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Analysis Of The Chapter
The main object of the Epistle is to commend the Christian religion to those who were addressed in it in such a way as to prevent defection from it. This is done, principally, by showing its superiority to the Mosaic system. The great danger of Christians in Palestine was of relapsing into the Jewish system. The imposing nature or its rites; the public sentiment in its favor; the fact of its antiquity, and its undisputed divine origin, would all tend to that. To counteract this, the writer of this Epistle shows that the gospel bad higher claims on their attention, and that if that was rejected ruin was inevitable. In doing this, he begins, in this chapter, by showing the superiority of the Author of Christianity to prophets and to the angels; that is, that he had a rank that entitled him to the profoundest regard. The drift of this chapter, therefore, is to show the dignity and exalted nature of the Author of the Christian system - the Son of God. The chapter comprises the following points:
I. The announcement of the fact that God, who had formerly spoken by the prophets, had in this last dispensation spoken by his Son; Hebrews 1:1-2.
II. The statement respecting his rank and dignity. He was:
(1)The Heir of all things;
(2)The Creator of the worlds;
(3)The Brightness of the divine glory and the proper expression of his nature;
(4)He upheld all things; Hebrews 1:2-3.
III. The work and exaltation of the Author of the Christian system:
- He, by his own unassisted agency, purified us from our sins.
(2)He is seated at the right hand of God.
(3)He has a more exalted and valuable inheritance than the angels, in proportion as his name is more exalted than theirs; Hebrews 1:3-4.
IV. Proofs that what is here ascribed to him belongs to him, particularly that he is declared to be superior to the angels; Hebrews 1:5-14.
(1)The angels have never been addressed with the title of Son: Hebrews 1:5.
(2)He is declared to be the object of worship by the angels, while they are employed merely as the messengers of God; Hebrews 1:6-7.
(3)He is addressed as God, and his throne is said to be forever and ever; Hebrews 1:8-9.
(4)He is addressed as immutable. He is declared to have laid the foundations of heaven and earth; and though they would perish, yet he would remain the same; Hebrews 1:10-12.
(5)None of the angels had been addressed in this manner, but they were employed in the subordinate work of ministering to the heirs of salvation; Hebrews 1:13-14.
From this train of reasoning, the inference is drawn in Hebrews 2:1-4, that we ought to give diligent heed to what had been spoken. The Great Author of the Christian scheme had special claims to be heard, and there was special danger in disregarding his message. The object of this chapter is to impress those to whom the Epistle was addressed with the high claims of the Founder of Christianity, and to show that it was superior in this respect to any other system.
God who at sundry times - The commencement of this Epistle varies from all the others which Paul wrote. In every other instance he at first announces his name, and the name of the church or of the individual to whom he wrote. In regard to the reason why he here varies from that custom, see the introduction, section 3. This commences with the full acknowledgment of his belief that God had made important revelations in past times, but that now he had communicated his will in a manner that more especially claimed their attention. This announcement was of particular importance here. He was writing to those who had been trained up in the full belief of the truths taught by the prophets. As the object of the apostle was to show the superior claims of the gospel, and to lead them from putting confidence in the rites instituted in accordance with the directions of the Old Testament, it was of essential importance that he should admit that their belief of the inspiration of the prophets was well founded.
He was not an infidel. He was not disposed to call in question the divine origin of the books which were regarded as given by inspiration. He fully admitted all that had been held by the Hebrews on that heart, and yet showed that the new revelation had more important claims to their attention. The word rendered “at sundry times” - πολυμερῶς polumerōs - means “in many parts.” It refers here to the fact that the former revelation had been given in various parts. It had not all been given at once. It had been communicated from time to time as the exigencies of the people required, and as God chose to communicate it. At one time it was by history, then by prophecy, by poetry, by proverbs, by some solemn and special message, etc. The ancient revelation was a collection of various writings, on different subjects, and given at different times; but now God had addressed us by His Son - the one great Messenger who had come to finish the divine communications, and to give a uniform and connected revelation to mankind. The contrast here is between the numerous separate parts of the revelation given by the prophets, and the oneness of that given by his Son. The word does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament.
And in divers manners - - πολυτρόπως polutropōs. In many ways. It was not all in one mode. He had employed various methods in communicating his will. At one time it was by direct communication, at another by dreams, at another by visions, etc. In regard to the various methods which God employed to communicate his will, see Introduction to Isaiah, section 7. In contradistinction from these, God had now spoken by his Son. He had addressed us in one uniform manner. It was not by dreams, or visions; it was a direct communication from him. The word used here, also, occurs nowhere else in the New Testament.
In times past - Formerly; in ancient times. The series of revelations began, as recorded by Moses, with Adam Genesis 3:0, and terminated with Malachi - a period of more than three thousand five hundred years. From Malachi to the time of the Saviour there were no recorded divine communications, and the whole period of written revelation, or when the divine communications were recorded from Moses to Malachi, was about a thousand years.
Unto the fathers - To our ancestors; to the people of ancient times.
By the prophets - The word “prophet” in the Scriptures is used in a wide signification. It means not only those who predict future events, but these who communicate the divine will on any subject. See Romans 12:6 note; 1 Corinthians 14:1 note. It is used here in that large sense - as denoting all those by whom God had made communications to the Jews in former times.
Hath in these last days - In this the final dispensation; or in this dispensation under which the affairs of the world will be wound up. Phrases similar to this occur frequently in the Scriptures. They do not imply that the world was soon coming to an end, but that that was the “last” dispensation, the “last” period of the world. There had been the patriarchal period, the period under the Law, the prophets, etc., and This was the period during which God’s “last” method of communication would be enjoyed, and under which the world would close. It might be a very long period, but it would be the “last” one; and so far as the meaning of the phrase is concerned, it might be the longest period, or longer than all the others put together, but still it would be the “last” one. See Acts 2:17 note; Isaiah 2:2 note.
Spoken unto us - The word “us” here does not of necessity imply that the writer of the Epistle had actually heard him, or that they had heard him to whom the Epistle was written. It means that God had now communicated his will to man by his Son. It may be said with entire propriety that God has spoken to us by his Son, though we have not personally heard or seen him. We have what he spoke and caused to be recorded for our direction.
By his Son - The title commonly given to the Lord Jesus, as denoting his unique relation to God. It was understood by the Jews to denote equality with God (notes, John 5:18; compare John 10:33, John 10:36), and is used with such a reference here. See notes on Romans 1:4, where the meaning of the phrase “Son of God” is fully considered. It is implied here that the fact that the Son of God has spoken to us imposes the highest obligations to attend to what he has said; that he has an authority superior to all those who have spoken in past times; and that there will be special guilt in refusing to attend to what he has spoken. See Hebrews 2:1-4; compare Hebrews 12:25. The reasons for the superior respect which should be shown to the revelations of the Son of God may be such as these:
(1) His rank and dignity. He is the equal with God John 1:1, and is himself called God in this chapter; Hebrews 1:8. He has a right, therefore, to command, and when he speaks, people should obey.
(2) The clearness of the truths which he communicated to man on a great variety of subjects that are of the highest moment to the world. Revelation has been gradual - like the breaking of the day in the east. At first there is a little light; it increases and expands until objects become more and more visible, and then the sun rises in full-orbed glory. At first we discern only the existence of some object - obscure and undefined; then we can trace its outline; then its color, its size, its proportions, its drapery - until it stands before us fully revealed. So it has been with revelation. There is a great variety of subjects which we now see clearly, which were very imperfectly understood by the teaching of the prophets, and would be now if we had only the Old Testament. Among them are the following:
(a) The character of God. Christ came to make him known as a merciful being, and to show how he could be merciful as well as just. The views given of God by the Lord Jesus are far more clear than any given by the ancient prophets; compared with those entertained by the ancient philosophers, they are like the sun compared with the darkest midnight,
(b) The way in which man may be reconcile to God. The New Testament - which may be considered as what God “has spoken to us by his Son” - has told us how the great work of being reconciled to God can be effected. The Lord Jesus told us that he came to “give his life a ransom for many;” that he laid down his life for his friends; that he was about to die for man; that he would draw all people to him. The prophets indeed - particularly Isaiah - threw much light on these points. But the mass of the people did not understand their revelations. They pertained to future events always difficult to be understood. But Christ has told us the way of salvation, and he has made it so plain that he who runs may read.
(c) The moral precepts of the Redeemer are superior to those of any and all that had gone before him. They are elevated, pure, expansive, benevolent - such as became the Son of God to proclaim. Indeed this is admitted on all hands. Infidels are constrained to acknowledge that all the moral precepts of the Saviour are eminently pure and benignant. If they were obeyed, the world would be filled with justice, truth, purity, and benevolence. Error, fraud, hypocrisy, ambition, wars, licentiousness, and intemperance, would cease; and the opposite virtues would diffuse happiness over the face of the world. Prophets had indeed delivered many moral precepts of great importance, but the purest and most extensive body of just principles of good morals on earth are to be found in the teachings of the Saviour.
(d) He has given to us the clearest view which man has had of the future state; and he has disclosed in regard to that future state a class of truths of the deepest interest to mankind, which were before wholly unknown or only partially revealed.
1. He has revealed the certainty of a state of future existence - in opposition to the Sadducees of all ages. This was denied before he came by multitudes, and where it was not, the arguments by which it was supported were often of the feeblest kind. The “truth” was held by some - like Plato and his followers - but the “arguments” on which they relied were feeble, and such as were untitled to give rest to the soul. The “truth” they had obtained by tradition; the “arguments” were their own.
2. He revealed the doctrine of the resurrection of the body. This before was doubted or denied by nearly all the world. It was held to be absurd and impossible. The Saviour taught its certainty; he raised up more than one to show that it was possible; he was himself raised, to put the whole matter beyond debate.
3. He revealed the certainty of future judgment - the judgment of all mankind.
4. It disclosed great and momentous truths respecting the future state. Before he came, all was dark. The Greeks spoke of Elysian fields, but they were dreams of the imagination; the Hebrews had some faint notion of a future state where all was dark and gloomy, with perhaps an occasional glimpse of the truth that there is a holy and blessed heaven; but to the mass of mind all was obscure. Christ revealed a heaven, and told us of a hell. He showed us that the one might be gained and the other avoided. He presented important motives for doing it; and had he done nothing more, his communications were worthy the profound attention of mankind. I may add:
(3) That the Son of God has claims on our attention from the manner in which he spoke. He spoke as one having “authority;” Matthew 7:29. He spoke as a “witness” of what he saw and knew; John 3:11. He spoke without doubt or ambiguity of God, and heaven, and hell. His is the language of one who is familiar with all that he describes; who saw all, who knew all. There is no hesitancy or doubt in his mind of the truth of what he speaks; and he speaks as if his whole soul were impressed with its unspeakable importance. Never were so momentous communications made to people of hell as fell from the lips of the Lord Jesus (see notes on Matthew 23:33); never were announcements made so suited to awe and appall a sinful world.
Whom he hath appointed heir of all things - see Psalms 2:8; compare notes, Romans 8:17. This is language taken from the fact that he is “the Son of God.” If a son, then he is an heir - for so it is usually among people. This is not to be taken literally, as if he inherits anything as a man does. An heir is one who inherits anything after the death of its possessor - usually his father. But this cannot be applied in this sense to the Lord Jesus. The language is used to denote his rank and dignity as the Son of God. As such all things are his, as the property of a father descends to his son at his death. The word rendered “heir” - κληρονόμος klēronomos - means properly:
(1) One who acquires anything by lot; and,
(2) An “heir” in the sense in which we usually understand the word. It may also denote a “possessor” of anything received as a portion, or of property of any kind; see Romans 4:13-14. It is in every instance rendered “heir” in the New Testament. Applied to Christ, it means that as the Son of God he is possessor or lord of all things, or that all things are his; compare Acts 2:36; Acts 10:36; John 17:10; John 16:15. “All things that the Father hath are mine.” The sense is, that all things belong to the Son of God. Who is so “rich” then as Christ? Who so able to endow his friends with enduring and abundant wealth?
By whom - By whose agency; or who was the actual agent in the creation. Grotins supposes that this means, “on account of whom;” and that the meaning is, that the universe was formed with reference to the Messiah, in accordance with an ancient Jewish maxim. But the more common and Classical usage of the word rendered “by” (διὰ dia), when it governs a genitive, as here, is to denote the instrumental cause; the agent by which anything is done; see Matthew 1:22; Matthew 2:5, Matthew 2:15, Matthew 2:23; Luke 18:31; John 2:17; Acts , Acts 2:22, Acts 2:43; Acts 4:16; Acts 12:9; Romans 2:16; Romans 5:5. It may be true that the universe was formed with reference to the glory of the Son of God, and that this world was brought into being in order to show his glory; but it would not do to establish that doctrine on a passage like this. Its obvious and proper meaning is, that he was the agent of the creation - a truth that is abundantly taught elsewhere; see John 1:3, John 1:10; Colossians 1:16; Ephesians 3:9; 1 Corinthians 8:6. This sense, also, better agrees with the design of the apostle in this place. His object is to set forth the dignity of the Son of God. This is better shown by the consideration that he was the creator of all things, than that all things were made for him.
The worlds - The universe, or creation. So the word here - αἰών aiōn - is undoubtedly used in Hebrews 11:3. The word properly means “age” - an indefinitely long period of time; then perpetuity, ever, eternity - “always” being. For an extended investigation of the meaning of the word, the reader may consult an essay by Prof. Stuart, in the Spirit of the Pilgrims, for 1829, pp. 406-452. From the sense of “age,” or “duration,” the word comes to denote the present and future age; the present world and the world to come; the present world, with all its cares, anxieties, and evils; the people of this world - a wicked generation, etc. Then it means the world - the material universe creation as it is. The only perfectly clear use of the word in this sense in the New Testament is in Hebrews 11:3, and there there can be no doubt. “Through faith we understand that the worlds were made by the Word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.” The passage before us will bear the same interpretation, and this is the most obvious and intelligible. What would be the meaning of saying that the “ages” or “dispensations” were made by the Son of God? The Hebrews used the word - צולם ‛owlaam - in the same sense. It properly means “age, duration;” and thence it came to be used by them to denote the world - made up of “ages” or generations; and then the world itself. This is the fair, and, as it seems to me, the only intelligible interpretation of this passage - an interpretation amply sustained by texts referred to above as demonstrating that the universe was made by the agency of the Son of God. Compare Hebrews 1:10 note, and John 1:3 note.
Who being the brightness of his glory - This verse is designed to state the dignity and exalted rank of the Son of God, and is exceedingly important with reference to a correct view of the Redeemer. Every word which is employed is of great importance, and should be clearly understood in order to a correct apprehension of the passage. First, in what manner does it refer to the Redeemer? To his divine nature? To the mode of his existence before he was incarnate? Or to him as he appeared on earth? Most of the ancient commentators supposed that it referred to his divine dignity before he became incarnate, and proceed to argue on that supposition on the mode of the divine existence. The true solution seems to me to be, that it refers to him as incarnate, but still has reference to him as the incarnate “Son of God.” It refers to him as Mediator, but not simply or mainly as a man. It is rather to him as divine - thus, in his incarnation, being the brightness of the divine glory, and the express image of God. That this is the correct view is apparent, I think, from the whole scope of the passage. The drift of the argument is, to show his dignity as “he has spoken to us” Hebrews 1:1, and not in the period antecedent to his incarnation. It is to show his claims to our reverence as sent from God - the last and greatest of the messengers which God bas sent to man. But, then it is a description of him “as he actually is” - the incarnate Son of God; the equal of the Father in human flesh; and this leads the writer to dwell on his divine, character, and to argue from that; Hebrews 1:8, Hebrews 1:10-12. I have no doubt, therefore, that this description refers to his divine nature, but it is the divine nature as it appears in human flesh. An examination of the words used will prepare us for a more clear comprehension of the sense. The word “glory” - δόξα doxa - means properly “a seeming, an appearance;” and then:
(1)Praise, applause, honor:
(2)Dignity, splendor, glory;
(3)Brightness, dazzling light; and,
(4)Excellence, perfection, such as belongs to God and such as there is in heaven.
It is probably used here, as the word - כבוד kaabowd - is often among the Hebrews, to denote splendor, brightness, and refers to the divine perfections as resembling a bright light, or the sun. The word is applied to the sun and stars, 1 Corinthians 15:40-41; to the light which Paul saw on the way to Damascus, Acts 22:11; to the shining of Moses’ face, 2 Corinthians 3:7; to the celestial light which surrounds the angels, Revelation 18:1; and glorified saints, Luke 9:31-32; and to the dazzling splendor or majesty in which God is enthroned; 2 Thessalonians 1:9; 2 Peter 1:17; Revelation 15:8; Revelation 21:11, Revelation 21:23. Here there is a comparison of God with the sun; he is encompassed with splendor and majesty; he is a being of light and of infinite perfection. It refers to “all in God” that is bright, splendid, glorious; and the idea is, that the Son of God is the “brightness” of it all.
The word rendered “brightness” - ἀπαύγασμα apaugasma - occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. It means properly “reflected splendor,” or the light which emanates from a luminous body. The rays or beams of the sun are its “brightness,” or that by which the sun is seen and known. The sun itself we do not see; the beams which flow from it we do see. The meaning here is, that if God be represented under the image of a luminous body, as he is in the Scriptures (see Psalms 84:11; Malachi 4:2), then Christ is the radiance of that light, the brightness of that luminary - Stuart. He is that by which we perceive God, or by which God is made known to us in his real perfections; compare John 1:18; John 14:9. - It is by him only that the true character and glory of God is known to people. This is true in regard to the great system of revelation but it is especially true in regard to the views which people have of God. Matthew 11:27 - “no man knoweth the Son but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him.”
The human soul is dark respecting the divine character until it is enlightened by Christ. It sees no beauty, no glory in his nature - nothing that excites wonder, or that wins the affections, until it is disclosed by the Redeemer. somehow it happens, account for it as people may, that there are no elevating practical views of God in the world; no views that engage and hold the affections of the soul; no views that are transforming and purifying, but those which are derived from the Lord Jesus. A man becomes a Christian, and at once he has elevated, practical views of God. He is to him the most glorious of all beings. He finds supreme delight in contemplating his perfections. But he may be a philosopher or an infidel, and though he may profess to believe in the existence of God, yet the belief excites no practical influence on him; he sees nothing to admire; nothing which leads him to worship him; compare Romans 1:21.
And the express image - The word used here - χαρακτὴρ charaktēr - likewise occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. It is that from which our word “character” is derived. It properly means a “engraving-tool;” and then something “engraved” or “stamped” - “a character” - as a letter, mark, sign. The image stamped on coins, seals, wax, expresses the idea: and the sense here is, that if God be represented under the idea of a substance, or being, then Christ is the exact resemblance of that - as an image is of the stamp or die. The resemblance between a stamp and the figure which is impressed is exact; and so is the resemblance between the Redeemer and God; see Colossians 1:15. “Who is the image of the invisible God.”
Of his person - The word “person” with us denotes an individual being, and is applied to human beings, consisting of body and soul. We do not apply it to anything dead - not using it with reference to the body when the spirit is gone. It is applied to man - with individual and separate consciousness and will; with body and soul; with an existence separate from others. It is evident that it cannot be used in this sense when applied to God, and that this word does not express the true idea of the passage here. Tyndale renders it, more accurately, “substance.” The word in the original - ὑπόστασις hupostasis - whence our word “hypostasis,” means, literally, a “foundation,” or “substructure.” Then it means a well-founded trust, firm expectation, confidence, firmness, boldness; and then “reality, substance, essential nature.” In the New Testament, it is rendered “confident,” or “confidence” 2 Corinthians 9:4; 2 Corinthians 11:17; Hebrews 3:14; “substance” Hebrews 11:1; and “person” in the passage before us. It is not used elsewhere. Here it properly refers to the essential nature of God - what distinguishes him from all other beings, and which, if I may so say, “constitutes him God;” and the idea is, that the Redeemer is the exact resemblance of “that.” This resemblance consists, probably, in the following things - though perhaps the enumeration does not include all - but in these he certainly resembles God, or is his exact image:
(1) In his original mode of being, or before the incarnation. Of this we know little. But he had a “glory with the Father before the world was;” John 17:5. He was “in the beginning with God, and was God;” John 1:1. He was in intimate union with the Father, and was one with Him, in certain respects; though in certain other respects, there was a distinction. I do not see any evidence in the Scriptures of the doctrine of “eternal generation,” and it is certain that that doctrine militates against the “proper eternity” of the Son of God. The natural and fair meaning of that doctrine would be, that there was a time when he had not an existence, and when he began to be, or was begotten. But the Scripture doctrine is, that he had a strict and proper eternity. I see no evidence that he was in any sense a “derived being” - deriving his existence and his divinity from the Father. The Fathers of the Christian church, it is believed, held that the Son of God as to his divine, as well as his human nature, was “derived” from the Father. Hence, the Nicene creed speaks of him as “begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten not made” - language implying derivation in his divine nature. They held, with one voice, that he was God (divine); but it was in this manner; see Stuart, Excursus III. on the Epistle to the Hebrews. But this is incredible and impossible. A derived being cannot in any proper sense be “God”; and if there is any attribute which the Scriptures have ascribed to the Saviour with special clearness, it is that of proper eternity; Revelation 1:11, Revelation 1:17; John 1:1.
(Perhaps the doctrine of Christ’s natural or eternal Sonship had been as well understood without the help of the term “generation,” which adds nothing to our stock of ideas on the subject, and gives rise, as the above remarks prove, to objections which attach altogether to the “word,” and from which the “doctrine” itself is free. In fairness however, it should be remembered that, like many other theological terms, the term in question, when applied to Christ’s Sonship, is not to be understood in the ordinary acceptation, as implying derivation or extraction. It is used as making some approach to a proper term only, and in this case, as in others of like nature, it is but just to respect the acknowledged rule that when human phraseology is employed concerning the divine nature, all that is imperfect, all that belongs to the creature, is to be rejected, and that only retained which comports with the majesty of the Creator. It is on this very principle that Prof. Stuart, in his first excursus, and Trinitarians generally, have so successfully defended the use of the word “person” to designate a distinction in the Godhead. Overlooking this principle, our author deduces consequences from the doctrine of eternal generation, which do not properly belong to it, and which its advocates distinctly repudiate.
That doctrine cannot militate against the proper eternity of the Son, since, while it uses the term “generation,” not “more human,” but with every thing of human informity separated from it, it supplies also the adjunct “eternal.” Whatever some indiscreet advocates of the eternal Sonship may have affirmed, it should never be forgotten, that the ablest friends equally with the author, contend that there is no “Derivation or communication of essence from the Father to the Son.” “Although the terms “Father” and “Son” indicate a relation analogous to that among people, yet, as in the latter case, it is a relation between two material and separate beings, and in the former, is a relation in the same Spiritual essence, the one can throw no light upon the other; and to attempt to illustrate the one by the other is equally illogical and presumptuous. We can conceive the communication of a material essence by one material being to another, because it takes place in the generation of animals; but the communication of a spiritual, indivisible, immutable essence is altogether inconceivable, especially when we add, that the supposed communication does not constitute a different being, but takes place in the essences communicating.”
Dick’s Theology, vol. 2, page 71. It is readily allowed that the Fathers, and many since their times, have written unguardedly on this mysterious subject: but their errors, instead of leading us to reject the doctrine entirely, should lead us only to examine the Scriptures more fully, and form our opinions on them alone. The excellent author already quoted has well remarked: “I cannot conceive what object they have in view who admit the Divinity, but deny the natural Sonship of our Saviour, unless it be to get rid of the strange notions about communication of essence and subordination which have prevailed so much; and in this case, like too many disputants, in avoiding one extreme, they run into the other.”)
It may have been that it was by him that the perfections of God were made known before the incarnation to the angelic world, but on that point the Scriptures are silent.
(2) On earth he was the brightness of the divine glory, and the express image of his person:
- It was by him, eminently, that God was made known to human beings - as it is by the beams of the sun that that is made known.
- He bore an exact resemblance to God. He was just such a being as we should suppose God to be were he to become incarnate, and to act as a man.
He was the embodied representation of the Deity. He was pure - like God. He was benevolent - like God. He spake to the winds and storms - like God. He healed diseases - like God. He raised the dead - like God. He wielded the power which God only can wield, and he manifested a character in all respects like what we should suppose God would evince if he appeared in human flesh, and dwelt among people and this is saying much. It is in fact saying that the account in the Gospels is real, and that the Christian religion is true. Uninspired men could never have drawn such a character as that of Jesus Christ, unless that character had actually existed. The attempt has often been made to describe God, or to show how be would speak and act if he came down to earth.
Thus, the Hindus speak of the incarnations of Vishnu; and thus Homer, and Virgil, and most of the ancient poets, speak of the appearance of the gods, and describe them as they were supposed to appear. But how different from the character of the Lord Jesus! they are full of passion, and lust, and anger, and contention, and strife; they come to mingle in battles, and to take part with contending armies, and they evince the same spirit as men, and are merely “men of great power, and more gigantic passions; “but Christ is God in human nature. The form is that of man; the spirit is that of God. He walks, and eats, and sleeps as a man; he thinks, and speaks, and acts like God. He was born as a man - but the angels adored him as God. As a man he ate; yet by a word he created food for thousands, as if he were God. Like a man he slept on a pillow while the vessel was tossed by the waves; like God be rose, and rebuked the winds and they were still. As a man he went, with affectionate interest, to the house of Martha and Mary. As a man he sympathized with them in their affliction, and wept at the grave of their brother; like God he spoke, and the dead came forth to the land of the living. As a man he traveled through the land of Judea. He was without a home. Yet everywhere the sick were laid at his feet, and health came from his touch, and strength from the words of his lips as if he were God. As a man he prayed in the garden of Gethsemane; he bore his cross to Calvary; he was nailed to the tree: yet then the heavens grew dark, and the earth shook and the dead arose as if he were God. As a man he slept in the cold tomb - like God he rose, and brought life and immortality to light.
He lived on earth as a man - he ascended to heaven like God. And in all the life of the Redeemer, in all the variety of trying situations in which he was placed, there was not a word or action which was inconsistent with the supposition that he was the incarnate God. There was no failure of any effort to heal the sick or to raise the dead; no look, no word, no deed that is not perfectly consistent with this supposition; but on the contrary, his life is full of events which can be explained on no other supposition than that he was the appropriate shining forth of the divine glory, and the exact resemblance of the essence of God. There are not two Gods - as there are not two suns when the sun shines. It is the one God, in a mysterious and incomprehensible manner shining into the world in the face of Jesus Christ. See note on 2 Corinthians 4:6. As the wax bears the perfect image of the seal - perfect not only in the outline, but in the filling up - in all the lines, and features, and letters, so is it with the Redeemer. There is not one of the divine perfections which has not the counterpart in him, and if the glory of the divine character is seen at all by people, it will be seen in and through him.
And upholding all things by the word of his power - That is, by his powerful word, or command. The phrase “word of his power” is a Hebraism, and means his efficient command. There could not be a more distinct ascription of divinity to the Son of God than this. He upholds or sustains all things - that is, the universe. It is not merely the earth; not only its rocks, mountains, seas, animals and human beings, but it is the universe - all distant worlds. How can he do this who is not God? He does it by his word - his command. What a conception! That one simple command should do all this! So the world was made when God “spake and it was done; he commanded and it stood fast;” Psalms 33:9. So the Lord Jesus commanded the waves and the winds, and they were still Matthew 8:26-27; so he spoke to diseases and they departed, and to the dead land they arose; compare Genesis 1:3. I do know how people can “explain away” this ascription of infinite power to the Redeemer. There can be no higher idea of omnipotence than to say that he upholds all things by his word; and assuredly he who can “hold up” this vast universe so that it does not sink into anarchy or into nothing, must be God. The same power Jesus claimed for himself; see Matthew 28:18.
When he had by himself purged our sins - “By himself” - not by the blood of bulls and lambs, but by his own blood. This is designed to bring in the grand feature of the Christian scheme, that the purification made for sin was by his blood, instead of the blood which was shed in the temple-service. The word rendered here “purged” means “purified” or “expiated;” see notes on John 15:2. The literal rendering is, “having made purification for our sins.” The purification or cleansing which he effected was by his blood; see 1 John 1:7 “The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin.” This the apostle here states to have been the great object for which he came, and having done this, he sat down on the right hand of God; see Hebrews 7:27; Hebrews 9:12-14. It was not merely to teach that he came; it was to purify the hearts of people, to remove their sins, and to put an end to sacrifice by the sacrifice of himself.
Sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high - Of God; see the notes on Mark 16:19; Ephesians 1:20-23.
Being made so much better - Being exalted so much above the angels. The word “better” here does not refer to moral character, but to exaltation of rank. As Mediator; as the Son of God in our nature, he is exalted far above the angels.
Than the angels - Than all angels of every rank; see notes on Ephesians 1:21; compare 1 Peter 3:22. “Angels, and authorities, and powers being made subject unto him.” He is exalted to his mediatorial throne, and all things are placed beneath his feet.
As he hath by inheritance - Or in virtue of his name - the Son of God; an exaltation such as is implied in that name. As a son has a rank in a family above servants; as he has a control over the property above that which servants have, so it is with the Mediator. He is the Son of God: angels are the servants of God, and the servants of the church. They occupy a place in the universe compared with what he occupies, similar to the place which servants in a family occupy compared with that which a son has. To illustrate and prove this is the design of the remainder of this chapter. The argument which the apostle insists on is, that the title “the Son of God is to be given to him alone. It has been conferred on no others. Though the angels, and though saints are called in general “sons of God,” yet the title” the Son of God” has been given to him only. As the apostle was writing to Hebrews, he makes his appeal to the Hebrew Scriptures alone for the confirmation of this opinion.
A more excellent name - To wit, the name Son. It is a more honorable and exalted name than has ever been bestowed on them. It involves more exalted privileges, and entitles him on whom it is bestowed to higher respect and honor than any name ever bestowed on them.
For unto which of the angels ... - The object of this is, to prove that the Son of God, who has spoken to people in these last days, is superior to the angels. As the apostle was writing to those who had been trained in the Jewish religion, and who admitted the authority of the Old Testament, of course he made his appeal to that, and undoubtedly referred for proof to those places which were generally admitted to relate to the Messiah. Abarbanel says, that it was the common opinion of the Jewish doctors that the Messiah would be exalted above Abraham, Moses, and the angels - Stuart. There is a difficulty, as we shall see, in applying the passages which follow to the Messiah - a difficulty which we may find it not easy to explain. Some remarks will be made on the particular passages as we go along. In general it may be observed here:
(1) That it is to be presumed that those passages were in the time of Paul applied to the Messiah. He seems to argue from them as though this was commonly understood, and is at no pains to prove it.
(2) It is to be presumed that those to whom he wrote would at once admit this to be so. If this were not so, we cannot suppose that he would regard this mode of reasoning as at all efficacious, or adapted to convince those to whom he wrote.
(3) He did not apprehend that the application which he made of these texts would be called in question by the countrymen of those to whom he wrote. It is to be presumed, therefore, that the application was made in accordance with the received opinions, and the common interpretation.
(4) Paul had been instructed in early life in the doctrines of the Jewish religion, and made fully acquainted with all their principles of interpretation. It is to be presumed, therefore, that he made these quotations in accordance with the prevalent belief, and with principles which were well understood and admitted.
(5) Every age and people have their own modes of reasoning. They may differ from others, and others may regard them as unsound, and yet to that age and people they are satisfactory and conclusive. The ancient philosophers employed modes of reasoning which would not strike us as the most forcible, and which perhaps we should not regard as tenable. So it is with the Chinese, the Hindus, the Muslims now. So it was with the writers of the dark ages who lived under the influence of the scholastic philosophy. They argue from admitted principles in their country and time - just as we do in ours. Their reasoning was as satisfactory to them as ours is to us.
(6) In a writer of any particular age we are to expect to find the prevailing mode of reasoning, and appeals to the usual arguments on any subject. We are not to look for methods of argument founded on the inductive philosophy in the writings of the schoolmen, or in the writings of the Chinese or the Hindus. It would be unreasonable to expect it. We are to expect that they will be found to reason in accordance with the customs of their time; to appeal to such arguments as were commonly alleged; and if they are reasoning with an adversary, “to make use of the points which he concedes,” and to urge them as suited to convince “him.” And this is not wrong. It may strike him with more force than it does us; it may be that we can see that is not the most solid mode of reasoning, but still it may not be in itself an improper method. That the writers of the New Testament should have used that mode of reasoning sometimes, is no more surprising than that we find writers in China reasoning from acknowledged principles, and in the usual manner there, or than that people in our own land reason on the principles of the inductive philosophy. These remarks may not explain all the difficulties in regard to the proof-texts adduced by Paul in this chapter, but they may remove some of them, and may so prepare the way that we may be able to dispose of them all as we advance. In the passage which is quoted in this verse, there is not much difficulty in regard to the propriety of its being thus used. The difficulty lies in the subsequent quotations in the chapter.
Said he at any time - He never used language respecting the angels like what he employs respecting his Son. He never applied to any one of them the name Son. “Thou art my Son.” The name “sons of God,” is applied in the Scriptures to saints, and may have been given to the angels. But the argument here is, that the name, my “Son” has never been given to any one of them particularly and by eminence. In a large general sense, they are the sons of God, or the children of God, but the name is given to the Lord Jesus, the Messiah, in a special sense, implying a unique relation to him, and a special dominion over all things. This passage is quoted from Psalms 2:1-12; - a Psalm that is usually believed to pertain particularly to the Messiah, and one of the few Psalms that have undisputed reference to him; see notes on Acts 4:25; Acts 13:33.
This day - see notes on Acts 13:33, where this passage is applied to the resurrection of Christ from the dead: proving that the phrase “this day” does not refer to the doctrine of eternal generation, but to the resurrection of the Redeemer - “the first-begotten of the dead:” Revelation 1:5. Thus, Theodoret says of the phrase “this day,” “it does not express his eternal generation, but what is connected with time.” The argument of the apostle here does not turn on the time when this was said, but on the fact that this was said to him and not to any one of the angels, and this argument will have equal force whether the phrase be understood as referring to the fact of his resurrection, or to his previous existence. The structure and scope of the second Psalm refers to his exaltation after the kings of the earth set themselves against him, and endeavored to cast off His government from them. In spite of that, and subsequent to that, he would set his king, which they had rejected, on his holy hill of Zion; see Psalms 2:2-6.
Have I begotten thee - See this place explained in the notes on Acts 13:33. It must, from the necessity of the case, be understood figuratively; and must mean, substantially, “I have constituted, or appointed thee.” If it refers to his resurrection, it means that that resurrection was a kind of “begetting” to life, or, a beginning of life; see Revelation 1:5.
And yet though Paul Acts 13:33 has applied it to the resurrection of the Redeemer, and though the name “Son of God” is applied to him on account of his resurrection (see notes on Romans 1:4), yet I confess this does not seem to me to come up to “all” that the writer here intended. The phrase,” The Son of God,” I suppose, properly denotes that the Lord Jesus sustained a relation to God, designated by that name, corresponding to the relations which he sustained to man, designated by the name “the Son of man.” The one implied that he had a special relation to God, as the other implied that he had a special relation to man. This is indisputable. But on what particular account the name was given him, or how he was manifested to be the Son of God, has been the great question. Whether the name refers to the mode of his existence before the incarnation, and to his “being begotten from eternity,” or to the incarnation and the resurrection, has long been a point on which people have been divided in opinion.
The natural idea conveyed by the title “the Son of God” is, that he sustained a relation to God which implied more than was human or angelic; and this is certainly the drift of the argument of the apostle here. I do not see, however, that he refers to the doctrine of “eternal generation,” or that he means to teach that. His point is, that God had declared and treated him as “a Son” - as superior to the angels and to human beings, and that this was shown in what had been said of him in the Old Testament. This would be equally clear, whether there is reference to the doctrine of eternal generation or not. The sense is, “he is more than human.” He is more than angelic. He has been addressed and treated as a Son - which none of the angels have. They are regarded simply as ministering spirits. They sustain subordinate stations, and are treated accordingly. He, on the contrary, is the brightness of the divine glory.
He is treated and addressed as a Son. In his original existence this was so. In his incarnation this was so. When on earth this was so; and in his resurrection, ascension, and session at the right hand of God, he was treated in all respects “as a Son” - as superior to all servants, and to all ministering spirits.” The exact reference, then, of the phrase “this day have I begotten thee,” in the Psalm, is to the act of “constituting” him in a public manner the Son of God - and refers to God’s setting him as king on the “holy hill of Zion” - or making him king over the church and the world as Messiah; and this was done, eminently, as Paul shows Acts 13:0, by the resurrection. It was based, however, on what was fit and proper. It was not arbitrary. There was a reason why he should thus be exalted rather than a man or an angel; and this was, that he was the God incarnate, and had a nature that qualified him for universal empire, and he was thus “appropriately” called “the Son of God.”
(No doctrine is advanced, by pressing into its service, such texts as sound criticism declares not strictly to belong to it. Yet, without doubt, many advocates of the eternal Sonship have done violence to this passage, with the design of upholding their views. That doctrine, however, happily is not dependent on a single text; and ample ground will remain for its friends, even if we admit, as in candor we must, that our author has fully made out his case against this text as a proof one. It seems clear, that neither σήμερον sēmeron nor its corresponding היום haayowm can denote eternity; of such signification there is no example. The sense is uniformly confined to limited duration, Psalms 95:7; Hebrews 4:7. The order of the second Psalm, too, certainly does prove that the “begetting” took place after the opposition which the kings and rulers made to Christ, and not prior to it. Accordingly, the text is quoted elsewhere in reference to the resurrection of Christ, Romans 1:4; Acts 13:33. Besides, the chief design of the apostle in the place is not so much to show why Christ is called the Son of God, as simply to direct attention to the fact that he has this name, on the possession of which the whole argument is founded. He inherits a name which is never given to angels, and that of itself is proof of his superiority to them, whether we suppose the ground of the title to lie in his previous existence, or, with our author, in his incarnate Deity. But on this question, it must be admitted, that the passage determines nothing.
All this is substantially allowed by Owen, than whom a more stanch supporter of the doctrine of eternal Sonship cannot be named. “The apostle, in this place,” says he, “does not treat of the eternal generation of the Son, but of His exaltation and pre-eminence above angels. The word also, היום haayowm, constantly in the Scripture, denotes some signal time, one day, or more. And that expression, ‘this day have I begotten thee,’ following immediately upon that other typical one, ‘I have set my King upon my holy hill of Zion,’ seems to be of the same import, and in like manner to be interpreted.” On the general doctrine of the Sonship, the author has stated his views both here and elsewhere. That it is eternal or has its origin in the previous existence of Christ, he will not allow. It is given to the second person of the Trinity because he became God incarnate, so that but for the incarnation and the economy of redemption, he would not have had this name. But the eternal Sonship of Christ rests on a body of evidence, that will not soon or easily be set aside. See that evidence adduced in a supplementary Note under Romans 1:4. Meanwhile we would simply ask the reader, if it do not raise our idea of the love of God, in the mission of Christ, to suppose that he held the dear relation of Son previous to His coming - that being the Son, he was sent to prove what a sacrifice the Father could make, in yielding up one so near, and so dear. But this astonishing evidence of love, if not destroyed, is greatly weakened, by the supposition that there was no Sonship until the sending of Christ. See also supplementary note under Hebrews 1:3.)
“And again, I will be to him a Father.” This passage is evidently quoted from 2 Samuel 7:14. A sentiment similar to this is found in Psalms 89:20-27. As these words were originally spoken, they referred to Solomon. They occur in a promise to David that he should not fail to have an heir to sit on his throne, or that his throne should be perpetual. The promise was particularly designed to comfort him in view of the fact that God would not suffer him to build the temple because his hands had been defiled with blood. To console him in reference to that, God promises him far greater honor than that would be. He promises that the house should be built by one of his own family, and that his family and kingdom should be established forever. That in this series of promises the “Messiah” was included as a descendant of David, was the common opinion of the Jews, of the early Christians, and has been of the great body of interpreters.
It was certainly from such passages as this, that the Jews derived the notion which prevailed so universally in the time of the Saviour that the Messiah was to be the son or the descendant of David; see Matthew 22:42-45; Matthew 9:27; Matthew 15:22; Matthew 20:30-31; Mark 10:47-48; Luke 18:38-39; Matthew 12:23; Matthew 21:9; John 7:42; Romans 1:3; Revelation 5:5; Revelation 22:16. That opinion was universal. No one doubted it; and it must have been common for the Jews to apply such texts as this to the Messiah. Paul would not have done it in this instance unless it had been usual. Nor was it improper. If the Messiah was to be a descendant of David, then it was natural to apply these promises in regard to his posterity in an eminent and special sense to the Messiah. They were a part of the promises which included him, and which terminated in him. The promise, therefore, which is here made is, that God would be to him, in a special sense, a Father, and he should be a Son. It does not, as I suppose, pertain originally exclusively to the Messiah, but included him as a descendant of David. To him it would be applicable in an eminent sense; and if applicable to him at all, it proved all that the passage here is adduced to prove - that the name “Son” is given to the Messiah - a “name” not given to angels.
That is just the point on which the argument turns. What is implied in the bestowment of that name is another point on which the apostle discourses in the other parts of the argument. I have no doubt, therefore, that while these words originally might have been applicable to Solomon, or to any of the other descendants of David who succeeded him on the throne, yet they at last terminated, and were designed to terminate in the Messiah - to whom pre-eminently God would be a Father; compare the introduction to Isaiah, section 7, iii. (3), and the notes on Isaiah 7:16.
(The promise, doubtless, had a special reference to the Messiah. Nay, we may safely assert, that the chief reference was to him, for in the case of typical persons and things what they adumbrate is principally to be regarded. So here, though the original application of the passage be to Solomon, the type of Christ, yet it finds its great and ultimate application in the person of the glorious antitype. However strange this double application may seem to us, it is quite in accordance with the whole system of things under the Jewish dispensation. Almost everything connected with it was constructed on this typical principle. This the apostles understood so well, that they were never stumbled by it, and what is remarkable, and of the last importance on this subject, “never for a moment drawn from the ultimate and chief design of a promise or prophecy” by its primary reference to the type. They saw Christ in it, and made the application solely to him, passing over entirely the literal sense, and seizing at once the ultimate and superior import. The very passage in question 2 Samuel 7:11-17, is thus directly applied not only here, but throughout the New Testament; Luke 1:32-33; Acts 2:30, Acts 2:37; Acts 13:22-23. Now certainly the apostles are the best judges in matters of this kind. Their authority, in regard to the sense of passages quoted by them from the Old Testament, is just as great as in the case of the original matter of the New Testament. That Christ was indeed principally intended is further evident from the fact, that “when the kingdom had passed from the house of David,” succeeding prophets repeat the promise in 2 Samuel 7:0: as yet to be fulfilled. See Jeremiah 33:14, Jeremiah 33:26. Now connecting this fact with the direct assertion of the writer of the New Testament above referred to, every doubt must be removed.
It will be alleged, however, that while the direct application to the Messiah, of this and other prophecies, is obvious and authoritative, it is yet desirable, and they who deny inspiration will insist on it as essential, to prove that there is at least nothing in the original places, whence the citations are made, inconsistent with such application. Such proof seems to be especially requisite here; for immediately after the words, “I will be his Father and he shall be my Son,” there follows: “if he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men,” 2 Samuel 7:14; which last sentence, it is affirmed, cannot, in any sense, be applicable to the Messiah. It has been said in reply, that though such language cannot be applied to Christ “personally,” it may yet refer to him as the “covenant head” of his people. Though there be no iniquity in him, “such fallings and transgressions as disannul not the covenant, often fall out on their part for whom he undertaketh therein.” In accordance with this view, it has been observed by Mr. Pierce, and others after him, that the Hebrew relative pronoun אשׁר 'asher should be translated “whosoever;” in which case, the sense is, whosoever of his “children,” that is, the Messiah’s, shall commit iniquity, etc. And to this effect indeed is the alteration of the words in Psalms 89:0, where the original covenant is repeated, “if his children forsake my law - then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes.”
Perhaps, however, the better solution of the difficulty is what at once admits, that the words in question cannot apply to the antitype but to the type only. It is a mistake to suppose, that in a typical passage every thing must necessarily have its antitypical reference. The reader will find some excellent and apposite remarks on this subject in Dr. Owen’s commentary on the place. “No type,” says that judicious writer, “was in all things a type of Christ, but only in that particular wherein he was designed of God so to be. David was a type of Christ, but not in all things that he was and did. In his conquests of the enemies of the church, in his throne and kingdom, he was so; but in his private actions, whether as a man, or as a king, or captain, he was not so. Nay, not all things spoken of him that was a type, even in those respects wherein he was a type, are spoken of him as a type, or have any respect unto the thing signified, but some of them may belong to him in his personal capacity only. And the reason is, that he who was a type by God’s institution, might morally fail in the performance of his duty, even then and in those things wherein he was a type. And this wholly removes the difficulty connected with the words ‘if he sin against me;’ for those words relating to the moral duty of Solomon, in that wherein he was a type of Christ, namely, the rule and administration of his kingdom, may not at all belong to Christ, who was prefigured by God’s institution of things, and not in any moral deportment in the observance of them.”
These observations seem to contain the true principles of explication in this and similar cases. The solution of Prof. Stuart is not materially different. “Did not God,” says he, “engage, that David should have successors on his ‘earthly’ throne, and also that he ‘should’ have a son who would sit on a ‘spiritual’ throne, and have a kingdom of which David’s own was but a mere type? Admitting this, our difficulty is diminished if not removed. “The iniquity committed is predicated of that part of David’s seed, who might commit it,” that is, his successors on the ‘national’ throne, while the more exalted condition predicated of his successor, belongs to Him to whom was given a kingdom over all.”)
And again - Margin, “When he bringeth in again.” The proper construction of this sentence probably is, “But when, moreover, he brings in,” etc. The word “again” refers not to the fact that the Son of God is brought “again” into the world, implying that he had been introduced before; but it refers to the course of the apostle’s argument, or to the declaration which is made about the Messiah in another place. “The name Son is not only given to him as above, but also in another place, or on another occasion when he brings in the first-begotten into the world.” “When he bringeth in.” When he introduces. So far as the “language” here is concerned this might refer to the birth of the Messiah, but it is evident from the whole connection that the writer means to refer to something that is said in the Old Testament. This is plain because the passage occurs among quotations designed to prove a specific point - that the Son of God, the Author of the Christian system, was superior to the angels.
A declaration of the writer here, however true and solemn, would not have answered the purpose. A “proof-text” was missing; a text which would be admitted by those to whom he wrote to bear on the point under consideration. The meaning then is, “that on another occasion different from those to which he had referred, God, when speaking of the Messiah, or when introducing him to mankind, had used language showing that he was superior to the angels.” The meaning of the phrase, “when he bringeth in,” therefore, I take to be, when he introduces him to people; when he makes him known to the world - to wit, by the declaration which he proceeds immediately to quote. “The first-begotten.” Christ is called the “first-begotten,” with reference to his resurrection from the dead, in Revelation 1:5, and Colossians 1:18. It is probable here, however, that the word is used, like the word “first-born,” or “first-begotten” among the Hebrews, by way of eminence.
As the first-born was the principal heir, and had special privileges, so the Lord Jesus Christ sustains a similar rank in the universe of which God is the Head and Father; see notes on John 1:14, where the word “only-begotten” is used to denote the dignity and honor of the Lord Jesus. “Into the world.” When he introduces him to mankind, or declares what he is to be. “He saith, And let all the angels of God worship him.” Much difficulty has been experienced in regard to this quotation, for it cannot be denied that it is intended to be a quotation. In the Septuagint these very words occur in Deuteronomy 32:43, where they are inserted in the Song of Moses. But they are not in the Hebrew, nor are they in all the copies of the Septuagint. The Hebrew is, “Rejoice, O ye nations with his people; for he will avenge the blood of his servants, and will render vengeance to his adversaries.” The Septuagint is, “Rejoice ye heavens with him; and let all the angels of God worship him. Let the nations rejoice with his people, and let all the sons of God be strong in him, for he has avenged the blood of his sons.” But there are objections to our supposing that the apostle had this place in his view, which seem to me to settle the matter.
(1) One is, that the passage is not in the Hebrew; and it seems hardly credible that in writing to Hebrews, and to those residing in the very country where the Hebrew Scriptures were constantly used, he should adduce as a proof-text on an important doctrine what was not in their Scriptures.
(2) A second is, that it is omitted in all the ancient versions except the Septuagint.
(3) A third is, that it is impossible to believe that the passage in question in Deuteronomy had any reference to the Messiah. It does not relate to his “introduction” to the world. It would not occur to any reader that it had any such reference. The context celebrates the victory over the enemies of Israel which God will achieve. After saying that “his arrows would be drunk with blood, and that his sword would devour flesh with the blood of the slain and of captives, from the time when he began to take vengeance on an enemy,” the Septuagint (not the Hebrew) immediately asserts, “let the heavens rejoice at the same time with him, and let all the angels of God worship him.” That is, “Let the inhabitants of the heavenly world rejoice in the victory of God over the enemies of his people, and let them pay their adoration to him.” But the Messiah does not appear to be alluded to anywhere in the context; much less described as “introduced into the world.”
There is, moreover, not the slightest evidence that it was ever supposed by the Jews to have any such reference; and though it might be said that the apostle merely quoted “language” that expressed his meaning - as we often do when we are familiar with any well-known phrase that will exactly suit our purpose and convey an idea - yet it should be remarked that this is not the way in which this passage is quoted. It is a “proof-text,” and Paul evidently meant to be understood as saying that that passage had a “fair” reference to the Messiah. It is evident, moreover, that it would be admitted to have such a reference by those to whom he wrote. It is morally certain, therefore, that this was not the passage which the writer intended to quote. The probability is, that the writer here referred to Psalms 97:7, (in the Septuagint Psalms 96:7). In that place, the Hebrew is, “worship him, all ye gods” כל אלהים kaal 'elohiym - “all ye ‘elohiym.”
In the Septuagint it is, “Let all his angels worship him;” where the translation is literal, except that the word “God” - “angels of God” - is used by the apostle instead of “his” - “all his angels” - as it is in the Septuagint. The word “gods” - אלהים 'elohiym - is rendered by the word “angels” - but the word may have that sense. Thus, it is rendered by the Septuagint; in Job 20:15; and in Psalms 8:6; Psalms 137:1. It is well known that the word אלהים 'elohiym may denote “kings” and “magistrates,” because of their rank and dignity; and is there anything improbable in the supposition that, for a similar reason, the word may be given also to “angels”? The fair interpretation of the passage then would be, to refer it to “angelic beings” - and the command in Psalms 97:1-12 is for them to do homage to the Being there referred to. The only question then is, whether the Psalm can be regarded properly as having any reference to the Messiah? Did the apostle fairly and properly use this language as referring to him? On this we may remark:
(1) That the fact that he uses it thus may be regarded as proof that it would be admitted to be proper by the Jews in his time, and renders it probable that it was in fact so used.
(2) Two Jewish Rabbis of distinction - Rashi and Kimchi - affirm that all the Psalms Psa. 93–101 are to be regarded as referring to the Messiah. Such was, and is, the opinion of the Jews.
(3) There is nothing in the Psalm which forbids such a reference, or which can be shown to be inconsistent with it. Indeed the whole Psalm might be taken as beautifully descriptive of the “introduction” of the Son of God into the world, or as a sublime and glorious description of his advent. Thus, in Hebrews 1:1, the earth is called on to rejoice that the Lord reigns. In Hebrews 1:2-5, he is introduced or described as coming in the most magnificent manner - clouds and darkness attend him; a fire goes before him; the lightnings play; and the hills melt like wax - a sublime description of his coming, with appropriate symbols, to reign, or to judge the world. In Hebrews 1:6, it is said that all people shall see his glory; in Hebrews 1:7, that all who worship graven images shall be confounded, and “all the angels are required to do him homage;” and in Hebrews 1:8-12, the effect of his advent is described as filling Zion with rejoicing, and the hearts of the people of God with gladness. It cannot be proveD, therefore, that this Psalm had no reference to the Messiah; but the presumption is that it had, and that the apostle has quoted it not only as it was usually regarded in his time, but as it was designed by the Holy Ghost. If so, then it proves, what the writer intended, that the Son of God should be adored by the angels; and of course that he was superior to them. It proves also more. Whom would God require the angels to adore? A creature? A man? A fellow-angel? To ask these questions is to answer them. He could require them to worship none but God, and the passage proves that the Son of God is divine.
And of the angels he saith, Who maketh his angels spirits - He gives to them an inferior name, and assigns to them a more humble office. They are mere ministers, and have not ascribed to them the name of “Son.” They have a name which implies a more humble rank and office - the name “spirit,” and the appellation of a “flame of fire.” They obey his will as the winds and the lightnings do. The “object” of the apostle in this passage is to show that the angels serve God in a ministerial capacity - as the winds do; while the Son is Lord of all. The one serves him passively, as being wholly under his control; the other acts as a Sovereign, as Lord over all, and is addressed and regarded as the equal with God. This quotation is made from Psalms 104:4. The passage “might” be translated, “Who maketh his angels winds, and his ministers a flame of fire;” that is, “who makes his angels like the winds, or as swift as the winds, and his ministers as rapid, as terrible, and as resistless as the lightning.”
So Doddridge renders it; and so did the late Dr. John P. Wilson (manuscript notes). The passage in the Psalm is susceptible, I think, of another interpretation, and might be regarded as meaning, “who makes the winds his messengers, and the flaming fire his ministers;” and perhaps this is the sense which would most naturally occur to a reader of the Hebrew. The Hebrew, however, will admit of the construction here put upon it, and it cannot be proved that it was the original intention of the passage to show that the angels were the mere servants of God, rapid, quick, and prompt to do his will - like the winds. The Chaldee Paraphrase renders this passage in the Psalm, “Who makes his messengers swift as the wind; his ministers strong like a flame of fire.” Prof. Stuart maintains that the passage in the Psalms cannot mean “who makes the winds his messengers,” but that the intention of the Psalmist is to describe the “invisible” as well as the “visible” majesty of God, and that he refers to the angels as a part of the retinue which goes to make up His glory.
This does not seem to me to be perfectly certain; but still it cannot be demonstrated that Paul has made an improper use of the passage. It is to be presumed that he, who had been trained in the knowledge of the Hebrew language, would have had a better opportunity of knowing its fair construction than we can; and it is morally certain that he would employ the passage “in an argument” as it was commonly understood by those to whom he wrote - that is, to those who were familiar with the Hebrew language and literature. If he has so used the passage; if he has - as no one can disprove - put the fair construction on it, then it is just in point. It proves that the angels are the “attendant servants” of God; employed to grace his train, to do his will, to accompany him as the clouds and winds and lightnings do, and to occupy a subordinate rank in his creation. “Flame of fire.” This probably refers to lightning - which is often the meaning of the phrase. The word “ministers” here, means the same as angels, and the sense of the whole is, that the attending retinue of God, when he manifests himself with great power and glory, is like the winds and the lightning. His angels are like them. They are prompt to do his will - rapid, quick, obedient in his service; they are in all respects subordinate to him, and occupy, as the winds and the lightnings do, the place of servants. They are not addressed in language like what is applied to the Son of God, and they must all be far inferior to him.
But unto the Son he saith - In Psalms 45:6-7. The fact that the writer of this Epistle makes this application of the Psalm to the Messiah, proves that it was so applied in his time, or that it would be readily admitted to be applicable to him. It has been generally admitted, by both Jewish and Christian interpreters, to have such a reference. Even those who have doubted its primary applicability to the Messiah, have regarded it as referring to him in a secondary sense. Many have supposed that it referred to Solomon in the primary sense, and that it has a secondary reference to the Messiah. To me it seems most probable that it had an original and exclusive reference to the Messiah. It is to be remembered that the hope of the Messiah was the special hope of the Jewish people. The coming of the future king, so early promised, was the great event to which they all looked forward with the deepest interest.
That hope inspired their prophets and their bards, and cheered the hearts of the nation in the time of despondency. The Messiah, if I may so express it, was the “hero” of the Old Testament - more so than Achilles is of the Iliad, and Aeneas of the Aenead. The sacred poets were accustomed to employ all their most magnificent imagery in describing him, and to present him in every form that was beautiful in their conception, and that would be gratifying to the pride and hopes of the nation. Everything that is gorgeous and splendid in description is lavished on him, and they were never under any apprehension of attributing to him too great magnificence in his personal reign; too great beauty of moral character; or too great an extent of dominion. That which would be regarded by them as a magnificent description of a monarch, they freely applied to him; and this is evidently the case in this Psalm. That the description may have been in part derived from the view of Solomon in the magnificence of his court, is possible, but no more probable than that it was derived from the general view of the splendor of any Oriental monarch, or than that it might have been the description of a monarch which was the pure creation of inspired poetry.
Indeed, I do see not why this Psalm should ever have been supposed to be applicable to Solomon. His “name” is not mentioned. It has no special applicability to him. There is nothing that would apply to him which would not also apply to many an Oriental prince. There are some things in it which are much less applicable to him than to many others. The king here described is a conqueror. He girds his sword on his thigh, and his arrows are sharp in the hearts of his foes, and the people are subdued under him. This was not true of Solomon. His was a reign of peace and tranquillity, nor was he ever distinguished for war. On the whole, it seems clear to me, that this Psalm is designed to be a beautiful poetic description of the Messiah as king. The images are drawn from the usual characteristics of an Oriental prince, and there are many things in the poem - as there are in parables - for the sake of keeping, or verisimilitude, and which are not, in the interpretation, to be cut to the quick.
The writer imagined to himself a magnificent and beautiful prince; a prince riding prosperously in his conquests; swaying a permanent and wide dominion; clothed in rich and splendid vestments; eminently upright and pure; and scattering blessings everywhere - and that prince was the Messiah. The Psalm, therefore, I regard as relating originally and exclusively to Christ; and though in the interpretation, the circumstances should not be unduly pressed, nor an attempt be made to spiritualize them, yet the whole is a glowing and most beautiful description of Christ as a King. The same principles of interpretation should be applied to it which are applied to parables, and the same allowance be made for the introduction of circumstances for the sake of keeping, or for finishing the story. If this be the correct view, then Paul has quoted the Psalm in conformity exactly with its original intention, as he undoubtedly quoted it as it was understood in his time.
“Thy throne.” A throne is the seat on which a monarch sits, and is here the symbol of dominion, because kings when acting as rulers sit on thrones. Thus, a throne becomes the emblem of authority or empire. Here it means, that his “rule” or “dominion” would be perpetual - “forever and ever” - which assuredly could not be applied to Solomon. “O God.” This certainly could not be applied to Solomon; but applied to the Messiah it proves what the apostle is aiming to prove - that he is above the angels. The argument is, that a name is given to “him” which is never given to “them.” They are not called “God” in any strict and proper sense. The “argument” here requires us to understand this word, as used in a sense more exalted than any name which is ever given to angels, and though it may be maintained that the name אלהים 'elohiym, is given to magistrates or to angels, yet here the argument requires us to understand it as used in a sense superior to what it ever is when applied to an angel - or of course to any creature, since it was the express design of the argument to prove that the Messiah was superior to the angels.
The word “God” should be taken in its natural and obvious sense, unless there is some necessary reason for limiting it. If applied to magistrates Psalms 82:6, it must be so limited. If applied to the Messiah, there is no such necessity, John 1:1; Isaiah 9:6; 1 John 5:20; Philippians 2:6, and it should be taken in its natural and proper sense. The “form” here - ὁ Θεὸς ho Theos - is in the vocative case and not the nominative. It is the usual form of the vocative in the Septuagint, and nearly the only form of it - Stuart. This then is a direct address to the Messiah, calling him God; and I see not why it is not to be used in the usual and proper sense of the word. Unitarians proposed to translate this, “God is thy throne;” but how can God be “a throne” of a creature? What is the meaning of such an expression? Where is there one parallel? And what must be the nature of that cause which renders such an argument necessary? - This refers, as it seems to me, to the Messiah “as king.”
It does not relate to his mode of existence before the incarnation, but to him as the magnificent monarch of his people. Still, the ground or reason why this name is given to him is that he is “divine.” It is language which properly expresses his nature. He must have a divine nature, or such language would be improper. I regard this passage, therefore, as full proof that the Lord Jesus is divine; nor is it possible to evade this conclusion by any fair interpretation of it. It cannot be wrong to address him as God; nor addressing him as such, not to regard him as divine. “Is forever and ever.” This could not in any proper sense apply to Solomon. As applied to the Messiah, it means that his essential kingdom will be perpetual, Luke 1:33. As Mediator his kingdom will be given up to the Father, or to God without reference to a mediatorial work, (1 Corinthians 15:24, 1 Corinthians 15:28 - see notes on these verses), but his reign over his people will be perpetual.
There never will come a time when they shall not obey and serve him, though the special form of his kingdom, as connected with the work of mediation, will be changed. The form of the organized church, for example, will be changed, for there shall be no necessity for it in heaven, but the essential dominion and power of the Son of God will not cease. He shall have the same dominion which he had before he entered on the work of mediation; and that will be eternal. It is also true that, compared with earthly monarchs, his kingdom shall be perpetual. They soon die. Dynasties pass away. But his empire extends from age to age, and is properly a perpetual dominion. The fair and obvious interpretation of this passage would satisfy me, were there nothing else, that this Psalm had no reference to Solomon, but was designed originally as a description of the Messiah as the expected King and Prince of his people. “A scepter of righteousness.”
That is, a right or just scepter. The phrase is a Hebraism. The former expression described the perpetuity of his kingdom; this describes its “equable nature.” It would be just and equal; see notes on Isaiah 11:5. A “scepter” is a staff or wand usually made of wood, five or six feet long, and commonly overlaid with gold, or ornamented with golden rings. Sometimes, however, the scepter was made of ivory, or wholly of gold. It was borne in the hands of kings as an emblem of authority and power. Probably it had its origin in the staff or crook of the shepherd - as kings were at first regarded as the “shepherds” of their people. Thus, Agamemnon is commonly called by Homer the “shepherd” of the people. The “scepter” thus becomes the emblem of kingly office and power - as when we speak of “swaying a scepter;” - and the idea here is, that the Messiah would be a “king,” and that the authority which he would wield would be equitable and just. He would not be governed, as monarchs often are, by mere caprice, or by the wishes of courtiers and flatterers; he would not be controlled by mere “will” and the love of arbitrary lower; but the execution of his laws would be in accordance with the principles of equity and justice. - How well this accords with the character of the Lord Jesus we need not pause to show; compare notes on Isaiah 11:2-5.
Thou hast loved righteousness - Thou hast been obedient to the Law of God, or holy and upright. Nothing can be more truly adapted to express the character of anyone than this is to describe the Lord Jesus, who was “holy, harmless, undefiled,” who “did no sin, and in whose mouth no guile was found;” but it is with difficulty that this can be applied to Solomon. Assuredly, for a considerable part of his life, this declaration could not well be appropriate to him; and it seems to me that it is not to be regarded as descriptive of him at all. It is language prompted by the warm and pious imagination of the Psalmist describing the future Messiah - and, as applied to him, is true to the letter. “Therefore God, even thy God.” The word “even” inserted here by the translators, weakens the force of the expression. This might be translated, “O God, thy God hath anointed thee.” So it is rendered by Doddridge, Clarke, Stuart, and others.
The Greek will bear this construction, as well the Hebrew in Psalms 45:7. In the margin in the Psalm it is rendered “O God.” This is the most natural construction, as it accords with what is just said before. “Thy throne, O God, is forever. Thou art just and holy, therefore, O God, thy God hath anointed thee,” etc. It is not material, however, which construction is adopted. “Hath anointed thee.” Anciently kings and priests were consecrated to their office by pouring oil on their heads; see Leviticus 8:12; Numbers 3:3; 1 Samuel 10:1; 2 Samuel 2:7; Psalms 2:2; Isaiah 61:1; Acts 4:27; Acts 10:38; Note, Matthew 1:1. The expression “to anoint,” therefore, comes to mean to consecrate to office, or to set apart to some public work. This is evidently the meaning in the Psalm, where the whole language refers to the appointment of the personage there referred to to the kingly office. “The oil of gladness.” This probably means the perfumed oil that was poured on the head, attended with many expressions of joy and rejoicing. The inauguration of the Messiah as king would be an occasion of rejoicing and triumph. Thousands would exult at it as in the coronation of a king; and thousands would be made glad by such a consecration to the office of Messiah. “Above thy fellows.” Above thine associates; that is, above all who sustain the kingly office. He would be more exalted than all other kings. Doddridge supposes that it refers to angels, who might have been associated with the Messiah in the government of the world. But the more natural construction is to suppose that it refers to kings, and to mean that he was the most exalted of all.
And - That is, “To add another instance;” or, “to the Son he saith in another place, or in the following language.” This is connected with Hebrews 1:8. “Unto the Son he saith Hebrews 1:8, Thy throne,” etc. - and Hebrews 1:10 he “also” saith, “Thou Lord,” etc. That this is the meaning is apparent, because:
(1) The “object” of the whole quotation is to show the exalted character of the Son of God, and,
(2) An address here to Yahweh would be wholly irrelevant. Why, in an argument designed to prove that the Son of God was superior to the angels, should the writer break out in an address to Yahweh in view of the fact that he had laid the foundations of the world, and that he himself would continue to live when the heavens should be rolled up and pass away? Such is not the manner of Paul or of any other good writer, and it is clear that the writer here designed to adduce this as applicable to the Messiah. Whatever difficulties there may be about the principles on which it is done, and the reason why This passage was selected for the purpose, there can be no doubt about the design of the writer. He meant to be understood as applying it to the Messiah beyond all question, or the quotation is wholly irrelevant, and it is inconceivable why it should have been made. “Thou Lord.” This is taken from Psalms 102:25-27. The quotation is made from the Septuagint with only a slight variation, and is an accurate translation of the Hebrew. In the Psalm, there can be no doubt that Yahweh is intended. This is apparent on the face of the Psalm, and particularly because the “name” Yahweh is introduced in Hebrews 1:10, and because He is addressed as the Creator of all things, and as immutable. No one, on reading the Psalm, ever would doubt that it referred to God, and if the apostle meant to apply it to the Lord Jesus it proves most conclusively that he is divine. In regard to the difficult inquiry why he applied this to the Messiah, or on what principle such an application can be vindicated, we may perhaps throw some light by the following remarks. It must be admitted that probably few persons, if any, on reading the “Psalm,” would suppose that it referred to the Messiah; but:
(1) The fact that the apostle thus employs it, proves that it was understood in his time to have such a reference, or at least that those to whom he wrote would admit that it had such a reference. On no other principle would he have used it in an argument. This is at least of some consequence in showing what the prevailing interpretation was.
(2) It cannot be demonstrated that it had no such reference, for such was the habit of the sacred writers in making the future Messiah the theme of their poetry, that no one can prove that the writer of this Psalm did not design that the Messiah should be the sub ject of his praise here.
(3) There is nothing in the Psalm which may not be applied to the Messiah; but there is much in it that is especially applicable to him. Suppose, for example, that the Psalmist Psalms 102:1-11, in his complaints, represents the people of God before the Redeemer appeared - as lowly, sad, dejected, and afflicted - speaking of himself as one of them, and as a fair representative of that people, the remainder of the Psalm will well agree with the promised redemption. Thus, having described the sadness and sorrow of the people of God, he speaks of the act that God would arise and have mercy upon Zion Psalms 102:13-14, that the pagan would fear the name of the Lord, and all the kings of the earth would see his glory Psalms 102:15, and that when the Lord should build up Zion, he would appear in his glory; Psalms 102:16. To whom else could this be so well applied as to the Messiah? To what time so well as to his time? Thus, too in Psalms 102:20, it is said that the Lord would look down from heaven “to hear the groaning of the prisoner, and to loose them that are appointed to death” - language remarkably resembling that used by Isaiah, Isaiah 61:1, which the Saviour applies to himself, in Luke 4:17-21. The passage then quoted by the apostle Psalms 102:25-27 is designed to denote the “immutability” of the Messiah, and the fact that in him all the interests of the church were safe. He would not change. He had formed all things, and he would remain the same. His kingdom would be permanent amidst all the changes occurring on earth, and his people had no cause of apprehension or alarm; Psalms 102:28.
(4) Paul applies this language to the Messiah in accordance with the doctrine which he had stated Hebrews 1:2, that it was by him that God “made the worlds.” Having stated that, he seems to have felt that it was not improper to apply to him the passages occurring in the Old Testament that speak of the work of creation. The argument is this, “He was in fact the creator of all things.” But to the Creator there is applied language in the Scriptures which shows that he was far exalted above the angels. He would remain the same, while the heavens and the earth should fade away. His years are enduring and eternal. “Such” a being must be superior to the angels; such a being must be divine. The words “Thou Lord” - σὺ Κύριε su Kurie - are not in the Hebrew of the Psalm, though they are in the Septuagint. In the Hebrew, in the Psalm (Psalms 102:24,), it is an address to God - “I said, O my God” - אלי 'Eeliy - but there can be no doubt that the Psalmist meant to address Yahweh, and that the word “God” is used in its proper sense, denoting divinity; see Hebrews 1:1, Hebrews 1:12, of the Psalm. “In the beginning;” see Genesis 1:1.
When the world was made; compare notes on John 1:1, where the same phrase is applied to the Messiah - “In the beginning was the word, where the same phrase is applied to the Messiah - “In the beginning was the word.” “Hast laid the foundation of the earth.” Hast made the earth. This language is such as is common in the Scriptures, where the earth is represented as laid on a foundation, or as supported. It is figurative language, derived from the act of rearing an edifice. The meaning here is, that the Son of God was the original creator or founder of the universe. He did not merely arrange it out of pre-existing materials, but he was properly its creator or founder. “And the heavens are the works of thine hands.” This must demonstrate the Lord Jesus to be divine. He that made the vast heavens must be God. No creature could perform a work like that; nor can we conceive that power to create the vast array of distant worlds could possibly be delegated. If that power could be delegated, there is not an attribute of Deity which may not be, and thus all our notions of what constitutes divinity would be utterly confounded. The word “heavens” here, must mean all parts of the universe except the earth; see Genesis 1:1. The word “hands” is used, because it is by the hands that we usually perform any work.
They shall perish - That is, the heavens and the earth. They shall pass away; or they shall be destroyed. Probably no more is meant by the phrase here, than that important changes will take place in them, or than that they will change their form. Still it is not possible to foresee what changes may yet take place in the heavenly bodies, or to say that the present universe may not at some period be destroyed, and be succeeded by another creation still more magnificent. He that created the universe by a word, can destroy it by a word and he that formed the present frame of nature can cause it to be succeeded by another not less wonderful and glorious. The Scriptures seem to hold out the idea that the present frame of the universe shall be destroyed; see 2 Peter 3:10-13; Matthew 24:35. “But thou remainest.” Thou shalt not die or be destroyed. What a sublime thought! The idea is, that though the heavens and earth should suddenly disappear, or though they should gradually wear out and become extinct, yet there is one infinite being who remains unaffected and unchanged.
Nothing can reach or disturb him. All these changes shall take place under his direction, and by his command; see Revelation 20:11. Let us not be alarmed then at any revolution. Let us not fear though we should see the heavens rolled up as a scroll, and the stars falling from their places. God, the Creator and the Redeemer, presides over all. He is unchanged. He ever lives; and though the universe should pass away, it will be only at his bidding, and under his direction. “And they all shall wax old.” Shall “grow” or become old. The word “wax” is an Old Saxon word, meaning to grow, or increase, or become. The heavens here are compared to a garment, meaning that as that grows old and decays, so it will be with the heavens and the earth. The language is evidently figurative; and yet who can tell how much literal truth there may be couched under it? Is it absurd to suppose that that sun which daily sends forth so many countless millions of beams of light over the universe, may in a course of ages become diminished in its splendor, and shine with feeble lustre? Can there be constant exhaustion, a constant burning like that, and yet no tendency to decay at some far distant period? Not unless the material for its splendor shall be supplied from the boundless resources of the Great Source of Light - God; and when he shall choose to withhold it, even that glorious sun must be dimmed of its splendor, and shine with enfeebled beams.
And as a vesture - A garment; literally something thrown around - περιβόλαιον peribolaion - and denoting properly the outer garment, the cloak or mantle; see notes, Matthew 5:40. “Shalt thou fold them up.” That is, the heavens. They are represented in the Scriptures as an “expanse.” or something spread out (the Hebrew text of Genesis 1:7): as a “curtain,” or “tent” Isaiah 40:22, and as a “scroll” that might be spread out or rolled up like a book or volume, Isaiah 34:4; Revelation 6:14. Here they are represented as a garment or mantle that might be folded up - language borrowed from folding up and laying aside garments that are no longer fit for use. “And they shall be changed.” That is, they shall be exchanged for others, or they shall give place to the new heavens and the new earth; 2 Peter 3:13. The meaning is, that the present form of the heavens and the earth is not to be permanent, but is to be succeeded by others, or to pass away, but that the Creator is to remain the same. “Thou art the same.” Thou wilt not change. “And thy years shall not fail.” Thou wilt exist forever unchanged. What could more clearly prove that he of whom this is spoken is immutable? Yet it is indubitably spoken of the Messiah, and must demonstrate that he is divine. These attributes cannot be conferred on a creature; and nothing can be clearer than that he who penned the Epistle believed that the Son of God was divine.
But to which of the angels - The apostle adduces one other proof of the exaltation of the Son of God above the angels. He asks where there is an instance in which God had addressed any one of the angels, and asked him to sit at his right hand until he should subdue his enemies under him? Yet that high honor had been conferred on the Son of God; and he was therefore far exalted above them. “Sit on my right hand;” see notes on Hebrews 1:3. This passage is taken from Psalms 110:1, a Psalm that is repeatedly quoted in this Epistle as referring to the Messiah, and the very passage before is applied by the Saviour to himself, in Matthew 22:43-44, and by Peter it is applied to him in Acts 2:34-35. There can be no doubt, therefore, of its applicability to the Messiah. “Until I make thine enemies thy footstool.” Until I reduce them to entire subjection. A footstool is what is placed under the feet when we sit on a chair, and the phrase here means that an enemy is entirely subdued; compare notes on 1 Corinthians 15:25. The phrase “to make an enemy a footstool,” is borrowed from the custom of ancient warriors who stood on the necks of vanquished kings on the occasion of celebrating a triumph over them as a token of their complete prostration and subjection; see notes on Isaiah 10:6. The enemies here referred to are the foes of God and of his religion, and the meaning is, that the Messiah is to be exalted until all those foes are subdued. Then he will give up the kingdom to the Father; see notes on 1 Corinthians 15:24-28. The exaltation of the Redeemer, to which the apostle refers here, is to the mediatorial throne. In this he is exalted far above the angels. His foes are to be subdued to him, but angels are to be employed as mere instruments in that great work.
Are they not all - There is not one of them that is elevated to the high rank of the Redeemer. Even the most exalted angel is employed in the comparatively humble office of a ministering spirit appointed to aid the heirs of salvation. “Ministering spirits.” A “ministering” spirit is one that is employed to execute the will of God. The proper meaning of the word here - λειτουργικὰ leitourgika - (whence our word “liturgy”) is, “pertaining to public service,” or “the service of the people” (λαός laos}; and is applied particularly to those who were engaged in the public service of the temple. They were those who rendered aid to others; who were helpers, or servants. Such is the meaning as used here. They are employed to render “aid” or “assistance” to others - to wit, to Christians. “Sent forth.” Appointed by God for this. They are “sent;” are under his control; are in a subordinate capacity.
Thus, Gabriel was sent forth to convey an important message to Daniel; Daniel 9:21-23. “To minister.” For the help or succour of such. They come to render them assistance - and, if employed in this humble office, how much inferior to the dignity of the Son of God - the Creator and Ruler of the worlds! “Who shall be heirs of salvation.” To the saints; to Christians. They are called “heirs of salvation” because they are adopted into the family of God, and are treated as his sons; see notes on Romans 8:14-17. The main point here is, that the angels are employed in a much more humble capacity than the Son of God; and, therefore, that he sustains a far more elevated rank. But while the apostle has proved that, he has incidentally stated an exceedingly interesting and important doctrine, that the angels are employed to further the salvation of the people of God, and to aid them in their journey to heaven.
In this doctrine there is nothing absurd. It is no more improbable that angels should be employed to aid man, than that one man should aid another; certainly not as improbable as that the Son of God should come down “not to be ministered unto but to minister,” Matthew 20:28, and that he performed on earth the office of a servant; John 13:1-15. Indeed it is a great principle of the divine administration that one class of God’s creatures are to minister to others; that one is to aid another to assist him in trouble, to provide for him when poor, and to counsel him in perplexity. We are constantly deriving benefit from others, and are dependent on their counsel and help. Thus, God has appointed parents to aid their children; neighbors to aid their neighbors: the rich to aid the poor; and all over the world the principle is seen, that one is to derive benefit from the aid of others. Why may not the angels be employed in this service?
They are pure, benevolent, powerful; and as man was ruined in the fall by the temptation offered by one of an angelic, though fallen nature, why should not others of angelic, unfallen holiness come to assist in repairing the evils which their fallen, guilty brethren have inflicted on the race? To me there seems to be a beautiful propriety in bringing “aid” from another race, as “ruin” came from another race; and that as those endowed with angelic might, though with fiendish malignity, ruined man, those with angelic might, but heavenly benevolence, should aid in his recovery and salvation. Further, it is, from the necessity of the case, a great principle, that the weak shall be aided by the strong; the ignorant by the enlightened; the impure by the pure; the tempted by those who have not fallen by temptation. All over the world we see this in operation; and it constitutes the beauty of the moral arrangements on the earth; and why shall not this be extended to the inhabitants of other abodes? Why shall not angels, with their superior intelligence, benevolence, and power, come in to perfect this system, and show how much adapted it is to glorify God? In regard to the ways in which angels become ministering spirits to the heirs of salvation, the Scriptures have not fully informed us, but facts are mentioned which will furnish some light on this inquiry. What they do now may be learned from the Scripture account of what they have done - as it seems to be a fair principle of interpretation that they are engaged in substantially the same employment in which they have ever been. The following methods of angelic interposition in behalf of man are noted in the Scriptures:
(1) They feel a deep interest in man. Thus, the Saviour says, “there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth;” Luke 15:10. Thus also he says, when speaking of the “little ones” that compose his church, “in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven;” Matthew 18:10.
(2) They feel a special interest in all that relates to the redemption of man. Thus, Peter says of the things pertaining to redemption, “which things the angels desire to look into;” 1 Peter 1:12. In accordance with this they are represented as praising God over the fields of Bethlehem, where the shepherds were to whom it was announced that a Saviour was born Luke 2:13; an angel announced to Mary that she would be the mother of the Messiah Luke 1:26; an angel declared to the shepherds that He was born Luke 2:10; the angels came and ministered to Him in His temptation Matthew 4:11; an angel strengthened Him in the garden of Gethsemane Luke 22:43; angels were present in the sepulchre where the Lord Jesus had been laid, to announce His resurrection to His disciples John 20:12; and they reappeared to his disciples on Mount Olivet to assure them that he would return and receive his people to him self, Acts 1:10.
(3) They appear for the defense and protection of the people of God. Thus it is said Psalms 34:7, “The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them.” Thus, two angels came to hasten Lot from the cities of the plain, and to rescue him from the impending destruction; Genesis 19:1, Genesis 19:15. Thus, an angel opened the prison doors of the apostles, and delivered them when they had been confined by the Jews; Acts 5:19. Thus, the angel of the Lord delivered Peter from prison when he had been confined by Herod; Acts 12:7-8.
(4) Angels are sent to give us strength to resist temptation. Aid was thus furnished to the Redeemer in the garden of Gethsemane, when there “appeared an angel from heaven strengthening him;” Luke 22:43. The great trial there seems to have been somehow connected with temptation; some influence of the power of darkness, or of the Prince of evil; Luke 22:53; compare John 14:30. In this aid which they rendered to the tempted Redeemer, and in the assistance which they render to us when tempted, there is a special fitness and propriety. Man was at first tempted by a fallen angel. No small part - if not all the temptations in the world - are under the direction now of fallen angels. They roam at large “seeking whom they may devour;” 1 Peter 5:8. The temptations which occur in life, the numerous allurements which beset our path, all have the marks of being under the control of dark and malignant spirits. What, therefore, can be more appropriate than for the pure angels of God to interpose and aid man against the skill and wiles of their fallen and malignant fellow-spirits? Fallen angelic power and skill - power and skill far above the capability and the strength of man - are employed to ruin us, and how desirable is it for like power and skill, under the guidance of benevolence, to come in to aid us!
(5) They support us in affliction. Thus, an angel brought a cheering message to Daniel; the angels were present to give comfort to the disciples of the Saviour when he had been taken from them by death, and when he ascended to heaven. Why may it not be so now, that important consolations, in some way, are imparted to us by angelic influence? And,
(6) They attend dying saints, and conduct them to glory. Thus, the Saviour says of Lazarus that when he died he was “carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom;” Luke 16:22. Is there any impropriety in supposing that the same thing may be done still? Assuredly, if anywhere heavenly aid is needed, it is when the spirit leaves the body. If anywhere a guide is needed, it is when the ransomed soul goes up the unknown path to God. And if angels are employed on any messages of mercy to mankind, it is proper that it should be when life is closing, and the spirit is about to ascend to heaven. Should it be said that they are invisible, and that it is difficult to conceive how we can be aided by beings whom we never see, I answer, I know that they are unseen. They no longer appear as they once did to be the visible protectors and defenders of the people of God. But no small part of the aid which we receive from others comes from sources unseen by us. We owe more to unseen benefactors than to those whom we see, and the most grateful of all aid, perhaps, is what is furnished by a hand which we do not see, and from quarters which we cannot trace. How many an orphan is benefited by some unseen and unknown benefactor! So it may be a part of the great arrangements of Divine Providence that many of the most needed and acceptable interpositions for our welfare should come to us from invisible sources, and be conveyed to us from God by unseen hands.
1. The Christian religion has a claim on the attention of man. God has spoken to us in the Gospel by his Son; Hebrews 1:1-2. This fact constitutes a claim on us to attend to what is spoken in the New Testament. When God sent prophets to address people, endowing them with more than human wisdom and eloquence, and commanding them to deliver solemn messages to mankind, that was a reason why people should hear. But how much more important is the message which is brought by his own Son! How much more exalted the Messenger! How much higher his claim to our attention and regard! compare Matthew 21:37. Yet it is lamentable to reflect how few attended to him when he lived on the earth, and how few comparatively regard him now. The great mass of people feel no interest in the fact that the Son of God has come and spoken to the human race. Few take the pains to read what he said, though all the records of the discourses of the Saviour could be read in a few hours.
A newspaper is read; a poem; a novel; a play; a history of battles and sieges; but the New Testament is neglected, and there are thousands even in Christian lands who have not even read through the Sermon on the Mount! Few also listen to the truths which the Redeemer taught when they are proclaimed in the sanctuary. Multitudes never go to the place where the gospel is preached; multitudes when there are engaged in thinking of other things, or are wholly inattentive to the truths which are proclaimed. Such a reception has the Son of God met with in our world! The most wonderful of all events is, that he should have come from heaven to be the teacher of mankind; next to that, the most wonderful event is that, when he has come, people feel no interest in the fact, and refuse to listen to what he says of the unseen and eternal world. What a man will say about the possibility of making a fortune by some wild speculation will be listened to with the deepest interest; but what the Redeemer says about the “certainty” of heaven and eternal riches there, excites no emotion: what one from the dead might say about the unseen world would excite the profoundest attention; what he has said who has always dwelt in the unseen world, and who knows all that has occurred there, and all that is yet to occur, awakens no interest, and excites no inquiry. Such is man. The visit, too, of an illustrious stranger - like Lafayette to America - will rouse a nation, and spread enthusiasm everywhere; the visit of the Son of God to the earth on a great errand of mercy is regarded as an event of no importance, and excites no interest in the great mass of human hearts.
2. Christ is divine. In the view of the writer of this Epistle he was undoubtedly regarded as equal with God. This is so clear that it seems wonderful that it should ever have been called in question. He who made the worlds; who is to be worshipped by the angels; who is addressed as God; who is said to have laid the foundation of the earth, and to have made the heavens, and to be unchanged when all these things shall pass away, must be divine. These are the attributes of God, and belong to him alone. These things could not be spoken of a man, an angel, an archangel. It is impossible to conceive that attributes like these could belong to a creature. If they could, then all our notions of what constitutes the distinction between God and his creatures are confounded, and we can have no intelligible idea of God.
3. It is not improbable that Christ is the medium of communicating the knowledge of the divine essence and perfections to all worlds. He is the brightness of the divine glory - the showing forth - the manifestation of God; Hebrews 1:3. The body of the sun is not seen - certainly not by the naked eye. We cannot look upon it. But there is a shining, a brightness, a glory, a manifestation which is seen! It is in the sun-beams, the manifestation of the glory and the existence of the sun. By his shining the sun is known. So the Son of God - incarnate or not - may be the manifestation of the divine essence. And from this illustration, may we not without irreverence derive an illustration of the doctrine of the glorious Trinity? There is the body of the sun - to us invisible - yet great and glorious, and the source of all light, and heat, and life. The vast body of the sun is the source of all this radiance, the fountain of all that warms and enlivens.
All light and heat and life depend on him, and should he be extinct all would die. Thus, may it not be with God the Father; God the eternal and unchanging essence - the fountain of all light, and life in the universe. In the sun there is also the “manifestation” - the shining - the glorious light. The brightness which we see emanates from that - emanates at once, continually, always. While the sun exists, that exists, and cannot be separated from it. By that brightness the sun is seen; by that the world is enlightened. Without these beams there would be no light, but all would be involved in darkness. What a beautiful representation of the Son of God - the brightness of the divine glory; the medium by which God is made known; the source of light to man, and for anything we know, to the universe! When he shines upon people, there is light when he does not shine, there is as certain moral darkness as there is night when the sun sinks in the west.
And for aught we can see, the manifestation which the Son of God makes may be as necessary in all worlds to a proper contemplation of the divine essence, as the beams of the sun are to understand its nature. Then there are the warmth and heat and vivifying influences of the sun - an influence which is the source of life and beauty to the material world. It is not the mere shining - it is the attendant warmth and vivifying power. All nature is dependent on it. Each seed, and bud, and leaf, and flower; each spire of grass, and each animal on earth, and each bird on the wing, is dependent on it. Without that, vegetation would decay at once, and animal life would be extinct, and universal death would reign. What a beautiful illustration of the Holy Spirit, and of his influences on the moral world! “The Lord God is a Sun” Psalms 84:11; and I do not see that it is improper thus to derive from the sun an illustration of the doctrine of the Trinity. I am certain we should know nothing of the sun but for the beams that reveal him, and that enlighten the world; and I am certain that all animal and vegetable life would die if it were not for his vivifying and quickening rays. I do not see that it may not be equally probable that the nature - the essence of God would be unknown were it not manifested by the Son of God; and I am certain that all moral and spiritual life would die were it not for the quickening and vivifying influences of the Holy Spirit on the human soul.
4. Christ has made an atonement for sin; Hebrews 1:3. He has done it by “himself.” It was not by the blood of bulls and of goats; it was by his own blood. Let us rejoice that we have not now to come before God with a bloody offering; that we need not come leading up a lamb to be slain, but that we may come confiding in that blood which has been shed for the sins of mankind. The great sacrifice has been made. The victim is slain. The blood has been offered which expiates the sin of the world. We may now come at once to the throne of grace, and plead the merits of that blood. How different is our condition from that of the ancient Jewish worshippers! They were required to come leading the victim that was to be slain for sin, and to do this every year and every day. We may come with the feeling that the one great sacrifice has been made for us; that it is never to be repeated, and that in that sacrifice there is merit sufficient to cancel all our sins. How different our condition from that of the pagan! They too lead up sacrifices to be slain on bloody altars. They offer lambs, and goats, and bullocks, and captives taken in war, and slaves, and even their own children! But amidst these horrid offerings, while they show their deep conviction that some sacrifice is necessary, they have no promise - no evidence whatever, that the sacrifice will be accepted. They go away unpardoned. They repeat the offering with no evidence that their sins are forgiven, and at last they die in despair! We come assured that the “blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin,” and the soul rejoices in the evidence that all past sins are forgiven, and is at peace with God.
5. Let us rejoice that the Lord Jesus is thus exalted to the right hand of God; Hebrews 1:3-4. He has gone into heaven. He is seated on the throne of glory. He has suffered the last pang, and shed the last drop of blood that will ever be necessary to be shed for the sins of the world. No cold tomb is again to hold him; and no spear of a soldier is again to enter his side. He is now happy and glorious in heaven. The angels there render him homage Hebrews 1:6, and the universe is placed under his control.
6. It is right to worship the Lord Jesus. When he came into the world the angels were required to do it Hebrews 1:6, and it cannot be wrong for us to do it now. If the angels in heaven might properly worship him, we may. If they worshipped him, he is divine. Assuredly, God would not require them to worship a fellow-angel or a man! I feel safe in adoring where angels adore; I do not feel that I have a right to withhold my homage where they have been required to render theirs.
7. It is right to address the Lord Jesus as God; Hebrews 1:8. If he is so addressed in the language of inspiration, it is not improper for us so to address him. We do not err when we adhere closely to the language of the Bible; nor can we have a stronger evidence that we are right than that we express our sentiments and our devotions in the very language of the sacred Scriptures.
8. The kingdom of the Redeemer is a righteous kingdom. It is founded in equity; Hebrews 1:8-9. Other kingdoms have been kingdoms of cruelty, oppression, and blood. Tyrants have swayed an iron scepter over people. But not thus with the Redeemer in his kingdom. There is not a law there which is not equal and mild; not a statute which it would not promote the temporal and eternal welfare of man to obey. Happy is the man that is wholly under his scepter; happy the kingdom that yields entire obedience to his laws!
9. The heavens shall perish; the earth shall decay; Hebrews 1:10-11. Great changes have already taken place in the earth - as the researches of geologists show; and we have no reason to doubt that similar changes may have occurred in distant worlds. Still greater changes may be expected to occur in future times, and some of them we may be called to witness. Our souls are to exist forever; and far on in future ages - far beyond the utmost period which we can now compute - we may witness most important changes in these heavens and this earth. God may display his power in a manner which has never been seen yet; and safe near his throne his people may be permitted to behold the exhibition of power of which the mind has never yet had the remotest conception.
10. Yet amidst these changes, the Saviour will be the same; Hebrews 1:12. He changes not. In all past revolutions, he has been the same. In all the changes which have occurred in the physical world, he has been unchanged; in all the revolutions which have occurred among kingdoms, he has been unmoved. One change succeeds another; kingdoms rise and fall and empires waste away; one generation goes off to be succeeded by another, but he remains the same. No matter what tempests howl, or how wars rage, or how the pestilence spreads abroad, or how the earth is shaken by earthquakes, still the Redeemer is the same. And no matter what are our external changes, he is the same. We pass from childhood to youth, to manhood, to old age, but he changes not. We are in prosperity or adversity; we may pass from affluence to poverty, from honor to dishonor, from health to sickness, but he is the same.
We may go and lie down in the cold tomb, and our mortal frames may decay, but he is the same during our long sleep, and he will remain the same till he shall return and summon us to renovated life. I rejoice that in all the circumstances of life I have the same Saviour. I know what he is. I know, if the expression may be allowed, “where he may be found.” Man may change by caprice, or whim, or by some new suggestion of interest, of passion, or ambition. I go to my friend today, and find him kind and true - but I have no absolute certainty that I shall find him such tomorrow. His feelings, from some unknown cause, may have become cold toward me. Some enemy may have breathed suspicion into his ear about me, or he may have formed some stronger attachment, or he may be sick, or dead. But nothing like this can happen in regard to the Redeemer. He changes not. I am sure that he is always the same. No one can influence him by slander; no new friendship can weaken the old; no sickness or death can occur to him to change him; and though the heavens be on fire, and the earth be convulsed, he is the same. In such a Saviour I may confide; in such a friend why should not all confide? Of earthly attachments it has been too truly said:
“And what is friendship but a name,
A charm that lulls to sleep;
A shade that follows wealth or fame,
But leaves the wretch to weep?”
But this can never be said of the attachment formed between the Christian and their gracious Redeemer. That is unaffected by all external changes; that shall live in all the revolutions of material things, and when all earthly ties shall be severed; that shall survive the dissolution of all things.
11. We see the dignity of man; Hebrews 1:13-14. Angels are sent to be his attendants. They come to minister to him here, and to conduct him home “to glory.” Kings and princes are surrounded by armed men, or by sages called to be their counselors; but the most humble saint may be encompassed by a retinue of beings of far greater power and more elevated rank. The angels of light and glory feel a deep interest in the salvation of people. They come to attend the redeemed; they wait on their steps; they sustain them in trial; they accompany them when departing to heaven. It is a higher honor to be attended by one of those pure intelligences than by the most elevated monarch that ever swayed a scepter or wore a crown; and the humblest and obscurest Christian shall soon be himself conducted to a throne in heaven, compared with which the most splendid seat of royalty on earth loses its luster and fades away:
“And is there care in heaven? and is there love.
In heavenly spirits to these creatures base,
That may compassion of their evils move?
There is: else much more wretched were the case.
Of men than beasts; But O! th’ exceeding grace.
Of Highest God that loves his creatures so,
And all his works of mercy doth embrace,
That blessed angels he sends to and fro,
To serve to wicked man, to serve his wicked foe!
“How oft do they their silver bowers leave,
To come to succour us that succour want!
How do they with golden pinions cleave.
The yielding skies, like flying pursuivant.
Against foul fiends to aid us militant!
They for us fight, they watch and duly ward,
And their bright squadrons round about us plant;
And all for love and nothing for reward;
O why should Heavenly God to men have such regard!”
“Spenser’s Faery Queen,” B. II. Canto Hebrews 8:1, Hebrews 8:2.
12. What has God done for the salvation of man! He formed an eternal plan. He sent his prophets to communicate his will. He sent his Son to bear a message of mercy, and to die the just for the unjust. He exalted him to heaven, and placed the universe under his control that man may be saved. He sent his Holy Spirit; his ministers and messengers for this. And last, to complete the work, he sends his angels to be ministering spirits; to sustain his people; to comfort them in dying; to attend them to the realms of glory. What an interest is felt in the salvation of a single Christian! What a value he has in the universe! And how important it is that he should be holy! A man who has been redeemed by the blood of the Son of God should be pure. He who is an heir of life should be holy. He who is attended by celestial beings, and who is soon - he knows not “how” soon - to be transported to heaven, should be holy. Are angels my attendants? Then I should walk worthy of my companionship. Am I soon to go and dwell with angels? Then I should be pure. Are these feet soon to tread the courts of heaven? Is this tongue soon to unite with heavenly beings in praising God? Are these eyes soon to look on the throne of eternal glory, and on the ascended Redeemer? Then these feet, and eyes, and lips should be pure and holy, and I should be dead to the world, and should live only for heaven.
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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Hebrews 1". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany