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Bible Commentaries
Hebrews 9

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary

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Verse 1


(1) The subject commenced in the last chapter (Hebrews 9:1-6) is continued here. The mention of the “more excellent ministry” led to the description of the new covenant with which it is united (Hebrews 9:6-13). This verse, then, attaches itself to the fifth and sixth verses of Hebrews 8:0 (Hebrews 8:5-6): “Even the first (covenant), then, had ordinances of divine service and its sanctuary, of this world.” The “service” is spoken of again in Hebrews 9:6; the “ordinances” in Hebrews 9:10, where they are called “carnal.” Very similar is the language here, for the words so emphatically standing at the close of the verse are probably descriptive not of the “sanctuary” only, but also of the “ordinances.” Both place and ministrations belonged to this world, and thus stand in contrast with “the heavenly things,” of which the Tabernacle was a token and shadow. (See Note on Hebrews 8:5.) The ordinary Greek text (here following the first printed Greek Testament) has “the first Tabernacle,” and this reading was followed by Tyndale and Coverdale. All ancient MSS. omit the word; and, as in a long succession of verses “covenant” has been the leading thought, the rendering of the Authorised version is certainly correct.

Verse 2

(2) Tabernacle.—It must be carefully observed that the Epistle throughout refers to the Tabernacle, and not once to the Temples which succeeded it. Though they were formed on the same general model, their very nature and design necessitated changes of plan and detail which unfitted them for the writer’s argument here. So far as the Temple was a copy of the Tabernacle, and so far only, was it made “after the pattern” that Moses had seen; and so far only was its symbolism of divine and not human origin.

The first, wherein was . . .—In Hebrews 9:6, when the writer passes from place to ministration, he uses the present tense, although it is of the Tabernacle that he is speaking. The explanation is that which has come before us again and again: the arrangements prescribed in Scripture are to him ever present, abiding from age to age in that unchanging word. Hence probably we should here read are instead of “were.” The golden candlestick, the table, and the showbread are in the Holy Place as it is described in the Law. With the symbolical meaning of the furniture of the Holy Place we are not here concerned. The writer contents himself with words which plainly imply that none of the parts and arrangements of the Tabernacle were without significance. On the golden candlestick (more strictly, lampstand) see Exodus 25:31-37, and on the ten candlesticks of the Temple of Solomon, 1 Kings 7:49; on the table and the showbread, Exodus 25:23-30; Leviticus 24:5-9 (1 Kings 7:48; 2 Chronicles 4:8). It is somewhat remarkable that the table should here be so distinctly mentioned, for usually (both in the Bible and in Jewish tradition) no special importance appears to be assigned to it apart from the offering which was placed thereon. (Comp., however, Leviticus 24:6; 2 Chronicles 13:11; Malachi 1:7; Malachi 1:12.) This offering is in Hebrew called “bread of the face”—i.e., bread of the (divine) Presence; in Matthew 12:4, Luke 6:4, “loaves of the setting forth;” here “the setting forth of the loaves.”

Sanctuary.—Or, holy place. The same word is applied to the Holy of Holies in Hebrews 8:2; Hebrews 9:8; Hebrews 12:24-25; Hebrews 10:19; and probably in Hebrews 13:11. This verse and the next give the proper names of the two parts of the Tabernacle, which must be used when the one is to be distinguished from the other. Where there is no risk of mistake the simpler designation is sufficient. (See Leviticus 16:2; Leviticus 16:17; Leviticus 16:20.) It will be observed that here and in Hebrews 9:3; Hebrews 9:6-7, these divisions are spoken of as if two distinct Tabernacles.

Verse 3

(3) The tabernacle.—Rather, a tabernacle which is called the Holy of Holies. This literal translation of a Hebrew expression for “most holy” does not occur in the Bible, but has become familiar through the Latin sanctum sanctorum. The inner chamber of the Tabernacle is in a few passages only mentioned separately in the Pentateuch as the “Most Holy Place”

(Exodus 26:33-34), or “the Holy Place” (Leviticus 16:2, et al.). In the description of the Temple a different word is employed, always rendered “oracle” (1 Kings 6:16, et al.). The veil separating the two divisions (described in Exodus 26:31; Exodus 36:35) is here called the second veil, by way of distinction from the “hanging for the door” of the Tabernacle (Exodus 26:36; Exodus 36:37).

Verse 4

(4) Having a golden censer.—Or, having a golden altar of incense. Hardly any passage in the Epistle has given rise to more controversy than this; and even now opinions are greatly divided. The question raised does not merely concern the interpretation of a single verse, but has been brought into prominence in all recent discussions as to the authorship of the Epistle. It will be possible to notice all important points in the controversy without entering into any discussion of the Greek, for it is allowed on both sides that the word here used—thumiaterion (which simply means an instrument or a place connected with the offering of incense)—will admit of either rendering. The usage of the LXX., in most cases peculiarly helpful in this Epistle, throws little light on the matter; for this word is entirely absent from the descriptions in the Pentateuch, and occurs twice only in later books (Ezekiel 8:11; 2 Chronicles 26:19—both times for “censer”). The Pentateuch, indeed, makes no mention of a special censer for the use of the high priest on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:12); but, as we learn from the Mishna, the later law not only prescribed a censer of gold, but laid stress on the particular kind of gold. On the other hand, in Philo and Josephus the word here used is the regular designation of the altar of incense. That altar, it is true, was not of gold, only overlaid with gold; but as one of its names in common use was “the golden altar” (Exodus 40:5, et al.) this point is of no moment. If we look at internal probabilities, it is hard to decide which would be more surprising—the special mention of the censer (by the side of the ark and the cherubim) in this description of the Most Holy Place, or the absence of all notice of the incense-altar, which held so important a place in connection with the ceremonies of the Day of Atonement. Hence, though “censer” has (mainly through the influence of the Vulgate) been the more familiar rendering, the most eminent modern commentators have, with some marked exceptions, adopted the other view. Probably there would be little difference of opinion on the question, were it not that the words here used seem to assign to the altar of incense a place within the veil. As, however, there are the strongest reasons for believing that the golden censer was not kept in the Holiest Place, this difficulty applies almost equally to both interpretations. At first sight the difficulty is very great. The incense-altar and the ark are coupled together, and the word which describes their relation to the Holiest Place is that which, a little later in this verse, distinctly signifies “containing.” So weighty is this consideration that many have been unable to avoid the conclusion that the writer has erred in this matter of detail; and various suppositions have been resorted to in explanation of his mistake. (See Introduction.) But, to take the lowest ground, surely ignorance on such a point is inconceivable. Not only are the notices in Exodus perfectly plain, but passages in Philo and Josephus show how customary in the writer’s own age it was to speak of the three sacred objects in the Holy Place—the candlestick, the table, and the golden altar. There must exist some special reason for this connection of the altar with the Most Holy Place—a connection which (we may well believe) would have been otherwise expressed had the writer held it possible that readers, familiar with the facts, could regard his language as even ambiguous. Such a reason will be found to be suggested by the language of the Pentateuch, and by the ceremonial of the Day of Atonement. In Exodus 30:6, Moses receives special injunction to place the altar of incense “before the veil that is by the ark of the testimony, before the mercy seat that is over the testimony;” similarly in Exodus 40:5. The purification of this altar is most expressly associated with the purification of the Holiest Place on the Day of Atonement: this stands out in strong relief both in the Pentateuch (see Exodus 30:10; Leviticus 16:18) and in the Mishna. The typical significance of the altar of incense (comp. Revelation 8:3-4; Revelation 9:13) we might also show to be in full harmony with the thought here presented. There is, however, one passage in the Old Testament (1 Kings 6:22) which appears to give direct expression to what these other passages imply; for there the true translation must be, “also the whole altar that belongeth to the oracle he overlaid with gold.”[10]

[10] Some interesting remarks on this passage will be found in a paper by Dr. Milligan in the Bible Educator (vol. iii., p. 230). His suggestion is that the writer, having in mind the Day of Atonement, sees the Tabernacle with its inner veil withdrawn.

Ark of the covenant (Numbers 10:33; Deuteronomy 31:26, et al.), often called “the ark of the testimony,” i.e., the ark containing the tables of the Ten Commandments, which were the symbol of the covenant of God with the people. (See Exodus 25:10-16.)

Wherein was . . .—Rather, wherein are (see Hebrews 9:2) a golden pot having the manna, &c. In Exodus 16:33-34, and Numbers 17:10-11, the pot containing “an omer of manna” and also Aaron’s rod are said to have been laid up “before the testimony.” This is often understood as meaning “before the ark of the testimony;” but it is as natural to suppose that these memorials were placed inside the ark, in front of the tables. 1 Kings 8:9 clearly suggests that the ark had at one time contained more than the tables of stone, and so it has been understood by Jewish commentators. There is no mention of a “golden” vessel in the Hebrew of Exodus 16:33; the word is added in the LXX. It will be observed that this epithet is mentioned three times in the verse: such splendour was natural in the sanctuary “of this world” (Hebrews 9:1).

Verse 5

(5) Cherubims of glory.—See Exodus 25:18-22; Exodus 29:43; Numbers 7:89; Ezekiel 10:19-20. As these passages will show, the reference is to the glory which appeared above the mercy seat. (See Note on Hebrews 1:3.) This is the only express mention of the cherubim in the New Testament; but see the Notes on Revelation 4:6, et seq.

The mercy seat (literally, the propitiatory) is the rendering adopted in the LXX. for the Hebrew Capporeth, signifying the golden covering of the ark (Exodus 25:17). Whether the Hebrew word properly denotes covering or bears the meaning which is expressed by the Greek translation, is a disputed question, into which we cannot here enter. The act of expiation with which the Greek name at all events stands connected is that of Leviticus 16:10-14. It is noteworthy that in 1 Chronicles 28:11 the Most Holy Place itself is called “the house of the mercy seat.” (See the Note on Romans 3:25.)

Of which—viz., all things that the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies contained.

Particularlyi.e., severally, one by one.

Verse 6

(6) Now when these thing were thus ordained . . .—Better, And when these things have been thus prepared, into the first tabernacle the priests enter continually, accomplishing the services. As has been already observed (Hebrews 9:2), the present tense is used throughout these verses (Hebrews 9:6-10), not because the writer refers to the services as still continuing, but because he is still tracing the ordinance of Scripture. It is of the Tabernacle alone that he speaks. The words of Hebrews 9:4 would have been entirely incorrect in regard to the temple of his day, in which the Most Holy Place was empty.

The service.—Comp. Exodus 30:7-8; Leviticus 24:1-8.

Verse 7

(7) Went . . . offered.—Rather, entereth . . . offereth.

Errors.—Literally, ignorances. (See Hebrews 5:2-3; Hebrews 7:27.) By “once in the year” we must of course understand on one day of the year, viz., the tenth day of Tisri. On that day, according to Leviticus 16:0, it was the duty of the high priest to enter the Holy of Holies twice: (1) with the incense and with the blood of the bullock, his own sin-offering (Leviticus 16:12-14); (2) with the blood of the same bullock and that of the goat, the sin-offering for the people (Hebrews 9:15-19). In the ritual described in the tract “Joma” of the Talmud, he is said to enter four times; the first ministration being separated into its two parts (offering incense, sprinkling the blood of the bullock), and a fourth entering (to bring out the censer) being added.

Verse 8

(8) That the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest.—Rather, that the way into the sanctuary has not yet been made manifest. By “sanctuary,” or “holy place,” is here meant the Holy of Holies; not, however, as existing upon earth, in type and figure, but in the sense of Hebrews 8:2; Hebrews 9:24. These external arrangements show that the way into the Holy Place (of the Tabernacle) is not open: by this the Holy Spirit, whose word we are reading whenever we trace the injunctions of the Law, teaches this lesson, that the way into God’s immediate presence is not yet manifest.

While as the first tabernacle was yet standing.—Rather, while the first tabernacle yet has place (or, standing), i.e., whilst there exists such a distinction as that between “the first Tabernacle” (Hebrews 9:6), and “the second.” It is impossible to understand “the first Tabernacle” in any other sense than that which it bears in the early part of the sentence—the Holy Place as distinguished from the Holiest of all. This outer Tabernacle, however, may be looked at from different points of view. On the one hand, it was the place from which (as well as from the inner sanctuary) the people generally were excluded; and on the other, it was the place beyond which the ministration of the priests in general might not extend. It is the latter that corresponds to the thought of this verse. The contrast between the body of priests and the people hardly meets us once in the whole Epistle, except in a very small number of general statements (Hebrews 7:14; Hebrews 8:4; Hebrews 9:6); the only contrast is between the one Priest or High Priest and all who approach unto God through Him. Not the Jewish economy, but that to which it pointed, is the subject of the writer’s thoughts: Christ’s people are now the priests, who offer through Him their constant sacrifice. (See Hebrews 12:28; Hebrews 13:10; Hebrews 13:13; Hebrews 13:15.) Those who ministered in “the first Tabernacle” (who are looked upon merely as substitutes for the people, performing the “services” in their place, and as their representatives) were excluded, not from entrance only, but even from sight of the place of God’s presence. What was thereby “signified” we have already seen.

Verse 9

(9) Which was a figure . . .—Rather, Which is a parable unto the time present, according to which (parable) are offered both gifts and sacrifices, which cannot perfect, as to the conscience, him that doeth the service. The general meaning may be given thus: this “first Tabernacle” (i.e., the existence of an outer as: distinguished from an inner sanctuary) is a parable for the period connected with it (literally, “for the season that stands near it,” the adjacent period, so to speak); and in full accordance with the parabolic character of the first Tabernacle (see Hebrews 9:8) is the presentation of offerings which have no power to accomplish the perfect end of worship in the case of any worshipper. The priests offered sacrifices to God, but were limited to the outer sanctuary, which was not the place of God’s manifested presence; a fit symbol this of offerings which cannot purify the conscience (see Hebrews 9:14; Hebrews 10:1). The above rendering follows the best reading of the Greek; in the ordinary text the relative “which,” in the second clause, refers to “the time,” not to “the first Tabernacle.”

Verse 10

(10) Which stood only in . . .—Better, only joined with meats and drinks and divers washings,—carnal ordinances, imposed until a time of reformation. Here again the best authorities correct the received Greek text, omitting “and” before the word “carnal,” and so altering the next word as to make it descriptive of the “gifts and sacrifices” mentioned in Hebrews 9:9. These sacrifices—looked at in themselves, as powerless to attain the end designed (Hebrews 10:1; Hebrews 10:4)—are mere appendages of such regulations as deal with meats and drinks and washings. The character of this latter class of ordinances no one could mistake; and what the writer here says is that these powerless sacrifices belong to the same line of things. On the, “washings” see Note on Hebrews 6:2. The preceding words would most naturally refer to meats, &c., of which men were required to partake (as Exodus 12:0; Leviticus 7:15, et al.); but no doubt include the various restrictions and distinctions of the ceremonial law (Leviticus 11:0; Numbers 6:0, et al.). All these are “ordinances of flesh,” ordinances which relate to the outward state of things only; closely connected with the maintenance of external privileges and relations, but (in themselves) nothing more. “Imposed,” comp. Acts 15:10 : “reformation,” Hebrews 8:7-12.

Verses 11-12

(11, 12) The changes of translation required in these verses are not considerable in themselves, but important for the sake of bringing out the unity of the sentence and the connection of its parts. But Christ having come a High Priest of the good things to come (or, the good things that are come, see below), through the greater and more perfect Tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation, also not through blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, entered once for all into the Holy Place, having won eternal redemption. With Hebrews 9:11 begins the contrast to the first verse. In that we read of the first covenant as possessing ordinances of service and its holy place—both, however, “of this world,” and the following verses describe the sanctuary itself (Hebrews 9:1-5) and the ordinances (Hebrews 9:6-10). Now, the Mediator of the New Covenant (Hebrews 8:6), “Christ,” whose name brings with it the thought of the satisfaction of all hope and fulfilment of all promises, has appeared as High Priest; and entering into the true Holy of Holies has accomplished once for all what the earlier ministrations typified. This is the main thought; but in few verses do the single words require more careful study. The various-reading mentioned above, “the good things that are come,” is very interesting. It is not supported by a large number of authorities, but amongst them are the Vatican MS. (whose guidance, it may be remarked, we shall soon lose, as the ancient text breaks off suddenly in the middle of a word in Hebrews 9:14), the Claromontane MS., and two Syriac versions. One strong argument in its favour presents itself on a comparison with Hebrews 10:1 (where there is no doubt about the reading), “the good things to come.” A scribe who had in mind those words, confirmed by the repeated occurrence of a similar thought in different parts of the Epistle (Hebrews 2:5; Hebrews 6:5), might easily substitute them for words expressing a less familiar thought. The two phrases differ more in form than in reality. In one we look at the new order of things, which is never to pass away, as already introduced by Christ (see Note on Hebrews 1:2); and in the other the same new order is thought of as future to those who waited through long ages for “the Christ,” and in its consummation still future to ourselves (Hebrews 6:5). The form of expression reminds us of Hebrews 3:1, where Jesus is called the High Priest of our confession (compare also Malachi 3:1, “the Messenger of the covenant”): He is associated with “the good things” as having brought them in, as Mediator of the covenant to which they belong.

Through (or, by means of) the more perfect Tabernacle, through (or, by means of) His own blood, Christ entered into the Holy Place. The two-fold reference to the type is very plain. It was by passing through “the first Tabernacle” that the high priest reached the Holiest Place; it was by means of the blood of the sin-offering that he was enabled to enter into that place of God’s presence (Hebrews 9:7). But what in the antitype answers to this Tabernacle? The expression of Hebrews 4:14, perhaps, first presents itself to the mind: if, however, we were right in understanding the words “that has passed through the heavens” as descriptive of our Lord’s ascension far above all heavens (Ephesians 4:10), it seems evident that this verse is no real parallel. In Hebrews 10:20 the thought is somewhat different, but yet sufficiently akin to be suggestive in regard to these words. There the veil is spoken of as symbolising “the flesh” of our Lord. Here we have in all probability an extension of the same thought, “the more perfect Tabernacle” being the human nature of our Lord. We think at once of a number of passages presenting the same idea: “The Word was made flesh and made His tabernacle among us” (John 1:14); “He spake of the temple of His body (John 2:19); “The Father that dwelleth in Me” (John 14:10); “In Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” (Colossians 2:9). As in Him God gave to the world the first true revelation of Himself (Hebrews 1:2), God’s dwelling-place amongst His people was a type of the Incarnate Word. The symbolism of the present verse compels us to think of the first and second Tabernacles as separate. It was otherwise in Hebrews 8:2, a verse which can only receive its proper explanation when the words now before us are considered. There the reference is to the High Priest who has already entered the Holiest Place and has “sat down at the right hand” of God. The distinction of outer and inner sanctuary has disappeared; and, carrying out more fully the thought of the passages quoted above, we may say that, as “the sanctuary” of Hebrews 8:2 symbolises the place of God’s immediate presence, “the true Tabernacle” represents the place of His continued and unceasing revelation of Himself to man, “in Christ.” There is no difficulty now in explaining the epithets, “greater,” “more perfect,” “not of this creation.” By means of this assumption of human nature He received power to become High Priest, power also to become Himself the sin-offering. Once before only in the Epistle have we read of this two-fold relation of our Lord to the sacrificial act. There it is mentioned parenthetically (Hebrews 7:26) and by anticipation, here it is the leading thought (Hebrews 9:14; Hebrews 9:26; Hebrews 9:28; Hebrews 10:10, et al.). The efficacy of this offering is taken up again in Hebrews 9:13-14; the entering into the Holiest Place, in the latter part of the chapter. A new thought is introduced in the last words of this verse, “having won eternal redemption.” Through the sacrifice atonement has been made and sin expiated: the blessing won, which in Hebrews 5:9 is called eternal salvation (see Note on Hebrews 7:25), is here “eternal redemption.” The latter figure enlarges the former by the additional thought of the payment of a price. The deliverance of man from God’s wrath and the penalty of sin, which Jesus effected by means of the offering of Himself, is the “eternal redemption which He won” (see Hebrews 9:14, and Ephesians 1:7). The words, “for us,” are not in the text: they are too intimately present in the whole thought to need direct expression.

Verse 13

(13) For if the blood of bulls and of goats.—This verse connects itself with the last words of Hebrews 9:12, “having won eternal redemption,” showing why our hope may rise so high. The sacrifice is mentioned here in words slightly different from those of Hebrews 9:11; but in each case the writer’s thought is resting on the sin offering of the Day of Atonement, a bullock for the high priest himself, a goat for the people. (There is no distinct reference in this Epistle to the “scapegoat” sent into the wilderness.)

And the ashes of an heifer.—The nineteenth chapter of Numbers is wholly occupied with the remarkable institution here referred to. A red heifer without spot was slain and wholly burnt, “with cedar-wood and hyssop and scarlet,” and the ashes were laid up in a clean place without the camp. “And for the unclean they shall take of the ashes of the burning of the sin-offering, and running water shall be put thereto in a vessel: and a clean person shall take hyssop and dip it in the water and sprinkle . . . . upon the unclean” (Hebrews 9:17-19). The “unclean” are those that have been defiled by touching the dead body of a man, or by being in any way brought into connection with death. It is said that on the third and seventh days of the high priest’s week of preparation for the Day of Atonement (see Note on Hebrews 7:26), he was sprinkled with this water of purification, lest he should inadvertently have contracted such defilement.

Sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh.—Better, sanctify unto the cleanness of the flesh. As we have seen already (Hebrews 9:10), the writer is looking at the intrinsic character of the sacrifices (Hebrews 10:4) and rites of purification, apart from their importance as marks of obedience or their value to those who were able to discern their spiritual lessons. They could not cleanse the conscience (Hebrews 9:9); but they could and did remove what the Law accounted “uncleanness,” and disabilities connected with the outward life and religious worship of the commonwealth.

Verse 14

(14) Through the eternal Spirit.—Better, through an eternal Spirit; for in a passage of so much difficulty it is important to preserve the exact rendering of the Greek, and the arguments usually adduced seem insufficient to justify the ordinary translation. By most readers of the Authorised version, probably, these words are understood as referring to the Holy Spirit, whose influence continually rested on “the Anointed One of God” (Acts 10:38). For this opinion there seems to be no foundation in the usage of the New Testament, and it is not indicated by anything in the context. The explanation of the words must rather be sought in the nature of our Lord, or in some attribute of that nature. There are a few passages, mainly in the Epistles of St. Paul, in which language somewhat similar is employed in regard to the spirit (pneuma) of our Lord. The most remarkable of these are Romans 1:4, where “spirit of holiness” is placed in contrast with “flesh;” and 1 Timothy 3:16, “in spirit.” On the latter Bishop Ellicott writes: “in spirit, in the higher sphere of His divine life: the pneuma of Christ is not here the Holy Spirit, but the higher principle of spiritual life, which was not the Divinity (this would be an Apollinarian assertion), but especially and intimately united with it.” (Another passage of great interest is 1 Peter 3:18.) The attribute “eternal” is explained by Hebrews 7:18-19, “according to power of indissoluble life (He hath become priest), for of Him it is testified, Thou art a priest for ever.” Through this spirit, a spirit of holiness, a spirit of indissoluble life, He offered Himself to God. This made such a self-offering possible; this gave to the offering infinite worth. In the words which stand in contrast with these (Hebrews 9:13) we read of the death of animals which had no power over their own transient life: He who was typified in every high priest and in every victim, “through an eternal spirit,” of Himself laid down His life (John 10:18), offering Himself to God in the moment and article of death,—offered Himself in His constant presence in the Holiest Place (Hebrews 9:24).

Without spot.—The word here used is frequently applied in the LXX. to the victims “without blemish” that were offered in sacrifice. The sinlessness of Jesus is expressed under the same metaphor in 1 Peter 1:19.

Purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God.—Better, cleanse our conscience from dead works to serve a Living God. The word “cleanse” is akin to “cleanness” in Hebrews 9:13. Authorities are divided between “our” and “your”; but the former is probably the better reading. Once before, in Hebrews 6:1, the writer has spoken of “dead works.” (See the Note.) It is here, however, that the significance most fully appears; for we cannot doubt that there exists a reference to the purification made necessary by all contact with death. (See Hebrews 9:13.) Since the works are dead because they had no share in true life, which is the life of God, the last words bring before us the thought of a Living God (Hebrews 3:12). This thought also stands connected with “eternal Spirit,” for those who are cleansed through the offering of Christ shall share His relation to the Living God. The contrast is in every respect complete. From the whole number of Jewish rites had been selected (Hebrews 9:13) the two which most fully represented the purification from sin and from pollution through death, in order that this completeness of antithesis might be attained. It is not necessary to trace the details of the contrast. In each and in all we read the “How much more!”

Verse 15

(15) And for this cause.—Or, And because of this. This verse looks back to the great truth of Hebrews 9:11-12, which the last two verses have served to confirm and place in bolder relief. “Christ through His own blood entered once for all into the Holy Place, having won eternal redemption; and by reason of this He is the Mediator of a covenant, a new covenant, in order that they who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.” For “the new testament” we must certainly read a new covenant: whatever may be thought of the following group of verses, the rendering testament has no place here. The leading thought of Hebrews 8:0 is the establishment of a new covenant, and the former covenant has been referred to three times in this very chapter (Hebrews 9:1; Hebrews 9:4).

That by means of death.—Rather, that, death having taken place for redemption from the transgressions, &c. The first covenant had been broken by “transgressions:” unless there be redemption from these—that is, from the bondage of penalty which has resulted from these—there can be no promise and no new covenant. In respect of this bondage, this penalty, the death of Christ was a ransom—an offering to God looked at in the light of a payment in the place of debt, service, or penalty due. When debt and payment are changed into the corresponding ideas of sin and punishment, the ransom gives place to the sin-offering, of which the principle was the acknowledgment of death deserved, and the vicarious suffering of death. So far our thought has rested on the removal of the results of the past. The covenant and the promise relate to the establishment of the better future. Death was necessary alike for both. The offering of Christ’s life (Matthew 20:28) was a ransom or an offering for sin; it was also a sacrifice inaugurating a new covenant, which contained the promise of the eternal inheritance. See Hebrews 9:16-18; also Galatians 3:13-14, where the thought is very similar.

They which are called.—More clearly, they that have been called. (See Acts 2:39; Romans 1:6-7; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14.) In Hebrews 3:1 we have a similar expression, “partakers of a heavenly calling:” there also the idea of sonship (Hebrews 2:10), with its right of “inheritance,” is certainly present.

Verse 16

(16) Testament.—As has been already pointed out, the greatest difference of opinion has existed in regard to the meaning of the Greek word diathçkç in this passage. (See Note on Hebrews 7:22.) It will be seen at once that the interpretation of this verse and the next entirely depends on that one question. If “testament” is the correct meaning of the Greek word, the general sense of the verses is well given in the Authorised version. A few commentators even agree with that version in carrying back the idea of testament into Hebrews 9:15, although in the other two places in which the word is joined with “Mediator” (Hebrews 8:6; Hebrews 12:24) they adhere to the ordinary rendering, “covenant.” By most, however, it is held that a new thought is introduced in the present verse. The writer, it is urged, having spoken of a promise of an inheritance, (Hebrews 9:15), and a promise that cannot be made valid unless death take place, avails himself of the illustration which a second (and very common) meaning of the leading word affords; and though a covenant has hitherto been in his thoughts, he adds interest and force to his argument by calling up the analogy of a testament or will. It is further urged that this procedure will not seem unnatural if we reflect that the diathçkç between God and man is never exactly expressed by covenant, since it is not of the nature of a mutual compact between equals. (See Hebrews 7:22.) The position is chiefly defended by two arguments:—(1) Hebrews 9:16, being a general maxim, gives no intelligible sense in regard to a covenant, but is easy and natural as applied to a will. (2) A Greek word used in Hebrews 9:17, where the literal translation is “over (the) dead,” cannot be used of sacrifices of slain animals, but of men only. This, we believe, is a fair statement of the case on the one side; and it may be fully acknowledged that, if Hebrews 9:16-17 stood alone, and if they were written of Gentile rather than Jewish usage, the case would be very strong. As it is, we are compelled to believe that the difficulties which this interpretation brings with it are beyond comparison more serious than those which it removes. (1) There is no doubt that in the overwhelming majority of New Testament passages the meaning covenant must be assigned. By many high authorities these verses are considered to contain the only exception. (2) In the LXX. the word is extremely common, both for the covenants of God and for compacts between man and man. (See Note on Hebrews 7:22). (3) The application of diathçkç in this Epistle rests on the basis of the Old Testament usage, the key passage being Jeremiah 31:31-34, quoted at length in Hebrews 8:0. With that quotation this passage is linked by the association of diathçkç with Mediator in Hebrews 9:15 and Hebrews 8:6, and with “the first” in Hebrews 9:15 and in Hebrews 8:13; Hebrews 9:1. (4) In the verses which follow this passage the meaning covenant must certainly return, as a comparison of Hebrews 9:20 with the verse of Exodus which it quotes (Exodus 24:8) will show. (5) It is true that the idea of “death” has appeared in Hebrews 9:15, but it is the death of a sin-offering; and there is no natural or easy transition of thought from an expiatory death to the death of a testator. And yet the words which introduce Hebrews 9:16; Hebrews 9:18 (“For” and “Wherefore”) show that we are following the course of an argument. (6) Though to us Hebrews 9:16 may present a very familiar thought, we must not forget that to Jews dispositions by will were almost altogether unknown. Were it granted that a writer might for illustration avail himself of a second meaning which a word he is using might happen to bear, this liberty would only be taken if by that means familiar associations could be reached, and the argument or exhortation could be thus urged home. In an Epistle steeped in Jewish thought such a transition as that suggested would be inexplicable. There are other considerations of some weight which might be added; but these seem sufficient to prove that, even if the difficulties of interpretation should prove serious, we must not seek to remove them by wavering in our rendering of diathçkç in these verses. We believe, therefore, that the true translation of Hebrews 9:16-17, must be the following:—For where a covenant is, there must of necessity be brought in the death of the covenanter. For a covenant is of force when there hath been death (literally, over the dead); for hath it ever any strength while the covenanter liveth? In Hebrews 9:15 we have seen the two-fold reference of the death of Jesus, to the past and to the future. As High Priest He has offered Himself as a sin-offering to cleanse the conscience from dead works; the same offering is also looked on as a ransom redeeming from the penalty of past transgressions; and, still by means of His death, He has, as Mediator, established a new covenant. We are reminded at once of the words of Jesus Himself, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood” (1 Corinthians 11:25). It is this very thought which the writer proceeds to develop: a covenant cannot be established without death—cannot exist at all. That amongst Jews and Greeks and Romans alike covenants were confirmed by sacrifice we need not pause to prove; of this usage we have the earliest example in Genesis 15:0. In such sacrifices, again, there is “brought in,” or assumed the death of him who makes the covenant. There will not, perhaps, be much difficulty in accepting this as a maxim. The conflict of opinion really begins when we ask in what manner this is assumed. The usual answer is, that the death of victims is emblematic of the punishment which the contracting parties imprecated on themselves if they should break their compact. It may have been so amongst the Greeks and Romans, though this is doubtful.[11] Amongst the Jews, however, the analogy of their general sacrificial system, in which the victim represented the offerer, renders such an explanation very improbable. As to the precise idea implied in this representation, it is not easy to speak with certainty. It has been defined in two opposite ways. In the death of the victim each contracting party may be supposed to die either as to the future, in respect of any power of altering the compact (the covenant shall be as safe from violation through change of intention as if the covenanter were removed by death); or as to the past, to the former state of enmity each is now dead. It is not necessary for our argument to decide such a question as this. The only material points are, that a covenant must be established over sacrifices, and that in such a sacrifice “the death of him that made the covenant” must in some manner be “brought in” or assumed. There remains only the application to the particular covenant here spoken of. If this be taken as made between God and man, the sacrificial death of Jesus in man’s stead ratified the covenant for ever, the former state of separation being brought to an end in “the reconciliation” of the gospel. The peculiar character of Hebrews 9:15, however (see above), seems rather to suggest that, as Jesus is set forth as High Priest and sacrifice, so He is both the Author of the covenant and the sacrifice which gives to it validity. In this case we see represented in His sacrifice the death of each “covenanter.” (The transition from “Mediator” to Giver of the covenant is not greater than that which the other interpretation requires—a transition from a mediator of a testament to a testator.) There are minor points relating to details in the Greek which cannot be dealt with here. Of the two arguments quoted above, the former has, we hope, been fully met; though (it may be said in passing) it would be easier to give up Hebrews 9:16 as a general maxim, and to regard it as applying only to a covenant between God and sinful man, than to divorce the whole passage from the context by changing “covenant” into “will.” One point of interest must not be omitted. There are coincidences of expression with Psalms 1:5 which make it very probable that that Psalm, memorable in the development of the teaching of the Old Testament, was distinctly in the writer’s mind. This comparison is also of use in the explanation of some expressions in the original of these two verses.

[11] See Mr. Wratislaw’s very interesting note in his “Notes and Dissertations,” pp. 155, 156. The whole subject is very carefully treated in an admirable pamphlet by Professor Forbes, of Aberdeen.

Verse 18

(18) Whereupon.—Better, Wherefore not even has the first (covenant) been dedicated (or, inaugurated) without blood. (See Exodus 24:6-8.)

Verse 19

(19) Every precept.—Or, commandment. See Exodus 24:3; where we read that Moses “told the people all the words of the Lord, and all the judgments.” These he wrote in a book (Hebrews 9:4), and this “book of the covenant” (Hebrews 9:7) he “read in the audience of the people.” The contents would probably be the Ten Commandments, and the laws of Exodus 20:22 to Exodus 23:33.

Of calves and of goats.—In Exodus (Hebrews 9:5) we read of “burnt offerings” and of “peace offerings of oxen.” The “goats” may be included in the burnt offerings; for though Jewish tradition held that a goat was never sacrificed as a burnt offering, Leviticus 1:10 is clear on the other side. It is possible that “the calves and the goats” may be only a general expression for “the sacrificial victims.” (See Hebrews 9:12.)

With water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop.—In Exodus 24:0 there is no mention of these details, but similar notices are found in other parts of the Pentateuch, where the ceremony of sprinkling for purification is described (Exodus 12:22; Leviticus 14:4; Leviticus 14:6; and Numbers 19:6; Numbers 19:17-18). The water (itself an emblem and means of cleansing) was designed to prevent the coagulation of the blood, and to increase the quantity of the purifying fluid. The “scarlet wool” may have been used to bind the hyssop to the stick of cedar-wood, which was the instrument of sprinkling. The precise notices in the Law forbid us to doubt that each of these substances had a definite symbolical meaning, but to us the subject is involved in obscurity.

Both the book and all the people.—The Greek is more emphatic: both the book itself and all the people. The latter fact alone is mentioned in Exodus (Hebrews 9:8). The sprinkling of the book of the covenant may be regarded from two points of view. It may depend either on the same principle as the (later) sprinkling of the Tabernacle (Hebrews 9:22), and the “reconciling” of the Tabernacle and the Holy Place (Leviticus 16:20) on the Day of Atonement; or on the symbolism of the covenant as noticed above (Hebrews 9:15-17). In the latter case we must suppose that, as the blood was divided into two portions (Exodus 24:6) in token of the two parties to the covenant, and part “cast upon the altar,” the book of the covenant was associated with the altar as representing the presence of Jehovah.

Verse 20

(20) The testament which God hath enjoined unto you.—Better, the covenant which God commanded in regard to you. “Commanded,” see Hebrews 8:6 : in the LXX. the word is “covenanted.”

Verse 21

(21) He sprinkled with blood.—Rather, he sprinkled in like manner with the blood. It is singular that the word rendered “in like manner” (found in the Bishops’ Bible, “likewise,” and in other versions) should have been overlooked in the Authorised version. The incident here mentioned belongs, of course, to a later date. It is not expressly recorded in Scripture, but is related by Josephus (Ant. iii. 8, § 6); and, apart from internal probability, might almost be concluded from the narrative of the Pentateuch itself. In Exodus 40:9-15 we read of the divine injunction that Moses should put the anointing oil not only upon Aaron and his sons, their garments, and the altar, but also upon the Tabernacle and its vessels. In Leviticus 8:10-12 is recorded the fulfilment of this command; but in the later verses of the same chapter we read that the altar was sprinkled with the blood of the sin-offering (Hebrews 9:15), and that Moses sprinkled Aaron and his sons and their garments with “the anointing oil and the blood which was upon the altar.” Manifestly we may infer that the Tabernacle and its vessels were included in the latter ceremony. Whatever was connected with the covenant which God made with His people must be sprinkled with the blood, which at once typified purification (Hebrews 9:14; Hebrews 9:24), and ratified the covenant (Hebrews 9:15; Hebrews 9:17).

Verse 22

(22) And almost all things.—The meaning of the word “almost,” as it stands in the Greek, is rather, “One may almost lay down the rule,” “One may almost say.” What follows, in both parts of the verse, is a general saying, modified by these introductory words. And one may almost say—according to the Law, all things are cleansed in blood, and apart from the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. To the first rule an exception is found in the various purifications by water or by fire (see Numbers 31:22-24); to the second in the remarkable law of Leviticus 5:11-13. The expression “in blood” is used because sprinkling with the blood of the slain victim was in figure a surrounding with, or inclusion within, the purifying element. On “cleansed” (Hebrews 1:3) the best comment is found in Leviticus 16:19; Leviticus 16:30; on “forgiveness,” in the words which in Leviticus 4:0 are repeatedly (Leviticus 4:20; Leviticus 4:26; Leviticus 4:31; Leviticus 4:35) used of the effect of the sin offering, “it shall be forgiven him.” The second clause of the verse is founded on Leviticus 17:11. By “shedding of blood” we must probably understand the slaying of the animal, rather than the pouring out of the blood by the altar (Leviticus 4:34, et al.) With these words compare Luke 22:20.

Verse 23

(23) The patterns of things in the heavens.—Rather, the tokens (Hebrews 8:5) of the things in the heavens. In the first part of the verse a conclusion is drawn from the sacred history, which related the accomplishment of the divine will, and showed therefore what was “necessary.” But the real stress lies on the second part. The whole may be paraphrased thus: “Whilst then it is necessary that what are but tokens of the things in the heavens should be cleansed with these things, it is necessary that the heavenly things themselves should be cleansed with better sacrifices than these.” The meaning of “these things” might perhaps be found in Hebrews 9:19 (the various instruments of purification), or in Hebrews 9:13 (the two sin offerings there spoken of); but, from the prominence given to repetition in the following verses, the plural seems rather to mean with these sacrifices repeated from time to time. The common thought in the two parts of the verse appears to be (as in Hebrews 9:21) that everything relating to the covenant of God with sinful man must be brought under the symbol of expiation, without which he can have no part in that covenant. The “heavenly things” are not defiled by sin; but the true heavenly sanctuary cannot be entered by man, the new fellowship between God and man “in heavenly places” cannot be inaugurated, till the heavenly things themselves have been brought into association with the One atoning sacrifice for man.

Better sacrifices.—Here again the use of the plural is remarkable. It seems to arise from the studious generality in the terms of this verse. To “these things” the natural antithesis is “better sacrifices.” That in the ministry of the true High Priest there was a presentation of but one sacrifice is not assumed here, because it is to be strongly brought out below (Hebrews 9:25-26).

Verse 24

(24) For Christ is not entered.—Better, For Christ did not enter into a holy place made with hands. of like pattern to the true (or, real) holy place. In the second part of Hebrews 9:23 the two thoughts were the “heavenly things themselves” and “better sacrifices.” Of these the first is taken up here; the second in Hebrews 9:25-26. That verse was general: this sets forth the actual fact. “For the sanctuary into which Christ entered is not a copy or a token of the things in the heavens, but heaven itself.” “Of like pattern,” see Hebrews 8:5; “the true,” Hebrews 8:2; “into heaven itself,” Hebrews 8:1.

Now to appear in the presence of God for US.—Better, now to be made manifest before the face of God for us. We cannot doubt that these words continue the contrast between the true High Priest and the high priest on earth. On the Day of Atonement the high priest came before what was but a symbol of the Divine Presence; he caused the Holiest Place to be filled with the smoke of the incense before he entered with the blood of the offering. He did not dare to delay his return, even by prolonging his prayer, lest he should “excite terror in Israel.” In the heavenly sanctuary the High Priest is made manifest before the face of God. (Comp. Exodus 33:20.) Three different words in these verses (Hebrews 9:24; Hebrews 9:26; Hebrews 9:28) are in the Authorised version rendered by the same word “appear”: “to make manifest,” “to manifest,” “to appear,” may serve as renderings which shall keep in mind the difference of the words. The form of the Greek verb might seem to imply a single appearance only; by the added word “now the writer corrects, or rather enlarges, the thought, and shows that the true meaning is a manifestation which is both one and unceasing. With emphasis he places at the close the words which indicate “the people” whose High Priest He has become. As in Hebrews 8:1 his language was “we have such a High Priest,” and in Hebrews 9:14, “shall purge our conscience;” so here, it is on our behalf that Christ is manifested unto God.

Verse 25

(25) Nor yet that he shouldi.e., Nor yet (did He enter into heaven) that He may offer Himself often. The connection has been pointed out already in the last Note. The “offering “which is here in thought does not correspond to the actual sacrifice of the sin-offerings on the Day of Atonement, but to the presentation of the blood in the Holiest Place. In this really consisted the presentation of that sacrifice to God. That this is the meaning here is shown by the contrast in the latter part of the verse, where we read of the high priest’s entering the Holy Place (i.e., the Holy of Holies; see Note on Hebrews 9:2) “with blood not his own,” and by the argument of Hebrews 9:26.

Verse 26

(26) For then must he often have suffered.—The repeated presentation of Himself to God must imply, as a necessary condition, a repeated “suffering of death; as the high priest’s offering of the blood of expiation in the Holiest Place implied the previous sacrifice of the victim. The writer’s point of view is the time when “Christ entered into heaven itself.” In speaking of the repeated “suffering” (Luke 24:26; Luke 24:46, et al.), he marks the limits within which it must lie, reaching back to the “foundation of the world.” The expression in the second part of the verse is the converse of this: looking forward from the “foundation of the world,” through all the successive periods of human history until the Incarnation, he writes, “Now once at the end of the world”—“at the consummation of the ages”—hath Christ “been manifested.” The words “consummation of the age” occur five times in St. Matthew’s Gospel—Matthew 13:39-40; Matthew 13:49; Matthew 24:3; Matthew 28:20. (See the Notes.) The phrase here is more expressive still. The history of all preceding ages was a preparation for the manifestation of the Christ (“who verily was fore-ordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times” (literally, at the end of the times), 1 Peter 1:20; all subsequent history develops the results of that manifestation. A similar thought is contained in St. Paul’s words “the fulness of the seasons” (Ephesians 1:10), “the fulness of the time” (Galatians 4:4). (See further the Note on Hebrews 1:2.)

To put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.—Literally, for the annulling of sin through His sacrifice. The word which in Hebrews 7:18 was used for the abrogation of the command relating to the line of earthly priests, is here applied to the destruction of the power and abolition of the results of sin. As in the manifestation before the face of God we see the proof that the goal which the human high priest failed to reach had been attained, so these words proclaim full deliverance from guilt and penalty, and from the hold of sin itself—a deliverance which the sin-offering could but express in figure.

Verse 27

(27) And as it is appointed . . .—More literally, And as there is laid up for men once to die, and after this judgment. Man’s life and works on earth end with death: what remains is the result of this life and these works, as determined by God’s “judgment.” Man does not return to die a second time. That some few have twice passed through death does not affect the general law. The emphatic word “once” and the special design of the verse are explained by the words which follow.

Verse 28

(28) So Christ was once offered.—The ordinary translation, dividing the verse into two similar portions, fails to show where the emphasis really lies. The two members of the verse correspond to each other, point by point, with remarkable distinctness; but the first is clearly subordinated to the second. “So the Christ. also, having been once offered that He might bear the sins of many, shall appear a second time apart from sin to them that wait for Him unto salvation.” It is important to notice that, not only is there perfect. parallelism between the two members of this verse, but there is a similar relation between this verse as a whole and Hebrews 9:27. In that were presented two cardinal points of the history of sinful man; in this the main outlines of the Redeemer’s work. Each verse deals first with the present world, and secondly with “the last things.” The two verses, taken together, are connected with the preceding argument by the word “once.” Christ will not “suffer” often. He has been manifested once, to accomplish by one act the “annulling” of sin (Hebrews 9:26). And this is in harmony with the lot of man, who must die once, and but once (Hebrews 9:27-28). But what is the exact nature of this correspondence? Do the words simply mean that, as the Christ was man, so it was laid up for Him to die but once? Or may the connection of thought be expressed thus?—The work of redemption is so ordered as to correspond to the course of man’s history: as man must die once, and what remains is the judgment which he must abide, so the Christ has died once, and what remains is His return for judgment—a judgment which He Himself administers, giving salvation to His people. We will not venture to say that the former thought is absent from the words (which are sufficiently general to include both), but certainly the second is the more important. If now we return to Hebrews 9:28, it will be seen that the words “having been once offered” in the first member are answered by “shall appear” in the second; “to bear sins,” by “apart from sin . . . unto salvation;” and “of many,” by “to them that wait for Him.” In Hebrews 9:14; Hebrews 9:25, the writer spoke of Christ as offering Himself, here as “having been offered;” so in Ephesians 5:2 we read that He “delivered Himself up for us,” but in Romans 8:32 that God “delivered Him up for us all,” and in Romans 4:25, “who was delivered up for our offences.” The words which follow are taken (with a slight change) from Isaiah 53:12, “and He bare the sin of many.” These words clearly involve sacrificial imagery. What is signified is not directly the removal of sin (as in the different words of John 1:29); but, as on the animal to be slain the sins of the offerer were in figure laid, and the death which followed signified the death which the offerer had deserved, so, with an infinite extension of meaning, are the words here applied. It is certainly no mere accident that the writer, thus availing himself of the prophet’s words, speaks of the Christ. In contrast with the one Sufferer are the “many” whose sins are borne (comp. Hebrews 2:10; Matthew 26:28). When the Christ shall appear the second time, it shall be “apart from sin”—no longer bearing sin, but “separate from sinners” (Hebrews 7:26). Of the judgment which He shall pass upon “the adversaries” (Hebrews 10:27) this verse does not speak, but only of His appearing to His own people, who “wait for Him.” This expressive word, again and again used by St. Paul (see Note on Romans 8:19) to describe the attitude of Christ’s people upon earth towards their Lord (Philippians 3:20; 1 Corinthians 1:7) and His salvation (Romans 8:23; Romans 8:25), is here applied to all who love His appearing. By these “He shall be seen” as He is (1 John 3:2). The last words “unto salvation” declare the purpose of His appearing, in a form which at once recalls the teaching of earlier verses in the Epistle (Hebrews 5:9; Hebrews 7:26), and especially Hebrews 9:12 of this chapter, and which brings to mind the name of Him for whom we wait, the Saviour (Philippians 3:20).

Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Hebrews 9". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/hebrews-9.html. 1905.
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