An exhortation to be constant and persevere, The example of Christ is set forth, and the gracious design of God in all the sufferings believers endured. (1-11) Peace and holiness are recommended, with cautions against despising spiritual blessings. (12-17) The New Testament dispensation shown to be much more excellent than the Old. (18-29)
Verses 1-11 The persevering obedience of faith in Christ, was the race set before the Hebrews, wherein they must either win the crown of glory, or have everlasting misery for their portion; and it is set before us. By the sin that does so easily beset us, understand that sin to which we are most prone, or to which we are most exposed, from habit, age, or circumstances. This is a most important exhortation; for while a man's darling sin, be it what it will, remains unsubdued, it will hinder him from running the Christian race, as it takes from him every motive for running, and gives power to every discouragement. When weary and faint in their minds, let them recollect that the holy Jesus suffered, to save them from eternal misery. By stedfastly looking to Jesus, their thoughts would strengthen holy affections, and keep under their carnal desires. Let us then frequently consider him. What are our little trials to his agonies, or even to our deserts? What are they to the sufferings of many others? There is a proneness in believers to grow weary, and to faint under trials and afflictions; this is from the imperfection of grace and the remains of corruption. Christians should not faint under their trials. Though their enemies and persecutors may be instruments to inflict sufferings, yet they are Divine chastisements; their heavenly Father has his hand in all, and his wise end to answer by all. They must not make light of afflictions, and be without feeling under them, for they are the hand and rod of God, and are his rebukes for sin. They must not despond and sink under trials, nor fret and repine, but bear up with faith and patience. God may let others alone in their sins, but he will correct sin in his own children. In this he acts as becomes a father. Our earthly parents sometimes may chasten us, to gratify their passion, rather than to reform our manners. But the Father of our souls never willingly grieves nor afflicts his children. It is always for our profit. Our whole life here is a state of childhood, and imperfect as to spiritual things; therefore we must submit to the discipline of such a state. When we come to a perfect state, we shall be fully reconciled to all God's chastisement of us now. God's correction is not condemnation; the chastening may be borne with patience, and greatly promote holiness. Let us then learn to consider the afflictions brought on us by the malice of men, as corrections sent by our wise and gracious Father, for our spiritual good.
Verses 12-17 A burden of affliction is apt to make the Christian's hands hang down, and his knees grow feeble, to dispirit him and discourage him; but against this he must strive, that he may better run his spiritual race and course. Faith and patience enable believers to follow peace and holiness, as a man follows his calling constantly, diligently, and with pleasure. Peace with men, of all sects and parties, will be favourable to our pursuit of holiness. But peace and holiness go together; there can be not right peace without holiness. Where persons fail of having the true grace of God, corruption will prevail and break forth; beware lest any unmortified lust in the heart, which seems to be dead, should spring up, to trouble and disturb the whole body. Falling away from Christ is the fruit of preferring the delights of the flesh, to the blessing of God, and the heavenly inheritance, as Esau did. But sinners will not always have such mean thoughts of the Divine blessing and inheritance as they now have. It agrees with the profane man's disposition, to desire the blessing, yet to despise the means whereby the blessing is to be gained. But God will neither sever the means from the blessing, nor join the blessing with the satisfying of man's lusts. God's mercy and blessing were never sought carefully and not obtained.
Verses 18-29 Mount Sinai, on which the Jewish church state was formed, was a mount such as might be touched, though forbidden to be so, a place that could be felt; so the Mosaic dispensation was much in outward and earthly things. The gospel state is kind and condescending, suited to our weak frame. Under the gospel all may come with boldness to God's presence. But the most holy must despair, if judged by the holy law given from Sinai, without a Saviour. The gospel church is called Mount Zion; there believers have clearer views of heaven, and more heavenly tempers of soul. All the children of God are heirs, and every one has the privileges of the first-born. Let a soul be supposed to join that glorious assembly and church above, that is yet unacquainted with God, still carnally-minded, loving this present world and state of things, looking back to it with a lingering eye, full of pride and guile, filled with lusts; such a soul would seem to have mistaken its way, place, state, and company. It would be uneasy to itself and all about it. Christ is the Mediator of this new covenant, between God and man, to bring them together in this covenant; to keep them together; to plead with God for us, and to plead with us for God; and at length to bring God and his people together in heaven. This covenant is made firm by the blood of Christ sprinkled upon our consciences, as the blood of the sacrifice was sprinkled upon the altar and the victim. This blood of Christ speaks in behalf of sinners; it pleads not for vengeance, but for mercy. See then that you refuse not his gracious call and offered salvation. See that you do not refuse Him who speaketh from heaven, with infinite tenderness and love; for how can those escape, who turn from God in unbelief or apostacy, while he so graciously beseeches them to be reconciled, and to receive his everlasting favour! God's dealing with men under the gospel, in a way of grace, assures us, that he will deal with the despisers of the gospel, in a way of judgment. We cannot worship God acceptably, unless we worship him with reverence and godly fear. Only the grace of God enables us to worship God aright. God is the same just and righteous God under the gospel as under the law. The inheritance of believers is secured to them; and all things pertaining to salvation are freely given in answer to prayer. Let us seek for grace, that we may serve God with reverence and godly fear.
Hebrews 12:1-29 . EXHORTATION TO FOLLOW THE WITNESSES OF FAITH JUST MENTIONED: NOT TO FAINT IN TRIALS: TO REMOVE ALL BITTER ROOTS OF SIN: FOR WE ARE UNDER, NOT A LAW OF TERROR, BUT THE GOSPEL OF GRACE, TO DESPISE WHICH WILL BRING THE HEAVIER PENALTIES, IN PROPORTION TO OUR GREATER PRIVILEGES.
1. we also--as well as those recounted in Hebrews 12:11 .
are compassed about--Greek, "have so great a cloud (a numberless multitude above us, like a cloud, 'holy and pellucid,' [CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA]) of witnesses surrounding us." The image is from a "race," an image common even in Palestine from the time of the Greco-Macedonian empire, which introduced such Greek usages as national games. The "witnesses" answer to the spectators pressing round to see the competitors in their contest for the prize ( Philippians 3:14 ). Those "witnessed of" (Greek, Hebrews 11:5 Hebrews 11:39 ) become in their turn "witnesses" in a twofold way: (1) attesting by their own case the faithfulness of God to His people [ALFORD] ( Hebrews 6:12 ), some of them martyrs in the modern sense; (2) witnessing our struggle of faith; however, this second sense of "witnesses," though agreeing with the image here if it is to be pressed, is not positively, unequivocally, and directly sustained by Scripture. It gives vividness to the image; as the crowd of spectators gave additional spirit to the combatants, so the cloud of witnesses who have themselves been in the same contest, ought to increase our earnestness, testifying, as they do, to God's faithfulness.
weight--As corporeal unwieldiness was, through a disciplinary diet, laid aside by candidates for the prize in racing; so carnal and worldly lusts, and all, whether from without or within, that would impede the heavenly runner, are the spiritual weight to be laid aside. "Encumbrance," all superfluous weight; the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life, and even harmless and otherwise useful things which would positively retard us ( Mark 10:50 , the blind man casting away his garment to come to Jesus; Mark 9:42-48 ; compare Ephesians 4:22 , Colossians 3:9 Colossians 3:10 ).
the sin which doth so easily beset us--Greek, "sin which easily stands around us"; so LUTHER, "which always so clings to us": "sinful propensity always surrounding us, ever present and ready" [WAHL]. It is not primarily "the sin," &c., but sin in general, with, however, special reference to "apostasy," against which he had already warned them, as one to which they might gradually be seduced; the besetting sin of the Hebrews, UNBELIEF.
with patience--Greek, "in persevering endurance" ( Hebrews 10:36 ). On "run" compare 1 Corinthians 9:24 1 Corinthians 9:25 .
2. Looking unto--literally, "Looking from afar" throne of God.
author--"Prince-leader." The same Greek is translated, "Captain (of salvation)," Hebrews 2:10 ; "Prince (of life)," Acts 3:15 . Going before us as the Originator of our faith, and the Leader whose matchless example we are to follow always. In this He is distinguished from all those examples of faith in Hebrews 11:2-40 . (Compare 1 Corinthians 11:1 ). On His "faith" compare Hebrews 2:13 , 3:12 . Believers have ever looked to Him ( Hebrews 11:26 , 13:8 ).
finisher--Greek, "Perfecter," referring to Hebrews 11:40 .
of our faith--rather as Greek, "of the faith," including both His faith (as exhibited in what follows) and our faith. He fulfilled the ideal of faith Himself, and so, both as a vicarious offering and an example, He is the object of our faith.
for the joy . . . set before him--namely, of presently after sitting down at the right hand of the throne of God; including besides His own personal joy, the joy of sitting there as a Prince and Saviour, to give repentance and remission of sins. The coming joy disarmed of its sting the present pain.
cross . . . shame--the great stumbling-block to the Hebrews. "Despised," that is, disregarded.
3. For--justifying his exhortation, "Looking unto Jesus."
consider--by way of comparison with yourselves, so the Greek.
contradiction--unbelief, and every kind of opposition ( Acts 28:19 ).
sinners--Sin assails us. Not sin, but sinners, contradicted Christ [BENGEL].
be wearied and faint--Greek, "lest ye weary fainting." Compare Isaiah 49:4 Isaiah 49:5 , as a specimen of Jesus not being wearied out by the contradiction and strange unbelief of those among whom He labored, preaching as never man did, and exhibiting miracles wrought by His inherent power, as none else could do.
4. not yet resisted unto blood--image from pugilism, as he previously had the image of a race, both being taken from the great national Greek games. Ye have suffered the loss of goods, and been a gazing-stock by reproaches and afflictions; ye have not shed own blood, and who, though cast down by his opponent, does not let his spirits be cast down, who as often as he hath fallen hath risen the more determined, goes down to the encounter with great hope" [SENECA].
against sin--Sin is personified as an adversary; sin, whether within you, leading you to spare your blood, or in our adversaries, leading them to shed it, if they cannot through your faithfulness even unto blood, induce you to apostatize.
5. forgotten--"utterly," so the Greek. Compare Hebrews 12:15-17 , in which he implies how utterly some of them had forgotten God's word. His exhortation ought to have more effect on you than the cheers and exhortations of the spectators have on the competitors striving in the games.
which--Greek, "the which," of which the following is a specimen [ALFORD].
speaketh unto you--as in a dialogue or discourse, so the Greek, implying God's loving condescension (compare Isaiah 1:18 ).
despise not--literally, "Do not hold of little account." Betraying a contumacious spirit of unbelief ( Hebrews 3:12 ), as "faint" implies a broken-down, weak, and desponding spirit. "Chastening" is to be borne with "subjection" ( Hebrews 12:9 ); "rebuke" (more severe than chastening) is to be borne with endurance ( Hebrews 12:7 ). "Some in adversity kick against God's will, others despond; neither is to be done by the Christian, who is peculiarly the child of God. To him such adverse things occur only by the decree of God, and that designed in kindness, namely, to remove the defilements adhering to the believer, and to exercise his patience" [GROTIUS].
6. ( Revelation 3:19 .)
and--Greek, "yea and," "and moreover"; bringing out an additional circumstance.
scourgeth--which draws forth "blood" ( Hebrews 12:4 ).
receiveth--accepts. Takes to Himself as a son "in whom He delighteth" ( Proverbs 3:12 ).
7. In Hebrews 12:7 Hebrews 12:8 the need of "chastening" or "discipline" is inculcated; in Hebrews 12:9 , the duty of those to whom it is administered.
If--The oldest manuscripts read, "With a view to chastening (that is, since God's chastisement is with a view to your chastening, that is, disciplinary amelioration) endure patiently"; so Vulgate. ALFORD translates it as indicative, not so well, "It is for chastisement that ye are enduring."
dealeth with you--"beareth Himself toward you" in the very act of chastening.
what son is he--"What son is there" even in ordinary life? Much more God as to His sons ( Isaiah 48:10 , Acts 14:22 ). The most eminent of God's saints were the. most afflicted. God leads them by a way they know not ( Isaiah 42:16 ). We too much look at each trial by itself, instead of taking it in connection with the whole plan of our salvation, as if a traveller were to complain of the steepness and roughness of one turn in the path, without considering that it led him into green pastures, on the direct road to the city of habitation. The New Testament alone uses the Greek term for education (paideia), to express "discipline" or correction, as of a child by a wise father.
8. if ye be without--excluded from participation in chastisement, and wishing to be so.
all--all sons: all the worthies enumerated in the eleventh chapter: all the witnesses ( Hebrews 12:1 ).
are--Greek, "have been made."
then are ye bastards--of whom their fathers take no care whether they are educated or not; whereas every right-minded father is concerned for the moral well-being of his legitimate son. "Since then not to be chastised is a mark of bastardy, we ought [not to refuse, but] rejoice in chastisement, as a mark of our genuine sonship" [CHRYSOSTOM].
9. fathers . . . which corrected us--rather as Greek, "We had the fathers of our flesh as correctors."
subjection--See the punishment of insubordination, Deuteronomy 21:18 .
Father of spirits--contrasted with "the fathers of our flesh." "Generation by men is carnal, by God is spiritual" [BENGEL]. As "Father of spirits," He is both the Originator, and the Providential and Gracious Sustainer, at once of animal and spiritual life. Compare "and LIVE," namely, spiritually; also Hebrews 12:10 , "that we might be partakers of His holiness" ( 2 Peter 1:4 ). God is a spirit Himself, and the Creator of spirits like Himself, in contrast to men who are flesh, and the progenitors of flesh ( John 3:6 ). Jesus our pattern "learned obedience" experimentally by suffering ( Hebrews 5:8 ).
and live--and so, thereby live spiritually and eternally.
10. Showing wherein the chastisement of our heavenly Father is preferable to that of earthly fathers.
for a few days--that is, with a view to our well-being in the few days of our earthly life: so the Greek.
after their own pleasure--Greek, "according to what seemed fit to themselves." Their rule of chastening is what may seem fit to their own often erring judgment, temper, or caprice. The two defects of human education are: (1) the prevalence in it of a view to the interests of our short earthly term of days; (2) the absence in parents of the unerring wisdom of our heavenly Father. "They err much at one time in severity, at another in indulgence [ 1 Samuel 3:13 , Ephesians 6:4 ], and do not so much chasten as THINK they chasten" [BENGEL].
that we might be partakers of his holiness--becoming holy as He is holy ( John 15:2 ). To become holy like God is tantamount to being educated for passing eternity with God ( Hebrews 12:14 , 2 Peter 1:4 ). So this "partaking of God's holiness" stands in contrast to the "few days" of this life, with a view to which earthly fathers generally educate their sons.
11. joyous . . . grievous--Greek, "matter of joy . . . matter of grief." The objection that chastening is grievous is here anticipated and answered. It only seems so to those being chastened, whose judgments are confused by the present pain. Its ultimate fruit amply compensates for any temporary pam. The real object of the fathers in chastening is not that they find pleasure in the children's pain. Gratified wishes, our Father knows, would often be our real curses.
fruit of righteousness--righteousness (in practice, springing from faith) is the fruit which chastening, the tree yields ( Philippians 1:11 ). "Peaceable" (compare Isaiah 32:17 ): in contrast to the ordeal of conflict by which it has been won. "Fruit of righteousness to be enjoyed in peace after the conflict" [THOLUCK]. As the olive garland, the emblem of peace as well as victory, was put on the victor's brow in the games.
exercised thereby--as athletes exercised in training for a contest. Chastisement is the exercise to give experience, and make the spiritual combatant irresistibly victorious ( Romans 5:3 ). "Oh, happy the servant for whose improvement his Lord is earnest, with whom he deigns to be angry, whom He does not deceive by dissembling admonition" (withholding admonition, and so leading the man to think he needs it not)! [TERTULLIAN, Patience, 11]. Observe the "afterwards"; that is the time often when God works.
12. He addresses them as runners in a race, and pugilists, and warriors [CHRYSOSTOM]. The "wherefore" is resumed from Hebrews 12:1 .
lift up--In Isaiah 35:3 , from which Paul here quotes, it is, "Strengthen ye the weak hands." The hand is the symbol of one's strength. ALFORD translates, "Put straight again the relaxed hands." English Version expresses the sense well.
feeble--literally, "paralyzed"; a word used only by Luke, Paul's companion, in the New Testament. The exhortation has three parts: the first relates to ourselves, Hebrews 12:12 Hebrews 12:13 ; the second, to others, Hebrews 12:14 , "peace with all men"; the third, to God, "holiness, without which," &c. The first is referred to in Hebrews 12:15 , "test any man fail of the grace of God"; the second in the words, "lest any root of bitterness," &c.; the third in Hebrews 12:16 , "Lest there be any fornicator or profane person," &c. This threefold relation often occurs in Paul's Epistles. Compare Note, godly." The Greek active verb, not the middle or reflexive, requires the sense to be, Lift up not only your own hands and knees, but also those of your brethren (compare Hebrews 12:15 , Isaiah 35:4 ).
13. Quoted from Proverbs 4:26 , Septuagint, "Make straight paths for thy feet."
straight--that is, leading by a straight road to joy and grace ( Hebrews 12:1 Hebrews 12:2 Hebrews 12:15 ). Cease to "halt" between Judaism and Christianity [BENGEL].
paths--literally, "wheel tracks." Let your walk be so firm and so unanimous in the right direction that a plain track and "highway" may be thereby established for those who accompany and follow you, to perceive and walk in ( Isaiah 35:8 ) [ALFORD].
that which is lame--those "weak in the faith" ( Romans 14:1 ), having still Judaizing prejudices.
be turned out of the way--( Proverbs 4:27 ); and, so missing the way, lose the prize of "the race" ( Hebrews 12:1 ).
rather he healed--Proper exercise of itself contributes to health; the habit of walking straight onward in the right way tends to healing.
14. follow peace with all men--with the brethren especially ( Romans 14:19 ), that so the "lame" among them be not "turned out of the way" ( Hebrews 12:13 ), and that no one of them "fail of the grace of God" ( Hebrews 12:15 ).
holiness--a distinct Greek word from God's "holiness" ( Hebrews 12:10 ). Translate here "sanctification." His is absolute holiness: our part is to put on His holiness, becoming "holy as He is holy," by sanctification. While "following peace with all men," we are not so to seek to please them, as to make God's will and our sanctification a secondary object; this latter must be our first aim. ( Galatians 1:10 ).
without which--Greek, "apart from which."
no man shall see the Lord--no man as a son; in heavenly glory ( Revelation 22:3 Revelation 22:4 ). In the East, none but the greatest favorites are admitted to the honor of seeing the king (compare 2 Samuel 14:24 ). The Lord being pure and holy, none but the pure and holy shall see Him ( Matthew 5:8 ). Without holiness in them, they could not enjoy Him who is holiness itself ( Zechariah 14:20 ). The connection of purity with seeing the Lord, appears in 1 John 3:2 1 John 3:3 , Ephesians 5:5 . Contrast Hebrews 12:16 (compare 1 Thessalonians 4:3 ). In Matthew 24:30 , Revelation 1:7 , it is said that all shall see the Lord; but, that shall be as a Judge, not as their lasting portion and God, which is meant here. The Greek verb does not denote the mere action of seeing, but the seer's state of mind to which the object is presented: so in Matthew 5:8 they shall truly comprehend God [TITTMANN]. None but the holy could appreciate the holy God, none else therefore shall abide in His presence. "The bad shall only see Him in His form as Son of man [compare Revelation 1:13 , with Revelation 1:7 ; and Matthew 24:30 , Acts 1:11 , 17:31 ]; still it will be in the glory in which He shall judge, not in the lowliness in which He was judged. His form as God, wherein He is equal to the Father, without doubt the ungodly shall not see; for it is only 'the pure in heart who shall see God'" [AUGUSTINE]. "He shall come to judge, who stood before a judge. He shall come in the form in which He was judged, that they may see Him whom they pierced: He who was before hidden shall come manifested in power: He, as Judge, shall condemn the real culprits, who was Himself falsely made a culprit."
15. lest any . . . fall--Greek, "lest any (namely, through sloth in running) failing," or "falling short of the grace of God . . . trouble you." The image is taken from a company of travellers, one of whom lags behind, and so never reaches the end of the long and laborious journey [CHRYSOSTOM].
root of bitterness--not merely a "bitter root," which might possibly bring forth sweet fruits; this, a root whose essence is "bitterness," never could. Paul here refers to Deuteronomy 29:18 , "Lest there should be among you a root that beareth gall and wormwood" (compare Acts 8:23 ). Root of bitterness comprehends every person (compare Hebrews 12:16 ) and every principle of doctrine or practice so radically corrupt as to spread corruption all around. The only safety is in rooting out such a root of bitterness.
many--rather, "the many," that is, the whole congregation. So long as it is hidden under the earth it cannot be remedied, but when it "springs up," it must be dealt with boldly. Still remember the caution ( Matthew 13:26-30 ) as to rooting out persons. No such danger can arise in rooting out bad principles.
16. fornicator--( Hebrews 13:4 , 1 Corinthians 10:8 ).
or profane--Fornication is nearly akin to gluttony, Esau's sin. He profanely cast away his spiritual privilege for the gratification of his palate. Genesis 25:34 graphically portrays him. An example well fitted to strike needful horror into the Hebrews, whosoever of them, like Esau, were only sons of Isaac according to the flesh [BENGEL].
for one morsel--The smallness of the inducement only aggravates the guilt of casting away eternity for such a trifle, so far is it from being a claim for mercy (compare Genesis 3:6 ). One single act has often the greatest power either for good or for evil. So in the cases of Reuben and Saul, for evil ( Genesis 49:4 1 Chronicles 5:1 1 Samuel 13:12-14 ); and, on the other hand, for good, Abraham and Phinehas ( Genesis 12:1 , &c. Genesis 15:5 Genesis 15:6 Numbers 25:6-15 ).
his birthright--Greek, "his own (so the oldest manuscripts read, intensifying the suicidal folly and sin of the act) rights of primogeniture," involving the high spiritual privilege of being ancestor of the promised seed, and heir of the promises in Him. The Hebrews whom Paul addressed, had, as Christians, the spiritual rights of primogeniture (compare Hebrews 12:23 ): he intimates that they must exercise holy self-control, if they wish not, like Esau, to forfeit them.
17. afterwards--Greek, "even afterward." He despised his birthright, accordingly also he was despised and rejected when he wished to have the blessing. As in the believer's case, so in the unbeliever's, there is an "afterwards" coming, when the believer shall look on his past griefs, and the unbeliever on his past joys, in a very different light from that in which they were respectively viewed at the time. Compare "Nevertheless afterward," &c. Hebrews 12:11 , with the "afterward" here.
when he would--when he wished to have. "He that will not when he may, when he will, shall have nay" ( Proverbs 1:24-30 , Luke 13:34 Luke 13:35 , 19:42 ).
he was rejected--not as to every blessing, but only that which would have followed the primogeniture.
he found no place of repentance--The cause is here put for the effect, "repentance" for the object which Esau aimed at in his so-called repentance, namely, the change of his father's determination to give the chief blessing to Jacob. Had he sought real repentance with tears he would have found it ( Matthew 7:7 ). But he did not find it because this was not what he sought. What proves his tears were not those of one seeking true repentance is, immediately after he was foiled in his desire. he resolved to murder Jacob! He shed tears, not for his sin, but for his suffering the penalty of his sin. His were tears of vain regret and remorse, not of repentance. "Before, he might have had the blessing without tears; afterwards, no matter how many tears he shed, he was rejected. Let us use the time" ( Luke 18:27 )! [BENGEL]. ALFORD explains "repentance" here, a chance, by repenting, to repair (that is, to regain the lost blessing). I agree with him that the translation, instead of "repentance," "no place for changing HIS FATHER'S mind," is forced; though doubtless this is what was the true aim of the "repentance" which he sought. The language is framed to apply to profane despisers who wilfully cast away grace and seek repentance (that is, not real; but escape from the penalty of their sin), but in vain. Compare "afterward," Matthew 25:11 Matthew 25:12 . Tears are no proof of real repentance ( 1 Samuel 24:16 1 Samuel 24:17 ; contrast Psalms 56:8 ).
it--the blessing, which was the real object of Esau, though ostensibly seeking "repentance."
18. For--The fact that we are not under the law, but under a higher, and that the last dispensation, the Gospel, with its glorious privileges, is the reason why especially the Hebrew Christians should "look diligently," &c. ( Hebrews 12:15 Hebrews 12:16 ).
are not come--Greek, "have not come near to." Alluding to Deuteronomy 4:11 , "Ye came near and stood under the mountain; and the mountain burned with fire . . . with darkness, clouds, and thick darkness." "In your coming near unto God, it has not been to," &c.
the mount--The oldest manuscripts and Vulgate omit "the mount." But still, "the mount" must be supplied from Hebrews 12:22 .
that might be touched--palpable and material. Not that any save Moses was allowed to touch it ( Exodus 19:12 Exodus 19:13 ). The Hebrews drew near to the material Mount Sinai with material bodies; we, to the spiritual mount in the spirit. The "darkness" was that formed by the clouds hanging round the mount; the "tempest" accompanied the thunder.
19. trumpet--to rouse attention, and herald God's approach ( Exodus 19:16 ).
entreated that the word should not be spoken--literally, "that speech should not be added to them"; not that they refused to hear the word of God, but they wished that God should not Himself speak, but employ Moses as His mediating spokesman. "The voice of words" was the Decalogue, spoken by God Himself, a voice issuing forth, without any form being seen: after which "He added no more" ( Deuteronomy 5:22 ).
20. that which was commanded--"the interdict" [TITTMANN]. A stern interdictory mandate is meant.
And--rather, "Even if a beast (much more a man) touch," &c.
or thrust through with a dart--omitted in the oldest manuscripts. The full interdict in Exodus 19:12 Exodus 19:13 is abbreviated here; the beast alone, being put for "whether man or beast"; the stoning, which applies to the human offender, alone being specified, the beast's punishment, namely, the being thrust through with a dart, being left to be understood.
21. the sight--the vision of God's majesty.
quake--Greek, "I am in trembling"; "fear" affected his mind: "trembling," his body. Moses is not recorded in Exodus to have used these words. But Paul, by inspiration, supplies (compare Acts 20:35 , 2 Timothy 3:8 ) this detail. We read in Deuteronomy 9:19 , Septuagint, of similar words used by Moses after breaking the two tables, through fear of God's anger at the people's sin in making the golden calves. He doubtless similarly "feared" in hearing the ten commandments spoken by the voice of Jehovah.
22. are come--Greek, "have come near unto" (compare Deuteronomy 4:11 ). Not merely, ye shall come, but, ye have already come.
Mount Sion--antitypical Sion, the heavenly Jerusalem, of which the spiritual invisible Church (of which the first foundation was laid in literal Zion, John 12:15 , 1 Peter 2:6 ) is now the earnest; and of which the restored literal Jerusalem hereafter shall be the earthly representative, to be succeeded by the everlasting and "new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven" ( Revelation 21:2-27 ; compare Hebrews 11:10 ).
22, 23. to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church--The city of God having been mentioned, the mention of its citizens follows. Believers being like the angels ( Job 1:6 , 38:7 ), "sons of God," are so their "equals" ( Luke 20:36 ); and being reconciled through Christ, are adopted into God's great and blessed family. For the full completion of this we pray ( Matthew 6:10 ). English Version arrangement is opposed: (1) by "and" always beginning each new member of the whole sentence; (2) "general assembly and Church," form a kind of tautology; (3) "general assembly," or rather, "festal full assembly," "the jubilant full company" (such as were the Olympic games, celebrated with joyous singing, dancing, &c.), applies better to the angels above, ever hymning God's praises, than to the Church, of which a considerable part is now militant on earth. Translate therefore, "to myriads (ten thousands, compare Deuteronomy 33:2 , Psalms 68:17 , Daniel 7:10 , Jude 1:14 ; namely), the full festal assembly of angels, and the Church of the first-born." Angels and saints together constitute the ten thousands. Compare "all angels, all nations" Matthew 25:31 Matthew 25:32 . Messiah is pre-eminently "the First-born," or "First-begotten" ( Hebrews 1:6 ), and all believers become so by adoption. Compare the type, Numbers 3:12 Numbers 3:45 Numbers 3:50 , 1 Peter 1:18 . As the kingly and priestly succession was in the first-born, and as Israel was God's "first-born" ( Exodus 4:22 ; compare Exodus 13:2 ), and a "kingdom of priests" to God ( Exodus 19:6 ), so believers ( Revelation 1:6 ).
23. written in heaven--enrolled as citizens there. All those who at the coming of "God the Judge of all" (which clause therefore naturally follows), shall be found "written in heaven," that is, in the Lamb's book of life ( Revelation 21:27 ). Though still fighting the good fight on earth, still, in respect to your destiny, and present life of faith which substantiates things hoped for, ye are already members of the heavenly citizenship. "We are one citizenship with angels; to which it is said in the psalm, Glorious things are spoken of thee, thou city of God" [AUGUSTINE]. I think ALFORD wrong in restricting "the Church of the first-born written in heaven," to those militant on earth; it is rather, all those who at the Judge's coming shall be found written in heaven (the true patent of heavenly nobility; contrast "written in the earth," Jeremiah 17:13 , and Esau's profane sale of his birthright, Hebrews 12:16 ); these all, from the beginning to the end of the world, forming one Church to which every believer is already come. The first-born of Israel were "written" in a roll ( Numbers 3:40 ).
the spirits of just men made perfect--at the resurrection, when the "JUDGE" shall appear, and believers' bliss shall be consummated by the union of the glorified body with the spirit; the great hope of the New Testament ( Romans 8:20-23 , 1 Thessalonians 4:16 ). The place of this clause after "the JUDGE OF ALL," is my objection to BENGEL and ALFORD'S explanation, the souls of the just in their separate state perfected. Compare Notes, to which he refers here, and which I think confirms my view; those heretofore spirits, but now to be perfected by being clothed upon with the body. Still the phrase, "spirits of just men made perfect," not merely "just men made perfect," may favor the reference to the happy spirits in their separate state. The Greek is not "the perfected spirits," but "the spirits of the perfected just." In no other passage are the just said to be perfected before the resurrection, and the completion of the full number of the elect ( Revelation 6:11 ); I think, therefore, "spirits of the just," may here be used to express the just whose predominant element in their perfected state shall be spirit. So spirit and spirits are used of a man or men in the body, under the influence of the spirit, the opposite of flesh ( John 3:6 ). The resurrection bodies of the saints shall be bodies in which the spirit shall altogether preponderate over the animal soul
24. new--not the usual term (kaine) applied to the Christian covenant ( Hebrews 9:15 ), which would mean new as different from, and superseding the old; but Greek, "nea," "recent," "lately established," having the "freshness of youth," as opposed to age. The mention of Jesus, the Perfecter of our faith ( Hebrews 12:2 ), and Himself perfected through sufferings and death, in His resurrection and ascension ( Hebrews 2:10 , 5:9 ), is naturally suggested by the mention of "the just made perfect" at their resurrection (compare Hebrews 7:22 ). Paul uses "Jesus," dwelling here on Him as the Person realized as our loving friend, not merely in His official character as the Christ.
and to the blood of sprinkling--here enumerated as distinct from "Jesus." BENGEL reasonably argues as follows: His blood was entirely "poured out" of His body by the various ways in which it was shed, His bloody sweat, the crown of thorns, the scourging, the nails, and after death the spear, just as the blood was entirely poured out and extravasated from the animal sacrifices of the law. It was incorruptible ( 1 Peter 1:18 1 Peter 1:19 ). No Scripture states it was again put into the Lord's body. At His ascension, as our great High Priest, He entered the heavenly holiest place "BY His own blood" (not after shedding His blood, nor with the blood in His body, but), carrying it separately from his body (compare the type, Hebrews 9:7 Hebrews 9:12 Hebrews 9:25 , 13:11 ). Paul does not say, by the efficacy of His blood, but, "by His own proper blood" ( Hebrews 9:12 ); not MATERIAL blood, but "the blood of Him who, through the eternal Spirit, offered Himself without spot unto God" ( Hebrews 9:14 ). So in Hebrews 10:29 , the Son of God and the blood of the covenant wherewith he (the professor) was sanctified, are mentioned separately. Also in Hebrews 13:12 Hebrews 13:20 ; also compare Hebrews 10:19 , with Hebrews 10:21 . So in the Lord's Supper ( 1 Corinthians 10:16 , 11:24-26 ), the body and blood are separately represented. The blood itself, therefore, continues still in heaven before God, the perpetual ransom price of "the eternal covenant" ( Hebrews 13:20 ). Once for all Christ sprinkled the blood peculiarly for us at His ascension ( Hebrews 9:12 ). But it is called "the blood of sprinkling," on account also of its continued use in heaven, and in the consciences of the saints on earth ( Hebrews 9:14 , 10:22 , Isaiah 52:15 ). This sprinkling is analogous to the sprinkled blood of the Passover. Compare Revelation 5:6 , "In the midst of the throne, a Lamb as it had been slain." His glorified body does not require meat, nor the circulation of the blood. His blood introduced into heaven took away the dragon's right to accuse. Thus Rome's theory of concomitancy of the blood with the body, the excuse for giving only the bread to the laity, falls to the ground. The mention of "the blood of sprinkling" naturally follows the mention of the "covenant," which could not be consecrated without blood ( Hebrews 9:18 Hebrews 9:22 ).
speaketh better things than that of Abel--namely, than the sprinkling (the best manuscripts read the article masculine, which refers to "sprinkling," not to "blood," which last is neuter) of blood by Abel in his sacrifice spake. This comparison between two things of the same kind (namely, Christ's sacrifice, and Abel's sacrifice) is more natural, than between two things different in kind and in results (namely, Christ's sacrifice, and Abel's own blood [ALFORD], which was not a sacrifice at all); compare Hebrews 11:4 , Genesis 4:4 . This accords with the whole tenor of the Epistle, and of this passage in particular ( Hebrews 12:18-22 ), which is to show the superiority of Christ's sacrifice and the new covenant, to the Old Testament sacrifices (of which Abel's is the first recorded; it, moreover, was testified to by God as acceptable to Him above Cain's), compare Hebrews 9:1-10:39'. The word "better" implies superiority to something that is good: but Abel's own blood was not at all good for the purpose for which Christ's blood was efficacious; nay, it cried for vengeance. So ARCHBISHOP MAGEE, HAMMOND, and KNATCHBULL. BENGEL takes "the blood of Abel" as put for all the blood shed on earth crying for vengeance, and greatly increasing the other cries raised by sin in the world; counteracted by the blood of Christ calmly speaking in heaven for us, and from heaven to us. I prefer MAGEE'S view. Be this as it may, to deny that Christ's atonement is truly a propitiation, overthrows Christ's priesthood, makes the sacrifices of Moses' law an unmeaning mummery, and represents Cain's sacrifice as good as that of Abel.
25. refuse not--through unbelief.
him that speaketh--God in Christ. As the blood of sprinkling is represented as speaking to God for us, Hebrews 12:24 ; so here God is represented as speaking to us ( Hebrews 1:1 Hebrews 1:2 ). His word now is the prelude of the last "shaking" of all things ( Hebrews 12:27 ). The same word which is heard in the Gospel from heaven, will shake heaven and earth ( Hebrews 12:26 ).
who refused him--Greek, "refusing as they did." Their seemingly submissive entreaty that the word should not be spoken to them by God any more ( Hebrews 12:19 ), covered over refractory hearts, as. their subsequent deeds showed ( Hebrews 3:16 ).
that spake--revealing with oracular warnings His divine will: so the Greek.
if we turn away--Greek, "we who turn away." The word implies greater refractoriness than "refused," or "declined."
him that speaketh from heaven--God, by His Son in the Gospel, speaking from His heavenly throne. Hence, in Christ's preaching frequent mention is made of "the kingdom of the heavens" (Greek, Matthew 3:2 ). In the giving of the law God spake on earth (namely, Mount Sinai) by angels ( Hebrews 2:2 ; compare Hebrews 1:2 ). In Exodus 20:22 , when God says, "I talked with you from heaven," this passage in Hebrews shows that not the highest heavens, but the visible heavens, the clouds and darkness, are meant, out of which God by angels proclaimed the law on Sinai.
26. then shook--when He gave the law on Sinai.
now--under the Gospel.
promised--The announcement of His coming to break up the present order of things, is to the ungodly a terror, to the godly a promise, the fulfilment of which they look for with joyful hope.
Yet once more--Compare Notes, both of which passages are condensed into one here. The shaking began at the first coming of Messiah; it will be completed at His second coming, prodigies in the world of nature accompanying the overthrow of all kingdoms that oppose Messiah. The Hebrew is literally, "it is yet one little," that is, a single brief space till the series of movements begins ending in the advent of Messiah. Not merely the earth, as at the establishment of the Sinaitic covenant, but heaven also is to be shaken. The two advents of Messiah are regarded as one, the complete shaking belonging to the second advent, of which the presage was given in the shakings at the first advent: the convulsions connected with the overthrow of Jerusalem shadowing forth those about to be at the overthrow of all the God-opposed kingdoms by the coming Messiah.
27. this word, Yet once more--So Paul, by the Spirit, sanctions the Septuagint rendering of Haggai 2:6 , giving an additional feature to the prophecy in the Hebrew, as rendered in English Version, not merely that it shall be in a little while, but that it is to be "once more" as the final act. The stress of his argument is on the "ONCE." Once for all; once and for ever. "In saying 'once more,' the Spirit implies that something has already passed, and something else shall be which is to remain, and is no more to be changed to something else; for the once is exclusive, that is, not many times" [ESTIUS].
those things that are shaken--the heaven and the earth. As the shaking is to be total, so shall the removal be, making way for the better things that are unremovable. Compare the Jewish economy (the type of the whole present order of things) giving way to the new and abiding covenant: the forerunner of the everlasting state of bliss.
as of things . . . made--namely, of this present visible creation: compare 2 Corinthians 5:1 , Hebrews 9:11 , "made with hands . . . of this creation," that is, things so made at creation that they would not remain of themselves, but be removed. The new abiding heaven and earth are also made by God, but they are of a higher nature than the material creation, being made to partake of the divine nature of Him who is not made: so in this relation, as one with the uncreated God, they are regarded as not of the same class as the things made. The things made in the former sense do not remain; the things of the new heaven and earth, like the uncreated God, "shall REMAIN before God" ( Isaiah 66:22 ). The Spirit, the seed of the new and heavenly being, not only of the believer's soul, but also of the future body, is an uncreated and immortal principle.
28. receiving--as we do, in prospect and sure hope, also in the possession of the Spirit the first-fruits. This is our privilege as Christians.
let us have grace--"let us have thankfulness" [ALFORD after CHRYSOSTOM]. But (1) this translation is according to classical Greek, not Paul's phraseology for "to be thankful." (2) "To God" would have been in that case added. (3) "Whereby we may serve God," suits the English Version "grace" (that is Gospel grace, the work of the Spirit, producing faith exhibited in serving God), but does not suit "thankfulness."
reverence and godly fear--The oldest manuscripts read, "reverent caution and fear." Reverent caution (same Greek as in Hebrews 5:7 ; eyes than to behold iniquity. Fear lest we should bring destruction on ourselves.
29. Greek, "For even": "for also"; introducing an additional solemn incentive to diligence. Quoted from Deuteronomy 4:24 .
our God--in whom we hope, is also to be feared. He is love ( 1 John 4:8 1 John 4:16 ); yet there is another side of His character; God has wrath against sin ( Hebrews 10:27 Hebrews 10:31 ).