Bible Commentaries
Hebrews 5

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New TestamentsBenson's Commentary

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A.M. 4068. A.D. 64.

In this chapter,

(1,) The apostle sets forth the duty and qualifications of a high-priest, Hebrews 5:1-4 .

(2,) Shows how abundantly these are answered in Christ’s supereminent call to, fitness for, and discharge of that office, Hebrews 5:5-10 .

(3,) Reproves the believing Hebrews for their sloth and negligence, and the little progress they had made in the knowledge of the truths of the gospel, which were prefigured by the ceremonial dispensation, Hebrews 5:12-14 .

Verse 1

Hebrews 5:1. The priesthood and sacrifice of the Son of God, and the pardon procured for sinners thereby, together with the many happy effects of the pardon thus procured, being matters of the greatest importance to mankind, the apostle in this chapter, and in what follows to Hebrews 10:19, hath stated at great length the proofs by which they are established. And it was very proper that he should be copious, not only in his proofs of these important subjects, but also in his comparison of the priesthood of Christ with the Levitical priesthood, that while he established the merit of the sacrifice of Christ, he might show the inefficacy of the Levitical atonements, and of all other sacrifices whatever. For as the unbelieving Jews, and probably many of those who believed, did not acknowledge his apostleship, St. Paul knew that his affirmation of these matters would not be held by them as sufficient evidence. His proof of the priesthood of Christ he begins in this chapter, in the course of which he shows, that whatever was excellent in the Levitical priesthood, is in Christ, and in a more eminent manner. And whatever excellence was wanting in those priests, is in him. For Or now; every high-priest As if he had said, To show that Christ is a real High-Priest, I will describe the designation, the duties, and the qualifications of a high-priest, by which it will appear that all the essential parts of that office are found in him; taken from among men Being, till he is taken, of the same rank with them; is ordained Appointed, set apart for that office; for men For their benefit; in things pertaining to God To bring God near to men, and men to God; that he may offer both gifts Out of things inanimate; and sacrifices Of animals; to atone for sins “Gifts, or freewill-offerings, as distinguished from sacrifices for sins, were expressions of gratitude to God for his goodness in the common dispensations of his providence. And because the priests offered both kinds, Paul speaks of himself, (Romans 15:16,) as exercising the priesthood according to the gospel, by offering the Gentiles in an acceptable manner, through the sanctification of the Holy Ghost.”

Verses 2-3

Hebrews 5:2-3. Who can have compassion The word μετριοπαθειν , here used, signifies to feel compassion in proportion to the misery of others. The apostle’s words imply that a high-priest, who is not touched with a feeling of the weaknesses and miseries of others, is unfit to officiate for them, because he will be apt to neglect them in his ministrations, or be thought by the people in danger of so doing. On the ignorant Who, not being properly instructed in divine things, are involved in error with respect to them; and on them that are out of the way Of truth and duty, of wisdom, holiness, and happiness; or who, through their ignorance or any other cause, fall into sin: so that all sins and sinners are here comprehended. For that he himself is compassed with infirmity So that under a consciousness thereof, he will officiate for them with the greater kindness and assiduity, knowing that he needs the compassion which he shows to others. And by reason hereof Because he himself is a sinner; he ought, as for the people, so also for himself, (see the margin,) to offer for sins That, being pardoned himself, and in a state of reconciliation and peace with God, he may offer for others with more acceptance. We are not to infer from this that Christ had any sins of his own to offer for, or that he offered any sacrifice for himself, it being repeatedly affirmed by the apostles that he was absolutely free from all sin.

Verses 4-6

Hebrews 5:4-6. And no man Who has any regard to duty or safety; taketh this honour This awful office, attended with a high degree of responsibility; unto himself, but he only that is called of God to it; as was Aaron And his posterity, who were all of them called at one and the same time. But it is observable Aaron did not preach at all, preaching being no part of the priestly office. So also Christ glorified not himself See John 8:54; to be made a High-Priest That is, did not take this honour to himself, but received it from his Father, who said unto him, Thou art my Son This solemn acknowledging of him for his Son, shows that he undertook nothing but what his Father authorized him to undertake; to-day have I begotten thee As if he had said, There is an eternal relation between us, which is the foundation of thy call to this work. See note on Psalms 2:7; Acts 13:33. As he God the Father; saith in another place Because the former testimony was somewhat obscure, the apostle adds another more clear: Thou art a priest for ever, after Or according to; the order of Melchisedec That is, thou art a priest, not like Aaron, but Melchisedec. Inasmuch as Melchisedec had neither predecessor nor successor in his office, his priesthood could not, properly speaking, be called an order, if by that phrase be understood a succession of persons executing that priesthood. Therefore the expression, κατα ταξιν , here rendered after the order, must mean after the similitude of Melchisedec, as it is expressed Hebrews 7:15; and as the Syriac version renders the phrase in this verse. The words of God’s oath, recorded Psalms 110:4, are very properly advanced by the apostle as a proof of the Messiah’s priesthood, because the Jews in general acknowledged that David wrote that psalm by inspiration concerning Christ.

Verse 7

Hebrews 5:7. Who, &c. The sum of the things treated of in the 7th and following chapters, is contained in this paragraph, from Hebrews 5:7-10, and in this sum is admirably comprised the process of his passion with its inmost causes, in the very terms used by the evangelists. Who in the days of his flesh Those two days in particular wherein his sufferings were at the height; when he had offered up prayers and supplications thrice; with strong crying and tears In the garden; to him (his heavenly Father) that was able to save him from death Which yet he endured in obedience to his Father’s will. The reader will easily understand what is here said concerning the fear and sorrow, the strong crying and tears of the Son of God, if he remember that He, who was perfect God, and possessed of all possible perfections as the eternal Word of the Father, was also perfect man, “of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting:” in other words, that in his mysterious person, the perfect human nature, consisting of soul and body, was indeed united indissolubly to the divine, but was not while he was on earth, (and is not even now,) absorbed by it. The union was such as gave an infinite dignity to the person of the Redeemer, and infinite merit to his sufferings, but not such as made him incapable of suffering, or rendered his sufferings of no efficacy, which would have been the case if they had not been felt. Only let this be kept in remembrance, and Christ’s humiliation and sorrow will not be a stone of stumbling to us, or rock of offence, any more than his exaltation and glory. And was heard in that he feared To be heard, signifies, in Scripture, to be accepted in our requests, or to be answered in them. There is no doubt but the Father heard the Son always in the former sense, John 11:42: but how far was he heard in the latter, so as to be delivered from what he prayed against? In answer to this it must be observed, the prayers of Christ on this occasion were, 1st, Conditional; namely, that the cup might pass from him if it were agreeable to his Father’s will; Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me, Luke 22:42. He could not have been man, and not have had an extreme aversion to the sufferings that were coming upon him in that hour and power of darkness: when it is certain that Satan and his angels, who had departed from him for a season, (Luke 4:13,) were again permitted to oppress his soul with inexpressible horror. Nothing, in fact, is suffering, or can be penal to us, but what is grievous to our nature. But the mind of Christ, amidst these assaults of hell, and the view given him of the sufferings which awaited him, was so supported and fortified, as to come to a perfect acquiescence in his Father’s will, saying, Nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done. But, 2d, His prayers were also absolute, and were absolutely heard. He had conceived a deep and dreadful apprehension of death, upon its being presented to him as attended with the wrath and curse of God, due to those sins of mankind, for which he was to make atonement. And he well knew how unable the human nature was to undergo it, (so as to remove that wrath and curse, and make way for the justification of such as should believe in him,) if not mightily supported and carried through the trial by the power of God. And while his faith and trust in God were terribly assaulted by the temptations of Satan suggesting fear, dread, and terrible apprehensions of the divine displeasure due to our sins, it was his duty, and a part of the obedience he owed to his heavenly Father, to pray that he might be supported and delivered, απο της ευλαβειας , in that he particularly feared Or rather; from his fear, namely, the fear of that weight of infinite justice and wrath, which our sins had provoked; or, the being bruised and put to grief by the hand of God himself. Compared with this, every thing else was as nothing. And yet so greatly did he thirst to be obedient even unto this dreadful death, and to lay down his life for his sheep, under this dreadful load of anguish and sorrow, that he vehemently longed to be baptized with this baptism, Luke 12:50. The consideration of its being the will of God that he should thus suffer, first tempered his fear, and afterward swallowed it up. And he was heard Not so that the cup should pass away, but so that he was enabled to drink it without any fear. Thus the prophet represents him as saying, The Lord God hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back: I gave my back to the smiters, &c., for the Lord God will help me, therefore shall I not be confounded; therefore have I set my face like a flint, I know that I shall not be ashamed, &c, Isaiah 50:5-8. Add to this, that he was actually delivered from the power of death itself by a glorious resurrection, of which the prophet intimates his having an assured expectation, representing him as adding, He is near that justifieth me; namely, that acquits me from the charge of being an imposter and blasphemer, by raising me from the dead, exalting me to his own right hand, and investing me with all power in heaven and on earth, and especially by authorizing me to confer the Holy Ghost in his extraordinary gifts upon my disciples, and thereby to give demonstration of my being the true Messiah. In this sense the apostle seems to have understood the passage when he said, that he, who was put to death in the flesh; namely, as a blasphemer; was justified in, or by, the Spirit, conferred by him after his ascension.

Verse 8

Hebrews 5:8. Though he were a son And so, one would have supposed, might have been exempted from suffering; this is interposed, lest any should be offended at all these instances of human weakness; yet learned he obedience, &c. Yea, although he was such a son as has been before described, even that Son of God, who had glory with his Father before all worlds. It was no singular thing for a son, or child of God by adoption, to be chastised, to suffer, and thereby to be instructed to obedience. He therefore speaks not of him as a son in such a way, or in any way in which a mere creature might be God’s son, but as he was his Son in a peculiar sense, his only-begotten Son, who was in the beginning with God, and was God, John 1:1; John 1:14: that He should do and suffer the things here spoken of, was indeed marvellous. Therefore it is said, he did and suffered them although he was a Son. Which words imply both the necessity of his doing and suffering what is here ascribed to him, and his love, that when, on his own account no such thing was required, or in any respect needful, yet that he would submit to this condition for our sakes. But what is the obedience here intended? To this it may be answered, the word υπακοη , so rendered, means an obediential attendance to, or compliance with, the commands of another, when they are heard, and thereby known. This obedience in Christ was two-fold: 1st, General, in the whole course of his life. Every thing he did was not only right and holy as to the matter of it, but as to the form and manner of it; it was obediential: he did all things, because it was the will of God that he should do them; and this his obedience to God was the life and beauty of the holiness, even of Christ himself. This, however, is not chiefly meant here, but rather, 2d, That peculiar compliance with the Father’s will, whereby he became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. For this commandment had he received of the Father, that he should lay down his life for his people, and which he did in the way of obedience, saying, A body hast thou prepared me; lo! I come to do thy will, by offering up that body, Hebrews 10:5; Hebrews 10:9. But how did he learn this obedience? It must be observed, 1st, The word μανθανω , here used, signifies to learn as a disciple, with an humble, willing subjection to, and a ready reception of, the instruction given. 2d, It is said he learned obedience, not he learned to obey, which will give us light in the meaning of the passage. He did not learn that to be his duty which he knew not before, or did not consider; nor was he impelled to, or instructed, or directed in the various acts of the obedience required, as we are often taught by chastisements. But, 3d, He learned obedience by experiencing it, as a man learns the taste of meat by eating it. Thus he was said to taste of death, or to experience what was in it by undergoing it. The obedience he learned was a submission to undergo great, hard, and terrible things, accompanied with patience under them, and faith for deliverance from them. This he could have no experience of but by suffering the things he was to undergo, and by the exercise of appropriate graces while suffering. Thus he learned or experienced in himself, what difficulty obedience is attended with. And, 4th, This way of his learning it is what is so useful to us, and so full of consolation. For if he had only known obedience, though never so perfectly, in theory merely, what relief could have accrued to us from it? How could it have been a spring in him of suitable compassion toward us? But now, having fully experienced the nature of that special obedience which is yielded to God in a suffering condition, what difficulty it is attended with, what opposition is made to it, how great an exercise of grace is required, &c., he is disposed to support and succour us in this our obedience and sufferings. See Dr. Owen.

Verse 9

Hebrews 5:9. And being made perfect, &c. Many of the difficulties which we meet with in Scripture, are entirely owing to our ignorance: some to our ignorance of the subjects under consideration, and others of the meaning of the terms made use of to express these subjects. This is peculiarly the case here: there would be no difficulty in conceiving how Christ could be said to be made perfect, if we observed, 1st, That he was very man, and that his human nature, before his resurrection, was in a state of infirmity, and not of perfection, his body being subject to various weaknesses, and the faculties of his soul, of course, being influenced thereby. While in his childhood he is said to have increased in wisdom as well as in stature, namely, as the powers of his mind were gradually unfolded, and subjects, through the medium of his senses, were presented to his contemplation. And if he increased in wisdom, he must, of course, have increased in love to God and man, and all other graces and virtues, though always perfectly free from every defilement of sin, internal or external: but when he was raised from the dead, and exalted to his Father’s right hand, his human nature was fully and for ever freed from this state of infirmity, and was rendered completely perfect. This, however, does not appear to be the meaning of the word perfect here, but the expression rather refers, 2d, To his having fully accomplished the work he had to do, and the sufferings he had to endure in order to his being a perfect Mediator and Saviour. Accordingly the expression here used by the apostle, τελειωθεις , is literally being perfected, answering directly to the word used Hebrews 2:10, τελειωσαι , to perfect by sufferings; only there it is used actively, it became him (God the Father) to make perfect the Captain of our salvation; here it is used passively, with respect to the effect of that act, and signifies his being consummated, or having finished his whole process, from his leaving the celestial glory to his returning to it; which process it was absolutely necessary he should accomplish, that his character, as a High-Priest, might be completed, and he might be consecrated as such. This, 3d, Is another meaning of the term, and a meaning given it by our translators at the close of the seventh chapter, where they have rendered τετελειωμενων , (another participle of the same verb,) consecrated or dedicated to his high office. The priests under the law were consecrated by the death and oblation of the beasts offered in sacrifice at their consecration, (Exodus 29:0.,) but it belonged to the perfection of Christ as a high-priest, that he should be consecrated by his own sufferings. This was necessary both from the nature of the office, to which he was to be solemnly set apart, and to answer the types of the Aaronical priesthood. This, however, was only the external means of his consecration, and an evidence thereof. He was really consecrated by the act of God the Father, who said, Thou art my Son, &c., and by his own act when he said, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He became the author Αιτιος , the cause, both the meritorious and efficient cause; of eternal salvation As procuring it for us by his obedience unto death, and conferring it upon us in all its branches, in consequence of his ascension and exaltation; to all those that obey him The expression is emphatical: the salvation belongs only to those that obey him, and it belongs to all such. And as the Greek term here used imports to obey upon hearing, the obedience intended Isaiah , 1 st, Faith, which cometh by hearing. 2d, The subjection of the heart, of the will and affections to him, in consequence of faith; and, 3d, A uniform complying with the will of God as far as it is known to us, (Matthew 7:21,) or a conscientious, steady, and persevering obedience to all the precepts of the gospel. For only blessed are they that do his commandments, because they, and only they, shall have a right to the tree of life, Revelation 22:14. Thus, as Macknight observes, “in this verse three things are clearly stated: 1st, That obedience to Christ is equally necessary to salvation with believing on him. 2d, That he was made perfect as a high-priest, by offering himself a sacrifice for sin; and, 3d, That by the merit of that sacrifice he hath obtained pardon and eternal life for them who obey him.”

Verse 10

Hebrews 5:10. Called Προσαγορευθεις , denominated by God himself, or, as some understand the expression, openly declared, namely, in the 110th Psalm, before referred to; a high-priest after the order of Melchisedec Or, according to the constitution of Melchisedec’s priesthood, which was a figure and example of Christ’s priesthood, in the peculiar properties and circumstances of it, namely, not by a material unction, legal ceremonies, or any human ordination, but by a heavenly institution, and the immediate unction of the divine Spirit. The Holy Ghost seems to have concealed who Melchisedec was, on purpose that he might be the more eminent type of Christ. This only we know, that he was a priest, and the king of Salem, or Jerusalem.

Verses 11-14

Hebrews 5:11-14. Of whom, &c. The apostle here begins an important digression, wherein he reproves, admonishes, and exhorts the believing Hebrews; we Apostles and other ministers of the word; have many things to say And things of great importance, in order to your full illumination, and perfect acquaintance, with that Christianity which you profess; and hard to be uttered Interpreted or explained, as δυσερμηνευτος signifies; though not so much from the subject matter, as because ye are dull of hearing Careless as to giving attention, slothful in considering, and dull in apprehending the things of God. For when, for the time Since ye first professed Christianity; ye ought to be teachers Able to teach others less informed than yourselves; ye have need that one teach you again which be the nature of the first principles of the oracles of God Accordingly these are enumerated in the first verse of the ensuing chapter. And are become such as have need of milk The first and plainest doctrines. See on 1 Corinthians 3:2. For every one that useth milk That is, that neither desires nor can digest any thing else; (otherwise strong men use milk, but not that chiefly, much less that only;) is unskilful in the word of righteousness Makes it appear that he is unacquainted (through want of exercise and experience) with the sublimer truths of the gospel. Such are all they who desire and can digest nothing but the doctrine of justification and imputed righteousness. For he is a babe See on 1 Corinthians 14:20. The apostle compares these Hebrews to babes, not on account of their innocent simplicity and teachableness, qualities which Christ recommended to all his disciples; but on account of their weakness and ignorance; for which, considering the advantages they had so long enjoyed, they were deserving of censure. But strong meat The sublimer truths relating to a perfect acquaintance with, experience in, and the practice of, the whole gospel, chap. Hebrews 6:1; belongeth to them that are of full age Τελειων , the perfect, or perfectly instructed: see on 1 Corinthians 2:6, where the same expression seems to be used in the same sense; even those who, by reason of use Or habit, as εξιν signifies, implying strength of spiritual understanding, arising from maturity of spiritual age; have their senses exercised Though the word αισθητηρια , here used, properly signifies the outward senses, as the eyes, ears, &c.; yet it is evidently here put for the inward senses, the senses of the mind; to discern both good and evil Grown Christians, by exercising their spiritual faculties, become able to distinguish truth from error, in the various branches of Christian doctrines, having attained the full assurance of understanding in the mystery of God and of Christ, (Colossians 2:2,) as also to distinguish duty from sin, or moral and spiritual good from evil.

Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Hebrews 5". Benson's Commentary. 1857.