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Bible Commentaries

Hamilton Smith's Writings

Hebrews 5

Verses 1-14

4 Christ's Sufferings and Call to Priesthood

( Heb_5:1-10 )

The apostle has shown us the sphere in which the priesthood of Christ is exercised - the House of God - and the circumstances of His people which require His priestly service - the wilderness journey. Now he unfolds to us the sufferings that Christ passed through in view of His priestly service and the call to the priestly office.

(Vv. 1-4). To develop the blessedness of the priesthood of Christ, the apostle refers in these verses to the Aaronic priesthood as setting forth general principles as to priestly service. At the same time he shows by contrast the superiority of the priesthood of Christ over that of Aaron.

We must definitely recognise that these four verses refer, not to Christ and His heavenly priesthood, but to Aaron and the earthly priesthood. The apostle calls attention to the person of the earthly priest, the work of the priest, the experiences of the priest, and the appointment of the priest.

As to his person, the high priest is taken “from among men”. This is in striking contrast with the priesthood of Christ. Truly Christ is Man, but He is much more. The writer has borne witness, and will yet do so, that the Christ who is our High Priest is none less than the Eternal Son.

As to His work, the earthly priest is established for man in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins, and exercise forbearance toward the ignorant and the erring. Here there is the shadowing forth of the priestly service of Christ. As the High Priest He acts on behalf of men - the many sons that He is bringing to glory - to keep them from failing and maintain them in a practical walk with God. Christ has offered gifts and sacrifices for sins to bring His people into relationship with God, and having accomplished the great work that removed their sins, He now exercises His priestly work in intercession, sympathy and succour on behalf of His ignorant and erring people.

As to the personal experiences of the earthly priest, we read, “He himself also is compassed with infirmity. And by reason hereof he ought, as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins.” Here there is partial analogy, and definite contrast, to the priesthood of Christ. It is true that, in the days of His flesh, Christ was found in circumstances of weakness and infirmity; but, in contrast with Aaron, His was sinless infirmity, therefore it could not be said that for Himself He offered for sins.

As to the appointment of the earthly priest, “No man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.” Here again there is an analogy, as we are at once reminded, to the priesthood of Christ. No one can truly take the place of priest, in any sense of the word, that is not called of God. The intense solemnity of neglecting this great truth is seen in the judgment that overtook Korah and those associated with him, who sought to establish themselves in the priesthood without being called of God. Jude warns us that in Christendom there will be many who in like manner will appoint themselves priests without the call of God, and will perish in the gainsaying of Core ( Num_16:3 ; Num_16:7 ; Num_16:10 ; Jud_1:11 ).

Here, then, we have the character of the earthly priesthood according to the mind of God, and not as illustrated in the history of failing Israel, which ends with two wicked men filling the place of high priest at the same time, and conspiring together to crucify their Messiah.

(Vv. 5, 6). With verse 5 the writer passes to speak of Christ as High Priest. He brings before us the greatness of His Person as called to be a Priest, the experiences He passed through in order to take the position of Priest, and the appointment of God to this place of service.

The glory of His Person. Christ, who is called to be our great High Priest, is truly taken from among men to exercise His priesthood on behalf of men. Nevertheless, in Manhood He is recognised as the Son: “Thou art My Son; this day have I begotten Thee.” It is this glorious Person - the One who is truly God and truly Man, and in whom Godhead and Manhood are perfectly expressed - who is appointed Priest according to the word, “Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.” As to the character of this order of priesthood, the apostle will have more to say. Here Psa_110:4 is quoted to show not only the greatness of the Priest but the dignity of the priesthood.

(Vv. 7, 8). In the verses that follow, we learn the experiences that Christ passed through in order that He might exercise His priestly service. How necessary that He should be the glorious Person that He is - the Son - to exercise the High Priesthood in heaven. But more was needed. If He is to succour His people through their wilderness journey, He Himself must enter into the sorrows and difficulties of the way. At once, then, the apostle recalls “the days of His flesh” when He took part in our infirmities, trod the path that we are treading, faced the same temptations that we have to meet, and was encompassed with like infirmities. The writer especially refers to the closing sufferings of the Lord, when the enemy, who, as one has said, “at the outset had sought to seduce Jesus by offering Him the things that are agreeable to man ( Luke 4 ), was presenting himself against Him with terrible things” (J.N.D.). In Gethsemane the enemy sought to turn the Lord from the path of obedience by pressing upon Him the terror of death. In the presence of this assault the Lord acts as the perfect Man. He did not exercise His divine power and drive the devil away or save Himself from death; but as the perfectly dependent Man He found His resource in prayer, and thus met the trial and overcame the devil. Nevertheless, His very perfection as Man led Him to feel the terror of all that was before Him and to express His feelings in strong crying and tears. He met the trial in perfect dependence upon God who was able to save Him out of death.

In all this sore trial He was heard because of His piety, which brought God into every circumstance by dependence and confidence in Him. He was heard inasmuch as He was strengthened in physical weakness, and enabled in spirit to submit to taking the cup from the Father's hand. Thus He overcame the power of Satan, and though He were Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered. We have to learn obedience because we have a wicked will: He because He was God over all, who from eternity had ever commanded. We oftentimes learn obedience by the suffering we bring upon ourselves through disobedience: He learned obedience by the suffering entailed through His obedience to the will of God. He learned by experience what it cost to obey. No suffering, however intense, could move Him from the path of perfect obedience. Another has said, “He submitted to everything, obeyed in everything, and depended upon God for everything” (J.N.D.).

The sufferings to which the apostle refers were in “the days of His flesh”, not the day of His death. At the cross He suffered under the wrath of God, and there He must be alone. None can share or enter into His atoning sufferings. In the Garden He suffered from the power of the enemy, and there others are associated with Him. We can in our little measure share these sufferings when tempted by the devil, and so doing we have all the sympathy and support of the One who has suffered before us.

(Vv. 9, 10). Moreover, not only was He heard in the Garden, but, having suffered, He is also heard in resurrection and is made perfect in glory. He takes His place as the glorified Man, according to His own words, “Behold, I cast out devils, and I do cures today, and tomorrow, and the third day I shall be perfected” ( Luk_13:32 ). Nothing could add to the perfection of His Person, but having passed through the sufferings of the days of His flesh, having accomplished the work of the cross, and having been raised and glorified, He is perfectly fitted to exercise His service on behalf of the many sons on their way to glory. Being perfected, He is addressed by God as High Priest according to the order of Melchisedec. In incarnation He is called to take up the Melchisedec priesthood (verse 5); when risen and perfected in glory, He is addressed as having taken up the calling (verse 10, N.Tn.).

5 The Spiritual Condition of the Hebrew Believers

( Heb_5:11 - Heb_6:20 )

The great object of the apostle in this portion of the Epistle is to develop the blessed character of the priesthood of Christ. Having referred to the Melchisedec priesthood to show by analogy the dignity of the priesthood of Christ, the apostle breaks off the thread of his discourse to resume it again at the beginning of Hebrews 7 .

In these parenthetical verses the apostle refers to the spiritual state of those to whom he is writing. Their dull condition of soul exposed them to a serious difficulty and a grave danger. The difficulty was that they were unable to interpret the Old Testament figures. This is referred to in Heb_5:11 to Heb_6:1-3 . The danger was that in their low condition some might give up the profession of Christianity and turn back to Judaism. This danger is developed in Heb_6:4-8 . The remaining verses of the parenthesis express the apostle's confidence and hope concerning those to whom he is writing ( Heb_6:9-20 ).

The Hindrance to Spiritual Intelligence

( Heb_5:11-14 ; Heb_6:1-3 )

(Vv. 11-13). Those to whom the apostle was writing were not simply ignorant of the truth, nor young in the faith - things that would not necessarily make it difficult to understand the teaching of Scripture. The real difficulty was they had “become dull of hearing.” Their spiritual growth had been arrested. The time had come when they should have been teachers. Alas! they needed to be again taught the elementary truths of the beginning of the oracles of God.

They had become such as had need of milk instead of solid food. The apostle does not at all slight the use of milk; but he says, If milk is the proper diet, it is a clear proof that the soul is spiritually a babe, needing to be established in the righteousness of God.

(V. 14). The stronger food - the full truth of Christianity into which the apostle desires to lead us - belongs to the full-grown Christian, the one who is established in the position in which the righteousness of God has placed him as a son before God. Such, instead of being dull of hearing, have their senses exercised to distinguish both good and evil.

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Bibliographical Information
Smith, Hamilton. "Commentary on Hebrews 5". "Hamilton Smith's Writings". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/hsw/hebrews-5.html. 1832.