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Bible Commentaries

Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

Hebrews 3

Analysis Of The Chapter

In Hebrews 3:0, the Jews valued their religion on many accounts. One was that it had been given by the instrumentality of distinguished prophets sent from God, and by the medium of angels. The apostle, in the previous chapters, had shown that in these respects the Christian religion had the advantage over theirs, for it had been communicated by one who was superior to any of the prophets, and who had a rank above the angels. Next to this, they valued their religion because it had been imparted by a Law-giver so eminent as Moses - a man more distinguished than any other one on earth as a legislator. To him they looked with pride as the founder of their economy, and the medium through whom God had given them their special laws. Next to him, their high priest was the most important functionary in the nation. He was at the head of their religion, and served to distinguish it from all others, for they had no conception of any form of true religion unless the office of high priest was recognized. The apostle, therefore, proceeds to show that in these respects the Christian religion had lost nothing, but had the advantage altogether - that it was founded by one superior to Moses, and that Christ as high priest was superior by far to the high priest of the Jews.

This chapter Hebrews 3:0, and to Hebrews 4:13, relates to the first of these points, and is occupied with showing the superiority of the Redeemer to Moses, and the consequences which result from the admission of that fact. It consists, therefore, of two parts.

I. The first is employed in showing that if the Author of the Christian religion is compared with Moses, he has the preference; Hebrews 3:1-6. Moses was indeed faithful, but it was “as a servant.” Christ was faithful, “as a son.” He had a rank as much above that of Moses as one who builds a house has over the house itself.

II. The consequences that resulted from that; Hebrews 3:7-19, and Hebrews 4:1-13. The general doctrine here is, that there would be special danger in apostatizing from the Christian religion - danger far superior to that which was threatened to the Israelites if they were disobedient to Moses. In illustrating this, the apostle is naturally led to a statement of the warnings against defection under Moses, and of the consequences of unbelief and rebellion there. He entreats them, therefore,

(1)Not to harden their hearts against God, as the Israelites did, who were excluded from Canaan; Hebrews 3:7-11.

(2)To be on their guard against unbelief; Hebrews 2:12.

(3)To exhort one another constantly, and to stimulate one another, that they might not fall away; Hebrews 2:13.

(4)To hold the beginning of their confidence steadfast unto the end, and not to provoke God as they did who came out of Egypt; Hebrews 3:14-19.

In the following chapter Hebrews 3:1-13 he completes the exhortation, by showing them that many who came out of Egypt were excluded from the promised land, and that there was equal danger now; and then proceeds with the comparison of Christ with the Jewish high priest, and extends that comparison through the remainder of the doctrinal part of the Epistle.

Verse 1

Wherefore - That is, since Christ sustains such a character as has been stated in the previous chapter; since he is so able to succour those who need assistance; since he assumed our nature that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest, his character ought to be attentively considered, and we ought to endeavor fully to understand it.

Holy brethren - The name “brethren” is often given to Christians to denote that they are of one family. It is “possible,” also, that the apostle may have used the word here in a double sense - denoting that they were his brethren as “Christians,” and as “Jews.” The word “holy” is applied to them to denote that they were set apart to God, or that they were sanctified. The Jews were often called a “holy people,” as being consecrated to God; and Christians are holy, not only as consecrated to God, but as sanctified.

Partakers of the heavenly calling - On the meaning of the word “calling,” see the notes at Ephesians 4:1. The “heavenly calling” denotes the calling which was given to them from heaven, or which was of a heavenly nature. It pertained to heaven, not to earth; it came from heaven, not from earth; it was a calling to the reward and happiness of heaven, and not to the pleasures and honors of the world.

Consider - Attentively ponder all that is said of the Messiah. Think of his rank; his dignity; his holiness; his sufferings; his death; his resurrection, ascension, intercession. Think of him that you may see the claims to a holy life; that you may learn to bear trials; that you may be kept from apostasy. The character and work of the Son of God are worthy of the profound and prayerful consideration of every man; and especially every Christian should reflect much on him. Of the friend that we love we think much; but what friend have we like the Lord Jesus?

The apostle - The word “apostle” is nowhere else applied to the Lord Jesus. The word means one who “is sent” - and in this sense it might be applied to the Redeemer as one “sent” by God, or as by way of eminence the one sent by him. But the connection seems to demand that; there should be some allusion here to one who sustained a similar rank among the Jews; and it is probable that the allusion is to Moses, as having been the great apostle of God to the Jewish people, and that Paul here means to say, that the Lord Jesus, under the new dispensation, filled the place of Moses and of the high priest under the old, and that the office of “apostle” and “high priest,” instead of being now separated, as it was between Moses and Aaron under the old dispensation, was now blended in the Messiah. The name “apostle” is not indeed given to Moses directly in the Old Testament, but the verb from which the Hebrew word for apostle is derived is frequently given him. Thus, in Exodus 3:10, it is said, “Come now, therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh.” And in Hebrews 3:13, “The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you.” So also in Hebrews 3:14-15, of the same chapter. From the word there used - שׁלח shaalach - “to send.” The word denoting “apostle” - שׁליח shaliyach - is derived; and it is not improbable that Moses would be regarded as being by way of eminence the one “sent” by God. Further, the Jews applied the word ” - שׁליח shaliyach - “apostle,” to the minister of the synagogue; to him who presided over its affairs, and who had the general charge of the services there; and in this sense it might be applied by way of eminence to Moses as being the general director and controller of the religious affairs of the nation, and as “sent” for that purpose. The object of Paul is to show that the Lord Jesus in the Christian system - as the great apostle sent from God - sustained a rank and office similar to this, but superior in dignity and authority.

And High Priest - One great object of this Epistle is to compare the Lord Jesus with the high priest of the Jews, and to show that he was in all respects superior. This was important, because the office of high priest was what eminently distinguished the Jewish religion, and because the Christian religion proposed to abolish that. It became necessary, therefore, to show that all that was dignified and valuable in that office was to be found in the Christian system. This was done by showing that in the Lord Jesus was found all the characteristics of a high priest, and that all the functions which had been performed in the Jewish ritual were performed by him, and that all which had been prefigured by the Jewish high priest was fulfilled in him. The apostle here merely alludes to him, or names him as the high priest, and then postpones the consideration of his character in that respect until after he had compared him with Moses.

Of our profession - Of our religion; of that religion which we profess. The apostle and high priest whom we confessed as ours when we embraced the Christian religion.

Verse 2

Who was faithful - see the note, Hebrews 2:17. He performed with fidelity all the functions entrusted to him.

To him that appointed him - Margin, “made.” The word “made,” however, is used in the sense of constituted, or appointed. The meaning is, that he was faithful to God. Perhaps Paul urges on them the necessity of considering “his fidelity” in order to keep “them” from the danger of apostasy. A leading object of this Epistle was to preserve those whom he had addressed from apostatizing from God amidst the temptations and trials to which they were exposed. In doing this, what could be a more powerful argument than to direct their attention to the unwavering constancy and fidelity of the Lord Jesus? The “importance” of such a virtue in the Saviour is manifest. It is seen everywhere; and all the great interests of the world depend on it. A husband should maintain inviolate fidelity toward a wife, and a wife toward her husband; a child should be faithful to a parent, a clerk and apprentice to his employer, a lawyer to his client, a physician to his patient, an ambassador to the government that commissions him.

No matter what may be the temptations in the way, in all these, and in all other relations, there should be inviolate fidelity. The welfare of the world depended on the faithfulness of the Lord Jesus. Had he failed in that, all would have been lost. His fidelity was worthy of the more attentive consideration from the numerous temptations which beset his path, and the attempts which were made to turn him aside from his devotedness to God. Amidst all the temptations of the adversary, and all the trials through which he passed, he never for a moment swerved from fidelity to the great trust which had been committed to his hands. What better example to preserve them from the temptations to apostasy could the apostle propose to the Christians whom he addressed? What, in these temptations and trials, could be more appropriate than for them to consider the example of the great apostle and high priest of their profession? What more proper for us now in the trials and temptations of our lives, than to keep that great and glorious example continually before our eyes?

As also Moses was faithful - Fidelity to God was remarkable in Moses. In all the provocations and rebellions of the Jews, he was firm and unwavering. This is affirmed of him in Numbers 12:7, to which place the apostle here alludes, “My servant, Moses, is not so, who is faithful in all his house.” The word “house,” as applied to Moses, is used probably in the sense of “family,” as it often is, and refers to the “family” over which he presided - that is, the Jewish nation. The whole Jewish people were a “household,” or the family of God, and Moses was appointed to preside over it, and was faithful in the functions of his office there.

Verse 3

For this man - The Lord Jesus. The word “man” is understood, but there can be no doubt that he is referred to.

Was counted more worthy - Was more worthy; or is more worthy. The word used here does not refer to anything that had been said of him, or to any estimate which had been made of him. It means simply that he was worthy of more honor than Moses. how he was so, Paul proceeds to show.

Of more glory - - δόξης doxē̄s. Honor, dignity, regard. He really had a higher rank, and was worthy of more respect. This was saying much for the Messiah, and that it was proper to say this, Paul proceeds to show. He did not attempt in any way to undervalue Moses and his institutions. He gave him all the honor which the Jews were themselves disposed to render him. He admitted that he had been eminently faithful in the station where God had placed him; and he then proceeds to show that the Lord Jesus was entitled to honor superior to that, and that hence the Christian religion had more to attach its friends to it than the Jewish had.

Inasmuch as he who hath builded the house - The idea here is, either that he who is the maker of a house - the architect - is worthy of more respect than the house itself; or that he who is the founder of a family is worthy of more honor than the family of which he is the founder. It seems to me that the former is the meaning - for the latter is not always true. The founder of a family may be really deserving of much less respect than some of his descendants. But it is always true that the architect is worthy of more respect than the house which he makes. He exhibits intellect and skill. The house, however splendid, has neither. The plan of the house was drawn by him; its beauty, its proportions, its ornaments, are what he made them, and but for him they would not have existed. Michelangelo was worthy of more honor than “St. Peter’s Cathedral” at Rome; and Sir Christopher Wren worthy of more than “St. Paul’s Cathedral” at London. Galileo is worthy of more praise than the telescope, and Fulton more than a steam-engine. All the evidence of skill and adaptedness that there is in the invention had its origin in the inventor all the beauty of the statue or the temple had its origin in the mind of him that designed it. An author is worthy of more honor than a book; and he that forms a work of art is worthy of more respect than the work itself. This is the idea here. Paul assumes that all things owed their origin to the Son of God; Hebrews 1:2, Hebrews 1:8,Hebrews 1:10. He was the author of the universe; the source of all wise and well-founded systems; the originator of the Jewish dispensation over which Moses presided. Whatever beauty or excellence there might have been, therefore, in that system, was to be traced to him; and whatever ability even Moses displayed was imparted by him. Christ is really the head of the family over which Moses presided, and has claims, therefore, to higher honor as such.

Verse 4

For every house is builded by some man - The words in this verse are plain, and the sentiment in it clear. The only difficulty is in seeing the connection, and in understanding how it is intended to bear on what precedes, or on what follows. It is clear that every house must have a builder, and equally clear that God is the Creator of all things. But what is the meaning of this passage in this connection? What is its bearing on the argument? If the verse was entirely omitted, and the fifth verse read in connection with the third, there would be apparently nothing wanting to complete the sense of the writer, or to finish the comparison which he had commenced. Various ways have been adopted to explain the difficulty. Perhaps the following observations may remove it, and express the true sense:

(1) Every family must have a founder; every dispensation an author; every house a builder. There must be someone, therefore, over all dispensations - the old and the new - the Jewish and the Christian.

(2) Paul “assumes” that the Lord Jesus was divine. He had demonstrated this in Hebrews 1:1-14; and he argues as if this were so, without now stopping to prove it, or even to affirm it expressly.

(3) God must be over “all things.” He is Creator of all, and he must, therefore, be over all. As the Lord Jesus, therefore, is divine, he must be over the Jewish dispensation as well as the Christian - or he must, as God, have been at the head of that - or over his own family or household.

(4) As such, he must have a glory and honor which could not belong to Moses. He, in his divine character, was the Author of both the Jewish and the Christian dispensations, and he must, therefore, have a rank far superior to that of Moses - which was the point which the apostle designed to illustrate. The meaning of the whole may be thus expressed. “The Lord Jesus is worthy of more honor than Moses. He is so, as the maker of a house deserves more honor than the house. He is divine. In the beginning he laid the foundation of the earth, and was the agent in the creation of all things; Hebrews 1:2, Hebrews 1:10. He presides, therefore, over everything; and was over the Jewish and the Christian dispensations - for there must have been someone over them, or the author of them, as really as it must be true that every house is built by some person. Being, therefore, over all things, and at the head of all dispensations, he must be more exalted than Moses.” This seems to me to be the argument - an argument which is based on the supposition that he is at the head of all things, and that he was the agent in the creation of all worlds. This view will make all consistent. The Lord Jesus will be seen to have a claim to a far higher honor than Moses, and Moses will be seen to have derived his honor, as a servant of the Mediator, in the economy which he had appointed.

Verse 5

Moses was faithful a servant - Not as the head of the dispensation; not as having originated it; but as in the employ and under the direction of its great Founder and Author - the Messiah. As such a servant he deserves all the honor for fidelity which has ever been claimed for him, but it cannot be the honor which is due to him who is at the head of the family or house. Paul “assumed” that Moses was a “servant,” and argued on that supposition, without attempting to prove it, because it was so often affirmed in the Old Testament, and must have been conceded by all the Jews. In numerous instances he is spoken of as “the servant of the Lord;” see Joshua 1:1-2; Jos 9:24; 1 Chronicles 6:49; 2 Chronicles 24:9; Nehemiah 10:29; Daniel 9:11; Exodus 14:31; 1 Kings 8:56; Psalms 105:26. As this point was undisputed, it was only necessary to show that the Messiah was superior to a “servant,” in order to make the argument clear.

For a testimony - To bear witness to those truths which were to be revealed; that is, he was the instrument of the divine communications to the people, or the medium by which God made his will known. He did not originate the truths himself; but he was the mere medium by which God made known his truth to his people - a servant whom He employed to make his will known. The word after here is not necessary in order to a just translation of this passage, and obscures the sense. It does not mean that he was a witness of those truths which were to be spoken “subsequently” to his time under another dispensation, nor those truths which the apostle proposed to consider in another part of the Epistle, as Doddridge supposes; but it means merely that Moses stood forth as a public witness of the truths which God designed to reveal, or which were to be spoken. God did not speak to his people “directly,” and face to face, but he spoke through Moses as an organ, or medium. The sense is, Moses was a mere servant of God to communicate his will to man.

Verse 6

But Christ as a Son over his own house - He is not a servant. To the whole household or family of God he sustains the same relation which a son and heir in a family does to the household. That relation is far different from that of a servant. Moses was the latter; Christ was the former. To God he sustained the relation of a Son, and recognized Him as his Father, and sought in all things to do his will; but over the whole family of God - the entire Church of all dispensations - he was like a son over the affairs of a family. Compared with the condition of a servant, Christ is as much superior to Moses as a son and heir is to the condition of a servant. A servant owns nothing; is heir to nothing; has no authority, and no right to control anything, and is himself wholly at the will of another. A son is the heir of all; has a prospective right to all; and is looked up to by all with respect. But the idea here is not merely that Christ is a son; it is that as a son he is placed over the whole arrangements of the household, and is one to whom all is entrusted as if it were His own.

Whose house we are - Of whose family we are a part, or to which we belong. That is, we belong to the family over which Christ is placed, and not to what was subject to Moses.

If we hold fast - A leading object of this Epistle is to guard those to whom it was addressed against the danger of apostasy. Hence, this is introduced on all suitable occasions, and the apostle here says, that the only evidence which they could have that they belonged to the family of Christ, would be that they held fast the confidence which they had unto the end. If they did not do that, it would demonstrate that they never belonged to his family, for evidence of having belonged to his household was to be furnished only by perseverance to the end.

The confidence - The word used here originally means “the liberty of speaking boldly and without restraint;” then it means boldness or confidence in general.

And the rejoicing - The word used here means properly “glorying, boasting,” and then rejoicing. These words are used here in an adverbial signification, and the meaning is, that the Christian has “a confident and a rejoicing hope.” It is:

(1)Confident - bold - firm. It is not like the timid hope of the Pagan, and the dreams and conjectures of the philosopher; it is not that which gives way at every breath of opposition; it is bold, firm, and manly. It is.

(2)Rejoicing” - triumphant, exulting. Why should not the hope of heaven fill with joy? Why should not he exult who has the prospect of everlasting happiness?

Unto the end - To the end of life. Our religion, our hope, our confidence in God must he persevered in to the end of life, if we would have evidence that we are his children. If hope is cherished for a while and then abandoned; if people profess religion and then fall away, no matter what were their raptures and triumphs, it proves that they never had any real piety. No evidence can be strong enough to prove that a man is a Christian, unless it leads him to persevere to the end of life.

Verse 7

Wherefore - In view of the fact that the Author of the Christian dispensation has a rank far superior to that of Moses. Because Christ has claims on us far greater than those which Moses had, let us hearken to his voice, and dread his displeasure.

As the Holy Ghost saith - In Psalms 95:7-11. This is full proof that in the estimation of the author of this Epistle the writer of this Psalm was inspired. The Holy Spirit speaks through the word which he has revealed. The apostle quotes this passage and applies it to those whom he addressed, because the admonition was as pertinent and important under the Christian dispensation, as it was under the Jewish. The danger of hardening the heart by neglecting to hear his voice was as great, and the consequences would be as fearful and alarming. We should regard the solemn warnings in the Old Testament against sin, and against the danger of apostasy, as addressed by the Holy Spirit to us. They are as applicable to us as they were to those to whom they were at first addressed; and we need all the influence of such appeals, to keep us from apostasy as much as they did.

Today - Now; at present. At the very time when the command is addressed to you. It is not to be put off until tomorrow. All God’s commands relate to “the present” - to this day - to the passing moment. He gives us no commands “about the future.” He does not require us to repent and to turn to him “tomorrow,” or 10 years hence. The reasons are obvious:

  1. Duty pertains to the present. It is our duty to turn from sin, and to love him now.

(2)We know not that we shall live to another day. A command, therefore, could not extend to that time unless it were accompanied with “a revelation” that we should live until then - and such a revelation God does not choose to give. Every one, therefore, should feel that whatever commands God addresses to him are addressed to him now. Whatever guilt he incurs by neglecting those commands is incurred now. For the present neglect and disobedience each one is to answer - and each one must give account to God for what he does today.

If ye will hear - In case you are willing to hearken to God, listen now, and do not defer it to a future period. There is much in a “willingness” to hear the voice of God. A willingness to learn is usually the precursor of great attainments in knowledge. A “willingness” to reform, is usually the precursor of reformation. Get a man “willing” to break off his habits of profaneness or intemperance, and usually all the rest is easy. The great difficulty in the mind of a sinner is in his will. He is unwilling to hear the voice of God; unwilling that he should reign over him; unwilling now to attend to religion. While this unwillingness lasts he will make no efforts, and he sees, or creates a thousand difficulties in the way of his becoming a Christian. But when that unwillingness is overcome, and he is disposed to engage in the work of religion, difficulties vanish, and the work of salvation becomes easy.

His voice - The voice of God speaking to us:

(1)In his written word;

(2)In the preached gospel;

(3)In our own consciences;

(4)In the events of his Providence;

(5)In the admonitions of our relatives and friends. Whatever conveys to us the truth of God, or is adapted to impress that on us, may be regarded as “his voice” speaking to us. He thus speaks to us “every day” in some of these ways; and every day, therefore, he may entreat us not to harden our hearts.

Verse 8

Harden not your hearts - Do not render the heart insensible to the divine voice and admonition. A hard heart is that where the conscience is seared and insensible; where truth makes no impression; where no religious effect is produced by afflictions; where preaching is listened to without interest; and where the mind is unaffected by the appeals of friends. The idea here is, that a refusal to listen to the voice of God is connected with a hardening of the heart. It is in two ways:

  1. The very refusal to do this tends to harden it. And,

(2)In order to resist the appeals of God, people must resort to the means of “voluntarily” hardening the heart. This they do by setting themselves against the truth; by the excuses which they offer for not becoming Christians: by plunging into sin in order to avoid serious impressions; and by direct resistance of the Holy Spirit. No inconsiderable part of the efforts of sinners consists in endeavoring to produce insensibility in their minds to the truth and the appeals of God.

As in the provocation - Literally, “in the embittering” - ἐν τῶ παραπικρασμῶ en tō parapikrasmō. Then it means what embitters or provokes the mind - as disobedience. Here it refers to what they did to “embitter” the mind of God against them; that is to the course of conduct which was adopted to provoke him to wrath.

In the day of temptation - In the time of temptation - the word “day” being used here, as it is often, to denote an indefinite period, or “time” in general. The word “temptation” here refers to the various provocations by which they “tried” the patience of God. They rebelled against him; they did what put the divine patience and forbearance to a trial. It does not mean that they tempted God to do evil, but that his long-suffering was “tried” by their sins.

In the wilderness - The desert through which they passed. The word “wilderness” in the Scriptures commonly means a “desert;” see the notes at Matthew 3:1. “One provocation was in demanding bread at Sin; a second for want of water at Massah or Meribah; a third time at Sinai with the golden calf; a fourth time at Taberah for want of flesh; a fifth time at Kadesh when they refused to go up into Canaan, and the oath came that they should die in the wilderness. A like refusal may prevent us from entering into rest.” - Dr. John P. Wilson, Manuscript Notes.

Verse 9

Proved me - “As if they would have made an experiment how much it was possible for me to bear.” - Doddridge. The meaning is: “they put my patience to a thorough trial.”

And saw my works - That is, my miracles, or my interpositions in their behalf. They saw the wonders at the Red Sea, the descent on Mount Sinai, the supply of manna, etc., and yet while seeing those works they rebelled. Even while sinners look on the doings of God, and are surrounded by the proofs of his power and goodness, they rebel, and provoke him to anger. Men sin when God is filling their houses with plenty; when he opens his hand daily to supply their wants; when they behold the manifestations of his goodness on the sea and on the land; and even in the midst of all the blessings of redemption, they provoke him to wrath.

Forty years - The whole time during which they were passing from Egypt to the promised land. This may mean either that they saw his works forty years, or that they tempted him forty years. The sense is not materially affected whichever interpretation is preferred.

Verse 10

Wherefore I was grieved - On the word “grieved,” see the notes at Ephesians 4:30. The word here means that he was offended with, or that he was indignant at them.

They do always err in their heart - Their long trial of forty years had been sufficient to show that it was a characteristic of the people that they were disposed to wander from God. Forty years are enough to show what the character is. They had seen his works; they had been called to obey him; they had received his Law; and yet their conduct during that time had shown that they were not disposed to obey him. So of an individual. A man who has lived in sin forty years; who during all that time has rebelled against God, and disregarded all his appeals; who has lived for himself and not for his Maker, has shown what his character is. Longer time is unnecessary; and if God should then cut him down and consign him to hell, he could not be blamed for doing it. A man who during forty years will live in sin, and resist all the appeals of God, shows what is in his heart, and no injustice is done if then he is summoned before God, and he swears that he shall not enter into his rest.

And they have not known my ways - They have been rebellious. They have not been acquainted with the true God; or they have not “approved” my doings. The word “know” is often used in the Scriptures in the sense of “approving,” or “loving;” see the notes at Matthew 7:23.

Verse 11

So I sware in my wrath - God is often represented in the Scriptures as “swearing” - and usually as swearing by himself, or by his own existence. Of course this in figurative, and denotes a strong affirmation, or a settled and determined purpose. An oath with us implies the strongest affirmation, or the expression of the most settled and determined purpose of mind. The meaning here is, that so refractory and perverse had they showed themselves, that he solemnly resolved that they should never enter into the land of Canaan.

They shall not enter into my rest - Margin, As in the original, “if they shall enter.” That is, they shall not enter. The word (אם ‛im) “if” has this negative meaning in Hebrew, and this meaning is transferred to the Greek word “if;” compare 1 Samuel 3:17; 2 Samuel 3:35; 2 Kings 6:31. It is called “my rest” here, meaning that it was such rest as God had provided, or such as he enjoyed. The particular “rest” referred to here was that of the land of Canaan, but which was undoubtedly regarded as emblematic of the “rest” in heaven. Into that rest God solemnly said they should never enter. They had been rebellious. All the means of reclaiming them had failed. God had warned and entreated them; he had caused his mercies to pass before them, and had visited them with judgments in vain; and he now declares that for all their rebellion they should be excluded from the promised land. God speaks here in the manner of human beings. Men are affected with feelings of indignation in such circumstances, and God makes use of such language as expresses such feelings. But we are to understand it in a manner consistent with his character, and we are not to suppose that he is affected with the same emotions which agitate the bosoms of people. The meaning is, that he formed and expressed a deliberate and solemn purpose that they should never enter into the promised land. Whether this “rest” refers here to heaven, and whether the meaning is that God would exclude them from that blessed world, will be more appropriately considered in the next chapter. The particular idea is, that they were to be excluded from the promised land, and that they should fall in the wilderness. No one can doubt, also, that their conduct had been such as to show that the great body of them were unfit to enter into heaven.

Verse 12

Take heed, brethren - In view of the conduct of the rebellious Jews, and of their fearful doom, be on your guard lest you also be found to have had the same feelings of rebellion and unbelief. See to it, that under the new dispensation, and in the enjoyment of the privileges of the gospel, you be not found to manifest such feelings as shall exclude you from the heavenly world. The “principle” has been settled by their unbelief that they who oppose God will be excluded from his rest. That may be shown under all dispensations, and in all circumstances, and there is not less danger of it under the gospel than there was when the fathers were conducted to the promised land. You are traveling through a wilderness - the barren wilderness of this world. You are exposed to trials and temptations. You meet with many a deadly and mighty foe. You have hearts prone to apostasy and sin. You are seeking a land of promise; a land of rest. You are surrounded by the wonders of Almighty power, and by the proofs of infinite beneficence. Disobedience and rebellion in you will as certainly exclude you from heaven as their rebellion did them from the promised land; and as their great sin was unbelief, be on your guard lest you manifest the same.

An evil heart of unbelief - An evil, unbelieving heart. The word “unbelief” is used to qualify the word “heart,” by a Hebraism - a mode of speech that is common in the New Testament. An unbelieving heart was the cause of “their” apostasy, and what worked their ruin will produce ours. The root of their evil was “a want of confidence in God” - and this is what is meant here by a heart of unbelief. The great difficulty on earth everywhere is a “want of confidence in God” - and this has produced all the ills that man has ever suffered. It led to the first apostasy; and it has led to every other apostasy - and will continue to produce the same effects to the end of the world. The apostle says that this heart of unbelief is “evil.” Men often feel that it is a matter of little consequence whether they have faith or not, provided their conduct is right; and hence, they do not see or admit the propriety of what is said about the consequences of unbelief in the Scriptures. But what do they say about a want of confidence between a husband and wife?

Are there no evils in that? What husband can sleep with quietness on his pillow, if he has no confidence in the virtue of his wife? What child can have peace who has no confidence in a parent? How can there be prosperity in a community where there is no confidence in a bank, or an insurance office, or where one merchant has no confidence in another; where a neighbor has no confidence in his neighbor; where the sick have no confidence in a physician, and where in general all confidence is broken up between man and man? If I wished to produce the deepest distress in any community, and had the power, I would produce the same want of confidence between man and man which there is now between man and his Maker. I would thus take away sleep from the pillow of every husband and wife; every parent and child; and make every man wretched with the feeling that all the property which he had was insecure. Among people, nothing is seen to be productive of greater evil than a want of confidence or faith - and why should not the same evil exist in the divine administration? And if want of confidence produces such results between man and man, why should it not produce similar, or greater, miseries where it occurs in relation to God? There is not an evil that man endures which might not be alleviated or removed by confidence in God; and hence one great object of the Christian religion is, to restore to man his lost confidence in the God that made him.

In departing from the living God - Manifested in departing from him; or leading to a departure from him. The idea is, that such a heart of unbelief would be connected with apostasy from God. All apostasy first exists in the heart, and then is manifested in the life. They who indulge in unbelief in any form, or in regard to any subject, should remember that this is the great source of all alienation from God, and that if indulged it will lead to complete apostasy. They who wish to live a life of piety should keep the heart right. He that lives “by the faith of the Son of God” is safe; and none is safe but he.

Verse 13

But exhort one another daily - This is addressed to the members of the churches; and it follows, therefore:

(1) That it is their duty to exhort their brethren; and,

(2) That it is their duty to do it “daily;” that is, constantly; see Hebrews 10:25; 1 Thessalonians 4:18; 1 Thessalonians 5:11; note, Romans 12:8. While this is the special duty of the ministers of the gospel 1 Timothy 6:2; 2 Timothy 4:2; Titus 2:6, Titus 2:15, it is also the duty of all the members of the churches, and a most important, but much-neglected duty. This does not refer to “public” exhortation, which more appropriately pertains to the ministers of the gospel, but to that private watch and care which the individual members of the church should have over one another. But in what eases is such exhortation proper? What rules should regulate it? I answer, it may be regarded as a duty, or is to be performed in such cases as the following:

(1) Intimate friends in the church should exhort and counsel one another; should admonish each other of their faults; and should aid one another in the divine life.

(2) Parents should do the same thing to their children. They are placed particularly under their watch and care. A pastor cannot often see the members of his flock in private; and a parent may greatly aid him in his work by watching over the members of their families who are connected with the church.

(3) Sunday School teachers may aid much in this duty. They are to be assistants to parents and to pastors. They often have under their care youthful members of the churches. They have an opportunity of knowing their state of mind, their temptations, and their dangers better than the pastor can have. It should be theirs, therefore, to exhort them to a holy life.

(4) The aged should exhort the young. Every aged Christian may thus do much for the promotion of religion. His experience is the property of the church; and he is bound so to employ it as to be useful in aiding the feeble, reclaiming the wandering, recovering the backslider, and directing the inquiring. There is a vast amount of “spiritual capital” of this kind in the church that is unemployed, and that might be made eminently useful in helping others to heaven.

(5) Church members should exhort one another. There may not be the intimacy of personal friendship among all the members of a large church, but still the connection between them should be regarded as sufficiently tender and confidential to make it proper for anyone to admonish a brother who goes astray. They belong to the same communion. They sit down at the same supper of the Lord. They express their assent to the same articles of faith. They are regarded by the community as united. Each member sustains a portion of the honor and the responsibility of the whole; and each member should feel that he has a right, and that it is his duty to admonish a brother if he goes astray. Yet this duty is greatly neglected. In what church is it performed? How often do church members see a fellow member go astray without any exhortation or admonition! How often do they hear reports of the inconsistent lives of other members and perhaps contribute to the circulation of those reports themselves, without any pains taken to inquire whether they are true! How often do the poor fear the rich members of the church, or the rich despise the poor, and see one another live in sin, without any attempt to entreat or save them! I would not have the courtesies of life violated. I would not have any assume a dogmatical or dictatorial air. I would have no one step out of his proper sphere of life. But the principle which I would lay down is, that the fact of church membership should inspire such confidence as to make it proper for one member to exhort another whom he sees going astray. Belonging to the same family; having the same interest in religion; and all suffering when one suffers, why should they not be allowed tenderly and kindly to exhort one another to a holy life?

While it is called Today - While life lasts; or while you may be permitted to use the language “Today hear the voice of God.” The idea is, that the exhortation is not to be intermitted. It is to be our daily business to admonish and exhort one another. Christians are liable every day to go astray; every day they need aid in the divine life; and they who are fellow-heirs with them of salvation should be ever ready to counsel and advise them.

Lest any of you be hardened - the notes at Hebrews 3:8. It is possible for Christians to become in a sense hardened. Their minds become less sensitive than they were to the claims of duty, and their consciences become less tender. Hence, the propriory of mutual exhortation, that they may always have the right feeling, and may always listen to the commands of God.

The deceitfulness of sin - See the notes at Ephesians 4:22. Sin is always deceitful. It promises more than it performs. It assures us of pleasure which it never imparts. It leads us on beyond what was supposed when we began to indulge in it. The man who commits sin is always under a delusion; and sin, if he indulges it, will lead him on from one step to another until the heart becomes entirely hardened. Sin puts on plausible appearances and preferences; it assumes the name of virtue; it offers excuses and palliations, until the victim is snared, and then spell-bound he is hurried on to every excess. If sin was always seen in its true aspect when man is tempted to commit it, it would be so hateful that he would flee from it with the utmost abhorrence. What young man would become a drunkard if he saw when he began exactly the career which he would run? What young man, now vigorous and healthful, and with fair prospects of usefulness and happiness would ever touch the intoxicating bowl, if he saw what he “would be” when he became a sot? What man would ever enter the room of the gambler if he saw just where indulgence would soon lead him, and if at the commencement he saw exactly the wo and despair which would inevitably ensue? Who would become a voluptuary and a sensualist, if he saw exactly the close of such a career? Sin deceives, deludes, blinds. Men do not, or will not, see the fearful results of indulgence. They are deluded by the hope of happiness or of gain; they are drawn along by the fascinations and allurements of pleasure until the heart becomes hard and the conscience seared - and then they give way without remorse. From such a course, the apostle would have Christians guarded by kind and affectionate exhortation. Each one should feel that he has an interest in keeping his brother from Such a doom; and each Christian thus in danger should be willing to listen to the kind exhortation of a Christian brother.

Verse 14

For we are made partakers of Christ - We are spiritually united to the Saviour. We become one with him. We partake of his spirit and his allotments. The sacred writers are accustomed to describe the Christian as being closely united to the Saviour, and as being one with him see the John 15:1-7; John 17:21, John 17:23 notes; Ephesians 5:30 note; 1 Corinthians 12:27 note. The idea is, that we participate in all that pertains to him. It is a union of feeling and affection; a union of principle and of congeniality; a union of dependence as well as love; a union where nothing is to be imparted by us, but everything gained; and a union, therefore, on the part of the Redeemer of great condescension. It is the union of the branch to the vine, where the branch is supported and nourished by the vine, and not the union of the ivy and the oak, where the ivy has its own roots, and merely clings around the oak and climbs up upon it. What else can be said so honorable of man as that he is a “partaker of Christ;” that he shares his feelings here, and that he is to share his honors in a brighter world? Compared with this, what is it to participate with the rich and the frivolous in their pleasures; what would it be to share in the honors of conquerors and kings?

μετοχοι του Χριστου metochoi tou Christou cannot signify, as some explain, participation merely in the blessings of Christ’s death, but must be referred, as our author here affirms, to the spiritual union which subsists between Christ and his people. That union doubtless involves, as necessary consequents, “a union of feeling and affection, a union of principle and congeniality, a union of dependence and love.” Yet, we think, it is something more. It is a “real” and vital union, formed by the one Spirit of Christ, pervading the head and the members of the mystical body. And this is the “foundation” of all union of affection, etc. For a condensed view of the subject, see the supplementary note on Romans 8:10.)

If we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast - see the note at Hebrews 3:6. If we continue to maintain the same confidence which we had in the beginning, or which we showed at the commencement of our Christian life. At first, they had been firm in the Christian hope. They evinced true and strong attachment to the Redeemer. They were ardent and devoted to his cause. If they continued to maintain that to the end, that is, the end of life; if in the midst of all temptations and trials they adhered inflexibly to the cause of the Saviour, they would show that they were true Christians, and would partake of the blessedness of the heavenly world with the Redeemer. The idea is, that it is only perseverance in the ways of religion that constitutes certain evidence of piety. Where piety is manifested through life, or where there is an untiring devotion to the cause of God, there the evidence is clear and undoubted.

But where there is at first great ardor, zeal, and confidence, which soon dies away, then it is clear that they never had any real attachment to him and his cause. It may be remarked here, that the “beginning of the confidence” of those who are deceived, and who know nothing about religion at heart, is often as bold as where there is true piety. The hypocrite makes up in ardor what he lacks in sincerity; and he who is really deceived, is usually deceived under the influence of some strong and vivid emotion, which he mistakes for true religion. Often the sincere convert is calm, though decided, and sometimes is even timorous and doubting; while the self-deceiver is noisy in profession, and clamorous in his zeal, and much disposed to blame the lukewarmness of others. Evidence of piety, therefore, should not be built on that early zeal; nor should it be concluded that because there is ardor, there is of necessity genuine religion. Ardor is valuable, and true religion is ardent; but there is other ardor than what the gospel inspires. The evidence of genuine piety is to be found in what will bear us up under trials, and endure amidst persecution and opposition. The doctrine here is, that it is necessary to persevere if we would have the evidence of true piety. This doctrine is taught everywhere in the Scriptures. Persevere in what? I answer, not:

(1)Merely in a profession of religion. A man may do that and have no piety.

(2)Not in zeal for party, or sect. The Pharisees had that to the end of their lives.

(3)Not in mere honesty, and correctness of external deportment. A man may do that in the church, as well as out of it, and yet have no religion.

But we should persevere:

(1)In the love of God and of Christ - in conscious, ardent, steady attachment to Him to whom our lives are professedly devoted.

(2)In the secret duties of religion. In that watchfulness over the heart; that communion with God; that careful study of the Bible; that guardianship over the temper; and in that habitual contact with God in secret prayer which is appropriate to a Christian, and which marks the Christian character.

(3)In the performance of the public duties of religion; in leading a “Christian” life - as distinguished from a life of worldliness and vanity; a life of mere morality, and honesty; a life such as thousands lead who are out of the church.

There is something which distinguishes a Christian from one who is not a Christian; a religious from an irreligious man. There is “something” in religion; “something” which serves to characterize a Christian, and unless that something is manifested, there can be no evidence of true piety. The Christian is to be distinguished in temper, feeling, deportment, aims, plans, from the people of this world - and unless those characteristics are shown in the life and deportment, there can be no well-founded evidence of religion.


(1)That it is not mere “feeling” that furnishes evidence of religion.

(2)That it is not mere “excitement” that constitutes religion.

(3)That it is not mere ardor.

(4)That it is not mere zeal.

All these may be temporary. Religion is something that lasts throughout life. It goes with a person everywhere. It is with him in trial. It forms his plans; regulates his temper; suggests his words; prompts to his actions. It lives with him in all his external changes, and goes with him through the dark valley of death, and accompanies him up to the bar of God, and is with him forever.

Verse 15

While it is said, Today ... - That is, persevere as long as life lasts, or as long as it can be said “today;” and by persevering in this manner you will have evidence that you are the friends of the Redeemer. This is a quotation from Psalms 95:7. Paul means, undoubtedly, to make use of this language himself as a direct exhortation to the Christians to whom he was writing. He entreats them, therefore, as long as it could be said “today,” or as long as life lasted, to take care lest they should harden their hearts as had been done in the temptation in the wilderness.

Verse 16

For some - Some of the Hebrews who came out of Egypt. The truth was that a large proportion of them rebelled against God, and provoked him to indignation. It is somewhat remarkable that though “all” the Hebrews seem to have joined in the provocation - except a very small number - Paul should have used language which would seem to imply that the number which rebelled was comparatively small. Another version, therefore, has been given to this passage by some of the most eminent critics, consisting merely in a change in the punctuation, by which a different view is given of the whole sentence. According to this, it would be a question, and would mean, “But who were they who when they had heard did provoke? Were they not all indeed who came out of Egypt under Moses? And with whom was He angry for 40 years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose carcasses fell in the wilderness?” This version was adopted by Chrysostom, Theodoret, and others of the Fathers; and is adopted by Rosenmuller, Clarke, Stuart, Pyle, and some others. In favor of it, it may be alleged:

(1)That the Greek will bear it, all the change required being in the punctuation;

(2)That it avoids the difficulty which exists in the other interpretation of supposing the apostle to imply that but few of them rebelled, when the truth was that it was nearly all;

(3)It thus accords with the remainder of the exhortation, which consists in a series of questions; and,

(4)It agrees with the scope and design of the whole.

The object was not to state that it was not all who came out of Egypt that rebelled, or that the number was small, but that the great body of them rebelled and fell in the wilderness, and that Christians should be admonished by their example. These reasons seem to be so strong as to make it probable that this is the true construction, and the sense then will be, “For who were they that having heard did provoke? Were they not all who came out of Egypt under Moses?”

When they had heard - Had heard God speaking to them, and giving them his commands.

Did provoke - Provoked him to anger; or their conduct was such as was suited to produce indignation; see the note on Hebrews 3:8.

Howbeit - Αλλά Alla. “But.” This particle “in a series of questions, and standing at the head of a question, means “but, further.” It serves to connect, and give intensity to the interrogation” - Stuart. Paul means to ask with emphasis whether the great mass of those who came out of Egypt did not apostatize? At the same time he means to intimate that there is no security that they who have witnessed - remarkable manifestations of the greatness of God, and who have partaken of extraordinary mercies, will not apostatize and perish. As the Hebrews, who heard God speak from Mount Sinai, revolted and perished, so it is possible that they who witness the mercies of God in redemption, may be in danger of abusing all those mercies, and of perishing. By the example, therefore, of the disobedient Israelites, he would admonish professed Christians of their danger.

Not all ... - According to the interpretation proposed above, “Were they not all who came out of Egypt?” Or “did not all who came out of Egypt?” The word “all” here is not to be taken in the strict sense, It is often used to denote the great body; a large proportion; or vast multitudes. Thus, it is used in Matthew 3:5, “Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judea, and all the region round about Jordan.” So in John 3:26, “The same baptizeth, and all people came to him.” So Philippians 2:21, “For all seek their own;” 2 Corinthians 3:2, “Ye are our epistle, known and read of all men.” “In fact” there were two exceptions - and but two - of the adults who came out of Egypt - Caleb and Joshua; Numbers 14:30. All the others complained against the Lord, and were prohibited from entering the promised land. Of the great multitudes who came out of Egypt, and who murmured, the exception was so small that the apostle had no scruple in saying in general that they were all rebellious.

Verse 17

But with whom was he grieved forty years? - With whom was he angry; see the notes at Hebrews 3:10.

Was it not with them that had sinned - That had sinned in various ways - by rebellion, murmuring, unbelief. As God was angry with them for their sins, we have the same reason to apprehend that he will be angry with us if we sin; and we should, therefore, be on our guard against that unbelief which would lead us to depart from him; Hebrews 3:12.

Whose carcasses fell ... - Numbers 14:29. That is, they all died, and were left on the sands of the desert. The whole generation was strewed along in the way to Canaan. All of those who had seen the wonders that God had done “in the land of Ham;” who had been rescued in so remarkable a manner from oppression, were thus cut down, and died in the deserts through which they were passing; Numbers 26:64-65. Such an example of the effects of revolt against God, and of unbelief, was well suited to admonish Christians in the time of the apostle, and is suited to admonish us now, of the danger of the sin of unbelief. We are not to suppose that all of those who thus died were excluded from heaven. Moses and Aaron were among the number of those who were not permitted to enter the promised land, but of their piety there can be no doubt; Beyond all question, also, there were many others of that generation who were truly pious. But at different times they seem all to have partaken of the prevalent feelings of discontent, and were all involved in the sweeping condemnation that they should die in the wilderness.

Verse 18

And to whom sware he - note, Hebrews 3:11.

But to them that believed not - That did not confide in God; Deuteronomy 1:32. “Yet in this thing ye did not believe the Lord your God.” In consequence of this want of faith, God solemnly sware unto them that they should not enter into the promised land; Deuteronomy 1:34-35. “And the Lord heard the voice of your words, and was wroth, and sware, saying, “Surely there shall not one of these men of this evil generation see that good land which I sware to give unto your fathers, save Caleb,” etc. The distinct reason, therefore, assigned by Moses why they did not enter the promised land, was a want of faith, and this accords directly with the design of the apostle here. He is exhorting those whom he addressed to beware of an evil heart of unbelief; Hebrews 3:12. He says that it was such a heart that excluded the Hebrews from the promised land. The same thing, says he, must exclude you from heaven - the promised home of the believer; and if that firm confidence in God and his promises which he requires is wanting, you will be excluded from the world of eternal rest.

Verse 19

So we see ... - We see from the direct testimony of the Old Testament that unbelief was the reason why they were excluded from the promised land. Let us learn in view of the reasoning and exhortations here:

(1) The evil of unbelief. It excluded that whole generation, consisting of many hundred thousand souls, from the land of promise - the land to which they had looked with ardent hopes, and with warm desires. It will exclude countless millions from heaven. A “lack of confidence in God” is the great source of evil in this world, and will be the cause of wretchedness to all eternity of unnumbered hosts. But surely that was not a small or unimportant thing which strewed the desert with the bones of that whole generation whom God had in so remarkable a manner rescued from Egyptian servitude. And that cannot be a small matter which will cause multitudes to sink down to infinite wretchedness and despair.

(2) Let us who are professed Christians be cautious against indulging unbelief in our hearts. Our difficulties all begin there. We lose confidence in God. We doubt his promises, his oaths, his threatenings. In dark and trying times we begin to have doubts about the wisdom of his dealings, and about his goodness. Unbelief once admitted into the heart is the beginning of many woes. When a man loses confidence in God, he is on a shoreless ocean that is full of whirlpools, and rocks, and quicksands, and where it is “impossible” to find a secure anchorage. There is nothing to which he may moor his driven bark; and he will never find safety or peace until he comes back to God.

(3) Let us live a life of faith. Let us so live that we may say with Paul, “The life that I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” So living, we shall have peace. The mind will be at rest. Storms and tempests may blow, but we shall be secure. Others may be troubled in the vicissitudes of life, but our minds will be at peace.

(4) Let us live expecting the future “rest” that remains for us. Let us keep our eye fixed upon it. To us there is a rest promised, as there was to the Hebrews whom God had delivered from the land of oppression; and we may by faith attain to that “rest” as they might have reached the land of Canaan.

(5) Let us persevere to the end. He that draws back must be lost. He that does not endure to the end of life in the ways of religion can never have been a Christian. There is nothing which will furnish certain evidence of religion unless our piety is such as to lead us to persevere until death. The man who enters on the professed Christian life expecting to fall away, or who can look upon the possibility of falling away without concern, has never known anything of the nature of true religion. He cannot be a Christian. He may have had raptures and visions; he may be a loud professor and a noisy and zealous partisan, but he has no evidence that he has ever known anything about religion. That religion which is not connected with a firm and determined purpose by the grace of God to persevere to the end of life, is no true religion; and a man who expects to fall away and go back again to the world, or who can look at such an idea without alarm, should regard it as a settled matter that he has no true knowledge of God.

(6) No man should delay the work of salvation to a future time. today is the accepted time; today the only time of which we have any security. God speaks “today,” and today his voice should be heard. No man on any subject should defer until tomorrow what ought to be done today. He who defers religion until a future time neglects his own best interest; violates most solemn obligations; and endangers his immortal soul. What security can anyone have that he will live to see another day? What evidence has he that he will be any more disposed to attend to his salvation then than he is now? What evidence can he have that he will not provoke God by this course, and bring condemnation on his soul? Of all delusions, that is the most wonderful by which dying people are led to defer attention to the concerns of the soul to a future period of life. Nowhere has Satan such advantage as in keeping this delusion before the mind; and if in respect to anything the voice of warning and alarm should be lifted loud and long, it is in reference to this. O why will not people be wise “today?” Why will they not embrace the offer of salvation “now?” Why will they not at once make sure of eternal happiness? And why, amidst the changes and trials of this life, will they not so secure the everlasting inheritance as to feel that that is safe - that there is one thing at least that cannot be shaken and disturbed by commercial embarrassment and distress; one thing secure though friends and kindred are torn away from them; one thing safe when their own health fails, and they lie down on the bed where they will bid adieu to all earthly comforts, and from which they will never rise?

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Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Hebrews 3". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". 1870.