In Hebrews 11:32-34 we see apparent faith victories. It says, “who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.” It even adds that through faith women received back from the dead their loved ones! But he then turns to what might be called “failures” of faith because in verses 37-38 he points out other believes who “…were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.” Isaacs observes, “It is not only the ‘winners’ who obviously triumphed over their enemies but also the weak and persecuted who are held out as examples of faith to be emulated.”[1]

J. Vernon McGee says, “My friend, there are a great many people who have demonstrated their faith by winning battles and by being delivered, but there are others, multitudes of them, who have suffered for the faith. Down through the long history of the church there have been the Waldensians, the Albigenses, the Huguenots, the Scottish Covenanters, and many others.”[2] Fruchtenbaum concludes, “God does not work the same way in every case. There were some people He resurrected from the dead, but there were others He did not resurrect from the dead. There were some He rescued alive, while there were others He allowed to be tortured to death. Those who were tortured to death exercised as much faith as those who were rescued alive. All of these had faith, although the results of their faith varied as God willed.”[3]

When Paul writes, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” he did not mean he could win football games. He meant that regardless of the ups and down of life he can find peace and contentment with God through his relationship with Jesus. Wiersbe shares the following story in his commentary: “While making a hospital visit, I found a patient lying in bed weeping. “What’s the matter?” I asked. Her reply was to hand me a book that she had that day received in the mail. It was on “divine healing” and “the power of faith.” Some anonymous person had written on the flyleaf, “Read this book—it will give you faith to be healed.” The patient happened to be a dedicated Christian who trusted God even in the midst of suffering. But her anonymous correspondent thought that all people with faith should be delivered miraculously. I have personally experienced God’s miracle touch on my body when others were sure I would die. I know that God can heal. But I also know that God does not have to heal in order to prove that I have faith. The writer of Hebrews (11:36–38) records the fact that many unknown men and women of faith were not delivered from difficult circumstances; yet God honored their faith. In fact, it takes more faith to endure than it does to escape.”[4] Constable says, “Those who accept death without apostatizing are those the world is not worthy of because they do not turn from following God even under the most severe pressure.”[5] Jesus’ grace is always sufficient.

[1] Marie E. Isaacs, Reading Hebrews and James: A Literary and Theological Commentary, Reading the New Testament Series (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 2002), 137.

[2] J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible Commentary: The Epistles (Hebrews 8-13), electronic ed., vol. 52 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1991), 106.

[3] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, The Messianic Jewish Epistles: Hebrews, James, First Peter, Second Peter, Jude, 1st ed. (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 2005), 166.

[4] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 321.

[5] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), Heb 11:35.