Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus;Hebrews 3:1. The apostle, in the first chapter of this epistle, having affirmed that Jesus of Nazareth, by whom the gospel revelation was given to mankind, is God’s Son, in a peculiar sense; a sense in which no man or angel is his son; and having proved, from the Jewish Scriptures, that God had constituted this his Son the Heir or Lord of all things, because by him he made the worlds; and in the second chapter, having answered the objections which were, or might be, brought for invalidating the claim of Jesus to be God’s Son, and having thereby given full effect to the direct proofs which established his claim; he, in this third chapter, proceeds to show what is implied in Christ’s being the Heir or Lord of all things; which is the third fact on which the authority of the gospel revelation depends. A proper account of this matter was necessary; 1st, Because the title of Jesus to remove the Mosaic economy, and to substitute the gospel dispensation in its place, was founded on the power which he possessed as the Son of God and Heir of all things; 2d, Because many of the Jews, in the persuasion that the law of Moses was of perpetual obligation, and that its sacrifices were real atonements for sin, rejected Jesus as an impostor for pretending to abolish these institutions.
Wherefore — Seeing the author of the gospel is so excellent a person, (Hebrews 1,) and so highly advanced above all others, men and angels, (Hebrews 2:7-8,) holy brethren — By giving this appellation to those to whom he wrote, it is evident he addressed his epistle, not, as Macknight supposes, chiefly, if at all, to the unbelieving Hebrews, but principally, if not only, to such as had embraced the gospel, and were really made new creatures in Christ; partakers of the heavenly calling — The calling of the gospel, which came from heaven, and is intended to bring men to heaven, including the preaching of the word, and the various means of grace, whereby men are brought to believe in Christ. Consider the Apostle — The messenger of God, sent immediately from him to preach that gospel to you which you profess to believe; the highest office this in the New Testament; and High-Priest — This was the highest function in the Old Testament church. As an Apostle, or God’s messenger, he pleads the cause of God with us; and as High-Priest, he pleads our cause with God. Both are contained in the one word Mediator. He compares Christ as an apostle, with Moses; as a priest, with Aaron. Both these offices, which Moses and Aaron severally bore, he bears together, and far more eminently; of our profession — Of the religion we profess, of which Jesus is called the Apostle, because he was sent by God to reveal it; and the High-Priest, because we receive its blessings through his mediation. By thus calling upon them to consider Christ Jesus in these characters, the apostle seems to intimate that the believing Hebrews had not sufficiently adverted to the nature and quality of the person and offices of Christ, and for that reason were kept in the entanglements of Judaism; therefore he exhorts them to fix their minds attentively on the sublime subject.
Who was faithful to him that appointed him, as also Moses was faithful in all his house.Hebrews 3:2. Who was faithful to him that appointed him — The sacred penman, entering upon a comparison between Moses and Christ, as he was the apostle of God, or one sent by him to reveal his will, he recommends him to the faith of the Hebrews, under the principal qualification of a person in that office; he was faithful, which faithfulness he further describes by its respect to that act whereby he was appointed by God to the office. God’s apostle is the chief steward or dispenser of his mysteries; and it is principally required in stewards that a man be found faithful. Now the fidelity of a legate, ambassador, or apostle consists principally in the full declaration of the mind and will of him who sent him, as to those ends for which he is sent. Faithfulness respects trust. Our Lord, therefore, must have had a trust committed to him wherein he was faithful. Accordingly he sought not his own glory, but the glory of him that sent him; declaring that he came not in his own, but in his Father’s name, John 5:43. He moreover sealed that truth with his blood, which he came into the world to bear witness to, John 18:37; and greater faithfulness could not be expressed. As also Moses was faithful in all his house — The church of Israel, then the peculiar family of God. The words are an allusion to the testimony which God bare to Moses, Numbers 12:7, My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all my house. It is true, Moses failed personally in his faith, and was charged of God that he believed him not, Numbers 20:12; but this was no impeachment of his faithfulness in the special office intended. As he was to reveal Jehovah’s mind, and institute his worship, he was universally faithful; for according to all that God appointed him so did he, Exodus 40:16. He did not conceal any of the divine laws, on account of their disagreeableness to the Israelites; nor did he alter them in the least, to make them acceptable, but delivered the whole law as it was spoken to himself, and formed the tabernacle and the ritual of the worship exactly according to the pattern showed him. In like manner, Christ’s faithfulness consisted in his teaching the doctrines, appointing the laws, and establishing the worship which his Father had ordained for the church.
For this man was counted worthy of more glory than Moses, inasmuch as he who hath builded the house hath more honour than the house.Hebrews 3:3-4. For, &c. — The apostle proceeds in this verse, and the three following, with his design of evidencing the excellence of Christ above Moses, as he had done before in reference to angels, and all other revealers of the will of God to the church; the word for denoting the connection of this paragraph with Hebrews 3:1 : “Consider him,” says he; for he is worthy of more glory than Moses. — The church being called the house of God, and that by God himself, the apostle takes advantage of the metaphor to express the dignity of Christ. He that buildeth the house, &c. — The verb κατασκευαζω, here used, and rendered to build, signifies to set things in order, Hebrews 9:6. It likewise signifies to form a thing as an artificer doth; in which sense it is applied to Noah’s forming the ark, Hebrews 11:7. In this passage it signifies the forming a church, or religious society, by bestowing on it privileges, and by giving it laws for the direction of its members. And, as the apostle is speaking of the forming of the Christian Church, his meaning is, that Jesus, who formed the Christian Church, is a more honourable or greater person than all the members of that church collectively; consequently greater than any particular member of it. By making this observation, the apostle intimated that Moses, being a member of the Jewish Church, which he formed as God’s servant, and needing its services and privileges equally with the Israelites, he was not to be compared with Jesus, who by his own authority had erected and supported the church in all ages and places, and had need of none of the privileges or services of the church which he had formed. For every house is builded by some man — As the discourse is not concerning a material edifice, but concerning the Jewish and Christian Churches, every house must mean every church or religious society; perhaps also every community, state, or government righteously established, is included in this general expression. But he that built all things — Or all these things, as Beza renders the expression, namely, the whole church, and all the persons that belong to it, or the parts of it, in all ages; the expression all things being properly restrained to the subject treated of, and the word used by the apostle to express the building of the house, plainly declaring that it is the same kind of building he is treating of, and not the absolute creation of all things, which is nowhere expressed by that word; is God — “The words may be so understood as to signify either that God made or built all these things, or that he who made and built all these things is God; the first sense making God the subject, the latter the predicate of the proposition. But as to our purpose, they amount to the same thing; for if he who made them is God, his making of them declares him to be so. And that it is the Lord Christ who is intended in this expression, will appear immediately; for, 1st, If God absolutely, or God the Father be intended, then by the building of all things, the creation of the world is designed; so they all grant who are of that opinion; but that this is not so, we have already demonstrated from the words themselves. 2d, The introduction of God absolutely, and his building of all things in this place, is no way subservient to the apostle’s purpose; for what light or evidence doth this contribute to his principal assertion, namely, that Christ was more honourable than Moses, and that on account of his building the house of God, the confirmation whereof he doth in these words expressly design? 3d, It is contrary to his purpose. For he doth not prove the Lord Christ to be deservedly preferred before Moses, unless he manifest that by his own power he built the house of God in such a manner as Moses was not employed in; whereas, according to this interpretation, he assigns the principal building of the house to another, even the Father, and so overthrows what he had before asserted. This then is that which by these words the apostle intends to declare; namely, the ground and reason whence it is that the house was or could be in that glorious manner built by Christ, even because he is God, and so able to effect it; and by this effect of his power he is manifested so to be.” — Owen.
For every house is builded by some man; but he that built all things is God.
And Moses verily was faithful in all his house, as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken after;Hebrews 3:5-6. And Moses verily — Another proof of the pre-eminence of Christ above Moses; was faithful in all his house as a servant — Θεραπων, minister, or officer. In describing the faithfulness of Moses, when, under God, he built the Jewish Church, God called him, (Numbers 12:7,) My servant Moses. From this the apostle justly inferred that Moses was not a legislator, but only a messenger from the legislator, or his minister. This was his place, this his dignity and honour; and it was amplified by the considerations, that he was faithful in his service — was a servant in the house of God — and was not thus employed, and thus faithful, in this or that part, this or that service of God’s house, but in his whole house, and all the concernments of it. Herein was he different from all others in the same service in the Old Testament; one was employed in one part of it, another in another; one to instruct, another to reform it, one to renew a neglected ordinance, another to give new instructions; no one but he was used in the service of the whole house. For a testimony of the things, &c. — That is, because the Jewish Church was designed for a testimony of the things which were afterward to be spoken by Christ and his apostles. This shows that Moses’s faithfulness consisted not only in forming the tabernacle and its services, according to the pattern showed him by God, but in recording all the preceding revelations, exactly as they were discovered to him by the Spirit. For these revelations, equally with the types and figures of the Levitical ritual, were intended to exhibit the things afterward to be spoken by Christ. Hence our Lord said to the Jews, (John 5:46,) Had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me, for he wrote of me; namely, in the figures, but especially in the prophecies of his law, where the gospel dispensation, the coming of its author, and his character as Messiah, are all described with a precision which adds the greatest lustre of evidence to Jesus and his gospel. See Luke 24:44. But Christ as a Son — That is, was faithful as a Son; over his own house — “Every word proves the asserted pre-eminence of Christ; he is a Son, Moses a servant; he over the house, Moses in the house; he over his own house, Moses in the house of another. The argument of the apostle therefore is obvious.” — Owen. But Pierce objects to this version, over his own house, and thinks the reading ought to be his, that is, God’s house; “1st, Because if the church be Christ’s own house, to speak of him as a Song of Solomon was improper, by reason that he would have presided over it as its master. 2d, Because the apostle’s argument requires that Christ be faithful to the same person as a Son, to whom Moses was faithful as a servant.” Wherefore his house, he thinks, in this verse, is God’s house or church. Inasmuch, however, as Christ is the heir of all things, it may with the utmost propriety be said that the church is his own house, that is, the house in which he hath not only a trust and office, but also a property; which is appointed for him to inhabit and preside over, and which is still more especially his own, as it was purchased with his own blood, Acts 20:28. Whose house we — All true believers; are — Or shall make it appear that we are, namely, lively stones in the spiritual temple built upon him, 1 Peter 2:5; and inhabited by him, Ephesians 2:20-22; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 1 Corinthians 6:19; and true members of his family, his servants, yea, even his brethren and sisters; if we hold fast the confidence — Την παρρησιαν, properly, the liberty of speech; that is, that bold profession of the Christian faith which in the first age was so dangerous, exposing those who made it frequently to imprisonment and martyrdom, but which was absolutely necessary to the continuance of the gospel in the world; and therefore it was expressly required by Christ, Matthew 10:32-33. See Hebrews 10:22-23. The apostle uses another word, namely, υποστασις, to express confidence, as Hebrews 3:14. And the rejoicing — Or, glorying, as καυχημα signifies; of hope — Hope of eternal life founded on God’s promises, namely, the hope which we professed at our baptism; firm — Without declining from or being shaken in it; keeping it up against all that fluctuating uncertainty of mind, which is apt to invade and possess unstable persons; unto the end — That is, as long as we live; not for the present season only, but in all future occurrences until we come to the end of our faith, the final salvation of our souls. Now, in order to this, great care and watchfulness, zeal, diligence, and resolution must be exercised, because of the opposition and violence that will be used to wrest them from us. Hence the exhortation contained in the following paragraph.
But Christ as a son over his own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end.
Wherefore (as the Holy Ghost saith, To day if ye will hear his voice,Hebrews 3:7-9. Having demonstrated the pre-eminence of Christ above Moses in their respective ministries, the apostle, according to his design and usual method, now proceeds to the application of the truth he had evinced, in an exhortation to stability and constancy in faith and obedience. And this he does in a way that adds double force to his exhortation, in that he both reminds them of, and urges upon them the words, testimonies, and examples recorded in the Old Testament, to which they professed a special deference and subjection; and also in that the nature of the example, which he insists upon, is such as supplies him with a new argument for his purpose. Now this is taken from God’s conduct toward them, who were disobedient under the ministry of Moses, which he further explains, Hebrews 3:15-19. For if God dealt in severity with them who were unbelieving and disobedient, with respect to him who was but a servant in the house, they might easily learn from this what his displeasure would be toward those who should behave so with respect to the Son, who is Lord over the whole house, and whose property all the members of it are. Wherefore — This word shows that what follows is an inference from what precedes; as the Holy Ghost saith — The expression is emphatical, το πνευμα το αγιον, that Spirit, that Holy Spirit, so called by way of eminence; who in an especial manner spake in and by the penmen of the sacred Scriptures, 2 Peter 1:21. The words here quoted are taken from Psalm 95:7, which the apostle tells us (Hebrews 4:7) was written by David. Hence we learn that David wrote his Psalms by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, as our Lord likewise testifies, Matthew 22:43. “The judgments of God executed on sinners in ages past, being designed for the reproof and instruction of those who come after, the Holy Ghost, by David, very properly founded his exhortation to the people of that age upon the sin and punishment of their fathers in the wilderness. And the apostle, for the same reason, fitly applied the words, which the Holy Ghost spake to the people by David, to the Hebrews in his day, to prevent them from hardening their hearts when they heard God’s voice speaking to them in the gospel of his Son.” To-day — Now, at the present time, while the season of grace lasts, and you are favoured with the means thereof; if ye will hear his voice — If ye ever intend, or will consent to do it; harden not your hearts — By inattention, by thoughtlessness, by unbelief, and disobedience. Observe, reader, God speaks by his works, particularly those of creation, providence, and grace, and in and by his word; and to hear him, implies that we hearken to, understand, believe, and obey him; and instead of rejecting his counsel, that we suffer it to enter into our hearts, so as to influence our spirits and conduct; as in the provocation — Παραπικρασμω, bitter provocation; that is, as the Israelites hardened their hearts when they provoked me by their strife and murmurings. See Exodus 16:4; Exodus 17:2-9; Exodus 32:10; Numbers 10:33; Numbers 11:3; Numbers 11:33; Numbers 11:35; Numbers 12:16; Numbers 13:25-32; Numbers 14:4-22; Deuteronomy 1:6-7; Deuteronomy 1:19-22; Deuteronomy 1:34-35; Deuteronomy 2:14; Deuteronomy 9:7; Deuteronomy 32:51; 1 Corinthians 10:4. In short, their whole story manifests a continued scene of provocation. When — Or where, rather, as the Syriac and Vulgate read the words; for the word when would imply that, at the time of the bitter provocation chiefly referred to, the Israelites had seen God’s works forty years, contrary to the history, which shows that that provocation happened in the beginning of the third year from the going out of Egypt: whereas to read where instead of when, agreeably to the matter of fact, represents God as saying by David, that the Israelites tempted him in the wilderness during forty years, notwithstanding all that time they had seen his miracles. The tempting God, here spoken of, consisted in their calling in question his presence with them, their distrusting his power to help and save them, or his faithfulness to his promises; or their despising ordinary means of help and deliverance, and desiring extraordinary. See note on Psalm 95:8-9; Matthew 4:7; and proved me — Put my patience to the proof, even while they saw my glorious works both of judgment and mercy; or had proof by experience of my power, providence, goodness, and faithfulness, and that for forty years.
Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness:
When your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my works forty years.
Wherefore I was grieved with that generation, and said, They do alway err in their heart; and they have not known my ways.Hebrews 3:10-11. Wherefore — To speak after the manner of men; I was grieved — Highly displeased; with that generation — With the generality of this people; and said, They do always — Notwithstanding all that I have done for them before their eyes; err in their heart — Are led astray by their stubborn will and vile affections; and they have not known my ways — Have not paid any regard to the clear discoveries of my will and design. They saw indeed God’s works, or the ways of his providence, the ways in which he walked toward them; and the ways of his laws were made known to them, the ways wherein he would have had them to walk toward him; and yet it is said of them that they knew not his ways, because they knew them not to any good purpose; they did not know them spiritually and practically. They were not, properly speaking, ignorant of them, but they disliked them, and would not walk in them. So I sware in my wrath — The matter here referred to is recorded Numbers 14:21, &c., where see the notes. It must be observed, when in Scripture human parts and passions are ascribed to God, it is not because these parts and passions do really exist in God, but that way of speaking is used to give us some idea of his attributes and operations, accommodated to our manner of conceiving things. We are not to suppose that, when God said he sware in his wrath, he felt the passion of wrath as men, when provoked, are wont to do; but that he acted on that occasion as men do who are moved by anger. He declared by an oath his fixed resolution to punish the unbelieving Israelites, by excluding them for ever from his rest in Canaan, because they refused to go into that country when he commanded them; and to show that this punishment was not too severe, God, by the mouth of David, spoke of their tempting him all the forty years they were in the wilderness.
So I sware in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest.)
Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.Hebrews 3:12-13. Take heed — Βλεπετε, see to it, consider, use care and circumspection; brethren, lest — Μηποτε, lest at any time; there be in any of you — As there was in your forefathers of old; he speaks to them collectively, to take care that none might be found among them with such a heart as he guards them against, and consequently his caution concerned every individual of them; an evil heart of unbelief — Unbelief is the parent of all evil, and the very essence of it lies in departing frown God, as the living God — The fountain of all our life, holiness, and happiness. For as faith draws near to him in the consideration and knowledge of him, in beholding his glory, in desire after him, gratitude to him, and delight in him; continually aspiring after a conformity to him, and longing to enjoy union and communion with him; so unbelief produces directly contrary effects, rendering the mind averse to approach God in these respects and for these purposes, disliking and shunning all intercourse with him. It is distinguished by some into negative and positive. Negative unbelief is wherever any believe not, or have not faith, because they have not yet had the means of believing, namely, the Scriptures, or the truths declared in them, as the heathen nations. Such, supposing they believe and lay to heart the truths of what is called natural religion, cannot be said to have in them an evil heart of unbelief. 2d, Positive unbelief is where men believe not, though they enjoy the means of faith. This latter is here meant, and in it consist some of the highest workings of the depraved nature of man; it being, on many accounts, the greatest provocation of God that a creature can be guilty of. For it is an opposition to God in all the perfections of his nature, and in the whole revelation of his will. And therefore the gospel, which is a declaration of grace, mercy, and pardon, and which indeed condemns all sin, yet denounces final condemnation only against this sin, he that believeth not shall be damned, Mark 16:16.
Observe reader, the apostle’s caution against a heart of unbelief implies two things: 1st, That we take heed lest, through refusing to consider the evidence of the truth, or the goodness and excellence of the things proposed to be embraced by our faith, we should continue in our natural unbelief, and never attain faith. 2d, Lest we should reject or decline from the faith after it has been received, through neglect of the means which minister to its continuance and increase, namely, the word of God, prayer, Christian fellowship, the Lord’s supper, &c.; through yielding to the temptations of the devil, the world and the flesh, and to the love of sin; through unwatchfulness and the neglect of self-denial and mortification; through relapsing into our former habits, and imitating the spirit and conduct of the carnal and worldly part of mankind around us; — through fear of reproach, of ill-usage and persecution from those that are enemies to the truth and grace of God. As a powerful means to prevent this from being the case, the apostle adds, exhort one another, &c. — It is justly observed by Dr. Owen, that “many practical duties are neglected because they are not understood, and they are not understood because they are supposed to have no difficulty in them.” The duty of constant exhortation, that is, of persuading men to constancy and growth in faith, love, and obedience, to watchfulness and diligence in the ways of God, and attention to every duty which we owe to God, our neighbour, and ourselves, is the most important part of the ministerial office. It is, however, not confined to ministers: it must also be mutual among believers; and, in order to the right performance of it, the following things are necessary: 1st, A deep concern for one another’s salvation and growth in grace. 2d, Wisdom and understanding in divine things. 3d, Care that only words of truth and soberness be spoken, for only such words will be attended with authority, and have the desired effect. 4th, Avoiding those morose and severe expressions which savour of unkindness, and using words of mildness, compassion, tenderness, and love, at least toward such as are well- disposed, and desirous to know and do the will of God. 5th, Avoiding levity, and always speaking with seriousness. 6th, Attention to time, place, persons, occasions, circumstances. 7th, A suitable example in the persons exhorting, giving weight and influence to every advice that is given, in imitation of the apostle, who could say, Be ye followers of me as I am of Christ. 8th, We must be unwearied in this duty, and exhort one another daily; and that not only in appointed meetings, but in every proper season, and on all fit occasions, whenever we happen to be in company one with another: and, lastly, while it is called today — While the season for doing it continues; and therefore now, without delay, the time for performing this duty being both very short and very uncertain.
As a motive impelling to the practice recommended, the apostle adds, lest any of you be hardened — That Isaiah , 1 st, Rendered blind and insensible as to the nature, excellence, necessity, and importance of spiritual things: 2d, impenetrable to mercy or justice, promises or threatenings; to the word, providence, or grace of God; stubborn and irreclaimable: 3d, Abandoned, and finally given up of God to sin and its consequences. It should be well observed, that this awful effect is not usually produced suddenly, and all at once, but by slow degrees, and perhaps insensibly, just as the hand of a labouring man is wont gradually to contract a callousness. It is effected, the apostle says, by the deceitfulness of sin, probably first by yielding to, instead of resisting and mortifying, sinful dispositions and corrupt passions, which by degrees produce those sinful practices, which, 1st, Not only grieve, but quench and do despite to the Spirit of grace, and cause him to withdraw his influences from us. 2d, The mind becomes hereby indisposed, and averse to attend to, or to obey, the voice of God in his word or providence, to consider or to yield to his counsel and authority. Hereby, 3d, The conscience is stupified, the will, affections, and all the powers of the soul are preoccupied and engaged in the service of sin and Satan, of the world and the flesh. The apostle terms sin deceitful, because it promises the satisfaction it never yields: persuades us we may venture to yield a little to its solicitations, but need not go far; — that we may yield at this time, this once, but need not afterward; — that we may and can repent and reform when we will; — that God will not be extreme to mark little things; — and that he is merciful, and will not be so strict as ministers are wont to urge, in fulfilling his threatenings.
But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.
For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end;Hebrews 3:14. For we are made partakers of Christ — Of all the blessings procured by his death, and offered in his gospel, even of pardon, holiness, and eternal life; if we hold — If we retain with constancy and perseverance; the beginning of our confidence — That is, the confidence or trust we have begun to place in him; steadfast — Βεβαιαν, firm; unto the end — Of our lives, whatever difficulties or oppositions may arise. Dr. Owen (who, by being partakers of Christ, understands our having an interest in his nature, by the communication of his Spirit, as Christ had in ours by the assumption of our flesh) interprets the word υποστασις, here rendered confidence, of that union which we are bound to preserve and maintain with Christ, or of our subsistence in him, our abiding in him as the branches in the vine, observing, “So the word very properly signifies, and so it is here emphatically used.” He adds, “the beginning of our subsistence in Christ, and of our engagements to him, is, for the most part, accompanied with much love and other choice affections, resolution, and courage; which, without great care and watchfulness, we are very ready to decay in and fall from.”
While it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation.
For some, when they had heard, did provoke: howbeit not all that came out of Egypt by Moses.Hebrews 3:16. For some, &c. — As if he had said, You have need to attend; be watchful and circumspect. For some — Yea, many; when they had heard — The voice of God in giving the law, and the various instructions which God granted them in the wilderness; did provoke — Literally, bitterly provoke, that is, God, whose voice they heard. By this consideration the apostle enforces his exhortation; when the people, says he, of old heard the voice of God in that dispensation of his law and grace which was suited to their condition, some of them provoked God; and whereas those also may do so who hear his voice in the dispensation of the gospel, it concerns all that hear it to take care that they be not disobedient; for, under every dispensation, dreadful is the consequence of abused mercy. Howbeit, not all that came out of Egypt — In the preceding discourse the apostle had expressed the sin and punishment of the people indefinitely, so as to appear at first view to include the whole generation in the wilderness; but here he makes an exception, which may refer to three sorts of persons. First, Those who were under twenty years of age in the second year after their coming out of Egypt, and who were not numbered in the wilderness of Sinai. See Numbers 1:1; Numbers 1:3. For of those that were then numbered, there was not a man left save Caleb and Joshua, but they all died, because of their provocation. Secondly, the tribe of Levi; for the threatening and oath of God was only against them that were numbered, and Moses was expressly commanded not to number the Levites; although it is much to be feared that the generality of this tribe also provoked and fell. Thirdly, Caleb and Joshua are excepted; and indeed seem here to be principally intended. Now the apostle thus expresses the limitation of his former general assertion, that he might enforce his exhortation by the example of them who believed and obeyed the voice of God, and therefore entered into his rest; as well as of those who provoked, and therefore were prohibited from entering it. So that he draws his argument not only from the severity of God, which at the first view seems to be only set forth, but also from his implied faithfulness and mercy.
But with whom was he grieved forty years? was it not with them that had sinned, whose carcases fell in the wilderness?Hebrews 3:17-18. But with whom was he grieved — Or, displeased, as Macknight renders προσωχθισε; forty years? — The apostle’s answer to this inquiry consists of a double description of them. First, By their sin; was it not with them that had sinned? Secondly, By their punishment; whose carcasses fell in the wilderness? — As some only, and not all provoked, so it was with some only, and not all, that God was displeased. The sins here principally intended are the general sins of the whole congregation, which consisted in their frequent murmurings and rebellions, which came to a head, as it were, in that great provocation upon the return of the spies,(Numbers 14.) when they not only provoked God by their own unbelief, but encouraged one another to destroy Joshua and Caleb, who would not concur in their disobedience; for all the congregation bade stone them with stones. And to whom sware he, &c. — The apostle refers to Numbers 14:21-23; Numbers 14:30; but to them that believed not? — Or were disobedient, as the word απειθησασι may be properly rendered; or who would not be persuaded, namely, to trust God, and believe that he would give them the possession of Canaan, and would not obey him when he commanded them to go up against their enemies, and take possession of it.
And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not?
So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.Hebrews 3:19. So we see, &c. — The conclusion we draw from the whole is, that they could not enter in because of unbelief — Though afterward they desired it. In looking over the whole story of the sins of the Israelites, and of God’s dealings with them, one would be apt to fix upon some other causes of their exclusion from Canaan, as the Jews, their posterity, do at this day. But our apostle here lays it absolutely and wholly on their unbelief, which he proves to have been the chief spring and cause of all their provocations. From this, in particular, proceeded that cowardice which made them refuse to march against the Canaanites, when the spies brought them information concerning the giants whom they had observed in the country, the sons of Anak, and the large and well-fortified cities. But how inexcusable was this their unbelief, considering the many astonishing miracles which God had wrought for them, before he gave them the command to enter Canaan! “The conclusion,” says Macknight, “of the apostle’s reasoning concerning the sin and punishment of the ancient Israelites, contained in this verse, ought to make a deep impression on every reader, since it shows, in the strongest colours, the malignity of unbelief, and teaches us that it is the source of all the sin and misery prevalent among mankind. Our first parents sinned through their not believing God, when he said, In the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die; and their posterity sin through their not believing what God hath suggested to them by their own reason, and by revelation, concerning the rewards and punishments of a future state.”