How much more do I need to say? It would take too long to recount the stories of the faith of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and all the prophets. By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions, quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight. Women received their loved ones back again from death.
But others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection. Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground.
All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us.
This is a long section to be described as a highlight but it is difficult to know where to cut it off. Up to this point this chapter has all been positive. We have been looking at the great heroes of the faith who accomplished much for God. Now we are looking at lesser heroes. Some of them not so small - Gideon, David and Samuel. But then we get to a list, not of names, but of troubles, pain and martyrdom. Why some of us will live largely trouble free Christian lives and some of us will have a difficult, dangerous and even fatal time in following the Lord we will never know. In simplistic terms it depends where we live. Those who live in the Muslim lands of west Asia can expect trouble! Those who live in the Western world can expect to largely avoid it - though things are deteriorating in many lands with the rise of militant secularism.
And then there are the problems that seem to strike so haphazardly in even the calmest environments. One person is healthy and well all their days; the next person struggles with ill health most of their days. One has cancer; the next does not. Once again we note that becoming a Christian is no guarantee that we shall escape the worst parts of the chaos of this life. It can be very hard to accept the premature death of a loved one, but that is what we have to do. There is no point in blaming God, as so many people do in those sorts of circumstances. We do not know what his purposes are. We do not know why he has allowed the world to be the way it is.
Paul knew all about suffering for the Lord. he said, “Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. With eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us …. the new bodies he has promised us. We were given this hope when we were saved…. we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” (Romans 8: 18 - 28).
Isaiah did not say on behalf of the Lord: I will let you avoid deep waters, you will not have to go through rivers of difficulty, or walk through the fire of oppression.
What he did say was: When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. (Isaiah 43: 2)
We are to walk, hand in hand with the Lord through all the difficulties and dangers that may come our way.