Examples of Faith
Faith. What is it? Some of the words associated with faith include words such as belief, trust, hope, perseverance, patience, commitment, and devotion. One or more of these words describe the various people included in the "hall of faith" in Hebrews eleven.
Some of the demonstrations of faith mentioned at the end of chapter eleven appear to have come from the Maccabean period of Israelite history, between the old and new testaments. During this period, Antiochus IV, a successor to Alexander the Great, ruled in Palestine and attempted to Hellenize it by enmeshing it fully in Greek culture and philosophy. To faithful Jews, this was impossible and unacceptable. They refused the Gymnasium due to nudity, Greek festivals due to their honor of pagan gods, unclean meats of the Greeks, etc. They stubbornly continued to serve only Yahweh as God, observe the Sabbath, observe Jewish festivals, and practice circumcision, which many pagans considered mutilation. Antiochus IV outlawed Jewish practices and tried to make the temple a place for the pagan gods by erecting an image of Zeus there and offering pagan sacrifices on the altar. Those who did not conform to Greek customs were ordered killed.
When faithful Jews resisted, Antiochus resorted to forceful intimidation. 2 Maccabees 6-7 includes an account of a man named Eleazar, a prominent scribe. He refused to eat what was unclean even when the authorities tried to force him. Some had taken him aside to try and convince him to save himself by pretending to eat the swine's flesh in the presence of the authorities, while in reality eating something kosher. But Eleazar, knowing that he was a leader and example, publicly spit out the meat and said this,
"Such pretense is not worthy of our time of life, ... for many of the young might suppose that Eleazar in his ninetieth year had gone over to an alien religion, and through my pretense, for the sake of living a brief moment longer, they would be led astray because of me, while I defile and disgrace my old age. ... Therefore, by bravely giving up my life now, I will show myself worthy of my old age and leave to the young a noble example of how to die a good death willingly ... When he had said this, he went at once to the rack..." (2 Mac 6:24-29).
The next chapter includes an account of seven brothers and their mother who were tortured to death for not conforming. The mother watched each of her sons be tortured to death. In their native language, she strengthened each of her sons as they faced death, reminding them that God will raise them up again. When Antiochus came to the last son, he tried to bribe him, promising him wealth and power if he abandoned his Jewish ways and adopted the Greek life. But his mother, in their native language told him,
"Do not fear this butcher, but prove worthy of your brothers. Accept death, so that in God's mercy I may get you back again along with your brothers" (2 Mac 7:29).
What would you do if you were in the same situation as any of these? This is incredible faith. No wonder the writer of Hebrews seems to allude to it in Hebrews eleven. Those of faith accept death rather than compromise. They will accept torture rather than release. Faith will not give in, but stands strong, realizing that each of us plays a role in God's plan through our example of faith.