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Bible Commentaries

The Expositor's Greek Testament

Hebrews 4

 

 

Verse 1

Hebrews 4:1. φοβηθῶμεν οὖν, “let us then fear,” the writer speaks in the name of the living generation, “lest haply, there being left behind and still remaining a promise to enter [ ἐπαγγελίας εἰσελθεῖν; cf. ὥρα ἀπιέναι, Plato, Apol., p. 42] into His (i.e., God’s) rest, any of you (not ἡμῶν) should fancy that he has come too late for it; δοκῇ ὑστερηκέναι. Of these words there are three linguistically possible translations.

1. Should seem to have fallen short.

2. Should be judged to have fallen short.

3. Should think that he has fallen short or come too late.

The argument of the passage favours the third reading, for it aims at strengthening the belief that the promise does remain and that the readers are not born too late to enjoy it. “Gloomy imaginations of failure were rife among the Hebrews” (Rendall). These persecuted Christians who had expected to find the fulfilment of all promise in Christ, found it hard to believe that “rest” was attainable in Him. The writer proceeds therefore to prove that this promise is left and is still open. καὶγάρ ἐσμεν εὐηγγελισμένοι.… “For indeed we, even as also they, have had a gospel preached to us.” We should have expected an expressed ἡμεῖς, but its suppression shows us that the writer wishes to emphasise εὐηγγελ. To us as to them it is a gospel that is preached; and the καθάπερ κἀκεῖνοι, “even as they also had,” brings out the fact that under the promise of a land in which to rest, the Israelites who came out of Egypt were brought in contact with the redeeming grace and favour of God. The expression reflects significant light on the inner meaning of all God’s guidance of Israel’s history. They received this rich promise laden with God’s intention to bless them, “but the word which they heard did them no good, because in those who heard, it was not mixed with faith”. [For συγκεκ. see the Phaedo, p. 95A. The accusative is best attested (see critical note), but the sense “not mixed by faith with those who heard,” i.e., Caleb and Joshua, is most improbable.] Belief, then, is everything. In proof of which our own experience may be cited: “For we are entering into the rest, we who have believed”. This clause confirms both the statements of the previous verse: “we have the promise as well as they,” for we are entering into the rest [note the emphatic position of εἰσερχόμεθα]; and “the word failed them because of their lack of faith,” for it is our faith [ οἱ πιστεύσαντες] which is carrying us into the rest. This fact that we are entering in by faith is in accordance with the utterance quoted already in Hebrews 3:11, καθὼς εἴρηκεν, ὡς ὤμοσα … “I sware in my wrath, they shall not enter into my rest, although the works were finished from the foundation of the world”. This quotation confirms the first clause of the verse, because it proves two things: first, that God had a rest, and second, that He intended that man should rest with Him, because it was “in His wrath,” justly excited against the unbelieving (cf. Hebrews 3:9-10), that He sware they should not enter in. Had it not been God’s original purpose and desire that men should enter into His rest, it could not be said that “in wrath” He excluded some. Their failure to secure rest was not due to the non-existence of any rest, for God’s works were finished when the world was founded. This again is confirmed by Scripture, εἴρηκεν γάρ που, viz., in Genesis 2:2 (cf. Exodus 20:11; Exodus 31:17), where it is said that after the six days of creation God rested on the seventh day from all His works. That God has a rest is also stated in the ninety-fifth Psalm, for these words “they shall not enter into my rest” prove that God had a rest. The emphasis in this second quotation (Hebrews 4:5) is on the word μοι.


Verse 6

Hebrews 4:6. The writer now, in Hebrews 4:6-9, gathers up the argument, and reaches his conclusion that a Sabbatism remains for God’s people. The argument briefly is, God has provided a rest for men and has promised it to them. This promise was not believed by those who formerly heard it, neither was it exhausted in the bringing in of the people to Canaan. For had it been so, it could not have been renewed long after, as it was. It remains, therefore, to be now enjoyed. “Since, therefore, it remains that some enter into it and those who formerly heard the good news of the promise did not enter, owing to disobedience.” ἀπολείπεται, there remains over as not yet fulfilled. In Hebrews 5:9. σαββατ. is the nominative, here τινας εἰσελθεῖν might be considered a nominative but it is better, with Viteau (256), to construe it as an impersonal verb followed by an infinitive. From the fact that the offer of the rest had been made, or the promise given, “it remains” that some (must) enter in. But a second fact also forms a premiss in the argument. viz.: that those to whom the promise had formerly been made did not enter in; therefore, over and above and long after ( μετὰ τοσ. χρόνον) the original proclamation of this gospel of rest, even in David’s time, again ( πάλιν), God appoints or specifies a certain day ( τινὰ ὁρίζει ἡμέραν) saying “To-day”. This proves that the offer is yet open, that the promise holds good in David’s time. The words already quoted ( καθὼς προείρηται) from the 95th Psalm prove this, for they run, “To-day, if ye hear His voice,” etc. They prove at any rate that the gospel of rest was not exhausted by the entrance into Canaan under Joshua, “for if Joshua had given them rest, God would not after this speak of another day”. The writer takes for granted that the “To-day” of the Psalm extends to Christian times, whether be cause of the life (Hebrews 4:12) that is in the word of promise, or because the reference in the Psalm is Messianic. “This ‘voice’ of God which is ‘heard’ is His voice speaking to us in His Son (Hebrews 1:1) and this ‘To-day’ is ‘the end of these days’ in which He has spoken to us in Him, on to the time when He shall come again (Hebrews 3:13). In effect God has been ‘heard’ speaking only twice, to Israel and to us, and what He has spoken to both has been the same,—the promise of entering into His rest. Israel came short of it through unbelief; we do enter into the rest who believe (Hebrews 4:3)” (Davidson). At all events, the conclusion unhesitatingly follows: “Therefore there remains a Sabbath-Rest for the people of God”. ἄρα though often standing first in a sentence in N.T. cannot in classical Greek occupy that place. σαββατισμός, though found here only in Biblical Greek, occurs in Plutarch (De Superstit, c. 3). The verb σαββατίζειν occurs in Exodus 16:30 and other places. The word is here employed in preference to κατάπαυσις in order to identify the rest promised to God’s people with the rest enjoyed by God Himself on the Sabbath or Seventh Day. [So Theophylact, ἑρμηνεύει πῶς σαββατ. ὠνόμασε τὴν τοιαύτην κατάπαυσιν· διότι, φησὶ, καταπαύομεν καὶ ἡμεῖς ἀπὸ τῶν ἔργων τῶν ἡμετέρων, ὥσπερ καὶ θεός, καταπαύσας ἀπὸ τῶν ἔργων τῶν εἰς σύστασιν τοῦ κόσμου, σάββατον τὴν ἡμέραν ὠνόμασεν.] To explain and justify the introduction of this word, the writer adds γὰρ εἰσελθὼν … as if he said, I call it a Sabbatism, because it is not an ordinary rest, but one which finds its ideal and actual fulfilment in God’s own rest on the Seventh Day. It is a Sabbatism because in it God’s people reach a definite stage of attainment, of satisfactorily accomplished purpose, as God Himself did when creation was finished. γὰρ εἰσελθὼν, whoever has entered, not to be restricted to Jesus, as by Alford, εἰς τ. κατάπαυσιν αὐτοῦ, into God’s rest, καὶ αὐτὸς κ. τ. λ. himself also rested from his (the man’s) works as God from His.”

The salvation which the writer has previously referred to as a glorious dominion is here spoken of as a Rest. The significance lies in its being God’s rest which man is to share. It is the rest which God has enjoyed since the creation. From all His creative work God could not be said to rest till, after what cannot but appear to us a million of hazards, man appeared, a creature in whose history God Himself could find a worthy history, whose moral and spiritual needs would elicit the Divine resources and exercise what is deepest in God. When man appears God is satisfied, for here is one in His own image. But from this bare statement of the meaning of God’s rest it is obvious that God’s people must share it with Him. God’s rest is satisfaction in man; but this satisfaction can be perfected only when man is in perfect harmony with Him. His rest is not perfect till they rest in Him. This highly spiritual conception of salvation is involved in our Author’s argument. Cf. the grand passage on God’s Rest in Philo, De Cherubim, c. xxvi., and also Barnabas xv., see also Hughes’ The Sabbatical Rest of God and Man.


Verse 11

Hebrews 4:11. The exhortation follows naturally, “Let us then earnestly strive to enter into that rest, lest anyone fall in the same example of disobedience”. The example of disobedience was that given by the wilderness generation and they are warned not to fall in the same way. πέσῃ ἐν is commonly construed “fall into,” but it seems preferable to render “fall by” or “in”; πέσῃ being used absolutely as in Romans 14:4, στήκει πίπτει. Vaughan has “lest anyone fall [by placing his foot] in the mark left by the Exodus generation”. ὑπόδειγμα is condemned by Phrynichus who says: οὐδὲ τοῦτο ὀρθῶς λέγεται· παράδειγμα λέγε. “In Attic ὑποδείκνυμι was never used except in its natural sense of show by implication; but in Herodotus and Xenophon it signifies to mark out, set a pattern.” Rutherford’s Phryn., p. 62. Cf. Hebrews 8:5 of this Epistle with John 13:15 for both meanings. It is used in James 5:10 with genitive of the thing to be imitated.

In Hebrews 4:12-13 another reason is added for dealing sincerely and strenuously with God’s promises and especially with this offer of rest. ζῶν γὰρ λόγος τοῦ θεοῦ, “for the word of God is living,” that word of revelation which from the first verse of the Epistle has been in the writer’s mind and which he has in chaps, 3, 4 exhibited as a word of promise of entrance into God’s rest. Evidently, therefore, λόγος τοῦ θεοῦ is not, as Origen and other interpreters have supposed, the Personal Word incarnate in Christ, but God’s offers and promises. Not only is the γάρ, linking this clause to the promise of rest, decisive for this interpretation; but the mention of λόγος τῆς ἀκοῆς in Hebrews 4:2 and the prominence given in the context to God’s promise make it impossible to think of anything else. To enforce the admonition to believe and obey the word of God, five epithets are added, which, says Westcott, “mark with increasing clearness its power to deal with the individual soul. There is a passage step by step from that which is most general to that which is most personal.” It is, first, ζῶν, “living” or, as A.V. has it, “quick”. Cf. 1 Peter 1:23, ἀναγεγεννημένοιδιὰ λόγου ζῶντος θεοῦ καὶ μένοντος, and 1 Peter 1:24 τὸ ῥῆμα κυρίου μένει εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα. The meaning is that the word remains efficacious, valid and operative, as it was when it came from the will of God. “It is living as being instinct with the life of its source” (Delitzsch). It is also ἐνεργὴς, active, effective, still doing the work it was intended to do, cf. Isaiah 55:11. τομώτερος ὐπὲρ πᾶσαν μάχαιραν δίστομον, “sharper than any two-edged sword”. τομ. ὑπὲρ is a more forcible comparative than the genitive; cf. Luke 16:8; 2 Corinthians 12:13. The positive τομός is found in Plato Tim. 61 E. and elsewhere. δίστομος double-mouthed, i.e., double-edged, the sword being considered as a devouring beast, see 2 Samuel 11:25, καταφάγεται μάχαιρα. A double-edged sword is not only a more formidable weapon than a single-edged, offering less resistance and therefore cutting deeper (see Judges 3:16 where Ehud made for himself μάχαιραν δίστομον a span long, and cf. Eurip., Helena, 983), but it was a common simile for sharpness as in Proverbs 5:4, ἠκονημένον μάλλον μαχαίρας διστόμου, whetted more than a two-edged sword; and Revelation 1:16, ῥομφαία δίστομος ὀξεῖα. The same comparison is used by Isaiah (Isaiah 49:2) and by St. Paul (Ephesians 6:17); but especially in Wisdom of Solomon 18:15, “Thine Almighty Word leaped down from heaven … and brought thine unfeigned commandment as a sharp sword. This sharpness is illustrated by its action, διϊκνούμενος ἄχρι μερισμοῦ ψυχῆς καὶ πνεύματος, ἁρμῶντε καὶ μυελῶν, an expression which does not mean that the word divides the soul from the spirit, the joints from the marrow, but that it pierces through all that is in man to that which lies deepest in his nature. “It is obvious that the writer does not mean anything very specific by each term of the enumeration, which produces its effect by the rhetorical fullness of the expressions” (Farrar). For the expression cf. Eurip., Hippol., 255 πρὸς ἄκρον μυελὸν ψυχῆς. But it is in the succeeding clause that the significance of his description appears; the word is κριτικὸς ἐνθυμήσεων καὶ ἐννοιῶν καρδίας “judging the conceptions and ideas of the heart”. The word of God coming to men in the offer of good of the highest kind tests their real desires and inmost intentions. When fellowship with God is made possible through His gracious offer, the inmost heart of man is sifted; and it is infallibly discovered and determined whether he truly loves the good and seeks it, or shrinks from accepting it as his eternal heritage. The terms in which this is conveyed find a striking analogy in Philo (Quis. Rer. Div. Haer., p. 491) where he speaks of God by His Word “cutting asunder the constituent parts of all bodies and objects that seem to be coherent and united. Which [the word] being whetted to the keenest possible edge, never ceases to pierce all sensible objects, and when it has passed through them to the things that are called atoms and indivisible, then again this cutting instrument begins to divide those things which are contemplated by reason into untold and indescribable portions.” Cf. p. 506. In addition to this ( καὶ), the inward operation of the word finds its counterpart in the searching, inevitable inquisition of God Himself with whom we have to do. “No created thing is hidden before Him (God) but all things are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.” τετραχηλισμένα has created difficulty. τραχηλίζω is a word of the games, meaning “to bend back the neck” and so “to overcome”. In this sense of overmastering it was in very common use. In Philo, e.g., men are spoken of as f1τετραχηλισμένοι ταῖς ἐπιθυμίαις. This meaning, however, gives a poor sense in our passage where it is followed by τοῖς ὀφθαλμοῖς. Chrysostom says the word is derived from the skinning of animals, and Theophylact, enlarging upon this interpretation, explains that when the victims had their throats cut, the skin was dragged off from the neck downwards exposing the carcase. No confirmation of this use of the word is given. Perizonius in a note on Ælian, Var., Hist., xii. 58, refers to Suetonius, Vitell., 17, where Vitellius is described as being dragged into the forum, half-naked, with his hands tied behind his back, a rope round his neck and his dress torn; and we are further told that they dragged back his head by his hair, and even pricked him under the chin with the point of a sword as they are wont to do to criminals, that he might let his face be seen and not hang his head. [So, too, Elsner, who refers to Perizonius and agrees that the word means resupïnata, manifesta, eorum quasi cervice ac facie reflexa, atque adeo intuentium oculis exposita, genere loquendi ab iis petito, quorum capita reclinantur, ne intuentium oculos fugiant et lateant; quod hominibus qui ad supplicium ducebantur, usu olim accidebat.” Cf. “Sic fatus galeam laeva tenet, atque reflexa Cervice orantis capulo tenus applicat ensem.” Virgil, Æn. x. 535.] Certainly this bending back of the head to expose the face gives an excellent and relevant sense here. The reason for thus emphasising the penetrating and inscrutable gaze of God is given in the description appended in the relative clause; it is He πρὸς ὃν ἡμῖν λόγος, which, so far as the mere words go, might mean “of whom we speak” (cf. Hebrews 1:7 and Hebrews 5:11), but which obviously must here be rendered, as in A.V., “with whom we have to do,” or “with whom is our reckoning,” cf. Hebrews 13:17.

From Hebrews 4:14 to Hebrews 10:15 the writer treats of the Priesthood of the Son. The first paragraph extends from Hebrews 4:14 to Hebrews 5:10, and in this it is shown that Jesus has the qualifications of a priest, a call from God, and the sympathy which makes intercession hearty and real. The writer’s purpose is to encourage his readers to use the intercession of Christ with confidence, notwithstanding their sense of sinfulness. And he does so by reminding them that all High priests are appointed for the very purpose of offering sacrifice for sin, and that this office has not been assumed by them at their own instance but at the call of God. It is because God desires that sinful men be brought near to Him that priests hold office. And those are called to office, who by virtue of their own experience are prepared to enter into cordial sympathy with the sinner and heartily seek to intercede for him. All this holds true of Christ. He is Priest in obedience to God’s call. The office, as He had to fill it, involved much that was repugnant. With strong crying and tears He shrank from the death that was necessary to the fulfilment of His function. But His godly caution prompted as His ultimate prayer, that the will of the Father and not His own might be done. Thus by the things He suffered He learned obedience, and being thus perfected became the author of eternal salvation to all that obey Him, greeted and proclaimed High Priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.


Verse 14

Hebrews 4:14. ἒχοντες οὖν … “Having then a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.” οὖν resumes the train of thought started at Hebrews 3:1, where the readers were enjoined to consider the High Priest of their confession. But cf. Weiss and Kübel. μέγαν is now added, as in Hebrews 10:21, Hebrews 13:20, that they may the rather hold fast the confession they were in danger of letting go. The μέγαν is explained and justified by two features of this Priest: (1) He has passed through the heavens and entered thus the very presence of God. For διεληλ. τ. οὐρανούς cannot mean, as Calvin renders “qui coelos ingressus est”. As the Aaronic High Priest passed through the veil, or, as Grotius and Carpzov suggest, through the various fore courts, into the Holiest place, so this great High Priest had passed through the heavens and appeared among eternal realities. So that the very absence of the High Priest which depressed them, was itself fitted to strengthen faith. He was absent, because dealing with the living God in their behalf. (2) The second mark of His greatness is indicated in His designation ἰησοῦν τὸν υἱὸν τ. θεοῦ, the human name suggesting perfect understanding and sympathy, the Divine Sonship acceptance with the Father and pre-eminent dignity. κρατῶμεν τ. ὁμολογίας. “Our confession” primarily of this great High Priest, but by implication, our Christian confession, cf. Hebrews 3:1.


Verse 15

Hebrews 4:15. Confirmation both of the encouragement of Hebrews 4:14 and of the fact on which that encouragement is founded is given in the further idea: οὐ γὰρ ἔχομεν … “for we have not a high priest that cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but has been tempted in all points like us, without sin”. He repels an idea which might have found entrance into their minds, that an absent, heavenly priest might not be able to sympathise. συνπαθέω [to be distinguished from συνπάσχω which occurs in Romans 8:17 and 1 Corinthians 12:26, and means to suffer along with one, to suffer the same ills as another] means to feel for, or sympathise with, and occurs also in Hebrews 10:34, and is peculiar in N.T. to this writer but found in Aristotle, Isocrates and Plutarch, and in the touching expression of Acts of Paul and Thekla, 17, ὃς μόνος συνεπάθησεν πλανωμένῳ κόσμῳ. Jesus is able to sympathise with ταῖς ἀσθενείαις ἡμῶν “our infirmities,” the weaknesses which undermine our resistance to temptation and make it difficult to hold fast our confession: moral weaknesses, therefore, though often implicated with physical weaknesses. Jesus can feel for these because πεπειρασμένον κατὰ πάντα καθʼ ὁμοιότητα, He has been tempted in all respects as we are. κατὰ πάντα, classical, “in all respects,” cf. Wetstein on Acts 17:22; and Evagrius, Hebrews 5:4, of Christ incarnate, ὁμοιοπαθῆ κατὰ πάντα χωρὶς ἁμαρτίας, cf. Hebrews 2:17. καθʼ ὁμοιότητα may either mean “according to the likeness of our temptations,” or, “in accordance with His likeness to us”. The latter is preferable, being most in agreement with Hebrews 2:17. So Theophylact, καθʼ ὁμοιότητα τὴν ἡμετὲραν, τουτέστι παραπλησίως ἡμῖν, cf. Genesis 1:11-12; and Philo, De Profug., c. 9, κατὰ τὴν πρὸς τἄλλα ὁμοιότητα. The writer wishes to preclude the common fancy that there was some peculiarity in Jesus which made His temptation wholly different from ours, that He was a mailed champion exposed to toy arrows. On the contrary, He has felt in His own consciousness the difficulty of being righteous in this world; has felt pressing upon Himself the reasons and inducements that incline men to choose sin that they may escape suffering and death; in every part of His human constitution has known the pain and conflict with which alone temptation can be overcome; has been so tempted that had He sinned, He would have had a thousandfold better excuse than ever man had. Even though His divinity may have ensured His triumph, His temptation was true and could only be overcome by means that are open to all. The one difference between our temptations and those of Jesus is that His were χωρὶς ἁμαρτίας. Riehm thinks this expression is not exhausted by declaring the fact that in Christ’s case temptation never resulted in sin. It means, he thinks, further, and rather, that temptation never in Christ’s case sprang from any sinful desire in Himself. So also Delitzsch, Weiss, Westcott, etc. But if Theophylact is right in his indication of the motive of the writer in introducing the words, then it is Christ’s successful resistance of temptation which is in the foreground; ὥστε δύνασθε καὶ ὑμεῖς ἐν ταῖς θλίψεσιν χωρὶς ἁμαρτίας διαγενέσθαι.


Verse 16

Hebrews 4:16. προσερχώμεθα οὖν.… “Let us, therefore [i.e., seeing that we have this sympathetic and victorious High Priest] with confidence approach the throne of grace”. προσέρχεσθαι is used in a semi-technical sense for the approach of a worshipper to God, as in LXX frequently. Thus in Leviticus 21:17 it is said of any blemished son of Aaron οὐ προσελεύσεται προσφέρειν τὰ δῶρα τοῦ θεοῦ αὐτοῦ, and in the 23rd ver. ἐγγιεῖ is used as an equivalent, cf. Hebrews 7:19. The word is found only once in St. Paul, 1 Timothy 6:3, and there in a peculiar sense; but in Heb. it occurs seven times, and generally in its more technical sense, Hebrews 7:25, Hebrews 10:1; Hebrews 10:22, Hebrews 11:6. It had become so much a technical term of divine worship that it can be used, as in Hebrews 10:1; Hebrews 10:22, without an object. Here, as in Hebrews 7:25, it is followed by a dative τῷ θρόνῳ τῆς χάριτος, the seat of supreme authority which by Christ’s intercession is now characterised as the source from which grace is dispensed. Premonitions of this are found in O.T.; for although in Psalms 96 (97.) 2 and elsewhere we find δικαιοσύνη καὶ κρίμα κατόρθωσις τοῦ θρόνου αὐτοῦ, yet in Isaiah 16:5 we read διορθωθήσεται μετʼ ἐλέους θρόνος. Philo encourages men to draw near to God by representing “the merciful, and gentle, and compassionate nature of Him who is invoked, who would always rather have mercy than punishment” (De Exsecr., c. ix). There is also something in Theophylact’s remark: δύο γὰρ θρόνοι εἰσὶν, μὲν νῦν χάριτος, … δὲ τῆς δευτέρας παρουσίας θρόνος οὐ χάριτοςἀλλὰ κρίσεως. Similarly Atto: “Modo tempus est donorum: nemo de se ipso desperet”. They are to approach μετὰ παρρησίας, for as Philo says (Quis. Rer. Div. Haer., 4): φιλοδεσπότοις ἀναγκαιότατον παρρησία κτῆμα; and in c. 5. παρρησία φιλίας συγγενές. The purpose of the approach is expressed in two clauses which Bleek declares to be “ganz synonym”. This, however, is scarcely correct. As is apparent from the next verse, the “obtaining mercy” refers to the pardon of sins, while the “finding grace” implies assistance given. So Primasius, quoted by Westcott “ut misericordiam consequamur, id est remissionem peccatorum, et gratiam donorum Spiritus Sancti”. ἔλεος and χάρις are, however, constantly conjoined (v. Hort on 1 Peter 1:2). The close connection of χάριν with βοήθειαν suggests that ἔλεος is the more general and comprehensive term, and that χάρις is becoming already more associated with particular manifestations of ἔλεος. There may be ἔλεος, where there is no χάρις. We first obtain mercy and then find grace. εὑρίσκειν is everywhere in LXX used with χάριν in this sense, translating מָצָא. εἰς εὔκαιρον βοήθειαν “for timely help”; assistance in hours of temptation must be timely or it is useless. For βοήθεια cf. Hebrews 2:18; and for the whole verse, see Bishop Wilson’s Maxim: “The most dangerous of all temptations is to believe, that one can avoid or overcome them by our own strength, and without asking the help of God”.

 


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


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