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Hebrews 11:35

  • The "Hall of Fame of Faith" of Hebrews 11 mentions a number of men and women by name, yet many persons are only alluded to (Hebrews 11:32-38). Some are known from Bible, others from extrabiblical sources.
    • The courageous martyr who was sawn in two was Isaiah, who traditionally was executed by Manasseh (Martyrdom of Isaiah 1:10, 5:1; also recorded in the Talmud).
    • Probably the best known, and most colorful, instance the Hebrew writer refers to is found in verse 35.
  • Hebrews 11:35 refers to 2 Maccabees 7, the moving story of a family of 8 who take their stand on the God of Israel, refusing to be released so that they might "attain a better resurrection."
  • The story has been a constant source of inspiration for devout Jews ever since the second century BC.

The context

  • 2nd century BC
  • Antiochus Epiphanes IV (foretold in Daniel 11) insists on divine honors. He has no sensitivity to or tolerance for Judaism.
  • Heavy pressure to conform to pagan (Greek) society
    • Greek language, fashion, sports, culture, idolatry.
    • Prohibition of circumcision.
    • Violation of Sabbath and kosher laws.
  • Some Jews refused, and this led to a revolution, the Maccabean revolt.
    • Judas the Hammer (Judas Maccabee) leads the revolt. The revolution was successful, and for the period of about a century the Jews enjoyed political autonomy.
    • The Seleucids and Ptolemies, heirs to the fractured kingdom of Alexander the Great, could not hold on to Judea. The Jewish Hasmonean dynasty now sits on the throne.
    • This comes to and end when the Romans, who were eclipsing the Greeks from the 2nd to 1st centuries BC, seize control of the region in 63 BC. They rule Jerusalem until 614 AD (when it is captured by the Persians). The Muslims seize Jerusalem in 638 AD.
    • During this century of Jewish rule, the monarchy and the priesthood became entangled and corrupt. The lascivious and equivocating Herod the Great appeals directly to Augustus Caesar and solidifies his position as king of the Jews. The priesthood has by now become a sham. Longing for the spirit of the days of the Maccabean martyrs, many Jews wistfully read the books of 1-2 Maccabees.

The theology of the passage

  • At this time some Jews believed in resurrection only for the righteous, others that the wicked would be resurrected and then destroyed in the fire, while the righteous would be resurrected to everlasting life.
  • You will notice that the seventh son warns Antiochus of judgment, but not of infinite hell. Like Christians in the first four centuries, Jews in the intertestamental period held several different positions on the nature and duration of hell.
  • You will detect a trace of a patriarchal attitude in the text. If this bothers you, remember that this passage in 2 Maccabees lifts up the woman as a worthy example for us all.
  • There are times when government demands absolute allegiance; we must refuse.
  • The Law of Moses must be upheld.
  • The brothers actually interpret their persecution as the punishment of God for their sins (!).

2 Maccabees 7:1-41