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Bible Commentaries

The Expositor's Greek Testament

Hebrews 12

 

 

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Verse 1

Hebrews 12:1. τοιγαροῦν καὶ ἡμεῖς.… “Wherefore, as we have so great a cloud of witnesses encompassing us, let us likewise lay aside every encumbrance and sin that clings so close and run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to the leader and perfecter of faith, even Jesus, who for the joy set before him endured a cross despising shame and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” τοιγαροῦν, “wherefore then” more formal and emphatic than the usual, διὰ τοῦτο, διὸ, ὅθεν, οὖν. καὶ ἡμεῖς, we in our turn, we as well as they, and with the added advantage of having so many testimonies to the good results of faith. νέφος used frequently in Homer and elsewhere, as “nubes” in Latin and “cloud” in English to suggest a vast multitude. μαρτύρων, “witnesses,” persons who by their actions have testified to the worth of faith. The cloud of witnesses are those named and suggested in chap. 11; persons whose lives witnessed to the work and triumph of faith, and whose faith was witnessed to by Scripture, cf. Hebrews 11:2; Hebrews 11:4-5. This cloud is περικείμενον, because, as the writer has just shown, look where they will into their history his Hebrew readers see such examples of faith. It is impossible to take μάρτυρες as equivalent to θεαταί. If the idea of “spectator” is present at all, which is very doubtful, it is only introduced by the words τρέχωμενἀγῶνα. The idea is not that they are running in presence of spectators and must therefore run well; but that their people’s history being filled with examples of much-enduring but triumphant faith, they also must approve their lineage by showing a like persistence of faith. ὄγκον ἀποθέμενοι πάντα, ὄγκος, a mass or weight or burden (= φόρτος), hence a swelling or superfluous flesh [cf. especially Longinus, iii. 9, κακοὶ δὲ ὄγκοι καὶ ἐπὶ σωμάτων καὶ λόγων. and from Hippocrates in Wetstein, καὶ γὰρ δρόμοι ταχεῖς, καὶ γυμνάσια τοιαῦτα, σαρκῶν ὄγκον καθαίρει.] The allusion therefore is to the training preparatory to a race by which an encumbering superfluity of flesh is reduced. The Christian runner must rid himself even of innocent things which might retard him. And all that does not help, hinders. It is by running he learns what these things are. So long as he stands he does not feel that they are burdensome and hampering. καὶ f1τὴν εὐπερίστατον ἁμαρτίαν. Of the difficult word εὐπερ. Chrysostom gives two interpretations; “which is easily avoided,” and “which easily encompasses or surrounds us”. In the sense of “avoid” the verb περιϊστάσθαι occurs in 2 Timothy 2:16 and Titus 3:9, but it is scarcely credible that in the present context such an epithet could be applied to sin. The second interpretation has been generally accepted [“circumstans nos peccatum” (Vulg.); “qui nous enveloppe si aisément”; “die Sünde, die immer zur Hand ist” (Weizsäcker)]. This meaning suits the context and the action enjoined in ἀποθέμενοι, suggesting, as it does, the trailing garment that encumbers the runner. The article τὴν does not point to some particular sin, but to that which characterises all sin, the tenacity with which it clings to a man. We might suppose from the word itself that it alluded to sin as an enemy encompassing from well-chosen points of vantage, but this does not suit the figure of the race nor the ἀποθέμενοι. [Porphyry, de Abstin., says γυμνοὶ δὲ καὶ ἀχίτωνες ἐπὶ τὸ στάδιον ἀναβαίνωμεν ἐπὶ τὰ τῆς ψυχῆς ὀλύμπια ἀγωνισόμενοι. “Ut cursores vestimenta non solum abjiciunt, nudique currunt, verum etiam crebris exercitationibus, ne corpus nimis obesum et ineptum reddatur, efficiunt: ita et vos omnia impedimenta in studio virtutis, et tarditatem vestram crebris meditationibus vincite” (Wetstein).] διʼ ὑπομονῆς, after the negative preparation comes the positive demand for endurance, cf. Hebrews 10:36. τρέχωμενἀγῶνα, as in Herod, viii. 102, πολλοὺς ἀγῶνας δραμέονται οἱ ἕλληνες. προκείμενον, [frequent with ἀγών, as in Arrian’s Epict., iii. 25, οὐ γὰρ ὑπὲρ πάλης καὶ παγκρατίου ἀγὼν πρόκειται. Cf. Orestes of Eurip., 845, and Ignatius to Eph., c. 17. τοῦ προκειμένου ζῆν.] appointed, lying before us as our destined trial. This let us run, not waiting for a pleasanter, easier course, but accepting that which is appointed and recognising the difficulties as constituent parts of the race. Success depends on the condition attached ἀφορῶντεςἰησοῦν, fixing our gaze on Him who sets us the example ( ἀρχηγὸν) of faith, and exhibits it in its perfect form ( τελειωτής), who leads us in faith and in whom faith finds its perfect embodiment. ἀρχηγός properly means one to whom anything owes its origin (cf. Hebrews 2:10), but here it rather indicates one who takes the lead or sets the example most worth following. Jesus is the ἀρχηγὸς τῆς πίστεως because he is its τελειωτής. In Him alone do we see absolute dependence on God, implicit trust, what it is, what it costs, and what it results in. (Hence the human name ἰησοῦν.) On Him therefore must the gaze be fixed if the runner is to endure, for in Him the reasonableness, the beauty, and the reward of a life of faith are seen. Faith manifested itself in Jesus, especially in His endurance of the cross in virtue of His faith in the resulting joy beyond. ὃς ἀντὶ τῆς προκειμένης αὐτῷ χαρᾶςἀντί here as in Hebrews 12:16 denotes the price paid, or reward offered, “in consideration of”. There was a joy set before Jesus, which nerved Him to endure. This joy was the sitting in the place of achieved victory and power, not a selfish joy, but the consciousness of salvation wrought for men, of power won which he could use in their interests. This hope or confident expectation so animated Him that He endured the utmost of human suffering and shame. The shame is mentioned αἰσχύνης καταφρονήσας, because His despising of it manifests a mind fixed on the glory that was to follow and filled with it.


Verse 3

Hebrews 12:3. ἀναλογίσασθε γὰρ.… The reason for fixing the gaze on Jesus is given. That reason being found in the τοιαύτην. This so great contumely and opposition endured by Jesus the Hebrews are to consider, “to bring into analogy, think of by comparing” with their own and so renew their hopeful endurance. τὸνἀντιλογίαν, “Him who has endured at the hands of sinners such contradiction against Himself.” The desire on the part of several interpreters to put a stronger meaning into ἀντιλογία—although quite unsupported by usage—reveals a feeling that verbal abuse or contradiction was a much less severe trial than such as are enumerated in chap. 11. But not only was it this ἀντιλογία which brought Christ to the cross and formed the αἰσχύνη of it, but it was the repudiation of His claims throughout His life which formed the chief element in His trial. It was predicted (Luke 2:34) that He would be a σημεῖον ἀντιλεγόμενον, full of significance misinterpreted, full of God rejected. It was precisely this general rejection and contempt from which the Hebrews were themselves suffering. They were finding how hard it was to maintain a solitary faith contradicted and scorned by public sentiment. Think then, says this writer, of Him who has endured at the hands of sinners so much more painful contradiction “against Himself”. ἴνα μὴ κάμητε … “that ye wax not weary, fainting in your souls”. ψυχαῖς may be construed either with κάμητε or with ἐκλυόμενοι; better with the latter. [Polybius, xx. 4, 7, speaking of the demoralisation of the Boeotians says that giving themselves up to eating and drinking, οὐ μόνον ταῖς σώμασιν ἐξελύθησαν ἀλλὰ καὶ ταῖς ψυχαῖς.]


Verse 4

Hebrews 12:4. οὔπω μέχρις αἵματος.… “Not yet unto blood have ye resisted in your contest with sin.” Bengel says: “a cursu venit ad pugilatum”. Cf. 1 Corinthians 9:24-27. But this is doubtful μέχρις αἵματος [Theoph., ἄχρι θανάτου, cf. Revelation 12:11.] Does this mean, Ye have not yet become a martyr church, suffering death in Christ’s cause; or does it mean, Ye have not yet resisted sin in deadly earnest? The interpretation is determined by the connection. Jesus endured the ἀντιλογία of sinners even to blood, the death of the cross; the Hebrews have not yet been called so to suffer in their conflict, a conflict which every day summons them to fresh resistance against the sin of failure of faith and apostasy. “ ‘Sin’ is not here put for sinners, nor is it sin in their persecutors; it is sin in themselves, the sin of unbelief, which is here regarded as their true antagonist, though of course the excesses of their persecutors gave it its power against them” (Davidson and Weiss).


Verse 5

Hebrews 12:5. καὶ ἐκλέλησθε.… “And ye have clean forgotten the exhortation, which speaks to you as to sons, My Son, etc.” καὶ introduces a fresh consideration. Calvin, Bleek and others treat the clause as an interrogation, needlessly. The παράκλησις is cited from Proverbs 3:11, and includes Hebrews 12:5-6. The only divergence from the LXX is the insertion of μου after υἱέ. But Bleek calls attention to the fact that the Hebrew of the last clause stands, according to the present punctuation, וּכְאָב אֶת־בֵן יִרְצֶה = and as a father the son in whom he delights. The LXX instead of כְאָב have read כֵאֵב the Piel of כָאֵב to feel pain, and so to cause pain; certainly a better sense. In the Book of Proverbs the speaker identifies himself with wisdom, and here the words are justifiably viewed as Divine. ὀλιγώρει is classical, meaning “make light of,” “neglect,” “despise”. παιδεία is discipline, or correction, or the entire training and education of childhood and youth. And it is here urged that by the trials and difficulties of life God trains His children; that to view sufferings in separation from God and to be oblivious of God’s design in them is disastrous; and that despondency and failure of faith under suffering are inappropriate, for trials are not evidence of God’s displeasure, but on the contrary tokens of His love, the uniform discipline to which every son must be subjected, ὂν γὰρ ἀγαπᾷ … the emphasis falling on ἀγαπᾷ. ὃν παραδέχεται, “whom He takes to Him as a veritable son, receives in his heart and cherishes” (Alford). The word is similarly used in Polybius, xxxviii. 1, 8. [The same passage from Proverbs is cited by Philo (De Cong. Erud. gratia, p 544) who adds, αὕτως ἄρα ἐπίπληξις καὶ νουθεσία καλὸν νενόμισται, ὥστε διʼ αὐτῆς πρὸς θεὸν ὁμολογία συγγένεια γίνεται· τί γὰρ αἰκειότερον υἱῷ f1πατρὸς υἱοῦ πατρι; Cf. Menander’s μὴ δαρεὶς ἄνθρωπος οὐ παιδεύεται, and Seneca’s De Providentia where the same comparison is elaborated, and the great principle laid down “non quid, sed quemadmodum feras, interest”.]


Verses 5-17

Hebrews 12:5-17. The Hebrews are reminded that their sufferings are tokens of God’s fatherly love and care.


Verse 7

Hebrews 12:7. The inference from the passage cited is obvious, εἰς παιδείαν ὑπομένετε, “it is for training ye are enduring (are called to endure), as sons God is dealing with you”. [ προσφέρεται is common; as in Xenophon, οὐ γὰρ ὡς φίλοι προσεφέροντο ἡμῖν; and in Josephus, ὡς πολεμίοις προσεφέροντο.] Their sufferings are evidence that God considers them His sons and treats them as such; for what son is there whom his father does not correct? τίς γὰρ υἱὸς … similar in form to Matthew 7:9, τίς ἐστιν ἐξ ὑμῶν ἄνθρωπος;— εἰ δὲ χωρίς.… Whereas did they receive no such treatment, were they free from that discipline of which all (God’s children) have become partakers (as illustrated in chap. 11) then in this case they are bastards and not sons; their freedom from the discipline which God uniformly accords His children would prove that they were not genuine sons.


Verse 9

Hebrews 12:9. With εἶτα a fresh phase of the argument is introduced. [Raphel in loc. is of opinion that εἶτα here as frequently in the classics is “nota interrogantis cum vehementia et quasi indignatione quadam”; but it gives a better construction if we take it in the sense of “further” as in 1 Corinthians 12:5; 1 Corinthians 12:7, and Mark 4:28, πρῶτον χόρτον, εἶτα στάχυν, εἶτα πλήρης σῖτος.] The argument is, “the fathers of our flesh we used to have as trainers, and we had them in reverence; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of our spirits and live?” The article before πνευμάτων makes it probable that there is no reference to angels but only an antithesis to τῆς σαρκὸς ἡμῶν. The position of the two words σαρκός and πνευμάτων confirms this. καὶ ζήσομεν is unexpected, and is inserted to balance καὶ ἐνετρεπόμεθα [on this verb see Anz. p. 269] in the rhythm of the sentence. The thought is that only by subjection to the Father of our spirit can we have life. Delitzsch maintains that this verse strongly favours the theory of Creationism and quotes Hugo de S. Victore, “Nota diligenter hanc authoritatem, per quam manifeste probatur, quod animae non sunt ex traduce sicut caro”. It is safer to say with Davidson, “It is as a spirit, or on his spiritual side, that man enters into close relation with God; and this leads to the conception that God is more especially the Author of man’s spirit, or Author of man on his spiritual side, and to designations such as those in Numbers 16:22”. Modern science scouts Creationism; although if Wallace’s idea of the evolution of man be accepted it might find encouragement.


Verse 10

Hebrews 12:10. οἱ μὲν γὰρ.… The reasonableness of the appeal of Hebrews 12:9 is further illustrated by a comparison of the character and end in the earthly and heavenly fathers’ discipline respectively. The earthly fathers exercised discipline for a few days in accordance with what commended itself to their judgment as proper; a judgment which could not be infallible and must sometimes have hindered rather than helped true growth; but the heavenly Father uses discipline with a view to our profit that we may partake of his holiness. Two notes of imperfection characterise the discipline of the fathers of our flesh. (1) It is πρὸς ὀλίγας ἡμέρας, “for a few days,” i.e., during the brief period of youth. It must cease when manhood is attained, whether or not it has attained its end. (2) It is κατὰ τὸ δοκοῦν αὐτοῖς, subject to misconception both of the end to be reached and the means by which it can be attained. In contrast to this second feature the discipline of the Father of our spirit is without fail ἐπὶ τὸ συμφέρον, “for our advantage,” which is defined in εἰς τὸ μεταλαβεῖν τῆς ἁγιότητος αὐτοῦ, “that we may partake of His holiness,” in which the contrast to the incomplete.


Verse 11

Hebrews 12:11. πᾶσα δὲ παιδεία.… Another encouragement to endure chastening: if it is allowed to do its work righteousness will result. “Now all chastisement for the present indeed seems matter not of joy but of grief, afterwards however it yields, to those who are disciplined by it, the peaceable fruit of righteousness”. [ πᾶσα, as Chrys. says, τουτέστι καὶ ἀνθρωπίνη καὶ πνευματική.] πρὸς τὸ παρόν, see Thucyd., ii. 22. οὐ δοκεῖλύπης, Chrys. καλῶς εἶπεν· οὐ δοκεῖ. οὐδὲ γάρ ἐστι λύπης παιδεία, ἀλλὰ μόνον δοκεῖ, see Bleek. Chastisement is here viewed as an opportunity for cultivating faith and endurance and to those who use the opportunity and are exercised and trained by it, διʼ αὐτῆς γεγυμνασμένοις, it necessarily yields, renders as the harvest due, ἀποδίδωσιν, as its fruit increased righteousness of life. But why “peaceful” εἰρηνικὸν? Probably because the result of the conflict ( γεγυμνασμένοις) and victory is peace in God and peace of conscience. It is a peace which can only be attained by those who have used their trials as a discipline and have emerged victorious from the conflict.


Verse 12

Hebrews 12:12. διὸ τὰς παρειμένας … “Wherefore” introducing the immediate application of this encouraging view of trials, “lift up” to renew the conflict, “the nerveless hands” fallen to your side and “the paralysed knees”. ἀνορθώσατε seems at first sight more appropriate to χεῖρας than to γόνατα (Vaughan) but it is here used in the general sense of “restore,” “renew the life of”; as in Soph., O.T., 46–51, ἀσφαλείᾳ τήνδʼ ἀνόρθωσον πόλιν. It might be rendered “revive”. Probably the writer had in his mind Isaiah 35:3, ἰσχύσατε, χεῖρες ἀνειμέναι καὶ γόνατα παραλελυμένα. In Sirach 25:23 the woman that does not increase the happiness of her husband is χεῖρες παρειμέναι καὶ γόνατα παραλελυμένα, in other words, makes him despair and cease from all effort. So here, the hands hang down in listless consciousness of defeat. καὶ τροχιὰς ὀρθὰς … “and make straight paths for your feet, that that which is lame be not turned out of the way but rather be healed”. The words are quoted from Proverbs 4:26, ὀρθὰς τροχιὰς ποίει σοῖς ποσί, and if ποιήσατε is retained they form a hexameter line. The whole verse forms an admonition to the healthier portion of the church to make no deviation from the straight course set before them by the example of Christ, and thus they would offer no temptation to the weaker members [ τὸ χωλὸν, the lame and limping] to be turned quite out of the way, but would rather be an encouragement to them and so afford them an opportunity of being healed of their infirmity. [A number of interpreters take ἐκτραπῇ in the sense of “dislocated”. Thus Davidson, “The words ‘turned out of the way’ mean in medical writers ‘dislocated,’ and this gives a more vigorous sense and forms a better opposition to ‘be healed’. Inconsistency and vacillation in the general body of the church would create a way so difficult for the lame, that their lameness would become dislocation, and they would perish from the way; on the other hand, the habit of going in a plain path would restore them to soundness.” This is inviting, but there is much against it. (1) The medical use of ἐκτρέπομαι is rare (see Stephanus) and not likely to occur here. (2) When used in a general sense ἰαθῇ is an appropriate antithesis; thus in Niceph. Call. (see Stephanus) occur the words ἰωάννῃ τῷ ἱεροσολύμων πατριάρχῃ τὴν ἀκοὴν ἐκτραπεῖσαν ἰᾶται. (3) The passage in Proverbs from which the former part of the verse is cited goes on thus: “Turn not aside to the right hand nor to the left”.] Immediately after these words follows a clause which guides to the interpretation of εἰρήνην διώκετε μετὰ πάντων, “God will make thy ways straight and will guide thy goings in peace”; and a considerable part of the counsels given in the context in Proverbs concerns the maintenance of peaceful relations with others. The circumstances of the Hebrews were fitted to excite a quarrelsome spirit, and a feeling of alienation towards those weak members who left the straight path. They must not suffer them to be alienated but must restore them to the unity of the faith, and in endeavouring to reclaim them must use the methods of peace not of anger or disputation. καὶ τὸν ἁγιασμόν … “and the consecration without which no one shall see the Lord”. The ἁγιασμός which this Epistle has explained is a drawing near to God with cleansed conscience (Hebrews 10:14; Hebrews 10:22), a true acceptance of Christ’s sacrifice as bringing the worshipper into fellowship with God.


Verse 15

Hebrews 12:15. ἐπισκοποῦντες μή τις ὑστερῶν … “watching” “taking the oversight” (thoroughly scrutinising as in the case of sick persons,” Chrys.) addressed not to the teachers or rulers but to all. The object of this supervision is to prevent the defection of any one of their number. “As if they were travelling together on some long journey, in a large company, he says, Take heed that no man be left behind; I do not seek this only, that ye may arrive yourselves, but also that ye should look diligently after the others” (Chrys.), and cf. M. Arnold’s In Rugby Chapel. μή τις ὑστερῶν … may be construed either by supplying , or by supposing a break at θεοῦ (so Davidson), or by carrying on the τις ὑστερῶν to ἐνοχλῇ. The simplest seems to be the first: “lest any be failing (= fail) of the grace of God,” i.e., lest he never reach the blessings which the grace of God offers. Cf. Hebrews 4:1. Another contingency to be guarded against by careful watching is expressed in μή τις ῥίζα πικρίας … words borrowed from Deuteronomy 29:18, μή τίς ἐστιν ἐν ὑμῖν ῥίζα ἄνω φύουσα ἐν χολῇ καὶ πικρίᾳ, “lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you”. As in Deuteronomy so here the bitter root which might spring up and bring forth its poisonous fruit among them, was one of their own members who might lead them astray or introduce evil practises and so the whole community [ οἱ πολλοί] might be defiled [ μιανθῶσιν], i.e., rendered unfit for that approach to God and fellowship with Him to which they were urged in the preceding verse. A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump, Galatians 5:9, where also it is a person that is referred to.


Verse 16

Hebrews 12:16. μή τις πόρνος … specific forms in which roots of bitterness might appear among them. πόρνος is to be taken in its literal sense and not as signifying departure from God [but cf. Weiss]. Neither is it to be applied to Esau, in spite of the passages adduced by Wetstein to show that he was commonly considered a fornicator, and of Philo’s interpretation of “hairy” as “intemperate and libidinous”; v. Delitzsch. From Hebrews 13:4 it appears that fornication was one of the dangers to which these Hebrews were exposed. βέβηλος ὡς ἠσαῦ, a profanity which was especially betrayed in his bartering for a single meal [ ἀντὶ βρώσεως μιᾶς] his own rights of primogeniture. Esau lightly parting with his religious privileges and his patrimony for a present gratification is an appropriate warning to those who day by day were tempted to win comfort and escape suffering by parting with their hope in Christ. The warning is pointed by the fate of Esau. ἴστε γὰρ ὅτι καὶ μετέπειτα … “for ye know that even though he was afterwards desirous to inherit the blessing he was rejected, though he sought it with tears; for he found no place of repentance”. “The term ‘repentance’ is here used not strictly of mere change of mind, but of a change of mind undoing the effects of a former state of mind” (Davidson). In other words, his bargain was irrevocable. The words must be interpreted by the narrative in Genesis (Genesis 27:1-41), where we read that some time after the sale of the birthright ( μετέπειτα) Esau sought the blessing with tears (Genesis 27:38, ἀνεβόησε φωνῇ ἠσαῦ καὶ ἔκλαυσεν) but found his act was unalterable. The lesson written on Esau’s life as on that of all who miss opportunities is that the past is irreparable, and however much they may desire to recall and alter it, that cannot be. It was this which the writer wished to enforce. If now, through any temptation or pressure, you let go the benefits you have in Christ, you are committing yourselves to an act you cannot recall. It must also be observed that the author is confining his attention to the one act of Esau, not pronouncing on his whole life and ultimate destiny. [ μετανοίας τόπον. So Pliny, Ep., x. 97, “poenitentiae locus;” and Ulpian, Digest., xl. Tit. 7, “poenitentiae haeredis is locum non esse” (Wetstein)].


Verse 18

Hebrews 12:18. οὐ γὰρ προσεληλύθατε … “For ye have not approached,” assigning a further reason for the previous exhortation. Your fathers drew near [Deuteronomy 4:11, προσήλθετε καὶ ἔστητε ὑπὸ τὸ ὄρος] to hear God’s word. The word is used in its general sense, and the idea of drawing near as an accepted worshipper is not intended. ψηλαφωμένῳ … As MS. authority removes ὄρει, the construction is doubtful. The R.V. renders “the mount that might be touched,” indicating that “the mount” is not in the text. This is justified by the antithetic clause, Hebrews 12:22, ἀλλὰ προσεληλύθατε σιὼν ὄρει, which already was in his mind. Others translate “ye are not come to a palpable and kindled fire,” which is grammatically possible, but open to the objection that “a palpable fire,” a fire that can be touched is precisely what this fire was not, and it is an awkward mode of expressing a “material” fire. A third rendering is “Ye are not come to that which can be touched and is kindled with fire”. κεκαυμένῳ πυρὶ, “that burned with fire” is in agreement with Deuteronomy 4:11, τὸ ὄρος ἐκαίετο πυρὶ ἕως τοῦ οὐρανοῦ· σκότος, γνόφος, θύελλα; see also Deuteronomy 5:22-23; Deuteronomy 9:15; Exodus 19:18. The “gloom and mist and tempest (or hurricane) and the blast of trumpet (Exodus 19:16, φωνὴ τῆς σάλπιγγος ἠχει μέγα) and voice of words” (Deuteronomy 4:12, ἐλάλησε κύριος πρὸς ὑμᾶς ἐκ μέσου τοῦ πυρὸς φωνὴν ῥημάτων) are enumerated to accentuate the material and terrifying character of the revelation on which the O.T. dispensation was founded. The regularly recurrent καὶ gives emphasis to this enumeration; all the features of the manifestation were of the same character. The article is omitted before each particular, because each is introduced not for its own sake but for the general effect. From ἧς to ἔντρομος (Hebrews 12:21) describes the terror induced by these manifestations, (1) first in the people ( οἱ ἀκούσαντες) who begged that not a word more should be added to them ( προστεθῆναι suggested by Deuteronomy 5:25; Deuteronomy 18:16, οὐ προσθήσομεν ἀκοῦσαι τὴν φωνὴν κύριου, “we will not any more hear, etc.,”) for they could not endure that which was being commanded, “If even a beast touch the mountain it shall be stoned” (Exodus 19:12-13); and (2) also in Moses, for, so terrifying was the appearance that Moses said, “I am extremely afraid (Deuteronomy 9:9) and tremble”. ( ἔκφοβός εἰμι was uttered by Moses when God’s anger was roused by the people’s idolatry; Stephen (Acts 7:32) uses ἔντρομος γενόμενος of Moses at the burning bush.)


Verses 18-29

Hebrews 12:18-29. In this paragraph we have the climax of the Epistle. Its doctrine and its exhortation alike culminate here. The great aim of the writer has been to persuade the Hebrews to hearken to the word spoken by God in Christ (Hebrews 1:1, Hebrews 2:1-4). This aim he still seeks to attain by bringing before his readers in one closing picture the contrast between the old dispensation and the new. The old was characterised by material, sensible transitory manifestations; the new by what is supersensible and eternally stable. The old also rather emphasised the inaccessible nature of God, His unapproachable holiness, His awful majesty, and taught men that they could not come near; the new brings men into the very presence of God, and though He be “Judge of all” yet is He surrounded with the spirits of perfected men. But as the writer seeks to quicken his readers to a more zealous faith He shows also the awful consequences of refusing Him that speaketh from heaven. Not the fire and smoke of Sinai threaten now to consume the disobedient, but “our God is a consuming fire”; not a symbolic and material element threatened, but the very Eternal and All-pervading Himself. And, returning to the idea with which he commenced the Epistle and so making its unity obvious, the writer contrasts the voice that shook the earth with the infinitely more terrible voice that shakes the heavens also, that terminates time and brings in eternal things.


Verse 22

Hebrews 12:22. The Christian standing and attainment are now described in contrast with the Jewish. Ye are brought into the fellowship of eternal realities. ἀλλά προσεληλύθατε, “but ye have drawn near” (already you have entered into your eternal relation to the unseen) to σιὼν ὄρει, “in the twenty-three passages in the LXX where the two words are combined the order is uniformly ὄρος σιὼν and not σιὼν ὄρος. Evidently here the ‘Zion mountain’ is mentally contrasted with another, the ‘Sinai mountain’. And thus the omission of ὄρει in the revised text of Hebrews 12:18 is virtually supplied” (Vaughan). The ideal Zion is the place of God’s manifestation of His presence (Psalms 9:11; Psalms 76:2) but also of His people’s abode (Psalms 146:10; Isaiah 1:27 and passim). It is therefore impossible to find another particular of the enumeration in πόλει θεοῦ ζῶντος ἰερουσαλὴμ ἐπουρανίῳ, as if the former were “the transcendent sphere of God’s existence where He is manifested only to Himself,” and the latter “the place where His people gather and where He is manifested to them”. (Cf. Isaiah 60:14, κληθήσῃ πόλις κυρίου, σιών); the mount and the city are viewed together as the meeting-place of God and His people, where the “living God” manifests fully His eternal fulness and sufficiency. It is “the heavenly Jerusalem” (cf. Galatians 4:26, ἄνω ἱερουσαλήμ and Revelation 21:2, πόλις μέλλουσα [ καὶ μένουσα], Hebrews 13:14) as being not the earthly and made with hands but the ultimate reality [cf. the beautiful description in Philo, De Som., ii. 38, and the Republic, ix. p. 592, where after declaring that no such city as he has been describing exists on earth Plato goes on to say, ἀλλʼ ἐν οὐρανῷ ἴσως παράδειγμα ἀνάκειται τῷ βουλομένῳ ὁρᾶν καὶ ὁρῶντι ἑαυτὸν κατοικίζειν. Also the fine passage in Seneca, De Otio, chap. 31, on the two Republics.] καὶ μυριάσιν ἀγγέλων, and to myriads of angels, the usual accompaniment of God’s glory and ministers of His will, as in Deuteronomy 32:2; Revelation 5:11; and Daniel 7:10, μύριαι μυριάδες παρειστήκεισαν αὐτῷ. The construction of the following words is much debated. (1) πανηγύρει καὶ ἐκκλησ. may be construed in apposition with μυρ. ἀγγέλων, to myriads of angels, a festal gathering and assembly of the first-born enrolled in heaven; or, (2) a new particular may be introduced with καὶ ἐκκλησ.; or, (3) a new particular may be introduced with πανηγύρει, “to myriads of angels, to a festal gathernig and assembly of the first-born.” On the whole, the first seems preferable. For although angels are not elsewhere called the “first-born” of God, they are called “sons of God” (Job 1:6; Job 2:1; Job 38:7; Genesis 6:2; Genesis 6:4; Psalms 89:6) and the designation is here appropriate to denote those who are the pristine inhabitants of heaven. Cf. the first choir of Angelicals in the “Dream of Gerontius,” who sing:—

“To us His elder race He gave

To battle and to win,

Without the chastisement of pain,

Without the soil of sin”;

and Augustine in De Civ. Dei, x. 7, “cum angelis sumus una civitas Dei … cujus pars in nobis peregrinatur, pars in illis opitulatur”. πανήγυρις, meaning a festal gathering of the whole people, and ἐκκλησία meaning the assembly of all enrolled citizens, seem much more applicable to angels. They are enrolled as citizens ( ἀπογεγ. see the Fayûm and Oxyrhynchus Papyri, passim) in heaven, and welcome the younger sons now introduced. The myriads of angels which on Sinai had made their presence known in thunders and smoke and tempest, terrifying the people, appear now in the familiar form of a well-ordered community in the peaceable guise of citizens rejoicing over additions to their ranks (Luke 15:10). καὶ κριτῇ θεῷ πάντων, “and to a Judge who is God of all,” and by whose judgment you must therefore stand or fall (cf. Hebrews 10:27; Hebrews 10:30-31). Among the realities to which they had been introduced this could not be omitted. He who is God of all living is the ultimate reality, and the Hebrews have been brought near not only to His city with its original inhabitants, but to Himself; and to Himself as allotting without appeal each soul to its destiny. καὶ πνεύμασι … “and to spirits of just men made perfect,” “spirits,” as in 1 Peter 3:19, of those who have departed this life and not yet been clothed with their resurrection body. δικαίων τετελειωμένων is largely illustrated by Wetstein who quotes many examples of “justi perfecti” from the Talmud. It is perhaps more relevant to refer to Hebrews 11:4 and to the whole strain of the Epistle whose aim it is to perfect the righteousness of the Hebrews, see chap. 6. Of course O.T. and N.T. saints are referred to. But as without us, i.e., without sharing in our advantages, they could not be perfected, Hebrews 11:40, there is at once introduced the recent covenant ( νέας “new in time,” not, as usual, καίνης “fresh in quality,”) because the idea first in the writer’s mind is not the opposition to the old but the recent origin of the new. (But cf. Colossians 3:9; 1 Corinthians 5:7). It is remarkable that the Mediator of this covenant is here called by his human name “Jesus”. The reason probably is that already there is in the writer’s mind the great instrument of mediation, αἵματι ῥαντισμοῦ, “blood of sprinkling”. In mediating the old covenant Moses, λαβὼν τὸ αἶμα κατεσκέδασε τοῦ λαοῦ, Exodus 24:8. [ αἷμα ῥαντισμοῦ, however, does not occur in LXX, though ὕδωρ ῥαντισμοῦ is found four times in Numbers]. But in Hebrews 9:19 this writer replaces κατεσκέδασε with the more significant ἐράντισεν; cf. Hebrews 9:13. In 1 Peter 1:2 we have ῥαντισμὸν αἵματος ἰησοῦ χριστοῦ. The “blood of sprinkling” is therefore the blood by which the new covenant is established, see Hebrews 13:20, αἵματι διαθήκης αἰωνίου, this blood having the power to cleanse the conscience, Hebrews 9:14, Hebrews 10:22. It cleanses because it speaks better than Abel’s, κρεῖττον λαλοῦντι παρὰ τὸν ἄβελ for while that of Abel cried for vengeance [Genesis 4:10, φωνὴ αἵματος τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ σου βοᾷ πρός με ἐκ τῆς γῆς] that of Jesus is a message of salvation, the κρεῖττόν τι of Hebrews 11:40. But it may be adverbial. “Ille flagitabat ultionem, hic impetrat remissionem” (Erasmus).


Verse 25

Hebrews 12:25. βλέπετε (in the same sense and in a similar connection in Hebrews 3:12) μὴ παραιτήσησθε, “See that you refuse not”—as those mentioned in Hebrews 12:19 did— τὸν λαλοῦντα, “Him that speaketh,” i.e., God as in Hebrews 1:1 and the close of this verse; “for if those did not escape (punishment) when they refused Him that made to them divine communications on earth, how much less shall we who turn away from Him who does so from heaven”? The argument is the same as in Hebrews 2:3. Those who at Sinai begged to be excused from hearing did so in terror of the manifestations of God’s presence. But this is taken both as itself rooted in ignorance of God and aversion, and also as the first manifestation of a refusal to listen which in the history of Israel was often repeated. Punishment followed both in the Sinai generation, Hebrews 3:7-19, and in after times. The speaking ἐπὶ γῆς, i.e., at Sinai (and through the prophets? Hebrews 1:1) is contrasted with speaking ἀπʼ οὐρανῶν, which can only mean speaking from the midst of and in terms of eternal reality, without those earthly symbols which characterised the old revelations, Hebrews 12:18-19. The revelation in the Son is a revelation of the essential Divine nature in terms that are eternally true and valid. Cf. Hebrews 9:14, διὰ πνεύματος αἰωνίου. The difference between the two revelations is disclosed in their results or accompaniments; of the former, τότε, it is said φωνὴ τὴν γῆν ἐσάλευσεν, “the voice shook the earth,” even that symbolic and earthly manifestation was well fitted to convey just impressions of God’s holiness; [ ἔδωκε φωνὴν αὐτοῦ, ἐσαλεύθη γῆ Psalms 46:5, also Psalms 18:7 and in Psalms 68:8, γῆ ἐσείσθη; Judges 5:4-5, sometimes as in Psalms 114:7 more explicitly ἀπὸ προσώπου κυρίου ἐσαλεύθη γῆ.] The expression sets forth not only the majesty of God who speaks, but also the effects that follow in agitation and alteration [cf. the Antigone line 163, τὰ μὲν δὴ πόλεος θεοὶ πολλῷ σάλῳ σείσαντες]. νῦν δὲ ἐπήγγελται, “But now he has promised”—the passive used in middle sense as in Romans 4:21—the promise is in Haggai 2:6-7, where under this strong figure the new order of things introduced by the rebuilding of the temple is announced. (Cf. Sirach 16:18-19) λέγων, ἔτι ἅπαξ … saying, “Yet once (or, Once more) I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven”. And what the writer especially sees in this promise is declared expressly in Hebrews 12:27, τὸ δὲ ἔτι ἅπαξ δηλοῖ … “the expression ‘once more’ indicates the removal of what has been shaken as of what has been made (created), that what is not shaken may abide”. The ἅπαξ indicates the finality of this predicted manifestation of God—only once more was he to reveal Himself. This revelation has made known to us and put us in possession of that which is eternal, so that when all present forms of existence pass away (cf. Hebrews 1:11-12), what is essential and eternal may still be retained. Underlying the interpretation which the writer gives to ἅπαξ is the belief that some time things temporal must give place to things eternal; else he could not have argued that the final “shaking” was to be equivalent to a removal, ( μετάθεσις, change of place in Hebrews 11:5; but in Hebrews 7:12 removal, displacement; and so here) or destruction of the heavens and the earth. The words ὡς πεποιημένων show that he considered that all that had been made might or would be destroyed, as in Hebrews 1:10, “the works of God’s hands shall perish”. (Cf. γένεσις φθορᾶς ἀρχή]. ἵνα is dependent on μετάθεσιν, transitory things are removed that the things that are eternal may appear in their abiding value. διὸ, seeing that these perishable things must pass away “let us who are receiving a kingdom (a realm in which we shall be as kings, Luke 12:32; Luke 22:29; Revelation 1:6) that is immovable and inalienable have grace” (Hebrews 4:16, Hebrews 12:15). Many interpreters (Weiss, Westcott, Weizsäcker, Peake) render ἔχωμεν χάριν as in Luke 17:9; 1 Timothy 1:12, “let us feel and express thankfulness” which is a very suitable inference to draw from “our receiving an immovable kingdom” and is relevant also to the following clause. But as χάρις is used by this writer in Hebrews 4:16 of God’s helping favour, and as the τις ὑστερῶν ἀπὸ τῆς χάριτος τοῦ θεοῦ of Hebrews 12:15 is still in view, it seems simpler and more adequate to render as A.V. It is God’s grace, διʼ ἧς λατρεύωμεν … “by means of which we may acceptably serve God [ λατρεύωμεν as in Hebrews 9:14, possibly in a broader sense than mere worship] with reverence (Hebrews 5:7) and fear”. An additional or recapitulating reason is given in the closing words, “For indeed our God is a consuming fire,” words derived from Deuteronomy 4:24. The fire and smoke which manifested His presence at Sinai (Hebrews 12:18) were but symbols of that consuming holiness that destroys all persistent inexcusable evil. It is God Himself who is the fire with which you have to do, not a mere physical, material, quenchable fire.


Verses 25-29

Hebrews 12:25-29. A final appeal. The readers are warned against being deaf to God’s final revelation, for if even the revelation at Sinai could not with impunity be disregarded, much less can the revelation which has reached them and which discloses to them things eternal and God in His essential majesty.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicol, W. Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Hebrews 12:4". The Expositor's Greek Testament. http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/egt/hebrews-12.html. 1897-1910.


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