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Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament
Hebrews 12

 

 

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Verses 1-11

Hebrews 12:1-11. Exhortation with encouragement and reproof, in view of all these witnesses, and of the later example of Jesus, to maintain the conflict, and to remember the love from which all discipline comes, and the fruit it is intended to produce. The chapter is introduced by a strong Pauline particle, seeing then, therefore, found only here and in 1 Thessalonians 4:8, and by a favourite Pauline image taken from the ancient games. The figure is doubly instructive; it throws some light upon the authorship, and it illustrates the general principle that Christianity is a universal religion, using for literary purposes Hellenic materials as well as Jewish. The chief thought continues the appeal of chap. 10, basing it on stronger arguments suggested in part by the eleventh chapter.

Let us (as well as those just named), having about us such a cloud of witnesses, lay aside every encumbering weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience (i.e with endurance maintained through to the end) the race that is set before us. These are the first conditions of success. Those who were once witnesses for God, witnesses even unto blood, martyrs in the modern sense, now form the circle, the ring, of spectators who witness our consistency. This double meaning is certainly here; the first in the word ‘witnesses,’ and the second in the cloud that bends over the militant Church. The witnesses for God, whose deeds are named in the previous chapter, are also witnesses of our faithfulness and patience.


Verse 2

Hebrews 12:2. Even more important than the contemplation of these martyr witnesses for maintaining the athlete spirit is the continuous looking unto Jesus, the originator and finisher of our faith (or of faith). ‘Our faith’ favours the interpretation that Jesus begins and completes the faith which forms the principle of the Christian life. But though this is true of Christ, as it is true of God (John 15:16), it seems hardly the truth taught here. The faith spoken of is the faith of chap. 11, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself is quoted as the noblest example; He realized a glorious future in the midst of a troubled present, even as we must do. He is the originator of faith because He has trod the way of faith before us, and the finisher of it because having completed our salvation, which is ‘the end of our faith’ (1 Peter 1:9), He leads all who trust Him to the same goal. This application of faith to Christ is not common in Scripture, but it is found in this Epistle (chap. Hebrews 2:13), and it is involved in His human nature and conflicts.

Who, for the joy set before him, endured the cross, despising shame. This part of the sentence describes the life of faith, as the second describes its reward and completion.

And hath sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. These two things we are to fix our gaze upon; they are closely connected in the Greek, as they are in the argument. Faith, as the realization of the unseen, was as much the principle of our Lord’s life as it is the principle of the life of His followers.


Verse 3

Hebrews 12:3. For (He suffered as well as you, therefore you may well) consider (properly, compare His case with your own, and gather the lessons) him who hath endured (it is His permanent character that is described) such contradiction (not in words only, but hostility of every kind, even treason (John 19:12)) of sinners against themselves (i.e of those who, in thus acting, sinned against their own souls), the other reading, ‘against Himself,’ has also good authority; ‘themselves’ suggests a fresh reason why the Hebrew Christians should not join ‘a gainsaying people’ by rejecting the Gospel.

Lest ye grow weary and faint in your souls. Still the athlete’s figure. As the limbs grow faint (loose) in the race, so the soul in the Christian conflict. Principle is strengthened by thoughtfulness; for want of consideration Israel perished, as well as from want of knowledge.


Verse 4

Hebrews 12:4. Special care is still needed, for there may be severer trials in store. For not yet have ye resisted unto blood in your conflict with sin. Here the image is changed, as in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, from running to boxing; and the meaning is that whatever some of the Hebrew Christians had suffered (chap. Hebrews 13:7), heavier trials might be in reserve for them. Thus the writer is addressing those who, though not without experience of severe persecution in their first love, would have secured themselves against further violence by sinful conformity. How poor our modern self-denial is, compared with what the first Christians suffered, much more when compared with the sufferings of our Lord! Happier times call for the greater voluntary consecration.


Verse 5

Hebrews 12:5. And ye have quite forgotten (not a question, as Calvin, and Delitzsch, and others have suggested; the fact is rather assumed in Hebrews 12:7-11; and a question,; after the strong assertion of Hebrews 12:4, is unnatural); the exhortation (blended exhortation and comfort or consolation, which is the more common rendering: see an instance in Acts 15:31), which reasons with you, etc. (both words, ‘consolation’ and ‘reasons,’ are favourite ones in describing Paul’s method of teaching, consisting as it did of argument and appeal, Acts 17:2-17; Acts 18:4, etc.). The quotation is from Proverbs 3:11-12; and as wisdom speaks there as a person, so here the exhortation she gives is spoken of as a person addressing tender, motherly appeals to all who suffer. . . . Nor faint when corrected by him. The rendering of the Greek is here adopted; the Hebrew means, to resent or to murmur against. Despondency and resentment imply the same unbelief of the loving purpose of the discipline, and they express themselves in the same outward form of complaint


Verse 6

Hebrews 12:6. Whom he receiveth, i.e. whom He takes to His heart as His son. The quotation is from the Septuagint of Proverbs 3:12. The Hebrew may be rendered as in the English version (‘even as a father’), or, by an alteration of the vowel points, as here, ‘and scourges.’ All suffering inflicted by God upon His children, or permitted, is a proof of love, and forms in itself or in its results part of the evidence of their sonship.


Verse 7

Hebrews 12:7. It is for chastening (for filial chastening) ye endure; as with sons God deals with you (bears Himself towards you). The reading, ‘It is for chastening—for improvement as sons ye endure,’ has decisive support. It differs from the common text only by the addition of a single letter (us for u); and the use of the expression ‘for’ is quite common in this Epistle (chap. Hebrews 1:14, Hebrews 4:16, Hebrews 6:16).

For what son is he (not ‘who is a son,’ or ‘what sort of a son is he,’ though each is a possible meaning) whom a father (or his father—the statement is quite general, and does not refer primarily to God) chastises not? Correction and chastening while character is forming is the condition of all sonship and of all true fatherhood, and our sonship in relation to God is no exception to the common law.


Verse 8

Hebrews 12:8. If ye be without (be severed from, have no part in) chastisement (filial discipline), of which all (God’s sons, or better, because of the tense, the sons mentioned in chap. 11) have become partakers (or have had their share), then are ye bastards (of spurious parentage) and not sons.


Verse 9-10

Hebrews 12:9-10. The fatherhoods differ, and so the rule and purpose of their discipline differ also. Furthermore, we once had fathers of our flesh (our natural parents, and probably rather more—those who were mediately the originators of our flesh), as chasteners (correctors), and we gave them reverence; shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? The contrast here is between earthly fathers, men who being flesh themselves are in a sense the creators of our flesh, and God, Himself a Spirit, and the immediate Creator of spirits. Other interpretations have been discussed in both ancient and modern times—‘The Father of our spirits, i.e of human souls;’ ‘the Father or Originator of all spiritual life.’ Others think the reference is not to the origination of our nature at all, but only to parental feeling—‘We have had those who, in relation to our fleshly nature, have shown a father’s care; shall we not much rather submit ourselves to Him who, in relation to our spiritual nature and life, has a father’s rights, and shows a father’s kindness?’ The ethical meaning implied in this last interpretation is implied more or less in all the others. This last suggestion will bear further illustration. The earthly discipline of nearly all nations, their Paideutics, was physical, and found its best results in physical beauty, with Apollo as its ideal, or in manly strength, with Hercules as its ideal; when it went further, and cultivated wisdom, as in Greece, or patriotism, as at Rome, or the commoner virtues, as in the model Republics of ancient or even of modern writers; it was still fleshly and secular. The Paideutique that sanctifies our higher nature is peculiar to Divine revelation, and is perfected only under the personal superintendence of the Father of spirits. The recognition of His rights, and the acceptance of His discipline, and the laying hold of His strength, are essential to it.


Verse 10

Hebrews 12:10. And this deeper reverence is reasonable. For they (our earthly parents) for a few days (for the time of youth, and with special reference to it, whether successful or not, it came to an end) chastened us according as it seemed good to them (their rule being their own view of what was right, or sometimes their own temper or caprice); but he for our profit (not a question of seeming but of actual fact), for the purpose that and to be continued until (literally, unto) we share in his holiness, and then the discipline and our need for it will cease. The contrast here is perfect between seeming and reality—between their pleasure and God’s noble purpose—between the few days of our youth, whether it succeed or not, and the continuance which is unbroken till the result is achieved. ‘His holiness’ is, no doubt, a holiness completely like His own. The original word represents it rather as a gift or a result of His discipline than of our own culture or effort ( ἁγιότης not ἁγιωτύνη is found only here, compare 2 Corinthians 7:1). The word rendered ‘share’ or, in the English version, ‘be partakers of,’ is not the same word as in Hebrews 12:8. It means rather to share in what is not within our reach; it implies willing acceptance rather than personal acquisition, though shared with others, even with the blessed God Himself. He sits as a Refiner of silver, and He applies the heat and removes the refuse till He sees in it His own image.


Verse 11

Hebrews 12:11. Now no chastening (either God’s or any other) seemeth for the present to be joyous, but grievous (literally, a matter of joy, but of grief); nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness (i.e righteousness is the fruit; and as the conflict is over, it is enjoyed in peace) unto them that have been exercised thereby. The figure of a struggle is still continued, as the original implies:

‘Tis conflict here below,

‘Tis triumph there and peace.’

Such is the general interpretation of the passage. The objection to it is that the last part of the verse is not true of all chastisement, but only of what God sends. To this objection it is replied that it is true of all chastisement, of all filial discipline, properly so called. Delitzsch prefers to regard the chastisement of Hebrews 12:11 as spoken of God’s only, and then the conclusion is true as it stands. The connecting particles are affirmative in both clauses; and the only question is how to render the first of them. ‘Now’ refers to chastisement generally, as distinguished from God’s chastisement, which is spoken of in the previous verse. ‘All chastisement from God, however,’ represents Delitzsch’s sense; whereas ‘now better represents the sense adopted above. In either case one of the clauses needs narrowing; either the first clause means God’s chastisement, or the second means that all chastisement has this beneficial result if we speak of it from its design and purpose.

The chapter is a striking lesson on ‘analogy’—the word which underlies the command (‘consider’) with which it begins. Christ Himself (Hebrews 12:3), human institutions (the Grecian games), the common relationship of life (parents and children), are all introduced to strengthen the, argument, and most impressive lessons are drawn from them all.


Verses 12-17

Hebrews 12:12-17. Further exhortations. Hebrews 12:12. Wherefore (connecting the practical appeals, as is usual in this Epistle, with the reasoning and imagery of the previous verses) lift up (make straight) the hands that hang down, and the weak (the loose or the palsied) knees. The figure of a race is still preserved, and perhaps of a fight also; the last requiring the strong hands, and the first firm knees; or perhaps the drooping hands and the palsied knees denote simply the complete collapse which threatened the Hebrew Christians in the race set before them.

And make straight (or level) paths for your feet (the same verb as above), that that which is lame, that part of the Church which is stumbling between Christianity and Judaism, may walk in plain, beaten tracks, and so be kept from turning aside. Some interpret ‘that that which is lame may not be put out of joint’—a possible meaning of the verb. It is used, however, in the New Testament only in the pastoral Epistles, 1 Timothy 1:6; 1 Timothy 5:15; 1 Timothy 6:20, 2 Timothy 4:4, and has always the sense given to it above. Who can estimate the power of a few courageous, consistent men in any struggle, and not least in Christian churches!

Nay, rather than let it suffer further infirmity, as it is needlessly doing, let it be healed.

Meanwhile here, as in the Church at Rome, the weak, the lame, are to be treated with great forbearance, and peace is to be carefully cultivated, not division.


Verse 14

Hebrews 12:14. Follow peace with all (believers, the true parallel being Romans 14:19), and holiness (the appropriation by us of the Divine holiness of Hebrews 12:10; there it is the Divine attribute, here it is the process whereby the quality is made our own); without which (apart from which) no man shall see the Lord—shall not enter His presence, and share His blessedness. The reference is to God the Father. Only the holy rise to the sight of Him. The word ‘Lord’ is applied to Christ in chap. Hebrews 2:3, and to God in chap. Hebrews 8:2. When, however, Scripture speaks of seeing as a future reward, it is seeing God that is meant (Matthew 5:8; 1 John 3:2); and yet as the throne of God is also the throne of the Lamb, to see one is really to see both.


Verse 15

Hebrews 12:15. Looking diligently. The word is used generally of pastoral oversight, but is here used to enforce mutual watchfulness and discipline; a truth set forth also in chap. Hebrews 10:24, Hebrews 3:12, Hebrews 4:1.

Lest any man fail of (come short of by willfully relinquishing) the grace of God. The characteristic of the Gospel is ‘grace,’ apart from the works of the Law; and a man falls from it who puts himself at a distance from the blessing, and so gives it up.

Lest any root, or plant, of bitterness, trouble the sacred enclosure of the Church, and thereby the many (the larger part of the ground even) be defiled (corrupted).


Verse 16

Hebrews 12:16. Lest there be any fornicator (taken literally, as is the uniform meaning in the New Testament except in Revelation), or profane person (rather, worldly person; one who has no sense of the value or glory of Divine things) as Esau, who for a single meal sold his own birthright (the double portion which was his share as the eldest son (Deuteronomy 21:17), together with the precious inheritance of the great promise that in his seed the nations of the earth were to be blessed). These three clauses are often regarded as describing one character; but it seems better to regard them as describing three. For want of faith men give up the Gospel; for want of faith roots of bitterness spring up in the Church and defile it; and faithless persons become so selfish and so low-minded, that the smallest worldly advantages tempt them successfully to abandon their principles: and yet the course of even the least favoured of them may end in despair—


Verse 17

Hebrews 12:17. For ye know (a fact familiar to every Hebrew) that when afterward he was desirous of receiving the blessing (part of his birthright, and involving the rest), he was rejected (rejected after trial, as the word means), by his father and by God (Genesis 27:33); for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it (i.e the blessing) carefully and with tears. The previous clause, ‘for he found no place of repentance,’ is best regarded as a parenthesis (compare chap. Hebrews 12:20 and Hebrews 7:11). The tears expressed sorrow for the loss he sustained, not for the low, sinful preference of which he had been guilty. Whose repentance did he not find? His own (as all the Greek fathers hold, with Luther, Calvin, Bengel, and Delitzsch), or his father’s (as Beza, Tholuck, and others)? The word has always an ethical meaning, and describes a change in the deeper recesses of our nature, which is followed by a corresponding change in the outer life. Such a sense is hardly applicable to Jacob. It seems better, therefore, to regard the words as applicable to Esau. He is regarded as a type of the hopeless apostate, who throws away his birthright through sensual indulgence or love of the world, and who, too late, finds the door of repentance closed to him, because repentance itself, in its true and deep sense, is impossible. Other commentators give the lighter interpretation to ‘place of repentance,’ and understand by it locus penitentiae, a chance and opportunity by repentance of repairing the mischief—a result in this case impossible; and then they understand by ‘it’ such repentance as might repair the loss he had suffered (Alford). Others give to ‘repentance’ its deeper meaning, and refer the ‘it’ to that repentance. Thus regarded, the whole passage teaches that a time may come, possibly in the history of any of us, when through sensual indulgence and worldly tastes repentance becomes impossible, though men seek it carefully and with tears. There is a striking sermon of Melvill’s on the text as thus interpreted. In favour of referring ‘it’ to the blessing rather than to repentance, is the historical fact; and in favour of the deeper sense of repentance (not merely a change of his father’s mind, or a cancelling of the result) is the uniformly ethical meaning of the word. In any case the lesson remains; sensual, worldly preferences may be so indulged as to become our masters; and we may wish to die the death of the righteous, and reap their rewards, and yet be rejected. That path cannot be safe where such a possibility is incurred. Whether the repentance comes too late, or the repentance, though in some sense desired, is really unattainable, or whether both suppositions are true, it is in any case an awful destiny, and men should take warning in time.


Verses 18-29

Hebrews 12:18-29. All these warnings become the more impressive from the fact that our economy is one of much greater privilege than the previous, and that it is the last revelation which God will give.

For ye have not drawn near to a mountain that is touched (a material, tangible mountain) and that burned with fire and blackness (of clouds) and darkness (as in the night) and tempest. At the giving of the Law the top of the mountain burned with fire; lower down were black, impenetrable clouds, and out of the darkness which they caused came the mutterings of the storm. Amid this terror was heard the sound of a trumpet, and an articulate voice giving the commandments which were delivered to Israel; which voice was so awful that those who heard implored to be excused, begged off from hearing (declined to hear) more. The same word is found in the parable, ‘They began to make excuse.’

For (a parenthetical explanation of their awe) they could not bear what was commanded, viz. And if even a beast (much more a man) touch the mountain . . .


Verse 21

Hebrews 12:21. And so terrible was the sight (what was made to appear) that Moses shared their feeling of dread. Such was the access to God which ancient Israel possessed—an access that belonged to a visible mountain full of terror; an access rather of repulse and enforced approach, which they prayed might cease.


Verses 22-24

Hebrews 12:22-24. Seven things, Bengel notes, show the inferiority of the condition of Israel under the Law, and seven things show the superiority of the true Israel under the Gospel. Our gathering-place is Mount Zion (not Sinai), the abode of Him who is Father and King,—and the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. We are come to an innumerable company of angels (literally, ten thousands of angels; not the comparatively few who witnessed the giving of the Law, and aided the administration of the old economy), to the festal gathering of the Church of the first-born—of the Christian Church of this age, consisting as it did of those who were heirs of the promises, and whose names are enrolled, not as were the names of the first-born of Israel, in earthly registers (Numbers 3:42), but in heaven itself; a privilege shared, moreover, not by the first-born only, but by the entire company of the redeemed (see Luke 10:20);—and to God, the Judge of all. The mention of the militant Church and of their adversaries brings up this thought: He is their Defender, and to Him they may commit their cause.

And to the spirits of just men made perfect, from righteous Abel downwards; and to the Mediator of the recent and new covenant (not the same word as in chap. Hebrews 9:15)

Jesus (the name of our Lord which the writer of this Epistle uses when speaking of His redeeming work), and to the blood of sprinkling—the blood that ratified the covenant is now offered to God and applied (not shed merely) to the human conscience,—which speaketh better than Abel, or than the [blood] of Abel. ‘Than Abel’ may refer to his offering or to his martyrdom. His offering had no intrinsic efficacy, and his martyrdom cried for vengeance. Christ’s blood cried only for mercy, and secures it.


Verse 25

Hebrews 12:25. See that ye refuse—decline—not (the same word as in Hebrews 12:19) him that speaketh (offering peace through the blood of Christ: see Hebrews 12:24): for if they escaped not, declining as they did to hear him that spoke on earth—a different word, meaning to speak as an oracle with Divine authority. God is the speaker in both cases; but the contrast is between God speaking on earth and through Moses who received the living oracles to give to men, and God speaking from heaven and in the life and blood of His Son—not concerning an earthly covenant with earthly blessings, but concerning blessings that are spiritual and eternal. The medium (the Son), the place, the blessedness of the message, all combine to make the guilt of rejecting the Gospel the greater (see Hebrews 12:1-5, and Hebrews 10:28-29).


Verse 26-27

Hebrews 12:26-27. In these verses we have fresh evidence of the accuracy of the views which the writer takes of the Gospel—a system that is to supersede Judaism as the prophet foretells, and a fresh ground of earnest remonstrance. This is the last economy, and men must beware of rejecting it.

Whose voice then shook the earth (Exodus 19:18); literally, only the shaking was emblematical, as was the earthquake and the renting of the veil at Christ’s death. It implied, therefore, a great change (comp. Isaiah 13:13 and Joel 2:10) in the state of things that preceded the old covenant.

But now hath he promised—and then follows the passage from Haggai, in which the coming of the Messiah is predicted, when all is to be changed, both by the removal of the things that are shaken and by the establishment of a new covenant, that of the Messiah.


Verse 27

Hebrews 12:27. And this word yet once more—once for all, as it means, shows plainly that there is to be one change only from the time when the prophet spoke, and consequently that the things which are introduced by that change are to remain unshaken. The shaking of the ‘heavenly things’ has created some difficulty. But, in fact, the new covenant affected both earth and heaven. The Word made flesh, the complete forgiveness of sin, eternal life through the blood of Christ, the introduction of sinners of all nations into the Church of God, the changing of the Church itself from an earthly into a spiritual fellowship, Christ exalted as Priest and King: these are changes that affect both worlds, but cannot themselves be changed. The shaking, therefore, here spoken of is not now future, as some suppose. It began at the incarnation (and so the ‘I will shake’ of the prophecy is here changed into ‘I am shaking’), and it is only the complete realization of it that is still to come. The last clause, as of things that have been made, etc., refers probably not to creation but to the Jewish economy, to which the word ‘made’ has been already applied; and their removal is with the view to the permanence of the spiritual economy which is ‘to abide.’


Verse 28

Hebrews 12:28. Wherefore, we receiving as we do a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful (or have grace), and thereby serve God acceptably (well-pleasingly) with godly reverence and fear. Thankfulness, not discontent, is the becoming feeling, and when blended with fear (‘awe’) will make our service reverent and joyous. The Greek phrase favours this rendering (see 2 Timothy 1:3, Gr.). ‘Let us have grace’ is, however, a possible meaning.


Verse 29

Hebrews 12:29. For—a fresh reason for the reverence and the service—our God is a consuming fire. The description is taken from Deuteronomy 4:22, and the meaning may be, Our God also (as well as the God of the Jews) is a consuming fire; but the former rendering—an additional reason simply—without specific reference to a distinction between our God and theirs, is the juster view. A devout sense of what we owe to God is a strong motive to holy service: so also is our reverence for God’s holiness and justice. Thankfulness and fear are both among the motive forces of the Gospel, and both are stimulated by the character and acts (mercies and judgments alike) of the blessed God.

 


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Bibliography Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Hebrews 12:4". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/scn/hebrews-12.html. 1879-90.

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