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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Hebrews 12

 

 

Other Authors
Verse 1

1. Wherefore—In view of the facts of the episode of chapter 11—the glories of faith and its champions. Let us resume the exhortation begun at Hebrews 10:19, interrupted by chap. 11, and from this point essentially continued through the remainder of the epistle.

We also—The also connecting the we with the sublime roll of worthies. We, and not the Judaists, are in their line; our faith is their faith.

A cloud of witnesses— Lunemann denies that the witnesses are represented to be spectators, and so the passage does not, as many think, picture to us a figurative race-course in the campus, with a crowd of departed saints watching us from their high seats while we run the race of faith in which they were our predecessors. Undoubtedly, after the manner of Paul, the word witness, as noun or verb, is, in its different meanings, a reigning word here. The Greek word, obscured in our English translation, appears in Hebrews 11:2; Hebrews 11:4-5; Hebrews 11:39, where the heroes of faith are witnessed or attested by God. Here the witnessed become witnesses; those who were testified to now testify, namely, to the grandeur of the faith. The additional meaning of spectators, namely, of our race, by which they become not only testifiers to the faith, but watchers of our career of faith, is derived from the position assigned them in the picture. So that, triply, they are the witnessed to of God, the witnesses for faith, and the watching witnesses of our faith-course. We run the heavenly race under the eye of the heroes who are attested of God as heroes of the true faith. The word cloud is often used by Greek writers to figure a crowd of men; here, with allusion to the elevated position of the spectators in the heavens, as in a high gallery, around and above the racers.

Every weight—That would impede our fleetness. The Greek word ‘ ογκος denotes a swelling, especially of superfluous flesh; and this the ancient racer removed by fasting and exercise. It, therefore, very strikingly expresses any impediment, intrinsic to the person, to a rapid race. As the Greek word is also applied to the swell of a bombastic style, Bengel interprets here of spiritual pride. The Greek medical writers used the term for all burdening and enfeebling obesity, and recommended gymnastics as its remedy.

So easily beset us—The Greek adjective, ευπαριστατος, may signify either something standing around us, something placing itself around us, or something placed around us. It may figure sin as an enemy surrounding or meeting us whichever way we turn, or as a garment or personal appendage fitted about us. The ancient racer stripped himself of every unnecessary apparel. And so as weight refers to intrinsic and personal impediments, besetment may imply any extraneous surrounding hinderance. With (rather, through) patience—Energetic persistence. We are told (Hebrews 10:3) of the need of patience as an accompaniment, but here it is the main means or method of running the successful race. We are to put forth all our inherent energy, incited by the divinest motives.

The race—The whole heroic work of faith wrought by the heroes of chap. xi is here compressed into this one conception of race. The witnesses once ran the same race that we now run. Set (or, rather, Greek, lying) before us— The solemn task of our earthly probation.


Verse 2

2. Looking unto—Mainly as our example, as the next verse shows. Jesus ran the most arduous race of all, and attained the loftiest final seat of all. So that, while we are looking unto him, he is looking down upon us, a most divine witness and spectator of our race. The heroes of chap. xi, we, and Jesus, are all in the same inclusion, Jesus being supreme exemplar and real founder of the whole.

Author… finisher… our faith—The word our, as is indicated by the italics, is not in the Greek, but the article the—the faith. Hence the meaning is, not that Jesus is the author or inspirer of faith in us; but that he is the beginner and founder of the faith of all the roll, by being their great suffering and conquering example, as described in words following.

Finisher—He finished the faith by his own triumphant example, whereby he ascended to heaven and made like faith and like triumph possible to us.

The joy set before him—Of being triumphant and glorified head of a glorified body of saints in heaven. Compare Romans 8:29.

Set before him—By the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Endured the (or, rather, a) cross—The meaning is, not that he endured the, that is, some specially appointed cross, but that he endured such a thing as a cross.

Despising (omit the, which is not in the Greek) shame— That is, not simply the one shame of crucifixion, but every thing in the nature of ignominy that could be heaped upon him.

Is set—Rather, actively, has taken his seat. From endurance on earth he passes to the throne of heaven, and there now sits. Herein he is the deepest of all sufferers and the most triumphant of all victors; a perfect and supreme example of which we are the little imitators.


Verse 3

3. ADMONITORY.—Review your past history as of cheerful and hopeful, yet fearful, endurance, Hebrews 12:3-17.

3. For consider him—Our author pauses to hold the suffering phase of the victorious Exemplar before their mind’s eye steadily. Think of his old-time endurances, and that will explain and lighten your own. His Father, permissively, exposed him to trials; so then realize that your trials are the dealings of a Father.

We may lose the connexion here by not keeping in mind that the chastisements of 4-13 all refer primarily to the persecutions the Hebrews had to endure from their unbelieving adversaries. Not that the specific acts of persecution were preordained of God; but the endurance of trials is part of our probation, and it is a cheering explanation to interpret every infliction as a divine discipline.

Endured such contradictionContradiction, a pregnant term, including all that the sinners referred to inflicted.

Lest ye be wearied—In order that ye may not falter and apostatize.

Faint—Exhausted by the wearing contest; forgetting your Exemplar, and losing sight of the final exaltation.


Verse 4

4. Have not yet resisted—Rather, (Greek aorist,) ye did not resist; spoken as of a particular time. The most obvious recent time is at the persecution under Ananus, and martyrdom of St. James, two years previously. See our Introduction to the Epistle of James.

Unto blood—As Jesus did, and as some of their leaders had, Hebrews 13:7.

Yet— Though that may yet come. Taunts, exclusions, loss of property, they had endured; but they were still alive. Even in the days of Stephen. Stephen was, perhaps, the only executed martyr. But this was a later generation of Jerusalem Christians, and though they were victimized by the oppressive hierarchy, they were not slain.

Striving—Antagonizing; a palestric term borrowed from the boxing match, as Hebrews 12:1 borrows from the race course.

If Christians would use the same energy for good as sinners do for the bad, what heroic Christians would they often be!

Against sin—The iniquity of your unbelieving opponents.


Verse 5

5. Ye have forgotten—Perhaps this is truly a question: have ye forgotten? It then becomes a gentle, yet reproving reminder.

Children—Greek, sons.

Chastening—Inflictions intended to reform, not to punish with irrevocable retribution. The good are disciplined, the incorrigible are vindicatively punished. When we suffer let us remember our sins, and be submissive. But our author puts it better even than this. When we suffer let us see in it a proof of our divine sonship, a promise of our own improvement, and rejoice.


Verse 6

6. Loveth… chasteneth—Even the attacks of persecutors, though neither appointed nor approved by God, yet when they come are by him used as trials by which we, if rightly using them, are bettered, and prepared to reign with the Jesus with whom we suffer.

Receiveth—Accepts and treats as his son.


Verse 7

7. If—More properly an affirmation without an if: It is for discipline that ye are suffering; God is dealing with you as with sons. These Hebrew Christians were the sons, and the persecutions they endured were a divine discipline.


Verse 8

8. Nay, these persecutions are a proof of sonship, and should call forth a filial feeling.

All—The sons, as in the catalogue of chapter 11, and as in the case of we, (Hebrews 12:1,) and of Jesus, Hebrews 12:2. Suffering is the necessary condition of divine heroism, the badge of divine sonship, from the highest Son to the humblest.

Bastards—Offspring of the harlot, and not sons of God. Such were the Judaic oppressors; sons of an adulterous Church, and exempt from the hierarchical persecution.


Verse 9

9. Furthermore—The parallelism of the divine Fatherhood with the human tells infinitely for the former, and for the rightness of the chastisement. The human is often capricious, the divine always right.

Fathers of our flesh… Father of spirits—Here appears a clear distinction between the origin of our flesh, or bodies, in the course of nature from our parents, and the origin of our spirits, above nature, from God. Not without some apparent reason have some of the earliest and greatest Christian doctors distinguished between the vegetable, the animal, and the spiritual elements in our natures. The first, man shares in common with all vegetable nature, being the vis formativa, the formative energy, the organizing principle, the plastic power which forms the body according to its type; which is simply the divine agency, as cause of causes, acting under form of finite causations and successions. It implies no thought or personal intelligence in the organism itself. Next comes the animal soul, a sensibility of the five senses to external objects, with powers of association, and impulses to action in accordance with the forces of impressions. Both these are the offspring of the course of nature. Above them, and embracing and absorbing them into itself, is the spirit, whereby man is cognizant of the Infinite, and knows God, and is conscious of himself, and learns his own immortality. As this comes from God alone, so human parents are only the fathers of our flesh, while God is the Father of spirits. And these views, perhaps, furnish a settlement of the dispute between the Traducianists, who believed that the entire human soul is born of the human parent, and the Creationists, who held that all souls are created. The human spirit is created, the vegetable and animal elements in man are born. And physiology seems to show that the human embryo passes through these three stages. See notes on 1 Corinthians 15:44.

In subjection… and liveLive, namely, that spiritual life which depends upon our obedient subjection unto the Father of spirits.


Verse 10

10. A few days—During the period of our minority.

Own pleasure— Literally, according to the seeming good to them. Note, Ephesians 1:9. It might be according to right and conscience, or it might be according to caprice, passion, or pleasure. This human fallibility of correction stands in contrast with the absolute, for our profit, of divine discipline.


Verse 11

11. Peaceable fruit—The word peaceable is used because the writer still retains the thought of persecuting trials. From these most unpeaceable chastisements a most peaceable result shall spring. Fruit consisting of righteousness; namely, of deeper faith, firmer trust, and loftier hope. But this peaceable fruit of a most turbulent tree will be yielded only to them which are exercised, that is, trained and educated, thereby. Trial yields bitterness and hardness to the wrong spirit.


Verse 12

12. Wherefore—In view of the rich harvest of fruit derivable from suffering for righteousness’ sake, our author sounds a trumpet call of cheer and triumph to the racers in the Christian course (Hebrews 12:1-2) who are becoming faint and wearied (Hebrews 12:3) with persecutions in striving against sin. Hands, knees, and feet must be inspired with new life and energy.

Hang down—As if from exhaustion.

Feeble—As from paralysis.

Paths—Wheel-tracks or ruts. These should be straight that the lame might not stumble.

Healed—By the even paths and the enlivening influence of the cheer and triumph.


Verse 14

14. Follow peace—The thought of peace, continued from Hebrews 12:11, where see note. In spite of persecution, aim at peace with all, not only in the Church, but without.

Holiness—The sanctified Christian life, the likeness to the Lord, without which none shall see him. It is queried by Delitzsch and Alford whether God or Christ is designated here, and Lunemann thinks it cannot be decided. But when the word see is used, as see God, (Matthew 5:8, where see note,) or, “see the kingdom of heaven,” it is not a transient sight, nor, indeed, a sight solely at all that is meant, but a permanent acquaintance and fruition. In this true sense, though the wicked may see Christ in judgment, yet the holy will alone see the Lord.


Verse 15

15. Looking diligently—The Greek might be rendered episcopizing; the word from which bishop is derived. Every Christian should be bishop in this respect, watching for the purity of the Church.

Root of bitterness— Not a principle or an event, but a person, who springs up like a poisonous plant in a garden, and whose noxious quality is contagious. So Christ is beautifully called the “root of David;” and, in the Apocrypha, Antiochus Epiphanes is called “a sinful root.” But the allusion here is to Deuteronomy 29:18 : “Lest there should be among you a root that beareth gall and wormwood.”

Trouble—By a curious coincidence the Greek words in Deuteronomy 29:18, “in gall,” εν χολη, are the same as this trouble, ενοχλη, with one letter transposed. This is, perhaps, a slight word-play by our author. The Alexandrian text of the Septuagint has more nearly the precise words of Paul, but Delitzsch thinks that text to have been changed into conformity with his words.


Verse 16

16. Fornicator—Who would be eminently “a root of bitterness,” defiling the Church. Some so separate fornicator by a comma as to preclude its being an intended epithet for Esau. Esau was said by tradition to have been unchaste, but it is not clearly said here; while it is clearly said that he was a profane person. By that epithet is meant a man regardless of sacred things, perhaps a scoffer. Esau’s profanity was displayed in his undervaluation of his birthright. Among primitive nations the firstborn had eminent secular rights and honours; but in the Abrahamic family it implied a religious continuity of lineage, through which, according to the Abrahamic promise, Messiah was to be born. The act of Esau in selling his birthright, was, hence, based in a contemptuous scepticism, a real apostasy from the Abrahamic faith, (so a proper warning against apostasy,) which apostasy descended in the Edomite line. Jehovah could not be the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Esau, for Esau and his line contemned him.


Verse 17

17. Ye know—As Israelites you are all familiar with the memorable history.

No place of repentance—That is, room or chance for successful or accepted repentance; repentance obtaining restoration. Such is the meaning of the phrase, locus penitentiae, place of repentance, even in the classic authors. Clemens Romanus says, “The Lord hath given a place of repentance (that is, a chance for accepted repentance) to those wishing to turn to him.” And Livy the historian, “Leaving a place of repentance”— that is, a chance of repentance that would obtain pardon. The interpretation given by some modern commentators, that no favourable change in Isaac’s mind towards Esau is meant by repentance, is untenable; for repentance would be no proper term for such a change, as it would imply previous wrong in Isaac. The meaning here, then, is, that Esau’s tears and prayers afforded no chance for favour, or regaining his birthright. The divine will had fundamentally settled the Messianic line, and Isaac’s inflexibility was the expositor of that will. It was not, however, a question of Esau’s personal salvation, but of his place in the theocratic line. It was perfectly competent for Esau to repent of his sins and be saved; but no repentance could re-purchase his sold birthright. Yet it is probable that Esau’s repentance was as profane as his sale. No faith in the sacred Messianic family hope, no trust in Jehovah, inspired it. It was a selfish anxiety to recover a lost supremacy. The wild hunter, the fierce Edomite, had become by fixed habit his permanent nature. So was he appropriate type of that Judaism toward which these Hebrews were vibrating. There was plenty of Jewish tears, grief over fallen temple and nation, but no faith in her Messiah, and so no possible acceptable repentance.


Verse 18

4. INSPIRATIONAL.—In view of our Mount Zion, so superior to Sinai, let us have grace and confidence, Hebrews 12:18-29.

18. For—In view of the above warning of forfeiting their birthright by relapsing from the gospel dispensation into the Sinaitic, he will draw them a symbolic picture of the two.

Ye are not come—The word come, here and in Hebrews 12:22, is significant. It is said, (Deuteronomy 4:11 :) “Ye came near and stood under the mountain; and the mountain burned with fire unto the midst of heaven, with darkness, clouds, and thick darkness.”

The journeyings of Israel are typical of our probationary journey in life and history. The Jew has only arrived as far as Sinai; we Christians have attained to Zion.

Bengel, followed by Delitzsch, finds in the two pictures a series of particulars, amounting each to seven, which are in some degree antithetical.

1. The mountain (Sinai) that can be touched.

1. Mount Zion.

2. Kindled fire.

2. City of the living God.

3. Dense clouds.

3. Myriads of angels and firstborn.

4. Darkness.

4. God the judge of all.

5. Storm.

5. Spirits of just perfected.

6. Sound of the trumpet.

6. Jesus, mediator of the new covenant.

7. Voice of words.

7. Blood of sprinkling.

An understanding of this tabulated parallelism is facilitated by a comparison with a similar tabulation in our notes to Galatians 4:22-26. The same two things are illustrated in both tables, namely, the old theocracy, or Judaism, and the new, or Christianity. Both are furnished for the same purpose, namely, to prevent a relapse from the new to the old. In both cases the two mountains, Sinai and Zion, form the basis of the whole conceptual framework. And it is curious to note that as in Galatians the reader finds the actual name Zion to be omitted, so, by the best readings here, the actual name of Sinai is omitted. The term mount is, in fact, absent from the text of so many good manuscripts that both Lachmann and Alford omit it; but the sentence is thereby so lamed, that Delitzsch holds it to have been omitted by the carelessness of an early copyist. Tischendorf’s text reads, Ye are not come to a touched and kindled (lighted to full conflagration) fire, and to black clouds, and darkness, and tempest. Perhaps the phenomena crowning the mount are named as an elegant implication of the mountain; or, rather, we might say the fire stands for the mountain itself, as volcano would stand for the mountain in which it rages, or as a burning building is called “a conflagration.” Yet Alford’s view may be best, namely, that the author’s mind has mount here, though the word is unwritten until the opposite Mount Zion is reached in Hebrews 12:21.

Might be touched—That is a tangible material mountain, though it was forbidden to be touched, in Exodus 19:12-13. Bengel interprets as “lightning-touched,” that is, by God; Wordsworth, a mountain that had to be groped after, that is, in the darkness; a sense justified indeed by the Greek word for touched, but hardly making a congruous idea. The mount was a material object, and all the particulars ascribed to it in this passage are physical and sensible. Nevertheless the literal mountain is really the base on which is overlaid the conception of old Judaism. Our author does not merely tell his readers that they have not come unto the literal Sinai; but that they have truly gone beyond the Sinaitic dispensation and come to the Zionic.

Blackness—The dense dark cloud encircling the mountain on whose summit was the fire, shadowing the lower sides of the mountain with darkness, while from the cloud and darkness issued the tempest.


Verse 19

19. Trumpet—Note on 1 Thessalonians 4:16.

Voice of words—From the fire at the summit.


Verse 20

20. While 18 and 19 give the essential particulars of the Sinaitic scene, 20 and 21 are added as the aggravations of the fearfulness of the whole.

Endure that… commanded—Namely, the law that if even a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned. The command that the intruding beast should be slain is in Exodus 19:13. This command they could not endure. If the English reader will place namely before and he will get the meaning. Or thrust… dart is rejected by the best authorities.


Verse 21

21. And… Moses said—Drop out that, which is not in the Greek, and enclose so… sight in a parenthesis.

I exceedingly fear… quake—These words are not in the Exodus narrative. In Deuteronomy 9:19, Septuagint, the Greek for I exceedingly feared occurs. They there describe Moses’s fear of the anger of Jehovah at the violation of the decalogue by the people. Lunemann says, that our author transferred these words by a slip of memory. Erasmus, Beza, Stuart, and others conjecture that he writes them from a traditional account; Calovius attributes them to his original inspiration; Rosenmuller, Stier, and Delitzsch hold that he does not mean that Moses used these very words, except mentally, but that the words, as in Deuteronomy 9:19, are used to express Moses’s emotions at the Sinaitic scene. Stuart says: “It is implied, however, [that Moses trembled,] where it is said that ‘all the people in the camp trembled,’ and Moses was with them.”


Verse 22

22. Are come unto—In your historic progress you have attained to. Note, Hebrews 12:18. A scene infinitely more joyful opens before them than saluted and appalled the trembling Israel. As Sinai represents the terrors of the law, Zion stands for the glories of the gospel. The old mountain is basis-symbol of the pitiless decalogue; the new, is the basis of all the conceptions of mercy and glory contained in the blessed gospel. Concretely, the old is the basis of the Jewish Church; the new, is basis of the New Testament Church.

Mount Zion—Delitzsch asks with much persistence, what and where is this mount Zion? Bengel had said it is “the seat of the new covenant;” which Delitzsch condemns as presenting no idea at all. He thence maintains that this mount Zion is in the highest heaven, (note on 2 Corinthians 12:2,) and is the abode celestial of God himself. So that the antithesis here is, mount Sinai in the desert and mount Zion in the third heaven! Of course, such an antithesis is utterly incongruous. To his question, Where is this mount Zion? we answer by asking, Where is this mount Sinai? And our reply to both questions is, that the literal, material mount Sinai is in the Arabian desert, and the literal mount Zion is in Jerusalem. But these two literal mountains are the representative bases of two systems of conception and truth, the one forming the doctrines and institutes of the old Church, and the other of the new. In the peculiar style of our author the first of these two systems is described, or, rather, merely implied, under a description of the physical scene at the Sinaitic lawgiving. The second of the two systems is described by first giving the physical symbolical base, namely, the mountain and city, and then a glowing series of holy idealities which are also divine realities, the clear revealing of which, is the glory of the new dispensation, the unity of which constitutes the doctrine of Christianity, and the faithful believers of which are the new Church. This bringing the significance of the two mountains into congruous relations saves us from mounting in Delitzsch’s exegetical balloon to the third heavens.

The same in principle, though varying in details, is the Jerusalem of Galatians 4:25-26, where see our notes. There we distinguish,

1. The physical Jerusalem of walls and houses.

2. The old mystical Jerusalem; namely, the old covenant dispensation and Church.

3. The heavenly Jerusalem; our new theocracy, or dispensation, identical with the “beloved city” of Revelation 20:9.

4. The glorified Jerusalem of Rev. xxi, which, after the advent, descends from heaven to earth.

We propose, however, to modify Bengel’s sevenfold gospel symbols given above, and we suggest the following scheme; (giving of the first term, Hebrews 12:22, of the seven a literal translation of the Greek, which is without the article:) 1. Zion, mountain and city of living God, heavenly Jerusalem, which is the symbolic locality of the universal Church, into full communion with which we have come by faith in Christ. 2. Myriads, a festal assembly of angels, who conceptually hover over the Church, visible by faith. 3. The historic Church of the firstborn, (Hebrews 12:23,) through all ages, in the body and on earth, yet whose names are written in heaven, anticipatively associated thereby with angels. 4. God, under whom all are as judge, in both the kingly and judicial sense of the Hebrew word. And as thus far, under God, we have had four universals, so next we have rather three specialties belonging to the new dispensation, namely: 5. Disembodied spirits of the thus far saved and made perfect. 6. Jesus the mediator, (Hebrews 12:24,) by whom they have been thus perfected. 7. The blood through which he has wrought their perfecting. And it is this advance from the old to the new which is attained by substituting our scheme for Bengel’s.

In this our sevenfold scheme the words city of the living God… heavenly Jerusalem, are simply an expanding identification of mount Zion, and so designate, unlike Bengel’s scheme, a single object. As Sinai was conceptual seat of the old covenant, this magnificent series of epithets is name of the conceptual seat of the new, which forms term 1 of the above seven.

And now, approaching this mystic Jerusalem, we descry a twofold glorious company, namely, term 2, the angels, and, 3, the firstborn.

To an innumerable—Literally, to myriads of angels, who are a general assembly; in the Greek, πανηγυρει, the classic name of a general assemblage of a whole people to celebrate any public festivity, as public games, sacrifices, etc. Hence a festal assembly. The collection of holy angels are here so called as being a joyous body ever celebrating the glories of God.


Verse 23

23. While angels are a finished Church above, in future communion with them is a Church below.

Firstborn—The term literally designates an eldest son. But as the eldest enjoyed, by Jewish and patriarchal law, a high supremacy, so the word is figuratively used to designate any superior or supreme person, whether eldest or not. So Israel, and Ephraim, and the Messiah, are each termed God’s firstborn. Exodus 4:22; Jeremiah 31:9; Psalms 89:27. And so our author considers his Hebrews to be, Hebrews 12:16, and counsels them not, like Esau, to sell their birthright. And this whole allegory is written to prevent their relapsing from their glorious Christian birthright into Judaism. In coming into Christianity they truly are come into communion with the universal Church of the firstborn, the historic successional Church living on earth in all ages.

Written in heaven—See our note on Luke 10:20. It is the heir of heavenly citizenship on earth whose name is registered in heaven. Closing term of the first four is,

God the Judge of all—Following the Greek order of the words, Lunemann and others render this, To the Judge (who is) God of all. Alford, however, vindicates on good grounds the English translation.

The last triad of our seven unfolds the nearer and dearer glories, under Jesus, of the New Covenant. They are, 5, the spirits of the Christian brethren now in paradise made perfect; 6, Jesus, who is the mediator of the covenant by which they are perfected; and, 7, the blood through which that consummation has been wrought. Yet even here, as the blood of the atonement reflects back upon the old covenant, so also the spirits of the ancient saints are presupposed as perfected. They are specially associated with Jesus, as being those already actually redeemed by him.

Spirits—The disembodied in the intermediate state of paradise, or hades. Note, Hebrews 11:39-40; 1 Peter 3:10; Luke 24:39; Acts 7:59.

Just— By faith, pardon, and sanctification.

Made perfect—Not simply made perfect in holiness; not merely complete by the finishing of earthly life and the dropping of bodily infirmities; but brought through Christ to the completed stage of a glorified yet disembodied spirit. There is a perfected resurrection stage and state, the ultimate completion of completions and perfecting of perfections yet to come, even for these spirits made perfect. And these disembodied paradisaic spirits are waiting for us, for without us they cannot attain that final resurrectional perfection.


Verse 24

24. Jesus—As Moses at Sinai was the mediator of the old covenant, so Jesus at Zion is the mediator of the new. Centrally, this mediator stands in the picture amid the spirits made perfect by the blood.

The blood of sprinkling—The true cleansing efficacy of the atoning death figured as a sprinkled blood. Bengel has several pages on the physical blood of Jesus, (dubiously followed by Alford in a few lines,) which strike us as a most repulsive superstition.

Speaketh—The blood of Christ, like the blood of Abel, has a voice; and it speaks better things; for as the blood of Abel spoke wrath on his murderer, the blood of Jesus speaks pardon and salvation. The true reading seems to be, not better things, but simply better than. That of not being in the Greek, the true reading is, that speaketh better than Abel.

In 18-24 we have a contrastive picture showing the gloom of the Judaistic and the glory of the Christian dispensation. It is introduced to show the fatal folly of the Hebrews’ selling their birthright, by apostatizing from the former to the latter. Our author now (25-29) emphasizes that folly by showing that Zion has its terrors on impenitence as terrible as those of Sinai. There is a law in the gospel, a penalty upon unbelief. God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29) under every dispensation.

In the Zionic dispensation there is a Speaker who speaks from heaven, as there was one in the Sinaitic who spoke from earth, 25. It is the same Speaker as he who shook the ground at Sinai; and he promises that once more he will shake the sky as well as ground. This Speaker, through both dispensations, is, therefore, the same, namely, Jesus-Jehovah, 26. And this promise of a greater shaking than that of Sinai signifieth a removing of the shaken things, namely, the old covenant; which removable things are thereby seen to be transient, yet implying an underlying permanent domain that is irremovable and eternal—the Messianic kingdom, Hebrews 12:27. We, accepting this irremovable and eternal kingdom, should serve God with godly fear, (28,) for the refuser to hear the earthly-heavenly Speaker will find a consuming fire in our God.


Verse 25

25. See—Uttered, as Delitzsch says, with the uplifted warning finger.

Him—The Son of God, as the Jehovah and Logos of both Testaments.

Spake on earth—In the trumpets, thunders, and voice from Sinai.

Him that speaketh from heaven—Not simply the ascended Jesus; but the Logos, Lord alike of Sinai and Zion. For it was he who uttered the prophecy of Haggai, quoted next verse. It was the same I who shook the earth at Sinai, and who promised by Haggai to shake both heaven and earth at the first advent.


Verse 26

26. He—See note on the last verse.

Then… now—At Sinai then, at Zion now. The former the inauguration of Mosaicism, the latter of Christianity.

Earth… also heaven—Delitzsch and Alford labour painfully to refer the latter shaking to Christ’s second advent to judge the world. The antithesis, then, would be between the scene of Sinai and the final conflagration and renewal of the earth. This is, again, a very incongruous antithesis. The shaking of Sinai would be physically a very insignificant event, out of all comparison with such a mundane revolution as the earth’s destruction. Alford fully urges that “it is wrong to understand this shaking of the mere breaking down of Judaism.” But surely the overthrow of the old dispensation was as important an event as its first establishment. The inauguration of the new kingdom by Christ’s first advent was an immensely more stupendous event than the first inauguration of the law. Symbolically, Zion is, a far taller mountain than Sinai. As a physical phenomenon, the proper antithesis to the day of Sinai is the day of Pentecost. See our notes on Acts 2:1-4. On that day heaven and earth were shaken physically, and as broadly as at Sinai, and with an infinitely sublimer significance; a significance pervading all the Christian ages.


Verse 27

27. This word, (or formula,)

Yet once more—The passage is quoted from Haggai 2:6, and reads, according to the Septuagint, “Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and sea, and dry land.” And, (Hebrews 12:21,) “I will shake the heavens and the earth.” This shaking of all, typified by the pentecostal physical shaking, is symbolically wrought with wonderful grandeur by the power spiritual, civil, and political of Christianity, through all the seas and lands of our earth.

Removing… as of things that are madeMade in a deprecatory sense; fabricated, manufactured, in contrast with things intrinsically permanent and eternal. Things made are the transitory; things unmade are irremovable and forever remain. The forms of the Old dispensation were made, and so transient; the underlying kingdom of God is immutable, and must remain.


Verse 28

28. Receiving a kingdom—That kingdom, once underlying Mosaicism, now underlies Christianity. We stand, therefore, upon an immutable basis. On that basis we may serve God acceptably. Yet not with unmingled joy. A godly fear yet remains, not as to the trueness of our basis, not as to the faithfulness of God, but as to our own faithfulness. Our Hebrews may relapse from the true basis of Christianity to the false foundations of old Judaism—from Zion to Sinai.


Verse 29

29. For—Before this for the Greek has a most pregnant and. Its meaning is, And all this fear is right, for, etc.

God… fire—Quoted from Deuteronomy 4:24, “For the Lord thy God is a consuming fire, even a jealous God.” It was a fearful reason given by Moses to warn them from forsaking the old covenant and apostatizing to idolatry; it is now repeated to warn these Hebrews against relapsing into obsolete Judaism. We might place the emphasis on our, and then the meaning would be, that the God of Zion is as retributive as the God of Sinai. But the true emphasis is upon fire, and the meaning is, that our God is not pure grace, but also justice. And with this most solemn sentence closes the author’s argument and exhortation against apostasy.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Hebrews 12:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/hebrews-12.html. 1874-1909.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, November 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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