle. Calmet, writing above a hundred years ago, says, “I am assured that the punishment of the saw is still in use among the Switzers, and that they put it in practice not many years ago upon one of their countrymen, guilty of a great crime, in the plain of Grenelles, near Paris. They put him into a kind of coffin, and sawed him lengthwise, beginning at the head, as a piece of wood is sawn; “Pict. Bib.” It was not an unusual mode of punishment to cut a person asunder, and to suspend the different parts of the body to walls and towers, as a warning to the living; see 1 Samuel 31:10, and Morier‘s Second Journey to Persia, p. 96.
Were tempted - On this expression, which has given much perplexity in critics, see the notes of Prof. Stuart, Bloomfield, and Kuinoel. There is a great variety of reading in the mss. and editions of the New Testament, and many have regarded it as an interpolation. The difficulty which has been felt in reference to it has been, that it is a much milder word than those just used, and that it is hardly probable that the apostle would enumerate this among those which he had just specified, as if to be tempted deserved to be mentioned among sufferings of so severe a nature. But it seems to me there need be no real difficulty in the case. The apostle here, among other sufferings which they were called to endure, may have referred to the temptations which were presented to the martyrs when about to die to abandon their religion and live. It is very possible to conceive that this might have been among the highest aggravations of their sufferings. We know that in later times it was a common practice to offer life to those who were doomed to a horrid death on condition that they would throw incense on the altars of a pagan god, and we may easily suppose that a temptation of that kind, artfully presented in the midst of keen tortures, would greatly aggravate their sufferings. Or suppose when a father was about to be put to death for his religion, his wife and children were placed before him and should plead with him to save his life by abandoning his religion, we can easily imagine that no pain of the rack would cause so keen torture to the soul as their cries and tears would. Amidst the sorrows of martyrs, therefore, it was not improper to say that they were tempted, and to place this among their most aggravated woes. For instances of this nature. see 1 Samuel 22:18; and the prophets. of whose slaughter by the sword Elijah complains; 1 Kings 19:10.
They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins - Driven away from their homes, and compelled to clothe themselves in this rude and uncomfortable manner. A dress of this kind, or a dress made of hair, was not uncommon with the prophets, and seems indeed to have been regarded as an appropriate badge of their office; see 2 Kings 1:8; Zechariah 13:4.
Being destitute, afflicted, tormented - The word “tormented” here means tortured. The apostle expresses here in general what in the previous verses he had specified in detail.
“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; ... 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. Ed 158.1
“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. Ed 158.2
“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.” Hebrews 11:32-40. Ed 158.3Read in context »
“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” (Hebrews 11:33-37). HP 268.3Read in context »
Kings and governors, priests and rulers, sought to destroy the temple of God. But in the face of imprisonment, torture, and death, faithful men carried the work forward; and the structure grew, beautiful and symmetrical. At times the workmen were almost blinded by the mists of superstition that settled around them. At times they were almost overpowered by the violence of their opponents. But with unfaltering faith and unfailing courage they pressed on with the work. AA 597.1
One after another the foremost of the builders fell by the hand of the enemy. Stephen was stoned; James was slain by the sword; Paul was beheaded; Peter was crucified; John was exiled. Yet the church grew. New workers took the place of those who fell, and stone after stone was added to the building. Thus slowly ascended the temple of the church of God. AA 597.2
Centuries of fierce persecution followed the establishment of the Christian church, but there were never wanting men who counted the work of building God's temple dearer than life itself. Of such it is written: “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.” Hebrews 11:36-38. AA 597.3Read in context »
When Jesus revealed to His disciples the fate of Jerusalem and the scenes of the second advent, He foretold also the experience of His people from the time when He should be taken from them, to His return in power and glory for their deliverance. From Olivet the Saviour beheld the storms about to fall upon the apostolic church; and penetrating deeper into the future, His eye discerned the fierce, wasting tempests that were to beat upon His followers in the coming ages of darkness and persecution. In a few brief utterances of awful significance He foretold the portion which the rulers of this world would mete out to the church of God. Matthew 24:9, 21, 22. The followers of Christ must tread the same path of humiliation, reproach, and suffering which their Master trod. The enmity that burst forth against the world's Redeemer would be manifested against all who should believe on His name. GC 39.1
The history of the early church testified to the fulfillment of the Saviour's words. The powers of earth and hell arrayed themselves against Christ in the person of His followers. Paganism foresaw that should the gospel triumph, her temples and altars would be swept away; therefore she summoned her forces to destroy Christianity. The fires of persecution were kindled. Christians were stripped of their possessions and driven from their homes. They “endured a great fight of afflictions.” Hebrews 10:32. They “had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment.” Hebrews 11:36. Great numbers sealed their testimony with their blood. Noble and slave, rich and poor, learned and ignorant, were alike slain without mercy. GC 39.2Read in context »