Attention!
Take your personal ministry to the Next Level by helping StudyLight build churches and supporting pastors in Uganda.
Click here to join the effort!

Bible Commentaries

Newell's Commentary on Romans, Hebrews and Revelation

Hebrews 8

Verses 1-5

CHRIST, AS OUR HIGH PRIEST, is a Minister of the holy things of God's actual, glorious presence in Heaven! For in the words "which the Lord pitched, not man," we observe at once that the evident meaning is a contrast of the true tabernacle, the reality, in Heaven, with that which God commanded Moses to "Pitch" in the wilderness days of Israel. The Levitical tabernacle, (full of types and lessons, doubtless), disappears utterly in the book of Hebrews, together with all jealous thought for it, on the part of those willing to enter the heavenly worship, and, as regards earthly religion, to go forth unto Jesus "without the camp, bearing His reproach." Such have no "holy temple" on earth, nor sacred buildings of any sort, knowing that now "the Most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands" as said Stephen (Acts 7:48) and later Paul (Acts 17:24). Paul had heard Stephen say it.

But now, in the words of verse 3: For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices: wherefore it is necessary that this High Priest also have somewhat to offer. Let us leave for a moment the question of the gifts and sacrifices He is to offer, and proceed to the great lesson of this Chapter.

We have, then, the hypothetical statement (vss. 4-5) that:

4 If He were on earth, He would not be a priest at all, seeing there are (in the as yet undestroyed Jewish temple, when Hebrews was written) those who keep offering the gifts according to the Law;

5 who serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, even as Moses is warned of God when he is about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith He, that thou make all things according to the pattern that was shown thee in the mount.

The contention of some that verse 4: If He were on earth, He would not be a priest at all, sets forth that Christ's priesthood began only after resurrection and the Lord's ascension, is strange indeed. For in this verse the apostle is speaking of Christ risen from the dead and now in glory, Who had sat down on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a Minister of the sanctuary. It is of this One in that ministry that it is affirmed, If He were on earth, He would not be a priest at all. For there were at that moment those of the Aaronic order, in the temple which was then standing, carrying on the service which the Law, the copy and shadow of heavenly things, prescribed. To affirm that Chapter 4 excludes the propitiation by blood made on the Cross from priestly functions is utterly to obscure this passage. Our Lord in His earthly ministry, though so often speaking and working in the temple itself, never assayed to its priesthood!

But Christ is God, God manifest in the flesh. "God in very deed" (2 Chron. 6:18) had come to dwell in the tabernacle and afterwards in the temple. It was "zeal for God's house," as such, that ate Him up. (Ps. 69:9, John 2:17). The morning and evening sacrifices, the Day of Atonement, the Passover Lamb, and all the sacrifices as ministered by dying, ever-changing Levitical priests, all this was a "shadow" of Christ's priestly work.

Next in sadness to the words, "they that dwell at Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they knew Him not, nor the voices of the prophets ... fulfilled them by condemning Him," is the fact that they went about their sacrifices, Passover and all, with the Great Priest of Whom all these sacrifices spoke, before their eyes--and they blind--as unto this day.

Verse 6

A ministry the more excellent--Now if we can only step out from the shadows (vs. 5) and behold the substance! Christ's one offering would have been complete if there had been no shadows or types whatever. And we must be so delivered in spirit that our conception of our Lord's ministry shall not be governed by types and shadows: but the types by the reality. The measure of the difference between the old Levitical ministry and that of Christ is again the blessed phrase, A ministry the more excellent by so much--And what is the measure? By so much as He is also the Mediator of a better covenant, which hath been enacted upon better promises.

Here the words a better covenant are contrasted with the first, or legal covenant. Now, what covenant is this "better covenant"? And what are these "better promises"?

First, it is not the covenant of Hebrews 13:20, for that was not between creatures, but between "the God of peace" and "the Lord Jesus," and the condition was the obedience unto death of Christ to the Father; its ground, the shed blood of Christ; and its issue, "an eternal covenant." This is the great fundamental transaction between God and Christ: no creature is seen; but, ah! believers become--apart from works--beneficiaries! So that God can go on and make (in the Millennial future) a second (or "new") covenant with Israel, who "continued not" (vs. 9) in the Sinaitic or "first" covenant.

But note two things about this new covenant (vs. 8):

  1. It is based, as we have intimated, on the "eternal covenant" of Hebrews 13:20.
  2. God does everything in this "new covenant." There is no "If ye--" as at Sinai; but it is all "I will:" I will make a new covenant (vs. 8).

"I will put My laws into their mind--" constant remembrance--not on external stone tables.

"I will write them also on their heart"--supreme affection.

"And I will be to them a God, and they shall be to Me a people" (vs. 10). "All shall know Me ... (vs. 11). "I will be merciful to their iniquities, and their sin I will remember no more."

Now you see this is all Grace and flows freely from the "eternal covenant" in Christ's blood of Chapter 13:20. But the great word as to the former covenant is: "He hath made the first old ... nigh unto vanishing away." It vanished indeed in A.D. 70, when the temple was sacked and burned, and Jerusalem destroyed by Titus. While place is foretold for "the house of Israel and the house of Judah" in this epistle to the Hebrews, yet lay this to heart: the old covenant is gone (vs. 9, 13); and the new not yet come. Paul is writing to Hebrew believers with whose fathers God had made a "covenant," and with which nation God will, by and by, at the Messiah's return to Israel, make a "new" covenant, saying, "And this is the covenant from Me unto them, when I shall take away their sins"--Romans 11:27. These Hebrew believers were called, then, to face the fact that the old covenant, with the Law principle of blessing, had been set aside. We behold national Israel today without a covenant, "regarded not" by Jehovah! And so we turn to Hebrews 13:20, and "in the blood of an eternal covenant" between the God of peace and the Lord Jesus, we find ourselves, with true Hebrew believers, all "partakers of a heavenly calling"--we all find ourselves blessed indeed! And it is the blood of that covenant which we celebrate when we gather at the Lord's table; so that all hope in man has passed away forever; and so has all hope in Divine Law to be fulfilled by man as the "condition of blessing."

To return to verse 6, our Lord hath obtained a ministry the more excellent BY SO MUCH AS (who can measure this Divine comparison?) He is also the MEDIATOR of a better covenant. Now that "better covenant" is not made with us, but like the "old" covenant of Sinai, pertains to national Israel; and the blessings of the better promises will be lavished upon them.

Verses 7-8

For if that first (covenant) had been faultless, then would no place have been sought for a second: Here it is most evident that the two covenants, the legal one at Sinai, and the "new covenant" which God will make "with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah" (vs. 8) are before us. Look down to verse 13 and you get the lesson:

"In that He saith, A new covenant, He hath made the first old. But that which is becoming old and waxeth aged, is nigh unto vanishing away."

It is quite striking that in verse 7 the word "faultless" refers to the covenant; while in verse 8 we read: For finding fault with them He saith, Behold the days come, saith the Lord, That I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.

Anything resting upon man's faithfulness goes down. Hear Jehovah's own word by Moses when He gave the Sinai covenant: "For when I shall have brought them into the land which I sware unto their fathers, flowing with milk and honey, and they shall have eaten and filled themselves, and waxed fat; then will they turn unto other gods, and serve them, and despise Me, and break My covenant" (Deut. 31:20).

Salvation is of GOD, my brother! and not in any sense of man. The Law, "written ... in tables of stone," the letter, killed (2 Cor. 3:3-9). It is Divinely contrasted with Salvation by Grace through the shed blood of Christ. Believers were so identified in Christ's death that "our old man was crucified with Him" (Rom. 6:6) so that we are "dead to the Law" and "discharged from the Law" (Rom. 7:4, 6). (If you have been taught "theology" before you were taught to study the Scripture itself (and therefore never learned to read and believe Scripture freely), read Rom. 6 and 7. Look at the phrases: "Not under Law but under Grace" (6:14). "Free from the Law" (7:3). "Dead to the Law through the body of Christ" (7:4). "Discharged from the Law" (7:6). "Not through the Law was the promise made to Abram or to his seed" (4:14). "The Law worketh wrath; but where there is no Law, neither is there transgression" (4:15). (we did not write Romans, brother!). "I through the Law died unto the Law, that I might live unto God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I that live, but Christ liveth in me: and that life which I now live in the flesh I live in faith, the faith which is in the Son of God, Who loved me, and gave Himself up for me" (Gal. 2:19-20). To me the greatest proof of human self-righteousness and unbelief in Grace is this contention for the Law by those of the Reformed Theology. A good question to ask them is, "Are you the righteousness of God in Christ?" (2 Cor. 5:21).)

Verse 9

It is of great importance for us to note concerning the "covenants" of whom they are spoken, and with whom they are connected. To apply verse 8, I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, to Christians today, is blank ignorance, or presumptuous folly. (Note the R.V. margin in vss. 8 and 10: I will accomplish (Gr.) a new covenant with the house of Israel; and, This is the covenant that I will covenant with the house of Israel. This corresponds to Rom. 11:27, "And this is My covenant (or, margin: the covenant from Me) unto them, when I shall take away their sins.") Indeed, the very next verse compels us to know with whom the new covenant will be made, for we read it will not be: Verse 9--According to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them forth out of the land of Egypt. (Of course, the next words, They continued not in My covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord, everyone has willingly consigned to calf-worshipping Israel!)

Neither the first covenant, at all, or ever, nor the new covenant, as yet to be made with Israel and Judah, relates to Christians. Believers today must avoid the bondage of the first; and the false hopes aroused by misapplication of the promises of the second. To be particular: The old, or first, covenant, does not apply to Christians for:

  1. It was made with national Israel, not with Christians, as see, (besides Ch. 8:8 and 9 above) Exodus 19:3-6; Deuteronomy 4:31; 7:6-16; read and believe Psalm 147:19-20; Exodus 31:16; 34:27; Nehemiah 9:14.
  2. At the first Church council in Jerusalem (Acts 15), this very question, as to whether the legal covenant with Israel applied to Gentile believers, was thoroughly entered upon, Peter asking:
    "Why make ye trial of God, that ye should put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?"
    And declaring:
    "But we believe that we shall be saved through the GRACE of the Lord Jesus, in like manner as they" (Gentile believers--Acts 15:10, 11).
    Then James utters the dispensational explanation of verse 14, that God first (i.e., before the restoration of Israel to their land) "visited the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for His name." Read also the verses following.
  3. God's awful word through Paul concerning anyone preaching another gospel" was that he was accursed (Gal. 1:8). As Paul further explains, "Ye are severed from Christ, ye who would be justified by the Law; ye are fallen away from Grace" (Gal. 5:4). For Paul classes Judaism with Paganism in this present time when God has set aside the Jewish religion and is occupied with mercy apart from works of Law--that is, the first covenant--to both Jewish and Gentile sinners. "How turn ye back again to the weak and beggarly elements?" asks Paul of the Galatians (See Gal. 4:8-11). (The word elements, or (R.V.) rudiments, is Greek stoicheia, first principles. Paul uses the term in Col. 2:8, 20, as in Galatians, to describe the religion of the world, the religious principles in which people walked who "observe days." God had once prescribed them to Israel, but He having finished with them, and Christ being rejected, Christ went out from the temple saying it was left unto them, (the Jews), "desolate". At His crucifixion the veil of the temple was rent in twain and all religious performances completely ended. Man's business, inspired by the devil, is to build up what God has destroyed. There is no religious observance whatever left. Paul said to the Galatians, "Ye observe days, and months, and seasons, and years. I am afraid of you, lest by any means I have bestowed labor upon you in vain." The saints at Pentecost had no stoicheia: nor desired any, for they had God's own presence, and Christ was before their eyes. Religious observances are to hide the living, Risen Christ. --Remember that the Lord's Supper is a remembering Christ Himself, just as water baptism, after faith, is a personal confession of identification with Christ Himself, There are no stoicheia.)

God has repeatedly declared the day of the first covenant is done. So we see in Chapter 7:18: "A disannulling of a foregoing commandment ... a bringing in thereupon of a better hope, through which we draw nigh unto God"--which they were never allowed to do under the first covenant. And as to Israel, we have just seen Chapter 8:8, 9. And again, "In that He saith, A new covenant, He hath made the first old" (vs. 13). But the Jews know not this. They sit in four-fold pride: (a) that of nature; (b) that of a past real relationship with Jehovah; (c) that of having despised and rejected their own Messiah Who was sent in lowliness; (d) that of carrying on synagogue services with "cantors" and "rabbis", in complete spiritual blindness. Instructed Christians are the only real friends of the Jew. The modernist preacher, denying the virgin birth, the blood atonement, and the bodily resurrection, and inviting a Jewish rabbi to his platform, is the chief murderer of Jews--worse than Hitler, Himmler and Streicher themselves. For a Jewish rabbi invited to a "Christian pulpit" which is not Christian, but infidel, is thereby mollified, flattered, and deceived; and confirmed in his rejection of the only Saviour of either Jew or Gentile. (To claim that Lk. 23:48 teaches that the Jewish nation repented at the Cross is simply high folly. Christ indeed prayed on the Cross, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." This prayer will in due season be answered. But whatever the effect of the stupendous impression made by the three hours' darkness, the earthquake and the cry, the nation as such remained not only impenitent, but under bondage to the Sadducean priesthood (Acts 5:17). They imprisoned the apostles and stoned Stephen. The truth concerning the Jewish nation is told by the Holy Ghost in 1 Thess. 2:15-16: --the Jews, who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove out us, and please not God, and are contrary to all men; forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved; to fill up their sins always: but the wrath (which will end in 'Jacob's trouble') is come upon them to the uttermost.")

Israel then is at present out of covenant with God entirely. In the first, the legal covenant, they continued not, and God regarded them not. There is therefore no standing for Israel before God under the Mosiac covenant. As to the Law, they have not "continued" in any real regard thereto; and as to the promises made to Abraham, they have fallen short completely of those promises. They regard themselves today as "chosen people," but God says, I regarded them not. Into the new covenant, the people of Israel have not yet entered, and indeed its blessings are based on the Person and work of the Messiah Whom they rejected and crucified.

So that Peter on the day of Pentecost cried to the "men of Israel," "Repent (of the fearful sin of Calvary) and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, unto the remission of your sins; and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit ... and with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, Save yourselves from this crooked generation" (Acts 2:38,40).

Salvation for a Jew involves a complete breaking with his unbelieving nation! We find the obedient Jews who were "enlightened" (Heb. 10:32), "Endured a great conflict of sufferings; being made a gazing stock both by reproaches and afflictions; ... becoming partakers with them that were so used ... bonds ... spoiling of their possessions" (vss. 32-34).

This is not often found today, and is an awful proof 'of existing spiritual conditions, both among the Jews and Gentiles, called "professing Christians." As for Christendom today, it has become so Judaized, with its forms and ceremonies, "Sabbath" and "moral Law," worldly respectability and property, and its emasculated gospel, as to give slight offense to many Jews.

Israel then, while "an elect race ... a holy nation," have not obtained that eternal mercy which is future, and by virtue of which they will be an "all righteous" nation; just as any individual, being one of God's elect, is not actually pardoned, justified, and regenerated till "faith cometh" (Rom. 10:17). Israel's hopes are legal: "Being ignorant of God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God" (Rom. 10:3). Ignorant of mercy and of Grace; unconscious of sinnerhood; glorying in the Law which they do not, cannot keep; trusting in Moses, who will condemn them (John 5:45), they are actually today the worst off, the farthest from God, of any nation. "To the Jew first," has long ago been fulfilled, and "there is no difference" between Jew and Greek as to sinnerhood and need. Paul shut the door upon them nationally as regards the gospel, in Acts 13:46, and 28:28:

"And Paul and Barnabas spake out boldly, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first be spoken to you. Seeing ye thrust it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles" (Acts 13:46).

"They departed after that Paul had spoken one word ... Be it known therefore unto you, that this salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles: they will also hear" (Acts 28:25, 28).

we speak these truths because we love the souls of Jews.

Our present verse keeps making the simple statement concerning Israel, They continued not in My covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord. They obtained then, no ground of recognition through their promised obedience. "The Law made nothing perfect." But how slow are men who have faith in their own spirituality (rather than in the indwelling Christ, which faith Paul had), to acknowledge as Paul did, "In me, that is in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing." The legal covenant, in any form, brings only into bondage. Pope's lines, "Hope springs eternal in the human breast: Man never is, but always to be, blest," are true in general; the first line is absolutely true concerning legal hope--unless God in sovereign grace removes all hope from man's heart, so that man discovers himself guilty, lost, helpless and hopeless: then the gospel may be preached to him!

But you say, There is a new covenant, the spiritual blessing of which we partake of, and unto which national Israel in due season shall be brought. Why, you ask, does God still use this word, "covenant" concerning relationship to Him through what Christ did?

You have asked a good question. May God reveal its answer to us. Let us consider:

  1. This new covenant, as regards its principals, is between the Father and the Son. We are not participants, as Israel was asked to become in the legal covenant. Let us turn to Chapter 13:20-21. Inasmuch as here in Chapter 8 we are dealing with both these covenants, it may be well to consider the great word in Chapter 13 at this point:
    "Now the God of Peace, Who brought again from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep in the blood of an eternal covenant, even our Lord Jesus, make you perfect in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is well-pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ; to Whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen."
    As we have said, in this "everlasting covenant" (for on the ground of it we have eternal redemption, an eternal inheritance, an eternal peace from the "God of Peace"), the party of the first part is God, the party of the second part, our Lord Jesus. As to God, the very name "the God of Peace," involves His so dealing that the saints are set before Him in quietness and confidence forever.
  2. Let us consider further, that it was "in (Gr. en, because of, in view of) the blood of the eternal covenant" that "the God of peace brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep." Here the contracting parties are plainly seen to be God and Christ. The "sheep" will receive the blessing, but they are not actors. "The God of peace" promised that if the Great Shepherd, the Lord Jesus, would lay down His life for the sheep, He, God, would raise Him from the dead. Our Lord Jesus relied wholly Upon His word: which the God of peace indeed fulfilled.
  3. Finally, consider that measureless rest of heart comes to the believer who sees something of what our Lord meant in the words, "It is finished," and, "I glorified Thee on the earth, having accomplished the work which Thou hast given Me to do." How wonderful that God calls this work of Christ a covenant! What rest of heart in contrasting Christ's perfect finished work with the feeble efforts of fallen man under the legal covenant.
  4. Chapter 13:21 follows as a matter of course. When the heart comes to rest where God rests, in the shed blood of Christ, then is God enabled to "perfect us in every good work to do His will"; for "God worketh in us (not sets us to do a work!) that which is well-pleasing in His sight"; and it is all "through Jesus Christ." How gladly then, the saints ascribe to Him the glory forever and ever! How precious to them becomes that memorial supper (celebrated at least weekly by the early saints--Acts 20:7), where our Lord says, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood, even that which is poured out for you."

This covenant, we repeat, was between "the God of peace" and "the Great Shepherd of the sheep, our Lord Jesus Christ," the terms of which are evident here: that if the Great Shepherd would (as the "Good Shepherd" of John 10) lay His life down for the sheep, God would bring Him again from the dead. So that even when forsaken on the Cross, Christ held fast the word "My", saying: "my God," claiming God's faithfulness. (See entire Ps. 22.) But in Psalm 16, quoted by Peter at Pentecost (Acts 2), and by Paul at Antioch of Pisidia (Acts 13:35ff), we find Him saying "Thou wilt not leave my soul in Sheol (whither He went during the three days and nights), neither wilt Thou suffer thy Holy One to see corruption" (corruption, that is, of His body in Joseph's tomb). "Thou wilt show Me the path of life" (newness of life in resurrection); In thy presence (whither He would return) is fullness of joy; In thy right hand (where He would be seated), there are pleasures for evermore."

Verse 10

Going back to the "new covenant" of verses 8-13, we wish to press upon the reader's attention not only the people with whom this covenant is to be made, but also its particulars--just what God will do in the future: For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel After those days, saith the Lord.

Here we see three things: (1) It is a future covenant; (2) It is made with the house of Israel; (3) It will be after those days (that is, when the present dispensation has passed and other circumstances have come in)--the "good things that are to come" (9:11; 10:1).

Note also: (1) This is an unconditional covenant. (2) Its announced result is the removal of transgressions and iniquities from Israel (vs. 12). (3) It takes for granted that while individuals from a nation have obtained eternal mercy, yet the nation as such has not yet obtained mercy; for the new covenant does not appeal to Israel's will, but announces God's sovereign action. That is, blessing is not conditioned upon obedience, but on uncaused mercy, as in the case of the Gentiles (Rom. 11:27). Resulting from this covenant, God announces, I will be merciful to their iniquities ... their sins will I remember no more. Therefore, this covenant is to be consummated after the "time of Jacob's trouble" (Jer. 30:7; Dan. 12; 1 Thess. 2:15-16).

Jehovah will indeed "be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them" (Ezek. 36:37): but this prayer is the result of the pouring out from God of "the spirit of grace and of supplication" (Zech. 12), and is therefore all of grace, to be fulfilled "in its time."

Finally, the results of this new covenant are eternal. The nation will never again he put on trial, but will be eternally the object of God's mercy and grace.

Verse 11

And now, concerning the particular acts of God upon those with whom He makes the new covenant: His Laws are put into their mind, written on their heart. They shall be to God "a people:--"a nation"--of course in every land; "all shall know Him" ... their sins remembered no more (vs. 12). We are quoting from Jeremiah 31:31ff which agrees with Isaiah 60:21, where we are told that in that millennial day the Israelitish people "shall be all righteous." (See also the "very small Remnant" of Isa. 1:9; also, "He that is left in Zion, and he that remaineth in Jerusalem" (4:2, 3); "the Remnant of Israel and they that are escaped of the house of Jacob, shall no more lean upon him that smote them, but shall lean upon Jehovah, the Holy One of Israel, in truth" (10:20); "A Remnant shall return, even the Remnant of Jacob, unto the Mighty God" (10:21).) All the arrangements of the New Covenant are to be carried out with them, God's elect, royal nation. (It is evidently for this reason that at the very close of the Millennium, when Satan is loosed from his prison, the unregenerate of the nations, the great majority, flock to his banner to go up against the camp of the heavenly saints over Jerusalem, the beloved city itself. Inexorable hatred toward Divine sovereign arrangements is found in the unregenerate human heart. The mind of the flesh is enmity against God, not able to be subject to Him. This is the reason that Satan so easily controls the human race. They hate a benefactor.)

Nor will the new covenant be made with what our Lord calls "this generation,"--that is, the present generation of unbelieving Jews; as He said to them in Matthew 21:43: "The Kingdom of God shall be taken away from you (it has been), and shall be given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof." Indeed, it will be on an altogether different principle--that of sight, that the nation will be born in a day when "They shall look unto Him Whom they have pierced" (Zech. 12:10; 13:1). Remember Thomas: "Because thou hast seen Me, thou hast believed" (John 20:29).

Meanwhile let us not forget the words of Romans 11:28-29: "As touching the Gospel they are enemies for your sake: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers' sake. For the gifts and the calling of God are not repented of."

Behold, then, a people not in present covenant relation with God. Behold, one of that nation, seeing this terrible fact, enlightened as to the Person and work of the Lord Jesus, their rejected Messiah. Behold, next, the miracle of grace in such a one, by which he renounces the false claim that by nature he is one of the chosen people; and lo, he finds himself trusting "the blood of the covenant which was poured out for many for the remission of sins," and such a one finds himself truly one of Abraham's seed. For does it not read, "Know therefore that they that are of faith, the same are sons of Abraham"? And again, "If ye are Christ's then are ye Abraham's seed, heirs according to promise" (Gal. 3:7, 29). He who has renounced his fleshly hopes in Abraham has become a true child of Abraham, an heir of God, "where there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bondman, freeman; but Christ is all, and in all" (Col. 3:11). As for Christians, as seen in Scripture, they are not "covenanters" at all: but the objects of Grace. They are of those "sheep" of which the Lord Jesus is "The Great Shepherd."

The Church has a heavenly calling; Israel, an earthly. The Church is Christ's Body; Israel, while in the future to be His nation on earth, is never called Christ's Body. Believers today are created in Christ--in a heavenly, Risen Christ (Eph, 2:10), and are the righteousness of God in Christ (2 Cor. 5:21). While the Remnant of Israel which will enter the Millennium are to be an "all righteous" nation, they have not this marvelous relation which belongs by sovereign grace to believers during this time when God is taking out from the Gentiles (with elect Hebrews, as in Heb. 3:1) "a people for His name" (Acts 15:14).

Again, believers now, being "joined unto the Lord, one spirit" with Him, as one with Christ, and charged to have "love out of a pure heart and a good conscience and faith unfeigned" (1 Tim. 1:5), still dwell (until Christ's coming) in bodies--"tabernacles" in which they groan, "being burdened." It is not said to believers now that God "takes away the stony heart out of the flesh." But, being indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and walking by Him, they have victory.

But it is said of Israel that God will "take away the stony heart out of their flesh." This can only be construed as that the disposition to sin will be removed from them, God will put within them "a heart of flesh," contrasted with the "stony heart" of unbelief. disobedience, idolatry, tendency to evil, which they before had and chose to have (Zech. 7:12). "Heart of flesh" has not the meaning of "flesh" (Gr. _sarx), the moral sense of "flesh" in the Pauline epistles; but means a tender heart, responsive to all God's injunctions (Ezek. 11:19-20, and 36:25-27).

God's word concerning believers today is that they have been made "dead to the Law through the body of Christ (made sin for us) that we should be joined to Another, even to Him Who was raised from the dead." So that they are not under Law as a principle, but under Grace (Rom. 6:14; 7:4). On the other hand, it hath pleased God "to magnify His Law and make it honorable," not only in that our Lord Jesus walked perfectly as an Israelite under Law; but also that when in the future God makes His New Covenant after those days--the present days, He will put His laws into their mind, He says, so that they will no longer forget even the least detail; and on their heart also He will write them, so that all will truly say, "Oh how love I Thy Law! It is my meditation all the day" (Ps. 119:97).

Here at last will be a whole nation that are regenerate. Today, Israel are Lo Ammi, not God's acknowledged people; and are Lo-ruhamah, that is, "That hath not obtained mercy," (Hos. 1:6, 9, and margin). But remember Hos. 1:10 to 2:1, connecting this with Heb. 8:12, For I will be merciful to their iniquities. And their sins will I remember no more. Mercy in this sense has never yet been Israel's portion from God. As Moses said to them at the end of the forty years, "Ye have seen all that Jehovah did before your eyes in the land of Egypt ... but Jehovah hath not given you a heart to know, and eyes to see, and ears to hear, unto this day" (Deut. 29:2, 4). But read Isa. 6:10, and our Lord's final message on Israel, John 12:35-40. And again, Acts 28:25-28, closing, "Be it known therefore unto you, that this salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles: they will also hear."

We call attention to these things about Israel, because of the confused mind of today concerning Israel nationally. It will be as those utterly lost and undone, and as if they had never had a law, that "by the (example of) mercy shown to you" (Gentiles) they will also then obtain mercy. Individual Israelites to whom God has revealed Himself have indeed cried, "Who shall deliver me?" with Paul, or, "Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips," with Isaiah; but in the terrible days to come, the 270 time of Jacob's trouble, the Great Tribulation, with the God-hating, Israel-hating nations beleaguering Jerusalem, to "cut them (Israel) off from being a nation," (Ps. 83:4), there will be poured upon them "the spirit of grace and supplication," and they "will look upon Him Whom THEY pierced," and thus, as from Saul of Tarsus in his three days of darkness, everything but the hope of mercy will be removed. That God should remember sins no more will be their only way out.

What a glorious day it will be when Israel is pardoned, all iniquity forever forgotten, become the joy of the earth, a nation of priests, of Jehovah, "the seed which Jehovah hath blessed" (Isa. 61:6-9). Then shall be fulfilled the great statements of the Millennial psalm (48:2, 11):

Beautiful in elevation, the joy of the whole earth,

Is Mount Zion, on the sides of the north,

The city of the Great King.

Let Mount Zion be glad,

Let the daughters of Judah rejoice,

Because of Thy judgments.

The gospel is not a covenant, but the proclamation of news of the finished work of Christ. God has never made any covenant with Gentiles, nationally, or individually. What have Gentiles to do with covenants? We go back through church history and find Gentiles--uncircumcised--calling themselves "Covenanters." But God says in Romans 9:4-5, that certain things pertain to Paul's kinsmen according to the flesh: "Who are Israelites; whose is the adoption, and the glory, and the COVENANTS, and the giving of the law, and the service (religious forms and ordinances) of God, and the promises; whose are the fathers, and of whom is Christ as concerning the flesh, Who is over all, God blessed for ever."

Now why should God make covenant arrangements and agreements with His creatures? Why should not all God's blessings be directly, unconditionally--yes, even unconsciously to him, bestowed on man? It will appear immediately upon reflection, that this would be to treat man practically as the vegetable kingdom, which receives rain and sunshine without consciousness of relationship to the Giver.

Verse 12

The last statement of verse 10: And I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people, is the fulfillment of the six great material blessings promised to Israel in Daniel 9:24. (As students of prophecy all know, the 69 (62 plus 7) of these heptads or periods of seven years of Dan. 9, beginning with Neh. 2:6, 8 (the command to rebuild Jerusalem) and ending with our Lord's death, have already passed. We are now in the long interval before the coming of the seventieth heptad. Mark: these seventy heptads (weeks) were decreed "upon thy (Daniel's) people and upon thy holy city" (Jerusalem). They have nothing to do with the Church, with the times of the Gentiles. Let no man deceive you here, saying that believers must pass into at least the first part of the seventieth week. For God tells us that He did not appoint us unto wrath, and in the same epistle tells us that the measured (or appointed) wrath is come on them (the Jews) to the uttermost. (Cf. 1 Thess. 1:10 and 5:9 with 1 Thess. 2:15-16).) Daniel's great prophecy goes even to the establishing of the Holy of Holies, the millennial temple of Ezekiel 40-48. The closing statement in Hebrews 8:12 does not go on to the millennial temple, but does make this remarkable promise: I will be merciful to their iniquities, and their sins will I remember no more. Please distinguish carefully this wonderful word here: I will remember them no more, from "remembering against." The conclusion drawn by the apostle from I will remember them no more, is given in Chapter 10:18, and exactly befits the object of the epistle here: "Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin." We fear the consciousness of even intelligent believers generally is somewhat like this: "God will forgive me; I believe He has forgiven me, but He can never forget what I have done." Does not this lie in the basement, so to speak, of many a Christian heart? But this is not what God says. On the contrary, there is remission for sin, wholly on the ground of the one great Sacrifice that put sin away. This is New Testament truth; this is the gospel. In the word "atonement" (Heb. _kaphar, to cover) of the Old Testament, there was a covering, temporarily, from God's sight by the shed blood of offerings, of that which still was there. In those sacrifices there was a "remembrance made of sins year by year" on the great Day of Atonement (Heb. 10:3), while verse 4 says, "It is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins." But as we have seen in Hebrews 13:20, an eternal covenant is found, and the contracting parties are "the God of peace" on the one hand, and "the Great Shepherd of the sheep" on the other. None but God is speaking here, in His sovereignty and in His grace.

There is a common expression today. "My sins are under the blood." This is not Christian truth. This is a mixture, and results in a state of mind scarcely able to understand God when He says, "Their sins will I remember no more." How could God remember sins which Christ has put completely and forever away by His sacrifice? In pardoning and justifying a sinner, God reckons to the sinner the whole, undiminished value of the work of Christ on the Cross, although justified ones may not fully realize what has been done.

Sad to say, for centuries, beginning with the so-called Christian Fathers themselves, in one way or another, the effect both upon God and upon the believing sinner, of the shedding of Christ's blood, has been perverted. For instance, a phrase has been current among some, which, (never dreamed of by them) defeats grace. I refer to the shallow, thoughtless rendering of "justified" by the words "just-as-if-I'd never sinned." This would merely seek to view the pardoned sinner as being restored to the position in which Adam was before he sinned. It comes infinitely short of the truth. Thus one has said of the word "at-one-ment," that it is a "babyish" interpretation of atonement. Now "just-as-if-I'd never sinned" not only looks at our escape from punishment as the chief object to be attained at the Cross, but minimizes that Divine forsaking and judgment, that sparing not of His own Son, as well as the unutterable glory of being placed in that Son and one with Him. It falls so far short of the work Christ did and of the place the believer is in, that I am ashamed to speak of it further.

Verse 13

This verse is in two parts: the first is a statement about the old covenant: (literally) In the saying, new, He has made old the first. The second part is a general observation: that which grows old and aged is near unto disappearing. Conybeare remarks concerning the two parts of this sentence, "The first refers to time, the second to the weakness of old age." Rotherham's rendering is striking also: By saying: 'Of a new sort', He has made obsolete the first. But the thing that is becoming obsolete and aged, is near disappearing.

This verse is a comment upon verses 8 to 12, which set forth three great facts: (1) That Israel continued not in the first legal covenant (vs. 9b) from Kadesh-Barnea on, through the wilderness history and in Canaan. (2) That God regarded them not. Note this past tense. From the time Israel disregarded His covenant, Jehovah really disregarded them--that is, as to any genuine relationship to Himself under that first legal covenant. (His counsels of blessing were not affected, for these counsels preceded the legal covenant and were according to promise to Abraham). (3) That God will make in the future a new covenant with the house of Israel (vs. 10): This is the covenant that I will make. Though the conditions were all met at the Cross, the covenant is not yet made with Israel.

This verse follows naturally from the past tense of verse 9, I regarded them not, and from the words, I will make a new covenant, verse 8. These Hebrew believers of Paul's day, therefore, would naturally and rightly read verse 13 as if dating back not only to the days of Jeremiah, who uttered the preceding prophecy, but also and really to the time when God regarded not the old covenant.

No doubt Jehovah permitted Israel to go on under the old forms even until their temple was destroyed, and after that in the restored temple in the days of Ezekiel and Nehemiah; and after that in the "four hundred years of silence" between Malachi and Matthew. But we can ourselves easily see how God had made the first covenant old, and that it had waxed aged as the years passed on.

The history of national Israel with Jehovah may be roughly divided into five sections:

  1. The deliverance from Divine judgment by the passover blood in Egypt, and the deliverance from Egypt and her bondage at the Red Sea by God's gracious intervention on their behalf, before the Law was given or any "covenant" had been made with the nation.
  2. The proposal at Sinai by Jehovah to make their obedience the condition and ground of their national relationship to Him, which their ignorant self-confidence immediately seized upon: "All that Jehovah hath spoken we will do." Upon this, Jehovah announced Himself and the great "ten words." Under this "ministration of death and condemnation" (2 Cor. 3) Israel now was.
  3. The breakdown of the priesthood in the days of Eli; with even the ark of God taken by the Philistines, and the rejection by Jehovah of that priestly branch.
  4. The renewal in Divine grace of relationship with Israel under David and his house (prophetic of future blessing under David's Son). God did not abandon the priesthood, neither did David usurp that office, although, like Moses, who offered sacrifices on behalf of Aaron and his sons, David acted at the altar he had erected, and God's accepting fire fell upon his offerings.
  5. The restoration "for a little moment a little reviving in our bondage" (Ezra 9:8). But again there is selfishness, sin, neglect of God, and the refusal to confess, saying: "Wherein have we robbed God?" (Note the "wherein's," the "wherefore's," and the "what's" of Malachi, their last prophet; Chs. 1:2, 7; 2:14, 17; 3:7, 8, 13--defiant denials instead of humiliation.)

Then the four hundred years of silence, in which the Gentile rules and only a few "that know their God" are "strong" (Dan. 11:32); the coming of the forerunner, and the advent of their Messiah in their midst,--only to be despised, rejected, crucified, His apostles and disciples denounced and persecuted. This is the unbelieving "generation" that we see today. This is the nation from which the Kingdom of God has been taken away to be given in the future to that nation formed that day when a "very small Remnant," they actually look on Him Whom they pierced.

The great desire of the writer in Hebrews 8. 13 is to impress upon these Hebrew believers that away back in the days of Jeremiah the legal covenant had been pronounced old, and the prophesied bringing-in of a new covenant in due season made the other covenant "old" and nigh unto vanishing away even in the prophet's days. The figure is that of an old man who is waxing aged and is ready to pass from the scene, This would shake to the foundations of his soul any Hebrew that heard it. What! Be without a temple? (For the temple was yet standing in Jerusalem.) Have no morning and evening sacrifice? No earthly priests and high priests to carry on the worship of Jehovah? Abandon the hopes wrapped up in the Mosaic institutions held for fifteen hundred years? Yea, said the Apostle, These things are nigh unto vanishing away. (Hebrews was written shortly before the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus, A.D. 70, and the dispersion of the Jews). Yea, said Paul, true believers have not here an abiding continuing city--what a shock beyond description to an Israelite who knew that Jehovah had set His name in His temple there in the Holy City!

So the believing Hebrew was asked to turn from all hope in the former legal covenant and set all his hopes in Heaven itself whither the Priest after the order of Melchizedek had gone.

Therefore every instructed Hebrew believer saw that the Old Covenant had already passed away, that the blood of the New Covenant had been shed, and that they enjoyed its benefits. They saw that God would in the future deal with "Israel and Judah" in blessing, bringing them together and making them as a nation partake of all the things joined to the New Covenant, which God would then extend to them nationally. To sum up verses 9-13:

The Law was "holy, just, and good": but its blessing was conditioned on obedience.

But God had made unconditional promise to Abraham!

Israel, trusting in themselves, promised obedience.

But they practiced disobedience--"they continued not" in God's covenant.

God, consequently, did not "regard" them, but let them go into captivity--as at this day.

Neither the first nor the second covenant is God's covenant with Abraham: though both are based on that.

The first covenant's blessings were conditional: man must do his "part."

The blessings of the second covenant will be wholly God's: "And this is the covenant from Me unto them, when I shall take away their sins" (Rom. 11:27).

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Newell, William. "Commentary on Hebrews 8". Newell's Commentary on Romans, Hebrews and Revelation. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/wnc/hebrews-8.html. 1938.