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The Contest. Endurance, Holiness, and Divine Communion proposed to the Sons of God
Inspired by the example of those victorious heroes of faith who now encompass us, we ought to run our race patiently, looking to Jesus the supreme example of patient endurance (Hebrews 12:1-2). The present sufferings are the discipline of a loving Father, and are actually evidence of our being His children. Be brave, therefore, and help others to be the same (Hebrews 12:3-13). Beware of strife and impurity, taking warning from the case of Esau, who irretrievably forfeited his blessing (Hebrews 12:14-17). Our greater privileges entail greater responsibilities and call for greater watchfulness (Hebrews 12:18-29).
1. Witnesses] The Gk. word is martyres. The word means primarily ’one who bears witness’ to something he has seen or experienced. Here the witnesses are those who have borne testimony to the victorious power of faith. But the word passes easily over to the further sense of ’spectators,’ which is also implied in this whole passage. The writer conceives these heroes as surrounding in a cloud, or dense mass, the arena in which the present generation of God’s people are running their race. Once they were themselves runners; now they are promoted to the rank of spectators. Their presence and example ought to be a stimulus to those running now.
Every weight] mg. ’all cumbrance.’ The word may refer to anything that impedes free running, such as loose garments. But it is used in a special sense to denote the superfluous flesh which an athlete seeks to get rid of by strict training: cp. 1 Corinthians 9:24-27.
Which doth so easily beset us] The meaning of this phrase, represented in the original by a single adjective, is doubtful, and the Revisers have not seen fit to change the translation in the text. But they give in the margin the two other possible renderings: (1) ’that doth closely cling to us,’ i.e. like a clinging garment (cp. the common Oriental phrase, ’to gird up the loins,’ i.e. to tack the loose ends of the outer flowing robe under the girdle as a preparation for any exertion); or (2) ’that is admired of many,’ lit. ’well-surrounded’. by an admiring throng. The former, which is virtually identical with the accepted rendering of AV, is the easier, and is appropriate to the idea of a runner divesting himself of all impedimenta. It is to be observed that ’the sin’ spoken of is not a particular sin (as the common use of the phrase ’besetting sin’ suggests), but sin in general, all sin, the definite article being the ’generic’ article.
2. Looking unto] The Gk. word is used of an artist who looks at his model. Jesus is the Great Exemplar, on whom, rather than on the cloud of witnesses, the runners are to fix their eyes. Author and perfecter] so RV: cp. Hebrews 2:10, where the word ’author’ is rendered ’captain’ in AV, Our faith suggests a system of Christian doctrine. But there is no word representing ’our’ in the original. Jesus is leader in the way of faith, and He leads to the very end, exhibiting the perfection and triumph of faith.
For the joy] may mean ’instead of the joy,’ i.e. renouncing it; but more likely ’in view of the joy,’ i.e. the recompence of reward, as in Hebrews 11:26: cp. Hebrews 11:1.
3. Against himself] RV ’against themselves,’ A more difficult, but well-attested reading. If correct, it will mean that sinners sin against themselves, either by wronging their own souls (see Proverbs 8:36) or by contradicting their better selves,
4. The struggle has not yet been severe, A mild reproach of faintheartedness is implied: cp. Proverbs 24:10; Jeremiah 12:5.
5. The quotation is from Proverbs 3:11, Proverbs 3:12.
7. RV ’It is for chastening ye endure,’ i.e, your sufferings are designed as a discipline or means of education, God dealeth with you as with sons, 8. All are partakers] The clause refers to Hebrews 12:6.
11. Peaceable fruit of righteousness] i.e. the fruit which is righteousness. The result of discipline is called ’peaceable,’ or ’peaceful,’ in contrast to the ’painfulness’ of the process spoken of in the previous part of the v.
13. Straight paths] better, ’even’ or ’smooth paths,’ containing no stumblingblocks that may injure the lame. The strong are to encourage the weak. Turned out of the way] RM ’put out of joint.’ The reference to lameness and healing suggests that this is the right rendering. If they do not remove the stumblingblocks from the paths, lameness may become dislocation. But by making the paths ’even,’ the lameness may be healed.
15. Fail of] RV ’fall short of.’ Root of bitterness] cp. Deuteronomy 29:18.
16. Any fornicator] In the OT. apostasy from Jehovah is frequently described as adultery or fornication, being a breach of covenant; but here the word should perhaps be understood in the literal sense: cp. Hebrews 13:4; Profane] The word is the antithesis of ’hallowed’ or ’consecrated,’ and means ’common,’ ’unspiritual,’ ’secular,’ Esau’s defect was a want of appreciation of spiritual blessings. He ’despised his birthright’ (see Genesis 25:34), which implied not merely material advantage, but the spiritual heritage of the covenant promises.
17. Would have inherited] The RV removes the ambiguity of these words by rendering ’when he afterward desired to inherit.’ He sought it] i.e. the blessing, not the repentance. When Esau is said to have ’found no place of repentance,’ this does not mean that he found it impossible to repent—a thing contrary to all the doctrine of Scripture. In Hebrews 6:4-6 the author does not say ’they cannot repent,’ but ’we cannot make them repent.’ What is meant is that when he afterward wished to inherit the blessing he found it irretrievably beyond his reach. He found no way of undoing the consequence of his own act: see Genesis 27:34-36.
18-24. Appeal for greater watchfulness based on a contrast between the new covenant and the old: cp. Genesis 2:1-4; Genesis 10:28-31.
18. Unto the mount] This balances the words ’unto mount Zion’ in Hebrews 12:22. But the best. MSS omit the word ’mount’ here, and read ’unto a palpable (i.e. material) and kindled fire.’ For the whole description of the former manifestation see Exodus 19:12-13, Exodus 19:18-19; Exodus 20:18; Deuteronomy 4:11. The old revelation was given with material and terrifying accompaniments; the new is a revelation of grace and peace, introducing its recipients to a spiritual society with spiritual privileges. But so much the more does it call for obedience (Hebrews 12:25) and consecration (Hebrews 12:28), Ye are not come] Even here and now they are members of this heavenly community and enjoy these spiritual privileges, although the fulness of the inheritance is reserved for the future.
22. Mount Sion] the heavenly city, the New Jerusalem, the eternal and ideal sphere, the abode of God and the angels and the spirits of the OT. saints.
23. General assembly] a word commonly applied to the Greek festal assemblies, such as at the Olympian Games. Church of the firstborn, who are enrolled in heaven] so RV. Seeing that human beings are mentioned at the close of the v., these words are best taken as referring to the angels, who were created before man and may be appropriately described as ’first-born’: cp. Job 38:7; In this case the word ’church’ is used in its original sense of ’convocation,’ or ’congregation.’
And to God] whose manifestation is direct and immediate. There is a suggestion of warning in the epithet Judge of all. Just men] i.e. the saints of the OT. dispensation, who are in one sense ’perfected,’ though in another they still wait their final consummation of bliss: see Hebrews 11:40.
24. To Jesus] whose mediating has assured all these privileges.
Speaketh better things] Abel’s blood cried for vengeance (see on Hebrews 11:4); that of Jesus appeals to God for pardon and reconciliation.
25. Him that speaketh] i.e. God, who spoke both at Sinai and now from heaven in the new manifestation.
26. Then] i.e. at the giving of the Law: see Exodus 19:18. The quotation is from Haggai 2:6-21, which is here applied as a prediction of the Second Coming, regarded as imminent.
27. Yet once more] i.e. once for all, finally. What follows the shaking and removal of the created and sensible world will be stable and imperishable.
28. Let us have grace] RM ’thankfulness’; but cp. Hebrews 12:15.
29. A consuming fire] cp. Deuteronomy 4:24. A solemn wraning against presumption.
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Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Hebrews 12". "Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany