Hebrews 11:37 - Sawed in Two
Hebrews 11:37 - Sawed in Two
They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated.Hebrews 11:37
Many Christians love Hebrews 11. This is the well-known “By Faith” chapter, a memorial to those in the past through whom God accomplished great things. The writer guides us through the history of salvation, and we think back on all the saints who make an appearance.
But as the writer continues, it’s as if he realizes the task is too big. There are just too many saints – too many testimonies to God’s power! In verse 32 he writes, “And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson...” Having reached the period of the judges, he picks up the pace. Yet he still wants to point out how the marvelous pattern was continued. Even if he won’t name names, he’ll show what God has always done in and through his people.
Some of these unnamed believers are alluded to in verse 37: “They were stoned, they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword.” We think back: who was stoned to death? Zechariah, son of Jehoiada the priest, comes to mind (2 Chronicles 24:20-21). Who was killed with a sword? The prophet Uriah is a possibility (Jeremiah 26:20-23). But who was sawed in two? Here the Bible doesn’t provide us with any names, search as we might. There’s an “unknown soldier” inscribed on this memorial.
Yet we could try to dig a little deeper. Some writings not included in the Scriptures give additional histories of God’s people. One such work is The Lives of the Prophets, from the first century A.D. According to this writing and others, Isaiah was killed by Manasseh, king of Judah. It is said that Manasseh, furious with Isaiah for prophesying Jerusalem’s destruction, ordered his arrest. When he heard of this order, Isaiah fled to the countryside and hid in the hollow trunk of a cedar tree. There he was discovered, at which Manasseh ruthlessly ordered the tree be cut down, Isaiah still inside. Thus, “sawed in two.”
It’s an interesting possibility. That old account of the prophet’s demise seems to accord with the short phrase in Hebrews 11:37. Yet we can’t be certain it’s Isaiah, because the writer doesn’t tell us whom he’s thinking of. And actually, the exact identity of the person(s) “sawed in two” isn’t as important as the chapter’s overarching theme.
The key theme of Hebrews 11 is not so much human faith, but God’s faithfulness. Also to those who suffered for their faith, to those who even went to death for this testimony – God was faithful. It was God who gave the ability to hold on to the good confession. It was God who gave the bravery to face death. And it was God who ensured their lives were not wasted, even if they ended in a gruesome way.
This was good for the readers of the letter to the Hebrews to know. They themselves had previously suffered for being Christians: “Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution... ” (10:33). These believers needed to know they weren’t alone in this suffering; they weren’t the first to go through pain for God’s sake.
And even if they weren’t being persecuted anymore, it wasn’t time to coast. Rather, they’re encouraged to keep following the example of other saints, past and present: “We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised” (6:12). The writer calls them to consider “the cloud of witnesses,” to imitate those believers who suffered for God and who received his reward.
The same call goes out to us. Though we aren’t in danger of being sawed in two for our faith, we must not become lazy. Rather, we need to realize that suffering for the faith is sure to come, just as it has come in the past, for,
Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.2 Timothy 3:12
Let us pray for strength to speak God’s Word, even if that Word offends. Through God’s Spirit let us build the spiritual fortitude for standing fast, even if we’re assaulted.
And we too ought to consider the example of those witnesses who have gone before us. As our countless – even nameless – brothers and sisters did in the past, by the power of God we can endure any suffering for the sake of Christ. By faith in God, we can live; and by faith in Him, we can die.
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