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.
1 (Hebrews 11:37). Isaiah Was Sawn Asunder—Isaiah, who was permitted by the Lord to see wonderful things, was sawn asunder, because he faithfully reproved the sins of the Jewish nation. The prophets who came to look after the Lord's vineyard, were indeed beaten and killed. “They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword; they wandered about in sheepskins and goat-skins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented”—men of whom the world was not worthy. They were cruelly treated, and banished from the world (The Signs of the Times, February 17, 1898). 4BC 1137.1Read in context »
The heirs of God have come from garrets, from hovels, from dungeons, from scaffolds, from mountains, from deserts, from the caves of the earth, from the caverns of the sea. On earth they were “destitute, afflicted, tormented.” Millions went down to the grave loaded with infamy because they steadfastly refused to yield to the deceptive claims of Satan. By human tribunals they were adjudged the vilest of criminals. But now “God is judge Himself.” Psalm 50:6. Now the decisions of earth are reversed. “The rebuke of His people shall He take away.” Isaiah 25:8. “They shall call them, The holy people, The redeemed of the Lord.” He hath appointed “to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.” Isaiah 62:12; 61:3. They are no longer feeble, afflicted, scattered, and oppressed. Henceforth they are to be ever with the Lord. They stand before the throne clad in richer robes than the most honored of the earth have ever worn. They are crowned with diadems more glorious than were ever placed upon the brow of earthly monarchs. The days of pain and weeping are forever ended. The King of glory has wiped the tears from all faces; every cause of grief has been removed. Amid the waving of palm branches they pour forth a song of praise, clear, sweet, and harmonious; every voice takes up the strain, until the anthem swells through the vaults of heaven: “Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.” And all the inhabitants of heaven respond in the ascription: “Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honor, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever.” Revelation 7:10, 12. GC 650.1
In this life we can only begin to understand the wonderful theme of redemption. With our finite comprehension we may consider most earnestly the shame and the glory, the life and the death, the justice and the mercy, that meet in the cross; yet with the utmost stretch of our mental powers we fail to grasp its full significance. The length and the breadth, the depth and the height, of redeeming love are but dimly comprehended. The plan of redemption will not be fully understood, even when the ransomed see as they are seen and know as they are known; but through the eternal ages new truth will continually unfold to the wondering and delighted mind. Though the griefs and pains and temptations of earth are ended and the cause removed, the people of God will ever have a distinct, intelligent knowledge of what their salvation has cost. GC 651.1
The cross of Christ will be the science and the song of the redeemed through all eternity. In Christ glorified they will behold Christ crucified. Never will it be forgotten that He whose power created and upheld the unnumbered worlds through the vast realms of space, the Beloved of God, the Majesty of heaven, He whom cherub and shining seraph delighted to adore—humbled Himself to uplift fallen man; that He bore the guilt and shame of sin, and the hiding of His Father's face, till the woes of a lost world broke His heart and crushed out His life on Calvary's cross. That the Maker of all worlds, the Arbiter of all destinies, should lay aside His glory and humiliate Himself from love to man will ever excite the wonder and adoration of the universe. As the nations of the saved look upon their Redeemer and behold the eternal glory of the Father shining in His countenance; as they behold His throne, which is from everlasting to everlasting, and know that His kingdom is to have no end, they break forth in rapturous song: “Worthy, worthy is the Lamb that was slain, and hath redeemed us to God by His own most precious blood!” GC 651.2Read 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 »
“Brother Andrews related an instance of a faithful Christian about to suffer martyrdom for his faith. A brother Christian had been conversing with him in regard to the power of the Christian hope—if it would be strong enough to sustain him while his flesh should be consuming with fire. He asked this Christian, about to suffer, to give him a signal if the Christian faith and hope were stronger than the raging, consuming fire. He expected his turn to come next, and this would fortify him for the fire. The former promised that the signal should be given. He was brought to the stake amid the taunts and jeers of the idle and curious crowd assembled to witness the burning of this Christian. The fagots were brought and the fire kindled, and the brother Christian fixed his eyes upon the suffering, dying martyr, feeling that much depended upon the signal. The fire burned, and burned. The flesh was blackened; but the signal came not. His eye was not taken for a moment from the painful sight. The arms were already crisped. There was no appearance of life. All thought that the fire had done its work, and that no life remained; when, lo! amid the flames, up went both arms toward heaven. The brother Christian, whose heart was becoming faint, caught sight of the joyful signal; it sent a thrill through his whole being, and renewed his faith, his hope, his courage. He wept tears of joy. 1T 657.1
“As Brother Andrews spoke of the blackened, burned arms raised aloft amid the flames, he, too, wept like a child. Nearly the whole congregation were affected to tears. This meeting closed about ten. There had been quite a breaking away of the clouds of darkness. Brother Hemingway arose and said he had been completely backslidden, using tobacco, opposing the visions, and persecuting his wife for believing them, but said he would do so no more. He asked her forgiveness, and the forgiveness of us all. His wife spoke with feeling. His daughter and several others rose for prayers. He stated that the testimony which Sister White had borne seemed to come direct from the throne, and he would never dare to oppose it again. 1T 658.1
“Brother Ball then said that if matters were as we viewed them, his case was very bad. He said he knew he had been backslidden for years and had stood in the way of the young. We thanked God for that admission. We designed to leave early Monday morning, and had an appointment at Braintree, Vermont, to meet about thirty Sabbathkeepers. But it was very cold, rough, blustering weather to ride twenty-five miles after such constant labor, and we finally decided to hold on, and continue the work in Washington until Brother Ball decided either for or against the truth, that the church might be relieved in his case. 1T 658.2Read in context »