|<< Hebrews 3 >>|
Clarke's Commentary on the Bible
Jesus is the High Priest of our profession, Hebrews 3:1. And is counted worthy of more honor than Moses, as the Son Israelites did, and were excluded from the earthly rest in Canaan, Hebrews 3:7-11. We should be on our guard against unbelief, Hebrews 3:12. And exhort each other, lest we be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin; and we should hold fast the beginning of our confidence to the end, and not provoke God as the Israelites did, and who were destroyed in the wilderness, Hebrews 3:13-17. They were promised the earthly rest, but did not enter because of unbelief, Hebrews 3:18, Hebrews 3:19.
1Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus;
Holy brethren - Persons consecrated to God, as the word literally implies, and called, in consequence, to be holy in heart, holy in life, and useful in the world. The Israelites are often called a holy people, saints, etc., because consecrated to God, and because they were bound by their profession to be holy; and yet these appellations are given to them in numberless instances where they were very unholy. The not attending to this circumstance, and the not discerning between actual positive holiness, and the call to it, as the consecration of the persons, has led many commentators and preachers into destructive mistakes. Antinomianism has had its origin here: and as it was found that many persons were called saints, who, in many respects, were miserable sinners, hence it has been inferred that they were called saints in reference to a holiness which they had in another; and hence the Antinomian imputation of Christ's righteousness to unholy believers, whose hearts were abominable before God, and whose lives were a scandal to the Gospel. Let, therefore, a due distinction be made between persons by their profession holy, i.e. consecrated to God; and persons who are faithful to that profession, and are both inwardly and outwardly holy. They are not all Israel who are of Israel: a man, by a literal circumcision, may be a Jew outwardly; but the circumcision of the heart by the Spirit makes a man a Jew inwardly. A man may be a Christian in profession, and not such in heart; and those who pretend that, although they are unholy in themselves, they are reputed holy in Christ, because his righteousness is imputed to them, most awfully deceive their own souls.
Dr. Owen has spoken well on the necessity of personal holiness against the Antinomians of his day. "If a man be not made holy he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. It is this that makes them meet for the inheritance of the saints in light; as without it they are not meet for their duty, so are they not capable of their reward. Yea, heaven itself, in the true light and notion of it, is undesirable to an unsanctified person. Such a one neither can nor would enjoy God if he might. In a word, there is no one thing required of the sons of God that an unsanctified person can do, and no one thing promised unto them that he can enjoy.
"There is surely then a woful mistake in the world. If Christ sanctify all whom he saves, many will appear to have been mistaken in their expectations at another day. It is grown amongst us almost an abhorrency to all flesh to say, the Church of God is to be holy. What! though God has promised that it should be so; that Christ has undertaken to make it so? What! if it be required to be so? What! if all the duties of it be rejected of God, if it be not so? It is all one, if men be baptized, whether they will or not, and outwardly profess the name of Christ, though not one of them be truly sanctified, yet they are, it is said, the Church of Christ. Why then let them be so; but what are they the better for it? Are their persons or their services therefore accepted with God? Are they related or united to Christ? Are they under his conduct unto glory? Are they meet for the inheritance of the saints in light? Not at all: not all nor any of these things do they obtain thereby. What is it then that they get by the furious contest which they make for the reputation of this privilege? Only this: that, satisfying their minds by it, resting if not priding themselves in it, they obtain many advantages to stifle all convictions of their condition, and so perish unavoidably. A sad success, and for ever to be bewailed! Yet is there nothing at all at this day more contended for in this world than that Christ might be thought to be a captain of salvation to them, unto whom he is not a sanctifier; that he may have an unholy Church, a dead body. These things tend neither to the glory of Christ, nor to the good of the souls of men. Let none then deceive themselves; sanctification is a qualification indispensably necessary to them who will be under the conduct of the Lord Christ unto salvation; he leads none to heaven but whom he sanctifies on earth. The holy God will not receive unholy persons. This living head will not admit of dead members, nor bring men into possession of a glory which they neither love nor like."
Heavenly calling - The Israelites had an earthly calling; they were called out of Egypt to go into the promised land: Christians have a heavenly calling; they are invited to leave the bondage of sin, and go to the kingdom of God. These were made partakers of this calling; they had already embraced the Gospel, and were brought into a state of salvation.
Apostle and High Priest of our profession - Among the Jews the high priest was considered to be also the apostle of God; and it is in conformity to this notion that the apostle speaks. And he exhorts the Hebrews to consider Jesus Christ to be both their High Priest and Apostle; and to expect these offices to be henceforth fulfilled by him, and by him alone. This was the fullest intimation that the Mosaic economy was at an end, and the priesthood changed. By της ὁμολογιας ἡμων, our profession, or that confession of ours, the apostle undoubtedly means the Christian religion. Jesus was the Apostle of the Father, and has given to mankind the new covenant; and we are to consider the whole system of Christianity as coming immediately from him. Every system of religion must have a priest and a prophet; the one to declare the will of God, the other to minister in holy things. Moses was the apostle under the old testament, and Aaron the priest. When Moses was removed, the prophets succeeded him; and the sons of Aaron were the priests after the death of their father. This system is now annulled; and Jesus is the Prophet who declares the Father's will, and he is the Priest who ministers in the things pertaining to God, see Hebrews 2:17; as he makes atonement for the sins of the people, and is the Mediator between God and man.
2Who was faithful to him that appointed him, as also Moses was faithful in all his house.
Who was faithful to him - In Numbers 12:7, God gives this testimony to Moses: My servant Moses - is faithful in all my house; and to this testimony the apostle alludes. House not only means the place where a family dwells, but also the family itself. The whole congregation of Israel was the house or family of God, and God is represented as dwelling among them; and Moses was his steward, and was faithful in the discharge of his office; strictly enforcing the Divine rights; zealously maintaining God's honor; carefully delivering the mind and will of God to the people; proclaiming his promises, and denouncing his judgments, with the most inflexible integrity, though often at the risk of his life. Jesus Christ has his house - the whole great family of mankind, for all of whom he offered his sacrificial blood to God; and the Christian Church, which is especially his own household, is composed of his own children and servants, among and in whom he lives and constantly resides. He has been faithful to the trust reposed in him as the apostle of God; he has faithfully proclaimed the will of the Most High; vindicated the Divine honor against the corrupters of God's worship; testified against them at the continual hazard of his life; and, at last, not only died as a victim to cancel sin, but also as a martyr to his faithfulness. Christ's faithfulness, says Leigh, consists in this: "That he has as fully revealed unto us the doctrine of the Gospel, as Moses did that of the law; and that he hath faithfully performed and fulfilled all the types of himself and all the things signified by Moses' ceremonies, as Moses hath faithfully and distinctly set them down."
But there is a sense given to the word נאמן neeman, Numbers 12:7, which we translate faithful, by several of the Jewish writers, which is well worthy of note: it signifies, say they, "one to whom secrets are confided, with the utmost confidence of their being safely and conscientiously kept." The secret of God was with Moses, but all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge were in Christ. Life and immortality were comparatively secrets till Christ revealed and illustrated them, and even the Divine nature was but little known, and especially the Divine philanthropy, till Jesus Christ came; and it was Jesus alone who declared that God whom no man had ever seen. Moses received the secrets of God, and faithfully taught them to the people; Jesus revealed the whole will of God to mankind. Moses was thus faithful to a small part of mankind, viz. the Jewish people; but in this sense Jesus was faithful to all mankind: for he was the light to enlighten the Gentiles, and the glory of his people Israel.
3For this man was counted worthy of more glory than Moses, inasmuch as he who hath builded the house hath more honour than the house.
For this man was counted - As Jesus Christ, in the character of apostle and high priest, is here intended, the word apostle, or this person or personage, should have been supplied, if any, instead of man. Indeed, the pronoun οὑτος should have been translated this person, and this would have referred immediately to Jesus Christ, Hebrews 3:1.
More glory than Moses - We have already seen that the apostle's design is to prove that Jesus Christ is higher than the angels, higher than Moses, and higher than Aaron. That he is higher than the angels has been already proved; that he is higher than Moses he is now proving.
He who hath builded the house - There can be no doubt that a man who builds a house for his own accommodation is more honorable than the house itself; but the house here intended is the Church of God. This Church, here called a house or family, is built by Christ; he is the Head, Governor, Soul and Life of it; he must therefore be greater than Moses, who was only a member and officer in that Church, who never put a stone in this spiritual building but was even himself put in it by the great Architect. Moses was in this house, and faithful in this house; but the house was the house of God, and builded and governed by Christ.
4For every house is builded by some man; but he that built all things is God.
For every house is builded by some man - The literal sense is plain enough: "Every structure plainly implies an, architect, and an end for which it was formed. The architect may be employed by him for whose use the house is intended; but the efficient cause of the erection is that which is here to he regarded." The word house, here, is still taken in a metaphorical sense as above, it signifies family or Church. Now the general meaning of the words, taken in this sense, is: "Every family has an author, and a head or governor. Man may found families, civil and religious communities, and be the head of these; but God alone is the Head, Author, and Governor, of all the families of the earth; he is the Governor of the universe. But the apostle has a more restricted meaning in the words τα παντα, all these things; and as he has been treating of the Jewish and Christian Churches, so he appears to have them in view here. Who could found the Jewish and Christian Church but God? Who could support, govern, influence, and defend them, but himself? Communities or societies, whether religious or civil, may be founded by man; but God alone can build his own Church. Now as all these things could be builded only by God, so he must be God who has built all these things. But as Jesus is the Founder of the Church, and the Head of it, the word God seems here to be applied to him; and several eminent scholars and critics bring this very text as a proof of the supreme Deity of Christ: and the apostle's argument seems to require this; for, as he is proving that Christ is preferred before Moses because he built this house, which Moses could not do, where he to be understood as intimating that this house was built by another, viz. the Father, his whole argument would fall to the ground; and for all this, Moses might be equal, yea, superior to Christ. On this ground Dr. Owen properly concludes: "This then is that which 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."
5And Moses verily was faithful in all his house, as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken after;
As a servant - The fidelity of Moses was the fidelity of a servant; he was not the framer of that Church or house; he was employed, under God, to arrange and order it: he was steward to the Builder and Owner.
For a testimony of those things - Every ordinance under the law was typical; every thing bore a testimony to the things which were to be spoken after; i.e. to Jesus Christ, his suffering, death, and the glory which should follow; and to his Gospel in all its parts. The faithfulness of Moses consisted in his scrupulous attention to every ordinance of God; his framing every thing according to the pattern showed him by the Lord; and his referring all to that Christ of whom he spoke as the prophet who should come after him, and should be raised up from among themselves; whom they should attentively hear and obey, on pain of being cut off from being the people of the Lord. Hence our Lord told the Jews, John 5:46 : If ye had believed Moses, ye would have believed me, for he wrote of me; "namely;" says Dr. Macknight, "in the figures, but especially in the prophecies, of the 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 to his Gospel."
6But 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.
But Christ as a Son over his own house - Moses was faithful as a servant In the house; Jesus was faithful, as the first-born Son, Over the house of which he is the Heir and Governor. Here, then, is the conclusion of the argument in reference to Christ's superiority over Moses. Moses did not found the house or family, Christ did; Moses was but in the house, or one of the family, Christ was over the house as its Ruler; Moses was but servant in the house, Christ was the Son and Heir; Moses was in the house of another, Christ in his own house.
It is well known to every learned reader that the pronoun αυτου, without an aspirate, signifies his simply; and that with the aspirate, αὑτου, it signifies his own: the word being in this form a contraction, not uncommon, of ἑαυτου. If we read αυτου without the aspirate, then his must refer to God, Hebrews 3:4.
But Christ as a Son over his (that is, God's) house: if we read αὑτου, with the aspirate, as some editions do, then what is spoken refers to Christ; and the words above convey the same sense as those words, Acts 20:28 : Feed the Church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. Some editions read the word thus; and it is evident that the edition which our translators used had the word αὑτου, his own, and not αυτου, his. The Spanish and London Polyglots have the same reading. From the most ancient MSS. we can get no help to determine which is to be preferred, as they are generally written without accents. The two first editions of the Greek Testament, that of Complutum, 1514, and that of Erasmus, 1516, have αυτου, his; and they are followed by most other editions: but the celebrated edition of Robert Stephens, 1550, has αὑτου, his own. The reading is certainly important; but it belongs to one of those difficulties in criticism which, if the context or collateral evidence do not satisfactorily solve it, must remain in doubt; and every reader is at liberty to adopt which reading he thinks best.
Whose house are we - We Christians are his Church and family; he is our Father, Governor, and Head.
If we hold fast the confidence - We are now his Church, and shall continue to be such, and be acknowledged by him If we maintain our Christian profession, την παρῥησιαν, that liberty of access to God, which we now have, and the rejoicing of the hope, i.e. of eternal life, which we shall receive at the resurrection of the dead. The word παρῥησια, which is here translated confidence, and which signifies freedom of speech, liberty of access, etc., seems to be used here to distinguish an important Christian privilege. Under the old testament no man was permitted to approach to God: even the very mountain on which God published his laws must not be touched by man nor beast; and only the high priest was permitted to enter the holy of holies, and that only once a year, on the great day of atonement; and even then he must have the blood of the victim to propitiate the Divine justice. Under the Christian dispensation the way to the holiest is now laid open; and we have παρῥησιαν, liberty of access, even to the holiest, by the blood of Jesus. Having such access unto God, by such a Mediator, we may obtain all that grace which is necessary to fit us for eternal glory; and, having the witness of his Spirit in our heart, we have a well grounded hope of endless felicity, and exult in the enjoyment of that hope. But If we retain not the grace, we shall not inherit the glory.
7Wherefore (as the Holy Ghost saith, To day if ye will hear his voice,
Wherefore (as the Holy Ghost saith, Today - These words are quoted from Psalm 95:7; and as they were written by David, and attributed here to the Holy Ghost, it proves that David wrote, by the inspiration of God's Holy Spirit. As these words were originally a warning to the Israelites not to provoke God, lest they should be excluded from that rest which he had promised them, the apostle uses them here to persuade the Christians in Palestine to hold fast their religious privileges, and, the grace they had received, lest they should come short of that state of future glory which Christ had prepared for them. The words strongly imply, as indeed does the whole epistle, the possibility of falling from the grace of God, and perishing everlastingly; and without this supposition these words, and all such like, which make more than two-thirds of the whole of Divine revelation, would have neither sense nor meaning. Why should God entreat man to receive his mercy, if he have rendered this impossible? Why should he exhort a believer to persevere, if it be impossible for him to fall away? What contemptible quibbling have men used to maintain a false and dangerous tenet against the whole tenor of the word of God! Angels fell - Adam fell - Solomon fell - and multitudes of believers have fallen, and, for aught we know, rose no more; and yet we are told that we cannot finally lose the benefits of our conversion! Satan preached this doctrine to our first parents; they believed him, sinned, and fell; and brought a whole world to ruin!
8Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness:
Harden not your hearts - Which ye will infallibly do, if ye will not hear his voice.
Provocation - Παραπικρασμος· From παρα, signifying intensity, and πικραινω, to make bitter; the exasperation, or bitter provocation. "The Israelites provoked God first in the wilderness of Sin, (Pelusium), when they murmured for want of bread, and had the manna given them, Exodus 16:4. From the wilderness of Sin they journeyed to Rephidim, where they provoked God a second time for want of water, and insolently saying, Is the Lord God among us or not? Exodus 17:2-9, on which account the place was called Massah and Meribah. See 1 Corinthians 10:4 (note), note 1. From Rephidim they went into the wilderness of Sinai, where they received the law, in the beginning of the third year from their coming out of Egypt. Here they provoked God again, by making the golden calf, Exodus 32:10. After the law was given they were commanded to go directly to Canaan, and take possession of the promised land, Deuteronomy 1:6, Deuteronomy 1:7 : God spake unto us in Horeb, saying, Ye have dwelt long enough in this mount: turn you, and take your journey, and go to the mount of the Amorites, and unto all the places nigh thereunto, in the plain, in the hills, and in the vales, and in the south, and by the seaside, to the land if the Canaanites, and unto Lebanon, and unto the great river, the river Euphrates. The Israelites, having received this order, departed from Horeb, and went forward three days' journey, Numbers 10:33, till they came to Taberah, Numbers 11:3, where they provoked God the fourth time, by murmuring for want of flesh to eat; and for that sin were smitten with a very great plague, Numbers 11:33; this place was called Kibroth-hattaavah, because there they buried the people who lusted. From Kibroth-hattaavah they went to Hazeroth, Numbers 11:35, and from thence into the wilderness of Paran, Numbers 12:16, to a place called Kadesh, Numbers 13:26. Their journey from Horeb to Kadesh is thus described by Moses, Deuteronomy 1:19-21 : And when we departed from Horeb, we went through all that great and terrible wilderness, which you saw by the way of the mountain of the Amorites, as the Lord our God commanded us; and, we came to Kadesh-barnea. And I said unto you, Ye are come unto the mountain of the Amorites, which the Lord our God doth give unto us. Behold, the Lord thy God hath set the land before thee; go up and possess it. But the people proposed to Moses to send spies, to bring them an account of the land, and of its inhabitants, Deuteronomy 1:22. These after forty days returned to Kadesh; and, except Caleb and Joshua, they all agreed in bringing an evil report of the land, Numbers 13:25-32; whereby the people were so discouraged that they refused to go up, and proposed to make a captain, and return into Egypt, Numbers 14:4. Wherefore, having thus shown an absolute disbelief of God's promises, and an utter distrust of his power, he sware that not one of that generation should enter Canaan, except Caleb and Joshua, but should all die in the wilderness, Numbers 14:20; Deuteronomy 1:34, Deuteronomy 1:35; and ordered them to turn, and get into the wilderness, by the way of the Red Sea. In that wilderness the Israelites, as Moses informs us, sojourned thirty-eight years, Deuteronomy 2:14 : And the space in which we came from Kadesh-barnea, until we were come over the brook Zereb, was thirty and eight years; until all the generation of the men of war were wasted out from among the host, as the Lord sware unto them. Wherefore, although the Israelites provoked God to wrath in the wilderness, from the day they came out of the land of Egypt until their arrival in Canaan, as Moses told them, Deuteronomy 9:7, their greatest provocation, the provocation in which they showed the greatest degree of evil disposition, undoubtedly was their refusing to go into Canaan from Kadesh. It was therefore very properly termed the bitter provocation and the day of temptation, by way of eminence; and justly brought on them the oath of God, excluding them from his rest in Canaan. To distinguish this from the provocation at Rephidim, it is called Meribah-Kadesh," Deuteronomy 32:51. See Dr. Macknight.
9When your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my works forty years.
When your fathers tempted me - It would be better to translate οὑ where than when, as the Vulgate has done in its ubi; and this translation has been followed by Wiclif, Coverdale, Tindal, and our first translators in general. In my old MS. Bible the 7th, 8th, and 9th verses stand thus: -
Wherefore as the Holy Gost seith, to-day gif yhe han herde his voyce: nye yhe herden ghour hertis as in wrath-thinge, after the day of temptacioun in desert. Where ghoure fadris temptiden me: provyden and saiden my werkis. Wherefore fourtye yeere I was offendid or wrothe to this generatoun.
In behalf of this translation, Dr. Macknight very properly argues: "The word When implies that, at the time of the bitter provocation, the Israelites had seen God's works forty years; contrary to the history, which shows that the bitter provocation happened, in the beginning of the third year after the Exodus: whereas the translation where, as well as the matter of fact, represents God as saying, by David, that the Israelites tempted God in the wilderness during forty years, notwithstanding all that time they had seen God's miracles."
10Wherefore I was grieved with that generation, and said, They do alway err in their heart; and they have not known my ways.
Wherefore I was grieved - God represents himself as the Father of this great Jewish family, for whose comfort and support he had made every necessary provision, and to whom he had given every proof of tenderness and fatherly affection; and because, they disobeyed him, and walked ill that way in which they could not but be miserable, therefore he represents himself as grieved and exceedingly displeased with them.
They do alway err in their hearts - Their affections are set on earthly things, and they do not acknowledge my ways to be right - holy, just, and good. They are radically evil; and they are evil, continually. They have every proof, of my power and goodness, and lay nothing to heart. They might have been saved, but they would not. God was grieved on this account. Now, can we suppose that it would have grieved him if, by a decree of his own, he had rendered their salvation impossible?
11So I sware in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest.)
So I sware in my wrath - God's grief at their continued disobedience became wrath at their final impenitence, and therefore he excluded them from the promised rest.
12Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.
Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you - Take warning by those disobedient Israelites; they were brought out of the house of bondage, and had the fullest promise of a land of prosperity and rest. By their disobedience they came short of it, and fell in the wilderness. Ye have been brought from the bondage of sin, and have a most gracious promise of an everlasting inheritance among the saints in light; through unbelief and disobedience they lost their rest, through the same ye may lose yours. An evil heart of unbelief will head away from the living God. What was possible in their case, is possible in yours. The apostle shows here five degrees of apostasy:
1. Consenting to sin, being deceived by its solicitations.
2. Hardness of heart, through giving way to sin.
3. Unbelief in consequence of this hardness which leads them to call even the truth of the Gospel in question.
4. This unbelief causing them to speak evil of the Gospel, and the provision God has made for the salvation of their souls.
5. Apostasy itself, or falling off from the living God; and thus extinguishing all the light that was in them, and finally grieving the Spirit of God, so that he takes his flight, and leaves them to a seared conscience and reprobate mind.
See Leigh. He who begins to give the least way to sin is in danger of final apostasy; the best remedy against this is to get the evil heart removed, as one murderer in the house is more to be dreaded than ten without.
13But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.
But exhort one another daily - This supposes a state of chose Church fellowship, without which they could not have had access to each other.
While it is called to-day - Use time while you have: it, for by and by there will be no more present time; all will be future; all will be eternity. Daily signifies time continued. To-day, all present time. Your fathers said: Let us make ourselves a captain, and return back unto Egypt, Numbers 14:4. Thus they exhorted each other to depart from the living God. Be ye warned by their example; let not that unbelieving heart be in you that was in them; exhort each other daily to cleave to the living God; lest, if ye, do not, ye, like them, may be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.
14For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end;
For we are made partakers of Christ - Having believed in Christ as the promised Messiah, and embraced the whole Christian system, they were consequently made partakers of all its benefits in this life, and entitled to the fulfillment of all its exceeding great and precious promises relative to the glories of the eternal world. The former they actually possessed, the latter they could have only in case of their perseverance; therefore the apostle says, If we hold fast the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end, i.e. of our life. For our participation of glory depends on our continuing steadfast in the faith, to the end of our Christian race.
The word ὑποστασις, which we here translate confidence, from ὑπο, under, and ἱστημι, to place or stand, signifies properly a basis or foundation; that on which something else is builded, and by which it is supported. Their faith in Christ Jesus was this hypostasis or foundation; on that all their peace, comfort, and salvation were builded. If this were not held fast to the end, Christ, in his saving influences, could not be held fast; and no Christ, no heaven. He who has Christ in him, has the well-founded hope of glory; and he who is found in the great day with Christ in his heart, will have an abundant entrance into eternal glory.
15While it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation.
While it is said, To-day - You may see the necessity of perseverance from the saying, "Today, if ye will hear his voice," therefore harden not your hearts - do not neglect so great a salvation; hold fast what ye have obtained, and let no man take your crown. See on Hebrews 3:7-9 (note) and Hebrews 3:12 (note).
16For some, when they had heard, did provoke: howbeit not all that came out of Egypt by Moses.
For some, when they had heard, did provoke - There is a various reading here, which consists merely in the different placing of an accent, and yet gives the whole passage a different turn: - τινες, from τις, who, if read with the accent on the epsilon, τινὲς, is the plural indefinite, and signifies some, as in our translation; if read with the accent on the iota, τίνες, it has an interrogative meaning; and, according to this, the whole clause, τίνες γαρ ακουσαντες παρεπικραναν; But who were those hearers who did bitterly provoke? αλλ' ου παντες οἱ εξελθοντες εξ Αιγυπτου δια Μωσεως; Were they not all they who came out of the land of Egypt by Moses? Or, the whole clause may be read with one interrogation: But who were those hearers that did bitterly provoke, but all those who came out of Egypt by Moses? This mode of reading is followed by some editions, and by Chrysostom and Theodoret, and by several learned moderns. It is more likely that this is the true reading, as all that follows to the end of the 18th verse is a series of interrogations.
Should it be said that all did not provoke, for Joshua and Caleb are expressly excepted; I answer, that the term all may be with great propriety used, when out of many hundreds of thousands only two persons were found who continued faithful. To these also we may add the priests and the whole tribe of Levi, who, it is very likely, did not provoke; for, as Dr. Macknight very properly remarks, they were not of the number of those who were to fight their way into Canaan, being entirely devoted to the service of the sanctuary. See Numbers 1:3, Numbers 1:45, and Numbers 1:49. And therefore what remained of them after forty years, no doubt, entered Canaan; for it appears from Numbers 34:17, and Joshua 24:33, that Eleazar, the son of Aaron, was one of those who did take possession of Canaan. Should it be still said our version appears to be most proper, because all did not provoke; it may be answered, that the common reading, τινὲς, some, is too contracted in its meaning to comprehend the hundreds of thousands who did rebel.
17But with whom was he grieved forty years? was it not with them that had sinned, whose carcases fell in the wilderness?
But with whom was he grieved forty years? - I believe it was Surenhusius who first observed that "the apostle, in using the term forty years, elegantly alludes to the space of time which had elapsed since the ascension of our Lord till the time in which this epistle was written, which was about forty years." But this does not exactly agree with what appears to be the exact date of this epistle. However, God had now been a long time provoked by that race rejecting the manifested Messiah, as he was by the conduct of their forefathers in the wilderness; and as that provocation was punished by a very signal judgment, so they might expect this to be punished also. The analogy was perfect in the crimes, and it might reasonably be expected to be so in the punishment. And was not the destruction of Jerusalem a proof of the heinous nature of their crimes, and of the justice of God's outpoured wrath?
Whose carcasses fell - Ὡν τα κωλα επεσεν· Whose members fell; for τα κωλα properly signifies the members of the body, and here may be an allusion to the scattered, bleached bones of this people, that were a long time apparent in the wilderness, continuing there as a proof of their crimes, and of the judgments of God.
18And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not?
To whom sware he - God never acts by any kind of caprice; whenever he pours out his judgments, there are the most positive reasons to vindicate his conduct.
Those whose carcasses fell in the wilderness were they who had sinned. And those who did not enter into his rest were those who believed not. God is represented here as swearing that they should not enter in, in order to show the determinate nature of his purpose, the reason on which it was founded, and the height of the aggravation which occasioned it.
19So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.
So we see that they could not enter in - It was no decree of God that prevented them, it was no want of necessary strength to enable them, it was through no deficiency of Divine counsel to instruct them; all these they had in abundance: but they chose to sin, and would not believe. Unbelief produced disobedience, and disobedience produced hardness of heart and blindness of mind; and all these drew down the judgments of God, and wrath came upon them to the uttermost.
1. This whole chapter, as the epistle in general, reads a most awful lesson against backsliders, triflers, and loiterers in the way of salvation. Every believer in Christ is in danger of apostasy, while any remains of the evil heart of unbelief are found in him. God has promised to purify the heart; and the blood of Christ cleanses from all sin. It is therefore the highest wisdom of genuine Christians to look to God for the complete purification of their souls; this they cannot have too soon, and for this they cannot be too much in earnest.
2. No man should defer his salvation to any future time. If God speaks to-day, it is to-day that he should be heard and obeyed. To defer reconciliation to God to any future period, is the most reprehensible and destructive presumption. It supposes that God will indulge us in our sensual propensities, and cause his mercy to tarry for us till we have consummated our iniquitous purposes. It shows that we prefer, at least for the present, the devil to Christ, sin to holiness, and earth to heaven. And can we suppose that God will be thus mocked? Can we suppose that it can at all consistent with his mercy to extend forgiveness to such abominable provocation? What a man sows that shall he reap. If he sows to the flesh, he shall of the flesh reap corruption. Reader, it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
3. Unbelief has generally been considered the most damning of all sins. I wish those who make this assertion would condescend to explain themselves. What is this unbelief that damns and ruins mankind? Their not permitting their minds to be persuaded of the truths which God speaks. Απιστια, from α, negative, and πιστις, faith, signifies faithless or to be without faith. And this is an effect from another cause. In Hebrews 4:11, these very people are said to have fallen through unbelief; but there the word is απειθεια, from α, negative, and πειθω, to persuade. They heard the Divine instructions, they saw God's stupendous miracles; but they would not suffer themselves to be persuaded, that he who said and did such things would perform those other things which he had either threatened or promised: hence they had no faith, because they were unpersuaded; and their unbelief was the effect of their unpersuaded or unpersuadable mind. And their minds were not persuaded of God's truth, because they had ears open only to the dictates of the flesh; see on Hebrews 4:2 (note). Here then is the damning sin, the not inferring, from what God has said and done, that he will do those other things which he has either threatened or promised. And how few are there who are not committing this sin daily! Reader, dost thou in this state dream of heaven? Awake out of sleep!
4. Where there are so many snares and dangers it is impossible to be too watchful and circumspect. Satan, as a roaring lion, as a subtle serpent, or in the guise of an angel of light, is momentarily going about seeking whom he may deceive, blind, and devour; and, when it is considered that the human heart, till entirely renewed, is on his side, it is a miracle of mercy that any soul escapes perdition: no man is safe any longer than he maintains the spirit of watchfulness and prayer; and to maintain such a spirit, he has need of all the means of grace. He who neglects any of them which the mercy of God has placed in his power, tempts the devil to tempt him. As a preventive of backsliding and apostasy, the apostle recommends mutual exhortation. No Christian should live for himself alone; he should consider his fellow Christian as a member of the same body, and feel for him accordingly, and have, succor, and protect him. When this is carefully attended to in religious society, Satan finds it very difficult to make an inroad on the Church; but when coldness, distance, and a want of brotherly love take place, Satan can attack each singly, and, by successive victories over individuals, soon make an easy conquest of the whole.