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Bible Commentaries

William Barclay's Daily Study Bible

Hebrews 3

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-19

Chapter 3

GREATER THAN THE GREATEST (Hebrews 3:1-6)

3:1-6 Brothers who are dedicated to God, you who are sharers in heaven's calling, because of all this you must fix your attention on him whom our creed holds to be the apostle and the high priest of God, I mean Jesus, for he was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses was in all his house, For he was deemed worthy of more honour than Moses, in so far as the man who builds and equips the house has more honour than the house itself For every house is built and equipped by someone; but it is God who builds and equips all things. Moses was faithful in all his house, but his role was the role of a servant, and his purpose was to bear witness to the things which some day would be spoken. But Christ is over his house because he is a Son. We are his house if only we keep strong the confidence and pride of our hope to the end.

Let us remember the conviction with which the writer to the Hebrews starts. The basis of his thought is that the supreme revelation of God comes through Jesus Christ and that only through him has a man real access to God. He began by proving that Jesus was superior to the prophets; he went on to prove that Jesus was superior to the angels; and now he proceeds to prove that Jesus is superior to Moses.

It might at first sight seem that this is an anticlimax. But it was not so for a Jew. For him Moses held a place which was utterly unique. He was the man with whom God had spoken face to face as a man speaks with his friend. He was the direct recipient of the Ten Commandments, the very Law of God. The greatest thing in all the world for the Jew was the Law, and Moses and the Law were one and the same thing. In the second century a Jewish teacher called Rabbi Jose ben Chalafta, commenting on this very passage which declared that Moses was faithful in all his house, said: "God calls Moses faithful in all his house, and thereby he ranked him higher than the ministering angels themselves." For a Jew the step that the writer to the Hebrews takes is the logical and inevitable step in the argument. He has proved that Jesus is greater than the angels; now he must prove that he is greater than Moses who was greater than the angels.

In fact this quotation which is used to tell of the greatness of Moses is proof of the unique position which the Jews assigned to him. "Moses was faithful in all his house." The quotation is from Numbers 12:6-7. Now the point of the argument in Numbers is that Moses differs from all the prophets. To them God makes himself known in a vision; to Moses he speaks "mouth to mouth." To the Jew it would have been impossible to conceive that anyone ever stood closer to God than Moses did, and yet that is precisely what the writer of the Hebrews sets out to prove.

He bids his hearers fix their attention on Jesus. The word he uses (katanoein, Greek #2657) is suggestive. It does not mean simply to look at or to notice a thing. Anyone can look at a thing or even notice it without really seeing it. The word means to fix the attention on something in such a way that its inner meaning, the lesson that it is designed to teach, may be learned. In Luke 12:24 Jesus uses the same word when he says: "Consider the ravens." He does not merely mean, "Look at the ravens." He means, "Look at the ravens and understand and learn the lesson that God is seeking to teach you through them." If we are ever to learn Christian truth, a detached glance is never enough; there must be a concentrated gaze in which we gird up the loins of the mind in a determined effort to see its meaning for us.

In a sense the reason for that is implicit when the writer addresses his friends as sharers in heaven's calling. The call that comes to a Christian has a double direction. It is a calling from heaven and it is a calling to heaven. It is a voice which comes from God and calls us to God. It is a call which demands concentrated attention because of both its origin and its destination. A man cannot afford to give a disinterested glance to an invitation to God from God.

When we do fix our attention on Jesus what do we see? We see two things.

(i) We see the great apostle. No one else in the New Testament ever calls Jesus an apostle. That the writer to the Hebrews does so deliberately is quite clear, because apostle is a title he never gives to any man. He keeps it for Christ.

What does he mean when he so uses it? The word apostolos (Greek #652) literally means one who is sent, forth. In Jewish terminology it was used to describe the envoys of the Sanhedrin, the supreme court of the Jews. The Sanhedrin sent out apostoloi (Greek #652) who were clothed with its authority and the bearers of its commands. In the Greek world it frequently meant ambassador. So then Jesus is the supreme ambassador of God and an ambassador has two supremely important and relevant characteristics.

(a) The ambassador is clothed with all the authority of the king who sends him. On one occasion the king of Syria, Antiochus Epiphanes, invaded Egypt. Rome desired to stop him and sent an envoy called Popillius to tell him to abandon his projected invasion. Popillius caught up with Antiochus on the borders of Egypt and they talked of this and that for they had known each other in Rome. Popillius had not the vestige of an army with him, not even a guard. Finally Antiochus asked him why he had come. Quietly Popillius told him that he had come to tell him that Rome wished him to abandon the invasion and go home. "I will consider it," said Antiochus. Popillius smiled a little grimly; he took his stall and drew a circle in the earth round Antiochus. "Consider it," he said, "and come to your decision before you leave that circle." Antiochus thought for a few seconds and then said: "Very well. I will go home." Popillius himself had not the slightest force available--but behind him was all the power of Rome. So Jesus came from God and all God's grace and mercy and love and power were in his apostolos (Greek #652).

(b) The voice of the ambassador is the voice of the king or country who sent him. In a foreign land the British ambassador's voice is the voice of Britain. So Jesus came with the voice of God; in him God speaks.

(ii) Jesus is the great High Priest. What does that mean? This is an idea to which the writer to the Hebrews returns again and again. Just now we only set down the fundamental basis of what he means. The Latin for a priest is pontifex, which means a bridge-builder. The priest is the person who builds a bridge between man and God. To do that he must know both man and God. He must be able to speak to God for men and to speak to men for God. Jesus is the perfect High Priest because he is perfectly man and perfectly God; He can represent man to God and God to man. He is the one person through whom man comes to God and God comes to man.

Wherein then lies the superiority of Jesus over Moses? The picture in the mind of the writer to the Hebrews is this. He thinks of the world as God's house and God's family. We use the word house in a double sense. We use it in the sense of a building and also in the sense of a family. The Greeks used oikos (Greek #3624) in the same double sense. The world, then, is God's house and men are God's family. But he has already shown us the picture of Jesus as the creator of God's universe. Now Moses was only part of God's universe, part of the house. But Jesus is the creator of the house and the creator is bound to stand above the house itself. Moses did not create the law; he only mediated it. Moses did not create the house; he only served in it. Moses did not speak of himself; all that he ever said was only a pointer to the greater things that Jesus Christ would some day say. Moses, in short, was the servant; but Jesus was the Son. Moses knew a little about God; Jesus was God. Therein lies the secret of his superiority.

Now the writer to the Hebrews uses another picture. True, the whole world is God's house; but in a special sense the Church is God's House, for in a special sense God brought it into being. That is a picture the New Testament loves (compare 1 Peter 4:17; 1 Timothy 3:15, and especially 1 Peter 2:5). That building of the Church will stand indestructible only when every stone is firm; that is to say, when its every member is strong in the proud and confident hope he has in Jesus Christ. Each one of us is like a stone in the Church; if one stone is weak the whole edifice is endangered. The Church stands firm only when each living stone in it is rooted and grounded in faith in Jesus Christ.

WHILE TODAY STILL LASTS (Hebrews 3:7-19)

3:7-19 So then, as the Holy Spirit says, "If today you will hear my voice, do not harden your hearts, as in the Provocation, as happened on the day of the Temptation in the wilderness, where your fathers tried to test me, and, in consequence, experienced for forty years what I could do. So my anger was kindled against that generation, and I said, 'Always they wander in their hearts; they do not know my ways.' So I swore in my anger, 'Very certainly they shall not enter in to my rest.'" Have a care, brothers, lest that evil and disobedient heart be in any of you in a state of rebellion against the living God. But keep on exhorting each other day by day, so long as the term "today" can be used, lest any among you be hardened in heart by the seductiveness of sin; for you have become participators in Christ, if indeed you hold fast the beginning of your confidence firm to the end. While it is still possible to hear it being said, "If today you will hear my voice," do not harden your hearts as at the Provocation. For who heard and provoked God? Was it not all who came forth from Egypt under the leadership of Moses? Against whom was God's anger kindled for forty years? Was it not against those who had sinned and whose bones lay in the desert? To whom did he swear that they should not enter into his rest, if not to those who were disobedient? Thus we see that it was through disobedience that they could not enter in.

The writer to the Hebrews has just been striving to prove the unique supremacy of Jesus and now he leaves argument for exhortation. He presses upon his hearers the inevitable consequence of this unique supremacy. If Jesus is so uniquely great, it follows that complete trust and complete obedience must be given to him. If they harden their hearts and refuse to give him their obedient trust the consequences are bound to be terrible.

The way in which he buttresses his argument is for us very difficult for it is doubly allusive. He begins by making a quotation from Psalms 95:7-11. That Psalm appeals to those who hear it not to be like the children of Israel but, as the King James Version renders it. "Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation." Now the two phrases, the provocation and the day of temptation translate two Hebrew words which are place names--Massah and Meribah. The whole is a reference to the story told in Exodus 17:1-7 and Numbers 20:1-13. These passages tell of a rebellious incident in the pilgrimage of the children of Israel. They were thirsty in the desert and railed against Moses, regretting that they had ever left Egypt and forswearing their trust in God. In the Numbers version of the story God told Moses to speak to the limestone rock and water would gush forth. But Moses in his anger did not speak to the rock; he struck it. The water came forth but for this act of distrust and disobedience God declared that Moses would never be allowed to lead the people into the promised land. "Very certainly they shall not enter in to my rest," means, "Very certainly they will not enter into the Promised Land." To wanderers in the desert the Promised Land was the place of rest, and it was often called the rest (compare Deuteronomy 12:9). The point is that the disobedience and the distrust of Israel debarred them from the blessings of God that they might have enjoyed.

The writer to the Hebrews says to his people, "Beware lest you show the same disobedience and distrust of God that your forefathers showed, and that you do not for that reason lose the blessings you might have had, just as they lost theirs." In effect he says, "While there is yet time, while you can still speak of 'today' give God the trust and the obedience that he must have." For the individual "today" means "while life lasts" and the writer to the Hebrews is saying, "While you have the chance, give God the submission you ought to give. Give it to him before your day closes." There are certain great warnings here.

(i) God makes men an offer. Just as he offered the Israelites the blessings of the Promised Land, he offers to all men the blessings of a life which is far beyond the life that men can live without him.

(ii) But to obtain the blessings of God two things are necessary. (a) Trust is necessary. We must believe that what God says is true. We must be willing to stake our lives on his promises. (b) Obedience is necessary. It is just as if a doctor were to say to us: "I can cure you if you obey my instructions implicitly." It is just as if a teacher were to say: "I can make you a scholar if you follow my curriculum with absolute fidelity." It is just as if a trainer were to say to an athlete: "I can make you a champion if you do not deviate from the discipline that I lay down." In any realm of life success depends on obedience to the word of the expert. God, if we may put it so, is the expert in life and real happiness depends on obedience to him.

(iii) To the offer of God there is a limit. That limit is the duration of life. We never know when that limit will be reached. We speak easily about "tomorrow" but for us tomorrow may never come. All we have is today. Someone has said: "We should live each day as if it were a lifetime." God's offer must be accepted today; the trust and the obedience must be given today--for we cannot be sure that there will be a tomorrow for us.

Here we have the supreme offer of God, but it is only for perfect trust and full obedience, and it must be accepted now--or it may be too late.

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)

 


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Bibliography Information
Barclay, William. "Commentary on Hebrews 3:4". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/hebrews-3.html. 1956-1959.


Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, July 23rd, 2017
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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