Hebrews 12
Pulpit Commentary
Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,
Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Verse 2. - Looking unto the Author and Finisher of our faith (rather, the Leader, or Captain, as in Hebrews 2:10, and Perfecter of the faith, or of faith - faith's Captain and Completer), Jesus; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. The idea is not, as implied in the A.V. and understood by Chrysostom and other ancients, that Jesus first inspires and then brings to its complete result the individual Christian's faith ("quod caepit in nobis consummabit"), but (as implied in the word ἀρχηγὸς, and suiting the context better) that he is the Leader of the whole army of faith, whose standard we are to follow, and whoso own completed victory is the enabling cause as well as the earnest of our own. It is no valid objection to this view that he could not have been a Leader in this sense to the faithful ones before his coming, referred to in the last chapter; for, as has been before observed (see on "the reproach of Christ," Hebrews 11:26), he is regarded as the Head and Leader, in all ages, of the faithful; and in virtue of his future warfare for mankind the saints of old endured and triumphed: - and certainly Christians, to whom the exhortation is addressed, may look to him in an obvious sense as their Captain to be followed. Nor, again, is there difficulty - apart from that of the whole mystery of the Incarnation - in his being presented to us as himself an example of triumphant faith. For he is elsewhere spoken of as having so "emptied himself" of his Divine glory as to have become like unto us in all things, sin except; and thus to have been sustained during his human life by faith in the unseen, as we are. His addresses to the Father (see especially John 17.) are strikingly significant in this regard. The expression, "for the joy," etc. (ἀντὶ τῆς προκειμένης αὐτῷ χαρᾶς), does not mean, as some take it, "instead of the joy which he might have had on earth" (such e.g. as was offered to him by the tempter), but, as is evident from the word προκειμένης, "as set against, i.e. for the sake of, future joy" (cf. ἀντὶ βρώσεως μιᾶς, ver. 16). Such looking forward to joy with the Father and the redeemed after triumph is expressed in the great intercessory prayer-above referred to (John 17:5, 13, 22, 23, 24, 26). It may be here observed that anticipation of reward hereafter is among legitimate human motives to a good life. It may be said, indeed, that the highest virtue consists in doing what is right simply because it is right - in fulfilling God's will, whatever may come of it to ourselves; but the hope of a final happy issue comes properly, and indeed inevitably, in as an inspiring and sustaining motive. Aspiration after Happiness is a God-given instinct of humanity, necessary for keeping up the life of virtue. There may be some so in love with virtue as to be capable of persevering in lifelong self-denial, though without any faith in a life to come. But human nature in general certainly requires this further incentive, and Christian faith supplies it. Nor are those who thus work with a view to future joy to be accused of selfish motives, as though they balanced only a greater against a smaller gain. To the true Christian the grand inspiring principle is still the love of God and of his neighbor, and of goodness for its own sake, though the hope of an eternal reward supports and cheers him mightily. Nor, again, is the joy looked forward to a selfish joy. It is the joy of sharing in the triumph of eternal righteousness in company with all the redeemed, whose salvation, no less than his own, he desires and strives for. And, further, with regard to his own individual joy, what is it but the joy of attaining the end of his being, the perfection God meant him for, and to which it is his duty to aspire? Hence Christ would not have been a perfect Example to man had he not been represented as looking forward to "the joy that was set before him."
For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.
Verse 3. - For consider him that hath endured such contradiction of sinners against himself (or, of the sinners against him), lest ye be weary fainting in your souls. The word ἀντιλογία ("contradiction"), though strictly applicable to verbal gainsaying, and thus especially suggesting to our minds the blasphemies and false accusations against Christ, includes opposition of all kinds. It is used in the LXX. for "rebellion" (Hebrew, סְרַי), 2 Samuel 22:41; Proverbs 17:11, cf. Jude 1:11, τῇ ἀντιλογιᾴ τοῦ Κορέ. (Instead of εἰς ἑαυτόν (al. εἰς αὐτὸν) there is weighty manuscript authority for εἰς ἑαυτούς, equivalent to "against themselves.") "Lest ye be weary," etc., keeps in view the idea of getting tired in a race, the word ἐκλυεσθαι ("faint") being used primarily for corporeal, and figuratively for mental, lassitude (cf. Matthew 15:32, μήποτε ἐκλυθῶσι ἐν τῇ ὁδῷ).
Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.
Verse 4. - Ye have net yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin. Here (as in 1 Corinthians 9:26) there is a transition of thought from a race to a combat. Your trials have not yet reached the point of dying in the good fight of faith, as has been the case with some of your brethren before you, who have followed their Leader to the end (cf. Hebrews 13:7).
And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him:
Verses 5, 6. - And ye have forgotten (or, have ye forgotten?) the exhortation which speaketh unto you (more correctly, discourses, or reasons, with you; i.e. in the way of fatherly remonstrance) as unto children, My son, etc. This verse introduces a further motive for persevering under prolonged trial, viz. our being assured in Holy Writ of its beneficial purpose as discipline. The quotation is from Proverbs 3:11, 12, as it is in the LXX. We observe that the word "faint" (ἐκλύου) is the same as was used in ver. 3. In the seventh and following verses this scriptural admonition is applied and commented on.
For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.
If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?
Verses 7, 8. - For chastening ye endure; i.e. It is for chastening that ye endure. The reading εἰς παιδείαν ὑπομένετε, supported by almost the whole weight of manuscripts (including all the uncials that contain the text), of ancient versions, and commentators (Theophylact being the only certain exception), is decidedly to be accepted instead of the εἰ παιδείαν ὑπομένετε (equivalent to "if ye endure chastening") of the Textus Receptus. Moreover, it is required for the sense of the passage in regard to the proper meaning of the verb ὑπομένετε ("endure"), which is to "submit to," or "endure patiently," not simply "to undergo." For to say, "if ye endure chastisement patiently, God dealeth with you as sons," has no meaning; our being treated as sons depends, not on the way we take our chastisement, but on our being chastised at all. The use of the preposition εἰς to express purpose is common in this Epistle (cf. Hebrews 1:14, εἰς διακονίαν: 3:5, εἰς μαρτύριον: 4:16, εἰς βοήθειαν: 6:16, εἰς βεβαίωσιν): and the essential sense of παιδεία is discipline or education. The drift is the same, whether we take ὑπομένετε as an indicative or an imperative. Thus the next clause of the verse follows suitably: God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is there (or, who is a son) whom his father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastening, whereof all (i.e. all God's children, with reference to Hebrews 11.) have been made partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons (ye are not your father's real children whom he cares for as such).
But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.
Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?
Verse 9. - Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us (more correctly, we once had, or, we used to have, the fathers of our flesh as chasteners), and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? This introduces an à fortiori argument. We are reminded of the days of our youth, while we were under parental discipline, and bore with it submissively: much more should we submit to the discipline of our heavenly Father, to whom we are as children under training all our life long! Commentators differ as to what is exactly meant by the contrast between "the fathers of our flesh" and "the Father of spirits (τῶν πνευμάτων)." Some (among moderns Delitzsch) find here a support to the theory of creationism as against traducianism; i.e. that the soul of each individual, as distinct from the body, is a new creation, not transmitted from the parents. This view would have more to go on than it has, were we justified in implying ἡμῶν after πνευμάτων ("our spirits," in opposition to "our flesh," preceding). But τῶν πνευμάτων seems evidently meant to be understood generally; and the expression (suggested probably by Numbers 16:22 and Numbers 27:16, "The God of the spirits of all flesh") need imply only that, though God is the original Author of flesh as well as spirit, yet the latter, whether in man or otherwise existing, has in a peculiar sense its parentage from him (cf. Genesis 2:7, "The LORD GOD formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul;" also Job 33:4, "The Spirit of the LORD hath made me, and the breath of the Almighty hath given me life"). Our earthly parents transmit to us our carnal existence; our spiritual part, in whatever mysterious way derived or inspired, is duo to our Divine parentage; and it is in respect of this that we are God's children and accountable to him. But, as has been intimated above, it is not human spirits only that are here in the writer's view. God is the Father of all "the spirits," whether in the flesh or not; all are of Divine parentage, for God himself is Spirit - Πνεῦμα ὁ Θεός (John 4:24). Chrysostom explains thus: Τῷ πατρὶ τῶν πνευμὰτων ἤτοι τῶν χαρισμάτων λέγει, ἤτοι τῶν εὐχῶν ψυχῶν ἤτοι τῶν ἀσωμάτων δυνάμεων
For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.
Verse 10. - For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. The afortiori argument is thus continued. The discipline of our earthly fathers was "for a few days," i.e. during our childhood only, since which we have been left to ourselves; and even then not necessarily for our greatest advantage; it was only as seemed good to them (κατὰ τὸ δοκοῦν αὐτοῖς); it might be injudicious, or even capricious. But our heavenly Father's discipline we may trust to be always good for us, and with a definite final purpose. Though there is here no distinctly expressed antithesis to the "few days" of ordinary parental chastisement, yet one is implied in the last clause; for if God's purpose in chastening us is to make us partakers of his own holiness, we may conclude that the discipline will be continued till the end be attained; and thus also a further reason is implied why Christians should not "faint" under even lifelong trials.
Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.
Verse 11. - Now no chastening seemeth for the present to be joyous, but grievous (literally, not of joy, but of grief): nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness to them which have been exercised thereby. This is a general statement with respect to all chastening, though the expression of its result at the end of the verse is suggested by the thought of Divine chastening, to which alone it is certainly, and in the full sense of the words, applicable. "Of righteousness" is a genitive of apposition; δικαιοσύνη is the peaceable fruit yielded by παιδεία. And the word here surely denotes actual righteousness in ourselves; not merely justification in what is called the forensic sense: the proper effect of chastening is to make us good, and so at peace with our own conscience and with God. It is by no means thus implied that we can be accepted and so have peace on the ground of our own imperfect righteousness; only that it is in the fruits of faith perfected by discipline that we may "know that we are of the truth, and assure our hearts before him" (cf. James 3:18, "The fruit of righteousness is sown in peace;" also Isaiah 32:17, "And the work of righteousness shall be peace").
Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees;
Verse 12. - Wherefore lift up (for, straighten anew) the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees (rather, the relaxed hands and the loosened or enfeebled knees). The word παραλελυμένα is used only by St. Luke elsewhere in the New Testament, and with reference to persons paralyzed (Luke 5:18, 24; Acts 8:7; Acts 9:33). The form of the exhortation is taken from Isaiah 35:3, 'Ἰσχύσατε χεῖρες ἀνειμέναι καὶ γόνατα παραλελυμένα. The figure of the palaestra is thus again brought into view, with reference both to boxing and running.
And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed.
Verse 13. - And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but that it rather be healed. The ideas in this verse correspond to, and may be suggested by, those that follow in Isaiah the passage above referred to. For there too the prophet goes on to speak, among other things, of the lame leaping, and of a way of holiness along which none should err. But the words themselves are suggested by Proverbs 4:26, Αοτὸς δὲ ὀρθὰς ποιήσει τὰς τροχιάς σου (LXX.), the verb διαστρέφεσθαι having been previously used for turning out of the way. It is observable that the words, καὶ τροχιάς, etc., are arranged so as to form an hexameter line. This may have been unintentional, but it is at any rate effective. Delitzsch remarks on it. "The duty to which the writer urges, his, readers is courageous self-recovery m Gods strength. The tone and language are elevated accordingly, and ver. 12 is like a trumpet-blast. It need not surprise us, then, if our author here turns poet, and proceeds in heroic measures." With regard to the purport of this verse, we observe that, while the figure of running is still continued, a new idea is introduced - that of pursuing a straight course with a view to others who are to follow on the same track. "That which is lame (τὸ χωλόν)" denotes the weak and wavering brethren - the ἀσθενοῦντες, such as are referred to in Romans 14. and 1 Corinthians 8. The expression well suits (specially those among the Hebrew Christians who halted between two opinions - between the Church and the synagogue (cf. 1 Kings 18:21, Ἕως πότε ὑμεῖς χωλανεῖτε επ ἀμφοτέραις ταῖς ἰγνύαις;). The strong in faith ought to desire and aim at the healing of such lame ones, i.e. their being strengthened in the faith, rather than expose them to the risk of apostasy by any wavering of their own.
Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord:
Verse 14. - Follow peace with all (i.e. as required by the context, with all the brethren; cf. Romans 14:19), and holiness (more properly, sanctification), without which no man shall see the Lord. Here the figure is dropped, and two cautions given, peculiarly needed, we may suppose, by the community addressed. The exhortation to "peace with all" reminds of the tone of St. Paul's admonitions both in Romans and in 1 Corinthians, where he so strongly warns against dissensions and party spirit, and enjoins tolerance and mutual allowance with regard to the weaker brethren. The word ἁγιασμὸς ("sanctification") need not be limited (as by Chrysostom) to the idea of chastity; the general thought implied may be (as expressed by Limborch, quoted by Alford), "No, dum pact studeat, nimis slits obsequendi studio quidquam contra sanctimonism Christianam delinquat;" but the special allusion to πορνεία in ver. 16 (as also in Hebrews 13:4) is evidence that chastity was especially in the writer's mind, with definite reference to which the word ἁγιασμὸς is used in 1 Thessalonians 4:3. The frequent and earnest warnings against fornication in St. Paul's Epistles are enough to show how slow even some in the Church were to recognize the strict code of Christian morality, unknown to the heathen world, and by the Jews very imperfectly recognized, in this regard; and the case of 1 Corinthians 5. illustrates how easily such vice might creep into and infect a Christian community without general reprobation. Hence probably the special warning here.
Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled;
Verse 15. - Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God (i.e. fall short of it; or, ὑστερῶν being here followed by ἀπὸ, the idea may be rather that of falling back from it); lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many (or, according to the more probable reading, the many, i.e. the general community) be defiled. In this, the usual rendering of the verse, is supplied, so as to make μήτις ὑστερῶν mean "lest there be any one that fails." But this is not necessary; the verb ἐνοχλῇ ("trouble you") may be common both to the first μήτις and to μήτις ῤίζα, thus: "Lest any one failing... lest any root... trouble you." The sentence may have been broken off after its first clause in order to bring in the appropriate quotation from Deuteronomy 29:18, which in our A.V. runs thus: "Lest there should be among you a root that beareth gall and wormwood." The Vatican text of the LXX. has Μήτις ἐστὶν ἐν ὑμῖν ῤίζα ἄνω φύουσα ἐν χολῇ καὶ πικρίᾳ: the Alexandrian, which seems to be followed here, has Μήτις ἐστὶν ἐν ὑμῖν δίζα πικοίας ἄνω φύουσα ἐκογλῆ καὶ πικρίᾳ. The reference in the speech of Moses is to the future possibility of any "man, or we man, or family, or tribe" turning from the LORD to go and serve the gods of the nations, and so involving, not only themselves, but even the whole people in a curse. The figure is that of a plant being allowed to grow of such a nature at its root as to bear bitter and pernicious fruit. There is no special allusion in the word "bitterness" to disturbance of "peace" by dissensions; for this is not the idea in the original passage, nor is it carried out in the following verses of the Epistle. (Cf. Acts 8:23, "Thou art in the gall of bitterness (εἰς χολὴν πικρίας)")
Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.
Verses 16, 17. - Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited (i.e. desired to inherit) the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears. The word "fornicator" is to be understood literally, not figuratively (as Ebrard) of spiritual fornication (see ἁγιασμὸν, ver. 14). Βέβηλος ("profane") denotes one outside the sphere of sanctity, and so debarred from sacred privileges. Esau is appropriately adduced as a notable instance in the Old Testament of a person thus profane, and especially, in the way of warning, of one who lost irrecoverably the privileges which in his profaneness he had scorned. It is immaterial whether Esau himself is intended to be designated as a fornicator (πόρνος) as well as profane (βέβηλος). The essential moral of his history is this: being the firstborn of Israel, and so the primary inheritor of the promises made to Abraham, he set no store by the privilege, and so lost it irretrievably. In early life he so lightly esteemed his birthright as the eldest born (carrying with it, as is supposed, in the patriarchal age, the priesthood of the family, and in his case, as might be presumed, the custody and transmission of the promises) that he parted with it for the gratification of a passing appetite. His words on that occasion expressed the limit of his aims and interests: "Behold, I am at the point to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me?" Later in life he nevertheless presented himself to claim the blessing of the firstborn from his dying father, but found that he had been forestalled. It does not appear that he had meanwhile changed his mode of life or made amends for his former carelessness; still, he felt now that he had lost something worth having, and was grieved exceedingly. But not even his "great and exceeding bitter cry" availed then to recover what was forfeited. And so neither he nor his seed had part or lot in the Abrahamic promises: the time of opportunity was gone forever. There is some doubt with regard to the latter part of ver. 17,

(1) as to whether "it" (αἰτήν) in "he sought it" refers to "repentance" (μετανοίας) or to "the blessing" (τὴν εὐλογίαν);

(2) as to what "place of repentance" means. If "it" refers to "repentance," it is difficult to see how Esau's own repentance can be meant; for not only does seeking repentance with tears seem in itself to imply the capability of it, but also the "great and exceeding bitter cry" to which allusion is made was, not because he could not himself repent, but because he could not get the blessing. Hence, if "it" refers to "repentance," it must be repentance, i.e. change of mind, in Isaac that is meant, or rather in God, against whose will Isaac could not go; cf. "God is not a man... that he should repent" (Numbers 23:19). Of such change of mind and purpose it may be meant that Esau found no place. This seems to be the view of many modern interpreters, though not of Bengel, De Wette, Bleek, Hofmann, Delitzsch, Alford, or of Luther, Calvin, Grotius, or any of the Greek Fathers. Against it is the consideration that such is not the more obvious meaning of "he found no place of repentance," taken by itself, especially as μετανοία is always elsewhere in the New Testament (though not always in the LXX.) used for a person's change of mind with respect to his own misdoings (cf. supra, Hebrews 6:6). Difficulty on this ground is removed if, taking the clause, "for he found no place of repentance," as parenthetical, we refer αὐτὴν to τὴν εὐλογίαν, preceding. This is by no means a forced construction of the sentence, and it is supported (as above intimated) by the fact that in Genesis it is the blessing itself that Esau is expressly said to have craved in his "great and exceeding bitter cry:" "Hast thou but one blessing, my father? bless me, even me also, O my father. And Esau lifted up his voice, and wept." Thus we may render either, "When he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected; for he found no place of repentance [i.e. of change of mind in the bestower of the blessing], though he sought it [i.e. such change of mind] with tears;" or, "When he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected (for he found no place of repentance), though he sought it [i.e. the blessing] with tears." If, the latter rendering being adopted, Esau's own repentance be intended, the idea maybe, either that there was no place left in which even a real repentance could avail, or that of a real repentance he had become incapable; for his tears might be those only of vexation and remorse, not expressing any more appreciation than before of the birthright in its religious aspect. Ebrard's remark, that his conduct as related in Genesis 33, shows "a changed heart," and hence a true repentance, is not to the point. For all that there appears is that he had got over his angry feeling towards his brother; it is by no means implied - rather the contrary - that he would have preferred his destiny to his own, or that his views of life had risen above thoughts of worldly prosperity. We observe, further, that nothing is implied one way or the other as to Esau's own salvation; it is only the privilege of being the patriarch of the chosen seed that he is said to have thus irrecoverably forfeited. But his example is adduced as a warning to Christians with regard to their still more precious inheritance, which does involve their own eternal prospects. The warning to them is similar to those of Hebrews 6:4, etc., and Hebrews 10:26, etc., to the effect that sacred privileges, if persistently slighted, may be lost beyond recovery. And if the passage before us seems to imply, according to one view of it, what the former ones were found not to do, the possible inefficacy of a true repentance, however late, - we may say that, even if this is implied of Esau with respect to his lost blessing, it is not therefore necessarily implied of Christians with respect to their personal salvation; or that, if it is implied of them, it is not till their probation in this life is over that a "place of repentance" in this sense can for them be found no more (cf. the parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1, etc.); also Matthew 7:22, etc.; Luke 13:24, etc.). One of Dr. Newman's Parochial Sermons ("Life the Season of Repentance," vol. 6. 'Sermon' 2) strikingly sets forth this view. See also 'Christian Year' (Second Sunday in Lent), with the appended note: "Esau's probation, as far as his birthright was concerned, was quite over when he uttered the cry in the text. His despondency, therefore, is not parallel to anything on this side the grave."
For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.
For ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest,
Verses 18-29. - There follows now, both for encouragement and for warning, a grand contrast between the Mosaic and Christian dispensations, founded on the phenomena that accompanied the giving of the Law. To Mount Sinai, with its repelling terrors, is opposed an ideal picture of Mount Zion and the heavenly Jerusalem, expressive of the communion of saints in Christ. And then at ver. 25 (as previously in Hebrews 10.) the tone of encouragement changes again to one of warning, the very excess of privilege being made the measure of the guilt of slighting it. Verse 18. - For ye are not come unto a mount that might be touched, and that burned, with fire, and unto blackness and darkness and tempest. The allusion is to the Israelites approaching Mount Sinai when the Law was given (see Deuteronomy 4:11, whence still more than from Exodus 19. the whole description is taken, "And ye came near [προσήλθετε, the same word as is used supra, Hebrews 4:16; Hebrews 7:25], and stood under the mountain"). Though the word "mount" in the Received Text has the support of no ancient authority, it must be understood, whether or not originally written. For it comes after προσήλθετε in the passage of Deuteronomy which is evidently referred to, the following words, "blackness, darkness, tempest" (σκότος γνόφος θύελλα), being also found there. And otherwise we should have to translate, "a touched [i.e. palpable] and kindled fire;" but "touched" (φηλαφωμένῳ) is not suitable to fire; and we should also lose the evidently intended contrast between the two mountains of Sinai and Zion, which appears in ver. 22. Neither may we trans- late, as some would do, "a mountain that might be touched, and kindled fire;" for the original passage in Deuteronomy has "and the mountain burned with fire (καὶ τὸ ὄρος ἐκαίετο πυρὶ)." The participle φηλαφωμένῳ (literally, that was touched), rather than ψηφαλητῷ, may be used here, although on the occasion referred to all were forbidden to touch the mountain, by way of bringing more distinctly into view the actual Sinai, which was touched at other times, and which Moses both touched and ascended. If so, the main purpose of the word is to contrast the local and palpable mountain of the Law with the ideal Mount Zion which is afterwards spoken cf. Or, the verb ψηλαλάω may here carry with it its common sense of groping after, as in the dark (cf. Deuteronomy 28:29, Καὶ ἔση ψηλαφῶν μεσημβρίας ὡσεὶ ψηλαφήσαι ὁ τυφλὸς ἐν τῷ σκότει), with reference to the cloudy darkness about Sinai, and in contrast with the clear unclouded vision of Zion.
And the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words; which voice they that heard intreated that the word should not be spoken to them any more:
Verses 19-21. - And the sound of a trumpet (Exodus 19:16), and the voice of words (Deuteronomy 4:12); which voice they that heard entreated that no word should be spoken to them more (Deuteronomy 18:16; cf. ver. 25 and Exodus 20:18): for they could not endure that which was commanded (rather, enjoined), If even a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned (Exodus 19:13; "or thrust through with a dart" is an interpolation in the text from the passage in Exodus): and so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake (Deuteronomy 9:19, ἔκφοβός εἰμι, to which ἔντρομος is added in the text. This saying of Moses was really uttered afterwards, when he was descending from the mount, and became aware of the sin of the golden calf. It was called forth by the people's sin, but was due to the alarming character of the preceding phenomena, of τὸ φανταζόμενον, that which was being revealed or manifested. Mention of it is added here to show that the general fear extended even to Moses, the mediator). This whole account, thus powerfully condensed from Exodus and Deuteronomy, presents a vivid picture of the terrors of the Mosaic revelation. God was, indeed, revealed to man, but still as unseen and unapproachable, terrible in his wrath against sin, and surrounded by sounds and sights of fear. But now mark the serene and glorious contrast.
(For they could not endure that which was commanded, And if so much as a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned, or thrust through with a dart:
And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake:)
But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels,
Verses 22-24. - But ye are come unto Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. Here, as in Galatians 4, Zion and Jerusalem, ideally regarded, are contrasted with Sinai. The foundation of the conception is in the Old Testament. When David at length won the citadel of Zion, and placed the ark upon it, it was a sort of primary and typical fulfillment of the promise of rest, seen afar off by the patriarchs and from the wilderness. Psalm 24, which was sung on that occasion, expresses the idea of the King of glory being at length enthroned there, and his people of clean hands and pure hearts being admitted to stand in the holy place before him (cf. "This is my rest forever: here will I dwell," Psalm 132:14). In the Psalms generally the holy hill of Zion continues to be viewed as the LORD'S immovable abode, where he is surrounded by thousands of angels, and whence he succors his people (cf. Psalm 48; 68; 125; 132; etc.). Then by the prophets it is further idealized as the scene and center of Messianic blessings (cf. Isaiah 12; 25:13; 33; 35; 46:13; Micah 4; to which many other passages might be added). Compare also the visions, in the latter chapters of Ezekiel, of the ideal city and temple of the future age. Lastly, in the Apocalypse the seer has visions of "Mount Zion" (14.), and "the holy city, new Jerusalem" (21.), with the presence there of God and the Lamb, and with myriads of angels, and innumerable multitudes of saints redeemed. If, in the passage before us, a distinction is to be made between "Mount Zion" and "the heavenly Jerusalem," it may be that the former represents the Church below, the latter the heavenly regions, though both are blent together in one grand picture of the communion of saints. For so in Revelation 14. the hundred and forty-four thousand on Mount Zion seem distinct from the singers and harpers round the throne, whose song is heard from heaven and learnt by those below; while the picture of the holy city in Revelation 21. is one entirely heavenly, representing there the final consummation rather than any present state of things. And to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and Church of the Firstborn (rather, and to myriads, the general assembly of angels, and the Church of the Firstborn), which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the Mediator of a new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel (literally, than Abel). Of the several ways of translating the beginning of the above passage, the best seems to be to take μυριὰσιν by itself as including both the angels and the Church of the Firstborn, and to connect πανηγύρει with "angels" only. "Myriads" is a well-known expression for the LORD'S attendant hosts (cf. Jude 1:14; Deuteronomy 30:2; Daniel 7:10); further, καὶ, which throughout the passage connects the different objects approached, comes between πανηγύρει and ἐκκλησία, not between ἀγγελῶν and πανηγύρει, and the application of both πανηγύρει and ἐκκλησία to πρωτοτόκων would seem an unmeaning redundancy. The word πανήγυρις, which in classical Greek denotes properly the assembly of a whole nation for a festival, is peculiarly appropriate to the angels, whether regarded (as in the Old Testament) as ministering round the throne or as congregated to rejoice over man's redemption. "The Church of the Firstborn" seems to denote the Church militant rather than the Church triumphant; for

(1) ἐκκλησία is elsewhere used for the Church on earth (so also in the Old Testament; cf. Psalm 79:6);

(2) the phrase, ἐν οὐρανοῖς ἀπογεγραμμένων, expresses the idea of being enrolled in the books of heaven rather than being already there (cf. Luke 10:20; Philippians 4:3; Revelation 20:12; Revelation 21:27);

(3) the "spirits of the perfected" are mentioned afterwards as a class distinct. The word πρωτοτόκων may be suggested here by the firstborn of Israel, who were specially hallowed to the Lord (Numbers 3:13), and numbered as such by Moses (Numbers 3:43), or perhaps still more by the birthright (πρωτοτόκια) spoken of above as forfeited by Esau. God's elect may be called his firstborn as being hallowed to him and heirs of his promises (cf. Exodus 4:22," Israel is my son, even my firstborn;" and Jeremiah 31:9, "Ephraim is my firstborn"). They thus correspond to the hundred and forty-four thousand of Revelation 14, standing on Mount Zion, being "redeemed from the earth," and having "the Father's Name written on their foreheads;" seen distinct from, and yet in communion with, the saints in bliss, whose voices are heard above. Between them and the spirits of the perfected is interposed, "God the Judge of all;" and this appropriately, since before him the saints on earth must appear ere they join the ranks of the perfected: the former look up to him from below; the latter have already passed before him to the rest assigned them. Τετελειωμένεν ("perfected") expresses, as elsewhere in the Epistle, full accomplishment of an and or purpose with regard to things or persons (cf. Hebrews 2:10; Hebrews 5:9; Hebrews 7:19, 28; Hebrews 9:9; Hebrews 10:1, 14; Hebrews 11:40); the word is used here of those whose warfare is accomplished, and who have attained the rest of God. Their "spirits" only are spoken of, because the "perfect consummation and bliss both in body and soul" is still to come. In the mean while, with respect to the issue of their earthly course, they have been already perfected (cf. Revelation 14:13, "They rest from their labors"). Corresponding to the Lamb in Revelation, there is seen next Jesus the Mediator, through whom is the approach of the whole company to the Judge of all, and the accomplishment to the perfected. The "new covenant" is, of course, meant to be contrasted with the old one before Mount Sinai, under which there was no such approach or accomplishment. Then "the blood of sprinkling" has reference to that wherewith the old covenant was ratified (Exodus 24; cf. supra, Hebrews 9:18). The blood shed by Christ on earth for atonement is conceived as carried by him with himself into the holy place on high (cf. Hebrews 9:12), to be forever "the blood of sprinkling for effectual cleansing. And this blood "speaketh better things than Abel." His blood cried from the ground for vengeance, with the accusing voice of primeval sin; Christ's speaks only of reconciliation and peace. Some commentators (Bengel in the first place, whom Delitzsch follows)see in this contrast between Sinai and Zion a distinct parallelism between vers. 18, 19 and vers. 22-24; seven objects of approach in one case being supposed to be set against seven in the other, More obvious is the correspondence of the successive clauses of vers. 22-24 to the general ideas connected with the giving of the Law. The two pictures may be contrasted thus - The Old Covenant.

Sinai, a palpable earthly mountain, surrounded by gloom and storm.

The angels through whom the Law was given (cf. Hebrews 2:2; Galatians 3:19; Acts 7:53; Deuteronomy 23:2), unseen by men, but operating in the winds and in the fire (cf. Hebrews 1:7).

Israel congregated under the mountain, afraid, and forbidden to touch it.

The LORD, unapproachable, shrouded in darkness or revealed in fire.

Moses, himself afraid, and winning through his mediation no access for the people.

The blood sprinkled on the people to ratify the old covenant, but which could not cleanse the conscience.

The sound of a trumpet and the voice of words, inspiring fear. The New Covenant.

Zion, radiant with light and crowned with the city of God.

Festal choirs of assembled angels.

The accepted Church of the Firstborn, with free approach to the holiest of all.

The Judge of all, without his terrors, accessible, and awarding rest to the perfected.

The Divine availing Mediator.

The ever-cleansing blood of complete atonement.

The voice of that cleansing blood, speaking of peace and pardon.

Such is the vision by the contemplation of which the inspired writer would arouse his readers, amid their trials and waverings, to realize the things that are eternal. He would have them pierce with the eye of faith beyond this visible scene into the world invisible, which is no less real. If they were perplexed and disheartened by what they found around them - by the opposition of the world and the fewness of the faithful - he bids them associate themselves in thought with those countless multitudes who were on their side. The picture is, indeed, in some respects, ideal; for the actual Church on earth does not come up to the idea of the "Church of the Firstborn;" but it is presented according to God's purpose for his people, and it rests with us to make it a present reality to ourselves.
To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect,
And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.
See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven:
Verse 25. - See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not, refusing him that spake (rather, warned; the word here used is not λαλοῦντα, as before, but χρηματίζοντα, expressive of a Divine admonition or warning. In the passive it is translated "warned of God," "admonished of God," Matthew 2:12, 22; Hebrews 8:5; Hebrews 11:7; cf. Acts 10:22, ἐχρηματίσθη ὑπὸ ἀγγέλου ἁγίου) on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh (or, warneth) from heaven. Here the warning begins. "Him that speaketh (τὸν λαλοῦντα)," is suggested by λαλοῦντι in the preceding verse. But the subject is changed: it is God, not the "blood of sprinkling," that is now regarded as speaking to us from heaven. It was God also that warned on earth; not, as some take it, Moses, whom the word χρηματίζοντα does not suit: of him it is said, κεκρημάτισται (Hebrews 8:5). The allusion is to the voice heard from the earthly Sinai, which the people entreated (supra, ver. 19, παρητήσαντο ( τηε same word as is used here) should be heard no more. But they escaped not the hearing of that voice, or the consequences of disregarding its warning (cf. Hebrews 2:2; Hebrews 3:10).
Whose voice then shook the earth: but now he hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven.
Verse 26. - Whose voice then shook the earth (see Exodus 19:18, "The whole mount quaked greatly," though there the LXX. has λαός instead of ὄρος: but cf. Judges 5, "The earth trembled," and Psalm 114:7, "Tremble, thou earth," etc., with reference to the phenomena at Sinai; also Habakkuk 3:6, 10): but now he hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven. The prophecy referred to is Haggai 2:6, 7, "Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land; and I will shake all nations, and the Desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory, saith the LORD of hosts." Again, ver. 21, "I will shake the heavens and the earth" (cf. lea. 2:19, 21). The prophecy was uttered with reference to the second temple, the glory of which was to be greater than the glory of the first, in that it should be the scene of the LORD'S final revelation of himself to his people. Its first fulfillment is rightly seen in Christ's first coming (cf. Habakkuk 2:9, "And in this place will I give peace, saith the Lord of hosts;" and Malachi 3:1, "The Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple"). But the language used points evidently, even in itself, to a further fulfillment; nor do readers need to be reminded here of the pregnant and far-reaching sense of all Messianic prophecy. "Illustre est testimonium Psalm Newtoni ad Dan. p. 91: vixque in omni V.T. aliquod de Christo extat vaticinium, quod non, aliquatenus saltem, secundum ejus ad-ventum respiciat" (Bengel). The ultimate reference is what is seen dimly afar off in so many of the prophetic visions - the final dissolution of the whole present order of things, to be succeeded by the kingdom of eternal righteousness (cf. Psalm 102:25, etc.). By the heaven that is to be shaken in that great day is meant, of course, not the eternal abode of God, but that which is created and visible (τῶν πεποιημένων, ver. 27). This final shaking is set against the local and typical shaking of Mount Sinai in two points of contrast - its extending to the whole creation, and its being once for all (ἔτι ἅπαξ); and from the latter expression the removing of the things thus finally shaken is in the next verse inferred. This inference, though not following necessarily from the expression itself, is involved in the general drift of Haggai's prophecy, taken in connection with other cognate ones, in which an entirely new and heavenly order is pictured as rising over the ruins of the old (cf. Isaiah 65:17; Isaiah 66:22, referred to in 2 Peter 3:7, 10, 13, "new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness."
And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.
Verses 27-29. - And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that have been made, that those things which are not shaken may remain. Wherefore, receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken (observe the present participle, παραλαμβάνοντες: we already belong to this kingdom, which exists now behind the veil of this visible scene, and will survive its catastrophe; observe also that the phrase, βασιλείαν παραλαμβάνοντες, corresponds with Daniel 7:18, Καὶ παραλήψονται τὴν βασιλσίαν ἅγιοι ὑψίστου, - it implies an actual share in the royalty of the kingdom; cf. Ephesians 5:5; Revelation 1:6; Revelation 5:10), let as have grace (or, thankfulness; the usual meaning of ἔχειν χάριν is "to be thankful," or "to give thanks," as in Luke 17:9; 1 Timothy 1:12; 2 Timothy 1:3), whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: for our God is a consuming fire. This last verse is from Deuteronomy 4:24, where the Israelites are being warned of the danger of forgetting the covenant of the LORD their God. The LORD'S nature is not changed: he is still a consuming fire against evil, as he declared himself from Sinai; and if We scorn the present dispensation of grace, the day of judgment will still be to us a day of terror (cf. supra, Hebrews 10:26, etc.).

Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear:
For our God is a consuming fire.
The Pulpit Commentary, Electronic Database. Copyright © 2001, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2010 by BibleSoft, inc., Used by permission

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