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Bible Commentaries

Hamilton Smith's Writings

Hebrews 8

Verses 1-13

7 The New Covenant

( Hebrews 8 )

In the seventh chapter there has been presented the new order of priesthood, to which Christ has been called, and its superiority over the Aaronic priesthood, involving the setting aside of the law of the Levitical priesthood.

Now we are to learn that the new priesthood not only sets aside the Mosaic law as to the appointment of the priest, but opens the way for the new covenant, based on a new sacrifice and exercised in the new sanctuary for new worshippers. The two great themes of this chapter are: firstly, the great fact that Christ's priestly service is now exercised in connection with heaven (verses 1-5); secondly, that it implies the new covenant (verses 6-13).

(Vv. 1, 2).The chapter opens with a brief summary of the truth already presented. The apostle states, not only that there is such an High Priest, but that “we have such an High Priest.” This great and glorious Person, called to be an High Priest after the order of Melchisedec, is for service to us. He is One to whom we can turn for sympathy in our sorrow and for succour in our infirmities. The apostle reminds us of the incomparable dignity of our High Priest by bringing before us His place of power “on the right hand of the throne”, His nearness to God, “the throne of the Majesty”, and His exalted position, “in the heavens”.

Moreover, He is a minister of the sanctuary, or “holy places”. This is not the earthly sanctuary, but “the true tabernacle, which the Lord has pitched, and not man.” Later in the Epistle we are told that this is “heaven itself” ( Heb_9:24 ). The mention of the sanctuary introduces another part of the priestly service of Christ. This is no longer the service of succouring us in our sorrows, or support in our weakness, but rather that higher service by which we are led as worshippers into the presence of God. His service for us in our wilderness circumstances has been presented in Hebrews 2-7; His priestly service in leading us into the sanctuary as worshippers is more definitely presented in Hebrews 8-10.

(V. 3). Even as it was an important part of the work of the Levitical priests to offer gifts and sacrifices, so Christ as our High Priest has somewhat to offer, as we read later in the Epistle, “By Him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually” ( Heb_13:15 ).

(Vv. 4, 5). This priestly work of Christ is exercised in heaven and on behalf of a heavenly people. If He were on earth He would not be a priest, as on earth the only human priests ever sanctioned by God as a distinct class among the people of God were appointed according to the law. They served as “the representation and shadow of heavenly things”. This is implied by the explicit directions given to Moses, who was told to make the tabernacle after the pattern shown to him in the mount ( Exo_25:40 ). Christ having come, “the representation and shadow of heavenly things” has fulfilled its purpose. The human priesthood exercised on earth on behalf of an earthly people gives place to the heavenly priesthood of Christ, exercised in heaven on behalf of an heavenly people.

Alas! Christendom, having lost the heavenly calling of the Christian, has set up an earthly system after the pattern of Judaism, with a humanly ordained priesthood as a distinct class amongst the people of God. In doing so there is not only a return to the shadows and the loss of the substance, but there is the practical denial of the priesthood of Christ and the usurpation of His office and service.

(Vv. 6-9). Not only does Christ exercise a more excellent ministry in heaven, but He is the Mediator of a better covenant, established upon better promises. Of this new covenant the apostle speaks in verses 6-13.

A covenant sets forth the terms on which two people can be in relation with each other. Scripture speaks of two great covenants between God and men, the old covenant and the new, the covenant of law and the covenant of grace. Both the old and the new covenants set forth the terms on which God can bless His earthly people. The great difference between the covenants is that under the terms of the first covenant the blessing depended upon man doing his part, whereas under the second covenant the blessing is secured by the unconditional promise of God. The mediatorial work of Christ lays a righteous basis for God to bless the believer in sovereign grace according to the terms of the new covenant.

In the book of Exodus we have the historical account of Israel formally entering into a covenant with God. Jehovah undertakes to bless the people if they will obey His voice and keep His covenant. The people on their side undertake to do their part, as we read, “All the people answered together, and said, All that the LORD hath spoken we will do” ( Exo_19:5-8 ). Later, this covenant is renewed by the people and sealed with blood ( Exo_24:6-8 ).

It becomes manifest that, under the old covenant, the people of Israel were set in outward relationship with God on the ground of law. If they kept the law, life and blessing on earth were promised to them; if they broke the law, they were cursed. The blessing all depended upon man doing his part. This was the weakness of the first covenant, for it is manifest that a fallen man cannot keep God's holy law. Thus a place is sought for a second covenant, of which Christ is the Mediator.

Jehovah does not indeed find fault with the first covenant itself, but with those who were unable to fulfil its terms. “Finding fault with them”, Jehovah speaks of a new covenant. The apostle, in verses 8-12, quotes from the Septuagint version of Jer_31:31-34 to bring before us the terms of this new covenant.

From this quotation we learn that the new covenant has in view the day to come, and strictly is made with Israel and applies to an earthly people. Nevertheless, if the letter of the new covenant is confined to Israel, the spirit of it can be applied to Christians. Therefore, in another epistle the apostle speaks of himself as being an able minister of the new covenant, “not of the letter, but of the spirit” ( 2Co_3:6 ).

For this reason we should hardly expect to find in the new covenant any of the truths that exclusively set forth Christian privileges, but rather blessings that are essential for all the people of God and common to all the redeemed. These blessings that restored and redeemed Israel will enter into in a day to come are anticipatively enjoyed by believers in the present day of grace.

The new covenant is in contrast with the old covenant made with Israel in the day when they were led out of Egypt. In that day God separated the nation from the world of Egypt that they might be in relationship with Himself. But, as we have seen, according to the terms of the covenant, the blessing depended upon the people carrying out their part of the covenant. This they failed to do, as the Lord says, “They continued not in My covenant.” Consequently they lost the blessing, and the Lord “regarded them not”. To regard a people who, by disobedience and idolatry, failed to carry out their obligations would be to sanction their evil. Thus God refused to own them as in relationship with Himself on the ground of the old covenant. On this ground the nation is rejected.

(Vv. 10-12). Nevertheless, God can and does fall back on His sovereign grace and speaks of a fresh covenant for the days to come. This new covenant depends entirely upon the sovereign grace of God and sets forth the terms upon which He can be with man according to His own holy nature and His own will. In setting forth the blessing of the new covenant, again and again the Lord says, “I will” - “I will make a new covenant”; “I will put My laws into their mind”; “I will be to them a God”; “I will be merciful”; “Their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.” It is clear that the blessings of the new covenant depend, not on man's doings or man's will, but on God's sovereign will. The essence of the new covenant is that the Lord undertakes its accomplishment.

Jeremiah tells us that the blessings of the new covenant are, firstly, a work of God in the hearts of His people, whereby their minds will be renewed and their affections engaged, so that the law of God will be written in the heart, in contrast with being written on tables of stone. Secondly, those thus wrought upon will be a people in relationship with God. Into the spirit of this believers in this day enter, as we read in the Gospel of John, “As many as received Him, to them gave He the right to be children of God, to those that believe on His Name; who have been born, not of blood, nor of flesh's will, nor of man's will, but of God.” ( Joh_1:12 ; Joh_1:13 ). Thirdly, there will be the conscious knowledge of the Lord, so that there will be no question of teaching a neighbour or a brother to know the Lord. How truly this is so amongst the true people of God today, who personally know the Lord, however much they may have to learn about the Lord, and in this sense need teaching! Fourthly, there will be the mercy of the Lord by which their sins will be so righteously dealt with that God will be able to say, “Their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.” Into this great blessing every believer is brought today.

(V. 13). Such are the terms and blessings of the new covenant. If there is a new priesthood by which we draw nigh to God, there must of necessity be a new covenant, otherwise the new priesthood, however perfect, would be of no avail. Under the first covenant our drawing nigh to God would depend upon our keeping the terms of the covenant. This being impossible we should find ourselves constantly shut out from God by our own failures. Under the new covenant we are in relationship with God entirely on the ground of what God has done in sovereign grace.

The covenant is new in the sense that it is entirely different to the old covenant: it is not a new covenant of the same pattern. Being new makes the old out of date; and decaying and waxing old, it is ready to vanish away. It is vain, therefore, for Jews or Christendom to go back to that which man has broken and which God has set aside by the cross, and the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple.

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Bibliographical Information
Smith, Hamilton. "Commentary on Hebrews 8". "Hamilton Smith's Writings". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/hsw/hebrews-8.html. 1832.