Notes on the Epistle to the Hebrews

from notes of readings by F. W. Grant.

Division 2 (Heb. 2:5 — 4:13).

In the second division of the epistle we have the way in which the Lord becomes the Kinsman-Redeemer, the "Originator of salvation" for His brethren. There are four sections; the last being supplementary in character, on the necessity of faith — one of the frequent exhortations which we have in Hebrews.

Section 1 (Heb. 2:5-9). The first section shows us Christ as the Man destined to be set over the world to come, though as yet not seen with all things put under Him as such, but crowned with glory and honor. But it is the "world," or "habitable [earth I to come" to which the apostle, with the psalmist, is looking on. Angels are not set over it, but the Son of Man is; and He is the representative Man for God — not the first man, but the Second. The first man is fallen and the race with him, so that not merely on account of his insignificance as seen under those starry heavens, but much more because of the ruin into which sin has plunged him, the question must be asked, How can God remember or visit such an one? The answer is found in seeing Christ, and in Him God's delight in man is abundantly justified. No angel could take the place of the Son of Man for God, though "made a little lower than the angels," but as One come down in grace here for the suffering of death, because death is the expression of the condition in which man is. The first man got under it through disobedience: the Second Man tasted it in approbation of God's perfect ways in holy government; thus "by the grace of God" toward us, for grace is now free to act, and "on behalf of every thing:" i.e., for the ransom of all creation (I think), wherever sin had blighted it. The first man stood for the whole scene with which he was connected; the Second Man in the same way, but as Redeemer and Restorer.

The "habitable earth to come" is the sphere of the first man, but in the hands of the Second: it is earth, not heaven, and only takes in part of the scene in chap. 12: as, for instance, Zion, but not the New Jerusalem. The eighth psalm may give hints of a wider dominion, but its plain speech does not go beyond the earth.

Section 2 (Heb. 2:10-18). The second section brings us to the heart of the second division. Here we find the Lord's work as Saviour dwelt upon.

And a Saviour from sin must be a sufferer: power alone cannot suffice: there are necessities of the divine nature which condition the forth-putting of divine power. So here "it became Him for whom are all things and by whom are all things" — to whom in their origin and end all things look — "in bringing many sons to glory, to make the Captain (the Leader or Originator) of their salvation perfect through sufferings." The moral conditions required a penalty. Divine holiness must be vindicated at personal cost, but divine love is bent upon bringing sons to glory. There could be no perfecting of His blessed Person; but there must be the required conditions for becoming a Saviour.

Now the Kinsman comes into view. "For both He that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of One, for which cause He is not ashamed to call them 'brethren.'" Here; surely, is the "Firstborn among many brethren," and all the connection assures us that "of One" or "out of One" means "of one Father." Yet there is an infinite difference; so that indeed it is divine love in Him which makes Him recognize and welcome "brethren" like these. He is the divine Son; they are only human. He is the Sanctifier; they are the sanctified; yet He is not ashamed of them; by and by He will conform them to His likeness, that they may be the fit companions of His heart forever.

But this is again so new and strange-seeming, that the apostle must produce Old Testament Scriptures for it. He has three: the first from the 22nd psalm. As soon as sin-offering is accomplished and the Sufferer is heard from the horns of the aurochs," He is heard, saying, "I will declare Thy Name unto my brethren: in the midst of the assembly will I praise Thee." The Gospel of John gives us the fulfilment of this. The other quotations are side by side in Isaiah (8:17-18) — the prophet personating, after the manner of the Psalms, the One to come. "I will put my trust in Him" is from the Septuagint, where in our common version it is, "I will look for Him." In either way it is the expression of that trust in God which in Christ was absolute, and which made Him "the Leader and Finisher of faith" — the One who in His own person was the perfect example of it. This in a practical way made the family of faith His "brethren."

This third quotation is different in its expression of the same truth: indeed it looks, at first, as if it were not the same. "Behold, I and the children that God has given Me" seems to refer to the relation of father and children, as in the prophet's case it did. It most certainly refers to Christ as the Last Adam, and supplies here a most important link in the chain of evidence. For it is as this that He is the Representative Head of those for whom He laid down His life. The first Adam was, by the human life which he communicated to his descendants, a real first-born among brethren;" and Christ is the same among those to whom as Life-giving Spirit" He communicates divine life.

We are here very near indeed to the Gospel of John, and are listening to the Voice which said, "As Thou hast given Him power over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as Thou hast given Him." But for this the "Corn of Wheat must fall into the ground and die that it may bring forth fruit." The passage here goes back even of this, to His taking flesh to die; and "since the children have a common share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise took part in the same, that through death He might annul him that had the power of death — that is, the devil — and deliver those who all their lifetime through fear of death were subject to bondage."'

This is not the putting away of sins, but it supposes it. The shadow of death is dispelled by the Light of Life descending into it. As again the Lord says, in John, of the effect of His coming as the Resurrection and the Life: "He that believeth on Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live" — that as to the past — "and he that liveth and believeth on Me shall never die." Death was, in the past: "He has abolished" it for faith, "and brought life and incorruption to light by the gospel" (2 Tim. 1:10).

"For He taketh not hold of angels, but of the seed of Abraham He taketh hold: therefore it behoved Him in all things to be made like unto his brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people."

All this is in language which an Israelite would well understand; but the "seed of Abraham," "the people," are to be seen in the light of Christianity as the company of faith. If Israel nationally answered to this description, then, of course, they could claim as such the old promises; but the epistle is in fact a "word of exhortation" as to leaving the camp, because of Christ's rejection by them, and those to whom it is written are immediately addressed as "holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling," which Israel's was not. The "people" and "the seed of Abraham" must be understood, therefore, in the light of this.

The day of atonement is, of course, contemplated, in which the sins of Israel were put upon the head of the scape-goat and taken away. It belonged to the series of feasts of the seventh month which in contrast with the series in the early part of the year (Passover and Unleavened Bread, the Sheaf of First-fruits and Pentecost), are all national, and speak of the fulfilment of the promises to the nation in God's due time. Thus in the feast of trumpets at the beginning of the seventh month, the new moon (when the light of divine favor is beginning to shine again on Israel) , we have the voice of recall to the people; on the tenth day, the day of atonement, they come under the value of the work of Christ; while, beginning with the fifteenth, the feast of tabernacles exhibits them in the joy of their re-establishment in the land. The first series of feasts they lost through their refusal of Christ when He came; and in the prescient wisdom of God we find the Passover to have been a family feast the "thou shalt be saved, and thy house," proclaimed in Christianity. The feast of Unleavened Bread took form from the Passover which it accompanied; and the Sheaf of First-fruits (Christ risen) and Pentecost, are characteristically Christian. Israel's unbelief has delayed the blessing for them.

This explains in the simplest way that mystery of the two goats on the day of atonement, of which much else has been made. For Israel, in consequence of their rejection of the blessing when it was offered, the putting away of sins (as in the scape-goat) is separated by a gap of time from the work which actually puts them away. This is exactly what is pictured in the two goats. When their sins are put upon the scape-goat there is no actual sacrifice, no real atonement made at all. The goat is a scape-goat, a goat that gets away, not one that is offered. There is positively no offering of this goat, a thing of which, through not understanding it, much mischief has been made. Atonement is not made with it, as in our common version, but "for it" (Lev. 16:10), as kapper al elsewhere is constantly and rightly taken to mean. (See Ex. 29:36; Ex. 30:10, 15, 16; Lev. 1:4; Lev. 4:20, 26, 31, 35, etc.) To the difficulty, How can propitiation be made, or why does it need to be made for the goat? the answer, is, It is needed because the two goats are for a sin-offering (Lev. 16:5), while in fact only one is offered. The "Lord's lot" falls on the one to be offered; the other escapes: the atonement, which ideally he was to make, is in fact made for him by the former one.

The application is simple in view of Israel's history. The first goat is offered and its blood carried into the holiest of all when the high priest enters it. Not till he comes out again are Israel's sins put upon the scape-goat and carried away. The time between our High Priest's going in and coming out of the sanctuary extends through the whole Christian period. The atonement — all of it — was made once for all, before Christ as High Priest entered the heavens; when Israel's sins are put away, He will have come out again. But then, of course, no fresh sacrifice can be offered. The scape-goat points simply to a former time when the atonement was actually made and the two goats are necessary to preserve the connection; it points out the delay of blessing which the national unbelief occasions.

Another thing, however, must not be overlooked. When the high priest goes in, he takes into the sanctuary not merely the blood of the goat for Israel, but that of the bullock for his own priestly house. Here, assuredly, Christians have their typical representatives. They are as Peter says, "a spiritual house, a holy priesthood" (1 Peter 2:5); and here we find the "sanctified ones," the "companions of Christ" ("partakers" — Heb. 2:14) , for whom the great High Priest offers.

Notice that on the day of atonement the high priest does the whole work. None of the priestly family appear at all, except as remembered in the offering made for them. This has been spoken of by some as exceptional, to throw doubt upon the offering of sacrifice as distinctly priestly work. It is said that being so exceptional, we must not argue for its necessity; and even the fact that the high priest entered the holiest, not in his garments of glory and beauty, but in a plain white linen garment, is urged on the same side. We shall have to inquire as to this elsewhere rather than here; but it is enough here to say that the words will not admit of such a thought as this. He must be "a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people." How could one insist more upon the distinct priestly character of making propitiation, than by saying He was High Priest to do it?

The day of atonement was exceptional in this, that it was by eminence the "day of atonement;" and therefore all that belongs to this is emphasized in a special way. So it is that the ordinary priests disappear. They were but a practical necessity because of the multitude of sacrifices; but the "priest that is anointed" is the high priest alone, and on this special day of atonement one figure alone is before our eyes. However, all this will be plainer as we proceed.

"The people" for whom our High Priest atones are, of course, wider than Christians, or the priestly house. They are all the true "seed of Abraham," that is, the whole family of faith. And this definition is precise, and wide enough to bid all men welcome to participate in the value of the atonement. The "propitiation for the whole world" of which John speaks (1 John 2:2) easily accords with "a propitiation, through faith, by His blood" (Rom. 3:25, R. V.) , because faith is that to which all men are invited. Let a man believe, then he finds an absolutely efficacious atonement according to divine knowledge of his need and grace to meet it, and the worshiper once purged has no more conscience of sins.

In the last verse of this section, we have the sympathy of the great High Priest with us guaranteed by His human experience: "In that He has suffered, being tempted, He is able to succor those that are tempted." But temptation to Him was suffering, and only that.

Section 3 (Heb. 3:1-6). The third section of the second division carries us from the scene of His humiliation to that of His glory. He is over the house of God as the Son of God; His being Son of God is the foundation of His Priesthood, and that is the direct connection here; we are still in the line of the day of atonement, although as ever the substance goes beyond the shadow. The high priest in Israel, with well-known restrictions was over the house of God; and in the tenth chapter we have a confirmation of this expressed: "Having a Great Priest over the house of God" (Heb. 10:21). This makes it evident that the comparison with Moses which is made here is not the sole one; and to take it as such hinders a clear conception of what is here. Moses is the "apostle," as Aaron the high priest; and we are exhorted to "con sider" both "the Apostle and High Priest of our confession." Moses and Aaron appear together thus often in the history as a double type of the Lord; and as Moses was (in a sense) the builder of the Tabernacle, so having built it, he put it in charge of Aaron.

The house in which Moses was faithful as a servant was then only a "figure of the true" over which Christ is. It was a figure, as is intimated and as is easily recognized, of the universe, the "all things" which "God built." Moses was, even in "the pattern and shadow of heavenly things," merely a servant carrying out instructions. How infinite therefore the contrast between such an one and Christ the actual Builder of all that the Tabernacle figured, the Creator of the universe! This is in its full largeness the habitation of God; but, having built it, Christ does not put it in charge of another, but Himself takes charge as "Son over it."

We pass from Moses, then, here, as is plain; but have we reached Aaron? Not yet; but we see beautifully how Aaron is reached. If the Son be thus in supreme charge over the universe of God, and if sin come in as a breach upon its glorious order, it will not make Him renounce His office, but it w ill display the more His competence for it. In view of sin, the Son becomes the Priest, Mediator and Reconciler; and the moment it is added, as in the passage before us, "Whose house are we," Aaron is before us; the Priest is in charge now, if we are His house.

The board-structure of the Tabernacle, is the typical explanation of how the redeemed come in here; and wonderful it is to realize the connection of this with the larger aspect of the Tabernacle which we have been called to remember, as the pattern of the universe at large. Here, at the heart of it, we find a "spiritual house," of sinners redeemed and sanctified by the blood of the Lamb. Being the fruit of a mightier work than creation itself, we can understand how this should be the very Sanctuary of God the display of His holiness, of His grace and His manifold wisdom, as nowhere else. Here the glorious principalities and powers of heaven find the sweetest theme of praise.

The priestly "house" cannot be excluded from the wider thought of the Universe as God's house: the "house" is a living house, nay, human; and thus not display alone, but living activities abide in it. That the "Holy One" would "inhabit the praises of Israel" is the Lord's own answer in the twenty-second psalm to the question of the Cross; and the connection with the day of atonement is as obvious; for the main purpose of it is that the dwelling of the Lord in the midst may be continued among them. Here we are in direct connection with all this, though beyond it, as the substance is beyond the shadow. The house is a spiritual house, and the praises are those of a people brought near to Him, a priestly house. For these the largest offering of the day of atonement is offered, and for us the High Priest is One who could not offer for Himself: thus it is the priestly house alone for which the bullock is offered.

It is not strange, then, that they should appear here: it would be strange, rather, if they did not appear. Peter thus joins together what might seem at first sight too diverse to be so identified — "a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 2:5). "Whose house are we," as certainly shows the Son over the house to be now the "great Priest over the house of God;" so does it identify also the Tabernacle with the priestly worshipers. The "if we hold fast" can be best looked at in connection with the fourth section which it introduces.

Section 4 (Heb. 3:7 — 4:13). This fourth section is of a very different character. It is the shadow following the light; and in Hebrews we find how the brightest lights can cast the deepest shadows. Yet we may be sure that here, as everywhere in the word of God, we shall find instruction of fullest profit to us.

As a fourth section it reminds us of that wilderness through which the Lord led Israel of old into their rest, and that for us, too, there is a wilderness, a scene of trial, through which we are called to pass on to the rest which, for us also, still lies beyond. We are called, therefore, to persevere to hold on our way — to "hold fast the beginning of our confidence firm unto the end." This, in fact, is the test of the reality of things with us: "Whose house are we, if we hold fast:" continuance is the proof of divine work.

There are four subsections. The first (Heb. 3:7-13) insists upon the spirit of obedience as a condition of blessing. Grace does not alter this: it produces in us such a spirit, and faith is the very principle of fruitfulness, working as it does by love.

The exhortation to God's people of old abides for us as much as for them, "Today, if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts." All truth speaks with authority which those that are true recognize; and the more precious the truth is, the sadder the consequences of its practical refusal. To trifle with any truth is perilous, and hardening of heart is the necessary result. How many there are with a conscience locally paralyzed (if one may say so) through refusal of that in which the voice of God was once recognized — perhaps in refusing to listen to that in which it fears God might be speaking! For it is a wrong thought that responsibility only comes with the conviction that God has spoken there is accountability easily detected by the question, "Were you truly willing, to have Him speak?" What hearts we have to which such a question should ever need to be put! How sad, above all, that unbelief should in believers produce such a disregard of the One Supreme Voice like which there is no other!

There is no need, for our present purpose, of discussing the "ifs" which come in, in all such warnings as that we are considering. They are the testing of profession, under which the true and the false alike come necessarily; they are needed to distinguish between them; and God uses them to exercise His own also: for we have in us the flesh still, and therefore those tendencies to departure from God, which make His constant grace absolutely needful. But, as has been often said, they are not warnings against too much faith, or too simple faith, but the reverse, and to persevere in joyful confidence to the end. All through this epistle (where the substance which is replacing the shadows is yet invisible) faith is the great necessity. It is as much emphasized for the life, as it is in the Roman and Galatian epistles as the ground of our acceptance.

And this is what is dwelt upon in the second subsection here (Heb. 3:14 — 4:2), in which the Word is seen as needing to be mixed with faith — unbelief being the very root and principle of disobedience. And if we are become the "companions of Christ" (not "partakers," which would give another thought from what is intended, but what in the first chapter is translated "fellows"). He is the complete example of faith, from first to last; we must hold fast the beginning of our confidence firm to the end. Difficulties are supposed, for how could faith show itself if there were none? Difficulties are no hindrance to faith, but the reverse: they are the conditions of its manifestation, and a means of its exercise, and so actually of its growth.

Those whose "carcases fell in the wilderness" are not types of believers in any sense, but of those who fail of final entrance into the rest of God for that is what Canaan here typifies, as is obvious. It is important to distinguish between this final entrance and that under Joshua which was not final, and is the type of our present entrance into our heavenly portion by faith. Joshua is not typically a continuation of Numbers or Deuteronomy, but parallel with these. It is while we are in the wilderness that we may enter by faith into our heavenly inheritance: the experience of the wilderness and the laying hold of the inheritance in this way go together the searching of the land by the spies (Num. 13) answers, though but partially, to this, while Deuteronomy ends typically our whole earthly history, with that review of the whole wilderness course which is only fulfilled for us at the judgment-seat of Christ. Joshua added to the books of Moses would make them a "Hexateuch," as the higher critics would have it, but this they are not. Joshua is, in fact, a new beginning, the Genesis of a new Pentateuch — the historical books. We must have God's truth in God's order, or we shall not find it even God's truth.

The third subsection (Heb. 4:3-10) shows us what the actual rest is. It is we who have believed who enter — not have entered. From the nature of it, as described presently, no one could enter into it in this life. We are going on to it; God has been always speaking of it and keeping it before men from the beginning. God rested on the seventh day from all His works, but man violated that rest, which remains for us only as a shadow of what is yet to come. David's words also, in the psalm quoted, long after Joshua's day, show that Israel's coming into the land was still not rest. Still there remains a true sabbath-keeping for the people of God — a rest which will be God's rest also, or what good could be in it? a rest too in which they who enter it cease from all the labor which sin has imposed. Such a rest has not yet come for us.

In the fourth subsection (Heb. 4:11-13) the apostle exhorts all, therefore, to use diligence to enter into that rest before us, and again brings forward as a warning Israel's unbelief in the wilderness. Good tidings had come to them of the land to which God was bringing them, but they lacked faith to lay hold of them. The word only exposed the unbelief which goes too surely with a rebellious spirit: though good, it brought out but evil; thus it is characteristic of the word of God to search us out and make manifest to us what we are. If we submit ourselves to this searching, how great will be the blessing in it! It will bathe us in the very light of God, and thus purge from our eyes the film that hinders perception. "For the word of God is living and operative, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Neither is there a creature that is not manifest in His sight, but all things are naked and laid bare to His eyes with whom we have to do."

Thus the word of God acts with His power. The aroused conscience brings everything before God for judgment: the mists roll off as before the sun; and if the light shine, as when at God's bidding it first broke out of the darkness upon the yeasty waves of a shoreless and barren sea, still we approve the word which says, "God saw the light that it was good." The beginning of communion with God, whatever may be the matter of it, is the reception of the truth.

"Soul and spirit," as thus named together, can only be the two parts of the immaterial nature of man, which Scripture clearly distinguishes from one another. The soul is the lower, sensitive, instinctive, emotional part, which, where not (as in man) penetrated with the light of the spirit, is simply animal. The spirit is intelligent and moral, that which knows human things (1 Cor. 2:11). In the "natural man" (which is really the "psychic" or soul-led man, 1 Cor. 2:14) , conscience's recognition of God is in abeyance, and the mind itself is earthly. Important it is, therefore, to divide between soul and spirit.

"Joints and marrow" convey to us the difference between the external and internal, the outward form and the essence hidden in it. Not that the form is unimportant; everything in nature forbids such a thought; but its beauty and effectiveness depend upon its appropriateness to the idea which rules in it.

Thus the word of God is, in the highest sense, the book of science. The highest and deepest knowledge is in it — and that of things naturally inaccessible to man; while everything also is in right relation and proportion, nothing overbalanced. It has indeed none of the pedantry or technicality in which science is apt to shroud its wisdom, but a sweet homely simplicity and familiarity of greeting, welcoming all corners to it, which deceives the would-be wise who cannot understand how God's light should shine for babe and for philosopher, and God's learning have so little savor of the schools.