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Bible Commentaries

Albert Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

Hebrews 8



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Analysis Of The Chapter

This chapter Hebrews 8:1-13 is a continuation of the argument which has been prosecuted in the previous chapters respecting the priesthood of Christ. The apostle had demonstrated that he was to be a priest, and that he was to be, not of the Levitical order, but of the order of Melchizedek. As a consequence he had proved that this involved a change of the Law appointing the priesthood, and that in respect to permanency, and happy moral influence, the priesthood of Christ far surpassed the Jewish. This thought he pursues in this chapter, and shows particularly that it involved a change in the nature of the covenant between God and his people. In the prosecution of this, he:

(1) states the sum or principal point of the whole matter under discussion - that the priesthood of Christ was real and permanent, while that of the Hebrew economy was typical, and was destined in its own nature to be temporary; Hebrews 8:1-3.

(2) there was a fitness and propriety in his being removed to heaven to perform the functions of his office there - since if he had remained on earth he could not have officiated as priest, that duty being by the Law of Moses entrusted to others pertaining to another tribe; Hebrews 8:4-5.

(3) Christ had obtained a more exalted ministry than the Jewish priests held, because he was the Mediator in a better covenant - a covenant that related rather to the heart than to external observances; Hebrews 8:6-13. That new covenant excelled the old in the following respects:

(a)It was established on better promises; Hebrews 8:6.

(b)It was not a covenant requiring mainly external observances, but pertained to the soul, and the Law of that covenant was written there; Hebrews 8:7-10.

(c)It was connected with the diffusion of the knowledge of the Lord among all classes from the highest to the lowest; Hebrews 8:11.

(d)The evidence of forgiveness might be made more clear than it was under the old dispensation, and the way in which sins are pardoned be much better understood; Hebrews 8:12. These considerations involved the consequence, also, which is stated in Hebrews 8:13, that the old covenant was of necessity about to vanish away.

Verse 1

Now of the things which we have spoken - Or, “of the things of which we are speaking” (Stuart); or as we should say, “of what is said.” The Greek does not necessarily mean things that “had been” spoken, but may refer to all that he was saying, taking the whole subject into consideration.

This is the sum - Or this is the principal thing; referring to what he was about to say, not what he had said. Our translators seem to have understood this as referring to a “summing up,” or recapitulation of what he had said, and there can be no doubt that the Greek would bear this interpretation. But another exposition has been proposed, adopted by Bloomfield, Stuart, Michaelis, and Storr, among the moderns, and found also in Suidas, Theodoret, Theophylact, and others, among the ancients. It is what regards the word rendered “sum” - κεφάλαιον kephalaion- as meaning the “principal thing;” the chief matter; the most important point. The reason for this interpretation is, that the apostle in fact goes into no recapitulation of what he had said, but enters on a new topic relating to the priesthood of Christ. Instead of going over what he had demonstrated, he enters on a more important point, that the priesthood of Christ is performed in heaven, and that he has entered into the true tabernacle there. All which preceded was type and shadow; this was that which the former economy had adumbrated. In the previous chapters the apostle had shown that he who sustained this office was superior in rank to the Jewish priests; that they were frail and dying, and that the office in their hands was changing from one to another, but that that of Christ was permanent and abiding. He now comes to consider the real nature of the office itself; the sacrifice which was offered; the substance of which all in the former dispensation was the type. This was the “principal thing” - κεφάλαιον kephalaion- the “head,” the most important matter; and the consideration of this is pursued through the Hebrews 8:1, Hebrews 9:1, and Hebrews 10:1 chapters Mark 16:19. Of course the language is figurative - as God has no hands literally - but the language conveys an important meaning, that he is near to God; is high in his affection and love, and is raised to the most elevated situation in heaven; see Philemon 2:9; notes Ephesians 1:21-22.

Verse 2

A minister of the sanctuary - Margin, “or holy things.” Greek τῶν ἁγίων tōn hagiōnThe Greek may either mean “the sanctuary” - denoting the Holy of Holies; or “holy things.” The word “sanctuary” - קדשׁ qodesh- was given to the tabernacle or temple as a “holy place,” and the plural form which is used here - τὰ ἅγια ta hagia- was given to the most holy place by way of eminence - the full form of the name being - קדשׁ qodeshקדשׁ קדּשׁים qodesh qodâshiymor, ἅγια ἅγιων hagia hagiōn- “hagia hagion,” (Jahn‘s Arche. section 328), or as it is used here simply as τὰ ἅγια ta hagiaThe connection seems to require us to understand it of the “most holy place,” and not of holy things. The idea is, that the Lord Jesus the Great High Priest, has entered into the Holy of Holies in heaven, of which that in the tabernacle was an emblem. For a description of the Most Holy place in the temple, see the notes on Matthew 21:12.

And of the true tabernacle - The “real” tabernacle in heaven, of which that among the Hebrews was but the type. The word “tabernacle” - σκηνὴ skēnē- means properly a “booth, hut, or tent,” and was applied to the “tent” which Moses was directed to build as the place for the worship of God. That tabernacle, as the temple was afterward, was regarded as the special abode of God on earth. Here the reference is to heaven, as the dwelling place of God, of which that tabernacle was the emblem or symbol. It is called the “true tabernacle,” as it is the real dwelling of God, of which the one made by Moses was but the “emblem.” It is not moveable and perishable like that made by man, but is unchanging and eternal.

Which the Lord pitched, and not man - The word “pitched” is adapted to express the setting up of a “tent.” When it is said that “the Lord pitched the true tabernacle,” that is, the permanent dwelling in heaven; the meaning is, that heaven has been prepared by God himself, and that whatever is necessary to constitute that an appropriate abode for the divine majesty has been done by him. To that glorious dwelling the Redeemer has been received, and there he performs the office of high priest in behalf of man. In what way he does this, the apostle specifies in the remainder of this chapter, and in Hebrews 910:

Verse 3

For every high priest is ordained to offer gifts and sacrifices - This is a general statement about the functions of the high priest. It was the uniqueness of the office; it constituted its essence, that some gift or sacrifice was to be presented. This was indisputable in regard to the Jewish high priest, and this is involved in the nature of the priestly office everywhere. A “priest” is one who offers sacrifice, mainly in behalf of others. The principles involved in the office are:

(1)that there is need that some offering or atonement should be made for sin; and,

(2)that there is a fitness or propriety that some one should be designated to do it.

If this idea that a priest must offer sacrifice be correct, then it follows that the name priest should not be given to any one who is not appointed to offer sacrifice. It should not therefore be given to the ministers of the gospel, for it is no part of their work to offer sacrifice - the great sacrifice for sin having been once offered by the Lord Jesus, and not being again to be repeated. Accordingly the writers in the New Testament are perfectly uniform and consistent on this point. The name priest is never once given to the ministers of the gospel there. They are called ministers, ambassadors, pastors, bishops, overseers, etc., but never priests. Nor should they be so called in the Christian church. The name priest as applied to Christian ministers, has been derived from the “papists.” They hold that the priest does offer as a sacrifice the real body and blood of Christ in the mass, and holding this, the name priest is given to the minister who does it “consistently.” It is not indeed “right or Scriptural” - for the whole doctrine on which it is based is absurd and false, but while that doctrine is held the name is consistent. But with what show of consistency or propriety can the name be given to a Protestant minister of the gospel?

Wherefore it is of necessity that this man have somewhat also to offer - That the Lord Jesus should make an offering. That is, since he is declared to be a priest, and since it is essential to the office that a priest should make an offering, it is indispensable that he should bring a sacrifice to God. He could not be a priest on the acknowledged principles on which that office is held, unless he did it. What the offering was which the Lord Jesus made, the apostle specifies more fully in Hebrews 9:11-14, Hebrews 9:25-26.

Verse 4

For if he were on earth, he should not be a priest - He could not perform that office. The design of this is, to show a reason why he was removed to heaven. The reason was, that on earth there were those who were set apart to that office, and that he, not being of the same tribe with them, could not officiate as priest. There was an order of people here on earth consecrated already to that office, and hence, it was necessary that the Lord Jesus, in performing the functions of the office, should be removed to another sphere.

Verse 5

Who serve unto the example - Who perform their service by the mere example and shadow of the heavenly things; or in a tabernacle, and in a mode, that is the mere emblem of the reality which exists in heaven. The reference is to the tabernacle, which was a mere “example” or “copy” of heaven. The word rendered here “example” - ὑποδείγμα hupodeigma- means a “copy, likeness, or imitation.” The tabernacle was made after a pattern which was shown to Moses; it was made so as to have some faint resemblance to the reality in heaven, and in that “copy,” or “example,” they were appointed to officiate. Their service, therefore, had some resemblance to that in heaven.

And shadow - That is, in the tabernacle where they served there was a mere shadow of what was real and substantial. Compared with what is in heaven, it was what the shadow is compared with the substance. A shadow - as of a man, a house, a tree, will indicate the form, the outline, the size of the object; but it has no substance, or reality. So it was with the rites of the Jewish religion. They were designed merely as a shadow of the substantial realities of the true religion, or to present the dim outlines of what is true and real in heaven; compare the Colossians 2:17 note; Hebrews 10:1 note. The word “shadow” here - σκιᾶ skia- is used in distinction from the body or reality - σῶμα sōma- (compare Colossians 2:17), and also from εἰκών eikōn- a perfect image or resemblance; see Hebrews 10:1.

Of heavenly things - Of the heavenly sanctuary; of what is real and substantial in heaven. That is, there exists in heaven a reality of which the service in the Jewish sanctuary was but the outline. The reference is, undoubtedly, to the service which the Lord Jesus performs there as the great high priest of his people.

As Moses was admonished of God - As he was divinely instructed. The word used used - χρηματίζω chrēmatizō- means properly to give oracular responses; to make communications to people in a supernatural way - by dreams, by direct revelations, etc.; see Matthew 2:12, Matthew 2:22; Luke 2:26; Acts 10:22; Hebrews 11:7.

For, see, saith he - Exodus 25:9, Exodus 25:40; Exodus 26:30. In Exodus 11:1-10, it is also repeatedly said that Moses executed all the work of the tabernacle as he had been commanded. Great care was taken that an exact copy should be exhibited to him of all which he was to make, and that the work should be exactly like the pattern. The reason doubtless was, that as the Jewish service was to be typical, none but God could judge of the form in which the tabernacle should be made. It was not to be an edifice of architectural beauty, skill, or taste, but was designed to adumbrate important realities which were known only to God. Hence, it was needful that the exact model of them should be given to Moses, and that it should be scrupulously followed.

That thou make all things - Not only the tabernacle itself, but the altars, the ark, the candlestick, etc. The form and materials for each were specified, and the exact pattern shown to Moses in the mount.

According to the pattern - Greek τύπον tupon- “type;” that is, figure, form. The word τύπος tupos“type,” means properly anything produced by the agency or means of “blows” (from τύπτω tuptō“to strike”); hence, a mark, stamp, print, impression - as that made by driving nails in the hands John 20:25; then a figure or form, as of an image or statue Acts 7:43; the form of a doctrine or opinion Romans 6:17; then an example to be imitated or followed 1 Corinthians 10:6-7; Philemon 3:17; 1 Thessalonians 1:7; 2 Thessalonians 3:9; and hence, a pattern, or model after which anything is to be made; Acts 7:44. This is the meaning here. The allusion is to a pattern such as an architect or sculptor uses; a drawing, or figure made in wood or clay, after which the work is to be modelled. The idea is, that some such drawing or model was exhibited to Moses by God on mount Sinai, so that he might have an exact idea of the tabernacle which was to be made. A similar drawing or model of the temple was given by David to Solomon; 1 Chronicles 28:11-12. We are not indeed to suppose that there was in the case of the pattern shown to Moses, any miniature model of wood or stone actually created and exhibited, but that the form of the tabernacle was exhibited to Moses in vision (note, Isaiah 1:1), or was so vividly impressed on his mind that he would have a distinct view of the edifice which was to be reared.

In the mount - In mount Sinai; for it was while Moses was there in the presence of God, that these communications were made.

Verse 6

But now hath he obtained - That is, Christ.

A more excellent ministry - A service of a higher order, or of a more exalted nature. It was the real and substantial service of which the other was but the emblem; it pertained to things in heaven, while that was concerned with the earthly tabernacle; it was enduring, while that was to vanish away; see the notes on 2 Corinthians 3:6-9.

By how much - By as much as the new covenant is more important than the old, by so much does his ministry exceed in dignity that under the ancient dispensation.

He is the mediator - see the notes on Galatians 3:19-20, where the word “mediator” is explained. It means here that Christ officiates between God and man according to the arrangements of the new covenant.

Of a better covenant - Margin, “Or testament.” This word properly denotes a “disposition, arrangement, or ordering” of things; and in the Scriptures is employed to describe the arrangement which God has made to secure the maintenance of his worship on earth, and the salvation of people. It is uniformly used in the Septuagint and in the New Testament to denote the covenant which God makes with people. The word which “properly” denotes a “covenant or compact” - συνθήκη sunthēkē- “suntheke” is never used. The writers of the New Testament evidently derived its use from the Septuagint, but why the authors of that version employed it as denoting a “will” rather than the proper one denoting a “compact,” is unknown. It has been supposed by some, and the conjecture is not wholly improbable, that it was because they were unwilling to represent God as making a “compact” or “agreement” with people, but chose rather to represent him as making a mere “arrangement or ordering of things;” compare the notes on Hebrews 8:8, and Hebrews 9:16-17. This is a better covenant than the old, inasmuch as it relates mainly to the pardon of sin; to a spiritual and holy religion; see Hebrews 8:10. The former related more to external rites and observances, and was destined to vanish away; see Hebrews 8:13.

Which was established upon better promises - The promises in the first covenant pertained mainly to the present life. They were promises of length of days; of increase of numbers; of seed time and harvest; of national privileges, and of extraordinary peace, abunance, and prosperity. That there was also the promise of eternal life, it would be wrong to doubt; but this was not the main thing. In the new covenant, however, the promise of spiritual blessings becomes the principal thing. The mind is directed to heaven; the heart is cheered with the hopes of immortal life, the favor of God and the anticipation of heaven are secured in the most ample and solemn manner.

Verse 7

For if that first covenant had been faultless - see the note on Hebrews 7:11. It is implied here that God had said that that covenant was not perfect or faultless. The meaning is not that that first covenant made under Moses had any real faults - or inculcated what was wrong, but that it did not contain the ample provision for the pardon of sin and the salvation of the soul which was desirable. It was merely “preparatory” to the gospel.

Then should no place have been sought for the second - There could not have been - inasmuch as in that case it would have been impossible to have bettered it, and any change would have been only for the worse.

Verse 8

For finding fault with them - Or rather, “finding fault, he says to them.” The difference is only in the punctuation, and this change is required by the passage itself. This is commonly interpreted as meaning that the fault was not found with “them” - that is, with the Jewish people, for they had had nothing to do in giving the covenant, but “with the covenant itself.” “Stating its defects, he had said to them that he would give them one more perfect, and of which that was only preparatory.” So Grotius, Stuart, Rosenmuller, and Erasmus understand it. Doddridge, Koppe, and many others understand it as it is in our translation, as implying that the fault was found with the people, and they refer to the passage quoted from Jeremiah for proof, where the complaint is of the people. The Greek may bear either construction; but may we not adopt a somewhat different interpretation still?

May not this be the meaning? For using the language of complaint, or language that implied that there was defect or error, he speaks of another covenant. According to this, the idea would be, not that he found fault specifically either with the covenant or the people, but generally that he used language which implied that there was defect somewhere when he promised another and a better covenant. The word rendered “finding fault” properly means to censure, or to blame. It is rendered in Mark 7:2, “they found fault,” to wit, with those who ate with unwashed hands; in Romans 9:19, “why doth he yet find fault?” It occurs nowhere else in the New Testament, It is language used where wrong has been done; where there is ground of complaint; where it is desirable that there should be a change. In the passage here quoted from Jeremiah, it is not expressly stated that God found fault either with the covenant or with the people, but that he promised that he would give another covenant, and that it should be “different” from what he gave them when they came out of Egypt - implying that there was defect in that, or that it was not “faultless.” The whole meaning is, that there was a deficiency which the giving of a new covenant would remove.

He saith - In Jeremiah 31:31-34. The apostle has not quoted the passage literally as it is in the Hebrew, but he has retained the substance, and the sense is not essentially varied. The quotation appears to have been made partly from the Septuagint, and partly from memory. This often occurs in the New Testament.

Behold - This particle is designed to call attention to what was about to be said as important, or as having some special claim to notice. It is of very frequent occurrence in the Scriptures, being much more freely used by the sacred writers than it is in the classic authors.

The days come - The time is coming. This refers doubtless to the times of the Messiah. Phrases such as these, “in the last days,” “in after times,” and “the time is coming,” are often used in the Old Testament to denote the last dispensation of the world - the dispensation when the affairs of the world would be wound up; see the phrase explained in the Hebrews 1:2 note, and Isaiah 2:2 note. There can be no doubt that as it is used by Jeremiah it refers to the times of the gospel.

When I will make a new covenant - A covenant that shall contemplate somewhat different ends; that shall have different conditions, and that shall be more effective in restraining from sin. The word “covenant” here refers to the arrangement, plan, or dispensation into which he would enter in his dealings with people. On the meaning of the word, see the Acts 7:8 note, and Hebrews 9:16-17 notes. The word “covenant” with us commonly denotes a compact or agreement between two parties that are equal, and who are free to enter into the agreement or not. In this sense, of course, it cannot be used in relation to the arrangement which God makes with man. There is:

(1)no equality between them, and,

(2)man is not at liberty to reject any proposal which God shall make.

The word, therefore, is used in a more general sense, and more in accordance with the original meaning of the Greek word. It has been above remarked (see the notes on Hebrews 8:6), that the “proper” word to denote “covenant,” or “compact” - συνθηκη sunthēkē- “syntheke” - is never used either in the Septuagint or in the New Testament - another word - διαθήκη diathēkē- “diatheke” - being carefully employed. Whether the reason there suggested for the adoption of this word in the Septuagint be the real one or not, the fact is indisputable. I may be allowed to suggest as possible here an additional reason why this so uniformly occurs in the New Testament. It is, that the writers of the New Testament never meant to represent the transactions between God and man as a “compact or covenant” properly so called. They have studiously avoided it, and their uniform practice, in making this nice distinction between the two words, may show the real sense in which the Hebrew word rendered “covenant” - בּרית beriyt- is used in the Old Testament. The word which they employ - διαθήκη diathēkē- never means a compact or agreement as between equals.

It remotely and secondarily means a “will, or testament” - and hence, our phrase “New Testament.” But this is not the sense in which it is used in the Bible - for God has never made a will in the sense of a testamentary disposition of what belongs to him. We are referred; therefore, in order to arrive at the true Scripture view of this whole matter, to the original meaning of the word - διαθήκη diathēkē- as denoting a “disposition, arrangement, plan;” then what is ordered, a law, precept, promise, etc. Unhappily we have no single word which expresses the idea, and hence, a constant error has existed in the church - either keeping up the notion of a “compact” - as if God could make one with people; or the idea of a will - equally repugnant to truth. The word διαθήκη diathēkēis derived from a verb - διατίθημι diatithēmi- meaning to place apart, to set in order; and then to appoint, to make over, to make an arrangement with. Hence, the word διαθήκη diathēkē- means properly the “arrangement or disposition” which God made with people in regard to salvation; the system of statutes, directions, laws, and promises by which people are to become subject to him, and to be saved. The meaning here is, that he would make a “new” arrangement, contemplating as a primary thing that the Law should be written in the “heart;” an arrangement which would be especially spiritual in its character, and which would be attended with the diffusion of just views of the Lord.

With the house of Israel - The family, or race of Israel, for so the word “house” is often used in the Scriptures and elsewhere. The word “Israel” is used in the Scriptures in the following senses:

(1)as a name given to Jacob because he wrestled with the angel of God and prevailed as a prince; Genesis 32:28.

(2)as denoting all who were descended from him - called “the children of Israel” - or the Jewish nation.

(3)as denoting the kingdom of the ten tribes - or the kingdom of Samaria, or Ephraim - that kingdom having taken the name Israel in contradistinction from the other kingdom, which was called “Judah.”

(4)as denoting the people of God in general - his true and sincere friends - his church; see the notes on Romans 2:28-29; Romans 9:6.

In this place quoted from Jeremiah, it seems to be used to denote the kingdom of Israel in contradistinction from that of Judah, and “together they denote the whole people of God, or the whole Hebrew nation.” This arrangement was ratified and confirmed by the gift of the Messiah, and by implanting his laws in the heart. It is not necessary to understand this as referring to the whole of the Jews, or to the restoration of the ten tribes; but the words “Israel” and “Judah” are used to denote the people of God in general, and the idea is, that with the true Israel under the Messiah the laws of God would be written in the heart rather than be mere external observances.

And with the house of Judah - The kingdom of Judah. This kingdom consisted of two tribes - Judah and Benjamin. The tribe of Benjamin was, however, small, and the name was lost in that of Judah.

Verse 9

Not according to the covenant … - An arrangement or dispensation relating mainly to outward observances, and to temporal blessings. The meaning is, that the new dispensation would be different from what was made with them when they came out of Egypt. In what respects it would differ is specified in Hebrews 8:10-12.

Because they continued not in my covenant - In Jeremiah, in the Hebrew, this is, “while my covenant they brake.” That is, they failed to comply with the conditions on which I promised to bestow blessings upon them. In Jeremiah this is stated as a simple fact; in the manner in which the apostle quotes it, it is given as a reason why he would give a new arrangement. The apostle has quoted it literally from the Septuagint, and the sense is not materially varied. The word rendered “because” - ὅτι hoti- may mean “since” - “since they did not obey that covenant, and it was ineffectual in keeping them from sin, showing that it was not perfect or complete in regard to what was needful to be done for man, a new arrangement shall be made that will be without defect.” This accords with the reasoning of the apostle; and the idea is, simply, that an arrangement may be made for man adapted to produce important ends in one state of society or one age of the world, which would not be well adapted to him in another, and which would not accomplish all which it would be desirable to accomplish for the race. So an arrangement may be made for teaching children which would not answer the purpose of instructing those of mature years, and which at that time of life may be superseded by another. A system of measures may be adapted to the infancy of society, or to a comparatively rude period of the world, which would be ill adapted to a more advanced state of society. Such was the Hebrew system. It was well adapted to the Jewish community in their circumstances, and answered the end then in view. It served to keep them separate from other people; to preserve the knowledge and the worship of the true God, and to introduce the gospel dispensation.

And I regarded them not - In Jeremiah this is, “Although I was an husband unto them.” The Septuagint is as it is quoted here by Paul. The Hebrew is, ואנכי בצלתי בם wa'aanokiy baa‛altiy baam- which may be rendered, “although I was their Lord;” or as it is translated by Gesenius, “and I rejected them.” The word בּצל bàal- means:

(1)to be lord or master over anything Isaiah 26:13;

(2)to become the husband of anyone Deuteronomy 21:13; Deuteronomy 24:1;

(3)with ba-, “to disdain, to reject”; so Jeremiah 3:14. It is very probable that this is the meaning here, for it is not only adopted by the Septuagint, but by the Syriac. So Abulwalid, Kimchi, and Rabbi Tanchum understood it.

The Arabic word means “to reject, to loath, to disdain.” All that is necessary to observe here is, that it cannot be demonstrated that the apostle has not given the true sense of the prophet. The probability is, that the Septuagint translators would give the meaning which was commonly understood to be correct, and there is still more probability that the Syriac translator would adopt the true sense, for.

(1)the Syriac and Hebrew languages strongly resemble each other; and,

(2)the old Syriac version - the Peshito - is incomparably a better translation than the Septuagint.

If this, therefore, be the correct translation, the meaning is, that since they did not regard and obey the laws which he gave them, God would reject them as his people, and give new laws better adapted to save people. Instead of regarding and treating them as his friends, he would punish them for their offences, and visit them with calamities.

Verse 10

For this is the covenant - This is the arrangement, or the dispensation which shall succeed the old one. “With the house of Israel.” With the true Israel; that is, with all those whom he will regard and treat as his friends.

After those days - This may either mean, “after those days I will put my laws in their hearts,” or, “I will make this covenant with them after those days.” This difference is merely in the punctuation, and the sense is not materially affected. It seems, to me, however, that the meaning of the Hebrew in Jeremiah is, “in those after days” (compare notes on Isaiah 2:1)I will put my laws into their mind - that is, in that subsequent period, called in Scripture “the after times,” “the last days,” “the ages to come,” meaning the last dispensation of the world. Thus interpreted, the sense is, that this would be done in the times of the Messiah. “I will put my laws into their mind.” Margin, “Give.” The word “give” in Hebrew is often used in the sense of “put.” The meaning here is, that they would not be mere external observances, but would affect the conscience and the heart. The laws of the Hebrews pertained mainly to external rites and ceremonies; the laws of the new dispensation would relate particularly to the inner man, and be designed to control the heart. The grand uniqueness of the Christian system is, that it regulates the conscience and the principles of the soul rather than external matters. It prescribes few external rites, and those are exceedingly simple, and are merely the proper expressions of the pious feelings supposed to be in the heart; and all attempts either to increase the number of these rites, or to make them imposing by their gorgeousness, have done just so much to mar the simplicity of the gospel, and to corrupt religion.

And write them in their hearts - Margin, “Upon.” Not on fables of stone or brass, but on the soul itself. That is, the obedience rendered will not be external. The law of the new system will have living power, and bind the faculties of the soul to obedience. The commandment there will be written in more lasting characters than if engraved on fables of stone.

And I will be to them a God - This is quoted literally from the Hebrew. The meaning is, that he would sustain to them the appropriate relation of a God; or, if the expression may be allowed, he would be to them what a God should be, or what it is desirable that people should find in a God. We speak of a father‘s acting in a manner appropriate to the character of a father; and the meaning here is, that he would be to his people all that is properly implied in the name of God. He would be their Lawgiver, their counsellor, their protector, their Redeemer, their guide. He would provide for their wants, defend them in danger, pardon their sins, comfort them in trials, and save their souls. He would be a faithful friend, and would never leave them nor forsake them. It is one of the inestimable privileges of his people that Jehovah is their God. The living and ever-blessed Being who made the heavens sustains to them the relation of a Protector and a Friend, and they may look up to heaven feeling that he is all which they could desire in the character of a God.

And they shall be to me a people - This is not merely stated as a “fact,” but as a “privilege.” It is an inestimable blessing to be regarded as one of the people of God, and to feel that we belong to him - that we are associated with those whom he loves, and whom he treats as his friends.

Verse 11

And they shall not teach every man his neighbor … - That is, no one shall be under a necessity of imparting instruction to another, or of exhorting him to become acquainted with the Lord. This is designed to set forth another of the advantages which would attend the new dispensation. In the previous verse it had been said that one advantage of that economy would be, that the Law would be written on the heart, and that they who were thus blessed would be regarded as the people of God. Another advantage over the “old” arrangement or covenant is here stated. It is, that the knowledge of the Lord and of the true religion would be deeply engraved on the minds of all, and that there would be no necessity for mutual exhortation and counsel. “They shall have a much more certain and effectual teaching than they can derive from another.” “Doddridge.” This passage does not refer to the fact that the true religion will be universally diffused, but that among those who are interested in the blessings of the new covenant there would be an accurate and just knowledge of the Lord. In some way they would be so taught respecting his character that they would not need the aid to be derived from others. All under that dispensation, or sustaining to him the relation of “a people,” would in fact have a correct knowledge of the Lord. This could not be said of the old dispensation, for.

(1)their religion consisted much in outward observances.

(2)it was not to such an extent as the new system a dispensation of the Holy Spirit.

(3)there were not as many means as now for learning the true character of God.

(4)the fullest revelations had not been made to them of that character. That was reserved for the coming of the Saviour, and under him it was intended that there should be communicated the full knowledge of the character of God.

Many mss., and those among the best, here have πολίτην politēn- “citizen;” “fellow-citizen,” instead of πλησίον plēsion“neighbor,” and this is adopted by Griesbach, Tittman, Rosenmuller, Knapp, Stuart, and by many of the fathers. It is also in the version of the Septuagint in the place quoted from Jeremiah. It is not easy to determine the true reading, but the word “neighbor” better agrees with the meaning of the Hebrew - רץ rēà- and there is strong authority from the mss. and the versions for this reading.

And every man his brother - Another form of expression, meaning that there would be no necessity that one should teach another.

Saying, Know the Lord - That is, become acquainted with God; learn his character and his will. The idea is, that the true knowledge of Yahweh would prevail as a characteristic of those times.

For all shall know me - That is, all those referred to; all who are interested in the new covenant, and who are partakers of its blessings. It does not mean that all persons, in all lands, would then know the Lord - though the time will come when that will be true; but the expression is to be limited by the point under discussion. That point is not that the knowledge of the Lord will fill the whole world, but that all who are interested in the new dispensation will have a much more full and clear knowledge of God than was possessed under the old. Of the truth of this no one can doubt. Christians have a much more perfect knowledge of God and of his government than could have been learned merely from the revelations of the Old Testament.

Verse 12

For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness … - That is, the blessing of “pardon” will be much more richly enjoyed under the new dispensation than it was under the old. This is the “fourth” circumstance adduced in which the new covenant will surpass the old. That was comparatively severe in its inflictions (see Hebrews 10:28); marked every offence with strictness, and employed the language of mercy much less frequently than that of justice. It was a system where law and justice reigned; not where mercy was the crowning and prevalent attribute. It was true that it contemplated pardon, and made arrangements for it; but it is still true that this is much more prominent in the new dispensation than in the old. It is there the leading idea. It is what separates it from all other systems. The entire arrangement is one for the pardon of sin in a manner consistent with the claims of law and justice, and it bestows the benefit of forgiveness in the most ample and perfect manner on all who are interested in the plan. In fact, the uniqueness by which the gospel is distinguished from all other systems, ancient and modern, philosophic and moral, pagan and deistical, is that it is a system making provision for the forgiveness of sin, and actually bestowing pardon on the guilty. This is the center, the crown, the glory of the new dispensation. God is merciful to the unrighteousness of people and their sins are remembered no more.

Will I remember no more - This is evidently spoken after the manner of men, and in accordance with human apprehension. It cannot mean literally that God forgets that people are sinners, but it means that he treats them as if this were forgotten. Their sins are not charged upon them, and they are no more punished than if they had passed entirely out of the recollection. God treats them with just as much kindness, and regards them with as sincere affection, as if their sins ceased wholly to be remembered, or which is the same thing, as if they had never sinned.

Verse 13

In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old - That is, the use of the word “new” implies that the one which it was to supersede was “old.” New and old stand in contradistinction from each other. Thus, we speak of a new and old house, a new and old garment, etc. The object of the apostle is to show that by the very fact of the arrangement for a new dispensation differing so much from the old, it was implied of necessity that that was to be superseded, and would vanish away. This was one of the leading points at which he arrived.

Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away - This is a general truth which would be undisputed, and which Paul applies to the case under consideration. An old house, or garment; an ancient tree; an aged man, all have indications that they are soon to disappear. They cannot be expected to remain long. The very fact of their growing old is an indication that they will soon be gone. So Paul says it was with the dispensation that was represented as old. It had symptoms of decay. It had lost the vigour which it had when it was fresh and new; it had every mark of an antiquated and a declining system; and it had been expressly declared that a new and more perfect dispensation was to be given to the world. Paul concluded, therefore, that the Jewish system must soon disappear.


1. The fact that we have a high priest, is suited to impart consolation to the pious mind; Hebrews 8:1-5. He ever lives, and is ever the same. He is a minister of the true sanctuary, and is ever before the mercy-seat. He enters there not once a year only, but has entered there to abide there for ever. We can never approach the throne of mercy without having a high priest there - for he at all times, day and night, appears before God. The merits of his sacrifice are never exhausted, and God is never wearied with hearing his pleadings in behalf of his people. He is the same that he was when he gave himself on the cross. He has the same love and the same compassion which he had then, and that love which led him to make the atonement, will lead him always to regard with tenderness those for whom he died.

2. It is a privilege to live under the blessings of the Christian system; Hebrews 8:6. We have a better covenant than the old one was - one less expensive and less burdensome, and one that is established upon better promises. Now the sacrifice is made, and we do not have to renew it every day. It was made once for all, and need never be repeated. Having now a high priest in heaven who has made the sacrifice, we may approach him in any part of the earth, and at all times, and feel that our offering will be acceptable to him. If there is any blessing for which we ought to be thankful, it is for the Christian religion; for we have only to look at any portion of the pagan world, or even to the condition of the people of God under the comparatively dark and obscure Jewish dispensation, to see abundant reasons for thanksgiving for what we enjoy.

3. Let us often contemplate the mercies of the new dispensation with which we are favored - the favors of that religion whose smiles and sunshine we are permitted to enjoy; Hebrews 8:10-12. It contains all that we want, and is exactly adapted to our condition. It has that for which every man should be thankful; and has not one thing which should lead a man to reject it. It furnishes all the security which we could desire for our salvation; lays upon us no oppressive burdens or charges; and accomplishes all which we ought to desire in our souls. Let us contemplate a moment the arrangements of that “covenant,” and see how suited it is to make man blessed and happy.

First, It writes the laws of God on the mind and the heart; Hebrews 8:10. It not only reveals them, but it secures their observance. It has made arrangements for disposing people to keep the laws a thing which has not been introduced into any other system. Legislators may enact good laws, but they cannot induce others to obey them; parents may utter good precepts, but they cannot engrave them on the hearts of their children; and sages may express sound maxims and just precepts in morals, but there is no security that they will be regarded. So in all the pagan world - there is no power to inscribe good maxims and rules of living on the heart. They may be written; recorded on tablets; hung up in temples; but still people will not regard them. They will still give indulgence to evil passions, and lead wicked lives. But it is not so with the arrangement which God has made in the plan of salvation. One of the very first provisions of that plan is, that the laws shall be inscribed on the heart, and that there shall be a disposition to obey. Such a systcm is what man wants, and such a system he can nowhere else find.

Secondly, This new arrangement “reveals to us” a God such as we need; Hebrews 8:10. It contains the promise that he will be “our God.” He will be to his people all that can be “desired in God;” all that man could wish. He is just such a God as the human mind, when it is pure, most loves; has all the attributes which it could be desired there should be in his character; has done all that we could desire a God to do; and is ready to do all that we could wish a God to perform. “Man wants a God;” a God in whom he can put confidence, and on whom he can rely. The ancient Greek philosopher wanted a God - and he would then have made a beautiful and efficient system of morals; the pagan want a God - to dwell in their empty temples, and in their corrupt hearts; the Atheist wants a God to make him calm, contented, and happy in this life - for he has no God now, and man everywhere, wretched, sinful, suffering, dying, wants a God. Such a God is revealed in the Bible - one whose character we may contemplate with ever-increasing admiration; one who has all the attributes which we can desire; one who will minister to us all the consolation which we need in this world; and one who will be to us the same God forever and ever.

Thirdly, The new covenant contemplates the diffusion of “knowledge;” Hebrews 8:11. This too was what man needed, for everywhere else he has been ignorant of God and of the way of salvation. The whole pagan world is sunk in ignorance, and indeed all people, except as they are enlightened by the gospel, are in profound darkness on the great questions which most nearly pertain to their welfare. But it is not so with the new arrangement which God has made with his people. It is a fact that they know the Lord, and a dispensation which would produce that is just what man needed. There are two things hinted at in Hebrews 8:11, which are worthy of more than a passing notice, illustrating the excellency of the Christian religion. The first is, that in the new dispensation “all would know the Lord.” The matter of fact is, that the obscurest and most unlettered Christian often has a knowledge of God which sages never had, and which is never obtained except by the teachings of the Spirit of God. However this may be accounted for, the fact cannot be denied.

There is a clear and elevating view of God; a knowledge of him which exerts a practical influence on the heart, and which transforms the soul; and a correctness of apprehension in regard to what truth is, possessed by the humble Christian, though a peasant, which philosophy never imparted to its votaries. Many a sage would be instructed in the truths of religion if he would sit down and converse with the comparatively unlearned Christian, who has no book but his Bible. The other thing hinted at here is, that all would know the Lord “from the least to the greatest.” Children and youth, as well as age and experience, would have an acquaintance with God. This promise is remarkably verified under the new dispensation. One of the most striking things of the system is, the attention which it pays to the young; one of its most wonderful effects is the knowledge which it is the means of imparting to those in early life. Many a child in the Sunday School has a knowledge of God which Grecian sages never had; many a youth in the Church has a more consistent acquaintance with God‘s real plan of governing and saving people, than all the teachings which philosophy could ever furnish.

Fourthly, The new dispensation contemplates the pardon of sin, and is, therefore, suited to the condition of man; Hebrews 8:12. It is what man needs. The knowledge of some way of pardon is what human nature has been sighing for for ages; which has been sought in every system of religion, and by every bloody offering; but which has never been found elsewhere. The philosopher had no assurance that God would pardon, and indeed one of the chief aims of the philosopher has been to convince himself that he had no need of pardon. The pagan have had no assurance that their offerings have availed to put away the divine anger, and to obtain forgiveness. “The only assurance anywhere furnished that sin may be forgiven, is in the Bible.” This is the great uniqueness of the system recorded there, and this it is which renders it so valuable above all the other systems. It furnishes the assurance that sins may be pardoned, and shows how it may be done. This is what we must have, or perish. And why, since Christianity reveals a way of forgiveness - a way honorable to God and not degrading to man - why should any man reject it? Why should not the guilty embrace a system which proclaims pardon to the guilty, and which assures all that, if they will embrace him who is the “Mediator of the new covenant,” “God will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and will remember their iniquities no more.”


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Bibliography Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Hebrews 8:4". "Barnes' Notes on the New Testament". 1870.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, July 21st, 2017
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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